Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two Billion Dollars for the Canadian Space Agency
Part 1: Do We Really "Punch Above our Weight?"

Back in November of last year, I presented a paper at the 2010 Canadian Space Summit titled "Two Billion Dollars for the Canadian Space Agency: Historical Antecedents, Available Options and a Realistic Appraisal of the CSA’s Chances of Ever Getting a Funding Increase."

I wrote the paper (actually, I just built power-points) in response to comments Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean made on May 12th, 2010, while presenting to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU) where he said:
You know what?

If you want to do a first rate (job) on some of the examples (of potential CSA projects) I gave you, you are looking at an additional budget of $2 billion over five years.

That will put us at the table. That will drive innovation. 

I've always been one of those people wanting to drive innovation.

But I've also always wanted to see what $2 billion spread over five years could allow the CSA to accomplish, where the money could come and how our current opportunities compare to earlier opportunities and previous Canadian long term space plans.

There are no obvious answers to those questions but here's what I found.
Nations with active space programs color coded by capabilities c/o Wikipedia.
If we compare the annual CSA self described budget of approximately $300 million CDN (according to the CSA FAQ page) with the budgets of 20 other national space agencies, we find that the CSA is ranked 13th among the top 20 national space agencies in terms of funding, at least according to the current Wikipedia entry.  

This really isn't all that bad given that we're ahead of most everyone else except for the big, billion dollar plus a year players like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($19 billion per year), the European Space Agency ($5.4 billion per year), the French Space Agency ($2.59 billion per year), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency ($2.46 billion per year), the Russian Federal Space Agency ($2.4 billion per year), the German Aerospace Center ($2 billion per year), the Chinese National Space Administration ($1.3 billion per year) the Indian Space Research Organization ($1.27 billion per year) and the Italian Space Agency ($1 billion per year).

But if we then make a more detailed comparison between CSA activities and the other national space agencies with similar budgets we find that:
  • The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) with an allocated budget of approximately $500 million USD and few international avenues for co-operation is focused almost entirely on doing everything internally (with perhaps some Chinese assistance). The country is “orbital capable" (starting with the Shahab-3 rocket), has launched and recovered live animals from suborbital trajectories and is slowly moving towards a manned space program.
  • The new UK Space Agency (UKSA), formed in April 2010 with an allocated budget of approximately $415 million USD is building strong international partnerships with the European Space Agency, NASA and India but also focused internally on the development of game changing “breakthrough” technologies in collaboration with private business and public educational facilities such as Virgin Galactic, Reaction Engines Ltd. (the developers of the Skylon space plane), Surrey Satellites and others. 

UK launches new space agency. Uploaded by itnnews.

    Brazilian Sonda III.
    • The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) with an allocated budget of $343 million USD focuses on joint technology development, initially with the US, but also with China, Russia and the Ukraine. The agency has current suborbital rocket launch capabilities (the Sonda series, plus the VSB-30, VB-30 and VS-40 rockets) and a history of ITAR related issues with the US, mostly because of it's ongoing Southern Cross orbital rocketry development program in conjunction with the Russians.
      The control room of the NARO Space Center in South Korea.
          The tentative conclusion seems to be that a specific dollar amount doesn’t necessarily limit available options when running a space program. After all, our direct national competitors with equivalent budgets also have rockets, astronauts and strong science and technology programs.

          In fact, a cursory look at the competition would seem to indicate no specific area where Canadian's really punch "above our weight" in space.

          Zinit 2 at Baikonor Cosmodrome in December 2001.
          If any organization stands out, it's NSAU, with the smallest budget but 20% of the worlds satellites launching on Ukraine rockets. Of course, much seems to depend on history (the Ukraine was once a  part of the old Soviet Union) present partnerships, existing infrastructure and national requirements.

          But some of it also seems to depend on the conscious choice of the program administrators and the national governments which place restrictions on space agencies, no matter how big the budget.

          So the CSA isn't necessarily limited by it's budget but might be limited by our federal government and the perceptions of CSA administrators.

          Why would the federal government and our CSA set out to "limit" space activities?

          We'll discuss those issues and the federal governments perception of our Canadian space program in part 2 of this post.

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