Monday, August 29, 2016

Part Two: So You Want to be a Space Advocate?

Defining Advocacy

                   By Chuck Black
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014.
It's thesis is that successful advocacy requires: 
  • Strong media skills able to define the problem, craft a compelling narrative and define appropriate solutions 
  • A mechanism to move the narrative forwards by solving the defined problem using those previously identified solutions.
  • A funding network willing to pay for the costs associated with the campaign.
The question of whether or not those three conditions apply in our current aerospace and space environment is open for debate. 

It’s worth noting that advocacy, a “political process by an individual or group which aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions,” is still advocacy whether or not the final goal being worked towards relates to space activism, civil or political rights, environmentalism, building a museum collection or some other outcome. [i]

The methodologies used to “influence public policy and resource allocation decisions,” or set up a new curriculum at a local community college are also more than sufficient to encourage the exploration of the high frontier. Even better, these methodologies are also generally pretty standard and reasonably well understood.

No rocket ships here, but still useful. The cover of “The Most Amazing Online Organizing Guide EVER!” Cover graphic c/o Green Memes.

An example of current advocacy methodologies is “The Most Amazing Online Organizing Guide EVER!” Compiled by Green Memes, a US based environmental justice activist organization, the booklet bills itself as “a practical handbook for those who want to leverage social media for social change.” [ii]

And while there are no rocket ships or references to Buzz Aldrin on the cover, the booklet contains a surprisingly large number of pretty obvious observations and suggestions of use by advocates of any stripe. Examples include:
  • Our objective is building movements for social impact. Clicks, likes, donations, (and) even actual organizations are just means to that end, and it’s the end toward which we’re working.
  • Social change begins with strategy. Rarely in history have movements been truly spontaneous.
  • … nearly always, it’s been the often-unseen strategic work of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. Trying, failing, and trying again, until all of a sudden it seems inevitable.
  • Nor are social networks new, of course — the only difference is that some of these networks are now made visible online. Strategies hashed out in the homes of workers during labor movements, black churches in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, gay bars in LGBT movements, and college campuses in student movement have plenty to say to us today[iv]
But the booklet doesn’t just regurgitate platitudes. It’s thesis is that the first step in any successful advocacy is the crafting a compelling narrative which outlines the problem, drives reactions for change and paves the way for solutions. As outlined in the booklet:
What do you remember about the civil rights movement in the 60s in the South? Really, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? 
Now, I’m going to take a gamble here and say that the first thing you remembered when you read the question above was a story about someone, or a group of people, doing something brave—rather than voter registration statistics, or desegregation rates or the like. I suspect you remember Rosa Parks refusing to give up a seat, students being harassed as they integrated a lunch counter, Freedom Riders making their way across the South, or Martin Luther King Jr. at the pulpit.
Rosa Parks on the bus in 1956, one day after a US Supreme Court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery, AL. As outlined in the December 1st, 2015 CNN post "Remembering Rosa Parks," she became a symbol of the modern civil rights movement "when she was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1st, 1955 after refusing to give up her seat in the black section of a city bus to a white passenger."  Photo c/o CNN.
That’s because stories are the essence of human communication and relationships, containing our collective memory and values. That makes them a core part of movement building.
Personal stories aren’t just how we remember successful social movements —they’re the connective tissue that links a movement together. Stories are both the inspiration that brings people to a movement, and the substance of the relationships that hold people to it once they’ve joined. Telling the stories of the people you work with is one of the most important ways you can use social media to strengthen your organizing.” [v] 
In essence, the narrative is the glue which ties any specific advocacy together into a coherent whole. And space focused activities over the last 50 years have also been crafted into compelling stories. Examples include:
  • 2001: The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey by Frederick I Ordway III and Robert Godwin - Despite over 30 years of advances in space flight and movie-making, it is still 2001: A Space Odyssey which most fans, film makers and critics use as the yardstick against which all other space films are measured. Take a trip through more than eleven decades of film to learn just how far the movie pushed the state of the art and how it continues to affect both motion pictures and the space program. [vi]
  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield - A guide to becoming an astronaut and the fun of living off planet from a man with quite a bit of first hand expertise at doing both. Hadfield shares exhilarating experiences and challenges, from his 144 days on the International Space Station (ISS). [vii]
  • Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek - Why did a government program whose standard operating procedure had always been secrecy turn its greatest achievement into a communal "brand experience" with top media ratings and high public approval? Read this book and find out. [ix]
Not all story tellers are historians. An example would be American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer Walt Disney, shown on the left with German/American aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun in an undated 1950's file photo. Von Braun, along with Disney and others, created a compelling 1950s narrative showing how military rocketry could be re-purposed for exploration, science and the benefit of mankind. In the 1960's Von Braun went on to build the rockets which landed men on the Moon.
  • Sex and Rockets by John Carter with an introduction by Robert Anton Wilson - For those of us who think rocket science is boring, here's the incredible but true story of scientist, poet, and self-proclaimed anti-Christ, Jack Parsons, who co-founded the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), led the Agape Lodge of Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and even bore more than a passing resemblance to Iron Man's father. Scary, scary stuff... [x] 
  • Soviet Space Culture: Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Countries by Eva Maurer, Julia Richers, Carmen Scheide & Monica Rüthers - An interesting historical examination of the Soviet space program as a unique cultural phenomenon, which united communism and religion to the utopian and atheistic during the period from the first Sputnik launch to the mid 1970's. [xi]
Oddly enough, most of those compelling narratives were written by historians who weren't so much concerned with changing the future as they were with chronicling the past. But an advocate would want to drive this compelling narrative forward in real time towards real change.

How that happens, will be the subject of the next post.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

[i] “The Most Amazing Online Organizing Guide Ever,” Edited by Megan Kelley & Joe Solomon at Accessed August 29th, 2016.  
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid.
[vi] “2001: The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey” by Frederick I Ordway III and Robert Godwin. Griffen Media, 2010. 
[vii] “An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth” by Chris Hadfield. Random House of Canada, 2013. 
[viii] “The Atomic Rockets of the Space Patrol website” by Winchell D. Chung et al. at Accessed August 29th, 2016. 
[ix] “Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program” by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek. The MIT Press, 2014. 
[x] “Sex and Rockets” by John Carter with an introduction by Robert Anton Wilson. Feral House, 2005. 
[xi] “Soviet Space Culture: Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Countries” by Eva Maurer, Julia Richers, Carmen Scheide & Monica Rüthers. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Last Week: An Introduction to our Changing World as Part One of of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate" begins!

Next Week: Varying the Characters and Narrative to Move the Story Forward as Part Three of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate" continues!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ten Questions for Kevin Shortt; Business Development and Systems Engineering at ViaLight Communications

          By David Bullock
ViaLight Communications GmbH (VLC) is a German based telecommunications company which specializes in laser communication terminals for aerial applications. 
Founded in 2009 as a spin-off from the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), an organization more commonly known as the German Aerospace Center, VLC maintains strong ties with its parent organization but is not terribly well known outside of Germany.
As outlined in the August 3rd, 2016 video "INNOspace Masters 2015/2016 pitch: ViaLight Communications, Winner Airbus Defence & Space Challenge," VLC competed in and won the 2016 Airbus Defence and Space Challenge. To see the complete video of the VLC presentation, simply click on the graphic. Graphic c/o AZO.   
That may change over the next little while. As outlined in this August 2016 New Space Global (NSG) interview between VLC business development and systems engineer Kevin Shortt and NSG senior editor David Bullock, the company has a lot on the go and good prospects for the future.
Longtime readers looking for a Canadian connection might also recognize Shortt as the past president of the Canadian Space Society (CSS), where he remains active as their international relations officer. 
Shortt belongs to a growing list of Canadian space professionals who've had to move abroad in order to continue in their chosen profession.

Bullock: VLC develops and manufactures wireless laser communications systems for the aerospace and space industries and these systems are basically considered to provide “fiber in the air”-- capable of transmitting high data rates of up to 10 gigabits per second, from aircraft to ground, satellite to ground, inter-satellite links and other types of applications.

As per the NSG 1st screen assessment, our NSG analysts believe management is the most important criteria in analyzing a company. Please tell NSG subscribers a little about you and your management team’s background.

Kevin Shortt. Photo c/o NSG.
Shortt: VLC is a spin-off company from the Institute of Communication and Navigation at the DLR, which hosts a free-space optical communications research group. In 2009, three of the scientists from the group decided that they were going to create a spin-off, which became VLC. With the help of DLR’s technology marketing department and its Institute for Communication and Navigation, the three founders were connected with other entrepreneurial mentors that helped get the company started.

So as it is now, the management at VLC consists of two of the original three founders, as well as a CFO with senior experience in managing and growing small to medium companies and a COO, who has a background in high technology and facilitates our manufacturing and supply chain.

Bullock: What are management’s primary objectives?

Shortt: The business model that VLC is following is the mass production of laser communications systems. So our management team right now is concerned about filling up the supply chain, building revenue with the supply chain, bringing investors on board and going after projects and opportunities that fit the business model of the mass production of laser communications systems.

Bullock: As per the NSG 2nd screen assessment, what markets are you currently generating revenue from?

Shortt: It really runs the gamut. Our customers are involved in high altitude platforms, such as balloons, and high altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). We have customers looking at space applications, as well as aircraft to ground communications, sort of the whole spectrum of airborne and space borne communications.

So what are the NSG 4-screens? Cape Canaveral, Florida based NSG tracks almost 1000 NewSpace companies according to a series of metrics derived from the firm's management (the "first screen"), its potential and actual market share (the "second screen"), its capitalization (the "third screen") and types of technology being utilized (the "fourth screen"). The end result is tracked via the "NSG Top 100 list," which lists the largest 100 companies in the sector by revenue; the "NSG PTC Index" which lists the top publicly traded NewSpace companies; and the NSG OTB ("On the Bubble") index which lists companies with the potential to move into the NSG Top 100. Graphic c/o NSG.

Bullock: What markets do you think are most set for growth in the years to come?

Shortt: I think that certainly with the likes of Facebook and Google, they are seriously promoting their dream of providing an internet for everybody. Of course with that as an end goal, large scale deployments of effectively backbone network architectures in the stratosphere is certainly making headway. The Sat-Com industry is responding in a like manner in a sense that they need to stay competitive and that they are fighting to keep their subscribers engaged.

Of course, everybody is looking for more data rate and bandwidth so the Sat-Com industry is examining inter-satellite links and potentially facilitating those by laser. I think those are the two largest market opportunities now. And then interspersed amongst that you have a number of smaller niche applications that look at the same types of technologies for long haul links but for specific applications.

Bullock: As per the NSG 2nd screen assessment, what does your capitalization currently look like?

Shortt: I am not privy to those details, but in broad strokes we have a collection of investors, private equity investors, things of that nature.

Bullock: If you have raised capital, have you found it difficult to raise? If you haven’t raised capital, why not?

Shortt: Not being directly involved with that process, I can’t speak to many specifics. As a close outsider looking in, I think it hasn’t been too difficult to raise funding because, again, there is a major movement in the telecommunications industry to be providing evermore bandwidth. Certainly, optical fiber communications is well established in the industry, as are the benefits that come with it, but there are also a number of significant restrictions on that technology.

For example, running a deep sea cable between Europe and North America is not an easy feat. If you lose a connection or if the fiber is damaged in some way, there are maintenance costs involved. So when investors hear about wireless optical communications and what it can potentially provide, it becomes very attractive. The target markets and target pricing of systems fits well into what a lot of investors see as money well invested, with a strong return on investment.

A workshop on optical space communication systems, which was held at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), in Noordwijk, the Netherlands from June 9th - 10th, 2016. As outlined in the June 17th, 2016 Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) post, "Optical Communications: Ready for Space," optical space technologies are mature technologies with higher data rates, better security, no legal restrictions on frequency use, lower payload volume/ mass and lower power consumption requirements, when compared to traditional radio technologies used in satellites. Photo c/o ARTES.

Bullock: As per the NSG 4th screen assessment, how is your company’s technology unique?

Shortt: Well, we’re the only company in the world that, to my knowledge, provides commercially available, end-to-end airborne laser communication systems. Anybody else that is working on this type of technology predominantly come from research institutes or government facilities and are focusing very much on prototypes and demonstrations. VLC stands as one of the very few companies in the world that are providing aerospace quality laser communications systems to commercial customers.

Given the current maturity of the technology, we are now able to turn our attention to fully exploiting it by focusing on more network oriented applications. When you start considering these systems at a network level then an entirely new realm of possibilities in airborne, and space-borne, communications opens up. The exciting part is that we are just beginning to see early stages of worldwide deployment of this next generation of optical network.

Bullock: What can we expect in the future for your products and services?

Shortt: As I said, right now, we are getting a lot of momentum in our space systems development. One of our unique advantages compared to other laser communications space system providers is that we took a step-wise approach to our development. Not specifically because we were targeting the space market, but just by nature of the kinds of applications that VLC was involved in early on.

So I’m talking about aircraft-to-ground applications where you have a lot of remote sensing, a lot of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) - the types of mission profiles that are suitable for laser communications. That allowed us to build our initial product base and then we moved on from there to stratospheric applications and the development of our stratospheric terminals. And so the natural progression has been to take those commercial systems and then further advance them such that we can create a commercially relevant space system. So what we are doing in developing a space system is we are maximizing the commercial involvement and commercial investment into the system.

We are also maximizing the use of our commercial off the shelf (COTS) components, which again drives down costs for a space qualified terminal. We are focusing on mass production, so we are not looking at individual units, but we are looking at the production of dozens of units for space--so this is also a cost-driving factor.

This is the general direction we’re moving in and it’s attractive to our customers because we can deliver a very competitive price to our customers. At the end of the day, the R&D that we are investing in our space terminals is just what we call a “delta R&D,” because it really is just the difference between a stratospheric terminal and a space terminal for which we are funding the development.

Since a stratospheric terminal has many of the same design constraints as a space terminal, such as working in a vacuum or very low air pressure with very large changes in temperature, we have already accomplished a significant portion of the development.

As outlined in the May 2016 Optics & Photonics News feature, "Space-Based Laser Communications Break Threshold," recent and upcoming deployments of satellite laser communication systems "are bringing internet-like speeds for data transmission in space. The result could be a revolution in communication, both on Earth and across the solar system." Graphic c/o Optics & Photonics News.

Bullock: How do you see the NewSpace industry in the next five years? How do you see it in the next ten?

Shortt: There’s two ways I could answer that. I could speak to the European context or I could speak to European companies in the American context.

To speak in the European context, I see NewSpace endeavors gaining much, much more traction. A couple of months ago, the Federal Ministry for Economy and Energy funded a study with two Munich-based think tanks to look at investment potential within space-based businesses in Europe and, in particular, in Germany. The fact that you have a government agency investing in research for a report of this nature shows the changing nature of entrepreneurialism towards space applications in Europe. This is very much a driving factor within the European Union, particularly when it comes to aerospace and space applications.

So again, I think that these are all positive indicators that in the next five years there is going to be a very serious uptick in private space investment in Germany and in the broader context of Europe, which will ultimately lead to the establishment of more NewSpace-oriented companies on this side of the Atlantic.

I think that with organizations like DLR with its technology marketing department, which is actively looking at the research that DLR is producing and encouraging scientists to go out and establish NewSpace companies, I think this serves as a serious catalyst in the establishment of a much more dynamic and prosperous NewSpace community here in Europe.

As these fledgling companies grow in Europe, the next natural step is to expand into the larger international market, much like what VLC has done by establishing a subsidiary based in the US. Earlier this year, VLC established ViaLight Space Inc. as a means to focus our space business while allowing us to engage with our US customers more efficiently.

Bullock: Last question: Do you want to go to space? Why or why not?

Shortt: Sure, I would love the opportunity to go into space. This is one of the reasons why I am involved in the space industry. Rather than doing one of these short stints to the International Space Station (ISS), I would love to be able to go into space as part of a grander effort to build a permanent presence there.

In particular, within the next ten to twenty years, having lunar bases and having that type of permanent presence in space is what I personally look forward to. To provide communications systems that are not just limited between the Earth and LEO or GEO, but to provide communications systems for an interplanetary internet. This is a driving factor towards what some of the more exotic groups are chasing. Some groups are looking at what kind of internet protocols would be required for such a network.

So being involved with these kinds of developments and being able to work in space and provide this kind of communications infrastructure, that would be fantastic.


David Bullock is the Senior Editor at NewSpace Global. This article originally appeared in NewSpace Watch.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Private Sector Dominated "NewSpace" World for our Next Astronauts

          By Brian Orlotti

Last June, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced the beginning of its fourth astronaut recruitment campaign, seeking two people to become Canada’s next generation of space travelers. After their selection next summer, the two successful applicants will begin their training at NASA.

As outlined in the August 19th, 2016 CBC News post, "Canadian Space Agency says 3,772 applied to be astronauts," the potential astronauts "hail from every province and territory, with 374 living abroad." Those selected after the first round of evaluation will take part in a rigorous selection process lasting almost a year. Two will eventually become astronauts. Graphic c/o CSA.

Recent events, however, indicate that the new astronauts will emerge from their training into a world quite different from when they started.

As outlined in the August 20th Spaceflight Now post, "NASA considers handing over ISS to a private company," NASA revealed during a press conference last week that it is considering transferring control of the International Space Station (ISS) to a private company by the mid-2020s.

The space agency did not reveal specifics as to potential buyers, nor did it elaborate on how it’s ISS partners would be affected by such a deal. Such a move could be the result of shrinking budgets stretching NASA’s resources too thinly, necessitating a shift in the agency’s priorities.

On August 19th, two NASA astronauts successfully installed a new docking port on the ISS. This port, named IDA-2, conforms to the new International Docking Adapter (IDA) standard agreed to by the US, Russia, Canada, the EU and Japan.

This standardized interface will enable private spacecraft from many companies and nations to automatically dock with the ISS without manual intervention, marking a key milestone in the evolution of the commercial space industry, and perhaps less work for the Canadian made Mobile Servicing System (MSS), which is currently used for manual docking.

In addition to the private sector’s increasing role in spaceflight, some governments are considering ramping up their space activities. As outlined in August 21st, 2016 Siasat Daily post, "India must take steps to undertake human space flight mission: Madhavan Nair," there are increasing calls in India for its space agency to begin human spaceflight activity as a way of building on the success of the Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan space probes.

These moves are in parallel to those of the commercial space industry itself. As outlined in the August 19th, 2016 Washington Post article, "the inside story of how billionaires are racing to take you to outer space," these efforts include SpaceX and Blue Origin’s reusable rockets, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, and, ultimately, SpaceX’s planned human missions to Mars.

Brian Orlotti.
Canada's newest astronauts will hold a unique position compared to their predecessors. They will enter the realm of spaceflight amidst a new energy not seen in decades. They will be the product of two worlds; molded by the traditions of the past and spurred on by the opportunities of the future.  

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Part One: So You Want to be a Space Advocate?

An Introduction to our Changing World

                    By Chuck Black 
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014.
It's thesis is that successful advocacy requires: 
  • Strong media skills able to define the problem, craft a compelling narrative and define appropriate solutions 
  • A mechanism to move the narrative forwards by solving the defined problem using those previously identified solutions.
  • A funding network willing to pay for the costs associated with the campaign.
The question of whether or not those three conditions apply in our current aerospace and space environment is open for debate. 

It's a platitude that space exploration is at a crossroads and politicians are struggling to keep up with the changing situation. 

As outlined in the June 13th, 2016 post,"Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," Federal innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, the politician responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Research Council (NRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and quite a number of other science and technology funding agencies, is currently in the midst of "an independent review of billions of dollars of federal funding for science and academics" which is expected to report "before the end of this year." [i]

As outlined in the August 3rd, 2016 Toronto Star post, "Federal ministers are hell-bent on consulting you: Paul Wells," Minister Bains isn't the only Federal politician interested in riding the current wave of change. As outlined in the post, "if you run into a Liberal MP this summer, you will probably not escape without being asked for your input on something or other." [ii]

But these constant changes and upheavals are nothing new.

As outlined in the July 21st, 2009 post "Even Werner Von Braun was Wrong Once in a While," those who led mankind to the Moon forty-five years ago were stubborn individualists and opportunists who embraced risk, endured setbacks, knew failure and were not universally loved or even terribly well respected in life.(iii)

In essence, they disagreed often and made many mistakes, which usually led to more disagreements. This is surprising, especially when you remember that the legacy of the early space age is one of accomplishments, not infighting.

But a legacy of accomplishment might not be an accurate representation of the current generation of space leaders. An example would be the panelists at the “2006 International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Roundtable on Major Space Markets in the Next 20 years and the Corporate Approach for Success.”(iv)

The discussion, held during the 57th International Astronautical Congress in Valencia, Spain from October 2nd - 6th, 2006, was moderated by Virendra Jha (then the VP science, technology and programs for the CSA).

Panelists included Mag Iskander (the executive VP and general manager of space missions for BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), Francois Auque (the CEO of Astrium), Pascale Sourisse (the president and CEO of Alcatel Alenia Space), Dr James Chilton (the VP of Boeing), Nicolay Sevestiyanov, (the president & general designer at ENERGIA) and Professor Sir Martin Sweeting (the CEO of Surrey Satellite Technology).(v)

However, given the pedigree of the panelists, it's amusing to note how each acts amazed at the things that have happened over the last twenty years, then marvels at how most of the changes were unexpected but then states unequivocally that the market has likely stabilized and will now remain essentially the same with one or two predictable exceptions which are logical progressions of existing trends.(vi)

Of course, those panelists haven't turned out to be anywhere near correct, despite their vast knowledge and expertise.

But while ten years perhaps provides us with the benefit of hindsight unavailable to the 2006 panel, the changes expected over the next ten years are likely to dwarf those of the previous ten.

So how can space policy experts most effectively advocate their positions and projects in this brave new world of continuous change, ongoing government reviews and commercial constraints?

Chuck Black.
The first step is to learn from the examples and experiences of others. We'll begin that process in part two of this series.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

[i] "Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," by Henry Stewart. The Commercial Space blog June 13th, 2016 at Accessed August 21st, 2016.
[ii] "Federal ministers are hell-bent on consulting you: Paul Wells," by Paul Wells. The Toronto Star August 3rd, 2016 at Accessed August 21st, 2016. 
[iii] “Even Werner Von Braun was wrong Once in a While,” by Chuck Black. The Commercial Space blog July 21, 2009 at Accessed August 21th, 2016. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] “2006 IAC: Major space markets in the next 20 years” at Accessed August 21th, 2016 
[vi] Ibid.
Next Week: Defining Advocacy as Part Two of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate" continues!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kepler Communications Raises $5Mln in Venture Funding

          By Brian Orlotti

A Toronto-based startup seeking to build an orbital network of low-cost nano-satellite re-transmitters has raised $5Mln USD ($6.4Mln CDN) in venture capital funding.

The Kepler team at the University of Toronto Hatchery on September 10th, 2015. From left to right: Stephen Lau, Mina Mitry, Jeffrey Osborne, Mark Michael and Wen Cheng Chong. Photo c/o Roberta Baker.

Kepler Communications seeks to fill two projected needs:
  • As firms like SpaceX and OneWeb work to build their own satellite networks to provide global internet access, they will be faced with periods of intermittent connectivity when not close to ground stations. Kepler’s system would serve as an orbital network backbone, enabling various satellite networks to talk to each other in orbit rather than routing their traffic via ground stations (which increases network delay and congestion). Kepler’s network would be analogous to the high-speed internet backbones used by terrestrial providers which link different internet exchange points and sub-networks across the globe.
  • Kepler seeks to become a key service provider for the emerging machine-to-machine (M2M) communications (the so-called ‘internet of things’) market both on Earth’s surface and in orbit. M2M encompases such things as embedded sensors in buildings and vehicles to agricultural monitoring to RFID/GPS tracking of shipping containers and much more.
As outlined in the August 9th, 2016 BetaKit post, "Kepler Communications Raises $5 Million Seed Round to Develop In-Space Telecommunications Network," the company plans to use its newly acquired funding to launch its satellites and begin service in 2017.

Kepler Comunications grew out of the Start@UTIAS entrepreneurship program at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS). Established with a $1Mln CDN donation by UTIAS alumnus and Canadian telecom industry veteran Francis Shen, the Start@UTIAS program aims to encourage UTIAS graduate students to establish startup firms. Kepler received $25,000 CAD in initial funding from Shen via Start@UTIAS.

Kepler then launched at the University of Toronto’s ‘Entrepreneurship Hatchery,’ where they won the $20,000 CDN Lacavera Prize in September 2015. Kepler then cycled through two more Toronto-based tech incubators, Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone and The Rotman School’s Creative Destruction Lab, before joining Techstars Seattle in February 2016.

As outlined in the February 25th, 2016 post, "Toronto Based Kepler Communications Has Local Investors & Seattle Internship," Kepler has also assembled a core group of Toronto-based investors and advisers, including:
  • Samer Bishay - A former systems engineer at MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), who moved on to become the president of northern telecommunications provider Ice Wireless, wholesale VoIP service provider Iristel and upstart wireless carrier Sugar Mobile.
  • Tony Lacavera - Founder of Wind Mobile (Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier) and Chairman of Globalive Holdings (a privately held Canadian telecom and investment firm).  Lacavera was formerly Chairman of the Board for NewSpace satellite imagery firm UrtheCast.
  • The York Angel Investors - A Markham, ON-based group of private investors. Several of this organization’s approximately 50 members have provided assistance or contributed funding to Kepler.
Brian Orlotti.
Kepler Communications is an attempt, through founding infrastructure, to stake a Canadian claim to the opening space frontier.

It is also a hopeful sign that Canadians can remain pioneers when we choose to.

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Canadian Space Agency Gave Out Almost $30Mln CDN Last Quarter!

          By Chuck Black

The fourth quarter (typically from January 1st - March 31st) of government procurement has traditionally been the period when the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) gives out the lions share of its grants and contributions to academia and industry. 

The CSA proactive disclosure of grants and contributions awards webpage, which provides a pretty good overview of CSA grants and contributions of over $25K CDN to academia and industry. Federal government departments have been providing this sort of disclosure (with greater or lesser degrees of success) since 2005. Screenshot c/o CSA.

This year was no exception as the CSA first quarter totals (five, as listed on the 2015-16 CSA Disclosure of grants and contributions awards page), second quarter totals (two) and third quarter totals (two) were dwarfed by the 38 grants awarded in the fourth quarter of the 2015 - 2016 CSA budget.

The Q4 awards and grants included:
  • A project called "Astrobiology Training in Lava Tubes (ATILT)" which will provide realistic science training in terrestrial lava tube caves considered high fidelity analogs of Mars lava tubes ($200K CDN). 

The Mars Science Laboratory. Several of the Q4 2016 CSA grants were made to fund continued access to the rover. Graphic c/o

  • The Aniu Experiment, intended to validate and calibrate two cameras for use in detecting frosts in permanently shadowed regions near the Lunar south pole ($200K CDN). 
  • Funding for its Volcanic analogue mission for planetary exploration (VAMPE) proposal to use volcanic terrains on Earth as analogue sites for the testing of new techniques for the future human and robotic exploration of the solar system ($200K CDN). 
Several universities were awarded funding for single studies. These included: 

Raman spectra are shown for the amino acids glutamine (G), alanine (A), proline (P), and cysteine (C)—important biomarkers that could indicate the presence of life beyond Earth. Graphic c/o University of South Carolina.

The NovaSAR synthetic aperture radar satellite (above) was a key reason why Vancouver, BC based Urthecast selected UK based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to work on its proposed 16 satellite constellation, at least according to the June 19th, 2015 Space News article, "UrtheCast Plans Constellation of Optical And Radar Satellites." UrtheCast has received a $2Mln CDN CSA grant to work on a dual frequency, fully polarimetric, digitally beam formed, multichannel SAR receiver exciter, which would be the core element of UrtheCast's proposed constellation. Graphic c/o SSTL.

Several private corporations were also provided grants.

These included ABB Inc. Canada (two grants totaling just over $1Mln CDN), ARTsensing Inc. (one grant of $523K CDN), Honeywell International (listed under its pre-acquisition name of COM DEV Ltd., which received four grants totaling over $4Mln CDN), MPB Communications (one grant of $265K CDN), SED Systems (one grant of $855K CDN) and UrtheCast Corporation (one grant of $2Mln CDN).

Oddly enough, the largest single grant for Q4 was $10.5Mln CDN which covered the annual assessed contribution to the European Space Agency's (ESA) General Budget under the Canada/ESA Cooperation Agreement, for 2016.

Chuck Black.
Which makes sense, given our current government focus on making components for other people's space programs.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

An Overview of the SSL/DARPA On-Orbit Satellite Assembly Program

          By Alan Calder

MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) through its US based Space Systems/Loral (SSL) subsidiary, has announced another contract from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study on-orbit robotic assembly of geostationary communications satellites. The program, called Dragonfly, is designed to enable larger and more powerful satellites that cannot be launched fully assembled, to be packaged in pieces within a standard launch vehicle fairing for assembly in orbit.

The core concepts of the DARPA Dragonfly study have been in place for quite some time. As outlined on the March 26th, 2016 DARPA webpage, "Program Aims to Facilitate Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites," the SSL components of the program are two "Dexterous Robotic Arms and Supporting Technology" which are derived from Canadian technology developed to build the iconic Canadarm and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM). As outlined in the July 31st, 2016 post, "Q2 Canadian Sales Up but MDA's Real Future is Yankee Doodle Dandy," MDA is currently transferring Canadian technology and capabilities to the US in anticipation of future US government sales. Graphic c/o DARPA.

But while the last contract, as outlined in the September 1st, 2015 Space News post, "Space Systems/Loral To Study on-orbit Assembly for DARPA," provided only for a five-month study contract valued at $250K US ($329K CDN), the latest award, as outlined in the July 22nd, 2016 Space News post "SSL wins $20 million DARPA contract to build robotic arms," is far more substantial and covers the actual construction of two robotic manipulator arms for the proposed Dragonfly satellite.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2015 Via Satellite post, "SSL Awarded NASA Contract for Robotic Satellite Assembly," the company has also been promoting its robotics solutions to NASA and other US government agencies.

The two on-satellite robotic arms are expected to be smaller versions of the Canadarm, a remote-controlled mechanical arm, also known as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS) that enjoyed a 30-year career with NASA's space shuttle program. Canadarm2 is a bigger robotic arm which helped build and is currently in service on the International Space Station (ISS).

A 2011 video showing the core concepts surrounding the DARPA Phoenix program. At the time, MDA was independently exploring similar territory with its $280Mln USD ($368Mln CDN) agreement to build a space infrastructure servicing (SIS) vehicle, using Canadarm derived technology. But that program, as outlined in the  January 15th, 2012 post "MDA Satellite Servicing Agreement with Intelsat Expires," collapsed in January 2012. In June 2012, MDA finally succeeded in bypassing entry barriers into the lucrative US marketplace by purchasing SSL, a space company with US roots. As outlined in the June 27th, 2012 post "MacDonald Dettwiler buys Space Systems Loral for $875M," the new acquisition allowed MDA changed its business focus from Canadian government satellite contracts to private sector telecommunication satellites and US military contracts. Best of all were the now accessible DARPA contracts, a prize MDA had long coveted to help commercialize their robotics technology. Screenshot c/o DARPA.

The Dragonfly project is an outgrowth of Darpa’s Phoenix program to demonstrate robotic servicing and re-purposing of spacecraft in geostationary orbit (GEO). Dragonfly not only has the potential to transform the way satellites are built, but could also have positive impact on their service life. It will be easier to replace defective or broken parts of satellites that have been launched in modular pieces by different rockets, and then assembled in orbit. The robotic assembly element of the satellite could also be used for in orbit refueling to prolong the satellite’s operational life.

The ability to safely and cooperatively service satellites in GEO would expand public and private opportunities in space,” Al Tadros, the vice-president of civil and department of defence (DOD) business at SSL, said. “It could enable entirely new spacecraft designs and operations, including on-orbit assembly and maintenance, which could lower construction and deployment costs while extending satellite utility, resilience and reliability.”

In essence, the Canadarm franchise has been the goose that lays the golden eggs for MDA.

Here's hoping for the best with the next egg in their crate.

Alan Calder is the VP of strategic initiatives for the Commercial Space Media Company.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

A Preview of the 14th European Conference on Spacecraft Structures Materials and Environmental Testing

        By Henry Stewart

Rapidly advancing manufacturing technologies like 3D printing and composite materials are driving the evolution of new spacecraft today, along with related developments in areas such as big data, miniaturization and automation.

Constantinos Stavrinides, one of the ESCCMET 2016 conference chairmen, addressing the opening session of the 12th ECSSMET at ESA – ESTEC Noordwijk, in the Netherlands, on March 20th, 2012. He's also worked with Oxfordshire, England based Reaction Engines, to validate concepts for the single-stage-to-orbit Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE). He shares the committee chairman role for ECSSMET 2016 with Pilippe Landiech,  who works in the Orbital Projects Sub-Directorate at CNES. Photo c/o ESA.

In an effort to highlight European firms and organizations with expertise in this area, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES), the national space agency of France, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the national center for aerospace, energy and transportation research for Germany, have come together to organize the 14th European Conference on Spacecraft Structures Materials and Environmental Testing (ECSSMET), which will be held from September 27th - 30th in Toulouse, France.

Attendees comprise the top experts from across European industry, government and academia. The program and technical committee also includes representatives from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), along with significant international participation from China, India, USA, Korea, Turkey and other nations.

The conference program consists of over 200 sessions, covering European advances in spacecraft manufacturing with a broad representation of delegates from institutions, agencies and companies across Europe.

From 1975 until 2001, thirteen conferences were organized by Princeton University which focused on the challenges and opportunities of space based manufacturing. The original events were organized in cooperation with the Space Studies Institute, a not-for-profit organization which grew out of the interest generated by physicist and activist Gerard K. O’Neill’s vision of human colonies in space. and how to build them. For course, no one in 2001 was talking about 3D printing, composite materials or big data. Given that it's been fifteen years since the last space manufacturing conference, perhaps its time to organize another. Graphics c/o NSS.

The primary themes to be considered during presentations, round tables and workshop sessions are outlined on the ECSSMET website. They include:
  • Mechanical architecture, design and engineering
  • Structural dynamics and static loads including shock, hyper-velocity impact and micro-vibration
  • Random and acoustic vibration, analysis and testing
  • Environmental testing and test prediction
  • Structural materials applications (metallic, composite, ceramics) with a dedicated session addressing design and verification of 3D printed/Additive Manufactured parts
  • Thermo-elastically stable structures
  • Damping concepts
  • Inflatable / deployable structure
  • Stochastic analysis and robust design approaches
  • In flight experiments and flight data
  • Damage tolerance and fatigue
So far, the website lists 18 confirmed exhibitors that will be showcasing hardware, software and other systems at the conference. These include Siemens, Altair, ATG Europe, Dimione Systems, Prenscia and European Test Services. Official proceedings from the event are scheduled to be published on or before December 2016.

The conference is being held this year in Toulouse, which is also known as “ville rose” or pink city. The name is a reference to the city's characteristic terra cotta brick architecture. Toulouse is also a burgeoning European high-tech hub and hosts a significant number of leading-edge aerospace and information technology enterprises as well as distinguished research institutions.

Confirmed ECSSMET 2016 Exhibitors. Screenshot c/o ECSSMET.

Among those is the CNES Toulouse Space Centre. As outlined in the September 27th, 2015 Insider Monkey post on the "11 Fastest Growing Cities in Europe," Toulouse is 7th on the list of the fastest growing cities in Europe. The venue, Pierre Baudis Congress Centre, is a modern facility at the edge of Compans Caffarelli Park in central Toulouse.

All and all, it's an appropriate venue to highlight the best of the current crop of companies pushing the newest technologies in spacecraft manufacturing. 


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

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Live Long and Profit

          By Brian Orlotti

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s storied ‘Star Trek’ franchise. It is also the year that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will make public his plans for privately-led human missions to Mars. Though at first glance the two seem unrelated, they are in fact two sides of the same coin; a what-might-have been and a what-may-be.

Two sides of the same coin. Graphics c/o Scifan World & the Pulp Covers website

Star Trek’s core story has become global legend; future astronauts exploring the galaxy in fantastic spaceships, discovering wonders and battling alien foes. The original series tackled prominent social issues of the 1960s, including racial tensions, cold war rivalry and technological change. The Star Trek franchise posits an optimistic vision of the future centered around government-supported, ideal-driven space exploration.

In contrast, private space missions can perhaps find their best allegory in the 1951 science fiction novel "The Man Who Sold the Moon" by famed scifi author Robert Heinlein.

The novel’s plot revolves around Delos David Harriman, a captain of industry obsessed with being the first to travel to—and own—the moon. To raise funds, Harriman exploits commercial and political rivalries in addition to other legal and semi-legal means. To forestall government ownership of the Moon, Harriman exploits a legal loophole to create an international dispute, then offers to step in and administer the moon as a trusted third party.

Elon Musk doing deals. As outlined in the August 1st, 2016 Wall Street Journal post, "Tesla and SolarCity Agree to $2.6 Billion Deal," the entrepreneur has agreed to allow Tesla Motors to buy SolarCity Corp in order to combine his electric-car and solar-energy companies. Photo WSJ.

After a successful first flight and a subsequent rallying of investors to his cause, Harriman begins preparations for a full scale human lunar settlement. However, he is prevented from personally joining the new settlement by his investors, who now consider him too essential to to risk in space.

‘The Man Who Sold the World’ can, perhaps, be seen as an allegory for the NewSpace industry (i.e. SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Planet Labs, etc.). The novel posits space exploration driven by profit and ambition, rather than idealistic/nationalistic sentiments.

Brian Orlotti.
With the decline of government-related space activity and the private sector’s increasingly prominent role, Roddenberry’s vision seems to have taken a back seat to Heinlein’s.

Live long and profit!

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

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