Thursday, March 07, 2019

Minister Bains Releases "Canada's New (Sorta) Space Strategy," But No Details or Funding Breakdowns

          By Chuck Black

It wasn't a bad press conference, if you ignored the fact that it was set up mostly to release documents intended to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's February 28th, 2019 press conference announcing Canadian support for the US led Lunar Gateway program and funding for the construction of a new $2Bln CDN "Canadarm3."

There was also the question of why the language used by the presenters seemed targeted more at the elementary school children attending the event than at the Canadian taxpayers expected to pay for the program or the scientists, engineers and businessmen expected to build and manage the new Canadarm.

Be that as it may, on March 6th, 2019 Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains formally announced the release of the written copies of "Canada's New Space Strategy," at the Telus "World of Science" Centre in Edmonton AB to an audience of mostly elementary school students.

As outlined in the March 6th, 2019 Canadian government press release, "Launching Canada's Space Strategy," the key priority of the strategy is "investing in science, innovation and research" which, according the press release, will unlock "new opportunities for economic growth," create "thousands of jobs for hard-working Canadians," and help Canadian's "understand the world we live in and our place in it."

In essence, the new program seems to be all about jobs, although the specifics of how much those jobs could cost to create and where those jobs might eventually end-up has been (so far at least) left unsaid:
Government will position Canada's space industry to take full advantage of the growing global space economy while ensuring that Canada keeps pace. It will also support innovative space firms through a dedicated investment so that they can scale up and thrive both in Canada and abroad.
Hopefully, the Federal government will provide a little more clarity over the next few weeks. After all, most Canadians aren't going to appreciate having their tax money spent on the creation of new jobs in (for example) Colorado.

The strategy will also place a "priority on harnessing space science and technology to solve important challenges on Earth." These include:
  1. Investing in satellite communications technologies for broadband, including connectivity in rural and remote regions.
  2. Exploring how the delivery of healthcare services in isolated communities can be improved through lessons learned in space. 
  3. Funding the development and demonstration of lunar science and technologies in fields that include AI, robotics and health.
  4. Leveraging the unique data collected from Canada's space-based assets to grow businesses and conduct cutting-edge science, including about the impact of climate change on Earth's atmosphere.
It's interesting that only one item on the above list (Item 3) is currently dealt with directly through the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Given that the new space strategy includes a great many areas without direct CSA overview, the new policy is congruent with the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which was adapted originally by the previous Steven Harper Conservative government.

As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," Emerson argued for a narrowing 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."

Emerson recommended this specifically because of prime contractor cost overruns in several CSA programs, most notably Canada's Radarsat-2, which was built by what was then known as the Burnaby BC based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).

The new goals are also well within the current CSA mandate which, as outlined on the April 16th, 2018 CSA web page "Raison d'être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do," is focused around coordinating, assisting, promoting and encouraging, rather than controlling.

The press release noted a couple of interesting items related to the larger international space industry.
  • "Canada's space sector currently employs 10,000 highly skilled workers, generates $5.5 billion in Canada's economy annually, and averages $2 billion in export sales." 
The assumption is that this data comes from the CSA "State of the Canadian Space Sector Report 2016," which is the most recent CSA published report on the matter. 
According to the 2016 CSA report: 
  • In 2016, "the space sector contributed $2.3Bln CDN to Canada's GDP and supported a total of 21,654 jobs." 
  • In 2016, "total revenues in the Canadian space sector came to $5.5Bln CDN."  
  • Space generates "lucrative commercial opportunities for our companies. Morgan Stanley expects the global space market to triple in size to $1.1Tln US ($1.5Tln CDN) by 2040." 
The assumption is that this data comes from the November 7th, 2018 Morgan Stanley blog post, "Space: Investing in the Final Frontier," which noted "growing public sector interest" in the area and noted that "the global space industry could generate revenue of $1.1Trillion or more in 2040, up from $350Bln US currently." 
But the Morgan Stanley blog also noted that "most significant short- and medium-term opportunities may come from satellite broadband Internet access." Those opportunities are already well funded through the private sector.
  • The Government of Canada "has invested more than $2.5Bln CDN since 2015 in Canada's space sector, extending our participation in the International Space Station, providing funding to the Canadian Space Agency to test technologies in space, and helping Canadian companies scale up through the Strategic Innovation Fund." 
That may be true, but as outlined in the April 22nd, 2015 CBC News post, "Canada's International Space Station support extended to 2024" the Stephen Harper Conservatives were the ones who allocated $379Mln for Canada’s continuation in the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, not the Trudeau Liberals. 
It's very likely that the Conservative party would also join up to contribute to the US Lunar Gateway, if it were in power. Canada possesses a strong bipartisan consensus on how it should be assisting Canada's space industry and that consensus includes contributing to US projects like the Lunar Gateway. 

Documents released or items referenced during the press conference and in the press release include the following:
  • The CSA webpage outlining the Lunar Gateway and Canada's expected contribution to the US program.
  • The CSA overview of Canada's Junior Astronauts program, which is part of CSA educational efforts.
  • The Government of Canada Space Advisory Board (SAB) website, because the new policy is informed by the views and perspectives gathered by the SAB. This is another indication that the new policy is following the new rules announced in the 2012 Aerospace Review.
  • The Government of Canada Strategic Innovation Fund, another indication that at least some of the announced funding will not go through the CSA.
One of the more noteworthy absences in the document was anything substantial relating to the $150Mln CDN over five years promised under the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), which was supposed to fund the development and demonstration of lunar science and technologies in fields that include AI, robotics and health.

The program was simply noted, but nothing more was said.

But the new policy, even with all the included and anticipated (but still missing) documentation, doesn't have more than the the most vague of fiscal outlines of when the money will become available and how it will be spent. 

All of which makes perfect sense when you note that, as outlined in the March 6th, 2019 Forbes post, "Canada Makes A Risky Bet On A Giant Robot Arm," even the US Congress hasn't yet allocated enough money for a serious start on the Lunar Gateway.

They're also still cautious over the Constellation Program, NASA's last "big budget" attempt to go back to the Moon, which was cancelled in 2010.

Right now the Lunar Gateway is mostly a twinkle in a few farseeing eyes, despite what the fancy graphics and persuasive pundits might be suggesting.

The Liberal government is hoping that the Canadian public will become distracted by the romance of the big plan and forget to ask some of the harder questions, at least until after the next election. 

Just like children, which kinda accounts for the tone of the press conference.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

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