Thursday, April 18, 2019

Time to Celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday

This blog will be taking a short break to reconnect with family and celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We'll be back with all new stories beginning April 23rd, 2019.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Nunavut’s Cubesat is a Community Activity

          By Brian Orlotti

While the big money being spent on Canadian space activities continues to go towards salaries and office space in Ottawa and Montreal and into components for large US led initiatives, the participants in the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Canadian Cubesat Project (CCP) are slowly beginning to roll out their smaller, locally focused projects.

And one of the more interesting projects is a team up between London, ON based Western University and Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) to build Nunavut’s first satellite.

As outlined in the May 7th, 2018 post, "Canadian Cubesat Project Finally Moving Forward," the program, rolled out last summer, provided grants of between $200,000 - $250,000 to fifteen proposals submitted by university professors to build and launch small cubesats (normally a low weight, 10×10×10 cm cubic satellite) by 2020.

The CSA solicited post-secondary schools across Canada for proposals for a miniature CubeSat that professors and students could design and build together. In 2018, the CSA awarded grants to 15 projects among submissions from every territory and province.

A CubeSat normally has a mass of no more than 1.33 kgs (2.9 lbs) per unit and often uses commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components for their electronics and structure. CubeSats are typically placed in orbit by deployers on the International Space Station (ISS), or launched as secondary payloads on a rocket. Cubesats were intended to democratize satellite technology by adopting a standardized form factor and COTS components to reduce costs.

The objective of each Cubesat project differs, ranging from space exploration to asteroid geology. Taking a different tack, the Western/Nunavut team chose to place two 180-degree cameras on both sides of their CubeSat, enabling them to create 360 degree imagery of the Earth, Moon and other astronomical bodies that can be viewed using virtual reality headsets.

The satellite is being pitched as an inspirational tool for the people of Nunavut.

Overview of the CCP. Graphic c/o CSA.

Western University, owing to its aerospace and engineering programs, serves as technical lead on the project. Over the past year, Western students have worked on a preliminary design.

As outlined in the April 9th, 2019 Nunatsiaq Post article, "Nunavut reaches for the stars with CubeSat," Western staff traveled to Nunavut in February 2019 to confer with NAC on ways to increase NAC’s involvement in the project.

Several ideas have been put forth, including holding public surveys on what sort of imagery to capture (i.e. ice flows, Norther Lights, etc.), etching symbols and syllables from Inuit folklore into the CubeSat, and having students in NAC’s jewelry and metalwork program design and create a component of the satellite.

In addition, a contest was recently held to submit names for the satellite.

Essentially, it's becoming a community activity, which is an interesting way of looking at a satellite development program. Maybe there are lessons to be learned here for the rest of us. Given the current PR coming out of the CSA, it's something that the rest of the Canadian space community should note.

The CCP’s CubeSats are to be launched from the ISS in 2021 or 2022. The Western/NAC satellite will have an operational life of 1 year.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

Monday, April 15, 2019

US Lunar Gateway Will be Scaled Back for 2024 Moon Landing: Fed's Foolish to Depend on US for Canada's Space Program

          By Chuck Black

Without lots more money, and at least some sort of defined NASA budget outlining priorities, it is foolish to assume that the NASA led US Lunar Gateway and its Canadian built "3rd generation" Canadarm (originally scheduled for 2028) could possibly maintain the same schedule expected when Canada announced and approved its share of the funding for the program in Budget 2019.

Since then, and as outlined in the April 14th, 2019 Space News post, "NASA’s accelerated moon plans create uncertainty for international partners," US president Donald Trump's administration has announced an "about turn" on NASA plans and priorities, essentially pushing aside the Lunar Gateway program in favor of placing "US boots on the Moon" by 2024.

As outlined in the post:
NASA has yet to outline its approach to meeting the goal announced in a March 26 speech by Vice President Mike Pence of landing humans on the south pole of the moon within five years. The agency has been working internally on at least a high-level approach for doing so, and plans to start sharing details with the White House, including the Office of Management and Budget, this week in order to finalize a revised budget request that’s expected to seek several billion dollars more in fiscal year 2020 alone. 
However, in comments at the 35th Space Symposium, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency would pursue a two-phase approach that would initially emphasize speed. That approach is expected to use the Space Launch System and Orion, lunar landers and some version of a lunar Gateway.
But the Lunar Gateway is expected to be scaled down dramatically from earlier plans. According to the post:
Some concepts under consideration require only the Power and Propulsion Element, which NASA is in the process of procuring, along with a docking node of some kind that could also serve as a habitation module.
Publicly, potential Gateway partners have said little about how NASA’s accelerated approach would affect their ability or willingness to participate. During an April 10 panel session here on exploration, officials from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency largely avoided direct discussion of what NASA’s new plans would mean for international contributions to the Gateway or other elements of the exploration architecture.
Expect no public comments from CSA and the other potential Gateway partners until NASA's budget is finalized, sometime later this year.

When NASA's plan is finally rolled out, it is almost certain that the Justin Trudeau Liberal government and its Canadian Space Agency (CSA) bureaucracy will need to come up with a new plan for the $1.95Bln CDN allocated over the next 24 years as Canada's contribution to the Lunar Gateway.

The Canadian government should certainly have known by now that there are better things to do than to tie our space future to an incomplete plan developed by an external space power, even if its the US.

At the very least, none of the other partners were stupid enough to have signed on to the deal yet. They were waiting for the plan to stabilize so that they could begin generating their own plans to contribute within the bigger program

But Canada didn't. We pushed ahead and committed to funding our share of a proposal which is in the midst of being seriously changed.

So here we are. Hung out to dry and waving in the breeze. Bugger!
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

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