Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Canadian Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer

For those looking to learn, here are some talking points, a couple of useful links and a bit of background information on the alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS), developed and funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as part of its contribution to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday.


  • According to the February 10th, 2010 BBC News article "Nasa rides 'bucking bronco' to Mars," the MSL "weighs almost a tonne, has cost more than $2bn and, in 2013, it will be lowered on to the surface of Mars with a landing system that has never been tried before." The article goes on to state that the first official cost estimate for the  project was set out in 2003 in a document published by the United States National Research Council (NRC), which said that the MSL would be a "medium price" project with a total cost of under $650M USD's. The size of the rover (comparable to a small automobile) was dictated by the need to "lay the foundations for future missions that will eventually bring pieces of the Red Planet back home to Earth."
  • According to the CSA Backgrounder on "APXS: Canada’s contribution to Mars Science Laboratory" the APXS sensor head "will be mounted at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. It will be used regularly during the mission by being placed against the surface of a sample" then emitting alpha particles and x-rays from a Curium based source. Since each element in the sample is stimulated to emit well defined energy signature, "APXS then measures the characteristic x-ray radiation to determine the sample’s composition."

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Is The Space Industry Really "Uniting  in Criticism over ITAR?"

    Recent articles, such as the November 17th, 2011 Universe Today post "Could We Soon See the End of ITAR’s Chokehold on Space Exploration" and the November 24th, 2011 Flight Global article "IN FOCUS: Space industry unites in criticism of ITAR restrictions," suggest that well publicized objections by space industry experts to the various provisions of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), are being noted and addressed by lawmakers in Washington.



    This perception is likely wrong. To get some sense of why this is so and how this is going to effect the Canadian space systems industry, we need to look at the history of the current legislation.

    According to the January 9th, 2006 Space Review article "A short history of export control policy," all items related to US satellites have traditionally been controlled by the US Department of State, which defines them as munitions or "potential weapons" and therefore subject to ITAR approval as a condition of sale. Since the US government doesn't officially want to sell weapons to an enemy, the ITAR compliance process was explicitly designed to be long, complex, expensive and thorough in order to disqualify the wrong applicants.

    Ronald & Nancy Reagan in China in 1984.
    But beginning in the late 1980's and under pressure from the Reagan and Bush administrations (who were themselves under pressure from US based manufacturers looking to sell satellites and satellite components to the Chinese, Europeans and others) this policy began to evolve to a point where satellite components were perceived of as being "dual-use" items, which could have both civilian and military applications.

    This revision would have brought the American definition into alignment with international definitions (which grew out of the industrial "dual-use" list originally maintained during the cold-war era by the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls) and helped to facilitate international sales of US satellites and components.

    Unfortunately, after a series of promising but false starts and flip flops, all items related to US satellites continue to remain controlled by the US Department of State, which still defines them as munitions or "potential weapons" and therefore subject to ITAR approval as a condition of sale.

    But the concept of "dual-use" remains and an entire consulting industry has grown up around the issues surrounding ITAR compliance and navigating the nooks and crannies of the existing legislation. Below is an example of the wealth of ITAR compliance services available and accessible with a simple Google search.


    Even worse, the November 13th, 2011 Mother Jones article "In Praise of Simple Regulations," goes so far as to suggest that large corporations benefit from complex regulations (such as ITAR) and often lobby for complexity because the cost of compliance serves as a barrier to entry for new competitors.

    The article quotes Washington Examiner columnist Timothy P. Carney as stating:
    Some businesses are bigger than others. Some businesses can afford to hire as their lobbyists the very staffers who wrote the bill whose implementation is now being hammered out. Some businesses can afford to hire $500-an-hour lawyers to navigate the rules.

    Some businesses cannot.

    So, if you're a big business, even if you don't like a law, you can be confident that you'll survive it better than your smaller competitors will. And that's one reason why the biggest businesses often favor regulation in the first place while smaller guys oppose it.
    The article also quotes space pundit and Transterrestrial Musings author Rand Simberg as tweeting "this is why it's hard to reform ITAR," and then going on to state that "Boeing et al view it as barrier to entry. They can afford legal staff to deal with ITAR rules. Startups can't."

    How does Canada compete in this brave new world of trade barrier regulation masquerading as national security legislation? Not so well, if my November 2nd, 2011 post "Will US Allow Canada to Bid On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts" is anything to go by.

    As of now, the prime contractor for the Canadian on-orbit satellite servicing proposal (BC based MacDonald Dettwiler) has no idea if it will be allowed to compete against far less experienced US competitors for this logical follow-on use for iconic CanadArm technology.

    Perhaps, what Canada really needs right now, is an ITAR Free CanadArm.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Space Summits, Communication Networks and the CanadArms Final Resting Place

    Here's a short list of items currently being tracked for the Commercial Space blog:
    The Canadian Space Summit.
    • The Canadian Space Society expects over 200 space industry professionals and enthusiasts to converge in Calgary, AB from November 23rd - 25th for the 2011 Canadian Space Summit. The theme is "Big Data from Space and Earth: Challenges and Opportunities" which is a reference to how the data collected through GPS, GIS and remote sensing creates data sets so large that they become awkward to work with using traditional database management tools. The whole question of the use of "big data" is also complicated by the many new data sources which include high resolution remotely sensed imagery, synthetic aperture radar, LiDAR, GPS and others. The conference will include technical sessions on various topics including space commercialization, exploration, life science, education, Earth orbit, astronomy and law and policy.

    Defence Minister MacKay.
    • As discussed in my January 3rd, 2011 post "Advocating DND & CSA Rockets" there has been recent and strong advocacy from both the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Department of National Defence (DND) to fund a Canadian micro-satellite rocket launcher in support of DND communications and space situational awareness requirements. But now, it looks like at least some of the money needed to fund this sort of program will be going south to contribute to a very similar US program. Even worse, according to the November 21st, 2011 Postmedia News article "Military satellite project sparks secrecy concerns," the possible Canadian participation in the US lead Wideband Global SATCOM system has opposition politicians questioning what the program is intended to accomplish, the secrecy surrounding it and who will ultimately control the communications capabilities and/or "cyber-crime" fighting components derived from the program. The Canadian component, valued initially at $477 million CDN and operating under the title "Global Mercury" was announced by Defence Minister Peter MacKay earlier this month, according to the November 14th, 2011 Postmedia News article "Canada puts up $477 million to foil cyber attacks" which included government statements that the program would focus on countering attempts by foreign governments to penetrate military and other government computer systems. However, the US Air Force Space Command Factsheet on Wideband Global SATCOM defines the program as intending to provide "flexible, high-capacity communications for the Nation's warfighters" and mentions no cyber-crime fighting capabilities. According to Postmedia News "Defence sources say the U.S. will control the satellites but allow Canada to transmit information over the system. The rush to sign on to the satellite program was sparked by an ultimatum given to Canada that if it wanted to be involved, it was required to sign a funding agreement by the end of this year."

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Space Based Solar Power Findings Finally Released

    The US based National Space Society (NSS) and Space Canada, an Ontario based not-for-profit organization advocating space based solar power, are jointly trumpeting recently released findings on what they call a "ground-breaking space solar power study," according to the November 15th, 2011 post on the NSS blog titled "National Space Society Hails Space Solar Power Study Findings."

    But of course, the real story isn't so much related to the findings (which were perilously close to being preordained given the longtime public advocacy of the major contributors) but instead involve the potential for international political advocacy that follows from a public report which collects together most of the major literature into a single, referenced document.



    According to the press release, this three year, ten nation study, titled "Space Solar Power — The First International Assessment of Space Solar Power: Opportunities, Issues and Potential Pathways Forward,” confirms the "possible" readiness of using space solar power technology within the decade.

    The study was conducted by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and co-chaired by John Mankins, a longtime space solar power advocate and the President of ARTEMIS Innovation Management Solutions.

    Most of the Canadian contributions came out of the 2009 Space Canada Symposium on Solar Energy from Space, which included presentations from Dr. Richard Peltier, the Director of the Centre for Global Change Science at the University of Toronto; Dr. Robert Zee, the Managing Director of the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies; Dan Fortin, the General Manager of IBM Canada; Liberal MP and ex-astronaut Marc Garneau; CBC radio Quirks and Quarks host Bob Macdonald and quite a few others.

    According to Colonel M.V. "Coyote" Smith, the Director of the US Air Force Center for Strategy and Technology Project Blue Horizons and a Professor of Strategic Space Studies at the US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS):
    The long view for Space-Based Solar Power is to develop it into a global wireless power transfer system using the concepts Nikola Tesla demonstrated even before the turn of the 20th Century. 

    With investments made now, at the turn of the 22nd Century a system of SBSP Satellites on orbit will broadcast safe, clean, electrical energy directly to all devices, vehicles, homes, and businesses on the planet — wirelessly. No wars for energy, plenty of power for desalination, a cleaner environment, fair resource sharing on the planet, and a thriving space economic sector. 

    Isn't this what government and industry should be working for?
    It's taken the major players three years to get to this point. It will be interesting to see their next step. 

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Open Season on Canadian Science Policy?

    After the Jenkins panel Review of Federal Support to Research and Development (as described in my October 17th, 2001 post "Federal R&D Recommendations Submitted" and the follow-up October 24th, 2011 post "Responding to the Jenkins Panel on R&D"), the initial response from the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) as outlined in the October 17th, 2011 press release "AIAC acknowledges work of the Jenkins Panel on R&D" and the just concluded AIAC organized Canadian Aerospace Summit (as described in my November 7th, 2011 blog post "Aerospace Industries Association of Canada at the Podium"), is there anything about Canadian science policy still to be said?

    Marc Garneau.
    Of course there is.

    According to the November 10th, 2011 Marketwire press release "Politicians, Leaders of Industry, Government and Science Enterprise Will Meet in Ottawa Next Week at CSPC 2011" the next group up to bat is the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2011), which will be holding an event in Ottawa from November 16th - 18th.

    Of particular interest to the space systems industry will be a "non-partisan and cross party discussion" among former scientists and current members of parliament on the interface between science and government. The discussion will include Dr. Marc Garneau, the current MP for Westmount-Ville-Marie and the former head of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

    Others on the panel include Helene LeBlanc, the MP for LaSalle-Emard and the NDP Science and Technology critic, Dr. Kellie Leitch, the MP for Simcoe-Grey, Dr Reza Moridi, the provincial MPP for Richmond Hill, Ontario and perhaps even Dr. Moira Stilwell, the MLA for Vancouver-Langara, BC who has been invited (but hasn't yet accepted). The panel will be introduced and concluded by Pierre Meulien, the President of Genome Canada.

    Other highlights are expected to include:
    • A discussion on the "Jenkins R&D Review Panel Recommendations - Implications for Canadian Business".
    • Two plenary sessions focused on "Drivers of Innovation in the Chemical-Related Industry Sector", organized by Chemical Institute of Canada, and "Building Stronger Communities Through Innovation", organized by Canada Foundation for Innovation.
    • Two receptions including on the "Mingle of Science and Politics" and "Genome Canada."
    • The Hall of Fame Science and Engineering awards ceremony, which CSPC 2011 will co- host with the Science & Technology Museum and Engineers Canada
    Science policy in Canada is currently governed by the Industry Canada science & technology strategy as outlined in documents like the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage (May 2007) and the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage Progress Report (June 2009) which focus primarily on supporting business innovation.

    It will be interesting to see if any of these events and reports has an influence upon this longstanding conservative party policy..
    Robot Wars 3: The CanadArm Anniversary

    The recent 30th anniversary of the iconic, Canadian built (and recently retired) Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (known nationally as the CanadArm) has provided an occasion to remember the glorious past of the Canadian robotics sector and consider the future, at least according to the November 13th Canadian Press article "Canadarm milestone comes at pivotal moment for robotics."

    But before considering the future, Canadian robotics experts might want to take a look at some of the current, immediate competition.


    The article quotes Canadian Space Society (CSS) President Kevin Shortt as stating that the original Canadarm was a great piece of equipment that Canadians can be proud of — but it's history. According to Shortt:
    We can't continue to keep going back to that because countries like Germany and Japan are hot on the heels of building their own technology in that respect. I think they're knocking on our doorstep.
    Here's a sample, from the German Aerospace Centre, of the types of machines that are knocking at our door.


    Of course, there are multiple other robots in space and on board the International Space Station (ISS) including the Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) for the ISS Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) module and Robonaut 2, built by the Dextrous Robotics Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC).

    There is also the Canadian made CanadArm 2 and the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM) or DEXTRE. It's worthwhile to compare the operations of the CanadArm to the other examples listed above.



    For those looking to learn a little more about Robonaut 2 and DEXTRE, it's worth checking out my April 17th, 2010 post "The Coming Robot Wars."

    For those looking to learn a little more about CanadArm developer Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) and its ongoing problems with follow-on Canadian technology based on the CanadArm, it's worth checking out my October 31st, 2010 post "Robot Wars II: MDA Attacks!"

    And anyone looking to learn a little more about about the real state of the art in robotics is encouraged to take a look at the up coming 8th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots and Ambient Intelligence (URAI), which will be held in Incheon, South Korea from November 23rd - 26th.

    Monday, November 07, 2011

    Aerospace Industries Association of Canada at the Podium

    As the first step in its federal government supported review of both the "aero" and "space" components of the aerospace industry, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) took its turn at the podium in Ottawa last week to host the 1st Canadian Aerospace Summit.

    Here's a quick overview of some of the things that were said:
      Christian Paradis.
    • According to the November 3rd, 2011 Canadian Press article "Feds say review of Canada's aerospace policies will start, finish in 2012" an "industry person" will lead the sweeping federal review of the country's aerospace policies and the review will both begin and end in 2012. The article quotes AIAC vice-chairman David Schellenberg as stating that he "expects to know the identity of the project leader within weeks" and Industry Minister Christian Paradis as stating that the review will start early next year and is expected to be completed "by the end of the year." The article also quotes Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean as stating that "there are advantages to having the space sector lumped in with the aerospace industry in the review." According to the article, the CSA head has been working on the space agency's own long-term space plan since 2008 and expects it will be incorporated into an overall aerospace strategy.
    Michael Pley.
    • According to COM DEV International CEO Michael Pley, the federal government should loosen export rules on selling aerospace technology to China in order to allow Canadian firms to cash in on the Asian country’s growing space program. Pley was quoted in the November 3rd, 2011 Ottawa Business Journal article "Export controls hurting aerospace firms, industry reps say" which also quotes CSA president MacLean as stating that his agency is working on a treaty with China to make it easier for the two countries to work together. According to the article, part of the direction for export markets, including China, will come from a long-term space plan that the CSA was first tasked to put together in 2008, but has never released publicly. 
    Steve MacLean.
    • According to the November 4th, 2011 Spaceref.ca article "Opportunity and Risk Ahead for Canada's Space Industry" the federal government has a critical but supporting role to play, especially when it comes to helping industry with foreign markets. There are opportunities but there is also risk as the domestic market is small and can't sustain the industry on its own. The comments were made during a panel discussion on "Does Canada need an aerospace industrial base?" The panel members included MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) president of information systems Mag Iskander, Neptec president Iain Christie, Telesat president and CEO Daniel Goldberg plus COM DEV International CEO Michael Pley and was moderated by CSA president Steve MacLean.
    It's worth noting that the CSA takes the upcoming review very, very seriously as noted from the comments above and from the timing of the 2010 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report, released to coincide with the aerospace summit.

    Of course, the CSA does hope to incorporate many components of its previous studies into both this new review and as part of the assessment of the Jenkins Review (as documented in my October 17th, 2011 post titled "Federal R&D Recommendations Submitted" and the October 24th, 2011 follow-up post "Responding to the Jenkins Panel on R&D") which covers much the same territory.

    But it's also worth noting my February 15th, 2010 post titled "Ottawa Citizen: "Where did that Long Term Space Plan Go?" where I said that:
    ... if Canada does not define a long term space plan, private business and academia will soon go about creating their own ... Dr. MacLean might need to respond to these rising calls for a long term space plan soon, or else risk becoming irrelevant to the debate.
    It's a shame and it might not be their fault, but the window of opportunity seems to have closed on the CSA. The AIAC and others, mainly foreign governments and businesses, now seem to control our space destiny.

    Sunday, November 06, 2011

    Canadian Aerospace History Website Now Promoting DC Prostitutes

    J. A. D. McCurdy looking grim.
    Less than two years after winding down the festivities, Transport Canada has allowed the domain registration for its website promoting the "2009 Canadian Centennial of Flight" to lapse. But while the current owner continues to maintain the original content, the site now also contains links to a variety of escorts, infomercials and unrelated services.

    The original site included links to events marking the 100th Anniversary of the first powered, heavier-than-air, controlled flight in Canada by J.A.D. McCurdy in the Silver Dart in 1909 plus sponsor links to the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (which still considers it to be a website of interest), the Air Cadet League of Canada, the Air Force Association of Canada, the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), the Canada Aviation Museum, the Department of National Defence, Tim Horton's and quite a few others.



    But now the site now also contains links to unrelated advertisers, various DC and Istanbul based escort services and a disclaimer from the new owners which states:
    We bought this domain after expiration so it's not our fault that you lost it. We put old content for this domain only to avoid losing good quality of it from SEO point of view. If it's a problem for you contact us ASAP!
    The new disclaimer also includes a contact e-mail for mstarowsky@gmail.com but e-mails sent to this address have so far elicited no response. A quick google search on the e-mail address provides a variety of broken links, sex focused websites and at least one other website (the Jessy's Pizza website) with an expired domain name and the same message.

    The site still retains the phone number for the Transport Canada Communications Centre (the original domain owner and administrator of the site) in the for more information section, but the TCCC has so far declined to comment on the new content or ownership.



    Web information company GoDaddy.com lists the present Canadian Centennial of Flight site owner to be Namespro Solutions, a "wholly Canadian owned domain service provider and a CIRA certified registrar."

    The domain is listed as being available for an annual $11.99 USD fee.

    There are of course, many other websites and options for people looking to find out more about the 2009 Canadian Centennial of Flight or Canadian aviation history in general such as:
    There is also the Canadian Air & Space Museum (CASM) in Downview Ontario, at least for the next little while.

    As outlined in my September 21st, 2011 post "Canadian Aerospace Heritage or Hockey Rink" and the follow-up October 31st, 2011 article "Threatened Museum Receives Smithsonian Support" the CASM is presently in a life and death battle for survival with landlord Parc Downsview Park (PDP), a federal crown corporation which wants to build a four rink ice complex on the existing museum site.

    Here's a link to the November 3rd, 2011 Goldhawk Fights Back program, which features PDP chairman David Soknacki defending this recent actions and attempting to provide an underlying context for the PDP decision.

    It's interesting listening (and Soknacki seems to be having a difficult time independently validating many of his assumptions) but doesn't once mention DC escorts.

    Such a shame. 

    Wednesday, November 02, 2011

    Will US Allow Canada to Bid On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts?

    The November 1st, 2011 Space News article "MDA Puts Satellite Servicing on Hold; Reports Core Businesses Doing Well" is reporting that BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) has suspended its on-orbit satellite servicing program until the company knows whether it will be allowed to bid on upcoming US government contracts.



    Of course, this isn't how things were supposed to shake out. As discussed in my March 15th, 2011 post "Macdonald Dettwiler gets "Anchor Customer" for Brampton Robotics Plant" the original plan was pitched as a partnership with satellite services provider Intelsat S.A for the on-orbit refueling and servicing of Intelsat satellites.

    But times and politics change and while the Intelsat partnership remains in place, the focus has now shifted to obtaining additional revenue from US contracts. According to the article:
    NASA and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are expected to release requests for bids for a satellite servicing test project in the coming weeks. But whether MDA, as a Canadian company, will be permitted to bid on the work remains unclear. MDA has increased the U.S. content — and thus the development cost — of the system in an attempt to get U.S. regulatory approval.

    (MDA CEO Dan) Friedmann said MDA has all but put the project on hold while waiting to see how NASA and DARPA proceed.

    "It is not prudent for us to proceed without getting clarity from the government and clarity on our participation in those programs,” Friedmann said. “We have an excellent customer, Intelsat. They do not have infinite patience, but they are patient."

    Canadian support for the project remains minimal with no official, public endorsements from either the Canadian government or the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

    Now might be the time for them to step up to the plate to support this logical progression of iconic Canadarm technology.