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Former astronaut Marc Garneau first called for a national space policy at an Ottawa news conference in October 2007. He says Canada should consider implementing policies to have greater control over its space assets. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

The sale of the division of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. that makes the Canadarm and controls Radarsat 2 would cripple the Canadian space industry and should be blocked, former astronaut Marc Garneau said Wednesday.

"MDA is not just another Canadian company," Garneau told a parliamentary committee that is looking at an American defence contractor's plan to buy MDA's space business for more than $1.3 billion.

Garneau, also a former president of the Canadian Space Agency and a Liberal candidate in the next federal election, said MDA may be making a smart business decision, but more is at stake.

He told the standing committee on industry, science and technology that there will be times that Canada will want to build its own satellites in the future and without MDA's space business that option will not exist.

"MDA is the only space company in Canada capable of building large satellites," Garneau said.

Key to the proposed sale is the recently launched Radarsat 2 satellite, which can produce images of the Earth with a three-metre resolution.

Sale requires approval from Ottawa

MDA holds exclusive worldwide rights to data from the satellite, which was in part funded by the Canadian Space Agency and can be used for such things as environmental monitoring, ice tracking, resource mapping, disaster management and marine surveillance.

MDA was invited to appear at the hearings but declined because of the short notice the company was given.

ATK has agreed to pay $1.325 billion in cash for the space and satellite business of MDA. The deal requires approval by Ottawa under the Investment Canada Act, which oversees review of significant investments in Canada by non-Canadians in order to ensure a benefit to Canada.

Hugh Thompson, a spacecraft systems engineer at MDA, told the committee he doesn't want to work for ATK, which makes cluster bombs, mines and munitions as well as rocket components.

"I do not want to be associated with a company doing this work," Thompson told the committee. "I cannot and will not work for ATK."

ATK has said it will create a separate business group, ATK Space Systems, which will include the operations being acquired from MDA as well as ATK assets in the U.S.

ATK downplays concerns

The company has said that as a U.S. company it will be able to bid on classified American programs not available to a Canadian company.

ATK has downplayed concerns, saying the Canadarm will continue to sport Canada's red-and-white Maple Leaf flag and its plan is to grow the business in Canada.

MDA acquired the Canadarm when it bought the space robotics business of the former Spar Aerospace. At the time, MDA itself was a subsidiary of U.S. company Orbital Sciences Corp.

However, in recent years MDA has looked earthward for growth. The company has become a key provider of electronic information for selling, mortgage financing and insurance of properties.