Thursday, June 14, 2018

Student Who Guided Ex-Alta 1 Gets Job in Europe & CDN Astronomical Society Lobbies Ottawa Over Cancelled WFIRST

         By Chuck Black

Two stories in the news this week help to illustrate the current optimistic, pessimistic and essentially bipolar nature of the issues surounding our Canadian space industry.

Mindful of his past, Hrynyk is also looking forward to his future. Photo c/o Jason Franson.

To begin with, and as outlined in the June 11th, 2018 Folio post, "Space odyssey continues for graduating engineer," a European based space start-up has offered a job to one of the graduating mechanical engineers responsible for the launch and ongoing operation of Ex-Alta 1, the University of Alberta's (UofA) successful microsat contribution to the international QB50 mission.

According to newly minted engineer Tyler Hrynyk:
I joined AlbertaSat at a perfect time to be part of the Ex-Alta 1 launch, and then go on to a leadership position on the team, and we won the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (a competition for teams of university students to design and build a small, fully-operational satellite able to conduct a science mission). 
And now at the end of my degree, I’m so well-rounded, I’m able to move directly into the space industry.
But he won't stay in Canada.

According to Hrynyk, he will work "at a job created for him at Innovative Solutions in Space (ISIS), a Netherlands-based startup that was also a service provider to AlbertaSat’s Ex-Alta 1 project."

As outlined most recently in the February 8th, 2018 CBC Radio The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti discussion on our "Failure to launch: Canada's lack of a rocket program leaves us grounded, say experts," almost 50% of our graduating aerospace engineers and rocket scientists are forced to leave the country upon graduation, in order to find employment.

Hrynyk's new employer is a commercial spinoff from the Delft, Netherlands based Delft University of Technology.  ISIS also designed and built the Ex-Alta 1 microsat bus and currrently manages more than 2,000 orbiting satellites.

Free yoga on Parliment Hill. Who said the Federal government has never done anything for us. Photo  c/o

For our second story, the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) is in Ottawa this week to lobby the Federal government for the "long-term support of space-based science after Canada was forced to pull out of a high-profile NASA-led telescope project."

As outlined in the June 13th, 2018 iPolitics post, "Space group takes to the Hill after Canada drops major NASA project," Canada recently withdrew from the NASA led Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) program because of a lack of funds.

According to the May 29th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Lack of funding forces Canada to abort mission on NASA telescope project," Canada had already contributed approximately $3.1Mln CDN in concept studies and technology development to WFIRST:
But the space agency reached a crossroads about three weeks ago, when NASA needed a firm financial commitment, which the agency estimates would cost about $100Mln CDN over 10 years, mostly to pay for contracts to Canadian aerospace firms...
While these costs are estimated to be far higher than the costs associated with Ex-Alta 1 or even the 2000 other satellites currently managed by ISIS, CASCA president Robert Thacker believes that Canada’s reputation on the world stage is taking the hit because of the decision to drop out of WFIRST.

According to Thacker:
We don’t want to be seen as a bad partner where we say yes we’ll develop something and then at the end of the day, when the money isn’t there, we say sorry we can’t contribute after all. 
It all boils down to the fact that we don’t have a long term plan about how the space agency is funded and operated.
According to the iPolitics article, Thacker is hoping to restore the procurement capabilities and independance of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and then increase its overall funding to support WFIRST and other programs.

CASCA has a long history of advising the CSA through the CASCA Joint Committee on Space Astronomy, which advises on matters pertaining to the space astronomy segment of the CSA space science program, including priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms, funding areas and the extent of funding.

Of course, CASCA's influence has waned with CSA's.

As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," CSA procurement capabilities and the ability to drive policy independently of government were capabilities mostly removed from the CSA as a result of the findings of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review.

Emerson found ongoing "procurement problems" within the CSA, "and a lack of direction within government in general and the CSA in particular with regard to 'Canada's space program and its role in advancing national priorities.'"

That lack of direction within government and the CSA certainly hasn't changed over the last six years and likely won't change in the future if the Federal government's only real option is to fling short term funding to resuscitate WFIRST.

Some, including Thacker, seem to consider additional funds to be the only real choice although he's careful to couch the new funding within calls for "new government policies" and "long-term space plans" able to restore to our national space agency to its past glory.

But others, including people like Tyler Hrynyk, are far more private sector focused and acting accordingly. They foresee a bright future, even though that future may not include Canada.

Which one is right? Are there any solutions able to take both viewpoints into account?

Right now, no one really knows how to thread this needle.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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