The “Mother Corp.” asks when (not if) Canadians should stop looking for life on Mars and the Canadian Forces (CF) tells the US military that their aim is to develop a professional CF space cadre (with American help of course) but the UK Space Innovation and Growth Team (Space IGT), boldly goes forward amid growing speculation that England may no longer be just a small space niche player. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.
Our first story comes to us via the October 8th, 2010 CBC News website article “When do we stop looking for life on Mars?”
According to author Stephen Strauss, recent Canadian Space Agency (CSA) activity has been focused on Mars and the search for life on that planet because of CSA initiatives beginning in 2004 when then CSA President Marc Garneau talked of a “distinctly Canadian” trip to Mars that would be as natural an enterprise to us as “building a railway across a vast and rugged country was in 1885.”
His core point is that recent Canadian initiatives arising out of the 2004 Garneau speech are not, in any way, “distinctly” Canadian but are instead mostly short-term subcontracting work for other organizations with no obvious Canadian specific applications when they conclude.
According to Strauss, “contrary to Garneau’s vision, we aren’t leading anything these days. We are, as almost always when it comes to space exploration, hitchhikers on others’ missions.” He includes initiatives like the MATMOS science instrument for the scheduled 2016 NASA/ European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission, the various CSA Exploration Surface Mobility (ESM) programs covering next generation robotic technologies and Canadian contributions to the upcoming NASA Mars Science Laboratory in his assessment.
Strauss is, of course, essentially correct (although a more complete version of what Garneau originally said and the context for those comments was provided by Eric Choi in his February 24th, 2004, Space Review article titled “A Maple Leaf on the Red Planet“).
But Strauss also misses the essential underlying reason for these types of missions which ensure Canadians a place at the international space exploration table to exchange data, compare ideas, learn from others and peer review practices and initiatives.
He also forgot to mention that, every once in awhile, Canadians do come up with a “distinctly” Canadian space mission. We did it first with Telesat (originally a Canadian crown corporation created to develop and launch domestic communications satellites). We did it again with Radarsat and it’s follow-on programs (originally developed to monitor environmental changes and natural resources).
There’s every indication that we’ll be able to do it again and when we do, Canadians will have a long term space plan that the our government of the day can publicly and officially support.
Which brings us to our next story. According to the October 6th, 2010 post on the Official Website of the US Air Force titled “Canadian forces contribute to space mission:”
When service members here (at the US Vandenberg Air Force Base) perform a mission, whether it is space surveillance or launching a payload into space, it is not solely an American effort, but rather a joint effort. One such example is the partnership here between Americans and Canadians.
This is a typical example of the co-operation going on today to ensure Canadians a place at the international table. According to the article, the CF uses these postings to “develop a professional Canadian forces space cadre that can contribute to both coalition and combined space operations” according to Canadian air force Lt. Col. Steve Sarty. Once back in Canada, the CF participants are better able to contribute to Canadian initiatives like the Canadian Space Surveillance System (CSSS) which will be a component of the larger United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN).
Of course, not every player in space considers themselves restricted to being mostly a subcontractor for larger players. Take for example, the British, who were until very recently a very small player in the much larger space arena.
It’s worth noting that much of the reason for this new British view has to do with a group called the Space Innovation and Growth Team (Space IGT), a joint UK government and industry initiative in the midst of defining a 20-year strategy for the future growth of the UK space industry. Unlike our Canadian equivalent (the CSA’s never seen but oft mentioned long term space plan) the British plan is public, open to debate and focused specifically on identifying future business opportunities for British firms.
According to their September 2010 National Space Technology Workshops Presentation, the Space IGT mandate is to focus on satellite broadband, TV broadcast, Earth observation and locational services plus low cost access to space with the intent of being first to market in order to maximize growth. The overall expectation of Space IGT is to grow the current UK share of the world space market from 6% to 10% and create 100,000 new jobs by 2030.
Public figures associated with Space IGT include Andy Green, (the CEO of Logica who is acting as committee Chair), Lord Drayson, Perry Melton (the CEO of Inmarsat) and Timothy Peake (the first British citizen to be selected as an astronaut by ESA).
The criteria to develop industries where being “first to market” is a reasonable option has led to a focus on new “breakthrough” technologies and techniques for new markets rather than consistent growth of existing products in defined markets.
For example, according to the RocketeersUK website (which seems to be shaping up as the source of record for British activities in this area) companies associated with Space IGT include Virgin Galactic, Excalibur Almaz (both focused on the emerging space tourism market), Reaction Engines (the developers of the Skylon reusable spaceplane) and various technology start-ups locating their head offices in the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown Dependency offering incentives to local space focused start-ups.
There seems to be much that the Canadian government and CSA President Steve MacLean can learn from this British initiative to grow British companies. The lessons learned here might even help us come up with a “distinctly” Canadian space mission that our politicians and even the CBC could potentially support.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.