Sunday, November 15, 2015

One shoe has dropped for Canadian space; Will the other shoe drop next week?

The first shoe dropped. Now we know who’ll be in charge of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

As predicted in the Commercial Space Blog article, A new era for Canadian space or more of the same?, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development is the CSA’s new boss. The “Our Minister” link at the bottom of the CSA’s website leads to Mr. Bains’ government profile.

Maybe, just maybe, the other shoe might drop next week. We might find out what the government has in mind for the Canadian space industry.

Mr. Bains is scheduled to speak at the 2015 Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa on November 18th. This conference, hosted by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), is billed as a meeting for “primarily C-suite executives and government officials.”

Space makes up a small part of the aerospace market for Canada, so it may not be a major topic here. Not unless one of the spacier attendees, like UrtheCast President Wade Larson, gets Mr. Bains in a verbal headlock and whispers in his ear about the joys of commerce in a galaxy far away.

Headlocks, verbal or otherwise, won’t be needed to get people talking about space at another conference that starts on November 19th in Vancouver. CSA President Sylvain Laporte will speak at the Canadian Space Summit, the yearly event put on by the Canadian Space Society (CSS).

It’s all space here—that’s what the CSS is about. Maybe Mr. Laporte will have something to say about the future of the space industry and the CSA.

Even if not much is revealed at either conference, there’s still reason to be optimistic about greater government support for Canadian space, and the hint comes from an unexpected source.

The government did something unusual. They released the Ministerial Mandate Letters for all of the ministers to the public, something that observers say has never been done before by a federal government in Canada.

The letters for Mr. Bains, the minister in charge, and the other two ministers working with him, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger, don’t give a lot of detail, but one of the three letters could be significant for the space industry.

Ms. Chagger's letter shows that she will take a support role with Mr. Bains and other ministers in promoting small business and tourism.

Ms. Duncan’s letter outlines that she is in charge of strengthening scientific research and development. She’ll create a position called Chief Science Officer to ensure that scientists are able to speak freely to journalists and the public about their work.

Ms. Duncan will also assist the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to create more co-op places for STEM students, and work with other ministries on bringing science-based evidence back into environmental assessments.

Mr. Bains’ letter is the one that could have implications for the space industry. It says he is to develop an Innovation Agenda that will expand “effective support for incubators, accelerators, the emerging national network for business innovation and cluster support, and the Industrial Research Assistance Program.” (Note that the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) is designed to help “accelerate the growth of your business through innovation and technology.”)

The directive goes on to say that “...These investments will target key growth sectors where Canada has the ability to attract investment or grow export-oriented companies.”

That sounds like it should include the space industry, doesn’t it? Maybe that Innovation Agenda is something Mr. Bains will expand on at the AIAC conference.

So now we wait and see if that other shoe hits the ground. Those of you who’ll be in Ottawa or Vancouver next week may be in the best position to hear a thump.