MDA-ATK sale runs into policy obstacles

Last week’s announcement that Canadian company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) was selling its space business to US firm Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has not gone over well in Canada. A former president of the Canadian Space Agency, Marc Garneau, decried the sale and blamed it in part on a lack of a national space policy that could have funneled more contracts and money to MDA. A day after the sale was announced, the Canadian government announced that CSA president Laurent Boisvert had stepped down, a move that some linked to the MDA sale (although Boisvert actually announced his plans to retire before Christmas, and left on January 1; it took over a week before a formal announcement was made.)

Now, a new, diverse group of people are protesting the sale on other grounds: it violates an anti-landmine treaty. The Canadian Auto Workers, a union that represents some MDA employees, and former Canadian foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, are demanding the Canadian government block the sale because ATK manufactures landmines as part of its armaments business. Canada is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel mines (the US is not). Axworthy and the CAW argue that since the treaty bans the transfer of public funds to companies that produce landmines; MDA’s assets, of course, includes spacecraft and equipment paid for by the Canadian government. Joining the protest is an American-born engineer who quit MDA the day after the sale was announced because of ethical concerns. MDA said that only one employee has quit the company since the sale, and ATK officials said their landmines, sold only to NATO countries and other allies, have features that make them compliant with the convention.

4 comments to MDA-ATK sale runs into policy obstacles

  • it violates an anti-landmine treaty

    I was not wild about the sale because “consolidation” has done little positive for the aerospace industry, in my opinion, and a lot that is negative. However, again in my opinion, this alone would be a good reason to oppose this treaty.

    — Donald

  • Charles in Houston

    One thing to remember –

    MDA and the Canadian Robotics community have been working for years on, first, the Space Shuttle arm (the S RMS) and then the Space Station arm (the SS RMS) and lately the DEXTRE (previously called the SPDM). All of those systems have been delivered, and the people who built all of that are faced with a future when they will only be doing testing and then just sustaining engineering.

    All of the manufacturing is over, since robotics normally means rovers and the MDA folks do arms. The Orion (and Ares) do not have an arm or any capability to add one.

    So the future of that corporate knowledge is dim at best, as the Shuttle RMS retires and the SS RMS with DEXTRE is supposed to be “done” by about 2015 or so. Of course that will be modified, but “the plan” is for one of the major users of the Station (and the one that largely motivated the RMS and SS RMS) to concentrate on Lunar and Mars exploration.

    So what sort of Canadian space policy could maintain that knowledge base? Are they going to provide a future path for subsequent RMS purchases?


  • Charles, while I don’t disagree with your analysis, a couple of thoughts. Concepts for automated satellite repair are slowly making progress and these may utilize Canadian arms. You’re also assuming that the LEO infrastructure game ends with the ISS. While I think their will be a gap before the next station, commercial, European, or Russian interests are all likely to persue some kind of orbital infrastructure in the future, and some of those may use these kinds of technologies. (All the above, of course, assumes that I am wrong about it being easier, cheaper, and more reliable just to send an astronaut out of the airlock to do these types of tasks.)

    — Donald

  • […] business as one of the nation’s largest munitions manufacturers. But its expansion efforts aren’t appreciated in Canada, where objections to ATK’s production of land mines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium […]

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