Sunday, July 31, 2016

Q2 Canadian Sales Up but MDA's Real Future is Yankee Doodle Dandy

          By Chuck Black

New MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) CEO Howard Lance is working towards "tech sharing" and the creation of "go-to-market synergies" between US and Canadian operations as his firm "ramps up on recruiting," at its US based Space System Loral (SSL) subsidiary.

This sharing between the existing, mostly Canadian based employees and what are expected to be mostly US based new hires at SSL, is simply one of the requirements which MDA must fulfill in order to obtain the US security clearances needed to bid on upcoming US military and government contracts, a strategy considered fundamental to the company’s future growth.

As outlined in the July 28th, 2016 MDA press release, "MDA reports second quarter 2016 results, declares quarterly dividend," consolidated revenues for Q2 were "$503Mln CDN as compared with $524Mln CDN for the same period of 2015. The decrease reflected the variability in quarterly revenues inherent in long-term construction programs. Operating EBITDA increased to $96.4Mln CDN compared with $94.6Mln CDN for the same period of last year." Operating earnings were $57Mln CDN, or $1.57 per share, which was "on par with the same period of last year." MDA has declared a quarterly dividend of $0.37 per common share which will be payable on September 30th, 2016 to "shareholders of record." Graphic c/o MDA

The US based MDA CEO made those comments during the MDA Q2 2016 investors conference call, which was held on July 28th, 2016. He was joined on the call by MDA CFO Anil Wirasekara, who provided an overview of the fiscal situation.

Lance also announced the creation of a new US based holding company which will manage both Canadian and US operations, "a process that should be completed by this autumn."

How far the nominally Canadian based MDA can "Americanize" itself without losing its current credit advantage with Export Development Canada (EDC), which helps to finance satellite deals, is currently unclear. So far, and as outlined in the August 1st, 2016 Space News post, "MDA Corp. says more HTS satellites coming; pursues repositioning as U.S. entity," MDA remains eligible "for EDC financial backing even when the bulk of the satellite development and manufacturing is done at SSL in California."

As outlined by Lance:
Geostationary satellite bid activity continues to be very strong, consistent with our last call (as per the May 5th, 2016 Yahoo Finance post, "Edited Transcript of MDA.TO earnings conference call or presentation 4-May-16 9:30pm GMT"), led by requests for both replacement satellites and new high-throughput satellites (HTS). SSL is the leader in HTS flight heritage and we continue to invest actively in R&D to introduce innovative new bus payload and solar panel designs. 
CEO Lance. Photo c/o MDA.
The 2016 industry outlook appears to be on track for a fairly typical year at this point with nine GEO (geostationary Earth orbit) year-to-date awards by our count, and four of those coming to SSL...
He also singled out the Montreal operation for praise:
Montreal has signed a major contract in the quarter with OneWeb Satellites to develop and manufacture 3,600 communication antenna subsystems for integration on 900 satellites for the OneWeb Low Earth Orbit Constellation. 
This work follows Montreal's successful delivery of antenna subsystems to other LEO satellite constellations, namely O3b and Iridium next-generation, and will further improve our position as the leading merchant supplier of low-cost, high-performance antennas now in high volume. These scale economies will also serve to leverage and improve our competitiveness on our lower volume product lines for GEO customers. 
During the quarter, our Montreal team also signed a contract with Boeing to provide a communication subsystem to be installed on a Boeing 702MP satellite platform...
Lance also referenced the recent Canadian Polar Epsilon 2 contract to assess Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) data for the Department of National Defence (DND). As outlined in the July 4th, 2016 post, "That 2013 "Fixed Pricing" Contract for RCM Might Not be Entirely Fixed," the Federal government considers the latest contract to be outside the scope of the 2013 RCM contract as negotiated by the previous Conservative government, and therefore a new contract.

As well, according to Lance, the RCM original constellation did envision two groups of three, or a total of six satellites:
That's what will provide the greatest revisit time to any given target and the most persistence over a given target. And so we are certainly continuing to work with our customer to promote the benefits of continued investment (in this area)...
It's old, mostly derived from 1970's technology developed by DSMA Atcon to load fuel into CANDU nuclear reactors, but MDAs space robotics technology still performs a useful function on board the ISS, and helps drive MDA revenue. The Mobile Servicing System (MSS) is a movable work platform and storage facility that slides on rails across the ISS's main truss (or backbone) which facilitates the transport of the Canadarm2 (on the left) and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), commonly known as Dextre (on the right) plus other equipment from one location to another on the external structure of the ISS. Photo c/o CSA

In the robotics area, MDA has "signed multiple contracts with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to assess robotics solutions and advanced innovative sensor and guidance navigation and control technologies for future space exploration missions." MDA also received a contract amendment to extend ongoing robotic operations support for the Mobile Servicing System (MSS) on the International Space Station (ISS).

However, although the dollar value of Canadian contracts in the first two quarters this year has doubled when compared to the same period last year (a "bit of a pickup in Canada," at least according to Robert Peters from Credit Suisse Securities) and Lance believes that the current Liberal government has recognized that "space technology is in fact one of the most important markets indigenous to Canada and one that (the Federal government) needs to continue to be supportive," the priority of the current MDA business plan remains access to the US market.

According to Lance:
The process to position the company to more aggressively pursue US government and new commercial space business is proceeding as planned. The new US holding company structure is now registered and in place and we have begun to build an experienced leadership team based in the US. During the quarter, we filed with US government to complete the process related to mitigation of MDA's foreign ownership, control or influence on the new US holding company and its operations. 
The process appears to be on track for completion in the next few months, although of course there can be no guarantee in this regard. Once complete, we will be able to obtain the necessary facility and personnel security clearances and be in a position to fully execute our broader growth strategy in particular to bid and execute a much wider range of US Government and commercial contracts.
To get that access, MDA will need to eliminate, or at least mitigate, any influence the Canadian corporate management structure might conceivably have over the US operations. That's why Lance announced the creation of the new US based holding company.

Chuck Black.
As ex-CEO Dan Friedmann used to take great joy in reminding Canadians, all the big opportunities are in the US.

To be fair, that's also where new CEO Lance was born, raised and continues to dwell.

He's a Yankee Doodle Dandy!

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

University CubeSats, the FCC, OneWeb, COM DEV, Honeywell, MacDonald Dettwiler and Space Mining

          By Chuck Black

Here are a few of the stories currently being tracked for the Commercial Space blog:

Software lead Brendan Bruner works on the code for the Experimental Albertan #1 Satellite (Ex-Alta 1) at the University of Alberta's Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering in Edmonton. Photo c/o Codie McLachlan/ Globe and Mail.

  • Cube-sats from York University in Toronto, Ontario and the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta will be travelling to space as part of the upcoming QB50 Cubesat Constellation mission, which is expected to fly on board an unmanned Orbital Sciences capsule when it ferries supplies to the space station in late December 2016. As outlined in the July 24th, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "Tiny satellites signal new era in Canadian spaceflight," the mission, "will be loaded into a mechanical deployer that will pump them out from the space station, one after another, so that they can begin circling the globe on their own separate trajectories." The 40 satellites which comprise the total CB50 mission will each carry one of three standard instruments so that the data they gather in orbit can be combined and compared.
Graphic c/o EU Research.
  • The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that the sharing of 5G mobile spectrum between terrestrial phone companies and satellite networks will be subject to review as 5G technology develops. As outlined in the July 22nd, 2016 Space News post, "Satellite sector mulls how to live with FCC’s 5G decision," satellite companies with plans to build out large constellations of communications satellites over the next few years are worried that 5G interference issues could prevent investment in future satellite broadband systems. This could directly impact the plans of satellite companies like OneWeb, which, as outlined in the May 3rd, 2016 post, "OneWeb Goes to Gatineau," has floated plans to move into under-served rural and consumer telecom markets worldwide using satellite based 5G technology.
An overview of the Honeywell Q2 2016 earnings call. Graphic c/o Honeywell.
  • Of course, Honeywell isn't the only publicly traded aerospace company with a Canadian footprint. MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) will host its Q2 2016 conference call on Thursday July 28th, 2016. It will be the first quarterly earnings call hosted by the incoming and US based CEO Howard Lance and it will be interesting to see how the new boss compares to the old boss, outgoing CEO Daniel E. Friedmann, a colorful, successful and oft quoted predecessor. As outlined in the July 14th, 2016 MDA press release, "MDA 's second quarter 2016 results conference call alert," longtime MDA CFO Anil Wirasekara will co-host the call. 
Chuck Black.
For updates and assessments on these items and others, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Space Angels Venture Capitalists Bullish on the Space Suit Market

          By Brian Orlotti

The Space Angels Network (SAN), a venture capital group which funds various space companies, has released a report predicting increased demand for spacesuits over the coming decades.

What the trendy hipster space explorer might be wearing in twenty years. As outlined in the December 23rd. 2015 Universe Today post, "Why Can't We Design the Perfect Spacesuit?," this particular model, called the MIT BioSuit, is a "a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass compared to modern gas-pressurized spacesuits." Photo c/o MIT.

As outlined in the July 19th, 2016 SAN post, "Under Pressure: Past, Present, and Future Spacesuit Market," a total of 50 spacesuits were sold globally in 2015, with a total value of roughly $100Mln USD ($132Mln CDN). Spacesuits, currently a high margin, low volume business, are poised for a renaissance as government space activity declines and the private sector takes a leading role.

This new generation of spacesuits will need to have new capabilities as well as be more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing than products currently available.

Among the report's findings:
  • There are resounding similarities between the current spacesuit industry and the legacy launch and satellite industries, i.e. expertise in proven technologies, a reputation for safety, and strong government relationships. These incumbents solely serve national space agencies and operate on long design cycles and product lifetimes (exacerbated by 'cost plus' contracts).
  • The profound economic shift in the space sector over the past decade has seen the entry of new players and a strong focus on cost. Greater space accessibility will enable more manned spaceflight activity, which will in turn spur demand for space and pressure suits.

Elon Musk is looking for new spacesuits, at least according to the May 9th, 2016 Nature World News article, "Elon Musk Hires Superhero Costume Designer to Create "Badass" Spacesuits for SpaceX Mars Mission."  This particular model, as outlined in the Sagan Sense Tumblr page on the Future Deep Space Suit, represents one of a series of possible design directions, which could be optimized for different roles in different environments. Graphic c/o Sagan*Sense.

  • While most commercial launch will be centered around destinations in near-space and low Earth orbit, governments, and a select few commercial companies, will explore planetary bodies and conduct maintenance, requiring highly utilitarian spacesuits. 
  • Commercial space companies will want to differentiate between themselves by positioning their products based on aesthetics, capabilities or comfort.
  • Diversified customers and increased competition between spacesuit manufacturers will shorten design cycles and product lifetimes. Innovation will be further spurred by recent advancements in materials science and computer simulations.
  • Successful companies will need to overcome a traditional low tolerance for risk, which has historically inhibited innovation. 
The SAN report outlines multiple developmental paths for the spacesuit industry. Well-capitalized incumbents that identify successful new technologies may strategically acquire them to mitigate development risk. In this scenario, the production of spacesuits remains as consolidated as it is today, with the balance of power shifting to the manufacturers.

Our parents spacesuit. The 21 layer space suit used during the Apollo program. Graphic c/o pics about space.

Another scenario is that launch providers (i.e. SpaceX and Blue Origin) deem spacesuits to be of high operational risk, and so pursue vertical integration. In this scenario, the remaining spacesuit makers that lack innovative designs will not generate sustainable cash flow.

A third possible outcome is to have one company with superior technology attaining total dominance over the marketplace, the spacesuit market being relatively small.

Brian Orlotti.
The SAN report offers thoughtful views on the future of the spacesuit industry. Space aficionados will eagerly observe the evolution of these spaceflight staples through the 21st century.

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Arctic Satellites Should Serve Northerners According to Nunatsiaq Online

          By Henry Stewart

Not everyone likes the idea that the Polar Communications and Weather mission (PCW), the long awaited but never funded Canadian Space Agency (CSA) project to provide continuous 24/7 broadband communications services and monitor weather and climate change conditions in the Canadian arctic, is about to be replaced by a Canadian military based program without any weather component or assured civilian access to communications.

Areas of interest in the high arctic for the meteorological and communications components of PCW. As outlined by Brigadier General Rick Pitre, the then Director General for Space in the 2013 Frontline Defence article, "Director General talks about 'Space'," the Canadian military was, even in 2013,"very interested in PCW." Graphic c/o FrontLine Defence.

As outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Nunatsiaq Online post, "Arctic satellites should serve northerners," the latest plans are that the two satellites expected to built will be equipped for communications purposes only, and used primarily by the military. According to the article, "the military will likely operate the satellites in conjunction with a private company, which could perhaps market any unused bandwidth to northern residents and businesses."

But unlike PCW, any "public access (to the replacement satellite constellation) would not be assured," because of the military nature of the program. According to the article;
Under the new plan, the satellites will not be equipped to support weather forecasting, climate change science, or the monitoring of solar flares. 
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
These reductions in capabilities could limit northern economic development, the safety of northern residents and visitors, research on climate change, and Canada’s ability to fulfill its marine weather forecasting commitment.  
The reductions are due to a recent decision by Environment Canada to withhold its portion of the funding for the Polar Communications and Weather Project, which amounted to about $10 million per year over the 15-year projected lifespan of the satellites.  
It was this decision that killed the multi-departmental project and forced the Department of National Defence to move forward on its own.
As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," the 2012 Emerson Aerospace Review recommended that the Federal government narrow the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government." Nor would it embark on any new large satellite programs.

Instead, individual government departments (such as DND) would manage their own space projects just so long as they also funded them. This is why DND felt justified in radically revamping the PCW program after the Federal ministry of the Environment and Climate Change withdrew its funding.

The total cost of PCW was estimated to be around $4.5Bln CDN over the life of the project. Environment Canada's amounted to 3% of the 15-year budget.

Of course, all the money is supposedly coming from the same Federal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can essentially reallocate funding between departments at any time.

For more on the cancellation of PCW, check out the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money."

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money

          By Chuck Black

The Trudeau government has cut off the Ukrainian military from accessing Canadian high-resolution surveillance satellite imagery, which might indicate a shift in Canada-Ukraine relations, or something else.

It looks like the Polar Communications and Weather Satellite is dead, at least according to recent news reports. Many of our current military policy discussions and announcements are the direct result of the April 2016 Federal government announcement that military policy would be reviewed. As outlined in the April 6th, 2016 Toronto Star post, "Liberals launch long-awaited review on future of Canada’s military," the Trudeau government hoped to have the review "completed in time for the next federal budget cycle." To learn more about the review check out the Defence Policy Review website. Graphic c/o Al Calder.

As outlined in the February 17th, 2015 post, "Taking Sides Via Satellite: Ukraine to Receive RADARSAT-2 Images," the Stephen Harper government announced in 2015 that it would provide Ukraine's military with high-resolution satellite imagery from RADARSAT-2.

However, as outlined in the July 13th, 2016 Yahoo News post, "Does Canada's decision to cut off Ukraine from satellite data show a shift in relations?," that earlier decision has evidently been rescinded.

In the international arena of ever shifting policy concerns, maybe that's OK. But there's more.

The Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) satellite mission, last discussed in detail in the November 4th, 2013 post, "Polar Communications and Weather Project Inches Slowly Forward," seems to have grown from what was once a substantial $600Mln CDN program into a far larger $4.5Bln CDN program which has evidently just been cancelled in favor of the somewhat smaller, but still costly, $2.4Bln CDN Enhanced Satellite Communication Project (ESCP), at least according to Col. Jeff Dooling, the director of space requirements for the Department for National Defence (DND).

How's that for confusing?

The new program will be ready by 2023, as opposed to the old program, which was once supposed to be ready by 2016. As quoted in the June 30th, 2016 Space News post, "Canada eyes $2.4 billion Arctic satellite communications constellation," the new project would likely include "at least two satellites in an elliptical orbit," much like the old project, but without the weather component; this change is expected to lower costs.

PCW has been around for a long time. For the rest of this 2008 PCW assessment, simply click on the graphic. Graphic c/o CSA.

It’s dead,” the article quotes Dooling as saying. “It was never a project, it was a concept from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It did provide a lot of data from the studies that were done, but it had become too expensive and so it went on the shelf."

According to the article, Dooling was interviewed while speaking at a US conference on military satellites.

There may even be more programs on the horizon and more money needing to be spent. As outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Motherboard post, "How Satellites Will Enable Canada to Surveil the Arctic With Drones," Canada is in a fight for northern sovereignty with other Arctic powers. In order to compete, our military will need an upgraded satellite network to support drones and other surveillance technologies.

According to the Motherboard article, two planned satellite networks, ESCP and a second one, called the Tactical Narrowband Satellite Communication Project (TNP), are currently being promoted. The article also quoted Lieut.-Col. Abde Bellahnid, the project director for Canadian Forces’ satellite communications, as stating that the true cost of ESCP is closer to $1.5Bln CDN rather than the $2.4Bln CDN quoted by Col. Dooling in the article.

No doubt that number will change over time, as well. Unfunded guesstimates have a tendency to do that.

Canadian politician, statesman and academic Lloyd Axworthy, who helped to define military space policy in the 1990's. For an overview of Canadian military space policy over the last 60 years, check out the December 10th, 2010 post "Canada's Military Space Policy; Part 1, The Axworthy Doctrine." Graphic c/o Graeme MacKay.

Other sources also seem to think that Canadian military space programs need more money. An example is the July 14th, 2016 NATO Association of Canada post, "Space, the Next Frontier of Security: Is Canada Ready?," which shows concern that Canada is not adequately equipped to neutralize "foreign military threats" to its space assets. 

It's worth noting that the NATO Association of Canada is chaired by the honorable Hugh Segal, a Canadian political strategist, author, commentator, academic and former senator who once served as chief of staff to Ontario premier Bill Davis and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Of course, Canadian military procurement policies, especially those related to space, have historically been long on discussions, disagreements, political infighting, policy announcements and reversals, but short on funding.

For example, in 2015 the opposition Liberal party supported providing satellite data to Ukraine although they seem to have changed their minds since becoming the Federal government.

Evidently, times change.

Chuck Black.
To quote our current prime minister, who used a similar phrase to justify another recent decision, perhaps these changes are happening because it's 2016.

Expect more changes, but not necessarily more military funding, in 2017.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Canadian Air & Space Museum?

          By Chuck Black

It's been almost five years since the Downsview, Ontario based Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM), was handed an eviction notice by its landlord, Downsview Park in September 2011.

Two photos of the full sized scale replica of the CF-105 Avro Arrow (minus the wings) built by volunteers with the assistance of local aerospace firms. The completed model was presented to the CASM for public display in October 2006 to commemorate the original roll-out of the Arrow in 1957. It eventually went into storage after the museum was evicted from its Downsview location in 2012. The top photo was taken June 19th, 2016 from a Pearson Airport parking lot adjacent to the artifact by the author. The bottom photo is a Google Earth satellite photo taken April 16th, 2016 showing the replica as viewed from space with the parking lot on the left. Photos c/o author & Google Earth.

Since then, the museum has been unable to relocate from what was once the head office and primary manufacturing facility for de Havilland Aircraft of Canada at 65 Carl Hall Road in Downsview, Ontario. After a few short term public exhibitions (such as the one outlined in the September 23rd, 2013 CTV post "Convoy escorts Avro Arrow replica to Mississauga for public display"), most of the museum artifacts have ended up in storage.

But in 2015, a $250K CDN "non-receipted" contribution from an unnamed donor essentially cleared off all debts associated with storing the artifacts (most of which ended up in several dozen 40 foot freight containers stored in warehouses at Pearson International Airport in Toronto).

This new funding has helped to renew the hope that the museum might one day find a home.

It's worth noting that "non-receipted" charitable donations are typically made by donors who aren't in a position to benefit from the tax credit conferred by an official donation receipt. These might include corporate donors (who can count the gift as an allowable business write-off) or foreign donors (who may not be filing Canadian tax returns). And, anonymous gifts are common currency in the charity world. A major donor might simply want to keep their generosity private so as not to be bugged by people seeking further funding.

There is also the possibility that the donor intends to leverage the museum name and its artifacts in the furtherance of other, as yet unknown activities, and doesn't want any advanced warning of intentions to slip out.

Under Section 149 of the Income Tax Act, registered Canadian charities are exempt from paying income tax but are required to file a T3010 charities return, which includes financial statements, a list of directors, and information on programming, methods of generating donations, and staff compensation. The T3010 is considered public and is available online. As outlined on the quick view of the CASM T3010 returns, as recently as 2014, the organization listed under $50k CDN in revenues, no staff compensation expenses, but over $90k CDN in other expenses (possibly relating to artifact storage) and a total debt of about $50k CDN.  But by 2015, while there was still no staff listed, there was over $250k CDN of almost entirely non-receipted donations listed as income, which was offset by close to $140k in costs (of which about $126k was specifically identified as occupancy costs). Screenshot c/o CRA.

The genesis of the CASM eviction from its Downsview facility has always seemed ever so slightly clouded in confusion.

As outlined in the September 11th, 2011 post, "Canadian Aerospace Heritage or Hockey Rink?," the current situation goes back to 2011, when Downsview Park decided that the CASM facilities at Downsview were "falling apart" and "badly in need of maintenance." According to David Soknacki, who was then the chairman of the board at Downsview Park, the only real option was to evict the seven existing tenants and turn the building into a "four rink ice hockey facility."

Which seems kinda odd by any reasonable assessment. Surely it would be cheaper to fix what was broken instead of re-purposing the entire building.

Brian Keaveney. Photo c/o
By 2015, those initial plans had fallen by the wayside and the building had been integrated into Centennial College's plans to create an aerospace campus at Downsview Park.

As outlined in the November 14th, 2014 OMX post "The Upcoming Downsview Aerospace Hub," the aerospace campus began to take form around 2010, around the same time as the plans for the ice hockey rink were floated.

By 2015, as outlined in the July 24th, 2015 post, "'Up to $18.4Mln' More for the Downsview Aerospace Hub," money for the aerospace campus had begun flowing from the Federal governments Infrastructure Canada New Building Canada Plan.

However, while the original building was saved and re-purposed, the museum itself dropped out of public view.

But according to volunteer museum curator Brian Keaveney, its artifacts are currently well cared for and being stored in the most effective way possible.

"Not everything has been stored in those freight containers. The Canadair CT-114 Tutor and the de Havilland Canada CS2F Tracker are in storage at Bombardier Aerospace facilities. The Avro Lancaster FM104 Restoration Project is stored at Magellan Aerospace. WestJet and Air Canada have also assisted with facilities," he said during a recent interview.

"Everything is secure and we're still accepting artifacts." That signals an active and growing collection.

According to Keaveney, the museum has also changed its public name "in an effort to keep Ottawa happy" and is now operating as the Toronto International Aerospace (Canadian Air & Space Museum), although the legal name remains the same. 

The new name is intended to differentiate the museum from the Ottawa based Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Keaveney also insisted that the museum maintains a continued presence at facilities in Bowmanville, Malton and Pearson, where small selections of artifacts have recently been set up for short term, public displays.

But as for the future of the museum, Keaveney is unsure. He admits that he had no knowledge of the $250K non-receipted donation the museum received until just a day or so before his interview and is still unable to comment on who contributed the money.

As outlined on the Aligned Aviation website, the company is building a state of the art "aerospace centre" on Convair Drive at the southern portion of Toronto's Pearson Airport. The facility is expected to be completed in 2017.  Will this new facility end up housing the CASM, under whatever name it ends up using? Photo c/o Aligned Aviation.

But, as outlined in this November 7th, 2012 press release from the museum, it pretty much always expected to eventually be relocated to "to the the south end of Lester B. Pearson International Airport" in a new building.

And, as outlined by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) in its online "Master Plan - Taking Flight - A bold vision for Toronto Pearson," there's also a lot of new buildings going up at Pearson over the next few decades. Any one of them could end up being the museum's new home.

Chuck Black.
Or not.

Museum representatives have promised a new physical location for the museum almost since the day they closed shop at Downsview.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Brownsville, STARGATE and SpaceX

          By Allison Rae Hannigan

The origin story of the Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Gigahertz Astrophysical Transient Emission (STARGATE) venture between SpaceX and the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Brownsville, Texas informs as much about the value of radio astronomy and launching satellites as it does about public private partnerships and how to invest in human potential.

STARGATE sponsors include SpaceX, the University of Texas System (an association of eight Texas academic and six health care institutions), the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, the Brownsville Economic Development Council and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation. The facility is intended to provide students and faculty access to RF technologies widely used in spaceflight operations, will include satellite and spacecraft tracking facilities and was initially proposed by UTRGV professor Rick Jenet in 2012 as part of a package to increase the likelihood of attracting SpaceX to build a launch site in the area. Graphic c/o UofT Brownsville

STARGATE will allow students and faculty to share access to technologies used in tracking of spacecraft and satellites that SpaceX will be launching from Texas shores. STARGATE will also be developing next generation astronomy tools and bringing them to the NewSpace ecosystem.

Brownsville has been described as economically distressed at best, and "God-forsaken" at worst. The southernmost city in the continental US, and sitting right on the border with Mexico, Brownsville seems an unlikely genesis for space activities. Two years ago, Elon Musk and SpaceX selected Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville as the location for its new launch complex, the first commercial orbital launch site in the world. Construction is already underway, and a first launch projected for 2018.

Rick Jenet in Brownsville on April 19th, 2016. Photo c/o Brownsville Herald 
Enter UTRGV physics and astronomy professor, Dr. Fredrick “Rick” Jenet. Credentialed in physics from MIT and Caltech, with a drive to make everyone around him be the best they can be, and a desire to explore space, Dr. Jenet could have had his pick of teaching at any university.

Yet, he chose Brownsville over 11 years ago at the suggestion of his mentor, Professor Richard Price, a renowned physicist who was on faculty there at the time. Dr. Jenet visited, and was attracted to the potential he saw to impact the lives of local students in a positive way, to help them break through barriers using science education.

The real story behind STARGATE begins with Dr. Jenet’s vision to engage high school students in STEM education by speaking their language, relating science with popular culture, such as science fiction and video games. He likes to say that the acronym for STARGATE was “backro-nymed,” meaning they figured out the abbreviation after choosing the name, which is based on a popular science fiction movie and television series.

Dr. Jenet started outreach with local high schools, and soon founded CARA along with the Arecibo Remote Command Center (ARCC) at the university. ARCC allows students from the high school level and higher to perform research at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and other observatories around the world.

"ARCC Scholars" working in the ARCC control room in Brownsville. Students involved in the program perform real observations, analyzing data taken during these observations, and present their results at major scientific conferences. Photo c/o UofT Brownsville

In addition to the college students participating in ARCC, they also have a 21st Century Astronomy Ambassadors program to allow top high school students to have an opportunity to work in astrophysics. ARCC Scholars have discovered pulsars, and a double neutron star system, which is one of only 10 ever discovered by anyone, anywhere.

CARA develops radio frequency-based technologies for space exploration, and attracts and trains the next generation of scientists and engineers, especially benefitting youth from typically under-represented minority groups.

As outlined in the UTRGV Office of Strategic Analysis and Institutional Reporting document under the title, "UTRGV’s Fall 2015 Enrollment in Perspective," UTRGV ranks 9 of 10 in terms of headcount among all Texas 4-year public universities, but is ranked first in terms of Hispanic enrollment, with an almost 90% Hispanic population.

And, as outlined in the October 2014 American Association of Physics Focus On article, "Hispanic Participation among Bachelor’s in Physical Sciences and Engineering," UTRGV is placed among top 10 producers of Hispanic physicists in the US. In 2012, only 21 Bachelor Degrees in Astronomy out of 448 were earned by Hispanics in the US, and UTRGV alone graduates about five physics and astronomy majors per year.

Ms. Alma Guerrero-Miller, the assistant director of special programs at CARA, has described the typical border region issue of highly skilled workers leaving for economic reasons as ‘exporting brains.’ Unlike the Canadian border with the US, which concentrates most of the population and economic activity, the border with Mexico is economically depressed and has real challenges engaging, educating, training and retaining students in STEM fields. A former political consultant, Ms. Guerrero-Miller met Dr. Jenet when he started his outreach to local high schools. Her husband was the first high school teacher in the Rio Grande Valley to teach astronomy.

One student, Jose “Joey” Martinez, working independently from efforts by Dr. Jenet to woo SpaceX, went to the first public forum to tell SpaceX why they should come to Brownsville. He talks about his remarkeable achievements and desire to keep working in his astrophysics field at home as can be seen from the video above. It's worth noting he UTRGV was, until last year, known as the University of Texas – Brownsville (UTB).

It's also worth nothing that, before Dr. Jenet’s involvement, officials from the university approached SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to propose a joint venture, and he reportedly told them, “I build rockets. I don’t do education.” Of course, the implication was that he was not interested.

From their inception, CARA and ARCC have provided a model for training up a pipeline of STEM-ready workers from the region, and Dr. Jenet saw an opportunity to extend this model by working with SpaceX to create STARGATE. The goal of the collaboration is to provide students and faculty access to RF technologies that are used in spaceflight operations such as satellite and spacecraft tracking.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Photo c/o Profit Confidential
Students and faculty will have access to "cutting-edge" facilities providing both academic and commercial value. Grants of over $10Mln US ($12.98Mln CDN)  have been awarded to create and house STARGATE in a new building to be co-located with the SpaceX command and control center two miles from the launch site. The Boca Chica Village land purchased for the center has been re-named “STARGATE” subdivision.

Dr. Jenet explains that equipment used for spacecraft tracking and telemetry is ‘basically a radio telescope.’ The STARGATE faculty and students will be developing RF Algorithms for tracking spacecraft, and possibly a phased-array antenna system to replace fixed dish satellite tracking communications systems.

The commercial applications that this type of leading edge technology promises has attracted the attention of another partner, the Houston Tech Center, a top accelerator in the nation. Ms. Geurroro-Miller states that HTC has created an economic impact worth $2.6Bln US ($3.4Bln CDN). The large incubator/accelerator is partnering with STARGATE to help develop the economy of the Rio Grande Valley region as well.

Approximately 4.5Mln US ($5.8Mln CDN) have been invested by both the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the University of Texas system. A further $1.2Mln US ($1.6Mln CDN) grant from the US Economic Development Administration has also been provided.

Allison Rae Hannigan.
The very first pledge of support came from a local organization, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, which offered a $500K US ($649K CDN) incentive in 2012 to encourage SpaceX to build it’s launch site in the area.

Allison Rae Hannigan, is an impassioned space industry specialist focused on development opportunities, marketing, communications and business related to microgravity research. 

She is also a free-lance consultant who has helped set up and manage email marketing campaigns, newsletters, and customer relationship management applications. 

She can be reached at

Monday, July 04, 2016

That 2013 "Fixed Pricing" Contract for RCM Might Not be Entirely Fixed

          By Chuck Black

According to its project manager, the question of whether the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Polar Epsilon 2 (PE2) program should be within the scope of the 2013 fixed price agreement negotiated by the Stephen Harper conservative government to cover all space and ground operations of the upcoming RADARSAT Constellation mission (RCM) over its first year of operations, is certainly an interesting one.

One of three identical RCM synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites expected to launch in 2018. As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post "A $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the last contract signed for RCM was pitched as being a "fixed price" which covers the completion of "phase D" or final construction, plus launch costs, operational costs for the first year" plus a contractual requirement to "launch the (three) satellites in 2018." The new contract covers the ground operation of the military component of RCM, including new construction and operational costs to cover the first two years of operation, items which were evidently overlooked in the original contract. Graphic c/o CSA

But, at least according to Lieutenant Commander Kabatoss, the current project manager of PS2 and a subject manager expert recommended by the Department of National Defence (DND), "now that we have a determination from DND that the new PE2 contract is outside the scope of the 2013 contract negotiated by the previous government," there is the potential for additional "out of scope" RCM related contracts between now and 2018, when the three satellites which comprise RCM, are expected to launch.

"DND has a separate contract for PS2 and we felt the additional charges were appropriate," he said in a recent interview.

And those contracts will cost Canadian taxpayers money.

As outlined in the June 19th, 2016 post, "Our Space Agency Needs More Astronauts & MacDonald Dettwiler Might Just Have Received $50Mln CDN for an RCM Data App," the current Justin Trudeau liberal government has recently announced a new addition to RCM requirements in the form of an upgraded PR2 ground facility, at an initial cost of $48.5Mln CDN, with an option for further improvements and additional costs of up to $63.1Mln CDN, somewhere down the road.

PS2 background material as provided by prime contractor MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA). It's worth noting that MDA has been unwilling to go on record as confirming that PE2 is out of scope of the 2013 fixed price contract covering RCM. As outlined by MDA corporate communications manager Wendy Keyser in a June 30th, 2016 e-mail, "DND has answered your first question (relating to PE2 being out of scope of the 2013 fixed price contract), and we need to direct you to the Government to ask your second question (relating to whether there could be further RCM related out of scope contracts and additional RCM costs not covered by the 2013 fixed price agreement)." To see the complete MDA backgrounder, please click on the screenshot. Screenshot c/o MDA

But according to Kabatoss, the new facilities are needed. "There are three satellites, with three times the data, plus the requirement to collect and correlate the automatic identification system (AIS) data from RCM, a new system which wasn't part of RADARSAT 2, and combine it into a coherent whole. The requirement for ground stations has simply expanded to reflect the additional information which RCM is expected to provide."

AIS is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships. Ships not transmitting AIS data are likely trying not to be seen.

One of the real challenges of Polar Epsilon, according to Kabatoss, is to relate the AIS data to the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data, which RCM also collects. "Anyone visible on SAR, but not transmitting on AIS, is worth taking a closer look at," according to Kabatoss.

Which is all well and good. But it seems there may be other RCM contracts coming down the pipeline over the next little while and, much like a nontransmitting AIS ship, these upcoming contracts are also trying not to be seen.

Chuck Black.
Let's see if we can do the taxpayers a favor, and try to change that.

We might even end up saving a little bit of government money, which could be redirected to some of the smaller players in our space industry.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Summer Innovation, Aerospace and Space Lobbyists

          By Brian Orlotti

As summer rolls around, bringing with it the cyclical lulls in government, industry and academia, various organizations are hard at work to get the Liberal government's attention in a variety of areas related to innovation, space and aerospace.

As outlined in the June 20th, 2016 Ripon Advance post "Comstock hearing explores impact of Small Business Innovation Research Act, Small Business Technology Transfer programs," the US SBIR and its legislative partner, the Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTTR) programs were designed to boost innovation and small business participation in federal research and development efforts when first implemented under the Reagan administration in 1982. As outlined originally in the July 9th, 2009 post "Canadian Space Agency Provides "No Dedicated Programs" to Support Small Aerospace Firms," commentators have previously noted both the lack of Canadian programs of this nature and their ongoing usefulness to those countries which have legislated them. Screenshot c/o Ripon Advance

One example of this is the recent call by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA)
for the federal government to adopt a Canadian version of the US' Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

As outlined in the June 21st CATA press release, "Making the Case for a Canadian SBIR (CSBIR): Will Canada’s New Innovation Minister Take the Lead?," such a program could bridge the innovation gap between Canada and other industrialized nations.

Overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA), a US government agency that provides support for entrepreneurs and small businesses, the SBIR program supports research and development at small firms via grants and contracts. SBIR contracts come in three types:
  • Phase 1 - Proof of concept stage ($250,000 USD for six months).
  • Phase 2 - Development of a commercial prototype (up to $1Mln USD for two years).
  • Phase 3 - SBIR assistance with fundraising while the company pursues commercialization (no direct funding).
Established in 1982, the program today has over $2.2Bln USD ($2.84Bln CDN) allocated to it. The SBIR program has served as a model for similar programs in Australia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden and the UK.

A loony for your thoughts. As outlined in the website of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, the committee "has launched its pre-budget consultations in advance of the 2017 budget. Written submissions of no more than 2,000 words, including an executive summary, can be submitted to the Committee until Friday, August 5th." Screenshot c/o House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance

Another example of such summertime lobbying is the pre-budget consultations currently being held by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. Running from June 3rd to August 5th, the consultations are an opportunity for various groups and individuals across the country to submit proposals and potentially influence the budget process.

As outlined in the June 29th, 2016 post, "The Canadian Space Community Has an Opportunity to Influence the 2017 Federal Budget," this methodology has been embraced by at least one member of the Canadian space community.

For the full report, click on the graphic above. Graphic c/o AIAC
A third instance of summertime maneuvering is the June 30th release of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada's (AIAC) 2016 State of the Canadian Aerospace Industry report.

In contrast to the deep concern shown by many groups over Canada's declining innovation and prestige vis-a-vis other industrialized nations, the AIAC's report takes a more upbeat tone.

Among The AIAC report's key findings:
  • Canada’s aerospace industry contributed more than $28 billion CDN to GDP and 211,000 jobs to the Canadian economy in 2015.
  • Canadian aerospace manufacturing was the number one R&D investor across manufacturing industries, was over five times as R&D intensive as the manufacturing sector average and accounted for close to 30% of total manufacturing’s R&D investments.
  • Innovation-relevant occupations accounted for over 30% of the aerospace industry’s direct employment; annual compensation per employee in aerospace manufacturing was 60% above the manufacturing sector average.
Of course, there's still the comprehensive review of Canadian science. As outlined in the June 13th, 2016 post "Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," this specific review is also expected to continue through the summer and report before the end of the year.

Brian Orlotti.
Taken together, these initiatives provide a glimpse into the aims of the various players in space and aerospace as well as provide food for thought while hanging at the beach sipping a nice cold drink.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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