Monday, May 28, 2018

Minister Bains Promises "Canadian Space Strategy" Within Months... Again!

         By Chuck Black

It's probably not worth a whole lot of space in this blog to mention that Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has once again promised to release a "Canadian space strategy" sometime within the coming months.

After all, Bains has made much the same promise before as have other Federal politician's in both the Liberal and Conservative parties over the last decade.

Men on a mission! Innovation Minister Bains (centre) with CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen (left) and CSA president Sylvain Laporte in the MDA facilities in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, PQ. where, as outlined in the May 25th, 2018 post, "Canadian Space Agency Awards 33 Organizations $26.7Mln CDN Through STDP Program," Bain's announced new CSA funding under the Space Technology Development Program (STDP). After the announcement, the visitors received a tour of the facilities where the three RADARSAT Constellation satellites (RCM) are currently undergoing testing in anticipation of a launch sometime before the end of the year. Photo c/o @NavdeepSBains.

As outlined in the May 25th, 2018 Canadian Press post, "New Canadian space strategy to be unveiled ‘in the coming months’: Bains," the Innovation Minister made the latest promise during last Friday's Canadian Space Agency (CSA) press conference announcing that 33 organizations would be receiving a series of grants totalling $26.7Mln CDN to "further Canada's role in space technology."

That article also noted that the current Liberal government plan to develop a new space policy was already over a year behind schedule.

This latest statement is only the most recent in a series of Federal commitments going back at least ten years to 2008, when then Industry Minister Jim Prentice gave a speech outlining the mandate for Steve MacLean, then the incoming CSA president.

Jim Prentice in 2008. Photo c/o CBC.
During that speech, Prentice explicitly mentioned the need for a "new" long-term space plan (LTSP), which is what they used to call a space strategy.

As outlined in the September 3rd, 2008 CSA press release, "Speaking Points - The Honourable Jim Prentice, PC, QC, MP Minister of Industry: Canadian Space," Prentice said:
I have given Steve a mandate to make sweeping changes at the CSA. As we stand at this crossroads, he will revitalize the Agency. He will restore its ability to punch above its weight in an international quest. He will develop Canada's capacity for a new era of prestige and achievement. 
And to that end, as one of Steve MacLean's first acts as new President, the CSA will begin consultations with stakeholders that will lead to a new Long-Term Space Plan (LTSP). 
I expect this plan — the fourth in the series — to be as influential for our generation of exploration and development as any plan that Canada has produced for charting our future in space. 
That's a tall order. I know that Steve is capable of bringing together the stakeholders. Time is of the essence, and I look forward to the plan in the coming months.
Of course, that plan eventually went up in smoke and was replaced by the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review.

As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," Emerson advocated a strictly limited role for the CSA, with decreased procurement capabilities and increased public oversight (including the formation of the original "space advisory board") because of a series of acknowledged "procurement problems" and a "lack of direction within government in general and the CSA in particular."

MacLean. Photo c/o NASA/JSC.
In essence, the Aerospace Review wasn't so much as statement of future goals (as had been traditional with space policy documents) as it was advocating the reigning-in of CSA procurement excesses and the narrowing of the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government."

This cut to the bone of what the CSA believed it should be doing.

As outlined in the January 19th, 2013 post, "Praising Steve MacLean," the embattled CSA president resigned only a few short months after the Aerospace Review was released in November 2012.

The Aerospace Review enjoyed broad bipartisan support among both the Federal Conservative and Liberal parties and was eventually implemented as government policy.

But off the record, most anyone at the CSA will tell you today that, without the ability to develop and build hardware in the form of satellites, spacecraft or International Space Station (ISS) components like the Canadarm, the current CSA cannot survive.

This is also why the CSA is so intent to contribute to the US led Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G)/ Deep Space Gateway (DSG) program.

Sources within the CSA say the LOP-G/DSG program is the last real chance for the CSA to "bend metal" and build hardware for the forseeable future.

As outlined in the May 18th, 2018 post, "That Massive Political Elephant Crowding Every Room at CASI ASTRO'18," the CSA is currently on such a short leash that even the LOP-G/DSG needs Federal government approval before moving forward.

Come September, NASA will likely want some sort of commitment from the Canadian government to formally support LOP-G/ DSG requirements as a preliminary to finalizing the design and issuing contracts. NASA begins its FY 2019 budget cycle on October 1st, 2018.

On the other hand, the issues which comprise the domestic "space policy" bucket have grown over the last five years to a point where many of the required answers no longer demand input from a national space agency.

For example, over the last six months, the Trump administration in the US has begun easing restrictions governing the activities of space companies such as Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, and centralizing the remaining regulations with the Secretary of Transportation.

As outlined in the May 25th, 2018 post, "Trump's New Space Policy Directive 2 Could Make Life Easier for SpaceX and Others," Trump has also ordered the US Commerce Secretary "to review regulations on the commercial remote-sensing industry, and gives the secretary 30 days to come up with a plan to create a "one-stop shop" within the Commerce Department for private-spaceflight regulation."

Such a streamlining of legislation, if undertaken in Canada, would certainly be useful for Canadian space companies such as Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks (NNN).

As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 post, "That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used," NNN and it's international partners are still waiting for the second of two Canadian government licences needed to operate a domestic satellite receiving facility.

The process has taken two years so far and solving that problem would, by now, require very little additional input from the CSA in Canada or NASA in the US.

On the other hand, any real solution might require leadership from the Canadian Federal government. That will be harder.

But maybe, if Minister Bains is willing to seperate the concept of a "Canadian space strategy" into its individual components, then resolve each of those components seperately, there might be some reasonable expectation of something concrete being announced over the coming months.

Those components could include:
  • The requirements to modernize and simplify existing legislation relating to Canadian communication and Earth imaging satellites.
  • The requirement to address internal CSA perceptions relating to what the agency thinks it needs in order to remain useful.
No doubt, there are many more components needing to be seperated from the larger concept of a "space policy" and then dealt with individually and maybe they will be.

But if not, this latest government promise will end up being no better remembered by voters than were any of the previous, failed commitments from both sides of the House of Commons.

Back to you, Minister Bains. Please note that next year is an election year.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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