This Week in Space for Canada

While Com Dev International slowly builds its government satellite business, the James Webb Space Telescope gains the reputation of being a “a giant money sponge.” Meanwhile, our own CBC Mother Corp prefers to ignore real space in favour of suborbital stories from long dormant “coulda been” contenders. Brother can you spare a dime to grow my ratings, this week in space for Canada.


Our first story this week comes to us via the November 8th, 2010 Canadian Press article “Com Dev wins $6 million commercial satellite deal.” According to the article “The total value of the contracts is more than C$6 million, and will be recorded as a new order in the company’s 2010 fiscal year.”
Elizabeth Howell, over on the PARS3C blog, in her November 11th, 2010 article “COM DEV adds another satellite win to roster” says the Cambridge, Ont.-based firm is relying on repeat business to maintain revenue and mentions several other deals that fall into the same pattern such as the recent completion of test components for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The strong suggestion is that interim CEO Michael Pley will be unlikely to undertake new initiatives until a permanent management team is installed. In September 2010 the firm fired ex-CEO John Keating for revenue shortfalls related to cost overruns on government satellite projects.
Speaking of government contracts, cost overruns and the JWST, the New York Times reported on November 10th, 2010 that the James Webb Space “Telescope Is Behind Schedule and Over Budget, Panel Says.” According to the article:
The James Webb Space Telescope, which already consumes 40 percent of the astrophysics budget at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), will actually end up costing $6.2 billion to $6.8 billion, the panel said, and the earliest launching date would be September 2015. NASA gave the go-ahead for the telescope in 2008 expecting that it would be launched in June 2014.
The bottom line was that there was just not enough money in the budget to execute the work that was required,” said the review panel’s leader, John R. Casani, a former project manager for NASA’s successful Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions.

The article refers to the recently completed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) Report which said the program was in good shape technically, but had failed to make realistic estimates of the costs and schedule.
Keith Cowing, over at NASA Watch, has collected the most interesting and informative articles under the title “Webb, The Giant Money Sponge” and states that:
NASA already does not have the money for the mandated STS-135 mission (a similar amount). Between ongoing CRs (Continuing Resolution) and expected budgeteering by the new Republican-led Congress NASA certainly does not stand to get more money. Indeed it will probably get less money. So … where does the money come from?
JWST is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) but no Canadian subcontractors (which include Com Dev and BC based Macdonald Detwiller) nor anyone at the CSA has so far weighed in on what needs to be done to salvage the project. Don’t expect that to change soon since the CSA is only making a small financial contribution ($39 million at last estimate) and wants to remain friends with the US prime contractors.
Our final story comes through the November 12th, 2010 CBC News article “Canadian space flight dreams live on.” According to the article:
A new, Canadian commercial spacecraft prototype could launch as soon as next year, a former contender for the Ansari X Prize hopes.
The article goes on to quote Brian Feeney, the leader of the former Da Vinci Project, a privately funded volunteer-staffed attempt to launch a reusable manned suborbital spacecraft which competed for the Ansari X-Prize on his latest project. According to the article:
“It’s got wings, it takes off from a runway, it flies by itself up to a launch altitude of 50,000 feet plus, it fires its rocket engines, it goes up into space, it re-enters, and it lands on the same runway.”
As well, according to the article, “Feeney plans to run the new spacecraft entirely on biofuel from non-food sources such as algae, using liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.
With all due respect to Mr. Feeney (who I know and often disagree with when he attends Canadian Space Commerce Association meetings) this article does him no service.
It also makes the CBC look foolish.
The article doesn’t reference any tests Mr. Feeney may or may not have done and provides no data to either support or dispute his current statements or claims. It also makes no mention of any actual hardware he may or may not have developed to showcase his inventions or follow through on his intentions.
Everything in the article or nothing could actually exist and if nothing exists then there is no real news here; just unsupported statements and requests for further funding (which reminds me of the JWST).
But if there is actual hardware, testing and data available to support the claims and statements made by Mr. Feeney, then author Emily Chung has done him a serious disservice by quoting seemingly outrageous statements (“Biofuel Powered“) without including the background material which could add credibility.
In essence, either CBC has either done a hatchet job on Mr. Feeney by not providing the background needed to assess his claims or else there is no story here and the real mystery is what prompted the CBC to pretend there was.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.

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