Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Economic Benefits of Orion Won't Come to Canada

          by Chuck Black

Senator Shelby. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
It's a truism that NASA programs have normally included a strong and often very public Canadian component.

Examples of this would include the James Webb Space Telescope (expected to include a Canadian built fine guidance sensor and near-infrared imager and slitless spectrograph), the Mars Science Laboratory (with its Canadian made alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and image sensors), the International Space Station (ISS) mobile servicing system (which utilizes the CanadArm II and the special purpose dexterous manipulator), the now retired space shuttle (also outfitted with CanadArms) and even, as outlined by author Chris Gainor in the books "Arrows to the Moon" and "Canada in Space," substantial components of the original Apollo program.

But anyone looking to find a direct, domestic contribution to the December 5th, 2014 test flight of the Orion  Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), is likely to be disappointed. 

And most of the credit (or perhaps, the blame) for this unusual state of affairs seems to rest squarely at the feet of the senior United States senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby.

In fact, a number of US politicians and space program experts have called Shelby to task for his advocacy, not just of Orion, but also of the still incomplete Space Launch System (SLS), a giant rocket designed to operate with Orion. Shelby has championed both of these programs to the point of threatening ongoing funding for other NASA programs, specifically the commercial crew development program, a second NASA spaceflight program officially targeted at developing cargo and manned access to low Earth orbit, but possessing the potential to do far more, for far less money.

At least one expert, former NASA deputy director Lori Garver, considers the Shelby approved programs as being designed primarily to generate "jobs in (certain) peoples' districts."

Of course, senator Shelby has taken great pride in promoting the numerous local benefits he has helped to bring to his constituents, such as those outlined most recently in the June 3rd, 2014 YellowHammer article "Big news for Huntsville: Shelby announces $1.7 billion for space launch system," which discussed the allocation of "nearly $18 billion to NASA for the 2015 Fiscal Year, including $1.7 billion allocated to rocket development for the Space Launch System (SLS) currently underway at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama."

The article goes on to state that Shelby is also the vice chairman of the "Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice Science and Related Agencies (CJS), which passed the bill."

Shelby has been so effective in his advocacy for jobs in Huntsville that the only real internationally outsourced component of Orion has been the service module. As outlined in the November 21st, 2012 NASA article, "UK steps up, as ESA commit to ATV Service Module on NASA’s Orion," the European contribution was made possible through funding from the United Kingdom and is based on the existing European Space Agency (ESA) automated transfer vehicle (ATV).

The Orion MPCV. Derived from the earlier Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), a part of the cancelled Constellation program, the MPCV is not scheduled for further flights until 2018 when it will be launched, again unmanned, as part of the first flight of the proposed SLS. This date is years later and at a far higher cost than originally expected, according to the August 27th, 2014 CBS News article "NASA commits to $7 billion mega rocket, 2018 debut." A US House of Representatives science subcommittee on space hearing, focused on an update on the Space Launch System and monitoring the development of the nation’s deep space exploration capabilities, will be held on December 10th, 2014 in Washington, DC.  Graphic c/o NASA.

Most of the rest of the Orion/SLS combination isn't all that terribly new or innovative, either. According to the December 5th, 2014 Guardian post, "Orion: a last-ditch effort by a fading empire that will never strike back," private sector competitor SpaceX (a contender in the commercial crew development program) is planning a historic launch of its own over the next year:
The rocket is called the Falcon Heavy. Yes, (SpaceX CEO Elon) Musk named his rocket after the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars, and he promises it will take twice as much payload into space as the one NASA launched on Friday, and at one-third the cost. 
So far his claims about SpaceX have come true, and soon he’ll be fighting, with the lobbyists and the politicians who play favorites, for satellite contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
It's not that Shelby didn't have a little help along the way. Shuttle contractors originally sold SLS to the US government as a way to preserve domestic American jobs threatened by the wind-down of the space shuttle program.

Even Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin (LM) provided some assistance. As outlined on the MPCV website, queries about subcontractors are normally told only that the Orion "industry team" is composed of Sacramento, CA based Aerojet Rocketdyne, Charlotte, NC based United Technologies Corporation Aerospace Systems (UTAS), and Morristown, NY based Honeywell Inc., plus "an expansive network of minor subcontractors and small businesses in 45 states."

Privately, LM goes to great lengths to confirm that there are no Canadian based Orion subcontractors in its current Orion supply chain. After all, the intent of the program wasn't to preserve Canadian jobs.

None of which will help Canadians develop any personal stake in future Orion missions. 


  1. Chuck
    The last time I looked there was no CSA budget to participate in this project. If Canada cannot contribute to a NASA program then why should we expect to participate and gain the benefit of US taxpaper investments?.

  2. I agree that there is, at present, no budget for Canada to contribute to this project. This might be something for the new parliamentary "space caucus" to take a look at.


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