Thursday, May 23, 2019

Canadian Space Agency Role "Evolving," But Maxar Technologies Has a New $375Mln US Contract for the Lunar Gateway

          By Chuck Black

NASA has awarded Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies, in conjunction with Kent WA based Blue Origin and Cambridge MA based Draper, a "firm-fixed priced" contract worth up to $375Mln US ($505Mln CDN) to develop the lead element of NASA's planned Lunar Gateway, a component of the new Artemis plan to return US astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

Known as the power and propulsion element (PPE), the module is currently expected to launch in late 2022. The procurement process will be "non-traditional" which, as outlined in the May 20th, 2019 post, "NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers," is designed to keep costs down, lower oversight requirements and speed up implementation.

The announcement was made by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the Florida Institute of Technology on May 23rd, 2019.

The new Maxar contract comes only one day after Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte went to Washington to meet with Bridenstine and discuss speeding up the implementation schedule for Canada's contribution to the Lunar Gateway.

Maxar is also the prime contractor for the new "3rd generation" Canadarm, Canada's primary contribution to the Lunar Gateway. The new Canadarm is currently scheduled to be installed on the Lunar Gateway in 2027, well after the new Maxar PPE is operational and in-orbit.

This also makes the new Maxar PPE a higher operational priority for the program than any new Canadarm.

As outlined in the May 23rd, 2019 NASA press release, "NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion," the new Maxar contract will begin:
... with a 12-month base period of performance... followed by a 26-month option, a 14-month option and two 12-month options. 
Spacecraft design will be completed during the base period, after which the exercise of options will provide for the development, launch, and in-space flight demonstration. The flight demonstration will last as long as one year, during which the spacecraft will be fully owned and operated by Maxar. 
Following a successful demonstration, NASA will have the option to acquire the spacecraft for use as the first element of the Gateway. NASA is targeting launch of the power and propulsion element on a commercial rocket in late 2022. 
Maxar has based the PPE on its Palo Alto CA based SSL owned 1300-class satellite platform. As outlined in the May 23rd, 2019 Maxar press release, "Maxar Selected to Build, Fly First Element of NASA’s Lunar Gateway," the PPE will also include an "affordable and innovative" electric-propulsion-enabled system, which "will provide power, maneuvering, attitude control, communications systems and initial docking capabilities."

NASA's team on the left (with NASA Administrator Bridenstine second from the left) discusses politics and procurement with Canada's team on the right (with CSA President Laporte, the second from the right) in Washington on May 22nd, 2019. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2019 Space News post, "Canada mulls accelerated schedule to keep pace with NASA’s 2024 moon goal," noted that, while "NASA’s previous plans called for a return to the moon by 2028. Laporte described Canada’s role in the Gateway as “evolving” in light of the new 2024 target." Bridenstine and others within NASA have expressed an openness to foreign contractors working on the Maxar PPE, although no confirmed non-US subcontractors have so-far been announced. Photo c/o @JimBridenstine.

The press release also quoted Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky, who stated:
Maxar Space Solutions is proud to play a critical role in enabling American astronauts to build a sustainable presence on the Moon. Our power and propulsion element partnership enables NASA to leverage Maxar’s commercial capabilities to cost-effectively expedite plans for sustainable exploration of the Moon, while also providing significant benefits to American industry.
Time to change socks? Photo c/o Anonymous.
But it likely won't provide all that many benefits to Canada although it will be configured to accept that new Canadarm everyone expects to be installed in 2027.

Earlier this year and as outlined in the February 28th, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would be allocating $2.05Bln CDN over the next twenty-four years to build a new, 3rd generation Canadarm, to contribute to the NASA program.

Trudeau even made it the core of "Canada’s new, ambitious space strategy."

Then US President Donald Trump changed the plan. 

Canadian technology was no longer on the "critical path," at least until after the Americans return to the Moon in 2024.

That's not to say that Canada's contribution is no longer important. But it is a reminder that Canada's domestic space program is no longer totally in the hands of Canada's national space agency.

In a May 23rd, 2019 e-mail exchange with this blog, CSA media relations chief Marie-André Malouin noted that:
President Laporte and Administrator Bridenstine held one of their regular meetings on Washington on May 22. Their brief discussion focused on the lunar program, on the need for Canadian robotics on Gateway and on future collaborations. 
The positive outcome of their discussion is reflected in Jim Bridenstine's comments about Canada's partnership earlier today. We continue to work closely with NASA on the exciting lunar exploration campaign. This is just the beginning.
It is indeed the beginning of something.

Best guess is that, if you're a Canadian company looking to participate in the exploration of the Moon and other heavenly bodies, you might want to skip out on the courtesy call to CSA headquarters in Longueuil PQ and instead focus on making a direct connection with Maxar executives in Westminster CO.

After what happened today, the Colorado executives certainly seem to have more "pull." 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

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