Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ministers Bains & Garneau Provide Motivational Speeches, But No New Money, For the Canadian Space Agency

          By Chuck Black

Back in the day, if someone received a press release titled, "New funding to be announced for Canada's space program," which promoted an upcoming announcement from two senior members of the Federal cabinet, there would be a reasonable expectation that the announcement would include "new funding."

Minister Bains at CSA headquarters in Longueuil, Quebec on April 27th, 2017. As outlined in his presentation, the technologies developed through Canada's space program "can be applied to the everyday lives of Canadian's" and "point to new ways of fighting climate change, The complete, twenty-five minute press conference is available online by clicking on the screenshot above. For those more interested in the formal, prepared text, it's available online as part of the April 27th, 2017 ISED post, "Canadian Space Agency Budget 2017 Rollout." Graphic c/o CSA.

Of course, that not exactly the way things happened on Thursday in Longueuil, Quebec, when Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains got together with Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation David Lametti and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte to "celebrate" existing CSA funding relating to quantum encryption and future missions to Mars, plus provide a "dedication to the Canadian space program."

But they mostly forgot to announce anything new.

As outlined originally in the April 25th, 2017 Government of Canada press release, "New funding to be announced for Canada's space program," the original intent of the April 27th, 2017 press conference seemed to have been to announce "new funding."

But by the day of the event, and as outlined in the April 27th, 2017 follow-up press release, "Ministers Bains and Garneau celebrate $80.9 million for the Canadian Space Agency," the focus had definitely changed from "announcing" to "celebrating."

One item that hadn't previously received wide publicity before today's press conference, but was referenced there by Minister Bains and is well worth taking a look at is the Canadian CubeSat project, a CSA challenge to post-secondary educational facilities to "Build and fly your own satellite." As outlined on the April 27th, 2017 update to the CSA's "Canadian Cubesat Project website," the CSA "will award up to 13 grants (of up to $200K each) to fund selected proposals to build a miniature satellite called a CubeSat. Teachers and students from every province and territory are encouraged to participate in this innovative project." But even this program can't exactly be called cutting edge or innovative given that several Canadian post secondary facilities have already embarked upon their own space programs. The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Lab (SFL) has launched more satellites into orbit than the CSA over the last decade. As outlined in the March 27th, 2017 post, "UrtheCast, 3D Printing for Space, AlbertaSat & More on Reusable Rockets," the University of Alberta's AlbertaSat-1 is already safely in orbit on-board the International Space Station (ISS) being prepared for release and, as outlined in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "UofT Undergraduate Satellite Builders Raise Almost $500K to Build & Launch a Microsatellite in 2019," even small university based clubs are now capable of raising substantial sums of money for space projects, even without CSA assistance. Graphic c/o CSA. 

The largest portion of the press conference focused on March 2017 Canadian budget announcement that $80.9Mln CDN would be allocated over five years, starting in 2017 - 2018. As outlined in the March 27th, 2017 post, "Canada's Latest Space Budget; $81Mln for "New Projects" over Five Years Including a Contribution to NASA's Mars Orbiter," these funds were initially announced in March 2017 as part of the 2017 Federal budget and were widely known in the industry.

As outlined in March 2017:
... Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million on a cash basis over five years, starting in 2017–18, for new projects through the Canadian Space Agency that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space, including in the field of quantum technology as well as for Mars surface observation. The latter project will enable Canada to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) next Mars Orbiter Mission...
Minister Garneau,  looking memorable, but not saying much. Photo c/o CSA.
Much the same was announced in the later, April 17th, 2017 press release:
... Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, to the Canadian Space Agency. These investments will be used to develop emerging technologies, will create more well-paying jobs, will support scientific breakthroughs and will make Canada a world-leading centre for innovation...
The more recent press release went on to state that, "the funding will support new projects that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space." 

Those projects would include:
  • A radar instrument that will be developed for a future orbiter mission to Mars. This instrument would be used to study the surface and subsurface of the red planet. It could contribute to developing a high-resolution map of the surface of Mars and could help identify water resources at shallow depths, which would provide critical geological information for the landing site of future spacecraft to Mars. 
  • A demonstration of the applications of quantum technology in space involving the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. This project will position Canada as a leader in quantum encryption, which uses highly advanced computing technology to create virtually unbreakable security codes. This technology could lead to more secure communications, safer and more reliable government services, and greater protection of Canadians' privacy.

It's worth noting that announcements from Federal ministers almost always come with context and antecedents which supersede and sometimes influence the base political process. Seen here is one of the antecedent studies which led to the decision to fund an "instrument" to be "used to study the surface and subsurface of the red planet." To view the complete presentation, simply click on the graphic above. Graphic c/o MIT.

The press conference also referenced the ongoing search for Canada's next astronauts as described in the April 24th, 2017 post, "More on Canada's "Next Top Astronauts," Canada's "Failure To Scale" & Is Our Space Agency "Muzzling" its Contractors?" and the ongoing work of the new space advisory board as outlined in the April 20th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Committee Members Announced: Various Stakeholders Release Independent Assessments, Just in Case."

But there wasn't a lot of anything new going on during the press conference.

It's not that there is anything wrong about our current government using the CSA and the majesty of science for political gain or re-announcing the same news a second time and pretending that the announcement is a new story. 

On second thought, it does sort of leave a bad taste in the mouth. Here's hoping that the governing Liberal party recovers quickly from this misstep. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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