Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members

          by Chuck Black

Minister Moore at the Aerospace Summit. Photo c/o author.
Industry Minister James Moore has announced the membership of the long awaited Canadian Space Advisory Board, composed of industry leaders with a mandate to report on the direction of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Moore made the announcement during the second day of the Canadian Aerospace Summit, an event organized by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which was held in Ottawa on November 18th - 19th.

As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 Industry Canada press release "Supporting Canadian Aerospace Excellence," the members of the advisory board will include:
  • Retired general and former CSA president Walt Natynczyk, who is currently the deputy minister of veterans affairs, in the Stephen Harper government. 
  • Dr. Arlene Ponting, the president emerita of MindFuel (formerly Science Alberta) a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring young people's involvement in science through education.
Moore said he expects the advisory board to have real influence over the future direction of Canadian space activities. "I'm not going to ask them (the advisory board members) to waste their time," he said during his presentation on Wednesday.

The creation of a space advisory board was one of the recommendations of the November 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or "Emerson Report") which was presented to then Industry Minister Christian Paradis in November 2012.

There was no word on when the new board will begin deliberations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Google Takes Control of Hangar One

          by Brian Orlotti

Planetary Ventures LLC (a subsidiary of Google) has announced that it will lease a historic facility at NASA Ames Research Centre near Mountain View, California for $1.16Bln USD ($1.31Bln CDN) over the next 60 years.

Moffat Field Hangar One. As outlined in the June 19th, 2010 NASA update on "The Latest News on Hangar One," the facility "is a recognizable landmark in the San Francisco Bay area and a part of its early aviation history. The Navy built Hangar One at Moffett Field in 1932 for the USS Macon and to serve as the West Coast base for the U.S. lighter-than-air aviation program. The Navy transferred the hangar to NASA in 1994 after Moffett Field was decommissioned." The facility is currently closed to the public because of the high levels of PCBs present in the Hangar One building components, Photo c/o NASA.

As outlined in the November 10th, 2014 press release,"NASA Signs Lease with Planetary Ventures LLC for Use of Moffett Airfield and Restoration of Hangar One," the firm will lease Moffett Federal Airfield (MFA), currently managed by NASA Ames, and restore the facility's historic Hangar One, a large building originally built in the 1930's for US Navy airships that has become a Silicon Valley landmark.

Planetary Ventures plans to invest over $200Mln USD ($225.4Mln CDN) in the 1,000-acre (405 hectares) property, which also includes Hangar Two and Hangar Three, two runways, a flight operations building, and a private golf course. The deal is expected to save NASA $6.3 million USD per year in operations costs in addition to the income from the lease.

Planetary Ventures development plans include refurbishing all three hangars and re-purposing them as research facilities to develop new technologies in space exploration, aviation, robotics and other emerging fields. Planetary Ventures will also build a public outreach facility to educate visitors on the site's historical significance.

Moffett Federal Field in Sunnyvale, California with Hangar One on the left and Hangars Two and Three on the right. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

According to the February 10th, 2014 Silicon Valley Business Journal article, "Google's Moffett Field plans include robots, space tech, aviation," Google’s choice of Moffett Federal Airfield makes great sense from a strategic perspective. To the west of MFA is Mountain View, California's North Bayshore area, home to many Google buildings comprising millions of square feet. To the east is Sunnyvale, California's Moffett Park office sub-market, an office campus where Google has been growing rapidly. Google already leases a 42-acre site at the north end of NASA Ames Research Centre where it is building an ultra-green office campus.

With significant Google presence already in the area (with Google facilities, in effect, encircling NASA Ames), the acquisition of MFA will allow the company to consolidate its control over the region.

Brian Orlotti.
Google's cutting-edge research into cargo delivery drones, internet-via-drone and internet-via-balloon will take the company skyward into the future. The Moffett Federal Airfield will be that future's literal launch point.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ESA's Perspective on Rosetta + Canada's Contributions & Bruce Willis

          by Chuck Black

With all the various media reports trumpeting the recent successes of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta robotic space probe, which landed on and performed a detailed study of comet67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P) last week, it's interesting to note that the most accurate assessment of the mission's significance so far has come through a collaboration between the ESA and video production facility Platige Image, on a short fictional film.

As outlined in the October 25th, 2014 Nerdist post, "Short Film Ambition Has Aiden Gillen as a World Creating Magician," the short, titled appropriately enough "Ambition," first debuted on October 24th at the British Film Institute’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder festival in London.

Directed by Tomek BagiƄski, shot on location in Iceland and starring Aiden Gillen as a master magician and Aisling Franciosi as an apprentice attempting to transform dry wasteland into heavenly bodies, the short explicitly referenced Rosetta and provided an inspired, motivational, but perfectly rational reason why the mission could certainly be the start of something big.

November 12th, 2014 graphic showing the Rosetta spacecraft, the Philae lander and a timeline for the mission. Graphic c/o Graphic News/ ESA.
Of course a variety of Canadian organizations and individuals also contributed to the Rosetta mission over the last decade and a half of planning and travel time. They included:
  • Jakub Urbanek, who has been with the Rosetta flight control team for the last two years and Jane Hurley, a member of the science team. As outlined in the November 12th, 2014 CBC News article, "Historic Philae comet landing has Canadian connection," Urbanek grew up in Windsor, Ontario and completed an undergraduate degree in space engineering at York University while Hurley graduated from Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland with a degree in physics and mathematics before attending Oxford University.
  • ADGA Group (Canada), through its Canadian-owned affiliate RHEA (Europe), which provided software to support the mission. As outlined in the November 13th, 2014 press ADGA release "Rosetta "The Comet Chaser" - The Canadian Connection," the firms provided an "indispensable engineering capability (which) supported the design, development, testing and operations of the Rosetta spacecraft."
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan based SED Systems, which built the three ground stations used to communicate with the spacecraft. As outlined in the November 10th, 2014 Canadian Press article, "Canadian firm has role in historic comet Rosetta mission," the firm has had a history of building ground stations for the telecommunications sector.
But while there were many Canadian and other contributors assisting with the success of the mission, the main credit must certainly be placed at the feet of its originators in the ESA, especially given that a similar and complementary US mission, the Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby (CRAF) mission, was eventually cancelled, after going over budget. 

Given that, its likely more than fair that the Europeans are allowed to define the success of the mission by making the first movie that references it. 

Take that, Bruce Willis, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay!