Monday, April 28, 2014

M3MSat and the Politics of Dancing in the Crimea

          by Chuck Black

Politics has intruded into Canadian Space Agency (CSA) programs once more with an announcement that the Federal government "has decided not to proceed" with the planned June 2014 launch of the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite (M3MSat) technology demonstrator, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the subsequent Russian allegations of the M3Msat's possible 'military" uses.

As outlined on the M3MSat webpage on the Earth Observation Portal, "M3MSat is a Canadian technology demonstration mission jointly funded by the Department of National Defence (DND), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), exactEarth LLP and COM DEV Ltd. The overall objective is to provide space borne services in support of Canadian sovereignty, security, safety and communications needs within the territorial and maritime regions of Canada and beyond." The spacecraft was developed in partnership with COM DEV and the University of Toronto, Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL). M3MSat is a follow-on project of the UTIAS SFL CanX-6 NTS mission and the second  joint CSA - DND micro-satellite mission. The first one was the Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), launched in 2013 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India. Graphic c/o CSA.

The action was announced in an April 24th, 2014 press release from M3Msat contractor COM DEV International under the title "M3M Satellite Launch To Be Rescheduled."  The press release quoted the "Government of Canada" as deciding "to not proceed with the planned Russian Soyuz launch of M3M, which was scheduled for June this year."

Mike Pley. Photo c/o COM DEV.
There were no immediate indications as to why the announcement was made by the prime contractor for the program and not through normal government channels, but the press release stated that "COM DEV has received an indication that the Canadian Space Agency will support COM DEV's efforts to secure a new launch."

According to COM DEV CEO Mike Pley:
Recognizing the current events in the Ukraine, we had been engaged in discussions with the Government of Canada with respect to a potential delay of the launch of M3M, and plans to mitigate the impact of any delay. 
We are confident that the mitigations will be in place prior to the originally planned M3M in-service date of September 2014.
The launch would also have included two smaller Canadian satellites. There are no details on how those spacecraft will be put in orbit.

The actions are widely considered to be an escalation of Canadian sanctions against Russia over the ongoing situation in the Crimea. As recently as last week, the April 16th, 2014 Canadian Press article "Tensions with Russia not affecting space station: Canadian Space Agency," quoted CSA president Walt Natynczyk as stating that Canada continues to work with "all its partners involved in the space station," even Russia.

Of course, the Russian government was quick to respond to the press release. The April 25th, 2015 RIA Novoski article Canada to Pay for Ditched Launch Contract with Russia - Moscow," quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as stating that the Canadian government will certainly "have to pay – both in terms of money and reputation – for a decision to ditch the launch of its satellite by a Russian rocket."

Dmitry Rogozin. Photo c/o RT.
Rogozin was also quoted in the article as stating that:
The Canadians screwed things up. They refused to launch the satellite and admitted that it was a military one, despite earlier assurances of its civilian purpose.
RIA Novoski, although admittedly operating under the purview of the Russian Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, may have a point in this instance, since the comments simply echo other, similar statements from the Canadian media.

For example, the April 20th, 2014 Canadian Press article "Canadian Space Agency boss insists his appointment does not spell militarization," focused on current CSA president Walt Natynczyk's previous job as the former Chief of Defence Staff and the effects it could have on his current appointment. 

It's also well known that the M3MSat is jointly funded by the Department of National Defence (DND), the CSA, COM DEV along with COMDEV subsidiary exactEarth LLP. An argument relating to the military connections and potentialities of the satellite could certainly be made.

The politics of this latest dance between the Canadian and Russian governments is certainly intriguing. Stay tuned.


  1. This is Not reality, Not Reality, Not Reality

    Why are so many Tax payer dollars going directly into the hands of Private Corporation "Fat Cats" like Musk?

  2. Near as I can tell, Musk is getting far less money than the fat cats at United Launch Alliance. That's why he's suing...

    But how does that comment relate to this article?


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