This Week in Space for Canada

Canadian Space Agency President Steve MacLean tells the Winnipeg Free Press that his cash poor agency is developing a space policy which lines up behind the Obama administration, the Washington Post tells it’s readers that the cash poor U.S. space policy is already lined up on “a collision course with itself” due to a lack of funding and cash flush private satellite operator SES publicly lusts over Canadian competitor Telesat. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.


Our first story this week comes to us via the August 8th, 2010 Winnipeg Free Press article “Space: private industry’s final frontier” which focuses on Obama administration initiatives to privatize “the exploration of space” and how these activities could be a blessing for Canada’s aerospace industry.
The article quotes the CSA president as stating that his agency is in the process of developing its own long-term space policy which is likely to line up with that of the Obama administration, which has goals “very similar to the types of things that we would like to do.
Whether or not the proposed US space policy is actually intended to privatize the exploration of space as the Winnipeg Free Press article claims or is designed to merely change the financial mechanism used to fund the transport of objects and astronauts into Earth orbit (and leaving aside the possibility that our CSA president was misquoted) the fact remains that the present US space program is simply not the best model for Canadian authorities to emulate.
If nothing else, the US space program has no money and will not move forward in it’s present form so any strategy aligned behind it will also end up not moving forward.
According to the August 8th, 2010 Washington Post article “What’s missing from the bold plans for human spaceflight” the US spaceflight program is on a “a collision course with itself.”
“with the funding for NASA set around $19 billion and not likely to change, bold plans for humans in space are simply not feasible. Something must give. If the administration and Congress truly want human spaceflight, they need to fund it adequately. Piecemeal funding that dooms programs to failure is a waste of money — especially when so many truly vital space functions, from the satellites that supply maps and communications to the telescopes that allow us to glimpse distant worlds, could benefit from such support.”
It’s hard to believe that an agency with a $19 billion yearly budget has no money and is surrounded by others who believe that “bold plans” are not feasible because of this but perhaps the discussion of the reasons behind this strange turn of events should occur some other time.
For now, it’s certain that any strategy requiring such large amounts of money and then more simply to move forward isn’t a useful strategy for the cash strapped CSA to emulate.
So it’s fortunate that Canadian long term space plans, going right back to the Chapman Report (Canada’s first long term space plan) are focused on low cost space activities and technologies to solve specific problems which are then commercialized and sold to others.
CSA president MacLean must surely be aware of this ongoing government policy. After all, the current Conservative government under Stephen Harper has gone so far as to state this explicitly in documents such as Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage (May 2007) and the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Progress Report (June 2009) but the general policy outline has been in place for generations and enjoys wide support across party lines.
For example, Telesat (created in 1969 as a Canadian government owned or “crown” corporation under the Pierre Trudeau liberal government) was originally mandated simply to develop communications services in the far north using technology developed through another government department, the Communications Research Centre (CRC), which was then responsible for coordinating R&D activities in communications. CRC activities then were much like CSA activities now and included control over most of Canada’s early satellite launches such as Alouette 1, the first satellite designed and built by any country other than the United States or the Soviet Union.
Telesat quickly fulfilled its communication mandate and eventually received credit for several space focused “firsts” of its own including the world’s first domestic communications satellite in geostationary orbit operated by a commercial company (ANIK A1). The company currently owns a fleet of 13 communication satellites plus operates 13 additional satellites for other entities. These assets are administered by 500 employees with a yearly budget twice that of the CSA, which makes Telesat the fourth-largest fixed satellite services provider in the world.
But whatever the bottom line might show, the recent awarding of the John H. Chapman Award of Excellence to the first president of Telesat, Dr. David Golden for his “outstanding contribution to the Canadian space program” reinforces the longstanding perception that Telesat has always been more than just a business. One day writers will create fascinating historical accounts of Telesat’s early activities in much the same way Pierre Burton wrote about the railroads when he called them “The National Dream.”
The CSA president might be best served by using the successful Canadian story of Telesat as his model for future CSA activities and paying perhaps a little less attention to US space activities and priorities.
Of course, all good things must come to an end and that leads us to our final story titled “Cash-flush Satellite Operators See Divergent Paths to Greater Profits: SES Still Hungry for Acquisitions” as posted on the Space News website.
According to the article “Satellite fleet operator SES on July 30 said it is weighing expansion in Latin America, Asia and even Canada and has not ruled out using its huge cash flow starting in 2012 to purchase growth, whether by acquisition or by securing new orbital slots.
SES Chief Executive Romain Bausch said the company would above all seek to invest its cash in new growth. He mentioned investment opportunities in Latin America, parts of Asia and stated that “Telesat of Canada, the world’s fourth-largest provider of fixed satellite services, also may be viewed as an acquisition target.”
This contrasts with the March 14th, 2010 Report on Business article titled “Freed by the feds, Telesat begins the hunt for deals” which reported that “Canada’s largest satellite company is mulling global acquisitions after the federal government said it would loosen foreign ownership restrictions in the telecom sector.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

MDA

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