Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Private Sector Dominated "NewSpace" World for our Next Astronauts

          By Brian Orlotti

Last June, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced the beginning of its fourth astronaut recruitment campaign, seeking two people to become Canada’s next generation of space travelers. After their selection next summer, the two successful applicants will begin their training at NASA.

As outlined in the August 19th, 2016 CBC News post, "Canadian Space Agency says 3,772 applied to be astronauts," the potential astronauts "hail from every province and territory, with 374 living abroad." Those selected after the first round of evaluation will take part in a rigorous selection process lasting almost a year. Two will eventually become astronauts. Graphic c/o CSA.

Recent events, however, indicate that the new astronauts will emerge from their training into a world quite different from when they started.

As outlined in the August 20th Spaceflight Now post, "NASA considers handing over ISS to a private company," NASA revealed during a press conference last week that it is considering transferring control of the International Space Station (ISS) to a private company by the mid-2020s.

The space agency did not reveal specifics as to potential buyers, nor did it elaborate on how it’s ISS partners would be affected by such a deal. Such a move could be the result of shrinking budgets stretching NASA’s resources too thinly, necessitating a shift in the agency’s priorities.

On August 19th, two NASA astronauts successfully installed a new docking port on the ISS. This port, named IDA-2, conforms to the new International Docking Adapter (IDA) standard agreed to by the US, Russia, Canada, the EU and Japan.

This standardized interface will enable private spacecraft from many companies and nations to automatically dock with the ISS without manual intervention, marking a key milestone in the evolution of the commercial space industry, and perhaps less work for the Canadian made Mobile Servicing System (MSS), which is currently used for manual docking.

In addition to the private sector’s increasing role in spaceflight, some governments are considering ramping up their space activities. As outlined in August 21st, 2016 Siasat Daily post, "India must take steps to undertake human space flight mission: Madhavan Nair," there are increasing calls in India for its space agency to begin human spaceflight activity as a way of building on the success of the Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan space probes.

These moves are in parallel to those of the commercial space industry itself. As outlined in the August 19th, 2016 Washington Post article, "the inside story of how billionaires are racing to take you to outer space," these efforts include SpaceX and Blue Origin’s reusable rockets, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, and, ultimately, SpaceX’s planned human missions to Mars.

Brian Orlotti.
Canada's newest astronauts will hold a unique position compared to their predecessors. They will enter the realm of spaceflight amidst a new energy not seen in decades. They will be the product of two worlds; molded by the traditions of the past and spurred on by the opportunities of the future.  

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Part One: So You Want to be a Space Advocate?

An Introduction to our Changing World

                    By Chuck Black 
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014.
It's thesis is that successful advocacy requires: 
  • Strong media skills able to define the problem, craft a compelling narrative and define appropriate solutions 
  • A mechanism to move the narrative forwards by solving the defined problem using those previously identified solutions.
  • A funding network willing to pay for the costs associated with the campaign.
The question of whether or not those three conditions apply in our current aerospace and space environment is open for debate. 

It's a platitude that space exploration is at a crossroads and politicians are struggling to keep up with the changing situation. 

As outlined in the June 13th, 2016 post,"Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," Federal innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, the politician responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Research Council (NRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and quite a number of other science and technology funding agencies, is currently in the midst of "an independent review of billions of dollars of federal funding for science and academics" which is expected to report "before the end of this year." [i]

As outlined in the August 3rd, 2016 Toronto Star post, "Federal ministers are hell-bent on consulting you: Paul Wells," Minister Bains isn't the only Federal politician interested in riding the current wave of change. As outlined in the post, "if you run into a Liberal MP this summer, you will probably not escape without being asked for your input on something or other." [ii]

But these constant changes and upheavals are nothing new.

As outlined in the July 21st, 2009 post "Even Werner Von Braun was Wrong Once in a While," those who led mankind to the Moon forty-five years ago were stubborn individualists and opportunists who embraced risk, endured setbacks, knew failure and were not universally loved or even terribly well respected in life.(iii)

In essence, they disagreed often and made many mistakes, which usually led to more disagreements. This is surprising, especially when you remember that the legacy of the early space age is one of accomplishments, not infighting.

But a legacy of accomplishment might not be an accurate representation of the current generation of space leaders. An example would be the panelists at the “2006 International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Roundtable on Major Space Markets in the Next 20 years and the Corporate Approach for Success.”(iv)

The discussion, held during the 57th International Astronautical Congress in Valencia, Spain from October 2nd - 6th, 2006, was moderated by Virendra Jha (then the VP science, technology and programs for the CSA).

Panelists included Mag Iskander (the executive VP and general manager of space missions for BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), Francois Auque (the CEO of Astrium), Pascale Sourisse (the president and CEO of Alcatel Alenia Space), Dr James Chilton (the VP of Boeing), Nicolay Sevestiyanov, (the president & general designer at ENERGIA) and Professor Sir Martin Sweeting (the CEO of Surrey Satellite Technology).(v)

However, given the pedigree of the panelists, it's amusing to note how each acts amazed at the things that have happened over the last twenty years, then marvels at how most of the changes were unexpected but then states unequivocally that the market has likely stabilized and will now remain essentially the same with one or two predictable exceptions which are logical progressions of existing trends.(vi)

Of course, those panelists haven't turned out to be anywhere near correct, despite their vast knowledge and expertise.

But while ten years perhaps provides us with the benefit of hindsight unavailable to the 2006 panel, the changes expected over the next ten years are likely to dwarf those of the previous ten.

So how can space policy experts most effectively advocate their positions and projects in this brave new world of continuous change, ongoing government reviews and commercial constraints?

Chuck Black.
The first step is to learn from the examples and experiences of others. We'll begin that process in part two of this series.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

[i] "Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," by Henry Stewart. The Commercial Space blog June 13th, 2016 at http://acuriousguy.blogspot.ca/2016/06/government-announces-comprehensive.html. Accessed August 21st, 2016.
[ii] "Federal ministers are hell-bent on consulting you: Paul Wells," by Paul Wells. The Toronto Star August 3rd, 2016 at https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/08/03/federal-ministers-are-hell-bent-on-consulting-you-paul-wells.html. Accessed August 21st, 2016. 
[iii] “Even Werner Von Braun was wrong Once in a While,” by Chuck Black. The Commercial Space blog July 21, 2009 at http://acuriousguy.blogspot.ca/2009/07/even-werner-von-braun-was-wrong-once-in.html. Accessed August 21th, 2016. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] “2006 IAC: Major space markets in the next 20 years” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb1BTO2Klp0&feature=relmfu. Accessed August 21th, 2016 
[vi] Ibid.
Next Week: Defining Advocacy as Part Two of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate" continues!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kepler Communications Raises $5Mln in Venture Funding

          By Brian Orlotti

A Toronto-based startup seeking to build an orbital network of low-cost nano-satellite re-transmitters has raised $5Mln USD ($6.4Mln CDN) in venture capital funding.

The Kepler team at the University of Toronto Hatchery on September 10th, 2015. From left to right: Stephen Lau, Mina Mitry, Jeffrey Osborne, Mark Michael and Wen Cheng Chong. Photo c/o Roberta Baker.

Kepler Communications seeks to fill two projected needs:
  • As firms like SpaceX and OneWeb work to build their own satellite networks to provide global internet access, they will be faced with periods of intermittent connectivity when not close to ground stations. Kepler’s system would serve as an orbital network backbone, enabling various satellite networks to talk to each other in orbit rather than routing their traffic via ground stations (which increases network delay and congestion). Kepler’s network would be analogous to the high-speed internet backbones used by terrestrial providers which link different internet exchange points and sub-networks across the globe.
  • Kepler seeks to become a key service provider for the emerging machine-to-machine (M2M) communications (the so-called ‘internet of things’) market both on Earth’s surface and in orbit. M2M encompases such things as embedded sensors in buildings and vehicles to agricultural monitoring to RFID/GPS tracking of shipping containers and much more.
As outlined in the August 9th, 2016 BetaKit post, "Kepler Communications Raises $5 Million Seed Round to Develop In-Space Telecommunications Network," the company plans to use its newly acquired funding to launch its satellites and begin service in 2017.

Kepler Comunications grew out of the Start@UTIAS entrepreneurship program at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS). Established with a $1Mln CDN donation by UTIAS alumnus and Canadian telecom industry veteran Francis Shen, the Start@UTIAS program aims to encourage UTIAS graduate students to establish startup firms. Kepler received $25,000 CAD in initial funding from Shen via Start@UTIAS.

Kelper then launched at the University of Toronto’s ‘Entrepreneurship Hatchery,’ where they won the $20,000 CDN Lacavera Prize in September 2015. Kepler then cycled through two more Toronto-based tech incubators, Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone and The Rotman School’s Creative Destruction Lab, before joining Techstars Seattle in February 2016.

As outlined in the February 25th, 2016 post, "Toronto Based Kepler Communications Has Local Investors & Seattle Internship," Kepler has also assembled a core group of Toronto-based investors and advisers, including:
  • Samer Bishay - A former systems engineer at MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), who moved on to become the president of northern telecommunications provider Ice Wireless, wholesale VoIP service provider Iristel and upstart wireless carrier Sugar Mobile.
  • Tony Lacavera - Founder of Wind Mobile (Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier) and Chairman of Globalive Holdings (a privately held Canadian telecom and investment firm).  Lacavera was formerly Chairman of the Board for NewSpace satellite imagery firm UrtheCast.
  • The York Angel Investors - A Markham, ON-based group of private investors. Several of this organization’s approximately 50 members have provided assistance or contributed funding to Kepler.
Brian Orlotti.
Kepler Communications is an attempt, through founding infrastructure, to stake a Canadian claim to the opening space frontier.

It is also a hopeful sign that Canadians can remain pioneers when we choose to.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.