Monday, December 10, 2018

The AstroNuts Kids' Space Club is Relocating to Calgary

          By Henry Stewart

One of the most effective and sensible organizations currently advocating for Canadian space activities and the science technology engineering and math (STEM) background needed to support those accomplishments, the AstroNuts Kids' Space Club is pulling up its Newmarket ON roots and relocating to Calgary.

Members of the 2014 AstroNuts Kids' Space Club at the Orlan Space Suit display on the trade show floor of 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014), which took place from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014 in Toronto ON. From left to right are AstroNuts Ray Bielecki, Tim Fowler (wearing a blue shirt in back), Jack Fallows (wearing the orange jumpsuit in front), Brett Bielecki, Jessica Hunter, Jacob Fowler (wearing the Orlon Soviet space suit), Josiah Harris, Brandon Palos and Tom Harris.  Photo c/o Chuck Black.

According to organizer Ray Bielecki, "thank you for all your enthusiasm and support of the AstroNuts Kids Space Club …it's been a great run and its definitely picking up where it left off, very soon."

Bielecki will be moving west to Calgary AB "by early May in 2019" after he retires from the CBC, where he has worked for the last twenty-five years.

He's found a lot of interest in opening up a new AstroNuts chapter after he's settled into his new home and expects to find many new "individuals, organizations and companies that are interested in me bringing my passion and love of space, science and education to their workplace."

For the last eight years, thousand of children have attended monthly missions aboard his home-built "Mercury One" and "Mercury Two" spaceships or participated in the larger, annual AstroNut Kids' Space Day Camps and STEM Contests, which were held in different locations and as part of a variety of other unique activities.

The AstroNuts website also includes dozens of in-house and skype educators who assisted with the program. They included York University astronomy professor Paul Delaney, Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald, CBC Newsworld meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe along with a multitude of Canadian and international scientists and astronauts.

During the annual AstroNut Space Camps, British astronaut Tim Peake talked to the kids “live” from the International Space Station (ISS) and Canadian icon Chris Hadfield skyped in for a chat.

The 2018 class of the AstroNut Kids' include (from left to right) Danica Keeler, Alayna Keeler, Violet Bristow, David Tran, Danial Balugas, Stan Taylor, Benji Ho, Mitchell Bruni, William Duncan, Ray Bielecki, Josiah Harris, Tim Harris, Aevaha Arun, Ryan Marciniak and Anthony Skorik. Photo c/o Ray Bielecki.

The AstroNuts were first organized into a club eight years ago by Bielecki, along with his then seven year old son Brett, in order to learn "about all things space." The club was first noted here in the June 25th, 2011 post, "'Astronut' Brett at NASA for Final Shuttle Launch."

A new space club will starting up in February 2019 in Uxbridge ON called the “Kids Space Club.” Its founder is "Scientist Stan” Taylor and many of the Ontario based members of the current AstroNut Kids' will be joining.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Canadian Intelligence Agency "Warning Country's Top Universities" About Chinese Telecom Giant Huawei

          By Chuck Black

The full story is hidden behind a legacy media paywall, available only if you're willing to buy a newspaper or sign-up for a subscription.

University of Toronto (UofT) VP of Research and Innovation Professor Vivek Goel and Huawei’s Central Research Institute President Jun Zha celebrate the signing of a "bilateral strategic partnership agreement between the two groups," in Toronto ON in September 2018. As outlined in the September 14th, 2018 UofT News post, "UofT, Huawei extend research partnership," the new, five-year agreement, is an extension of an existing partnership which has provided more than $3.5Mln CDN in research funding to UofT projects over the last few years. Photo c/o UofT

But it's a story with far reaching implications for academic cooperation between Canadian universities, their international partners/funders and pretty much anyone the United States might happen to disagree with.

It's therefore a story well worth looking into.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "CSIS cautions universities about ties to Chinese telecom giant," Canada's spy agency is "warning the country's top universities to be cautious" about their extensive relationships with Shenzhen China based Huawei Technologies.

As outlined in the post:
The Globe and Mail has learned officials with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) including assistant director of intelligence Mike Peirce, delivered the warning to research vice-presidents, from a group of leading research-intensive universities, known as the U15, at a meeting in Ottawa on October 4th.
At least one follow-up meeting is planned for about twenty McGill University academics on December 19th. According to the Globe, several of those academics are currently engaged in research underwritten by Huawei.

According to its website, the U15 is a consortium of the largest Canadian universities. They perform approximately "$8.5Bln worth of research annually" including approximately "83% of all contracted private sector research in Canada" and hold 81% of all "Canadian university patents." Their website is also available in multiple languages, including English, French, Portuguese and written Chinese.

There is no better way to learn about Chinese connections to Canadian academia than to read "Canadian Universities in China’s Transformation: An Untold Story" by Ruth Hayhoe, Julia Pan and Qiang Zha. As outlined in the book, "Canada was one of the first Western countries to sign an agreement to provide development aid to China in 1983, and the Canadian International Development Agency invited universities to cooperate in ways that would facilitate "the multiplication of contacts at the thinking level." Collaboration occured in areas "as different as environmental science, marine science, engineering, management, law, agriculture, medicine, education, minority cultures, and women’s studies." While Norman Bethune might be pleased, its also quite likely that the US intelligence community was less than happy. Graphic c/o McGill Queens University Press

The Globe post goes on to state:
People who attended the October meeting described it as an information session where CSIS officials did not reveal classified information, but shared their concerns about Huawei's development and deployment of next-generation wireless technology across Canada. 
The story came hot on the heels of last week's detainment of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou as she was changing planes at Vancouver International Airport.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2018 CBC News post, "Flight would be 'inconceivable,' lawyer for Huawei CFO argues at bail hearing," Meng (who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder, Ren Zhengfei) was arrested in Vancouver on December 1st, 2018 on suspicion of fraud involving violations of US sanctions against Iran.

American prosecutors are currently fighting for her extradition to the US from Canada, which has an extradition treaty with the US, although the real concerns of the Americans almost certainly go much deeper.

After all, Meng is a Chinese citizen working for a Chinese multinational who was travelling through  Canada which is, officially at least, outside of US jurisdiction and thousands of miles away from Iran.

It's generally conceded that the telecom technology championed by companies like Huawei is essentially "dual use" technology, with a variety of both commercial and security related applications. Canada has an extradition treaty with the US covering these sorts of violations of US law.

The US almost certainly wants to keep control of the security applications and is absolutely intent on limiting Huawei's reach among traditional US allies. The decision to invoke treaty obligations was likely the obvious choice to enforce US law and to send a message to US allies to keep their distance from technologies controlled by China.

But for Canada, the situation is far more problematic and could lead to long-term consequences well outside of the telecom industry.

As outlined the April 6th, 2018 CBC News post, "Chinese ambassador calls for Canada's cooperation in US trade fight," Canada has been attempting a precarious neutrality in the middle between China and the US almost since the day US president Donald Trump assumed power in January 2017.

For it's part, Canada's aerospace industry has been looking to expand into China for years.

There's even a Canadian based space company which is betting on its strong Chinese connection. As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 UofT News post, "Liftoff! U of T startup's business takes flight with satellite launch in China," Toronto ON based Kepler Communications used a Chinese booster to launch and deploy its first nano-sat on January 19th, 2018. The article noted that:
The launch – touted as a first for a commercial communications satellite operating in low earth orbit on a frequency known as the Ku-band – is an important first step toward Kepler’s goal of providing low-cost data communications for connected devices on Earth and beyond.
As outlined in the November 22nd, 2018 Yahoo Finance post, "Small in space: Toronto company's satellites no bigger than a loaf of bread," Kepler is expecting to launch its second nano-sat over the next few months and a total of 140 nano-sats over the next few years, although it won't say where those launches will take place.

Since nano-sats are also traditionally considered to be "dual use" services with both commercial and security applications, here's hoping that Kepler's future prosperity isn't restricted by US concern over its Chinese connections.

As noted in the December 10th, 2018 CBC News post, "China's threats over Huawei CFO's arrest rattle Canadian business," the options for payback (on all sides) are essentially limitless.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Kickstarting the Space Industry

          By Henry Stewart

Futurist Isaac Arthur has created an interesting video on "Kickstarting Space Industry," which is available on his Science and Futurism You Tube Channel.

The video is focused around robust and profitable industries which would require access to space in order to maximize profits.

It's an interesting and reasonably comprehensive inventory of the concerns, constraints and opportunities surrounding the economic exploitation of the high frontier. It notes that humanity already has substantial industries (such as telecommunications, military activities and space science) which require access to space and suggests that there will soon be many more.

The sections on solar powered orbiting satellites, space mining, industrial manufacturing, novelty marketing, "space" advertising and pharmaceutical development in the microgravity environments are of particular interest to the entrepreneur.

Check it out.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Space Mining and Innovation Should Be Encouraged Through the Tax Code, According to NRCan and CATA Alliance

          By Chuck Black

Two new initiatives, the first generated through Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Federal government ministry responsible for natural resources, remote sensing and regulations under which Inuvik based satellite ground stations operate (but that's a different story), along with a second initiative originating from the Ottawa ON based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA Alliance), are both advocating changes to the Federal tax code which (they feel) will encourage independent and innovative private sector activities to grow the Canadian space sector.

These new initiative fly in the face of traditional space advocates such as the #DontLetGoCanada coalition, which argue that large lump sums of Federal funds must be distributed to specific contractors, such as Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies (a US based company), in order to build specific projects, such as a "3rd generation Canadarm" for the proposed NASA Deep Space Gateway, in order to encourage innovation and speed the development of Canadian space activities.

Here's what we know about those new initiatives.

As outlined in the June 8th, 2018 post, "NRCan Explores Space Mining," the initial incentive for NRCan to move into this area was as part of the consultative process to generate and develop the upcoming Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan (CMMP). As outlined in the earlier post: 
NRCAN and other officials were cautious about entering into public discussion on the forum, possibly over fear of a backlash from other government departments such as the National Research Council (NRC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who have traditionally taken the lead in this area and are known to jealously guard their turf in interdepartmental meetings.
But the initiative moved forward and led to a series of public presentations at the 2018 Canadian Space Summit, which was held in Ottawa ON from November 27th - 29th. The track included presentations from:
Most of the conversations which took place during the event paralleled to a surprising degree items previously outlined in the November 1st, 2018 post, "The REAL Path Towards Revitalizing the Canadian Space Industry."

That post noted the similarities between the mining and space industries and suggested that the current worldwide explosion of private sector space accomplishments has nothing whatsoever to do with simply shoveling new government money into traditionally structured programs and everything to do with creating the correct tax incentives needed to support the growth of a new industry.

The next step in the NRCan plan is another meeting to generate consensus. It's expected to take place in March 2019 in Toronto ON at the annual 2019 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention, which will be held in Toronto ON from March 3rd - 6th, 2019.

As outlined in the December 3rd, 2018 CATA Alliance press release, "YES Canada to Adopting 5 All Party Election Platform Recommendations, Sign & Share the CATA E-Petition," another organization is attempting to move down a different path toward innovation, although the expected end result is also wrapped around tax reform.

According to the press release, CATA Alliance is "advancing important tax, finance and innovation advocacy and we need your help in amplifying key recommendations to decision makers."

To that end, the organization is asking members to sign an online petition committing the leaders of "the five Federal political parties" to embrace five key policy recommendations. Those recommendations include:
  • Recognizing that "while Canada remains strong in terms of the quality and impact of its scientific output, it is lagging further and further behind in its ability to commercialize that output and generate wealth.
  • The creation of "a 21st century tax commission" focused on "improving the nation’s support for innovation through fiscal measures." The petition suggests that all tax measures should be tested "through robust public consultations," and incorporated into a "final report" which would be delivered within the next "twelve months.
  • The completion of a scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) tax credit review to assess proposed improvements and then test them through "robust public consultations." SH&ED credits are one of the primary Federal tax programs encouraging private sector innovation, although there are certainly questions as to the efficiency of the program. 
  • Supporting the development of "a modern IP system with appropriate fiscal measures for IP (intellectual property) exploitation in Canada" and to provide "assistance to cover some of the costs of the patent process." IP issues are a common concern in the space industry and were most recently discussed in the March 16th, 2018 post, "Looks Like Intellectual Property Issues Were Addressed in the 2018 Federal Budget." In essence, IP issues are well worth looking into.
  • Publish benchmarking metrics comparing Canada to other leading countries building innovative capacity. Of course, some of those surveys, such as the one discussed in the August 17th, 2016 Global News post, "Canada ranks 15th on Global Innovation Index: Here’s where we fall behind," have already been published and its unclear whether or not a new survey would provide any information not already publicly available. 
Taken together, these points are useful measures designed to encourage political parties to discuss and improve their innovation policies and tax regimes. It's a welcome addition to the public discourse in this area and absolutely of assistance to the Canadian space industry.

On the other hand, there is also precious little difference between encouraging innovation by holding more meetings (the path chosen by NRCan) and encouraging innovation by signing a petition (the path chosen by CATA).

Neither approach seems likely to bear fruit before the upcoming Federal election, which is expected to occur on or before October 21st, 2019. The approaching deadline kinda suggests that time is running out to achieve real political change in the near future.

So while it's good that we're finally creating a consensus that the tax system might hold the secret to encouraging innovation and building robust Canadian industries, we now need to come up with a plan able to engage both the electorate and the political mandarins before the next election.

We've got less than a year. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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