Monday, July 28, 2014

Customers vs Project Managers: The Real Truth about NEOSSat

          by Chuck Black

Beleaguered Mississauga based space contractor Microsat Systems Canada Inc. (MSCI) has lashed out at Canadian Space Agency (CSA) allegations that the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), built by MSCI under CSA supervision, is "underfunded" and not working properly by suggesting that the space agency was a lousy project manager.

The MSCI logo, presented without sarcasm, from the MSCI website.  

They may have a point. As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," even the David Emerson led Aerospace Review noticed ongoing procurement problems at the CSA and recommended its removal from the direct involvement in the design and manufacture of "space assets purchased by the government" such as NEOSSat. 

So what's the real story?
CEO Cooper in 2011. Photo c/o CNW.

Well, as outlined in the July 27th, 2014 Ottawa Citizen article "Satellite company blames Canadian Space Agency for some cost overruns," the NEOSSat problems began with the "poorly written system requirements" provided by CSA employees and CSA mentoring/ supervision from people "who generally got in the way."

The article included direct quotes from both MSCI president and CEO David Cooper and MSCI director of micro-satellite programs Ross Gillette. 

Cooper and Gillette's comments were in made in reaction to the public release of the February 2014 CSA report, "Evaluation of the Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) Project For the period from February 2005 to December 2013," which blamed "a lack of capacity on the part of the prime contractor (MSCI)" as the reason for the cost overruns and problems which have bedeviled the project.

The report also highlighted the role of Dynacon Systems, which won the original NEOSSat contract on the basis of its successful Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) telescope but unexpectedly sold its satellite business to MSCI in 2008, as being one of the reasons for MSCI's lack of expertise. 

Director Gillette. Photo c/o Linked-In.
According to the report, the perceived lack of capacity/ expertise "meant that the CSA and DND were faced with a choice of (either) cancelling the project or taking a calculated risk and continuing to work with the (new) contractor."

But CSA eventually decided to continue on with MSCI as the new NEOSSat contractor and this is where the story gets interesting. 

Dynacon, the original contractor, built MOST on the basis of a strategy described in a fourteen year old paper written by then Dynacon employees Peter Stibrany and Kieran A. Carroll called "the Microsat Way in Canada."

This strategy focused on inexpensive, quickly constructed components used frequently to build up a body of expertise before locking in the design, because of the usefulness of the real world knowledge gained.

It also suggested that space agencies should act as end-user "customers" interested in low cost and practical results rather than as project managers interested in the maintenance of processes and procedures focused around defining (and locking-in) system design before real world validation and testing.

But while the paper included many of the core concepts in what would later become the standard operating procedures at places like the very successful University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL), these methodologies were not a part of the CSA's standard operating procedure.

And the original Dynacon authors never went to work for MSCI although both remain in the industry. Stibany now works as a director of strategic development for MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) while Carroll is currently an adjunct professor at UTIAS and CTO for Mississauga based Gedex Inc, according to their Linked-In profiles.

So it's only natural that the sale of the Dynacon space assets to MSCI allowed the CSA a chance to redefine its role in a more traditional fashion. The result was an initially confused but later annoyed prime NEOSSat contractor, which led first to misunderstanding and later to increased oversight, costs and irritation. 

At least one submission to the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review dealt explicitly with procurement methodologies and how these methodologies affected project management and costs. The June 30th, 2012 Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) position paper "Fostering Innovation, Creating New Markets: Novel Approaches to Space Policy and Programs," recommended that the Federal government explicitly encourage the development of entrepreneurial or "commercial space" industries and approaches using a variety of methodologies quite similar to those advocated in "The Microsat Way in Canada." Document c/o Aerospace Review

The CSA's focus on "system requirements," which MSCI perceived of as coming from people who "generally got in the way," certainly contributed to NEOSSat being delivered 41 months late and over budget.

Of course, this isn't the first time that dissatisfaction with CSA procurement policies and project management has led to a very public confrontation. As outlined in the February 6th, 2006 Montreal Gazette article "RCMP to probe space agency contracts," the CSA was once even subject to a law suit and police investigation from a former CSA scientist who successfully sued the space agency for falsely appropriating one of his inventions.

This latest CSA procurement crisis will likely not rise to that level, but only because the decision to divest the CSA of its direct involvement in the design and manufacture of "space assets purchased by the government," has already been explored by the Aerospace Review and implemented by the Federal government.

Nuff said!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The 2014 Edition of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!"

          by Chuck Black

Time marches on, and those of us looking for gainful employment in the space sector will notice quite a few changes from the August 13th, 2013 post "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!" For those who'd like to keep up to date,  here's the latest listing of places you should be approaching if you'd like to work in the space industry.
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The 16th Annual Aerospace and Defence Top 100 growing Companies of 2013 - What better place to start than with the biggest and fastest growing firms in this area. Produced jointly by PricewaterhousCoopers and Flight Global, the report outlines the trends in the industry and ranks the top companies by revenues and profitability.

Astronauts4Hire - A US based, 501(c)(3) non-profit formed in 2010 to recruit and train qualified scientists and engineers for the rigors of spaceflight. The organization conducts a range of activities related to commercial astronaut workforce development and train its members as professional astronaut candidates who can assist researchers, payload developers, and spaceflight providers with mission planning and operations support.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) - Although the CSA no longer has a formal career page and CSA job links now connect to the Federal government career page, the CSA remains home to the Canadian Space Directory, a listing of companies and organizations which work with the CSA. And while it's slow going to apply to these organizations individually, it's also indicative of future trends in Canadian space activities.
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The European Space Agency (ESA) career page - It's worth noting that the ESA has more job openings that the CSA, since the ESA web page includes actual job vacancies and useful, industry specific career facts. Ah, Paris in the spring.

HE Space - Denmark  based, specialist supplier of manpower for space programs with offices in the Netherlands, Germany and the US. The firm also manages the Jobs in Space Linked-In group.

The International  Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) - For those who are looking from something a little different from the typical opportunity requiring a science or engineering degree, the IAMAW represents more than 40,000 Canadian workers in air transport and a wide range of manufacturing including aircraft, auto parts, buses, aerospace, electronics, light and heavy machinery, tools and appliances.

Jobs in Space - A mostly European based space industry forum for posting vacancy notices and resumes, organized by Microcom Systems, a UK based consultancy firm which bills itself as being focused on satellite communications and space technology.

NASA Jobs - A public listing of available National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) openings. According to the site, NASA is one of "the best places to work in the Federal government" as ranked by federal employee satisfaction, which makes it officially more fun than the criminal justice system, the healthcare industry or the US Congress.

The NewSpace Global listing of top 300 NewSpace companies - This list is divided up into three smaller lists covering the 100 most influential privately held newspace companies (the NSG 100), a second list covering 100 additional privately held newspace companies perceived as being "on the bubble" of growth (NSG OTB) plus a third list of top rated publicly traded space companies (the NSG PTC). A surprising number of companies on these three lists are Canadian and a surprising number of the rest have offices and employment opportunities in Canada.

The Satellite Today Career Center - Focused on US based jobs in the commercial satellite industry. Includes a comprehensive satellite companies web directory

The SpaceRef Career Center - A small service, acting mostly as an additional source of advertising revenue for the publisher, but also hoping to leverage the "450,000 unique readers who visit SpaceRefNASA WatchSpaceRef BusinessSpaceRef Canada and the Astrobiology Web each month," who might also be looking for work.

Space Careers - A French based but English language site focused on "the top jobs and the best talents in the industry." Contains a jobs center (where job hunters and recruiters register), a space industry directory, a news and resource section with space news RSS feeds and a LinkedIn page. Maintained by Spacelinks, a specialist staffing consultancy focused on the European space and defense industry.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI) listing of Employment Opportunities - Located on the Johns Hopkins University Campus in Baltimore, Maryland, the STSCI manages both the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). They offer "the wonder of 21st century space exploration in a job that offers a competitive salary and generous benefits."

UNIFOR - This union, created from the 2013 merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), might not represent the typical career path imagined by the average astronaut wannabe, but Canada's largest private sector union does represent aerospace workers at Boeing Canada (Local 2169), Bombardier/ de Havilland (Local 112), Cascade Aerospace (Local 114), CMC Electronics, Magellan Aerospace (Local 3005) and Pratt and Whitney Canada (Local 510), which makes it worth checking out.

https://careers-virgingalactic.icims.com/jobs/search?ss=1&searchLocation=&searchCategory=&hashed=0Virgin Galactic (VG) - For those who prefer suborbital space travel, this firm has a jobs board with literally dozens of new positions waiting to be filled.

The Wikipedia listing of government agencies engaged in space exploration - Categorized according to capabilities and including links to the listed agency's primary website. Consider this as one stop shopping for those inclined towards government service. 

The Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) careers page - The company that built the worlds first "commercial spacecraft" has dozens of job openings covering a wide range of expertise. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Space Activities at the University of Waterloo

          by Michael Kuntz

The recent June 27th, 2014 post "Canadian Universities in Space," was an excellent summary of the amazing breadth of space activities taking place at academic institutions across the country. Universities play key roles in providing high-risk innovations and preparing the next generation of highly qualified personnel.

The early history of the University of Waterloo. The plaque is located just inside the entrance to the university on University Avenue West across from Seagram Drive.  Photo c/o Alan L. Brown.

Since its founding in 1956 (the year before Sputnik), the University of Waterloo has been a Canadian leader in both of these roles, and today our faculty continues to contribute to a variety of space focused projects.

HIFI pocket guide c/o ESA.
For example, Dr. Michel Fich of the Department of Physics and Astronomy was the Canadian principal investigator for the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel, active from 2009 - 2013 and the largest infrared space telescope ever launched, was one of the cornerstone missions of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Cdr. Chris and Dr. Richard. Photo c/o CSA.
As well, Dr. Richard Hughson of the Department of Kinesiology was the principal investigator for the VASCULAR and BP-Reg medical experiments that were conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by multiple astronauts including Robert Thirsk and Chris Hadfield (who is now a member of the faculty at Waterloo). The experiments were funded by the CSA and supported by NASA.

With ESA sponsorship, Dr. Claude Duguay of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management has been using satellite radar imagery to study the impact of climate change on the thickness of lake and ground ice. An example of some of the work being done in this area is outlined in the video below.


As a final example, for the past four years, Dr. Thomas Jennewein of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) has been leading a proposed Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) micro-satellite mission that would demonstrate long-distance quantum key distribution from space. Since October 2013, Dr. Jennewein and IQC have been leading a CSA funded project with industrial partners to develop a prototype quantum key distribution receiver (OKDR) that would be suitable for QEYSSat. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2014 IQC post "Quantum satellite one step closer to space flight," Dr. Jennewein’s team was recently awarded a CSA Flights for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) grant to adapt the QKDR for an airborne demonstration.


In the current environment of fiscal restraint, there can and should be an increased role for universities to drive Canadian innovation in a cost-effective manner. Amongst our international partners, it is common for universities and research institutions to be the project prime for space science instruments and even entire space missions. For the moment, it is not within the means of most Canadian universities to lead a space mission, however, a strong foundation of technical and managerial capabilities exist at the University of Waterloo and other institutions that would enable academia to lead space instrumentation projects within the next couple of years.

The University of Waterloo looks forward to a continued partnership with government and industry to support the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.
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Michael Kuntz is the director of research partnerships at the University of Waterloo.