Monday, September 01, 2014

The Lebanese Rocket Society

          by Chuck Black

Not every space or missile launch program requires hundreds of millions of dollars to create and sustain.

As described in the 2012 Franco - Lebanese documentary film, the Lebanese Rocket Society, all you really needed, at least back in the starry eyed 1960's, was a certain stoic stubbornness, a dream you could believe in and a modicum of good luck.

The movie, an official selection of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, tells the story of what was originally known as the Haigazian College rocket society, founded by teacher Manoug Manougian in 1960.

Over a period of only six years, the society grew chapters across Lebanon, re-branded itself as the Lebanese Rocket Society and drew the attention of the entire Arab world when the club, still under Manougian's directorship, become the official Lebanese government space program after then Lebanese President Fuad Chehab began granting modest financial assistance.

The secret to the success of the society was the development of the Cedar series of long range rockets. As outlined by Norbert Brugge on his Space Launch Vehicles of the World website, the culmination of the program, the Cedar-8 two stage rocket which was launched successfully on August 4th, 1966, had a maximum altitude of 110 km and a range of well over that.

All of which brought down a great deal of attention on the young teacher at a small Arab college in the months leading up to the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

As to whatever happened to the Lebanese space program and Manoug Manougian? To find that out, you'll just have to watch the movie. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Graphene as the Next Great Miracle Material for Space

          by Brian Orlotti

On August 20th, Ottawa-based Grafoid Inc., a company involved in the research, development and production of graphene, opened a 225,000 square foot production facility in Kingston, Ontario. The move has Canada positioned to become a world leader in the production of the much-hyped super-material, with effects on many industries, not the least of which is aerospace.

The facility, located in Queen's University's Innovation Park, in addition to housing research labs and graphene-related product development areas, will be the prime production point for Meso-Graf, a low-cost, high-purity graphene powder developed by Grafoid. The expansion into Kingston was facilitated by Grafoid's purchase of Kingston, ON based advanced materials group ALCERECO in June, 2014 for $1.25Mln USD ($36Mln CDN) as outlined in the June 9th, 2014 press release "Grafoid announces agreement to acquire advanced materials technology group ALCERECO Inc. of Kingston, Ontario."

Through this acquisition, Grafoid gained access to ALCERECO's existing facilities, technical expertise and global customer base. Grafoid 's expansion into Kingston is expected to bring 160 new jobs and provide a $32.7Mln CDN stimulus to the local economy.

Incorporated in September 2011 in Ottawa, ON, Grafoid is a graphene research and investment company. Its partners include Ottawa-based mining development firm Focus Graphite Inc. (the owners of a high-grade graphite deposit in Lac Knife, QC) and Singapore-based graphene producer Graphite Zero (a spin-off of the National University of Singapore's Graphene Research Center).

Graphene and its uses. Graphic c/o

The company is pursuing the commercialization of graphene for applications in numerous fields including renewable energy, 3D printing/additive manufacturing, bio-medicine, specialized coatings and military uses. Grafoid is currently attempting to raise a further $50Mln CDN in capital for further product development, as well as for more acquisitions.

Traditional methods of producing graphene are expensive, low-yield, multi-step processes involving harsh chemicals. Grafoid's proprietary production process (developed by company founder/ president & CTO Dr. Gordon Chiu) produces large yields of high-purity graphene from unprocessed graphite ore without the use of harsh chemicals. Chiu's method achieves higher yields by eliminating unnecessary steps from traditional processes and attains higher purity by eliminating harsh chemicals that typically damage the end product.

Graphene, first discovered in the mid 2000's, has been highly hyped over the past decade as a holy grail of materials science whose unique properties will transform our society and economy. Among graphene's many potential applications:
  • A replacement for silicon in computer circuitry that would enable ultra-fast, Terahertz-speed optical computers and wireless networks. 
  • An aircraft building material even stronger and lighter than carbon fiber.
  • Cheap, high-capacity batteries that could be charged within seconds.
  • Filters that could cheaply desalinize seawater or remove radioactive waste. 
  • Cheap, compact, high-density hydrogen storage for use in transportation.
For all of graphene's tantalizing potential, its development has been hampered by researchers' lack of understanding of the material as well the difficulties in manufacturing it economically in large quantities.

Brian Orlotti.
The efforts of Grafoid and its partners will help mitigate both of these issues. In the coming years, graphene's promise may finally become reality.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Open Source Development of Earth Imaging Data Applications

          by Chuck Black

Two recent announcements, one American and one Canadian, highlight the growing influence of open source development methodologies in the processing of Earth image data.

The first, as outlined in the August 18th, 2014 Waterloo News announcement "Waterloo makes public most complete Antarctic map for climate research," deals directly with what has until now been perceived as the esoteric core of Canadian space agency activities, RADARSAT-2 data. 

According to the article:
Thanks to a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), the prime contractor for the RADARSAT-2 program, and the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network (CCIN) at UWaterloo, the mosaic is free and fully accessible to the academic world and the public.  
Using Synthetic Aperture Radar with multiple polarization modes aboard the RADARSAT-2 satellite, the CSA collected more than 3,150 images of the continent in the autumn of 2008, comprising a single pole-to-coast map covering all of Antarctica. This is the first such map of the area since RADARSAT-1 created one in 1997. 
Next up, at least according to the article, is a similar mosaic for Greenland, "which will provide further crucial information about our shifting climate in the northern hemisphere." There are also plans "to continue creating mosaics of Antarctica every few years to provide more data for researchers."

This RADARSAT-2 pole-to-coast Antarctic mosaic was created by MDA in cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency as part of the International Polar Year. Image c/o CSA.

The second announcement, as outlined in the August 22nd, 2014 article "NASA Picks Top Earth Data Challenge Ideas, Opens Call for Climate Apps," focuses on the NASA OpenNEX challenges. According to the article:
NASA has selected four ideas from the public for innovative uses of climate projections and Earth-observing satellite data. The agency also has announced a follow-on challenge with awards of $50,000 to build climate applications based on OpenNEX data on the Amazon cloud computing platform.
Both challenges use the Open NASA Earth Exchange, or OpenNEX, a data, cloud computing, and knowledge platform where users can share modeling and analysis codes, scientific results, information and expertise to solve big data challenges in the Earth sciences. OpenNEX provides users a large collection of climate and Earth science satellite data sets, including global land surface images, vegetation conditions, climate observations and climate projections.
These two articles are examples of the "public good" model of software development, a model championed by open source developers, whereby existing government/taxpayer needs require the paid collection of geo-spatial data and justify investment in satellites by making the data free and open for the taxpayers' benefit, which ideally leads to economic value and the creation and growth of businesses that make use of the public imagery for the greater good.

In this model, satellites, imagery and data are derived from "infrastructure," built by the government of others, which is available for all to exploit.

There is, of course, a second model, the "commodity" model whereby private companies fund the costs of satellites via sale of the data/imagery as a commodity on the open market. It is the model championed by IKONOS, GeoEye, Skybox Imaging (now owned by Google), Planet Labs along with Canada's Blackbridge (RapidEye) and UrtheCast.

This is the model the Federal government has been supporting recently, with multiple announcements of funding such as those described in the August 9th, 2014 post "Industry Minister Allocates $6.7Mln to Develop Space Apps."

It will be interesting to see which model ends up dominating the market.