Friday, September 22, 2017

Elevate Toronto; It's Our Time

          By Brian Orlotti

It's not specifically a space conference, but the 1st Elevate Toronto Festival, a three day tech start-up extravaganza held in Toronto, ON last week, dealt with many of the same technological questions, business concerns and features some of the same players. As the global landscape undergoes its most profound political, economic and technological upheavals since World War II, Elevate Toronto even adopted a telling slogan: It’s Our Time.

Toronto Mayor John Tory at the Elevate Toronto Festival in Toronto on September 12th. Photo c/o Brian Orlotti.

The festival, created by returning Canadian expat Silicon Valley techies and backed by Canadian and American investors, struck a confident and uncharacteristically nationalist tone. Spread out over multiple venues, the festival featured speakers from the world’s biggest technology and venture capital firms as well as Toronto’s own vibrant tech startup community.

Divided into multiple tracks such as Elevate AI, Elevate Work, Elevate Health and Elevate FinTech and Blockchain, the festival focused on two main themes:
  • Harnessing Canada’s tech talent to strengthen its economy and global influence, thereby reducing its dependence on an increasingly hostile United States
  • Embracing disruptive new technologies to create new employment and long-term prosperity, rather than simply eliminating jobs for short-term profit

Key highlights from the festival include:
  • An eloquent and surprisingly frank speech from Toronto Mayor John Tory. Tory praised Toronto as a tolerant, safe city with high quality of life even while admitting its challenges with poverty, gridlock and infrastructure. Tory was quite blunt in his admission that Toronto’s government is both inefficient and technically behind the times, dubbing it "two generations behind" in tech practice compared to the business world. To address this, Tory unveiled Toronto’s new Civic Innovation Office, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. This new office will serve as the link between Toronto's government and it's tech industry. It's mandate will be to 'disrupt' City Hall via a series of new 'Civic Challenges' to be unveiled soon. 
  • Canadian Tech Titan Tony Lacavera gave an electrifying presentation in which he stated Canada must purge it's colonial mindset and build Canada's brand on the world stage if it is to stop the leaking of its economic value to foreign powers. Lacavera gave the example of the light bulb actually being a Canadian invention whose patent was purchased by US inventor Thomas Edison. He then put forth the question of why doesn't the Canadian govt hasn’t purchased any Canadian-made D Wave quantum computers (as Google and NASA did) and created an ecosystem around them? Lacavera ended with a slide showing the tagline, ‘It's time to go for the gold.’ Lacavera’s sentiments were greeted with thunderous applause.
  • Vinod Kosla, venture capitalist, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and co-creator of Java spoke about the challenges of fundraising as well as possible uses for artificial intelligence (AI). Kosla framed the current debate over the dangers of sentient AI as wrong, saying that the true danger is rather from non-sentient AI in the hands of "bad actor" nation states and criminals.
  • In a panel discussion entitled ‘Building an AI Ecosystem,’ panelists listed several Canadian advantages vis-a-vis the US in growing its global presence. As the US increasingly restricts  immigration laws to block the hiring of Muslims and other undesirables, Canada's more liberal policies will make it well placed to thrive in the new geopolitical order. In addition, Canada can leverage its advantage in centralized medical record and genetics databases as compared to the US where most such systems are scattered at the hospital and insurance level.
Elevate Toronto proved to be an energizing, patriotic and hopeful event. A welcome addition to Toronto’s array of cultural events, it may well be the crucible in which a great Canadian future is forged.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

First Canadensys Got a Lunar Rover Contract: Then They Scooped 3 Ontario Drive & Gear Engineers

          By Chuck Black

Back in July, Caledon, ON based Canadensys Aerospace picked up a contract from the Waimea, HI based International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) to build instrumentation for the first ILO Lunar Observatory rover.

We live in a small world. As outlined in the July 3rd, 2014 Lunar Enterprise Daily post, "ILOA Partnering With Canadensys Aerospace Corp On ILO-1 Flagship Moon Mission," the partnership between the two organizations goes back several years.The ILOA is also part of the Space Age Publishing Company, which shares links and stories with the Commercial Space blog. Graphic c/o Space Age Publishing Company.

Almost immediately, and in a stunning human resources coupe, Canadensys scooped-up New Hamburg, ON based Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) ARGO VP of engineering Peter Visscher, project manager Perry Edmundson, and senior mechanical designer Peter Woolfrey.

And yesterday, as if to celebrate those acquisitions, Canadensys announced the creation of a Waterloo, ON based "new facility for space mechanical design and advanced manufacturing."

As outlined in the September 21st, 2017 Canadensys press release, "Canadensys announces advanced manufacturing capability in the Waterloo region," the new facility will support the company's "expanding space and exploration initiatives." Of course, the expectation is that the new facility will also support ILOC efforts to build a lunar observatory rover.

And, as outlined in the July 20th, 2017 ILOA post on "The ILO Mission," contract work is advancing through Silicon Valley, CA based Moon Express Inc for "ILO-1 Landing Technology Advanced R&D, with actual ILO-1 spacecraft development by Moon Express to begin in 2018."

According to the post, the Canadensys contribution was a “a flight-ready low-cost optical payload for the ILO-1 mission, ruggedized for the Moon South Pole environment,”  called the "Lunar Optics Program."

A sampling of proposed Moon Express robotic explorers. It's worth noting that Toronto born Moon Express CEO Robert Richards also started out in Canada, but eventually ended up moving to the US to generate funding for his company. Graphic c/o ME.

ODG was evidently sanguine about the  manpower losses. The September 21st, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Canadensys is Expanding its Operations Opening an Advanced Manufacturing Facility in Waterloo," quoted  Joerg Stieber, the chairman of the board at ODG, as stating that his company "had decided to refocus on their terrestrial extreme terrain robots."

Of course, there was also the possibility that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) had run out of money for ODG to research lunar rovers.

As outlined most recently in the April 10th, 2017 post, "General Fusion, exactEarth's Missing (But Insured) Satellite, More CSA Rovers & ULA Drops Launch Costs," those funds were substantial, but depended in the final analysis on acquiring a deal with another international partner, a situation which never materialized.

It's also worth noting that the senior team at Canadensys, including president and CEO Christian Sallaberger, VP of space exploration Nadeem Ghafoor, chief engineer of space exploration Howard Jones and director of strategic development Jim Middleton each started off in far duller and more traditional jobs in either Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) or at the CSA.

We all gotta start somewhere.

Here's hoping that the Canadensys people and their previous employers are able to manage the intellectual property derived from their earlier positions so they can still be utilized by Moon Express, the ILOA and anyone else who wants to use it.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that "Canadensys Aerospace picked up a contract from the Waimea, HI based International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Silicon Valley CA based Moon Express to build the first lunar observatory rover."
That statement was in error. Although both Moon Express and Canadensys do have a customer in common (the ILOA), there is no contractual relationship or formal partnership between Moon Express and Canadensys.
eveChuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Telesat Now Planning 290 Satellite Constellation

          By Henry Stewart

Ottawa, ON based Telesat has confirmed that its proposed 117 satellite low Earth obit (LEO) constellation has now grown to approximately 290 satellites.

Artist’s rendition of a small satellite in LEO. Photo: SSTL

As outlined in the September 13th, 2017 Advanced Television post, "Canada’s Telesat planning 290 satellites," Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg made the announcement to delegates at the recently concluded 2017 Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week, which was held in Paris, France from September 11th - 15th.

Goldberg also told delegates that, under proposed new FCC regulations, Telesat was obliged to launch half of the new fleet, about 140 craft, within six years. The balance, once the second batch of 140 had been launched, would be in-orbit spares/replacements.

As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," Telesat had initially proposed a much smaller fleet.

Telesat CEO Goldberg. Photo c/o SpaceNews/ Kate Patterson.
However, and as first reported in the September 11th, 2017 post, "New FCC Rules a Defeat for SpaceX, But May Signal Opportunity for OneWeb & Telesat," a series of proposed new Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations may have given a competitive advantage to smaller satellite constellation proposals from firms such as Telesat, UK based OneWeb and others as they attempt to compete with Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX and its proposed 4000 plus army of super-fast internet satellites.

The new FCC rules were released for comment and feedback on September 7th and are expected to be approved at the next open FCC meeting on September 26th, 2017. Goldberg and others may be positioning themselves to take advantage of the new rules, once they take effect.

Telesat’s 1st prototype test LEO satellite is currently scheduled for launch in November on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket. A second LEO prototype is also scheduled for launch before the end of the year.

The satellites are built by UK based Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) and Palo Alto, CA based Space Systems/Loral (SSL).

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

The Commercial Space Blog will be at the 18th CASI ASTRO Conference; May 15th - 17th, 2018 in Quebec City, PQ

          By Chuck Black

As outlined by Geoffrey Languedoc, the executive director of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI), the upcoming 18th CASI ASTRO Conference, "promises to be the must-attend space event in Canada next year. We expect top-level speakers from Canadian industry, government and academia, international panels and keynotes, a technical program including over 200 oral and poster presentations and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss."

With a heartfelt promo like that, its no wonder that this blog often attends and covers CASI organized events.

But this year, we decided to try something a little more adventurous. Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black has volunteered to speak and help organize some of the conference sessions relating to commercial start-ups, social media marketing of space activities and maybe even one or two other areas.

In exchange, Languedoc has promised (perhaps only half jokingly) a "small private, soundproof room" where members of the industry can give Commercial Space media representatives an off the record "piece of their minds."

On a less "cathartic" note, participation will also provide the opportunity for this publication to delve a little more deeply into upcoming space focused initiatives in Canada and around the world, and to help push those initiatives out on to the world stage.

The upcoming conference is the latest in a series of astronautics and aeronautics events that CASI holds every year. They are renowned for offering unparalleled opportunities to delegates from industry, academia, defence, security and government to meet and network with colleagues from Canada and around the world.

Another CASI organized and sponsored event. The fourth plenary of the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014), which was held in Toronto, ON from September 29th - October 4th, 2014.  As outlined in the undated CASI IAC 2014 website, IAC 2014 "was a fantastic week of meetings, knowledge sharing and networking with a great line up of events, social programs and informative technical sessions involving industry leaders and heads of space agencies." Several of the most popular and interesting Commercial Space blog articles, including the multi-part, "A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets," and the multi-part "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History," originated as presentations at IAC 2014. This blog is hoping to push out many new stories based on knowledge gained from the upcoming CASI ASTRO. To see the complete video, simply click on the photo above. Photo c/o IAF.

ASTRO 18 will focus on Canadian capabilities, current activities, and prospects for growth domestically and in the international space arena. Five parallel tracks will be offered, as well as a robust Interactive Poster session.

The co-chairs of the ASTRO’18 Technical Committee are Dr. Christian Lange, the deputy of exploration strategic planning at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)  and Dr. Michele Faragalli, the space exploration and advanced technologies manager at Mission Control Space Services Inc.

The deadline for abstract submission is November 1st, 2017. Authors submitting abstracts will be notified by December 15th, 2017. For more information on the 2018 CASI ASTRO, check out the web page at

This blog looks forward to the upcoming ASTRO 18 and the opportunity to meet and greet with the finest of Canada's space community.
eveChuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Politico Revisits Kennedy's Famous "We choose to go to the Moon" Speech

          By Henry Stewart

On the anniversary of president John F. Kennedy's famous "Moon Speech" at Rice University on September 12th, 1962, a new generation of explorers, politicians and adventurers sat down in Washington, DC with the Arlington based Politico News Service to revisit many of the same questions which fascinated Kennedy.

The complete eighty-one minute discussion is available by clicking on the graphic above. Graphic Politico.

The September 12th, 2017 public presentation, sponsored by Colorado based geo-spatial content provider DigitalGlobe (currently being acquired by Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), focused on Kennedy's legacy and how to move forward from it.

Featured speakers at this event included:
  • John Logsdon, the founding director and professor emeritus of the Space Policy Institute, at George Washington University.
  • Alex MacDonald, the senior economic adviser at NASA.
  • Teasel Muir-Harmony, the curator of the space history department, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
  • Bob Richards, the founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley, CA based Moon Express.
  • Secretary Heather Wilson, the principal space adviser at the US Department of Defense.
  • Eric Stallmer, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
The complete discussion, moderated by Politico defence editor Bryan Bender is available online by clicking on the graphic above. It's well worth a look.

And for those of us who'd like to compare the original, in all its glory, to what we say about it today, here's Kennedy's seventeen minute "Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort" from 1962.

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Ukrainian Space Agency Issues Press Release About the Lybid-1 & Building Rockets for Canada

          By Chuck Black

The press service of the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) has announced a meeting between SSAU head Pavlo Dehtiarenko and Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine Roman Waschuk on a topic of "mutual interest in the implementation of a potential of cooperation in the aerospace sphere."

If accurate, the "mutual interests" could certainly affect a variety of projects including the recent Maritime Launch Services (MLS) proposal to place a Ukrainian built Cyclone 4M commercial rocket launching facility in Nova Scotia and the Lybid-1 satellite, built several years back by Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) under contract to the SSAU and with the help of Export Development Canada (EDC), which provided a $254.6Mln CDN loan under "Ukrainian government guarantees to finance the project in the summer of 2009," but which never really got around to being launched.

And the press release certainly does suggest that.
Ambassador Waschuk. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

But while it's likely a reasonably accurate representation of what the SSAU would like to see moving forward, only when the Ukrainian wish is combined with three Canadian dollars do you start to get a sense of its true value, which taken together adds up to only the cost of a large cup of coffee at Starbucks.

As outlined in the September 12th, 2017 Interfax Ukraine new agency post, "Ukraine, Canada start creating contract and legal base for developing cooperation in aerospace area," both sides have:
...pointed out the importance of creating the contract and legal base for promising partnership and supported the idea that the memorandum of understanding between SSAU and the Canadian Space Agency on cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space. 
At the meeting the sides also discussed urgent issues of the project being implemented with the participation of Ukraine and Canada and plans of promising cooperation on the global space market...
According to the e-mail:
Canada approved SSAU's measures to solve financial, organization and technical problems to complete the project on the creation of the National satellite communications system of Ukraine and the launch of the Ukrainian satellite Lybid. 
The creation of a launch complex in Canada with participation of private companies from the Ukrainian and Canadian space sector (has also been) determined as a priority direction for developing partnership in the aerospace area.
As for whether these meetings will have an real effect on Canadian/ Ukrainian cooperation, that's still up in the air. Certainly the Ukraine is hoping for the best although they might need Russian cooperation to move forward.

For more on the real situation behind the Lybid-1 satellite, check out the December 12th, 2016 post, "exactEarth, Lybid-1, the CSA (which Needs more Committees) and the Upcoming 2017 Earth Observation Summit."

For more on what it would actually take to build the MLS Cyclone 4M rocket and launch it in Canada, check out the September 08, 2017 post, "CATA Rage, Liberal Strategy, Space Advisory Board Tactics & Yuzhnoye Can't Manufacture Some Cyclone 4M Parts."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, September 11, 2017

New FCC Rules a Defeat for SpaceX, But May Signal Opportunity for OneWeb & Telesat

          By Chuck Black

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released its proposed updates to the rules for non-geostationary-satellite orbit (NGSO) fixed-satellite service constellations and reasonably expects that the new rules will be adapted by majority vote at the next open FCC meeting, currently scheduled for September 26th, 2017.

An overview of Musk's plan. As outlined in the November 17th, 2016 International Business Times post, "Space invader Elon Musk to swarm Earth with 4,425-strong army of superfast internet satellites," the eccentric entrepreneur and Tony Stark doppelganger has asked the FCC for approval to launch thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit. And he's not the only one. As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," there are quite a few others. Screenshot c/o IBT.

But those updates, posted online as the September 7th, 2017 FCC Fact Sheet, "Updating Rules for Non-Geostationary-Satellite Orbit Fixed-Satellite Service Constellations; Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, IB Docket No. 16-408," could mark a major defeat for Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, which intends to launch several thousand satellites into orbit over the next several years.

On the other hand, those same rules could also signal opportunity for UK based OneWeb and Ottawa based Telesat, who are hoping to do much the same.

As outlined in the September 8th, 2017 Telecom, Media and Finance (TMF) Associates blog post, "Me first, no me…," the key text on the geographic scope of the FCC’s in-line interference avoidance rule, that requires the spectrum to be shared equally between NGSO systems when their satellites are aligned with one another, marks "a major defeat for SpaceX," because the FCC will need to defer to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an international body which uses a “first-come, first-served” coordination procedure and allows for non-US satellite systems operating outside the US to take precedence in some cases.

According to the FCC Fact Sheet:
While SpaceX argues that it (the FCC) should govern such operations worldwide, a grant of market access typically considers radio frequency operations only within the United States. 
Sharing between systems of different administrations internationally is subject to coordination under Article 9 of the ITU Radio Regulations. We believe this international regime is the appropriate forum to consider NGSO FSS radio frequency operations that fall outside the scope of a grant of U.S. market access. Because ITU coordination procedures do not apply between two U.S. systems, our coordination trigger of ΔT/T of 6 percent will govern such operations both within and outside the United States.
In essence, since OneWeb is licensed by the UK and Telesat by Canada, and those nations have domestic priority over their airspace through the ITU, SpaceX will have to operate on a "non-interference basis" with respect to these systems outside of the US when it comes to deciding how to deal with any potential constellation interference.

If the competition launches first, they might even end up with priority, under the proposed rules. The FCC changes are also expected to benefit satellite networks backed by SES Networks’ O3b and Space Norway, whose constellations are not intended to provide all-US coverage.

Of course, SpaceX doesn't like the plan.

According to the TMF post, the proposed ruling "represents a big problem for SpaceX, which needs to find another line of business outside of launch to justify its latest $21Bln US ($25.4Bln CDN) valuation."

The ruling could even "force SpaceX to completely reconsider its strategic approach to its proposed Low Earth Orbit broadband constellation."

As outlined in the September 11th, 2017 Teslarati post, "SpaceX’s internet satellite strategy faces possible setback after FCC decision,"  SpaceX had specifically "requested that the FCC apply their non-interference rules for lower orbit communications satellites to internet constellations operating both inside and outside the physical United States," and is quite disappointed that the FCC has decided not to do so.

Teslarati is the Tesla Motors blog, another firm controlled by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, so it presumably knows what it's talking about.

On the other hand, as outlined in the September 8th, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "U.S. regulators propose to relax satellite constellation in-service, coverage rules," there are a least a few FCC rule changes which are expected to assist the SpaceX program.

The lowering of the proposed in-service requirements to 50% of the proposed constellation within six years will benefit all satellite constellation operators, except perhaps OneWeb. The current rules require complete deployment within six years and OneWeb is on track to make this milestone.

Other proposed FCC changes also enjoy broad support.

As for Telesat, the TMF post claims that the company is sitting pretty and will "wait until next summer before deciding how to move forward, presumably expecting to have a wide variety of suitors once its ITU priority status is recognized."

OneWeb also has a Canadian connection. As outlined in the May 3rd, 2016 post, "OneWeb Goes to Gatineau," the company has partnered by Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and applied to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to provide broadband access to remote Canadian communities, using its satellite network.

As for TMF, the company is, at least according to it's website, a "consulting and research firm based in Menlo Park, CA. We focus on business planning, technical analysis, financial and spectrum valuations and expert witness services in the satellite and telecom sectors and have particular expertise in mobile satellite services (MSS), where we have worked for almost all of the leading operators over the last decade."

As the old saying goes, sometimes it's hard to tell the players without a scorecard.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Long Running Cassini Spacecraft Prepares For A Fiery Farewell In Saturn's Atmosphere

          From the Space Age Publishing Company

The sensational Cassini spacecraft is set for its grand finale plunge into Saturn starting 04:37 am EDT on Friday, September 15th. Final communication and craft disintegration is expected to occur 1,510 km above Saturn cloud tops at 07:54 am.

As outlined in the September 8th, 2017 NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory video post, "NASA's Cassini Spacecraft: A Journey's End," the epic, thirteen year Cassini mission to Saturn is coming to a close. On Sept. 15, the spacecraft "will make a planned plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn in order to protect pristine icy moons that warrant future exploration." Screenshot c/o JPL.

Cassini data will continue to provide revolutionary insight into Saturn, its complex rings, magnetic environment, giant storms, Solar System evolution and moons Enceladus with its icy jets and Titan liquid ethane and methane lakes and seas.

Launched together with Cassini on October 15th, 1997 the Huygens probe provided the first close up images of Titan and is the only landing accomplished in outer Solar System.

A joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency, the development of Cassini began in 1980s and thousands of people have contributed, many dedicating most of their careers to the significant mission.

Contributors include (TL-R) Program Secretary Karen Chan, Project Scientist Linda Spilker, Program Manager Earl Maize, and Propulsion Engineer Todd Barber.

As Cassini winds down, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft is expected to wake up on September 11th, 2017 for tests and instrument checks prior to its upcoming encounter with Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2017 MU69 at 12,500 km or closer on January 1st, 2019.

Recent observations indicate the KBO, discovered in June 2014 about 44 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, could be a primordial 4-billion year old binary object with two lobes of diameters 20 and 18 km. New Horizons has the potential to observe around 20 other KBOs if the mission is extended further.

According to principal investigator Alan Stern (BL), "new exploration awaits us and promises a scientific bonanza for the flyby."

This story was originally published in the September 11-17, 2017 online edition of the Space Calendar Weekly (Vol 36, No 37).

The Space Age Publishing Company, publishes the Lunar Enterprise Daily and Space Calendar weekly. It operates offices on Hawai‘i Island, Hawaii and in Palo Alto, California. The Commercial Space blog exchanges banners, and sometimes stories, with them. 

For more, check out the best space calendar in existence at the Space Age Publishing Company...

Friday, September 08, 2017

CATA Rage, Liberal Strategy, Space Advisory Board Tactics & Yuzhnoye Can't Manufacture Some Cyclone 4M Parts

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of September 4th, 2017, amidst the growing realization that a top down, centralized Federal strategy mandating and defining the future path of our space industry via large government programs might not be the right way to proceed, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Federal finance minister Bill Morneau outlines the Liberal’s new tax strategy during a briefing in Ottawa on December 7th, 2015. As outlined in the December 7th, 2015 MacLeans post, "Bill Morneau on tax cuts and fiscal realities," the current Liberal government has promised to balance the Federal budget in 2019. Photo c/o Canadian Press/ Adrian Wyld.

  • New federal tax legislation, currently aimed at closing loopholes exploited by the richest Canadians could end up penalizing the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) owners and entrepreneurs who serve as the backbone of Canada’s innovation economy. At least that's the story outlined in the August 30th, 2017 IT Business post, "New tax legislation would penalize entrepreneurs, stifle innovation, CATA says." 
The article quoted Paul Labarge, a member of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) Innovation Leadership Council and co-founder and partner of Ottawa law firm Labarge Weinstein, as stating that the changes "would functionally see the CRA treating entrepreneur and employee earnings exactly the same way every tax season, with no accounting for either the increased risk experienced by business owners, or the greater resources enjoyed by enterprise and government employees."
As announced in July, 2016 by Federal finance minister Bill Morneau (with feedback expected on October 2nd), the proposed tax code changes have been framed by the Liberal government as a simple amendment to existing rules to prevent the richest Canadians from “unfairly exploiting” rules designed to help businesses grow and ensure that people of similar income levels pay similar amounts of taxes.
It's an interesting debate just so long as we remember that taxes and tax "loopholes" almost always effect small business more than large, multinational corporations or the very rich, no matter what the experts might think. 
It's also a useful reminder that private efforts, not multi-year centralized, externally imposed long-term business plans, are the real innovation drivers in Canada. 

Graham Gibbs. Photo c/o My Canada.
Our space industry and Federal government should take note. 
  • Of course, not every public policy maker is willing to dismiss the subtle esteem and influence they inherit through their position.
An example of this would be Canada's recently retired space agency representative in Washington DC, Graham Gibbs who, as outlined in the September 7th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Rationale and Framework for a Canadian National Space Policy," has taken it upon himself to critique the August 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report "Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard." 
That report, as outlined in the August 25th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs'," was mostly about SAB members coming clean and admitting they weren't done yet, but wanted a chance to complete their report and retain their positions. 
But Gibbs, while mostly focused on what to clarify and who to include when writing the final report, also noted some useful and until now mostly unacknowledged context.
Chief is the fact that the SAB had been tasked only to "inform a national space policy" which is all about offering suggestions regarding procedures and generating public support for existing policies; but doesn't include defining or creating any new ones. 
Unfortunately, the development of new policies was kinda what most of the participants were really looking for.
However, and as mentioned in this blog numerous times in the past, "space policies" are highly political discussions which often demand new ideas, new funding and additional incentives to bring aboard longstanding government stakeholders and/or contractors. 
Our current domestic space industry, hasn't really ever been able to lead the government towards crafting one, although there have been several recent attempts.
A scanned copy of the lower section of page three of the September 13th, 2015 Toronto Star. As outlined in the article, both the federal NDP and the federal Liberal party committed to developing a long-term space plan (LTSP) during the October 2015 Federal election. As reported in the January 19th, 2013 post, "Praising Steve MacLean," the last LTSP, developed in secrecy by then CSA president Steve MacLean in 2009, was rejected by the federal government because of its high cost, and finally superseded by the David Emerson led aerospace review in 2012. LTSP's  Scan c/o the Toronto Star
Most notable were the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review and the 2015 election promises from both the Federal Liberal and NDP parties to craft a new "long-term space plan" if elected.
Initially, the new SAB, announced in spring 2016, was considered to be the Liberal fulfillment of this political promise. 
Now its not, although Gibbs is perhaps the first to acknowledge this publicly.
Gibbs also noted that the last Federal government space policy document was a 1974 document issued by the then Ministry of State for Science and Technology (MOSST). All the rest, including the various long-term space plans (but with the notable exception of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which he called "a good start") were simply documents designed to "inform" but not alter.
Now that the most current SAB report has been publicly denounced as being as dead as the parrot in the Python sketch, the stage is now set for SAB conclusions to be disavowed by the Federal government, no matter what they might eventually end up looking like.
And now we also know why the original SAB, as announced in the November 19th, 2014 post, "Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members," never published a final report.
They were just too smart. 
A cluster of three two-chamber RD-250 (8D518) engines formed a six-chamber RD-251 (8D723) propulsion system of the R-36 rocket. Image c/o RussianSpaceWeb.

  • Speaking of smart asses, a well respected journalist focused on Russian space activities doesn't think the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau is capable of building any complete models of the Cyclone 4M rockets which it has promised to beginning launching out of Canso, Nova Scotia, starting in 2018.
As outlined in the September 5th, 2017 Russian Space Web post, "The RD-250 engine at the center of an international storm," journalist Anatoly Zak, as part of a larger article on the history of the Soviet era rocket engines and their modern day derivatives, has concluded that there are multiple components on various models of the rocket, which are only available through Russia.
Since Russia and the Ukraine have been on the outs lately, this has obvious consequences for the building of any Canadian launch facility. According to the article:
The newly proposed Tsyklon-4M aimed to fly from a new spaceport of Canso in Canada, would rely on a newly developed Ukrainian engine — the RD-870 — burning non-toxic cryogenic oxidizer (which also makes the engine largely useless for military purposes). 
The RD-870 will employ all the key components of the Soviet-era RD-120 engine (the genesis of most current Yuzhnoye rocket designs, including the  Tsyklon-4 and its Canadian derivative, the Tsyklon/Cyclone-4M), which was also mass-produced in Ukraine, for the exception of its combustion chamber made in Russia. 
The newly proposed Ukrainian version of the engine would use an available cache of 50 combustion chambers still retained at the KB Yuzhnoe design bureau. These combustion chambers were intended for Soviet-era ballistic missiles, but their production line was dismantled after the end of the Cold War... 
Even with available combustion chambers, Ukrainian engineers are still facing an uphill battle in manufacturing the RD-870, especially after a complete breakdown of cooperation with Moscow during the Crimean crisis in 2014. Without a supply of key construction materials from Russia, the RD-870 program has huge challenges to transition from paper to metal and the problem has remained unresolved until now. 
Anatoly Zak. Photo c/o RussianSpaceWeb.
The article also noted that the development of the Tsyklon/Cyclone-4M rocket and its supporting facilities has turned out to be a substantially more intensive program than originally anticipated.
According to the article, "the Tsyklon-4M program would be the first significant step in the process of building a fully Ukrainian space launcher, resembling the Russian effort in the 1990s to develop the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle." 
Zak also provided a far higher cost for the aborted Ukrainian-Brazilian Cyclone-4 rocket facility which predated the Canadian rocket program and used much of the same technology:
The total price tag for the fruitless Tsyklon-4 (Ukrainian Brazilian) project was estimated at more than $900Mln US, with as much as $400Mln US spent by Ukraine. 
However, KB Yuzhnoe (Yuznoye) hoped to re-use much of the engineering experience gained in the failed enterprise in the newly proposed Tsyklon-4M (Canadian) rocket...
As first reported in the September 11th, 2016 post, "Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket," Yuzhnoye has been authorized by the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) to establish a launch base for its Cyclone-4M rocket in North America. 
Early this year, the company pledged to set up a Canadian launch facility in Nova Scotia.
For more, check out upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Hurricane Irma Satellite Images Flooding the Internet

          By Chuck Black

It's bigger and expected to be badder. But it's also terribly photogenic, newsworthy and tracked using space based assets.

As outlined in the September 7th, 2017 Washington Post article, "What’s in the path of Hurricane Irma," the storm could reach the Florida coast this weekend. For more satellite images of Hurricane Irma, check out this Google image search. Graphic c/o Washington Post

Satellite images of Hurricane Irma, currently considered to be the largest tropical cyclone ever tracked using modern methodologies, have dominated the internet in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Texas coast last week.

Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which makes Irma's almost immediate follow-on storm unexpected, at least to meteorologists and weather experts.

But Wilma was also the climax of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which included three of the top ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever. At the time, Wilma was considered the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin (its now second), Hurricane Rita was considered fourth, and Hurricane Katrina was considered seventh (even after earning notoriety as the "costliest" natural disaster in the history of the United States).

And now it looks like two more tropical storms are are forming close behind Irma. As outlined in the September 6th, 2017 Fortune Tech post, "Satellite Image Shows Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Katia in One Powerful Portrait," the latest satellite imagery shows the unusual sight of "three hurricanes spiraling in the Atlantic at the same time."

All three storms are currently being tracked by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The system provides atmospheric and surface measurements of the Earth’s western hemisphere for weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, space weather monitoring and meteorological research.

Three GOES satellites are currently available for operational use:
  • GOES-14, launched in June 2009 and currently parked in orbit awaiting orders from the ground. The satellite will be reactivated should one of the other GOES satellites be damaged or if extra capacity is required. 
  • GOES 15, launched in March, 2010.
GOES-16, launched in November 2016, is currently undergoing acceptance testing and is expected to be declared fully operational in November 2017.

As outlined on the August 12th, 2017 update of the Government of Canada "Satellite Images and Animation," web page, the Canadian government makes substantial use of the GOES satellites and a variety of other NOAA capabilities for weather forecasting and and other uses.

Here's hoping we never need to use those satellites to plan an evacuation and avoid a natural disaster.  That's what the American's in Texas and Florida are dealing with right now.

Until then, NOAA satellites and the other space and terrestrial based assets being used by the various weather and disaster preparedness agencies, are helping to give us a leg up on the current situation.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

In Toronto, You Can Take the Bus to the Beach

The Commercial Space blog will be taking the September long weekend off to enjoy the beach, the Canadian National Exhibition and the waning lights of summer, but we'll return with all new stories, beginning September 8th.

Until then, here's a wild romp through the streets of Toronto with the Shuffle Demons rapping about their favorite form of public transit.

It's worth noting that, in at least one Canadian city, you can take a bus to the beach...

MacDonald Dettwiler is Part of an Alberta Based Agrifood ‘Supercluster’ Proposal

          By Chuck Black

This blog has never been terribly kind to Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), but when the company does something right, its important to acknowledge those actions. 

An overview of precision farming technologies from the October 9th, 2012 GIS Lounge post, "Geospatial Technologies in Precision Agriculture," highlighting the use of satellites to provide an overview of crops and weather which can be utilized by farmers on the ground. MDA's contribution to farming could include the capabilities of various satellites such as the Canadian RADARSAT-2, the upcoming RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) and the various Earth imaging satellites owned and operated by MDA subsidiary DigitalGlobe. Graphic c/o GIS Lounge.

And MDAs recent decision to partner with Calgary, AB based potash and agricultural powerhouse Agrium Inc. along with Olds, AB based Olds College, in order to submit an application for the creation of an agrifood “supercluster” under the recently announced Federal government $950Mln Innovation Supercluster Initiative (ISI), is certainly worth a few kudos.

Details of the proposal are currently sketchy. However, as outlined in the August 23rd, 2017 Manitoba Co-operator post, "Trio of groups proposes Alberta-based agrifood ‘supercluster,'" the group goals include "promoting innovation in cropping, livestock, digital and agrifood processing technologies," and is “intended to create a pan-Canadian platform to help the sector’s diverse, and sometimes disparate, ‘silos’ align more coherently to identify and resolve challenges in the agrifood value chain.”

If funded, the "Smart Agri-Food Super Cluster," would be administered from Calgary but would "seek out partners from across the country.

As outlined in the August 3rd, 2017 post, "Satellite Canada Applies for Innovation SuperCluster Funds," the MDA team is only one of dozens of organizations vying for Supercluster funds and it's not the only proposal intending to utilize space based assets or even the only proposal with MDA's name attached.

But it does have a good sense of the traditional role of Canada's space industry, which has typically been used to solve practical Earth bound problems and help tie the country together. 

As outlined originally in the March 16th, 2017 post, "Part 1: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History," Canada's aerospace raison d'être:
...has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location...
The Agrium, Olds College, MDA proposal is focused on the utilization of Canada's natural resources and, because of this focus, will likely fare reasonably well when the Federal government decides which proposals to support.

This will contrast with some of the other proposals which focus on "exploration," lack concrete aims, stress component building to maintain international partnerships but shy away from original innovations/ complete systems and/or focus primarily on "science" to the exclusion of any practical application.

For this, MDA and its partners should be congratulated. They've got the business case down cold. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Terrence ("Terry") Harvey Ussher (May 28th, 1930 - August 22nd, 2017)

          By Chuck Black

Terry Ussher in an undated photo. Photo c/o
Terence ("Terry") Harvey Ussher, the program manager for the development of the first Canadarm at Spar Aerospace, has died.

Ussher, along with Spar VP of marketing (later president) John MacNaughton (1932 - 2006) and National Research Council (NRC) program managers Karl Doetsch and Gary Lindberg, were the best known of many Canadians shepherding our space program through its early days.

As outlined in his August 26th, 2017 Globe and Mail obituary under the title, "USSHER, Terence Harvey," Ussher was never satisfied with mediocrity:
In 1983, Canadarm was deployed on Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-2 mission where it was first tested in orbit. 
While our dad fretted that the 'Arm' might fail with 'Canada' tattooed on its' side, it performed flawlessly and gained international acclaim for Canada's space program. 
As the Program Manager for Canadarm at SPAR Aerospace, its' success was the pinnacle of a brilliant career borne of a passion for astronomy and space exploration. 
Ussher worked on the US Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs. He is survived by his wife Ellen, sister Mary Brown, his children, Susan, John and Carolyn, their spouses Monica and Derek and his grandchildren, Katie, Sarah, Natalie, Jack and Luke.

A 1991 Toronto Star file photo showing Dr. Karl Doetsch, Dr. Garry Lindberg, John MacNaughton and Terry Ussher checking out the Canadarm as a preliminary to handing it off to NASA. Photo c/o Virtual Reference Library.

Friends and family may pay their respects at the Turner & Porter Yorke Chapel in Toronto on Wednesday, August 30th, 2017, from 10 am until the service begins in the Chapel at 11:00 am.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lacavera Elevating Canada and Canadian Technology

          By Brian Orlotti

The 1st Elevate Toronto Festival, a three day tech start-up extravaganza taking place in Toronto, ON from September 12th - 14th,  has just published its speaker list. Among these is a figure well-connected with Canada’s NewSpace industry; Anthony ‘Tony,’  Lacavera, and two up-and-coming space firms.

Tony Lacavera at the at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, ON in January 2016. As outlined in the January 18th, 2016 BetaKit post, "Tony Lacavera Commits to Series A & B Investments Following "Meaningful" Wind Exit," the Toronto based entrepreneur was on-hand to kick off 2016’s MaRS Mornings speaker series. According to Lacavera, his goal "is to keep more companies in Canada." Photo c/o BetaKit.

Lacavera, founder of Globalive Holdings (a telecom provider and investment firm) and wireless carrier Wind Mobile (now Freedom Mobile), is a former Chairman of the Board for Vancouver-based satellite imagery firm UrtheCast as well as a key investor in Toronto-based nano-satellite startup Kepler Communications.

In January 2016,  Lacavera, via Globalive, established a $100Mln CDN venture capital fund as a follow-on to a series of investments he made in various Toronto tech firms over the previous year.

The fund was intended to plug what Lacavera considered a strategic hole in the Canadian startup landscape. Canada has ample support for entrepreneurs just starting out, and once they achieve success, US venture firms or investors like Toronto-based OMERS Ventures are there to provide tens of millions of dollars.

Between those stages lay a funding gap, which Lacavera’s fund is designed to fill by providing mid-level funding rounds of between $5-25 Mln CDN.

In an January 13th, 2016 Computer Dealer News post, "Globalive CEO Tony Lacavera on how Canada can become a leader in AI," Lacavera said that he felt that Canada has the potential to become a world leader in fields such as artificial intelligence, fintech, machine-learning, autonomous vehicles, and quantum computing, though its institutions must step up their efforts to fulfill it.

He also stressed that Canada’s efforts must go beyond mere presentations and broad allocations of resources; Canada must narrow its actions and focus on areas where it can win. Towards that end, in 2017, Lacavera, now co-chair of startup-funding charity NEXT Canada, revealed a new initiative, NextAI.

NextAI, an artificial intelligence startup funding program, has received  $5.15Mln CDN in initial backing from a series of high-profile donors including the Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank and Magna International.

Lacavera has framed the new venture as the Canadian private sector’s contribution to such AI-supportive government organizations as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which he said had provided Canada with a “small but fleeting competitive advantage” in the field.

As quoted in the January 26th, 2017 IT World Canada post, "Tony Lacavera, RBC, Magna among backers behind new AI funding program," Lacavera said that initiatives like NextAI are needed to stop the US brain drain of Canadian tech talent:
Despite excelling on the research front, in recent years the AI brain drain has become more and more profound, as so much of our top talent leaves for Silicon Valley and beyond. 
At NextAI, our aim is to stop and reverse this brain drain and actually attract the best and the brightest from around the globe to Canada – and the only way we’re going to ensure Canada continues to make its way in artificial intelligence is if we make it the best environment possible for both creation and innovation.
Lacavera’s moves and the Elevate Toronto Festival may have come at just the right moment for Canada. As relations with the United States become increasingly acrimonious, as made evident by President Trump’s recent threats to unilaterally cancel NAFTA, Canada must strive to reduce its economic dependence on the US and finally adopt a more global mindset
Brian Orlotti.

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs

          By Chuck Black

Amidst all the sound and fury of their "urgent call to action," and requests to "designate" space as a "national strategic asset," (whatever that might happen to mean) the essential truth of the August 18th, 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report, released under the title, "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard: Space Advisory Board, August 2017," is that it's not quite done yet.

Sometimes, what's said isn't what's heard, especially when it comes to politics. For more background on what was really said during the SAB consultations, check out the August 18th, 2017 post, "Three Academics With a Paper on Canada's Future in Space," the April 20th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Committee Members Announced: Various Stakeholders Release Independent Assessments, Just in Case," and the public records of various SAB meetings, which were held in Ottawa (April 21st, 2017), Halifax (April 28th, 2017), St. Hubert (May 5th, 2017), Calgary (May 10th, 2017), Vancouver (May 12th, 2017), Toronto (May 16th and 17th, 2017) and online (May 18th and 19th, 2017). Graphic c/o

As outlined on the bottom of page eleven of the nineteen page final report, under the title "Key Proposal," the SAB suggests the development, "in time for the next federal budget (which is expected to be presented to the House of Commons in March 2018), a new space strategy and follow-on space plan that provides the policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity."

No wonder its a key proposal. The current document, which everyone agrees lacks "the  policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity," isn't really much good for anything except pushing off any final political reckoning.

But in order to atone for failing to come up with the serious and actionable policies which most reasonable observers had expected to be completed by June 2017, the SAB members have offered to remain "involved someway in the implementation of the Space Strategy," once it's developed.

That's quick thinking on their part.

It kinda sounds like they had fun making the report, would like a hand in developing the newly promised March 2018 report/ budget input paper (the one which includes the "policies, programs and funding") and want to follow through on the generalizations presented in the current report.

Of course, they might just mostly want to make their jobs permanent.

The  December 21st, 2016 Ottawa Citizen post, "If the port of Churchill is a strategic asset, then why did the Canadian government allow it to close?" questions the utility of designating something as a  "national" or "strategic asset," without supporting legislation or a strong case (business or otherwise) to back up the claim.  For more on what the term has historically meant under the Investment Canada Act, check out the the August 22nd, 2012 Dan Herman's blog post, "Defining a strategic asset – maybe." It's worth noting that the definition relates to the ability of a foreign company to buy a Canadian based firm. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld.

As outlined in the report, the original mandate of the SAB was to:
...conduct outreach and consultations with stakeholders on a vision that: 
  • Encourages a growing and sustainable space sector in the long term. 
  • Inspires Canadians and attracts talent. 
  • Contributes to scientific advancement and the development of emerging technologies; and 
  • Supports companies to scale-up as well as clean growth”
The Minister asked the Space Advisory Board to report on its findings in order to “inform the new space strategy which will use space to drive broader economic growth and innovation while inspiring the next generation of space scientists.”
But the outreach and consultations were held under Chatham House rules where, as outlined on the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House website, "participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed." The intent is to provide anonymity to speakers and "encourage openness and the sharing of information," but the rules often lead to generalizations (since all participants can use the knowledge gained at the meetings when they leave) and insure an overall lack of accountability.

Even worse, participants were discouraged from discussing specific policies or policy changes during the discussions. At the request of the Justin Trudeau Liberal government, the SAB was specifically tasked to build a document to "inform," but not develop, define or create anything which could be mistaken for a new space policy or long-term space plan.

Which, of course, was a large part of the reason why the report was subtitled "What We Heard" instead of "What We Concluded."

The members of the SAB gave the Federal government exactly what they were asked to give when, as outlined in the April 18th, 2017 government of Canada post, "Government of Canada renews Space Advisory Board," the government reformed the board earlier this year. In exchange, board members might even get new part time jobs, if the government reacts positively to their request.

It's just a damn shame they weren't able to provide a document of use to the industry and all the people who participated in those meetings. Some were even counting on them.

So here we go again. The next stop is March 2018.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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