VICTORIA, British Columbia — Funding for the Canadian Space Agency will increase this year to a record high as the organization prepares for the launch of the Radarsat Constellation and continues to receive money for robotics projects as part of the federal government’s strategy to stimulate the economy.
But after that the agency’s budget will gradually return to its regular base level of 300 million Canadian dollars ($300 million), with no new significant projects waiting in the wings.
At the same time, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is still without guidance from government on major future projects, say space industry representatives and politicians.
The CSA’s budget for the fiscal year 2011-2012 will be 424.6 million Canadian dollars, according to the Canadian government’s newly released Report on Plans and Priorities. That is an increase from last year’s 386.2 million Canadian dollars and the highest the CSA’s budget has ever been. The fiscal year runs from April 2011 to April 2012.
For the fiscal year 2012-2013 the budget drops to 371.1 million Canadian dollars and in 2013-2014 it decreases further to 317.5 million Canadian dollars.
Marc Garneau, the former head of the space agency, said the “helter-skelter” approach to budgeting is symptomatic of the lack of long-term guidance on space from the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“The government is making decisions on an ad-hoc basis and when it finds projects it wants to support it adds on to the (CSA’s) $300 million base,” said Garneau, a member of Parliament with the opposition Liberal Party. “But that isn’t an efficient way to move forward.”
In 2009 the government announced it was providing the CSA with 110 million Canadian dollars over three years as part of its stimulus plan to reinvigorate the economy during the recession. That funding is being used for contracts to develop terrestrial prototypes for space robotic vehicles and is reflected in this year’s increase.
The CSA did complete a long-term space strategy for the government in 2009 but it has never been released publicly and has not been discussed by government.
Instead in the plans and priorities document, the CSA is following what it calls Program Activity Architecture (PAA), which is listing its more immediate key projects.
Among those is the further development of Radarsat Constellation Mission or RCM. The critical design phase of the RCM is planned to be completed by July 2012, according to the plans and priorities document. The launch of the first satellite is scheduled for 2014-2015, followed by the second and third satellites in the 2015-2016 timeframe.
According to CSA, the RCM will provide a significant increase in security surveillance capabilities, particularly in coverage of the maritime approaches to Canada and in the country’s Arctic region.
A second operational priority is to further study the development of the Polar Communication and Weather (PCW) mission. That system would provide broadband communications services and weather observations in the Canadian Arctic to support Canadian military operations.
The PCW mission would see the launch of two optical satellites in a highly elliptical orbit in 2016. The mission would include a ground segment to process the meteorological information and to manage the communication services offered by the satellites.
In space exploration the first priority is to continue to be an active participant in the international space station, according to the plans and priorities document. The CSA will promote the use of Dextre to make repairs on the station.
In the area of future space capacity, the first priority is the renewal of its long-standing cooperation agreement with the European Space Agency. The CSA in cooperation with the European Space Agency will support Canadian firms participating in the development of advanced Earth observation spaceborne instruments and the Galileo navigation satellite system, according to the plans and priorities document.
Ron Holdway, vice president of government relations for, said the CSA’s Program Activity Architecture is no substitute for a long-term space plan.
“The lack of any information on what the government’s commitment to the long-term space plan or the future of space in Canada makes it very difficult to plan to support the government,” he explained.
Holdway expects that CSA funding will increase again at some point as the government finds major projects it wants to fund. “At this particular time it doesn’t seem to be in the mood to finance those,” he said. “Right now there’s not a lot new in the hopper.”
Holdway noted the Canadian government is in the midst of cutting costs among all its federal departments as it tries to reduce the country’s deficit.
Still, he points out that the Radarsat Constellation Mission will continue to provide work for the next several years.
Com Dev is also working on the Canadian contribution to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
“It’s not like there is no spending but one of the questions up in the air right now is whether the government will renew its partnership with NASA on the international space station for another five years?” Holdway said.
The PAA points out that Canada will remain committed to the space station but it does not detail where the funding for that will come from. That commitment, said Holdway, is expected to cost 90 million Canadian dollars.
Kevin Shortt, president of the Canadian Space Society, said with the Program Activity Architecture the CSA is trying to make the best of a difficult situation. “Basically, what you see happening is the CSA, for lack of any official direction from (government), trying to forge ahead with what little information it has to go on,” he said.
Julie Simard, spokeswoman for the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, did not respond to a request for comment.