The Canadian Space Agency Prepares for Possible Budget Cuts

©SpaceRef

Budget 2012.

The Canadian Space Agency is preparing for a possible budget cut, one which could significantly affect the agency. The possible cut comes as no surprise. After all, the government has indicated many times this year that cuts to all departments were possible. What was not expected is the possible size of the cuts.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was tasked to provide two budget cut scenarios to the government. One in which it cut its budget by 5% and the other by 10%. SpaceRef has learned that all programs came under review. The CSA was told not to just make a blanket 5 or 10% cut but to critically review every single program, a difficult and time consuming task. The result of the reviews helped shape the budget cut scenarios the government will use when deciding what, if anything, to cut from the CSA budget.

A potential influence to budget considerations was the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance pre-budget consultations. On June 27th the committee issued a release inviting Canadians to participate in the annual pre-budget consultation process by either submitting a written brief and indicating if they wanted to appear before the Committee. In total over 400 briefs were submitted of which three came from the space sector.

The briefs presented were from the space sector included the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), COM DEV Canada and EADS Canada.

Unfortunately for the space sector the AIAC brief contained no mention of the space sector but rather focused on the aero portion of it's aerospace mandate. This is somewhat understandable as the space sector makes up only about 15% of the revenues in the overall aerospace sector. So going to bat for the space sector was left to two companies, COM DEV and EADS.

For its part COM DEV is proposing a "smalls-space" strategy with Public-Private-Partnerships at the centre of this new strategy. Also critical to moving forward is a long term space plan.

"Today, with our ability to invest constrained by encroaching economic realities, we believe it is time to consider another path. We are proposing - at least in the short term - that government pursue a "small-space" strategy and introduce the use of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs), as alternatives to funding the large space projects needed to for Canada's essential national space infrastructure. By freeing up cash for more, smaller projects this way, CSA could sustain its role in the successful niche-leadership based "Space-Team-Canada" exports strategy, over the full range of space technologies where Canada is strongest, and also continue to create new opportunities by being able to participate in new collaborative international space projects. This global period of international budget constraint is in fact creating new opportunities for more Canadian participation in large international projects. Organizations like NASA and ESA are actively promoting more international cooperation as they too struggle with the affordability of their largest space projects."

EADS brief offered two very specific programs and ways to implement them that would ''achieving sustained economic recovery in Canada, promote the creation of quality sustainable jobs and help the Government reduce costs to achieve a balanced budget."

The one project EADS mentions that deals directly with the space sector is Mercury Global. According to EADS Mercury Global is a DND project "to establish the space infrastructure and services needed to serve DND's broadband communications requirements for deployed operations anywhere in the world over the next 15 years."

EADS proposes using its Alternate Service Delivery (ADS) for large scale federal capital projects in order to ensure substantial long-term savings. Key partners include Telesat, COM DEV and MDA.

It's clear from these briefs that really only COM DEV was offering an idea that wasn't entirely selfish. Unfortunately COM DEV appears to be the only voice from the sector that made use of this opportunity to positively influence the budget process.

The government will take the consultations and table a report in the House of Commons in December.

As for the CSA if it's lucky it might survive the coming budget process with little or no cuts. That is a still a possibility. However it is possible it might get a 5% cut and depending on how the government reads the scenarios and the current economic times. Or it could get that worse case scenario 10% cut. If that was to happen then most likely jobs would be lost as part of the cut, no just programs. At 5% the CSA might not have to do much job cutting, just normal attrition.

What is certain is that the stimulus money is all but gone, the CSA won't get a budget increase and no long term plan has been released. With last weeks announcement that the Aerospace review will start early next year it appears uncertainty is word the space sector better get used to for some time. And that is something that's not good for the industry.