Friday, November 16, 2018

A $52Mln CDN Financing Deal for Northstar Earth and Space Inc.

          By Henry Stewart

It wasn't exactly what people were expecting the day after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited Ottawa to ask for a Canadian contribution to the NASA Lunar Gateway.

But the November 15th, 2018 announcement that the Federal government, along with several other "strategic partners," had contributed $52Mln CDN  in total to Montreal PQ based Northstar Earth & Space for the development of "a global environment information platform which will transform humanity's ability to manage our impact on Earth and its natural resources," was certainly a favorable indicator for at least one Canadian based space company.

Innovation Minister Bains announcing that the Federal government would be contributing $13Mln CDN to the latest $52Mln CDN funding plan for Northstar Earth and Space on November 15th, 2018. As outlined in the November 14th, 2018 Government of Canada press release "Minister Bains to visit Montréal to announce funding that will help create middle-class jobs in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta," the minister was initially ambiguous about the specifics of the announcement and many thought the announcement would relate to the Lunar Gateway. The complete presentation is available online here. Video c/o @ISED_CA

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains made the Northstar announcement at a special presentation at the Phi Centre in Montreal PQ on November 15th, 2018.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 Northstar press release, "NorthStar Earth and Space Inc. announces partnerships, $52Mln in additional financing for global environment information platform," the governments of Canada and Quebec each contributed $13Mln CDN to the total announced funding.

Government of Canada funding includes $9.5Mln from the Federal Strategic Innovation Fund and $3.5Mln CDN from Economic Development Quebec Region. The Government of Quebec, via Le Fonds du développement économique (FDE), also invested $13Mln CDN.

A variety of private partners, including Montreal PQ based Telesystem Space (the Northstar majority shareholder) and the Space Alliance of Europe (a strategic partnership between Rome Italy based Telespazio Spa, Cannes France based Thales Alenia Space and Rome, Italy based Leonardo Aerospace) provided the rest of the $52Mln CDN.

The latest financing is in addition to the $31Mln CDN contributed previously by other NorthStar Canadian and US founding partners. The company has gathered a total of $83Mln CDN for its NorthStar platform.

As outlined in the press release:
The NorthStar platform is based on a 40-satellite constellation with sophisticated sensors and information delivery capability. NorthStar will enable new advances in continuous environmental management including pollution detection, charting the health of the world's oceans and rivers, enhancing the productivity of agriculture, wildfire alerts, and pipeline oil and gas monitoring to prevent spills and contamination.
When fully operational, NorthStar expects to create an estimated 400 highly-skilled direct jobs and 1200 indirect jobs related to big data and information analytics, and support the expansion of aerospace, satellite design and sensor technology industries in Canada and abroad.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 post, "Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus," the Canadian government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to contribute to the NASA Lunar Gateway.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus

          By Chuck Black

It may not last. But at least for now, Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has refused to respond to NASA Administer Jim Bridenstine's request for Canada to fund a multi-billion dollar 3rd generation Canadarm contribution to the proposed NASA Lunar Gateway (also known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G), the next generation orbital outpost and staging platform NASA expects to build sometime in the 2020's.

AIAC president and CEO Quick (left) with NASA administrator Bridenstine (centre) and innovation minister Bains at the Canadian Aerospace Summit, which was held in Ottawa ON from November 12th - 14th. According to Bains, "we obviously can't replicate the Silicon Valley model here," but the Canadian focus on basic research and the funding for a variety of smaller, space focused projects is the best way for Canada to develop an ecosystem of innovation. According to Bridenstine, "we can't (reproduce Silicon Valley) either," but the US offer to Canada to contribute Canadarm expertise to the Lunar Gateway will maintain and grow existing Canada/US partnerships and can be bartered for new flight opportunities for Canadian astronauts. The complete, but surprisingly short, presentation is available online here and begins at approximately the twelve minute mark. Video c/o @ISED_CA

Bains was put on the spot by Bridenstine on the final day of the 2018 Canadian Aerospace Summit, held in Ottawa ON from November 12th - 14th, during a panel discussion on Canada US space cooperation chaired by Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) President and CEO Jim Quick.

As first reported in the September 18th, 2018 post, "Colorado Based Maxar/MDA Asking for $1-2Bln to Build Another Canadarm for the US LOP-G," most of the pressure for Canadian participation in the program is being organized through Westminster, CO based Maxar Technologies, which expects its Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions subsidiary to receive the lion's share of the government funding needed for any substantive contribution to the US program.

But participants in the lobby effort also include NASA representatives such as Bridenstine and Bill Gerstenmaier (the NASA administrator for human exploration and operations, who visited Canada earlier this fall), plus senior members of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) space committee and members of the #DontLetGoCanada coalition which, as outlined on the Don't Let Go Canada website, are currently lobbying the Federal government for a "fully funded space strategy" wrapped around a "third generation Canadarm" for the Lunar Gateway.

The original plan was to co-ordinate a campaign culminating in a Federal government funding announcement sometime in the fall of 2018, a situation which would certainly have helped the bottom line at Maxar. 

As outlined in the November 1st, 2018 post, "Maxar Technologies Share Price Collapses After Q3 Earnings Report Released," the company has been going through some difficult times lately.

Bridenstine didn't come to Ottawa cold. At the very least, he came with a substantive presentation which he shared earlier in the day. According to Bridenstine, Canada has made a "critical" contribution to US space exploration since the 1950's and should continue to do so. "I am here, as the NASA administrator, to ask for the support of Canada in support of Space Policy Directive 1 — our return to the moon,” he said. “We can’t achieve what we want to achieve in space if any of us goes alone.” The complete presentation is available online here. Video c/o @ISED_CA.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 Space News post, "Canada not sold on US-led lunar Gateway despite NASA boss’ direct pitch," Canada has essentially not yet decided to move forward with the Lunar Gateway and is still examining the project.

According to the article, Bains told journalists at the Canadian Aerospace Summit that the Canadian government now hopes to release a "new space plan" by the end of next year, a time frame which could potentially push out any formal announcement on space policy to just after the next Federal election, currently scheduled for sometime on or before October 19th, 2019.

Other articles, such as the November 14th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "NASA Administrator Asks Canada to Participate in Lunar Space Station," are kinder to Bains, stating only that he "promised to unveil a new Long Term Space Plan before the end of the administration’s mandate in late 2019."

Which is a good way of saying that Bains and the Justin Trudeau government might not want to pay any more attention to this matter unless its an important issue relating to their re-election.

Nuff said.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Rising Electron Lifts All Boats

          By Brian Orlotti

Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab has launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand, successfully placing seven spacecraft in orbit for its first commercial launch. With this latest success, the company is solidifying its lead in the burgeoning small rocket industry.



The launch, which Rocket Lab has dubbed the ‘It's Business Time’ mission, saw six satellites deployed for San Francisco CA based Spire Global, Irvine CA based Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Beverley Australia based Fleet Space Technologies and the Irvine CA based Irvine CubeSat STEM program, a collaboration between six high schools in Irvine CA to assemble, test and launch a CubeSat into low Earth orbit.

Also launched was a spacecraft built by München, Germany based HPS GmbH to demonstrate space debris removal technology according to the November 11th, 2018 CNBC post, "Space unicorn Rocket Lab reaches orbit again in key first commercial launch."

Originally scheduled to launch last spring following its successful Jan 2018 test launch, the mission was delayed due to a ‘motor control’ issue with the rocket. launch marks the beginning of Rocket Lab's acceleration toward launching at a weekly rate. 

While taking time to correct the motor control issue, the company made the most of the situation by continuing to build up it’s infrastructure, opening a new factory in New Zealand. Rocket Lab also plans to build a US launchpad in Virginia.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's current CEO and CTO. In 2009, Rocket Lab launched the Ātea-1 sounding rocket. In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a contract from the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) OperationallyResponsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nano-satellites into orbit. 

The company’s investors include Palo Alto and San Franscisco CA based Data Collective (DCVC), Chicago IL based Promus Ventures, Menlo Park CA based Bessemer Venture Partners, Menlo Park CA based Khosla Ventures and New Zealand based K1W1 Investments as well as  Bethesda, MD based aerospace behemoth LockheedMartin and the Government of New Zealand

Rocket Lab’s Series D funding round increased the company’s total level of investment to $148Mln US ($200Mln CDN). The company is now valued at over $1Bln US ($1.35Bln CDN).


The Electron is a 17m tall two-stage launcher designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg into a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit. The 3D printed carbon-composite rocket is powered by a cluster of 9 in-house built Rutherford engines (after the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford) that use liquid oxygen and kerosene. The Rutherford engine incorporates new innovations to minimize weight and cost, including battery-powered fuel pumps and (mostly) 3D-printed components. The Electron is priced at $5.7Mln US ($7.5Mln CDN) per launch.

Rocket Lab’s next launch is scheduled for December, with a further 16 launches planned for 2019. The company will aim for a launch rate of once a month in 2019, followed by once very two weeks, with an ultimate goal of once a week by 2020.

Rocket Lab’s success illustrates how modern technology can now enable even small nations to have their own space launch capability. Canada, a declining space power lacking its own space launch capability, must take this lesson to heart if it is to remain relevant.

Fortunately, there are signs of this occurring, most notably as outlined in the October 23rd, 2018 post, "Those New Maple Leaf Brand Rockets," through the LaunchCanada Rocket Innovation Challenge, an effort being led by rocket engineer Adam Trumpour to establish Canada’s first major rocket competition.

The contest will offer Canadians the opportunity to foster a vibrant private launch industry in the same manner that gave birth to firms like Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

A rising Electron lifts all boats, indeed.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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