Thursday, December 21, 2017

Commercial Thrills, Bureaucratic Chills and Political Spills in 2017: The Year in Space for Canada

          By Chuck Black

Much like 2016, Canada's space sector spent large portions of 2017 reliving past glories, waiting patiently for committees focused around science and space to complete their assessments intended to point the way to the future and for the Federal government to act on those recommendations.

Image representative of Canadian space activities from the website, an initiative developed for Canadian students from K-12 and teachers "to help inspire Canadian students and teachers to expand on space-related education to give young people the technical skills to thrive in their futures here on earth, or in space." One of the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) major mandates is to inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experts. It's one of the easier CSA jobs, just perfect for the creation of inspiring (if terrestrially designed) graphics and far simpler than actually going into space. Graphic c/o

In the end, Canadians got two out of three of the items listed above. Only the part where the Federal government (or any other major player in the sector) actually acts upon those recommendations (perhaps even "for the benefit of Canadians") seems to have so far eluded us.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, several "progressive" foreign governments have seen the writing on the wall and begun slowly coming to grips with supporting a private sector driven space industry racing to harvest the massive riches in orbit. on the Moon, Mars and throughout the rest of the solar system.

These governments include the Trump administration in the US and a small European micro-state officially named the "Grand Duchy of Luxembourg." It's fortunate that the country is totally unrelated to the small, fictitious European Grand Duchy featured in the 1963 British comedy film, "The Mouse on the Moon."

With the above in mind, here are some of the high and low points for the Canadian space sector in 2017:

The 1963 British comedy film, "The Mouse on the Moon," isn't especially good. But it is a reminder that earlier generations understood instinctively that politics and space exploration were inextricably intertwined. As outlined on the Wikipedia page for the movie, "Financial disaster looms for (the) Grand (Duchy of) Fenwick when the current vintage of its only export, wine, starts exploding in would-be consumers' faces. Prime Minister Mountjoy (Ron Moody) decides to ask the United States for a loan, ostensibly to fund its entry in the race to the Moon, but actually to save the duchy (and install modern plumbing so he can have a hot bath). The devious politician knows that the Americans will not believe him, but will consider the half million dollars he is asking for to be cheap propaganda supporting their hollow call for international co-operation in space..." Graphic c/o TV Cream.
Reliving past glories, especially within the context of Canada's 150th birthday celebrations, was an area where this blog was well placed to contribute.
Starting with the sixteen part series on “150 Years of Aerospace History,” by author Robert Godwin, which began with the March 16th, 2017 post, "Before Canada: HMS Agamemnon, the Telegraph Cable, William Leitch & 'The Fur Country'," until the July 13th, 2017 post which focused on "Bombardier, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Conclusions," the series was based on the belief that: 
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.  
That series was followed up with a second, twelve part series on "A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets.” 
Beginning with the March 19th, 2017 post, "Abstract, Introduction & The 1950's" and finishing up with the June 4th, 2017 post, "Lessons and Conclusions," the series, written by two well known Canadian aerospace professionals (retired Canadian diplomat Graham Gibbs & former Canadian Space Agency president W. M. "Mac" Evans) came to substantively different conclusion. 
Gibbs and Evans, in contrast to Godwin, argued forcefully that the Canadian space program: 
... because it is and always has been a modestly budgeted program, has learned that leveraging international cooperation is a necessity, not a luxury... 
In essence, Godwin argued for missions based upon Canadian requirements and capabilities while Gibbs and Evans argued that international cooperation on projects of international interest is an effective way to both conquer space and keep costs down. 
The dichotomy between the two viewpoints, and how taken together they effectively summarize to two major paths relating to Canada's space future, was later revisited in the October 2nd, 2017 post, "Policy Options Begins the "Real" Debate over Canada's Future in Space."
As for the committees focused around space and science, there were two of them reporting this year. 
As outlined in the April 17th, 2017 post, "'Massive' Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon 'Drop Down the Memory Hole'," the first was the David Naylor led Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science, which covered the activities of the National Research Council (NRC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), as well as programs like the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the various Canada Research ChairsGenome Canada and others.
Although initially dismissed because it requested an increase of "base-level spending" by "core funding agencies" to $4.8Bln CDN a year from the current $3.5Bln CDN, in order to "assist young researchers," the Naylor report is slowly gaining traction among academics and could potentially end up as a voting issue in the next Federal election.
As outlined in the December 18th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Sensing a moment, Canadian scientists swing for the fences," after a "lukewarm response earlier this year to a report that calls for a 37-per-cent increase in annual funding for university-based research, Ottawa is showing signs that it is coming around to the idea that Canadian science needs a significant boost."
Of course, that doesn't mean that the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will act. It only means that he is under pressure to do so. The results of that pressure will only become clear in 2018. 
Or maybe noot. After all, politics, even more than rocketry, is very, very hard.
Then industry minister James Moore at the 2014 Canadian Aerospace Summit and his successor, innovation minister NavDeep Bains at the 2016 edition of the same event. As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 post, "Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members," the membership of the space advisory board was long-awaited even in 2014, when Moore appointed retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, retired general and former CSA president Walt Natynczyk and others to the original committee. However, the 2014 board never issued a report and so the search for a new board was announced by Bains in November 2016 at the 2016 Aerospace Summit. The creation of a space advisory board was one of the recommendations of the November 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or "Emerson Report") which was presented to another industry minister, Christian Paradis, in November 2012. Photo's c/o Chuck Black & Brian Orlotti.
Those who don't believe that politics is just as hard as rocketry should check out the Space Advisory Board (SAB) which, as outlined beginning with the April 20th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Committee Members Announced: Various Stakeholders Release Independent Assessments, Just in Case," had a far more difficult time executing its mandate.
In fact, by the time the final report was released, and as outlined in the August 25th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs," the SAB members were only really willing to concede a single point. 
While they accepted that the SAB mandate hadn't been fulfilled with the release of the August 18th, 2017 SAB report, "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard: Space Advisory Board, August 2017" the board members wanted to keep their jobs and promised to do better next time.
SAB chair Stojak. Photo c/o HEC
To that end, and as outlined in the December 21st, 2017 More Commercial Space News post, "Space Advisory Board Wishes Canadian Space Industry a Happy Holiday & lists its activities," Lucy Stojak, the chair of the SAB has provided a list of activities undertaken by SAB members over the last little while. 
The activities included:
  • The Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) 2017 Space Policy Symposium, which was also held in Ottawa on November 9th, 2017, where SAB board members "participated in an interactive session where questions were answered on topics including youth engagement, public awareness, scientific opportunities, academic activities, etc."  
  • The Canadian Space Society (CSS) 2017 Space Summit, which was also held in Ottawa from November 21st - 22nd, 2017 where SAB board members "participated on various panels on topics including start-ups, education and outreach, space commerce, etc. Members also provided keynote speeches and closed the Summit with an Arm Chair Session alongside the AIAC." 
  • The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Space, Health and Innovation Forum, which was held near Ottawa in the John H. Chapman Space Centre, Saint-Hubert, PQ on from November 29th - 30th, 2017 where SAB board members "participated as a moderator for the panel on Health Risks of Spaceflight." 
As a knowledgeable reader can almost instantly discern, these four events were all in or near Ottawa, held in November 2017 and seemed to include no discussions of policy recommendations from SAB board members. SAB members did show up for the listed meetings and often supported either the Federal government or the AIAC members in attendance, but likely didn't say anything memorable or specific.
Bravo... Groovy...
But while good attendance and social graces are useful skills to possess, the SAB isn't lobbying the space industry to support anything in particular, as did those advocating for hard conclusions and increased funding included within something like the David Naylor led report.
Without solid conclusions and recommendations, the SAB report will gain no support among government or industry stakeholders, even if the SAB is allowed to follow through on its promise to do better next time.
As of press time, the Federal Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not responded to the SAB report.
Of course, there's no doubt that the most difficult part of the SAB mandate, as defined by the April 18th Canadian government post, "Government of Canada renews Space Advisory Board," is to "engage with Canadians to develop a new vision for Canada’s space sector and define key elements of a strategy that will be launched this summer.
This is especially true if you expect to be almost immediately ignored, not just by the Federal government, but also by the government agency responsible for coordinating Canadian space activities in favor of it's own, already well defined mission. 
Which is, in this case, almost exactly what happened. 
As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 post, "A New Science Advisor, that "Massive" Science Review, the Deep Space Gateway & the Latest JWST Postponement," the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has mostly signed on to international plans for the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), a crew-tended cislunar space station "concept" proposed for possible partnership between NASA, Roscosmos and other International Space Station (ISS) partners for construction in the 2020s, after the ISS is retired.
The only real advantage of the DSG is that it preserves existing space industry expertise since it requires pretty much the exact same contractors and skill-sets as were required to build the ISS. Those assets can easily be transferred over from the ISS program after the ISS is decommissioned. 
By the end of the year, and as outlined in the December 1st, 2017 post, "Deep Space Gateway "Key Part of Exploration Roadmap," the proposed DSG was pitched as being the core of an updated Global Exploration Roadmap being drafted by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) and expected to be released in January 2018.  
Of course, ISECG includes the CSA as a member. 
In fact, the only national space agency with a real option to either accept or reject the DSP is NASA. But, as outlined in the December 11th, 2017 post, "Dreaming Big: US President Trump Signs Directive to Send Americans Back to the Moon, Probably!," we'll need to wait until NASA's 2019 budget request is tabled in the US Congress to know for sure about their plans. 
So the CSA will more likely than not sign on to this proposal just so long as NASA does, no matter what our domestic SAB might want to decide. If you're a member of the SAB, the reality of that situation has just gotta hurt. 
It's worth noting that, at least in the beginning of the year, and as outlined in the January 22nd, 2017 post, "If Justin Trudeau Wants " Moon Shots," He Should Look to the Moon!" our Canadian Prime Minister was supposedly pursuing every available option to build actual policies around the concept of "Canada's innovation agenda," even going so far as to describe them as "Moon shots." As outlined in the article, most of those ideas were non-starters, although it also noted at least one private sector Canadian expatriate (Moon Express CEO Bob Richards) who likely would be able to land technology to the Moon in the near future. Now that the CSA, as part of the DSG program described above, is actually considering a return to the Moon, the silence from Ottawa is deafening. Photo's c/o Singularity Hub & Hollywood Life
From a business perspective, the big Canadian disappointment of the year is the postponement of the multi-billion dollar enhanced satellite communication project (ESCP), a long running, expensive, but mostly unfunded proposal to build a two node constellation of modified Molniya orbiting Department of National Defence (DND) satellites "to fill the requirement of the new Canadian defense policy for all-Arctic (communications) coverage."
As outlined in the December 08, 2017 post, "Long Awaited DND Polar Sats Postponed. Will be Cancelled/ Replaced/ Renamed After Next Election (Like Last Time)," the project had been languishing under a variety of different names under at least two different Federal governments since at least 2008. 
The latest delay is expected to kick off with a new round of "engagement" with industry to further define program requirements and help bring aboard new partners. 
Given the new time frame (with contracts being awarded "no later than 2024" and "initial operating capability" expected "no later than 2019"), it's quite possible that this program will soon be superseded by a variety of private sector satellite initiatives expected to come on line over the next few years.
But while Canada's space industry mostly remained in a holding pattern (and the Canadian government remained mostly silent) at least three foreign governments (the US, the Isle of Man and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) are moved forward with changes to laws governing the utilization of in-situ resources in space and their private sector utilization. 
As outlined in the August 1st, 2017 Inverse post, "Luxembourg's Asteroid Mining is Legal Says Space Law Expert," the new laws allow Luxembourg mining companies to "mine space rocks bigger than itself."
The new laws are coming at such a fast and furious pace that, as outlined in the November 23rd, 2017 post, "Lori Garver on Gov't Competing with the Private Sector, NASA, NewSpace, Maxar and the Brooke Owens Fellowship," there is now legitimate concerns over whether or not government space programs are beginning to compete with private sector initiatives.
To find out whether or not that state of affairs is an accurate assessment of the situation, it might be wise to check with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
As outlined in the September 29th, 2017 Planetary Society post, "SpaceX CEO Elon Musk updates Mars colonization plans," the current king of reusable rockets is planning to colonize Mars well ahead of NASA or the international consortium of space agencies currently committed to the DSG.  
Based on his past accomplishments, he has a better than even chance of succeeding. There's certainly no real competition there.
How big is the Canadian space industry? As outlined in the December 4th, 2017 post, "The Latest CDN Space Sector Report Notes 5 Year Slump (Except for BC) & Industry Dominates, Not Academia or Gov't," the industry is a $5.3Bln CDN behemoth, employing almost 10,000 people across the country from mostly the private sector. It's been stagnating since 2010. Graphic c/o CSA.
Even the private space sector, normally the main driver of Canadian space activities had a pretty quiet year in space, although there were many Earthbound challenges. 
Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler finally became San Franscisco CA based Maxar Technologies (the December 19th, 2017 post, "Maxar's Win and Canada's Loss"), a small Canadian based company (with secretive US based employees, Canadian lobbyists and strong connections to the Ukraine) offered to build an East coast rocket port (the November 16th, 2017 post, "More Rocket Shenanigans, Parts Problems at KB Yuzhnoye & Skyrora's Plan for a Scottish/ Ukrainian Spaceport"), Northern Canadians felt ignored (October 20th, 2017 post, "Inuit Leaders Ignored as ESA Satellite Launched Over the Arctic" ) and private satellite developers slowly moved forward with the technical and legal requirements needed to operate huge low Earth orbit satellite constellations (the September 11th, 2017 post, "New FCC Rules a Defeat for SpaceX, But May Signal Opportunity for OneWeb & Telesat"). 
Also, it's worth noting the latest Canadians who've decided to make the US the home base for their space activities (the September 25th, 2017 post, "Kepler Communications Co-Founds US Based Small-Sat Lobby Group" and the November 7th, 2017 post, "Another High Level Canadian Space Expert Relocates to the US."
Oh yeah, and Norsat got sold to the Chinese (the July 6th, 2017 post, "Avoiding "Norsat Like Uncertainty" by Allowing the Chinese to More Easily Buy Advanced Canadian Companies").
But perhaps the biggest, most under reported space story of the year, which will most affect Canada's space efforts over the long-term, was a story Canada played only a peripheral role in. 
As outlined in the December 19th, 2017 post, "ESA Signs €75Mln Euro ($114Mln CDN) Contract With Arianespace to Develop Prometheus Reusable Rocket," there are a lot of private sector players in space these days, several are building reusable rockets or going to the Moon or Mars on their own and governments keep bumping up against them. 
So what's going to happen next year in space for Canada? Find out, beginning January 5th, 2018 when the Commercial Space blog returns with all new stories.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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