Canadian Space Agency president not surprised by NASA ISS transition plans

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TORONTO — The president of the Canadian Space Agency said he is taking a “wait and see” approach to NASA’s plans to end funding of the International Space Station in the mid-2020s, citing the lack of detail.

In an interview after a speech at the Canadian SmallSat Symposium here Feb. 13, Sylvain Laporte said he was not particularly surprised by the plans, included in NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal released the day before. Those plans call for stimulating the development of commercial low Earth orbit capabilities, including those that might be able to take over some part of the ISS when NASA funding ends.

“This is not a surprise. We have been going down that path for years now,” he said. “But we don’t know how it’s going to materialize.”

Laporte said that he believed that those plans can be worked out in future discussions with other station partners, despite the current uncertainty about how such a transition might work. “How it’s going to look, how we’re going to do it, none of us know,” he said. “But we’re engaged in the necessary conversations.”

He added that he expected Canada to continue to be involved with NASA on future exploration programs. This would include what NASA is now calling the Lunar Orbiting Platform – Gateway, formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway.

In his speech at the conference, Laporte said 2018 would be “quite an exciting year” for the agency. The highlight is the launch of Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques to the ISS in November as a member of the Expedition 58/59 crew for a six-month stay. Saint-Jacques will be the first Canadian to visit the station since Chris Hadfield flew on the station from December 2012 to May 2013.

Laporte said Saint-Jacques will conduct more than 250 experiments on the station during his time there. The agency will soon announce outreach efforts associated with that flight, Laporte said, building upon the experience from Hadfield’s flight. “There will be thousands of Canadian classrooms involved in David’s mission, and we’re looking at doing a ton of innovative stuff,” he said.

Another milestone for the Canadian Space Agency will be the launch of the Radarsat Constellation Mission, a set of three synthetic aperture radar satellites that build upon the current Radarsat-2 and former Radarsat missions. Those spacecraft are scheduled to launch between July and October on a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Laporte also mentioned as a milestone for the agency this year the arrival of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the near Earth asteroid Bennu, scheduled for August. The spacecraft carries a Canadian laser instrument.

In addition to its flagship space station and robotic missions, the agency is supporting student cubesat projects. The Canadian CubeSat Project seeks to support the development of 13 student-built satellites, one from each province and territory, that would be launched from the ISS in 2020 and 2021. Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, director general for space science and technology at the Canadian Space Agency, said in a conference presentation Feb. 14 that the agency will select the winning proposals in April.