Stop the sale of CANADARM and RADARSAT-2

March 7, 2008

Dear Supporter,

You might have heard or read this week that the iconic Canadian-built Canadarm and
RADARSAT-2 satellite may be sold off to the American arms builder Alliant Techsystems.

On Wednesday I appeared before the Commons Committee on Industry and warned the MPs that this would be a disaster for Canadian environmental protection, jobs, sovereignty, and our role in promoting the peaceful uses of space.

In January of this year, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) announced the sale of its information systems and space division to Alliant Techsystems, a U.S. company that describes itself as “the world’s leading manufacturer of rocket motor systems for space launch vehicles, strategic missiles, prompt global strike missiles, and missile defense interceptors.”

While Canada owned RADARSAT-1, the federal government entered into a privatization deal with MDA whereby the corporation would fully own its successor, RADARSAT-2. Canadian taxpayers contributed $430 million toward its development, but we now stand to lose the benefit of this remarkable satellite.

I ask you to join me in calling on Prime Minister Harper to do the right thing, and refuse to allow this deal to go forward. The deal could be approved by March 22 – please send your letter now.

Thanks for taking action.

Steve Staples


‘An affront’
Outrage greets U.S. bid to buy Canada’s largest space firm; sale to include taxpayer-funded $524-million Radarsat-2 satellite

by David Pugliese

Friday, March 07, 2008

CREDIT: Cole Garside, The Ottawa Citizen
Physicist Lawrence Morley wants the auditor general to probe the pending sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates’ space division to a U.S. firm because it would include the Radarsat-2 satellite, a piece of cutting-edge technology that has received millions in taxpayer funding.

The proposed purchase by a U.S. firm of Canada’s largest space company, and with it a $524-million high-tech satellite built mainly with taxpayers’ money, is being challenged by a growing number of scientists and engineers.

Lawrence Morley, one of Canada’s top geophysicists and the man who pushed the federal government to invest in what eventually became the Radarsat-2 satellite, is calling for the auditor general to probe what he calls a sweetheart deal that allows a private firm to sell off such a valuable spacecraft.

In addition, Hugh Thompson, a spacecraft systems engineer with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, yesterday came forward to say the sale of the British Columbia company’s space division to a U.S. firm should be halted.

Two other engineers at the company have already quit in protest over the deal.

Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, also said earlier this week that he hopes the company’s space division will not be sold because that would represent a major loss of Canada’s space capabilities, built up over the years with large amounts of taxpayer funding.

At issue are plans by U.S. firm Alliant Techsystems to purchase MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates’ space and military assets for $1.325 billion. The firm is considered the backbone of Canada’s space industry.

With that deal, announced by both firms in early January, comes ownership of the recently launched Radarsat-2 satellite, the world’s most advanced radar imaging spacecraft. The $524-million Radarsat-2 was built by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, but Canadian taxpayers funded most of that project.

Its technology, which allows the satellite to produce images of objects the size of a car from 800 kilometres in space, is seen as key to Canada’s security and science efforts. Radarsat-2 can be used for agricultural, environmental and forestry purposes as well as to measure the thickness of ice in the North.

However, in the late 1990s, the Canadian Space Agency transferred ownership of the satellite to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).

Mr. Morley said the company is simply doing what’s best for its shareholders and earning a profit from selling the satellite and other technology. But he pointed out that someone has to be looking out for Canadians.

“A mistake was made by the Canadian Space Agency when they gave this sweetheart deal to MDA and transferred the ownership of all the technology and the satellite, and all the data to them,” said the 88-year-old scientist and Order of Canada winner. “That’s a thing for the auditor general to look into on whether it was a mistake or whether it was a government decision.”

Two employees of the company, Paul Cottle and Trevor Williams, have quit their jobs in protest of the sale, saying they do not want to work for Alliant, which builds landmines, cluster bombs and engines for nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Officials with Alliant Techsystems and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates declined to comment, citing pending government approval of the sale. Both firms have previously said the sale will be good for Canada. Alliant officials have also said they will keep jobs in the country and they plan to expand the Canadian company’s space division so it can attract even more work.

But Mr. Morley said the government should put a halt to the deal. “It’s an affront that will be a major blow to our space efforts,” he said.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice will have final say on whether the deal goes through. Bill Rodgers, his director of communications, said Mr. Prentice has until March 22 to make a decision, although a 30-day extension could be requested.

“Under the Investment Canada Act, the big thing is whether this transaction is of net benefit to Canada,” said Mr. Rodgers. “That is the test.

“It won’t be a done deal until the minister is satisfied that the tests under the act are met and, if they’re not, he, as the minister, can make a decision on that basis,” Mr. Rodgers said.

The Canadian Space Agency did not respond to e-mailed questions earlier this week.

Mr. Morley said the technology used by the first satellite, Radarsat-1, and now Radarsat-2, is cutting-edge and the imagery from the spacecraft is in demand by Canadian government departments, scientists and other nations.

Mr. Morley, then director general of the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, pushed the government in the mid-1970s to invest in the unique technology outfitted on the Radarsat spacecraft, and his organization did the original research. He also selected MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, then a small Canadian firm, to work on the sensors and had government research transferred to the firm.

Mr. Morley said that billions of dollars of tax money have been invested in the company over the years, but he didn’t hold out much hope the sale will be halted.

Mr. Garneau said the government has invested heavily in the Canadian firm to build it up into the country’s largest space firm producing world-class technology.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008