Thursday, September 20, 2018

Update on the Maxar/MDA Billion Dollar Campaign for Next-Gen Canadarm Funding

          By Henry Stewart

Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions (a subsidiary of Westminster, CO based Maxar Technologies) is moving forward with its controversial campaign to lobby the Federal government to provide up to $2Bln CDN over a period of up to twenty years to fund a "third-generation Canadarm" for NASA's planned Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G).

The campaign, currently being pushed by Maxar/MDA with the assistance of senior members of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) space committee and others, is wrapped around a suggestion that funding a new Canadarm would insure Canadian astronaut access to the LOP-G in much the same way the the earlier generations of Canadarms provided Canada's entrance fee into the International Space Station (ISS).

A subtext of the main plan seems to be that funding a major, international program would also re-establish Canada's traditional role as a player in the international space industry. New opportunities (such as on-orbit satellite servicing) would then open up for Canada, which would once again have the luxury of picking and choosing programs which could be crafted into a functioning and workable "long-term space plan."

The first problem with that strategy is that long-term space plans, beginning with the first one, "Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada by J.H. Chapman, P.A. Forsyth, P.A. Lapp and G.N. Patterson, which was written in 1967, have traditionally been focused around domestic concerns, not international opportunities.

The second problem, as outlined in the September 18th, 2018 post, "Colorado Based Maxar/MDA Asking for $1-2Bln to Build Another Canadarm for the US LOP-G," is the publicly perceived pressure being quietly placed on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government by Maxar/MDA, NASA and the US to announce support for the LOP-G and funding for another Canadarm program as quickly as possible. The pressure for an immediate solution makes it difficult to properly assess the costs and benefits of the proposal.

The third problem is that most of the money initially allocated for the LOP-G goes to Maxar/MDA which has promised a wonderful, but surprisingly vague, future of "unicorns and rainbows" for all organizations willing to support its plan. This promise doesn't sit well with many Maxar/MDA supporters who would like a little more detail on how all that new Federal funding will help to build out a "balanced program," where everyone receives a fair share of the Federal pie. 

The fourth problem with this strategy is that no real Canadian work on a "next generation Canadarm" has been undertaken in Canada since 2013 when the last large chunk of Federal funding for the program ran out. Five years is a long time in robotics.

Now that the general interest presentation kicking off the "Don't Let Go Canada" campaign is out of the way, the focus has changed to more business and political focused arenas.

On Tuesday, September 25th, 2018, MDA group president Mike Greenley and business manager Holly Johnson will be giving a presentation on "Securing Canada’s Place in Space," in Ottawa ON. The presentation will launch the Canadian Club of Ottawa's fall season.

On Tuesday, October 16th, 2018, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute will be presenting a full day event titled, "Ready for Launch: Preparing Canada for a Future in Space." The event will also take place in Ottawa ON, which will make it really convenient for all those politicians which Maxar/MDA are hoping will attend.

Speakers include Greenley, former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Mac Evans, Federal transport minister, ex-astronaut and ex-CSA head Marc Garneau (who will serve as keynote speaker), Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg, Honeywell Aerospace senior director of space payloads Marina Mississian, current CSA head Sylvain Laporte, Space Advisory Board (SAB) chair Lucy Stojak and quite a number of others.
Editors Note: It looks like the Federal government SAB website has gone offline. Here's hoping that the loss of the public access to the information collected by the SAB during its deliberations last spring is an accident and not a political statement on what the Federal Liberal government thinks of current SAB efforts.
Of course and as outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," it's well known that the SAB doesn't think all that highly of the government. 
That's part of the reason why SAB members are involved in the current Maxar/MDA effort and maybe those feelings are mutual. As always, we'll update this story as new information becomes available.
September 21st, 2018 Editors Note: Looks like the SAB website is back online but at a new location. It's now at It used to be at the slightly different
The future of the the Federal Space Advisory Board (shown here with innovation minister Navdeep Bains in February 2018, just before the 2018 Canadian Federal budget was announced) seemed a lot sharper when this photo was taken than it does today. Photo c/o Canadian Space Society.
Meanwhile, back on Parliment Hill the budget process will continue and will culminate sometime around March 2019, when the next Federal budget will be released.

While Maxar/MDA hasn't been called to present in person during the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the 2019 Federal Budget, that doesn't necessarily mean that any final decision has been made.

Stand by for adventure.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

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