Thursday, May 25, 2017

Attempting Relevance, the Canadian Space Agency Announces Industry Focused & Small Business Funding

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued another in a series of mostly expected announcements of opportunity (AO) for new programs funded under its longstanding Space Technology Development Program (STDP).

It's not that there's anything wrong with that. It will just be interesting to see if the CSA continues down this path when the Liberal government unveils its high-level follow-on to the previous Conservative 2014 Space Policy Framework later this year.

As outlined first in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "The Canadian Space Agency is "Very" Cautious About Its Post ISS Role," the CSA has embarked on its present course of action before receiving feedback from the Space Advisory Board (SAB), which was supposed to "consult stakeholders to define key elements" of an expected revision to Canada's space policy. Given the short time-frame for consultation (the SAB only announced its membership and began a series of public meetings in April), the CSA's current independent path and the Liberal governments acknowledged embrace of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (which strongly suggests that there will be no radical course changes in the near future), it's just possible that the real role of the SAB was to build support for an already crafted policy. We'll find out sometime this summer. Screenshot c/o

There were two slight surprises in the CSA's current offering.

First of all, and as outlined in the May 24th, 2017 post on the Federal government Buy and Sell procurement website under the title, "Space Technology Development Program (STDP) Industrial Capability-Building Contributions (9F063-20170131)," the new programs are focused on business, not academia, and intended "to support the development of Canadian industrial capabilities in the area of space technologies for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian space companies."

Applications are "limited to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations established and operating in Canada," and explicitly exclude academic institutions. While academics are "encouraged" to sign up to the program as "consultants to the recipient," they are not eligible to apply directly.

Secondly, the program includes a specific small business focused component. 

And while it's not quite the US originated program advocated in the May 11th, 2017 post, "CATAAlliance Calls for Adaption of the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program," it is at least an implicit reversal of the longstanding CSA position that both small and large companies can compete on a level playing field for the same CSA programs. 

That position, first outlined in the July 24th, 2009 post, "OK, So Maybe the CSA Does Provide Some Support for Small Aerospace Firms...," was never taken terribly seriously in the real world, mostly because small businesses have far fewer lawyers able to comprehend and respond to the normal paperwork generated by the typical CSA funded program.

Two of the reasons why the US SBIR program is so successful also relate to why the program will likely never be adapted in Canada. The program depends on "set-asides" totaling 2.9% of the extramural budget of all US government agencies engaged in R&D and with budgets in excess of $100Mln US ($135Mln CDN). The program also operates in concert with the US Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, another "set-aside" program to facilitate "co-operative R&D between small business concerns and US research institutions." In essence, SBIR costs money and is not a stand alone program. Graphic c/o August 2015 Small Business Administration Office of Investment & Innovation SBIR-STTR Presentation

The new AO is organized into three separate categories:
  • STDP AO 4.1 Space R&D - A program focused around commercialization opportunities, which will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $2Mln CDN per "space technology project that expect commercial potential in the short to medium term (i.e. 2 to 5 years)."
  • STDP AO 4.2 Space R&D Small Business - Like the title says, this is an explicitly small business focused program, targeted at firms with up to a maximum of 50 employees. The AO will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $200K CDN per space technology project "for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian small space companies."
  • STDP AO 4.3 Space R&D Feasibility Studies - A program focused around feasibility studies and system design, which will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $100,000 per project for "studies that expect commercial potential in the medium to long term (i.e. 5 to 10 years)."
While these new CSA programs are slightly more relevant to the current and future structure of the Canadian and international space industry (they're at least targeting industry rather than focusing on academia), it's also worth noting that the new programs provide far smaller amounts of funding for far higher amounts of paperwork and oversight than most other funding options.

After all, we live in an age where, as outlined in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "UofT Undergraduate Satellite Builders Raise Almost $500K to Build & Launch a Microsatellite in 2019," a small not-for-profit student satellite company can be funded with student fees far in excess of what the Federal government is able to offer.

Can our government funded space industry keep up with the private sector? Stay tuned.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page