Monday, December 27, 2010

Canada's Military Space Policy:
Part 2, The Changing Political Landscape

The recent announcement that the Department of National Defence (DND) is set to release an "updated" but not substantially changed Canadian military space policy over the next few months suggests a series of obvious questions.
Jean Cretien, the 20th Prime Minister of Canada.

In part one of this blog post, titled "The Axworthy Doctrine," I attempted to answer some of those questions by showing how the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's led Canada to re-orient defense spending away from traditional Canadian priorities and towards international peacekeeping missions as defined by the concept of "human security."

This doctrine, initially viewed by the governing liberal party under Jean Chrétien as a great way to save money, also created a requirement to support a far more combat capable force on lengthy international missions.

The easiest way to do that, at least according to the Summer 2000 Canadian Military Journal article "Is the Sky Falling? Canada's Defence Space Program at the Crossroads," was to develop an indigenous military space communications and surveillance capability. According to the article:
The massive troop deployments of the 1990s highlighted the immediate requirement for adequate indigenous Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM). The increased employment of precision guided munitions demonstrated a growing dependence on accurate strategic intelligence, satellite imagery, and satellite navigation and positioning. Also, the general increase in littoral operations by naval forces placed a greater dependence on accurate meteorological and geodetic capabilities.

As the (Canadian) government continued to commit Canadian Forces across the world, more and more space support was necessary. Reluctantly perhaps, the Liberal government accepted that the militarization of space was a long-existing fact that had to be publicly supported if it was to meet other foreign policy goals.
Why was the Liberal government reluctant to accept the "militarization of space" as a long existing fact? According to the article there was ample precedent for this reluctance:
Pierre Trudeau, the 15th Prime Minister of Canada in 1971.
Canada’s endorsement of the United Nation’s treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in 1963 (the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) and the United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty (UNOST) in 1967 were interpreted almost verbatim by Ottawa, and led to the removal of DRB (the Defence Research Board) control from most of Canada’s space projects.

The first Trudeau government saw no distinction between the militarization of space (placing military space assets in orbit) and the ‘weaponization’ of space (placing weapons in orbit), and moved quickly to deprive Canada’s military of any space assets or capability.

In 1968, the government withdrew financial support from most defence space projects, preferring instead to concentrate its resources on the development of a domestic satellite communications system.
In essence, the longtime Canadian government policy, starting from the 1960's and continuing at least until the middle 1990's, was to simply "withdraw financial support" from the military in favor of civilian programs (like Telesat Canada, a federal government crown corporation formed in 1969 to improve communications in the far North) and scientific satellites.

But by 1994, this historic neglect of the Canadian military was no longer a reasonable option. According to the article:
As future space technologies all but eliminate Canada’s traditional geographic situational importance, Ottawa will have to rely on providing a share of the security burden rather than relying on the outdated American involuntary guarantee of protection.
These new technologies, and the potential for even more radical improvements on the horizon helped the Canadian military to push forward a plan to insure that a requirement for a Canadian communications and surveillance capability would be at the core of the 1998 military space policy.

But almost immediately, the Canadian military's precarious financial position virtually guaranteed the continued, heavy reliance on foreign, mostly US space assistance to fulfill defense needs which put a considerable strain on that relationship.

As well, an evolving US strategy (ironically enough, based on core concepts quite similar to those found in the Canadian advocated Axworthy Doctrine) slowly caused the Chrétien government to back away from some of the more critical practices associated with the US "war on terror."

So we've moved away from the situation existing throughout the 1960's to the 1990's where Canadian space policy provided no support whatsoever for military projects to the point where where the federal government perceives a need to develop an indigenous military space communications and surveillance capability to support Canadian troops on international missions and knew that they couldn't just rely on the Americans to do the job for them.

This brings us to the period around 2008 and the Harper Governments Canada First - Defense Strategy. How does the issuance of that government policy paper influence and effect the current and potential next Canadian military space policy document?

That will be the subject of our 3rd post on this topic.
Canada's Military Space Policy:
Part 1, The Axworthy Doctrine

The recent announcement by Colonel André Dupuis, the Director of the Department of National Defence (DND) Directorate of Space Development (DSpaceD) that DND is set to release an "updated" but not substantially changed Canadian military space policy early in 2011 suggests a series of obvious questions.
Lloyd Axworthy, as drawn by Graeme Mackay.

At the very least, if the new policy is going to be pretty much the same as the old policy, then what was the old policy?

For the answer, we need to start with something called the 1994 Canadian White Paper on Defence.

Called the "Axworthy Doctrine" after incoming Liberal MP Lloyd Axworthy (who helped originate and champion many of the ideas in the document), the focus of the 1994 white paper was to scale back expenditures allocated by the outgoing Conservative government in order to allow Canada to take advantage of the so called "peace dividend" expected to accrue to western democracies after the collapse of their major opponent, the Soviet Union.

Included among the cuts was Canada's traditional commitment to the "level and tempo of Canada-U.S. defense relations, particularly in NORAD, (the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which) has been decreasing since the late1980s" according to the document "Canada, Getting it Right This Time: The 1994 Defence White Paper" published by the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the United States Army War College.

Canadian contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were also cut back as were Canadian financial contributions to the NATO allied infrastructure program and force levels for the CF-18 Hornet fighter jet.

The current NORAD HQ in Building 2 at Peterson Air Force Base. Cheyenne Mountain is "no longer used on a daily basis" according to Wikipedia.
But while military cutbacks to Canada's NATO and NORAD contributions might seem like a sane and sensible policy for laymen like you and I, those cutbacks also undermined two of the four traditional pillars of Canadian military policy (the other two are protection of Canadian sovereignty and international peacekeeping missions).

Even worse, the Axworthy Doctrine suggested that direct threats to North American security requiring sovereignty protection capabilities were unlikely in the foreseeable future. With three of the four traditional justifications for a Canadian military seemingly under fire from an incoming government mandated to slash spending, a new rationale was needed for Canadian military spending.

This is where the Axworthy Doctrine got creative.

It championed a concept called "human security" which challenged traditional notions of international security  by arguing that security should be focused around the individual instead of the state. It also argued that the United Nations (UN) had a "responsibility to protect" people anywhere in the world against genocide and ethnic cleansing attempts, even to the extent of invading or interfering in the internal politics of otherwise sovereign nations.

An account of the 1994 UN mission.
Axworthy (who eventually became Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Jean Chrétien liberal government) felt this new Canadian military role could be undertaken by the existing Canadian Forces without the need for any additional military expenditures. In essence, the ruling liberal government could legitimately task the Canadian Forces with the Axworthy Doctrine and still cut military funding.

Was this a great country or what?

To be fair, the doctrine was widely considered to be a reasonable response to help prevent a repeat of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide where the Canadian commander of a UN peace keeping mission (Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire) was prevented from taking steps he felt would diffuse the situation and save lives.

But even in this area, the "Axworthy Doctrine" was a two edge sword. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia:
It may sound warm and fuzzy on the surface, but underlying that vision is the cold hard recognition that military intervention may be necessary to achieve this end. Rejecting the sanctity of national borders that has been central to the UN since its founding in 1945, the proposal would create a sort of official licence to invade.
The concept of a "license to invade" rogue regimes for the greater good found an obvious following in the United States (especially after 9/11) which initially provided much of the support infrastructure needed to send Canadian soldiers around the world.

A cartoon about another rogue regime.
Unfortunately, the Americans soon started making noise about how Canada should build their own infrastructure, and not simply piggy back on existing US capabilities so Axworthy ended up being wrong about his doctrine not needing new expenditures to support combat capable troops on lengthy international missions

Oddly enough, the easiest way to support the Axworthy Doctrine was to develop an indigenous military space communications and surveillance capability to support Canadian missions abroad.

The requirements for this capability (which led directly to the formulation of Canada's 1998 military space policy) and a bit of background on why there was no Canadian military space policy prior to 1998 will be the subject of our 2nd post on this topic.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Notes from Commercial Space

For those of you who don't have enough space stories to read over the holiday season, here are five items currently being tracked:
Dr. Robert Richards.
    Mike Pley
    • Canadian space icon Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) continues its exceptional run of good luck, according to the December 13th, 2010 Canadian Press article "Quebec invests $9m to aid MacDonald, Dettwiler expand Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue plant." According to the article, the money comes on top of a no-interest loan of $9 million and "an additional $900,000" to help train employees. The funds will "allow MDA to make investments they would not have done otherwise," according to Quebec premier Jean Charest who is quoted in the article. According to an earlier December 3rd, 2010 Ottawa Citizen article "The $25-Billion Question Who gets what... and why" a total of $158.6 million had been spend up until that time in fiscal year 2010 by the various Canadian government departments for a series of MDA contracts relating to satellite and military surveillance technologies. This is up 71% from fiscal year 2009, when the government halted the sale of the BC firm to a US company for security reasons and the December 13th announcement will only add additional revenue to MDA bottom line.

      • And finally, US astronaut Donald R. Pettit, known around NASA as an uncommonly gifted handyman capable of rebuilding a jet engine in his garage workshop (at least according to the November 14th, 2008 New York Times article "Handyman to Return to His Space Workshop") can also claim a patent for a zero-gravity coffee cup, which used the wetting angle to carry the coffee along a crease to permit drinking and avoid the necessity of a straw. A newer version of the cup (perhaps with a jaunty Canadian flag on the outside plus a couple of pounds of Tim Horton's coffee) seems like an appropriate present for Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is currenty training to become the second Canadian to take part in a long-duration spaceflight aboard the ISS beginning in 2012.
      Mmm... Now I know what I want for Christmas.

      Anyway, happy holidays to all from the Commercial Space blog.

      Monday, December 20, 2010

      ASX Announces 2011 Symposium Speakers

      ASX in 2011. Media savvy.
      Since incorporating as a nonprofit in 2003, the community managed Astronomy & Space Exploration Society (ASX) at the University of Toronto has grown into one of the largest space focused organizations in Canada with approximately 2300 members building public events to educate, excite, and inspire students, professionals and the general public on astronomy and space.

      Pizza for ISS in 2001. Not media savvy.
      They're a knowledgeable group of up and coming experts who bring marketing savvy and social media expertise to an industry long dominated by the dull press releases and boring media advisories that more properly belong to an earlier era.

      Lately, ASX members have branched out to share their knowledge with other organizations. ASX past president Farnaz Ghadaki spoke on 'Next Generation Considerations for Commercialization of Space' and 'Space Marketing' at the 2010 Canadian Space Summit while another ASX past president, Tahir Merali was a plenary speaker at the 61st Annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC2010), held in the Czech Republic last October.

      But the core focus for the organization has always been the January "Expanding Canada's Frontiers" symposium and the lineup for their 8th annual event, scheduled for Friday, January 28th, 2011 from 7:00-9:00 PM has just been released. The focus for 2011 is on "unraveling the universe" with speakers including:
      • Dr. Gilbert Holder, an associate professor of physics at McGill University. He is also the chairholder of the Canada Research Chair in Cosmological Astrophysics and a scholar with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s (CIfAR) Cosmology & Gravity Program. His research focuses on astrophysics and cosmology, studies of the cosmic microwave background, large scale structure in the universe, dark energy, the first stars and massive clusters of galaxies.
      Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto.
      Inside Convocation Hall.
      The event typically draws a large crowd exceeding 1000 and will be held in the ample facilities at Convocation Hall, 31 Kings College Circle on the University of Toronto campus.

      The event is free for current U of T students who have registered in advanced (click here for student registeration), $15 dollars CDN until January 6th, 2011 for those of us who are no longer in school (click here for non-student registration) and $20 dollars CDN after January 6th for those of us who are simply a little slow to register.

      Tuesday, December 14, 2010

      Canadian Teachers Funding American Rockets

      The proposed K-1 reusable rocket
      The December 11th, 2010 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online article "Financial meltdown scuttles dreams of Green Bay's rocket man" tells the story of businessman George French, who almost succeeded in turning his private dream of going to space into direct competition with Space Exploration Technologies (Space-X) for a series of lucrative government contracts to supply the International Space Station (ISS).

      According to the article, "French enlisted a high-tech investment bank to help raise the serious capital and secured commitments, he said, for more than $300 million, much of it from a Canadian teachers' pension fund."

      Say again? An unnamed Canadian teachers pension fund investing serious money in an American space focused start-up?


      Rocketplane PR image.
      The article tells the story of Rocketplane, an Oklahoma based, space tourism start-up incorporated in 2001 under founder and CEO French, using his own funds and Oklahoma state law provisions allowing the company to claim and then resell state approved tax credits as a qualified space transportation provider in order to raise money.

      French initially envisioned building an aircraft, rocket hybrid that would send passengers more than 330,000 feet (100 km) above the Earth. Rocketplane was an early competitor for the Ansarii X-Prize which was eventually won by the Burt Rutan designed SpaceShipOne.

      But Rocketplane eventually needed to branch out.

      In 2006, after failing to win the X-Prize, the company purchased Kistler Aerospace Corp., which had just gone through bankruptcy but possessed a potential design for a reusable orbital rocket, the K-1. The combined company then used the orbital rocket design as a basis for a winning bid to develop crew and cargo launch services, as part of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, for the International Space Station.
      Comparison between Space-X Falcon 9 and K-1

      This is where the real serious trouble started.

      The COTS contract shook loose some seed money, but according to the article "it was nowhere near the hundreds of millions the company needed to build and launch the K-1."

      But it did include substantial amounts from the unnamed Canadian teachers pension fund.

      However, according to the article, the teachers money wasn't enough and the sub-prime mortgage crisis turned Wall Street cold on raising further funds. NASA, after twice postponing a deadline for Rocketplane to show a bank balance sufficient to complete the project, canceled the contract and went with Space-X.

      The various entities which made up Rocketplane slowly went bankrupt or shut down with the final component (Rocketplane Kistler) sliding into bankruptcy protection on June 15th, 2010.

      The article makes no mention about whether the unnamed Canadian teachers pension fund ever got it's money back, but budding Canadian entrepreneurs should take note that sometimes, staid institutional investors just might put money in projects, even when they are just a little bit "out of this world."

      Rocketplanes proposed conversion  of a business jet into a rocket ship.

      Sunday, December 12, 2010

      NASA's Direction and Canada's Opportunity

      While it's true that "it ain't over until it's over" the outlines of the new direction for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are finally beginning to come clear.

      Canadian companies, and especially the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) should take a close look to note that the American plans don't seem to include any specific requirement for Moon or Martian rovers.

      They are instead focused on smaller investments in multiple areas (especially alternative propulsion technologies such as VASIMR or ion engines of the types used on the Hayabusa unmanned spacecraft) to encourage the development of a series of breakthrough technologies.

      There's even a Facebook page, titled "NASA's New Direction: Space Propulsion and Power" which provides links to some of the new technologies being developed and background materials outlining the reasons for the new focus.

      The US House of Representatives.
      Even at the political level, the deal is close to being done with money allocated across the board to include development of a new heavy lift rocket, plus the continuation of the commercial, off the shelf (COTS) program and the commercial crew development (CCDev) program.

      The December 9th, 2010 article on the Space Politics blog titled "CR passes House, with an interesting shuttle provision" states:
      The House last night narrowly approved a yearlong continuing resolution last night. The bill, as previously noted here, splits the difference between the authorized level of $19 billion for NASA and the FY10 level of just over $18.7 billion, and includes funds for HLV development as well as COTS and commercial crew. The Senate plans to develop its own omnibus spending bill which, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) tells Florida Today, would also fund NASA at $18.9 billion, but allocate funds among various programs differently. There’s some question, though, if the Senate version would win out over the House’s CR.
      The most recent visible activity related to COTS and CCDev is last weeks successful launch by Space Exploration Technologies (Space-X) of it's Falcon 9 rocket and the recovery of the payload Dragon capsule.

      Media pundits (including me, last week in this CTV interview) have called it a "milestone" and the "first successful private launch into orbit."

      Of course, most of the big ticket NASA funding is politically directed and designed to provide a cushion to large aerospace focused companies with contracts winding down and employees likely to loose their jobs.

      But the real key to NASA's future is epitomized by people like recently appointed NASA chief technologist Robert Braun. Here's a talk he gave earlier this year on the topic of NASA's future.

      Of particular interest in the presentation is the focus on developing multiple avenues for "breakthrough" technologies which, when taken together, create the capability to send increasing numbers of large "two story house" sized objects to Mars in order to provide a platform for manned exploration of the red planet.

      This path seems to be at odds with the recent Canadian focus on smaller, unmanned rovers using existing or incremental technological improvements in order to explore Mars on a smaller scale and remotely.

      The CSA, with it's focus on smaller rovers and the next generation Canadarm funded through the $110 million Canadian Economic Action Plan, might not be in a position to take advantage of the American opportunities as they develop, especially since the Canadian fund is scheduled to wind down in March 2011, well before the Americans get down to their business of  developing the next generation of useful space technologies.

      Left hope we're not left behind when our money runs out.

      Tuesday, December 07, 2010

      Muslim Pride Supporting Canadian Spaceport

      BC astronomer, Dr. Redouane Al Fakir. 

      The Vancouver based Mohammad Institute for Space Science doesn't want to wait for a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contract before moving forward with space exploration.

      According to the December 5th, 2010 Canadian Press article, "Head of Muhammad Institute wants B.C. space-launch site," the institute is raising money to build a Canadian commercial space port off the coast of Vancouver using funds from private investors in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates plus other gulf and Muslim states.

      The article quotes the head of the Muhammad Institute, Dr. Redouane Al Fakir as stating that his goal has always been to "return Muslims to the place of pride they held, centuries ago, as world leaders in astronomy."

      To that end, Dr. Al Fakir says he's secured $250,000 in startup money from overseas sources and has begun an international fund raising drive to raise the estimated $100-million it would take to build the facility.

      The three year old organization has a number of other projects on the go including an orbital telescope and a plan to land a small unmanned research spacecraft on the Moon by 2015 according to the October 25th, 2010 AhlulBayt News Agency post "Mohammd Moon Station to Be Set Up."

      The organizations website at goes into quite a bit of detail about what they call Mohammad Moon Station 1 and offer the ability to participate in the mission with a symbolic donation so it would seem easy enough to dismiss their claims as simple publicity. 

      However the page listing the people at the Muhammad Institute include influential scientists and space advocates who I would be loath to dismiss without at least giving them some opportunity to follow up on their claims.

      The September 1st, 2009 Vancouver Sun article "B.C. astronomer reviving Islamic science" reports substantial support among the BC based scientific community for the organization:
      Al Fakir's far-reaching goals are being supported by dozens of the world's leading thinkers and scientists, including the former head of UBC's interdisciplinary studies program, Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe, and renowned UBC astronomer Bill Unruh.

      "I find Redouane's plans highly commendable and ambitious," Unruh said.

      "His goal ... is to try to increase the visibility and practice of science in the world's Muslim communities by bringing together their scientists with the best established scientists from around the world, independent of their religious or non-religious affiliation."

      Unruh believes the wider scientific community feels "a lot of goodwill" toward Al Fakir's enterprise, as reflected in the long list of high-calibre scientists who have become associated with his plans.
      The fund raising for the spaceport will be done under the organizational umbrella of a company called Space Launch Canada and not under the banner of the Muhammad Institute, but $100 million CDN is a lot of money for any organization to raise.

      However, I'm open to seeing what Dr. Al Fakir is able to generate over the next few years.

      Sunday, December 05, 2010

      "Faces of Space" at the University of Toronto

      The Hart House tower.
      Farnaz Ghadaki, one of my colleagues at the Canadian Space Commerce Association (where I currently serve as secretary/ treasurer and one of the five directors) has signed me up for the next Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) "Faces of Space" talk at the University of Toronto.

      I'll be speaking this Thursday, December 9th, at the St. George campus Hart House building (located at 7 Hart House Cir, Toronto) in the East Common Room (starting at 7pm EST) on the topic of the commercialization of space.

      Ghadaki and ASX president Ray Chen have also said that I'm only able to babble on for forty-five minutes or so before shutting up and letting the audience ask some questions.

      The map to Hart House.
      This might be difficult given that I've written 160+ short 500 word articles over the last eighteen months for both this blog and on the topic of space commercialization.

      Either there is a lot involved to the topic or I'm very long winded. Anyway, all are welcome to come out and see which one it is.

      There is no charge for the event (but please RSVP to, and include as the subject line "FoS1").

      Afterwords, most of us are going to the Molly Bloom Irish Pub at 191 College Street to network and share tall tales of daring and adventure.
      Utilizing the Canadian Economic Action Plan

      Except for the RADARSAT constellation program (which is separately funded by the federal government), one or two Canadian military programs (such as Sapphire) and any money that might be saved by downsizing it's astronaut corps (which is what the US is studying, according to the December 1st, 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times titled "Astronauts considered in NASA budget cuts"), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) yearly budget of approximately  $375 million doesn't really do much more than support existing infrastructure and maintain ongoing projects.

      In essence, it provides enough cash on hand to keep the lights on at CSA headquarters in the John H. Chapman Space Centre, but not a whole lot more.

      That's why the Canadian Economic Action Plan, with its additional $110 million CDN allocated for exploration surface mobility (Moon rovers) and the next generation Canadarm is so important to the CSA. The action plan provides the only real funding for pretty much everything new the CSA is going to be able to develop over the next few years.
      Lights on at CSA HQ. Photo courtesy WZMH Architects.
      Unfortunately, this program is winding down in March 2011.

      For those of us who follow these things, here is a partial list of Canadian companies and organizations involved in recent contracts awarded to Neptec Design Group and Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) for $11.5 million each to build the lunar exploration light rover (LELR) prototype.
      • The MDA project will "develop two next-generation lunar rover prototypes" according to the November 19th, 2010 Vancouver Sun article "MDA inks 11.5m deal for two lunar rovers" and will be integrated with a number of other Canadian technologies being developed under "separate MDA contracts." This likely means that MDA will develop most of their prototype internally while Neptec depends on external expertise.
      It's worth noting that, according to the November 22nd article "MDA and Neptec Awarded Contracts to Build Lunar Exploration Light Rover Prototypes," the awarded contracts are simple design studies and no actual rovers may ever get built:
      Currently there is no funding to develop a production lunar rover that would actually go to the moon. However the investments made to date are intended to position Canada in such a way that if Canada's space exploration partners agree on a rover mission to the Moon that Canada would be poised to contribute in a significant way.
      So the CSA is essentially "working on spec"with the lunar rover program, investing time and resources with no guarantee of future funding and no real market (so far).

      The primary funding program for the rovers is also winding down next spring. It will be interesting to see if this CSA gamble to develop new projects for future space missions ever pays off.

      Support our Patreon Page