Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Canadian Space Agency is Thinking About "Deep Space" and Relevance

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has announced that it, along with "space agencies around the world" are "exploring how to contribute to the exciting new opportunities that will ensue as humanity takes its next steps into the solar system."

Groovy. This blog, along with most of the rest of the Canadian space industry, is absolutely up for that. We'd just like to be kept updated on a few of the specifics.

However, as outlined in the March 6th, 2017 CSA press release, "Canada prepares for the future of human spaceflight to deep space," not a lot of those details are currently available, although public comments on the process stress how very, very pleased everyone is.

According to the press release, "Over the course of the next year, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will provide multiple opportunities for Canada's space community (academia, industry and government departments) to propose innovative ideas for science and technologies in areas that could contribute to future human space exploration and generate benefits on earth. Opportunities to submit proposals will be consolidated" on the new CSA Funding Opportunities website.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It might even be a useful if the funding opportunities website didn't just link to the already existing CSA Announcements of Opportunity website and the main page of the Canadian Federal government Buyandsell.gc.ca website, which already posts CSA announcements of opportunities (AO), letters of interest (LOI), request for information (RFI) and other types of requests and funding opportunities.

A useful reminder that, except for an overall improvement in style, the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government isn't all that much different from the previous Stephen Harper Conservative government. This is especially true of our science and technology policy, which is currently wrapped around the high sounding idea of "Canada's Innovation Agenda," although most of the practical policy details are missing. The only real exception is the broad bipartisan support enjoyed by the recommendations of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which are mostly not discussed, since they led to the removal of procurement and policy making from the CSA portfolio in 2014. Graphic c/o the Winter 2017 Canadian Dimension magazine.

What the CSA is actually doing is madly hunting down data and information to bolster the concept that it's a useful organization.

It's why, as outlined in the March 6th, 2017 post "CSA offering $100K to $2Mln for STDP Industrial Capability-Building Contributions, MAYBE!," the CSA is posting announcements of opportunities (AOs) to provide financial support to businesses in the Canadian space industry that develop technological innovations with a potential for tangible economic benefits for Canada, and "to encourage the space industry to collaborate with the academic sector in the implementation of the AOs by promoting projects that will include student participation."

Maybe those academics and students will think more kindly of the CSA now, even through there is not a lot of money involved, no formal funding commitments have been made (the AO is pretty explicit about this) and any future funding is quite the ways down the road.

That's also why, as outlined in the February 13th, 2017 post, "OMX, Trump, Trudeau, Bombardier's Bailout, the UK Space Agency, UK Spaceports, CSA Earth Imaging Grants & MAFIC Studios," the CSA is exploring "the complementary use of drones and satellites to enhance EO applications and provide more comprehensive solutions to end-users," through its Earth Observation Application Development Program (EOADP).

AIAC VP Christie. Photo c/o author.
Maybe the drone industry will think more kindly of the CSA now, especially if they feel the need for an intermediary to manage their requirements (one of the listed reasons for the program is "to encourage the space industry to collaborate with the academic sector in the implementation of the AOs by promoting projects that will include student participation").

The need to develop a positive public image might also be at least part of the rational for the recent collaboration between the CSA, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) and the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

As outlined in the February 28th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "‘Old Space’ ‘New Space’ Collaborate on Canadian Space 2.0 Round Table," not much was said at the meeting, but a lot of people attended and everyone was publicly pleased with the result. According to AIAC executive vice-president Iain Christie, who also acted as the event's moderator, "we are very pleased with the discussions that took place at the Space 2.0 event last week."

Of course, most of what's really going on is the simple jockeying for Federal funding which is typical of Canada's pre-budget political process. We certainly should not begrudge the players looking for a few crumbs of sustenance in Budget 2017.

But the Federal liberals have already stated that real changes to the CSA, including the development of a new space plan for the long-term, won't happen until June 2017, well after this budget is released.

That's the real reason why, as outlined in the January 16th, 2017 post, "The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency 'Long-Term Strategy'," no one expects any money will show up for science and space related projects until well after June 2017.

But, at least until then, all the players remain "very pleased." And our space agency is also "thinking" about "deep space."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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