Canadian Space Agency in Negotiations for Future Launch Access to the Space Station

©NASA

International Space Station

This week's news that veteran Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was going to be the first Canadian to command the International Space Station while spending six months onboard also meant that Canada has used up its last available contracted launch seat to the International Space Station (ISS). And since Canada has no launch capability of its own, it is now in negotiation to secure launch access to the International Space Station for future astronaut flights.

Flying to the ISS is not cheap. Since the Space Shuttle will be retired by the time Hadfield is scheduled to fly in November 2012, he will launch on a Russian Soyuz. Under the agreement NASA has with the Russian Federal Space Agency - Roscosmos, Hadfield's seat on the Soyuz will cost $51 million (US), a fee the US will have to pay to Russia due to the contract it has with the CSA.

Future flights to the ISS will have to be paid for by the CSA unless some other arrangements are made with NASA. But NASA will not have its own human launch capability in place for many years to come. So that leaves the Russians. For 2013-2014 NASA will pay Russia $56 million per seat on a Russian Soyuz. Realistically with Hadfield being onboard the ISS until almost mid-year in 2013 Canada won't likely send another astronaut to the ISS until the earliest 2015 at which point a Soyuz flight will most likely have gone up in price. It would also most likely mean that this is Hadfield's last flight.

For the Canadian Space Agency $56 million or higher for one seat on a Soyuz is a large expenditure considering the size of its budget. The budget estimate for 2011-2012 is $327.2 million and future budget increases are not expected. Of course the CSA would most likely spread the cost of the seat over several years making the impact less stressful on its already shrinking budget.

Between 1999 to 2009 Canadian astronauts participated in seven missions either on the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. With only one future Canadian mission scheduled along with a US space program about to lose its ability to launch astronauts into space for the foreseeable future, it would seem we will definitely be seeing a significantly fewer amount of Canadian astronauts in space in the coming decade. This would also explain why the CSA recently only recruited two new astronauts and has seen the astronaut core shrink.