Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Canadian Space Industry Could Be In for a Bumpy Night

          By Glen Strom

According to political observers, the upcoming federal election in October will be one of the closest in years. Any of the three major parties could win. Add to that the possibility of a minority government, or even a Liberal/NDP coalition, and we’re facing what could be a long period of political instability.

Political cartoon c/o Graham Mackay/ Hamilton Spectator.

Uncertainty isn’t good for business, unless it’s the antacid business. For better or for worse, Canada needs the government of the day to take the lead in developing and implementing a comprehensive space policy. If any party can win, then each party’s space policy is of equal importance.

So what are the politicians saying about space?

Not much beyond the usual vague comments politicians make before an election. Despite the government’s recent scattering of the blossoms (money) through the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP), space isn’t at the top of their agenda—or any party’s agenda. It’s not a big vote-getter.

The Liberals have people with a passion for science and space, like Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau. So does the NDP. But passion doesn’t equal policy. If either of these two parties wins, they’ll have items on their agenda that are more important to them than the space industry.

And the current government? A Conservative win doesn’t guarantee that they’d continue with their space plans now that Industry Minister James Moore is leaving federal politics. His departure is outlined in the June 19th, 2015 edition of the Globe and Mail, “Tory Cabinet Minister James Moore Won’t Run for Re-election.”

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, politician David Emerson and Industry Minister James Moore. It's worth noting that, of the three most effective personalities involved with the Canadian space program over the last few years, only one came from a traditional science or engineering background. Photo's c/o Wikipedia.

Could the CSA take the lead? Probably not. Sylvain Laporte, this year’s CSA president (and keep in mind, the year is still young), was nowhere to be seen when the government was handing out money these past few weeks.

If the CSA was meant to lead, former president Steve MacLean’s plan would be in place but, of course, we all know how that turned turned out. And no offence meant to Mr. Laporte, but the CSA president wouldn’t be a career bureaucrat.

For those who don't know what happened to Dr. MacLean, check out the January 19th, 2013 post on "Praising Steve MacLean."

How might this situation shake out for industry players? The big players in Canadian space will do fine. They’ve been branching out beyond Canada for a while.

Up-and-comers like Vancouver-based UrtheCast will do fine, too. Their recent spate of announcements, as outlined in the June 22nd, 2015 blog post, “Is UrtheCast Becoming Canada's ‘Other’ Space Program?,” shows that Canadian companies can get it done without government involvement.

But our space industry is more than just a handful of big players and savvy newcomers. Smaller companies and private organizations play an important role as subcontractors and service providers. Start-ups bring new ideas and a fresh perspective.

A national space policy is important in building the infrastructure that brings all of these pieces together. Political uncertainty will hurt the industry as a whole.

Glen Strom.
Consider a line from a classic 1950 movie called “All About Eve.” In the movie Bette Davis, a great actress from the golden era of Hollywood, says, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.

The Canadian space industry may need to buckle up to weather its own bumpy night.
Glen Strom is a freelance writer and editor with a background in business and technical writing. He's also the editor of The Gazette Weekly, the newsletter of the Canadian Space Society.

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