Monday, December 05, 2016

Another Call for Federal Assistance in Space, plus Kepler, Clyde Space, ULA & Mars One, Which Can Now Sell Stock

          By Henry Stewart

This publication has always felt that bankers, businessmen and bureaucrats were more important to our conquest of space than scientists or engineers.

With that in mind, here are a few of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Canada isn't the only country with ongoing discussions and differences of opinion over "space policy." Shown above is a May 24th, 2015 recording of Dr. Scott Pace, a professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, speaking on "U'S Space Policy Choices." Canadian policy discussions are usually more limited on scope (reflecting our smaller capabilities) and more circumspect. Canadian space activities are more likely to depend on government funding and subcontract work to larger, international firms and no subcontractor or collaborating university wants to come out in public opposition to a well paying client. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.
  • Another person has come out in favor of using Federal government resources to assist at least the government supported components of our Canadian space industry.
The December 5th, 2016 post, "Op Ed - The Government Should Support Canada Becoming a Small Satellite Manufacturing Hub," begins with a partial list of privately owned companies (including two Canadian) which have recently made requests to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch large constellations of satellites into a variety of Earth orbits for a variety of reasons.
The article suggests that, since this satellite market is growing and seems to be bypassing Canada, the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has "an opportunity in the small satellite sector to make an impact that will foster innovation, create more high tech jobs, keep them in Canada, and it should act now" by offering up "more support" to organizations like the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, a competition for teams of Canadian university students to design and build small "cube-sats."
Not that there's anything wrong with that.  
It's just that organizing student run contests to build small, custom satellites for scientific use is a far cry from funding, building and delivering the large numbers of standardized, commercial satellite constellations expected to go into orbit within the next few years. 
For the complete list of FCC applications, and some business context as to why this is happening, check out the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table."
An October 2016 discussion on "The Resurgence of Constellations – Small & Large," from the Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Council (APSCC) 2016 Satellite Conference and Exhibition, which was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from October 4th - 6th, 2016.  Screenshot c/o You-Tube.
It's also worth noting that the author of the piece, SpaceRef CEO Marc Boucher has also been active in the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), where he helped craft the March 7th, 2016 CSCA press release, "2016 Canadian Budget Needs to Recognize Canada’s Space Program as a National Priority" and the August 4th, 2015 CSCA press release, "The Canadian Space Commerce Association Calls on all Federal Parties to Commit to a Long-Term Space Plan."
Of course, Boucher isn't the only individual or organization advocating for assistance to Canadian space activities. As outlined in the November 28th, 2016 post, "An ESA Event, SEDS Objects, the CSA Budget Shrinks, the JWST & the Downsview Aerospace Hub," the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Canada (SEDS-Canada) have also recently released an editorial critical of Liberal government performance in this area.
But, as outlined in the November 25th, 2016 post, "Another Op'nin Another Show... Next CDN Space Policy June 2017," the Federal government has at least offered up the promise to unveil an updated Canadian space policy document in June 2017. 
They've also promised a "chief science advisor." As outlined in the December 5th, 2016 iPolitics post, "Liberals may protect chief science advisor with legislation: Duncan," at least that search seems to be moving forward. 
So while its unlikely that the Trudeau government will offer up the billions of dollars currently available on the international market needed to fund and support domestic satellite construction, here's hoping that they'll come up with enough of something to placate their increasingly strident critics.
The reason why Clyde Space is an award winning space business and an effective competitor in international markets has more to do with marketing savvy than space science or government support. The company has a standardized listing of several dozen common parts and modular components able to fit together into satellites able to perform a wide variety of missions. Clyde Space first gained fame in 2014, when the 3U cubesat bus was used in Ukube-1, the UK Space Agency's first national spacecraft. Photo c/o Clyde Space.
  • Toronto based Kepler Communications has selected Glasgow, UK based Clyde Space to supply two 3U spacecraft, which will launch Kepler’s novel software defined radio (SDR) and antenna array in 2017.
As outlined in the November 30th, 2016 Kepler press release, "Kepler Communications selects Clyde Space as Spacecraft Manufacturer," the microsat "will support Kepler in deploying its in-space telecommunications network, which will use nanosatellites to relay data in real-time for devices deployed in terrestrial, remote operations and satellites deployed in low Earth orbit."
The spacecraft will be built and tested by Clyde Space in Glasgow for delivery next autumn. 
Currently, Clyde Space produces "produces an average of six satellites each month for a range of customers world-wide and is pursuing an expansion in the United States." 
Kepler has applied to the FCC to deploy up to 140 satellites, including spares, in a non-geostationary (NGSO) low-earth polar orbit with seven orbital planes between 2017 and 2022 in order to build a wireless pipeline to facilitate machine to machine communications.
Come on down to the ULA website, where "value is more than a price tag," many options are available and prices start at $109Mln US ($145Mln CDN). Photo c/o ULA.
  • Speaking of marketing initiatives, United Launch Alliance (ULA), in an effort to demonstrate that they provide value with their rocket launch prices, have unveiled an interactive website which offers potential customers the ability to get price estimates for Atlas V launches.
As outlined in the November 30th, 2016 Space News post, "ULA debuts online pricing tool for Atlas launches," the new ULA "RocketBuilder" website is "designed to let users select variables about their launch, including their desired orbit, payload mass, fairing size and desired launch date. The site then calculates the estimated price of the Atlas 5 rocket for that mission."
The article also quotes ULA chief executive Tory Bruno as saying, "it will be easier to buy a ride in space than to get a plane ticket home for the holidays.” 
According to Bruno, “all of that guesswork and all of that murkiness that an operator has to go through to figure out launch services, how that balances against the choices they make on their spacecraft, that is a thing of the past.” 
Of course, like any sales promotional material. the site also estimates the “added value” that ULA argues an Atlas 5 launch provides. 
According to the article, that value supposedly "comes in the form of insurance savings because of the vehicle’s high reliability, elimination of costs from launch delays and increased revenue the satellite can generate from an extended lifetime enabled by the Atlas’ accuracy in placing the satellite in the desired orbit." 
Let the buyer beware.
Graphic c/o Daily Dot.
  • Speaking of business, its worth noting that one of the craziest business pivots of the year is the reverse merger of Netherlands-based Mars One with Switzerland based Innovative Finance AG (InFin). 
As outlined in the December 2nd, 2016 Mars One press release, "Mars One Takeover Approved by InFin Shareholders," the takeover of the failed mobile payment company will provide "a solid path to funding the next steps of Mars One’s mission to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars."
At the very least, they'll be able to sell stock on the Frankfurt stock exchange, where InFin is already available and publicly traded. 
The press release quoted Moritz Hunzinger, the CEO of InFin, as stating "the board of InFin has received a strong mandate from its shareholders for the Mars One Ventures takeover. We're looking forward to the exciting new steps that lay ahead."
Also quoted was Mars One CEO and co-founder Bas Lansdorp, who stated, "the Mars One board will approve the acquisition as soon as possible. Once this deal is completed, we’ll be in a much stronger financial position as we begin the next phase of our mission. Very exciting times!"
The reverse takeover has been on the table since November. As outlined in the November 7th, 2016 Ars Technica post, "Mars One merges with failed mobile payment company so it can sell stock," it's not currently clear what resources InFin brings to the deal beyond the access to the Frankfurt stock exchange.
Nor is it clear if Mars One has the technical capacity to actually develop a plan to land people on Mars. Recent attempts to counter that impression, such as the one outlined in the September 15th, 2015 Business Insider post, "Two MIT students lay out the facts about why the Mars One mission is bogus," have typically met with failure.
But privately held, BC based UrtheCast raised over $77Mln CDN selling stock after going public via a reverse takeover of publicly-traded Longford Energy Inc in June 2013. 
There is no reason why a publicly traded Mars One could not end up doing the same, or more.
For more, check out upcoming editions of the Commercial Space blog.

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

1 comment:

  1. You say "it's not currently clear what resources InFin brings to the deal beyond the access to the Frankfurt stock exchange". Access to a stock exchange is *exactly* the point of reverse mergers like this one -- it's a way to "go public" without the tremendous paperwork-and-lawyers overheads of a conventional IPO. Other resources typically are irrelevant, or at least unimportant.


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