Will Canada lag in commercial space race?

Canadian space business group worried Canada might soon begin to fall behind.

Comments Off on Will Canada lag in commercial space race? March 18, 2011
by Canadian Press

TORONTO — A major Canadian space business group is expressing concern that Canada may eventually fall behind in the increasingly competitive field of satellites and other such technology.

While Canada has received worldwide recognition for its iconic robotic arms, which are used on U.S. space shuttles and the International Space Station, other countries – and even General Motors – are getting into the act.

The automaker sent Robonaut2 up to the space station in February – a development that worries organizations like the Canadian Space Commerce Association.

Nicknamed “R2,” it is described as the next-generation dexterous robot.

NASA and GM say it is safe enough to work side-by-side with humans.

Chuck Black, a spokesman for the Canadian space business group, says Canada needs to keep an eye on the competition as more countries spend an increasing amount of money on space technology.

Satellite development, he said, is an increasingly competitive business field.

“That’s not only been taken up by us, but it’s been taken up by just about everybody else in the world,” Black told The Canadian Press. “I would suggest that while we are not officially falling behind yet, there is cause for concern.

“Beyond Canadarms, the Japanese have a (space) arm and even the Americans now have their own robot to compete with our Dextre arm on the space station.”

Dextre, a two-armed, $200-million Canadian robot, is already on the job performing handyman tasks like changing batteries, maintenance and experiments outside the space station.

The Canadian Space Commerce Association, whose members include aerospace executives, is meeting in Toronto on Friday to discuss the next breakthrough technology for Canada.

“The people who are attending are the movers and shakers in space industry,” he added.

They include representatives from universities and companies like MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), the firm which developed the Canadarms.

One of the key speakers at the Toronto meeting will be Joshua Brost, manager of business development for SpaceX, a private U.S. firm that is building rockets to take astronauts to the space station.

Black says the Canadian space sector represents “a couple of hundred companies with about 75 employees doing about $3 billion a year.”

The Canadian Space Agency’s 2009 annual report on the state of the country’s space sector says it generated more than $3 billion in revenue that year – a slight increase over 2008.

But Black is not impressed with the space agency’s plan to develop small rovers to be used for exploration beyond the Earth’s orbit.

“I would like Canada to be known for something, but I don’t necessarily believe we are going to be known for little robotic machines that go to the moon or go to Mars,” he said.

Black points out that some of the lunar rovers the CSA is developing are “very much equivalent” to those being built by private companies and groups competing for the Google Lunar X prize.

A Vancouver team is among 29 groups from 17 countries trying to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface before the end of 2015 in order to win a chunk of $30 million in prize money.
© 2011 The Canadian Press