Monday, October 24, 2016

Schiaparelli Goes Splat!

          By Brian Orlotti

The Schiaparelli Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has apparently crashed on Mars and its wreckage has been located.

As outlined in the October 21st, 2016 Universe Today post, "Schiaparelli is gone, Smashed on to the Surface of Mars," the Schiaparelli lander "hit the ground hard and may very well have exploded on impact." Photo's from the US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken before and after Schiaparelli's decent, suggest a very hard landing "following a much longer free fall than planned after the thrusters were switched off prematurely." Image  c/o NASA.

As outlined in the October 19th, 2016 Spaceflight Insider post, "Lost on Mars: Schiaparelli lander falls silent shortly before touchdown," the Schiaparelli lander, the first of the two part exobiology on Mars (ExoMars) astrobiology project designed to search for evidence of Martian life, ceased communicating with ESA mission control approximately one minute before its planned touchdown on October 19th.

On Oct 21st , NASA released photos of the landing site taken by its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which seem to confirm the ExoMars team’s suspicions. The MRO’s photos show a bright feature consistent with Schiaparelli’s 12 meter wide parachute, as well as a 15x40 m dark patch likely created by the lander's impact, ESA officials said.

The ESA estimates that the lander dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kms, impacting Mars’ surface at speeds of over 300 km/h. ESA officials also stated that Schiaparelli may have exploded on impact due to its thruster propellant tanks, which likely remaining full because the lander did not fire its descent thrusters for as long as required to slow the decent.

The suspected crash site lies about 5.4 km west of Schiaparelli's intended landing site in Mars' Meridiani Planum, a highland region just south of the Red Planet's equator. The impact site is well within the planned landing area, which measures 62 miles long by 9 miles wide (100 by 15 km), ESA officials said. 

Schiaparelli was launched last March along with its orbiter, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The two spacecraft comprise the first phase of the two-phase ExoMars program, being led by the ESA in partnership with Russia’s federal space agency, Roscosmos.

Schiaparelli was to have served as a test bed for life-hunting technologies to be used on a rover in ExoMars' second phase in 2021. ESA officials have stated that Schiaparelli's descent data will still be useful in this regard despite the probe’s loss.

The TGO remains in good condition and is now orbiting Mars. In early 2017, the TGO will begin shifting to its final science orbit of some 400km above Mars. The TGO is expected to complete this manuver and begin its two year mission in March 2018. The TGO will investigate the origin of methane and other trace gases in the Martian atmosphere. Methane is of particular interest to scientists as a potential sign of life.

The TGO will also serve as a communications relay for the ExoMars 2020 rover as well as NASA’s currently operational Mars surface craft, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, before winding down in 2022.

The ExoMars project has several Canadian connections. They include:

  • ExoMars’ project manager Don McCoy, an engineer born in Winnipeg, MB. Holding degrees in chemistry, civil engineering, and aerospace engineering, McCoy has worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, the ESA’s Huygens probe as well as the Mars Express and Venus Express missions. He was appointed ExoMars project manager in December 2006.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Government Driven Innovation Policies, MacDonald Dettwiler, Export Development Canada, CSA Grants & Elon Musk

         By Chuck Black

Here are some stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

One type of government driven innovation policy. Cartoon c/o Lisa Benson/ Washington Post

  • The annual Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), this year being held from November 8th - 10th, 2016 in Ottawa, has traditionally filled an important Canadian need for non-partisan, inclusive and national dialogue on science, technology and innovation policy. 
But this year, the event might carry more weight than usual.
As outlined in the June 13th, 2016 post "Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," the Federal government has announced an independent panel, to review the activities of the National Research Council (NRC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), as well as programs like the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the various Canada Research Chairs, Genome Canada and others.
That panel, expected to report before the end of this year, will affect all who normally attend and many are hoping that expected policy changes will be announced in time for discussion at this year's event. 
Commercial Space blog correspondents will be on-site at the Shaw Centre during this year's CSPC to keep readers up to date on breaking news and activities. Expect to see thrills, chills and more than a few spills.
EDC, a Federally owned crown corporation with headquarters in Ottawa. As outlined on the its website, "Export Development Canada provides Canadian exporters with trade financing, export credit insurance and bonding services, as well as foreign market expertise." Photo c/o Corporate Knights.
  • Speaking of government policies designed to encourage innovation, questions are arising as to whether or not Richmond, BC. based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), should remain eligible for Export Development Canada (EDC) money and assistance when it flows through foreign subsidiaries and facilities with no perceived direct benefit to Canada. 
As outlined in the October 18th, 2016 National Post article, "EDC financing satellite construction in California because of ‘direct benefit’ to Canada," EDC funds have recently been used for several non-Canadian projects being built in California for Spain and Azerbaijan.
According to the article,"in March 2015, EDC announced it was providing $190 million to a Spanish telecommunications operator for a satellite to be built by SSL (Space Systems Loral, a California based subsidiary of Delaware incorporated SSL MDA Holdings, the holding company which controls both MDA and SSL)... Seven months later (the Republic of) Azerbaijan said EDC was financing another telecommunications satellite at the U.S. facility at a cost of about $191 million. In its news release about the Azerbaijan satellite, MDA highlighted SSL’s status as a U.S. company." 
Eligibility for EDC support gives the US based SSL a competitive advantage against other US based organizations, since "the U.S. government’s version of EDC, (the) Export-Import Bank (of the United States), has been closed for large transactions since last year because of U.S. Congressional opposition to the organization."
The article also contained quotes from Steve Staples, the vice-president of the Rideau Institute; Brian Masse, the New Democratic Party’s critic monitoring the innovation, science and economic development file (who said last Monday in the House of Commons that MDA has shifted to US control “right there under the Liberals’ noses.”); Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black.
RADARSAT-2 product description from the MDA website. RADARSAT-2 is an Earth observation satellite launched in 2007 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It's owned and operated by MDA, which resells data collected by the satellite for profit to Canadians and others. For the complete document, simply click on the graphic above. Graphic c/o MDA.

  • Of course, EDC funds, financing and guarantees are not the only mechanisms the Federal government uses to support innovation and promote Canadian companies. 
As outlined in the October 22nd, 2016 post, "The Canadian Space Agency Gave Out Almost $5Mln CDN in Grants and Contributions Last Quarter!," the CSA provided fourteen grants to various public and private organization in Q2 2016 (from March - June 2016) and nine of those grants were made to academic institutions in order to develop new uses for data derived from interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR).
At present, the primary Canadian supplier of InSAR data is MDA, which collects and resells the data as part of its RADARSAT-2 operational responsibilities. And, as outlined in the September 8th, 2014 post, "Space Agency Funds Training for RADARSAT Researchers," the current grants grew out of an earlier decision to "develop a larger pool of Canadian post-secondary researchers able to work with RADARSAT-2 data.
The nine grants were for small amounts (approximately $50K CDN each) and arguments can certainly be made that developing new uses for data derived from Canadian space assets is good for Canada, since it increases our national capabilities. 
An argument could also be made that MDA benefits from having our national space agency fund the development of new applications for its products. 
Overall, the story is simply a reminder that developing government policy focused around encouraging "innovation" is a complex business with many unknowns.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Photo c/o The Verge.
As outlined in the October 23rd, 2016 Verge post, "Here’s what we learned from Elon Musk’s SpaceX Reddit AMA," the South African-born Canadian-American business magnate, investor, engineer and inventor "took to Reddit this evening for an Ask Me Anything session," to supplement his September 27th, 2016 presentation from the 67th International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.
As outlined in the October 3rd, 2016 post, "Mr. Musk Goes to Mars," Musk used the earlier event to outline his ambitious plans to colonize the red planet.
Musk has spent his career solving problems (in this case, the problems surrounding the need to make humans a "multi-planet species") under the assumption that innovation and other benefits derive naturally from an environment created to solve complex problems.
It's a solution which Canadians were once well able to grasp, especially when it came to expanding our northern communications (which led directly to the creation of Telesat) or building the International Space Station (which led SPAR Aerospace to create the first Canadarm). 
But it might also be a lesson we've mostly forgotten. 
For more on Musk's Reddit presentation, check out the October 23rd, 2016 Reddit post, "I am Elon Musk, ask me anything about becoming a spacefaring civ!"
For more updates on these and other stories, be sure to check out future posts on the Commercial Space blog.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Canadian Space Agency Gave Out Almost $5Mln CDN in Grants and Contributions Last Quarter!

          By Henry Stewart

CSA Disclosure of Grants and Contributions Awards Page. Screenshot c/o CSA.
It's worth noting that recent stories and press releases focused around individual Canadian Space Agency (CSA) initiatives are really only a partial representation of the funds provided through the CSA at any one time.

These include stories such as the October 21st, 2016 CNW Telebec post, "Une nouvelle technologie médicale de pointe sera mise à l'essai dans l'espace - Cette technologie de surveillance peut être utilisée sur Terre pour les soins de santé," focused around the astroskin smartshirt and the upcoming health experiments planned for the International Space Station (ISS) as discussed in the October 18th, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "Canadian Space Agency to conduct health experiment on space station."

To get a true sense of what's happening, you need to visit the CSA disclosure of grants and contributions awards page, a quarterly compilation of CSA grants and contributions to third parties. of over $25,000 CDN.

InSAR images created using the homogeneous distributed scatterers (HDS) technique, showing deformation from multiple surface types including asphalt. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2015 Earth Imaging Journal post, "Learn the Ground Rules: InSAR Enables Proactive Urban Infrastructure Monitoring,"  provides multiple examples of InSAR data being used in a variety of ways. In Q2 2016, nine of the fourteen CSA grants awarded focused on new uses for InSAR data. Images c/o MDA Geospatial Services.

CSA first quarter totals for 2016/17 (from April - June 2016, the last period for which data is available) include fourteen grants to eleven organizations for a variety of research and experiments. They include:
Two grants to the University of Waterloo covering:
Two grants to the University of Western Ontario covering:
 Two grants to York University covering:
  • A second grant, this one for substantially more money (although the amount allocated would be expected to cover more than one fiscal year) to cover an experiment on the perception of self-motion (POSM) in space. According to the description, the project will investigate the "amplitude of motion evoked by a given pattern of optic flow by measuring how far a participant needs to “travel” in a simulated environment to reach a previously viewed target." ($786K CDN)
A 2013 Environment Canada (EC) poster outlining the development of Canada’s carbon assimilation system. In Q2 2016, the University of Toronto received a CSA grant to integrate new data derived from satellite measurements, into the program. Graphic c/o EC.
Individual grants were also awarded to the following universities: 
As outlined in many previous articles, including this February 23th, 2014 post on "Canadian Firm Plans to Corner the Worldwide Rover Chassis Market," the CSA has previously attempted to develop rovers it can resell to other space programs. Its most recent attempt is its $1.2Mln CDN grant to Canadensys Aerospace Corporation in Q2 2016. Screen shot c/o Commercial Space Media. 

Of course the obvious big beneficiaries of CSA largess in the first quarter of 2016 were three privately held corporations, which together received $2.7Mln CDN of the almost $5Mln CDN disbursed in total. They include:
It's also worth noting that nine of the fourteen grants presented by the CSA during this quarter went to various universities in order to develop new uses for InSAR derived data.

At present, the primary Canadian supplier of InSAR data is Richmond, British Columbia based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), which collects it as part of its RADARSAT-2 responsibilities.

That might change over the next little while. As outlined in the October 18th, 2016 post, "A Quick Update to 'Iconic Macdonald Dettwiler is now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company,'" MDA seems more focused on growing its US business than on maintaining what were once its core Canadian assets.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Quick Update to "Iconic Macdonald Dettwiler is now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company"

          By Chuck Black

It's been an interesting eleven days since we posted the October 7th, 2016 article, "Iconic MacDonald Dettwiler is Now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company with a Canadian Subsidiary." Here are a few of the more notable updates:

Is this the new Canadarm logo? It might as well be, at least according to one Commercial Space reader, who passed this graphic along last week. MDA currently manages, supports and builds a variety of Canadian civilian and military assets including the Canadarm (used in the recently retired US space shuttle) the Mobile Servicing System on board the International Space Station (shown above and also known as the Canadarm2), RADARSAT-2 and the upcoming RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM). Graphic c/o @Space_blog.

First of all, the mass media has taken note of the story.

The October 17th, 2016 National Post article, "U.S. firm stages ‘stealth takeover’ of Canada’s largest space tech company," has quoted Steven Staples, the vice president of the Ottawa based Rideau Institute, which was instrumental in the 2008 battle to stop the US purchase of Macdonald Dettwiler’s (MDA) space division to US based Alliant Techsystems (ATK), as stating that, "what you’re seeing (with the current changes at MDA) is a stealth takeover of sensitive technology that Canadian taxpayers paid for."

Steve Staples. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
According to Staples, "the company executives can say all they want about being Canadian, but the fact remains that US national security interests apply to American companies and their subsidiaries wherever they are.”
Since MDA is now, by its own admission, a US based company “US law is now governing vital Canadian security and space assets," he said. 
Don Osborne. Photo c/o LinkedIn.
The article also quoted Don Osborne, the Canadian based president of MDA's Information Systems Group as stating that, "from a management perspective, I have a boss who I report to who is in the United States.” 
To be fair to Osborne, he also reminded us that “companies have very complicated legal structures for all sorts of reasons." 
Some of those reasons were discussed by both Staples and Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black, who was also cited in the article.
Secondly, the Federal government is also slowly developing a public awareness of the situation.

According to Derek Mellon, a media relations adviser to the Federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development:
An investment is subject to net benefit review when a non-Canadian acquires control of a Canadian business in a manner set out in the Act. 
An acquisition of control  includes investments where: a non-Canadian acquires a  majority of the voting interests in a corporation or other entity;  less than a majority but one-third or more of the voting shares of a corporation unless it can be established that the corporation will not be controlled by the non-Canadian; or, all or substantially all of the assets used in carrying on the Canadian business.
Mellon was responding to an October 7th, 2016 Commercial Space blog e-mail request to Philip Proulx, a press attaché to innovation minister Navdeep Bains for "an interview with a subject matter expert to discuss the importance of MDA to the Canadian economy, our current Federal innovation agenda, and why the current MDA board actions have not automatically triggered a review under the Investment Canada act."

That requested interview seems to have been blown off by the innovation minister, at least for now. We'll update this article as new information becomes available.

Online ad for membership on the Federal governments Space Advisory Board. Its creation was one of the recommendations of the Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or "Emerson Report") which was presented to then Industry Minister Christian Paradis in November 2012. Screenshot c/o ISED.

The Innovation Ministry has however, announced that "the Government of Canada is seeking candidates for a Space Advisory Board that is inclusive, forward-thinking and positioned to drive innovation and science in Canada, and that will help identify future opportunities for economic growth that will benefit all Canadians."

As outlined in the just updated federal government website, "ISED Portfolio Ministerial Appointment and Nomination Opportunities," the new committee is "part time," but will "support the development of long term priorities for space, as part of an inclusive Innovation Agenda for Canada to help businesses grow, innovate and export, led by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development."

There is no word on whether the new space advisory board will replace the last one, which was first discussed in the November 9th, 2014 post, "Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members."

That board was originally composed of an illustrious group of known space experts, including retired astronaut Chris Hadfield and retired general and former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Walt Natynczyk, and even convened once or twice, but never publicly issued a report.

For more updates on these and other stories, be sure to check out future posts on the Commercial Space blog.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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