Monday, November 20, 2017

Entrepreneurs, Luxembourg, a Canadian Space Agency Secondary Payload Proposal & Maxar Technologies

          By Henry Stewart

While the rest of the world (especially Luxembourg and the US) race to embrace the new opportunities expected to derive from high risk space mining concepts, corporations move forward with the development of massive Earth imaging and communications micro-satellite constellations and even begin to dip their toes into the waters of Martian colonization proposals, it's worth noting that our government supported Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is satisfied with proposing a variety of dull and mundane "ideas" suitable for "secondary payloads" on someone else's mission.

Given that, and for the week of November 19th 2017, here are a few of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog.

As outlined in the article, Luxembourg had projected 200 attendees at the 2017 New Space Europe conference, which took place in Luxembourg City on November 16th - 17th, 2017, was co-sponsored by the Ministry of the Economy of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and calculated in part to showcase the country's rising international profile in an increasingly hot new industry.
But over 400 people showed up, which was far more than expected. Many of the speakers at the conference were sourced through the Arlington, VA based Space Frontier Foundation, an American space advocacy nonprofit corporation organized to promote the interests of the private sector in space.
According to Laurent Schummer, a partner at the Luxembourg law firm of Arendt & Medernach, "Luxembourg offers a whole ecosystem and expertise for raising capital and the legal framework operators need, with a government offering the whole infrastructure. All major players know Luxembourg as a secure place. All our clients in startup and on the space scene need money and we can help with that."
According to the article, it also helps that the Luxembourg government has set aside €200Mln ($339.5 CDN) to invest in companies that want to join the space race in exchange for their presence in one form or another in the Grand Duchy.
As outlined in the July 14th, 2017 The Register post, "Luxembourg passes first EU space mining law. One can possess the Spice," the tiny country has recently passed a series of domestic laws to make it easier for space focused companies to set up shop.
And, as outlined in the October 31st, 2016 post, "'Super' Flow Through Tax Shares & Why Space Companies Need Them," Canada had the opportunity to set up a series of very similar industry friendly laws in the past, but has so far declined to do so.
One of the real reasons for the current CSA focus on small-sats is the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC). Beginning in 2011 this small not-for-profit Canadian organization ran a series of contests where university students built cube-sats with science payloads The third CSDC began early this year but was essentially derailed when, as outlined in the Jun 8th, 2017 CSA post, "Call for Letters of Interest – Canadian CubeSat Project," the Federal government under the CSA began funding university cube-sat proposals as part of the Canadian Cubesat program. Graphic c/o CSDC

  • Speaking of Canada, while our Canadian space agency has at least been trying to do something, it doesn't seem to have been all that successful, at least so far.
As outlined in the November 20th, 2017 Spaceq post, "The Canadian Space Agency is Looking for Ideas for Secondary Planetary Science Payloads," the CSA initially issued a request for proposals (RFP) looking for concepts for "secondary science payloads" for a future mission with NASA.
Cancelled November 20th, 2017 CSA NPP. Graphic c/o CSA.
The SpaceQ post initially referenced a November 20th, 2017 notice of proposed procurement (NPP) on the Space Exploration Concept Studies for Planetary Secondary Payloads and Nanomissions, the structure of the NPP left open a wide variety of options, which would provide the CSA "flexibility in deciding what would work based on future mission decisions by NASA." 
The original proposal was based on ideas from a 2015 joint CSA-NASA Ames "information session" on low cost space exploration missions.
But that NPP has been superseded and in record time. As of the evening of November 20th, the original November 20th, 2017 NPP is off the table and listed on the website as being "Archived/ Cancelled." The original closing date, still listed on the available website documentation, was January 8th, 2018.
A new request for proposals (RFP)  had been posted in its place, in the form of the November 21st, 2017 post, "Études concept. Charges utiles secondaires & nanomissions (9F050-170072/B)," which also focused on the same area of "concept studies related to secondary payloads or nanomission investigations for planetary exploration."
Otherwise, the new proposal is much like the old proposal and follows through with most of the concepts discussed in the original, at least at first glance. Interested parties have until January 8th, 2017 to submit their proposals. Up to three proposals will be selected and provided with a maximum of $200K CDN per proposal. A bidders virtual conference will be held on November 30th, 2017.
Given that the new proposal is also in line with previous proposals under the October 20th, 2017 Canadian Cubesat program CSA webpage, the assumption is that this new funding will attract college and university proposals which would previously have fielded teams for contests like the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC). 
CSDC is a small, privately run not-for-profit Canadian owned and operated contest "for teams of university students (both undergraduate and graduate) to design and build a “Cubesat” – a small, fully-operational satellite – which will conduct a science mission," and has been in operation since 2011. It doesn't offer up millions of dollars of government money, but it is functional and had a very successful run until the CSA began offering up it's version of academic small-sat development earlier this year.
The post will be updated when new information becomes available. 
Graphic c/o Maxar Technologies.

And, as outlined in the November 21st, 2017 post, "What You Must Know About Maxar Technologies Ltd’s (TSX:MAXR) Financial Strength," mid-caps stocks like Maxar, with a market capitalization of only $4.43Bln CDN, aren’t "the focus of most investors who prefer to direct their investments towards either large-cap or small-cap stocks."
If nothing else, this will cause the usual suspects in industry to reassess their perception of the value of holding Maxar stock which, back when it was known as MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), was a far more magnetic stock for investors.  
The  November 19th, 2017 The Ledger Gazette post, "Scotiabank Lowers Maxar Technologies Ltd (MAXR) to Sector Perform," is only the first of an expected series of financial industry reassessments expected now that the company has officially joined the lower tier of the big leagues.
Expect more reassessments in the near future. 
For more, check out upcoming issues of the Commercial Space blog.

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


  1. I wonder if the abrupt cancellation of the CSA's RFP is somehow related to NASA's recent confirmation of its participation in JAXA's Martian Moons Exploration mission:

    Perhaps the CSA is in the middle of negotiations with JAXA as to what we could potentially contribute to the mission, and withdrew the Nov. 20 RFP in order to better tailor it to the necessities of this particular mission. France's CNES also appears to be contributing instruments to this mission.

    1. Ernie, a plausible scenario.
      But whether the RFP 'pull' was premature or not, as of 11am PST on the 21st there have been >150 page views of the announcement - it will be interesting to see who joins the fray.


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