Monday, November 23, 2015

Scientists, Astronauts & Politicians at First Ministers' Meeting

          By Henry Stewart

The new Federal government has come to the obvious conclusion that astronauts and scientists are sexy, knowledgeable and authoritative, which is probably why they were so much in evidence during Monday's First Ministers' meeting.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau with Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen at the First Ministers meeting on Monday, November 23rd. Given the obvious benefits which undoubtedly derive from simply standing next to an astronaut, it seems to be only a matter of time before the new Federal government announces a massive funding initiative to ensure a continued supply of these photogenic heroes. Photo c/o @csa_asc.

As outlined in the November 23rd, 2015 Federal government press release, "Prime Minister hosts First Ministers’ Meeting," prime minister Justin Trudeau met with provincial and territorial premiers to discuss the country's strategy to fight climate change in advance of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place from November 30th - December 11th, in Paris, France.

The meeting also discussed the next steps to support the successful resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, with a focus on how to support their integration following a robust security screening process.

The last first ministers' meeting was in 2009.

Astronaut Hansen, who always seems to wear a NASA/CSA jumpsuit instead of a business suit to these sorts of events, posing with innovation minister Navdeep Bains and science minister Kirsty Duncan at the First Ministers meeting on Monday. Photo c/o @csa_asc.

Prior to the meeting, a climate science briefing was provided by senior environment and climate change Canada scientist Dr. Greg Flato and Ouranos executive director Mr. Alain Bourque. Ouranos is a Montreal-based consortium which focuses on climate science.

The briefing was moderated by Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen.

As outlined in the November 23rd, 2015 Canadian Press and National Post article, "Five things to know about the first ministers’ meeting on climate change ahead of Paris talks," the intent of the Monday meeting was to "demonstrate to the international community" that the new Canadian PM has "at least taken the first steps towards delivering on that commitment (to take steps to mitigate climate change) and that Canada is now serious about combating climate change after a decade in which the country was widely condemned as an environmental laggard."

Now that the photo-ops are done, expect new Canadian based but space focused technology suitable for measuring and mitigating climate change to surface, in the run up to the Paris meeting.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Two New Government Players Looking to Prove their Usefulness

          By Chuck Black, with files from Chris Gainor

CSA president Laporte at the summit on November 18th. Photo c/o Chris Gainor.
It's noteworthy that neither Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte, who finally made his first domestic job related speech during the 2015 Canadian Space Summit in Vancouver, nor new Federal innovation minister Navdeep Bains, during his presentation at the 2015 Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa, focused their talks on anything other than getting up to speed on their jobs and building on the accomplishments of their predecessors.

Both know full well that the real challenge for political players is to simply "hold on to your hats" and "go with the flow" until the current firestorm of changes now underway is mostly complete, defined and understandable.

Only then will either be in a position to do what government does best and push, file, stamp, index, brief, debrief and number those changes into a nicely wrapped package comprehensible to the typical public servant.

Laporte was perhaps the most overt. He confessed that he had indeed appeared at international events since appointment in March, 2015 as CSA president, but that this was his first domestic event. He said he was still learning the space arena and felt that, at least in his current position, “every day is a new discovery.”

He also mentioned his five year mandate and commented that "I plan to be here for the duration.” He even credited his predecessor, ex-CSA president, former defence chief and current deputy minister of veterans affairs Walt Natynczyk, who quarterbacked a series of changes "that were important to Ottawa," including the development of the 2014 space policy framework.

Laporte promised to work with both minister Bains and science minister Kirsty Duncan in a program expected to include "targeted investments" in space technologies, which may or may not be a veiled reference to additional funding for the CSA space technology development program (STDP),

UrtheCast CEO Scott Larson, perhaps the most successful of the new breed of Canadian based "NewSpace" entrepreneurs, also spoke at the 2015 Canadian Space Summit, which was held in Vancouver from November 19th - 20th. As outlined in the November 12th, 2015 Space News post, "UrtheCast Shelves New ISS Camera To Focus on Satellite Constellation," UrtheCast is currently preparing to role out "a 16-satellite constellation of eight optical and eight synthetic-aperture radar satellites in low Earth orbit." The project, if successful, will place the company in direct competition with Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and its iconic RADARSAT Constellation mission (RCM), which uses much the same technology and is expected to be launched in 2018. According to the article, UrtheCast will subcontract the construction of the satellites to British based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) which, oddly enough, already gets subcontracting work from both MDA and the Canadian government. As outlined in the October 10th, 2011 post, "SAR Satellite Designers Living in Interesting Times," SSTL first rolled out plans for a new generation of low cost SAR satellites in 2011. Photo c/o Business Vancouver.

According to Laporte, four major national or international space missions are currently on the CSA's to-do list. They are the NASA Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, scheduled for launch in 2016; the Canadian Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), scheduled for launch in 2018; the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, also scheduled for 2018 and the NASA Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, scheduled for launch in 2020.

Minister Bains, in his role as keynote speaker for the aerospace summit, which was held in Ottawa from November 17th - 18th, was perhaps a bit braver.

Minister Bains at the IP office on November 17th. Photo @CIPO_Canada.
As outlined in the November 18th Federal government transcript of his presentation, under the title of "Building Strong Ties with Canada's Aerospace Industry," he said:
I have the Emerson report (the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which was organized through the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which organized the summit, and served as the core of conservative government policy in this area under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper) on my desk. Rather than reading the 25 recommendations, I thought I would call Mr. Emerson instead. 
I am aware of the work that the Association and its members did with Mr. Emerson on the Review of Aerospace and Space Policies and Programs. 
I'm impressed by what has been accomplished, and I'll review what remains to be implemented...
He also promised to support research and technology development, ("a large focus for my department") encourage the trade of Canadian products and services abroad ("which is key to industry growth"), provide assistance with the safety certification of aircraft and parts (a "critical step in the development and production process") and assist with defence acquisition ("which has the potential to leverage significant industrial and technological benefits").

The real burr under the saddle of the new Liberal government has nothing to do with the space industry. It's the Bombardier  C-Series, shown here taking off on its maiden test flight at the Bombardier facility in Mirabel, PQ on September 16, 2013. As outlined in the November 21st, 2015 iPolitics post, "Mr. Trudeau’s Bombardier problem," Montreal based Bombardier is looking for the Federal government to bolster the recent billion dollar Quebec government investment in the company, either by providing further direct financial support or else by facilitating the sale of Bombardier jets to Toronto based Porter Airlines, which intends to operate them from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Islands. As outlined in the November 13th, 2015 Toronto Star post, "Ottawa kills Porter’s plans for island airport jets," the recent decision by transport minister Marc Garneau to reject this option sets the stage for a future battle between Montreal and Toronto based Liberal MP's. Even better, as outlined in the November 4th, 2015 Financial Post article, "Canada’s railways optimistic that new transport minister Marc Garneau can thaw frigid relations," the transport minister is shortly expected to receive an "arm’s-length review" of transportation issues from the very same David Emerson who headed the 2012 aerospace review. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Photo c/o Canadian Press /Ryan Remiorz.

Bains also categorized his role as being "to help Canadian businesses grow, innovate and export so that they can create good quality jobs and wealth for Canadians."

Of course, both presentations are full of good thoughts from good people who are at the beginning of their journey to define roles and there is certainly nothing wrong with any of the sentiments being voiced.

Chuck Black.
But, over the next few months, it might be for the best if we started judging both president Laporte and minister Bains by their slowly accumulating actions, and not simply by their far-too-easy to mouth, preliminary statements.

Hold on to your hats...

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Short History of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt

          Chuck Black

The Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has added to the history surrounding a small, amateur rocketry association, called the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR) and based in Germany prior to World War II, which played a pivotal role in the launching of our first great space age.

Members of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR) on April 11th April 1930 in Berlin. Beginning on the left, the image shows Johannes Winkler, Willy Ley, an unidentified person (initially identified by Ley as Wernher von Braun, although the likeness bears little resemblance to known photos of von Braun during this period)), Rudolf Nebel, Max Valier and Erich Wurm. Frequently attributed to Spring 1931, the image was actually taken in April 1930 at an event which Ley described in his book "Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel." Valier was killed in a rocket explosion in May 1930, just days after this photo was taken. Behind the group can be seen a mock-up of a large Oberth rocket which is hanging from the ceiling on a parachute.  Photo c/o The Space Library.

Frank H. Winter, who retired as Smithsonian curator of rocketry in 2007, has just completed a paper on the association, under the title "The German Rocket Society." The paper is currently available online for download on The Space Library.

Frank Winter. Photo c/o Frank Winter. 
Winter takes pains to note that the historical German name for the organization, translates into English as the "Society for Spaceship Travel" or more rarely, the "German Interplanetary Society."

"It was never called the 'German Rocket Society,' or any variation of that name, at least in Germany," said Winter during a recent interview. "The members didn't even do much rocketry until half way through the VfR's existence."

That existence spanned only seven years, from 1927 until 1934, although the legacy of the organization was carried out throughout the war years and led directly to the postwar contributions of German scientists to the American Redstone missile and Apollo programs.

Of course, Winter has written about German rocketry before. His 1983 book, "Prelude to the Space Age: The Rocket Societies 1924-1940" (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983), went into substantial detail on the VfR and became the gold standard for research in this area over the last 30 years.

Even Willy Ley, who may (or may not) have been a founding member of the VfR (he said he was), wrote in his 1957 book, "Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel," about the formative effect the VfR had on his efforts and the efforts of others.

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So why did Winter decide to revisit this well-tread historical path? That's an easy question to answer.
The VfR was the largest and most prominent association of that period and much new information on their activities has recently come to light...  
Writing a new paper for the Space Library is a marvelous way to promote these new finds and also to help promote some of the other unique documents and source materials already preserved in the Space Library.
Among those unique documents are scans of every issue of "Die Rakete," the official publication of the VfR. Highlights from its first year of publication (1927) include articles on theoretical questions related to the best launch trajectories and times for trips to the Moon, Mars and other planets, radio communications between the Earth and Mars and a long article discussing Einstein's theory of relativity.

Chuck Black.
For more information on Frank Winter's latest contribution to the Space Library or to learn more about the repository, please click on the link above.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.