Monday, July 24, 2017

NWT Businessman "Perturbed" By Response to Private Sector Inuvik Ground Station Proposal

          By Chuck Black

According to Tom Zubko, the president of  Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks, "we don't seem to be having any trouble selling our high technology companies to the Chinese, but we're certainly having trouble finding a way to licence our allies to work in Canada when they want to provide a useful service to northern communities, especially when those allies have demonstrated that they want to work with us and received licenses in their home jurisdictions to do so."

Those who argue that the present confusion in Inuvik between the Federal government owned ISSF and the privately owned CSGSI can be resolved with new legislation, don't really know the whole story. As outlined in the May 5th, 2016 Northern News Service Online post, "Satellite station boss opposes proposal for second facility," there is tension between the two facilities which certainly supersedes existing and potential legislation, and may relate to the differences between the cultures of small privately held "newspace" companies, large legacy aerospace firms and the publicly owned government facilities they both use and sometimes build. MDA Geospatial Services is the prime contractor on the government owned ISSF. According to a July 24th, 2017 e-mail from MDA marketing manager Wendy Keyzer, MDA has "no further comment on the issue." Screenshot c/o Northern News Service Online.

Zubko was not just referring to the recent sale of Richmond, BC based Norsat International Inc. by Chinese based Hytera Communications after a hard fought battle with Atlanta based Privet Fund Management, as outlined most recently in the July 6th, 2017 post, "Avoiding "Norsat Like Uncertainty" by Allowing the Chinese to More Easily Buy Advanced Canadian Companies."

He was also referring to the difficulties his clients were having licensing a privately owned ground station complex in Inuvik for San Francisco, CA based Earth imaging company Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), instead of working through the Canadian government owned Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF).

"I got involved in the front end in 2007 to see if it was worthwhile to set up as a service," said Zubko during a recent phone interview with this blog. "We helped build the first thirteen metre ISSF satellite dish in 2009 and contributed a second in 2010."

Tom Zubko. Photo c/o author.
But, in 2015, Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) was awarded with a Federal government contract providing "exclusivity" to the site, which included licensing on behalf of the ISSF for all clients.

About that time, at least according to Zubko, everything started going south.

"My clients, San Franscisco based Earth imaging company Planet and KSAT, had information they felt was proprietary and didn't want to give to MDA," said Zubko.

After much negotiation, his clients failed to resolve their impasse with MDA and decided to build their own facility, which eventually became the Canadian Satellite Ground Station Inuvik Inc. (CSGSI).

The new facility was supported by the local community and the government of the Northwest Territories which had committed to building a $100Mln CDN fibre optic line from Alberta to link to the ground station facilities and the community.

This new line, completed in June 2017 is now operational, but the CSGSI ground station remains idle while Ottawa completes its review process and continues to support the government owned ISSF facility.

According to Zubko, the new facility also caused MDA to sever ties between New North Networks and the ISSF. "They pulled my security clearance," he said, which made it difficult, since Zubko's clients couldn't work with him anymore and now needed to work through MDA.

To be fair to MDA, Zubko thinks its actions were at the behest of the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation ( CCMEO), the Federal government agency responsible for the ISSF.

"MDA acted as a messenger, no more," he feels. "Our problems with the Federal government relate to price, licensing requirements and time frame for approval," said Zubko. "We first broke ground for the CSGSI facility in April 2016 and by October of the same year we had competed the two larger and five smaller dishes for the facility. But since then, we've had nothing."

As outlined in the May 1st, 2017 New North Networks Ltd., ten page"information note" under the title: "The Challenges of Private Satellite Development in Inuvik, Northwest Territories," three main issues affect "the development, growth and sustainability of the space sciences sector in the Northwest Territories." None of the points listed are terribly complementary to the Federal government. To download the complete document, simply click on the image above. Document c/o New North Networks.

According to Zubko, it's taken longer to complete the paperwork for the application than it took to build the actual facility and a resolution doesn't seem to be in sight.

However, as outlined in the July 19th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Natural Resources Canada in Apparent Conflict of Interest Over Ground Station Licensing," there is at least one organization, the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, which thinks it has some idea of how to craft a solution. According to the article, the implementation of a new "general outer space act," to replace the existing legislation will appropriately regulate and administer both sides of this dispute.

But the government, either at the national level, or at the CCMEO and agency level and through its contractors such as MDA, has made it clear that it doesn't really want a second satellite facility in Inuvik and appears to be intent on institutionalizing the ground station segment of the industry in Canada.

Legislation is not likely to change that.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Very sad that government agencies work against normal companies!

    Yes, government needs their own stations. However, I do not see the benefit of having a state monopoly for ground stations.

    I always thought our policy is to foster new businesses in the space domain. If this site does not get a license huge private investments have to be written off. For sure this will not go unnoticed. Certainly it is not the way to attract companies to Canada!

    I'll keep my fingers crossed that somebody at the ministerial level intervenes and CSGSI gets the needed licenses ASAP.


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