Monday, January 26, 2015

Elon Musk as a Big Pimpin Playah; Raises $1Bln USD for SpaceX!

          by Brian Orlotti

On January 20th, Hawthorne,CA based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) confirmed that it has raised approximately $1Bln USD ($1.24Bln CDN) from two new powerhouse investors, Mountain View, CA based Google Inc. and Boston, MA based Fidelity Investments.

It's been a busy week. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, or at least a cartoon image backed up by his actual voice, guest starred in the January 25th, 2015 episode of The Simpsons as himself. Earlier in the week, as outlined in the  January 26th, 2015 Quartz article, "Elon Musk settles with the US Air Force, smoothing the way for competition in spy-satellite missions," Musk  announced a settlement with  the US Air Force, "ending a lawsuit that accused the military of unfairly awarding an $11 billion launch contract to United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture ." Graphic c/o Fox. 

The deal will not only provide SpaceX with the capital needed to achieve its goals, but also marks a watershed moment in the history of the NewSpace industry.

According to the January 20th, 2015 SpaceX statement, titled simply, "Financing Round," Google and Fidelity will own just under 10 percent of the company between them (the exact percentages have not been made public). The new investors join several others, including:
  • Capricorn Venture Partners (CVP) – A Belgium-based venture capital and equity fund manager whose portfolio includes a variety of European clean tech, medical, and IT firms. 
  • Founders Fund (FF) - A San Francisco, CA-based venture capital firm with $2Bln USD ($2.48Bln CDN) in assets under management. The firm's portfolio includes Airbnb, Knewton, Lyft, Spotify, Stripe and ZocDoc. FF was also one of the earliest investors in Facebook and the first institutional investor in SpaceX.
  • Valor Equity Partners (VEP) – A Chicago, IL-based venture capital firm with approx. $994Mln USD ($1.24Bln CDN ) in assets under management. VEP's portfolio includes Tesla Motors, Family Health Services (a provider of nursing and other home care services) and Sizzling Platter (a restaurant operating company).
How will SpaceX put this new funding to use? What do Google and Fidelity stand to gain?

The announcement comes on the heels of SpaceX founder Elon Musk's Jan 17th reveal of his plan to place a constellation of several hundred low-cost satellites 750 miles above Earth. Such a system has the potential to provide fiber-speed internet access to everyone on Earth.

Musk has stated that such a system would serve two  roles: tapping the potentially enormous market of low-cost high-speed internet access for the developing world and providing a telecommunications infrastructure for his planned human settlements on Mars.

Google, which is developing programs of its own for low-cost internet access via balloons, drones and satellites, as most recently described in the November 18th, 2014 post, "Google Takes Control of Hangar One," likely seeks to harness SpaceX's expertise in spacecraft and launch vehicles.

Fidelity Investments has not publicly offered any statement on its involvement, but with SpaceX on the verge of achieving low-cost space access and the subsequent opening of a huge new market to many players, the scent of profit must be strong indeed.

Google and Fidelity Investments' investment in SpaceX is a sign that more conventional investors are now willing to throw their hat into the space ring. As capital increasingly flows into NewSpace ventures, innovation will blossom. Over time, new infrastructure and revenue will enable even greater achievements.

Brian Orlotti.
Space will then not only be the realm of scientists, but also of workers, merchants, artists, entrepreneurs and settlers.

The true space age is about to begin.

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

Canadian Space Company UrtheCast is Hiring

          By Chuck Black

BC based UrtheCast is opening new offices and hiring new people. The firm has announced plans to open a second office in Vancouver able to house up to 40 video specialists, GIS experts, web developers and space systems engineers.

DVD video in space. An overview of the existing UrtheCast configuration on board the International Space Station (ISS). Graphic c/o Bloomberg Businessweek.

The additional space is required to support staff expected to be hired to fulfill a $65Mln CDN, five year contract signed last November with an unnamed, "confidential customer" for the provision of "engineering services, value-added services, and Earth imagery data." The new facilities are expected to open in March 2015.

The announcement was included as part of the January 24th, 2014 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Opens New Office, Ramps Up Hiring."  As outlined in the press release, "UrtheCast continues to ramp up its search for top talent in Vancouver and San Francisco, with a dozen career opportunities ranging from web development to space systems engineering."

As outlined in the November 24th, 2014 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Signs Contract For $65 Million To Provide Value-Added Services and Data," the original contract provided for the payment of 20% of the total in advance, plus included "a letter of credit" to cover for the balance of payments. 

Of course, the last few years haven't always been smooth sailing for the firm which first went public, as outlined in the June 10th, 2013 post "UrtheCast Proceeds with Takeover and Funding for ISS Camera's," in a reverse takeover (RTO) of publicly traded Longford Energy Inc. 

Early problems, as outlined in the July 20th, 2014 post, "UrtheCast Hi-Res Camera Still Not Working but Solution (and More Cameras) are on the Way," were only recently superseded, initially by new business partnerships, and later, by the November contract.

UrtheCast has said it intends to distribute operational software for the first publicly accessible high definition cameras installed on the International Space Station (ISS). The firm has offices in Vancouver, San Francisco, Washington DC, St. Louis and Moscow. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The National Space Society Comes to Toronto in May 2015

          By Chuck Black

ISDC 2015 literature. Graphic c/o CEC Global Events
For the second time in under a year, a major international space conference is setting up shop in Toronto.

Hot on the heels of very successful 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014) comes the National Space Society's International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2015) which will be held in Toronto, ON from May 20th - 24th, 2015.

The annual ISDC is considered "the keynote event" of the U.S. based National Space Society (NSS), and brings together over 1000 leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and business people from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors to discuss a variety of topics related to space and space activism.

Recent speakers have included Aerospace Corporation principal engineer William Ailor (2014), ATK Aerospace business development VP Jim Armor (2014), space tourist and entrepreneur Richard Garriott (2014), XCOR Aerospace CEO Jeff Greason (2014), Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) director Dave E. Hamilton (2013), Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) director Brian Harris (2013), Indian ex-president and scientist/ engineer A.P.J Abdul Kalam (2013), space solar power advocate and Artemis Innovation Management Solutions president John Mankins (2013 - 2014), SpaceX CEO and CTO Elon Musk (2014), meteorite "man" Geoffrey Notkin (2014), PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada director of business development and global markets Sandra Pupatello (2013), US representative and vice chairman of the science of the congressional space and technology committee Dana Rohrabacher (2013), Moon Express co-founder & CEO Robert Richards (2013 - 2014), Mars Society president Robert Zubrin (2013 - 2014) and several hundred others.

The current line-up for 2015 includes retired astronaut and second man on the Moon Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., the first female "space tourist" Anousheh Ansari, former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president/ astronaut and current Liberal MP for Westmount--Ville-Marie Marc Garneau, the current general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) and former deputy administrator of NASA Lori Garver and even a few people who still work in the space industry, such as former NASA astronaut and current director of crew and mission operations for the Boeing commercial crew program Christopher J. Ferguson and Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides.

According to CEC Global Events (CEC) director Aggie Kobrin, several dozen more speakers are expected to be announced over the next little while to fill out the program. CEC is the organizer of the event for the NSS and is working in conjunction with the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) which is functioning as the local organizing committee.
For more information on the event, check out the ISDC 2015 website at

The Hyatt Regency Toronto will be hosting the 2015 International Space Development Conference from May 20th - 24th, 2015. For more information, please check out the Hyatt Regency website at The hotel is also one of the hubs of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Graphic c/o Hyatt.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Is Jay Aspin Canada's First "Real" Space Politician?

          by Chuck Black

Canada's most space industry friendly politician might no longer be the Liberal member of parliament (MP) for Westmount - Ville-Marie. At least that's the impression Conservative MP Jay Aspin is attempting to convey as he winds up his first tour as chair of the newly created parliamentary "space caucus."

Kirkland Lake Mayor Bill Enouy and Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Jay Aspin shoveling. As outlined in the December 12th, 2012 article, "Sod turned for new $35 million waste water plant," the two were breaking ground for a new $35 million waste water treatment facility which subsequently opened for business in October 2014. Photo c/o

As outlined in the January 17th, 2015 article, "Aspin leads space caucus tour," the ambitious Federal representative for the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, (who also acts as vice-chair of the parliamentary aerospace caucus) led a tour of caucus members to Cambridge, ON based Com Dev International and the Brampton, ON robotics and automation division of Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) on Friday.

The purpose of the Space Caucus is to give parliamentarians a first-hand appreciation of Canada’s space industry,” said Aspin.

As outlined in the November 30th, 2014 post, "Ambitious MP Announces Canadian "Space Caucus" Focused on the Economics and Business of Space," the space caucus is just one of a series of activities which Aspin hopes will cement his hold on the riding in time for the upcoming Federal election, later on this year.

Aspin initially finished just 14 votes ahead of Liberal incumbent Anthony Rota in the 2011 election, which triggered an automatic judicial recount but eventually confirmed his tight 18 vote final victory.

It's even possible that Aspin might not be just blowing in the wind when it comes to making promises to the space industry.

As outlined in the June 30th, 2014 post, "Canadore College Testing New European Space Plane Design," Aspin helped organize the November 2013 North Bay Aerospace Forum, which was attended by many of the world's aerospace heavyweights. These included Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney. The meeting led directly to a contract to perform drop testing of a European designed suborbital space plane at the Jack Garland Airport in North Bay.

More recently, as outlined in the January 13th, 2015 article, "Funds available for collaborative aerospace projects," Aspin participated in a session at Canadore College, along with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) director of business development Richard Worsfold.

The talk focused on the recently-created Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC), which has about $4Mln CDN in available funding and will soon begin receiving proposals for collaborative research and technology development projects.

Which is certainly more than Liberal MP Marc Garneau has been able to accomplish for the Canadian space industry over the last little while. But is Aspin simply the newest "flavor of the month" for the Canadian space industry? Or is he in the midst of becoming a player?

That's likely something which will only become apparent after the next Federal election. Stay tuned.