OTTAWA, Ontario — The core budget of Canada’s space agency will drop 13 percent by 2015 as government-ordered cutbacks take effect and the organization refocuses its activities, agency officials say.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), headquartered in Longueuil, Quebec, has traditionally had a 300 million Canadian dollar annual core budget.
That budget increases whenever major programs are added and last year reached 424 million Canadian dollars because of a temporary boost in government funding, announced in 2009, for the development of terrestrial prototypes for space robotic vehicles and other projects.
That robotics work is largely finished but instead of the core funding reverting to its traditional level, the CSA is now dealing with government-ordered reductions.
The agency originally stated it is dealing with a funding cut of around 29.5 million Canadian dollars ($28 million). But CSA President Steve MacLean suggests it will be more.
“Three hundred million was the base but it’s dropping because of government cuts,” MacLean said. “Our budget base is going to be around 258 [million] or $260 million” by 2014 or 2015.
Federal departments are being required to cut their budgets to varying degrees as the Canadian government tries to reduce its spending and control its deficit.
Some CSA employees could lose their jobs but MacLean did not elaborate on details or how the agency will deal with the cuts.
According to the CSA, letters have been sent to 30 of its 690 employees that their jobs could be in jeopardy.
CSA spokeswoman Mélanie Beauchesne stated in an email that the agency is “looking to operate more efficiently while continuing to deliver an effective space program. Over the next three years the CSA intends to find efficiencies by refocusing its activities.” She did not provide further details or discuss what activities might be affected.
MacLean, however, suggested a potential way forward in expanding Canadian space capabilities might lie with other federal government departments. Six federal departments, ranging from the Defence Department to Environment Canada, rely on space capabilities, some of those coordinated or initiated by the CSA. “Government departments realize space data helps them with their mandates,” MacLean noted.
He did not elaborate on whether federal departments might contribute more funding to space activities or finance those from their own budgets.
But there has been some movement already in that direction. Natural Resources Canada, the federal department responsible for mapping and remote sensing, is receiving 23 million Canadian dollars from government over two years to revitalize its satellite data reception facilities and develop a data management system. Natural Resources Canada maintains three satellite station facilities that are used for remote sensing.
Canada’s Conservative Party government is still studying a strategic review of the country’s aerospace and space sectors produced by David Emerson, a former Cabinet minister.
The review, released Nov. 29, calls on the government to recognize the importance of space to national security and economic prosperity.
Emerson said that his mandate was to produce a “fiscally neutral” report that did not call for major new government funding for the country’s space and aerospace sectors.
But he acknowledged in regards to space that Canada’s government would have to provide new funding.
“It isn’t fiscally neutral in the short run,” Emerson explained. “At some point people will have to make investments.” He cited government investment in major infrastructure projects of decades ago that helped improve the country’s economy, including the nationwide rail system and the St. Lawrence Seaway, a major transport canal system.
Emerson said the Canadian government’s proposed expansion in the country’s resource-rich Arctic territories will rely on space and for that to happen more investment is needed. “It’s something we’ll eventually have to step up to,” he added.
Daniel Friedmann, MDA Corp.’s president and chief executive, said government cuts to the space agency’s budget and the lack of new Canadian government space projects are being felt not only at his company but throughout the country’s space industry.
Although the Radarsat Constellation Mission received government approval Jan. 9 to proceed, there are no other major Canadian government space projects on the horizon, he added. The lack of government work has meant that Canada has retreated from technologies it once played a key role in.
“On robotics we have basically shut down as a country,” Friedmann said. “Frankly we have lost amazing people forever and we are hanging on by a thread to some of the world’s experts. There’s some small maintenance things in the works but the robotics situation is in dire straights.”
Friedmann noted that the Canadian government should be financing a number of projects in early phases to set the stage for the future. “When we won Radarsat-2 we had about four other projects in an early phase,” he said. “Today we don’t have any. If people think they’ll turn this around, it just won’t happen.”