Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where's Canada's "Ministry of Space?"

          By Brian Orlotti

The UK government has announced upcoming legislation to allow spaceports to be built in the United Kingdom; enabling the country, for the first time, to launch its home-built satellites from its own soil.

But the move calls Canada’s own longstanding space policies into question since, much like the UK, the Great White North has also long been unable to launch its own pioneering homegrown spacecraft and has suffered for it.

The new spaceport initiative enjoys broad support throughout the UK, even among tabloid readers. As outlined in the February 20th, 2017 The Sun post, "START SAVING NOW! You could fly to SPACE from the UK within three years as plans for space port are unveiled," the specifics of the new Spaceflight Bill "will be revealed in Parliament this week." Graphic c/o The Sun.

As outlined in the February 20th, 2017 UK government press release, "New legal powers could send UK scientists into space to research vaccines and medicines," the new legislation, called "The Spaceflight Bill," calls for commercial spaceports to be established across the UK beginning in 2020.

These spaceports will provide a variety of services, from satellite launches to space tourism to zero-gravity research.

The Spaceflight Bill builds upon a £10 million GBP ($16.3Mln CDN) grant announced earlier this month by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to create an environment in which the UK’s commercial space sector can thrive.

UK Lord Ahmad. Photo c/o UK Government.
Next steps will involve the UK government encouraging industry to come forward with specific proposals for space launches.

After introduction of the Bill later this year, rules and regulations will be developed for space operators i.e. safety and insurance matters. In addition, the UK government will invite individual commercial space firms to solicit funding to help kick-start a UK space launch industry.

The press release also quoted UK Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon as stating:
The UK’s space sector is the future of the British economy. It already employs thousands of people and supports industries worth more than £250 million to the economy, and we want to grow it further. Forty years ago, meteorologists couldn’t have imagined the importance of satellites for predicting the weather. Today over 90% of data used in every forecast comes from a satellite, with hundreds of other applications used in GPS, telecommunications and broadband. 
We have never launched a spaceflight before from this country. Our ambition is to allow for safe and competitive access to space from the UK, so we remain at the forefront of a new commercial space age, for the next 40 years.
The UK could have pioneered manned spaceflight in the 1950's,  landed on the Moon in 1957 and established a 700 person colony on Mars by 1969 according to Warren Ellis in his "Ministry of Space" graphic novels. Artwork c/o Chris Weston/  Image Comics.

In his influential 2001 - 2003 graphic novel series, "Ministry of Space," British writer Warren Ellis posits an alternate history in which the UK captured the German rocket base at Peenemünde in World War II before the US and the Soviet Union, and brought all the key personnel and technology to Britain.

The graphic novel mirrored the real-life Operation Paperclip, a secretive United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were brought to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany.

Upon this foundation, a new "Ministry of Space" is established to pursue the development of British space technology. Eventually, the ministry forges a new off-world British Empire, ushering an age of unparalleled prestige and prosperity for Britain.

Canada, with its own federal space program withering and its space industry unable to launch its own products despite possessing a skilled scientific and industrial base, stands at its own crossroads. The UK  has chosen to see space as a path back to prosperity, not an expense to be minimized.

What choice will Canada make? When will our "Ministry of Space" emerge?
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, February 20, 2017

DigitalGlobe in "Buyout Talks" With MacDonald Dettwiler, 17 New CSA "Enabling Technologies" & the 2017 NSERC Awards

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of February 20th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

An overview of Digitalglobe stock price on February 17th, 2017, when the news broke that MDA might be attempting to buy the company. As would be expected, Digitalglobe shares went up in heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) after the story broke. MDA's shares were down slightly on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Both the NYSE and the TSX were closed for holidays on Monday but will reopen on Tuesday. Graphic c/o Marketwatch.
The February 17th, 2017 Reuters post, "Canada's MacDonald Dettwiler to buy DigitalGlobe: Dow Jones," quoted unnamed sources as stating that a final deal would close for about $2Bln - $3Bln USD ($2.6Bln - $3.9Bln CDN). 
But Dow Jones was also hedging its bets on the validity of its source. As outlined in the post, "financial conditions of the deal couldn't be learned and it is also possible that talks might fall apart before a decision is reached, the Dow Jones report said." 
DigitalGlobe’s current market cap is approximately $1.8Bln US ($2.4Bln CDN). 
Curiously enough, both MDA and Digitalglobe, as publicly traded corporations, will be holding their quarterly conference earnings calls over the next week. DigitalGlobe is set to report its full year and fourth quarter 2016 financial results on Monday, February 27th, 2017 and MDA will release its fourth quarter and year end financial results on Thursday, February 23rd, 2017. 
Perhaps by then, the real situation will begin to shake out. 

Screenshot c/o Buyandsell.gc.ca.

  • The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued a letter of interest (LOI) for seventeen "enabling technologies," needed in order to facilitate Canadian contributions to a variety of potential international space missions.
As outlined in the February 16th, 2017 Buyandsell.gc.ca listing, "Development of enabling space technologies - Letter of interest (9F063-160864/A)," the LOI will focus on the development and improvement of technologies able to reach CSA "technology readiness level TRL 6." 
TRL-6, as defined by the CSA, normally includes the development of "a representative model or prototype system," suitable for testing and showing off to potential customers.
The technologies identified under the program include upgrades of existing technology relating to Earth imaging, space medicine and rover technologies. The LOI includes time-frame, beginning and ending tech-levels and estimated budgets once the programs are underway,
Budgets range from $75 - $100K CDN (for the "development of technology that will help to secure Canada’s position as leader of inspace biological sample analysis in support of space research and health monitoring") to $1 - $1.3Mln CDN (for the "development of an advanced low frequency power amplifier for the harsh space environment around Mars"). 
The CSA normally defines "enabling technologies" as components or subsystems of space missions organized by other nations and/or private companies, which the CSA will commit to developing in order to be allowed to participate in the mission.
Funding for the development of "enabling technologies" are normally allocated under the CSA's space technologies development program (STDP).

Seven short videos, highlighting several of the 2017 winners were posted (but with very little fanfare) to the 2017 NSERC Prizes You-Tube page on February 7th, 2017. That's a bit of a shame since the individual awards focus on useful accomplishments from Federally funded scientists and are well worth celebrating.
This years winners include:
  • Sylvain Moineau, from the Université Laval, who received the 2017 John C. Polanyi Award for playing a leading role in the international collaboration which identified the adaptive immunity system known as CRISPR-Cas, found in about half of all bacteria. 
  • André Longtin and Leonard Maler, from the University of Ottawa, who received the 2017 Brockhouse Canada Prize for interdisciplinary research in science and engineering, for combining their expertise in physics, mathematics and neurobiology to uncover the neural code that underlies the operation of the brain. 
For a complete listing of the 2017 NSERC prizes and their winners, check out the February 7th, 2017 "NSERC Prizes page."
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Those Pesky Kids at Kepler Communications

          By Chuck Black

The future of Canada's space efforts, and the growth of its telecommunications infrastructure, is suddenly a lot less reliant on Canadian government initiatives and foreign controlled multinationals.

Toronto, Ontario based, Kepler Communications has contracted Amsterdam based Innovative Space Logistics to launch their first nano-satellite, using an Indian polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, in November 2017.

Some of the "pesky kids" at Kepler include, from left to right: Nick Spina, Stephen Lau, Mina Mitry, Mark Michael, Wen Cheng Chong and Jeffrey Osborne. As outlined in the January 26th, 2017 Xconomy post "Techstars Picks 9 Startups for Seattle, Complementing Local Strength," Kepler, a graduate of the Techstars Seattle 2016 program, was the accelerator's first investment in the space sector, but was considered so successful that Techstars is actively looking for more space focused start-ups for their 2018 program. Photo c/o Kepler Communications.

As outlined in the February 16th, 2017 Kepler press release, "Kepler Contracts Innovative Space Logistics for Inaugural Mission" the mission will serve as a technology demonstration of Kepler's Ku-band software defined radio (SDR) and high gain antenna.

Kepler plans to use the technology as the backbone for a proposed constellation of "up to 140" low-Earth nano-satellites, placed in a variety of orbits for use as low cost satellite data re-transmitters. As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, " SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," the company plans on targeting the fast growing machine-to-machine communications market currently growing up around "internet of things" applications and not the conventional terrestrial telecommunications market.

One hard to reach place where Kepler expects demand is in Canada's far north, particularly satellite-dependent Nunavut. As outlined in the February 16th, 2016 Financial Post article, "Cellphone towers in space: Startup Kepler Communications plans first Canadian nanosatellite launch," the company was co-founded by Samer Bishay, who also owns both Iristel, a Montreal based  provider of voice over internet protocol services, and Ice Wireless, a Canadian mobile network operator and telecommunications company that provides 3G/4G mobility services, mobile broadband internet, and fixed line telephone in the territories of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Bishay "absolutely" plans to use the Kepler nano-satellites to improve wireless and internet service in the north, according to the article. "What we're providing is the data pipe basically... with satellite connectivity it helps remote communities where infrastructure like fibre would be very expensive to deploy."

The Kepler Ku-band repeater. According to Kepler CEO Mina Mitry, the upcoming flight in November, will launch "the first commercial LEO communications satellite to operate in Ku-band, a coveted band within the communications service provider world. With the increasing interest in mega LEO constellations, being the first company to actually bring this spectrum into use is a major step forward for Kepler." The nano-satellite launch is expected to cost between $200K and 300K US ($262K and $393K CDN), one hundredth of the cost of a standard launch Photo c/o Kepler Communications.

According to Kepler CEO Mina Mitry, “in the most basic sense, we’re putting up cell phone towers in space that can pick up signals from on the ground and from assets in space.”

The initial micro-satellite will serve as a "proof-of-concept" and additional micro-satellites will be added to the constellation as required to service commercial demand.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Comparing Canada's Northern Watch to Kiribati's Global Fishing Watch

          By Brian Orlotti

The recent failure of the Canadian government's "Northern Watch" program of Arctic air and maritime surveillance, when compared to governmental and private efforts currently in place in other nations, is a reminder that low cost space assets could play a central role in such a system.

It's not as though the Canadian government doesn't understand the benefits of space based surveillance. Perhaps is just prefers to have its programs associated with high costs, long lead times and multiple levels of bureaucracy. The illustration above, from the website of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), shows the kind of weather forecasting that the proposed, Polar Communication and Weather (PCW) constellation of two Earth imaging satellites could have provided when the program completed its first milestone (a "Phase 0" assessment) in September 2008. However, as outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Nunatsiaq News post, "Arctic satellites should serve northerners," the incomplete PCW was all but cancelled in 2016 over concerns about cost and functionality, and amidst bureaucratic infighting between Environment Canada and the Canadian military. For more, check out the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money." Graphic c/o CSA.

As outlined in the January 29th, 2017 Toronto Star post, "Bid to monitor traffic in Arctic waters hits snags," the Northern Watch project, was run by the Canadian military’s R&D wing, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) from 2007 to 2015.

PM Harper. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
Born of a 2005 election promise by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to assert Canadian Arctic sovereignty, the project attempted to develop a year-round surveillance system in Canada’s Arctic waters through the use of underwater acoustic sensors, supplemented by land-based cameras and satellite imagery. Northern Watch was based out of Gascoyne Inlet on Nunavut’s Devon Island. The Barrow Strait, on the south shore of the island, is considered a natural choke-point for arctic ship traffic.

As outlined in the article, after eight years of effort, Northern Watch was only capable of monitoring marine traffic twice, and only then for a few weeks during the hospitable Arctic summers. During the system’s last test in the summer of 2015, twenty-one different vessels were logged transiting the Barrow Strait.

According to the DRDC, several reasons contributed to the failure of Northern Watch; insufficient funding, high fuel and transport costs, equipment failures and technical issues. Although a technical failure, the political rhetoric surrounding the project helped carry Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to victory (and nearly a decade of rule) in the 2006 federal election.

The current Canadian government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has recently requested proposals for an Arctic air and maritime surveillance system under a new $133Mln CDN research program to boost Canadian Arctic sovereignty and replace Northern Watch.

A screenshot of the GFW website, taken on February 14th, 2017. Although not a direct equivalency to previous Canadian government plans to track Arctic activities, the GFW systems could certainly be implemented on a commercial basis in the arctic as commercial satellite coverage of the far north improves. For a list of proposed satellite constellations, their coverage and proposed date of service, check out the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table." Graphic c/o GFW.

Maybe they could buy something "off the shelf." An example of this, as outlined in the September 19th, 2016 post, "New Leonardo DiCaprio App Tracks Fishy Things on the High Seas," could certainly start with the free service championed by the famous actor.

Actor DiCaprio. Photo c/o Forbes.
In September 2016, DiCaprio unveiled Global Fishing Watch (GFW) which utilizes satellite imagery to enable the public to monitor global fishing activity in an attempt to curb illegal fishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks.

The service is a partnership between the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, SkyTruth, Oceana and Google. GFW uses satellite imagery provided by Orbcomm Inc. and is available online to anyone with an internet connection and a WebGL-capable browser.

Adopting a crowd-sourcing approach, GFW enables the public and non-government organizations (NGOs) to track fishing vessels around the world through a combination of ship transponder beacons, radar data from nearby ships, and ships’ wakes as they travel through water.

The project cost $10.3Mln US ($13.6Mln CDN) over the past three years to build, with $6Mln ($7.92Mln CDN) of that contributed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in January, 2016.

GFW scored an initial success within its first month of operation. Kiribati, an island republic in the central Pacific comprised of 33 coral atolls and isles, has used GFW data to reveal illegal fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, declared off-limits to commercial fishing in January 2015. The offending ship’s owners were fined $1Mln US ($1.32Mln CDN) along with a "goodwill" donation of another $1Mln.

The failure of the Northern Watch project and the (at least initial) success of Global Fishing Watch prove the truth of Frank Herbert’s dictum, “A plan depends as much upon execution as it does upon concept.”

Future Canadian efforts at northern surveillance should take heed.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, February 13, 2017

OMX, Trump, Trudeau, Bombardier's Bailout, the UK Space Agency, UK Spaceports, CSA Earth Imaging Grants & MAFIC Studios

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of February 13th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump met in Washington, DC on February 13th, 2017. For an overview of their public discussion, check out the February 13th, 2017 CBC News post, "Trudeau meets Trump: Watch the full news conference or read the transcript." Photos c/o CBC News.

  • Toronto, ON based Offset Marketing Exchange (OMX) CEO Nicole Verkindt has an interesting perspective on the February 13th, 2017 meeting between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and new US President Donald Trump. 
As outlined in the February 13th, 2017 Linked-In post, "How America Won the Chicken War and why Trump will Try it Again," the real secret to understanding the Trump agenda is to understand a West German tariff imposed at the end of World War II to support small, struggling German chicken farmers, and the US measures imposed in retaliation designed to cut off Volkswagen van imports.
As outlined in the post, "Not all wars have a clear winner, but it would seem today that Americans dominate in pickup trucks much more so than Germans do in chickens. The "Chicken Tax" essentially legislated American success in the light truck market, and now President Trump is hoping to recreate this same sort of success in other markets." 
The article is certainly a more nuanced assessment of Trump, Trudeau and their respective agendas than is typical in these polarized times. Only time will tell if the assessment ends up being more accurate.
OMX was first profiled in the January 23rd, 2013 post, "Buy Canada: New Firm Tracks IRB Offsets." 
  • Montreal, PQ based Bombardier Inc. has its bailout. But the new funds come with new concerns over Brazil's latest World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to Bombardier's Federal and provincial government support.
As outlined in the February 7th, 2017 CBC News post, "Federal government to give $372.5M in loans to Bombardier," the Justin Trudeau government has said that it will provide $372.5Mln CDN in interest-free loans to Bombardier, "a move that elicited criticism even though it is far less than the transportation giant originally sought more than a year ago." 
As outlined in the June 30th, 2016 Bombardier press release, "Bombardier closes the Government of Québec’s investment in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership," the company has also received $1Bln US ($1.31Bln CDN) in recent funding from the Quebec provincial government along with a number of smaller grants and tax breaks. 
But, as outlined in the February 13th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Brazil’s WTO challenge over aid to Bombardier is good for the aviation market," the government of Brazil has requested consultations with the Canadian government regarding "subsidies provided to local manufacturer Bombardier for the development of its new C Series commercial jets." 
Brazil’s request, supported by the CEO of Brazilian based Embraer SA, the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate generally considered to be Bombardier's major competition, highlights "subsidies in excess of $4-billion (U.S.) provided by Canada’s national, provincial and local governments." 
As outlined in the article, "attempts to resolve this matter via diplomatic channels have proved unsuccessful, leaving the Brazilian government with no option but to request WTO consultations, action that Embraer supports."
Bombardier was last profiled in the November 1st, 2016 post, "Is Bombardier Another Example of a Company Unable to Find Success in Canada?
  • The UK Space Agency has launched a £10Mln GBP ($16.35CDN) plan to grow the UK based commercial spaceflight market. 
As outlined in the February 10th, 2017 Room post, "UK Space Agency announces £10 million scheme to develop commercial spaceflight launch capabilities," the program is designed to help "develop commercial launch capability for spaceflight – a market that is worth an estimated £25 billion over the next 20 years."
The funding "must be used to develop spaceflight capabilities, such as adapting launch vehicle technology for use in the UK or building spaceport infrastructure." Businesses expected to bid for a share of the newly allocated funding are likely to be joint enterprises of launch vehicle operators and potential launch sites.
While the contest is being held, the UK government has also committed to "preparing legislation to develop a safe and competitive regulatory environment for spaceflight. This work goes hand-in-hand with government’s work internationally to achieve the technical, trade and policy agreements necessary for UK based launch services and developing interest from launch customers and operators from around the world."
All in all, it sounds like the sort of plan that any moderately sized country (and many venture capital firms) could reproduce fairly quickly and easily. Here's hoping the Canadian government takes notice. 
  • The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is funding a variety of programs exploring new uses for Earth observation (EO) satellites on their own, and in conjunction with Earth based observation techniques.
As outlined in the February 9th, 2017 CSA Earth observation application development post, "Innovative EO solutions: exploring the benefits of using satellites and drones together," the CSA is exploring "the complementary use of drones and satellites to enhance EO applications and provide more comprehensive solutions to end-users," through its Earth Observation Application Development Program (EOADP).
Seven concept studies are currently being funded up to a maximum of $100,000 CDN. They include: 
  • An application for "Mapping and classifying wetlands," through Kawartha Lakes, ON based AG-UAV
  • An application for "identifying the presence of pests in agriculture," through Montreal, PQ based Effigis Geo Solutions
  • Two applications for "monitoring algae blooms" the first, focused around "the use of hyperspectral sensors aboard drones to simulate coarse-resolution data for specific regions," through Quebec City, PQ based Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) and the second, focused on collecting data "from EO satellites along with hyperspectral and thermal infrared sensors aboard drones," through Waterloo, ON based H2O Goematics. 
  • An application for "providing land measurements to the mining sector," through Vancouver, BC based TRE Altamira
  • An application for "detecting land movement caused by industrial activities," through Victoria, BC based ASL Environmental Sciences
  • An application to "monitor pipelines" through St. John's, Newfoundland based C-Core.
As outlined in the post, The EOADP program has also provided funding (up to $300,000 CDN) to explore potential uses for EO satellites focused on the management of disasters involving landslides, wildfires, flooding, oil and ice detection, and ice travel. 
The Canadian companies selected to receive funding under this program include 3vGeomatics Inc., AECOM Consultants Inc., Array Systems Computing Inc., AUG Signals Ltd., C-CORE, Hatfield Consultants, MDA Geospatial Services Inc. (a part of Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), PCI Geomatics, PolarView Canada and TRE Altamira.
The Sudbury based graphic design firm, last profiled in the April 17th, 2016 post, "Sudbury Graphics Design Firm Sees the Big Picture," is still diligently focused on providing realistic and accurate images for the scientific, engineering and aerospace community. 
As outlined by owner Kris Holland, the new reel was constructed completely in-house, with the exception of the music, which was created by audiojungle.com/Amoebacrew. 
As outlined by Holland, "I'm always trying to improve the products I offer, so that the technical community can better convey its message, in order to raise both awareness and funds.  This demo shows the breadth of what I have to offer, from stills, animation, and full production of scripted media."
For more information, check out the Mafic studios website at http://www.maficstudios.com/
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Look Ma! No Canadarms!!! MDA & Orbital ATK Battle for US On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts

          By Chuck Black

Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) has issued a press release announcing that its "US business unit," the Paulo Alto, CA based Space Systems Loral (SSL), has "entered into an agreement with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop the capability to service and maintain spacecraft and other infrastructure" as part of DARPA's Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

DARPA RSGS utilizing MDA US Systems robotic arms to repair a satellite on orbit as described in the July 21st, 2016 SSL press release, "SSL To Provide Robotic Arms To DARPA for Satellite Servicing," which announced an earlier $20.7Mln US ($27.1Mln CDN) award. As outlined in the February 9th, 2017 Design Engineering post, "MDA subsidiary's space robot stymied by Orbital ATK lawsuit," MDA subsidiary SSL had been on the verge of winning the latest in a series of lucrative DARPA contracts under the RSGS program. Graphic c/o DARPA/ SSL.

As outlined in the February 9th, 2017 MDA press release, "SSL selected to partner with DARPA to develop satellite servicing business," the program "will be the foundation of a new business for SSL that will serve both commercial and government operators with repair, upgrade, relocation, and refueling of on-orbit assets."

No dollar amount was specified in the announcement, but there's substantial cash at stake and at least one direct competitor has already made a separate claim. As outlined in the February 7th, 2017 Defence News post, "Orbital ATK sues DARPA over robotic satellite-servicing program ," the legal challenge threatens to unravel the RSGS program.

Orbital ATK claims that "the agency's robotic satellite-servicing program violates national space policy," which explicitly directs government agencies "to avoid funding activities that are already in development in the commercial marketplace."

The company also insists that its Space Logistics subsidiary is already working on a Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) in partnership with Luxemburg based commercial satellite operator Intelsat, which duplicates most of the functionality required for the RSGS program.

As outlined in the February 4th, 2017 DennisWingo post, "On Orbit Servicing Controversy; DARPA VS Commercial," on-orbit satellite servicing has a long history, with commercial proposals going back to the 1950's and the 1980's space shuttle missions. More recently, the article mentions the 2005 NASA DART "mishap," the 2007 Orbital Express mission (a DARPA funded mission, utilizing an Orbital Express Demonstration Manipulator System, developed by MDA based upon its experience with Canadarm technology) and the 2011 Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) partnership between MDA and Intelsat. That deal, as outlined in the January 12th, 2012 post, "MDA Satellite Servicing Agreement with Intelsat Expires," eventually fell through when the partners couldn't crack the US market. Last year, Intelsat partnered up with Orbital ATK to work on the MEV-1 program. Graphic c/o Dennis Wingo

Two other companies have also been singled out by Orbital ATK as having commercial satellite servicing programs.

As outlined in the January 31st, 2017 post, "Satellite Servicing, Orbital ATK, MDA, Security Control Agreements," CETA, Minister Duncan's Science Adviser & Nova Scotia Spaceports, the first is MDA, the winner of the recent NASA Restore-L satellite servicing mission (also via SSL).

Orbital ATK has insisted that the Restore-L program duplicates the DARPA RSGS program, but is targeted at the commercial, civilian marketplace, an area where, as outlined in the 2010 National Space Policy, DARPA is restricted from entering.

The second is United Kingdom based Effective Space Solutions , which is currently "building small satellites for life-extension and other services," according to its website.

Oddly enough, perhaps especially so given its history of previous partnerships and programs in this area, MDA has insisted that no Canadarm derived technology is involved with the current round of on-orbit satellite servicing projects. The December 16th, 2016 post, "MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or "Any Other" Project," referenced statements from MDA communications director Wendy Keyser, who specifically requested publication. Graphic c/o Commercial Space blog.

The stakes in this area are high. "DARPA's proposal will effectively use taxpayer funds to establish one company in a dominant position over all other competition," Orbital ATK stated in its complaint.

The Orbital ATK complaint also claimed that:
DARPA will provide hundreds of millions of dollars of services and equipment to a single competitor, in turn providing that competitor with an insurmountable taxpayer funding subsidy that will unfairly and unnecessarily harm any other company's development of private on-orbit robotic servicing technology.
Perhaps in anticipation of the potential big payday, several small organizations and individuals have approached both MDA and Orbital ATK, with patents dating from both the early days of the US space program and from the 1980's satellite servicing experiments with the Canadian built Canadarm.

The patent holders are no doubt hoping that the giant multinational aerospace corporations will be willing to share their expected bounty.

Here's hoping that they have deep pockets to carry on their fight. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

UrtheCast & Farming, PPPs, Improperly Disposed Space Debris, Falcon-9 "Flaws" & The HandBook for New Actors in Space

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of February 6th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

An overview of precision farming technologies as from the October 9th, 2012 GIS Lounge post, "Geospatial Technologies in Precision Agriculture."
  • Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast has picked up another customer for its UrtheDaily Constellation, a planned constellation of Earth observation satellites expected to deliver daily, medium resolution imagery of the entire planet's landmass when completed. 
As outlined in the February 7th, 2017 UrtheCast press release, "GEOSYS Becomes Anchor Customer of UrtheDaily Constellation,"  Land O' Lakes, Inc., a member-owned agricultural cooperative based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills, has announced a long-term agreement for GEOSYS, a Land O'Lakes subsidiary which provides satellite imagery to farmers, to purchase geospatial data from the UrtheDaily Constellation.
As outlined in the press release, "GEOSYS will become an anchor customer for the UrtheDaily Constellation.  GEOSYS, already the UrtheCast group's largest agricultural customer and one of the world's leading providers of digital agriculture solutions, will use the data to improve the decision-making processes for their customers globally, including WinField United, the Land O'Lakes crop input business."
Under the terms of the agreement, payments will begin when UrtheCast begins delivering UrtheDaily Constellation data to GEOSYS, and is subject to UrtheCast arranging its financing for the UrtheDaily Constellation. 
No dollar amount was noted in the press release. 
Graphic c/o "Science Culture: Where Canada Stands," a publication from the Council of Canadian Academies
  • The development of public private partnerships (PPPs) to fund space exploration is the next big thing, at least according to the New York based Space Angels Network, a privately-held financial services company with a network of angel investors interested in investing in the aerospace industry. 
As outlined in the February 6th, 2016 Space Angels Network post, "Private-Public Partnerships, NASA, and the Tipping Point of the Entrepreneurial Space Industry," private, public partnerships (PPP) between NASA and various space companies like SpaceX who provide services, "has been instrumental in the development of the Entrepreneurial Space Age. As the space industry begins the year with its eyes on the prize (so to speak), PPPs will be crucial to further critical R&D and to facilitate practical implementation of emerging technologies." 
The article also noted that space industry has developed "a proven track record" of successful PPP's and plans to use them to fund and develop various "tipping-point technologies." 
As outlined in the November 14th, 2016 post, "Public Private Partnerships, Marc Garneau, Telesat, DND, WGS, DoD, CSA & Urthecast," Canada is considered a world leader in the creation of PPPs. 
It's also worth noting that telecommunications was considered a "tipping point technology." when Telesat Canada, now the fourth-largest fixed satellite services provider in the world, started out in 1969 as a Canadian crown corporation created as a public private partnership to provide telecom access in the far north. 
A slide from the February 1st, 2017 IADC presentation on satellite disposal. As outlined in the presentation, "many satellite operators continue to violate long-established guidelines for end-of-life disposal of their spacecraft, both for larger satellites in geostationary orbit and the many smaller satellites in low Earth orbit." Graphic c/o IADC.
  • An international space debris-monitoring panel has claimed that less than half of the large geostationary-orbit satellites taken out of service in 2015 were properly disposed of.
As outlined in the February 3rd, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "Most geo satellites retired in 2015 violated orbit-debris guidelines,"the claim was made during a presentation to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) meeting on February 1st, 2017.
As outlined in the article, "the performance of owners of retiring geostationary satellites in 2015 is remarkably poor — 60 percent of these satellites were either moved an insufficient distance from the geostationary arc or were just switched off while on the orbital highway. In 2014, 75 percent of geostationary satellite retirements were in compliance with the guideline stipulating that satellites be placed into graveyard orbits around 300 kilometers above geostationary orbit, which is 36,000 kilometers above the equator."
The expected increased compliance by operators of small satellites in low orbit should be showing up in the annual data, but isn't. 
According to the article, "unlike geostationary-orbit satellites, which are usually large and expensive, satellites in low orbit have a wide variety of owners, especially as the cost of building and launching a satellite weighing just a few kilograms has come down in recent years."
IADC member agencies include the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS), the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) and the UK Space Agency.
Falcon-9 on the launchpad. Photo c/o Fortune.
  • Federal investigators have noticed flaws in the SpaceX Falcon-9 rockets.
As outlined in the February 2nd, 2017 Wall Street Journal article, "Congressional Investigators Warn of SpaceX Rocket Defects," a preliminary report from a Government Accountability Office investigation has found "persistent cracking of vital propulsion-system components, according to government and industry officials familiar with the details."
The article quotes "unnamed sources" and "preliminary findings" from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) which "reveal a pattern of problems with turbine blades that pump fuel into rocket engines, these officials said. The final GAO report, scheduled to be released in coming weeks, is slated to be the first public identification of one of the most serious defects affecting Falcon 9 rockets."
The crack-prone parts are considered a "potentially major threat to rocket safety," according to the "industry officials," and may require redesign of what are commonly called the Falcon-9’s "turbopumps."
According to the article, "industry officials have known about problems with cracked blades on Falcon 9 versions for many months or even years. But cracks continued to be found during tests as recently as September 2016, Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, confirmed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week."
As outlined in the February 6th, 2017 Reuters post, "Exclusive: SpaceX to hit fastest launch pace with new Florida site,"  SpaceX has said that it will be modifying the rocket's engines to increase performance and resolve potential safety concerns.
As outlined in the January 30th, 2017 press release, "SWF Releases the Handbook for New Actors in Space," the goal of the handbook is to "provide both governmental and non-governmental actors coming into the space domain with a broad overview of the fundamental principles, laws, norms, and best practices for peaceful, safe, and responsible activities in space."
It includes overviews of "The International Framework for Space Activities," a section on "National Space Policy and Administration" and a section on "Responsible Operations in Space," which covers pre-launch and launch requirements, on-orbit requirements and end-of-life restrictions. 
The publication is available for download in electronic format at no cost form the SWF website.
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Monday, February 06, 2017

Europe Will Fund the Prometheus Reusable Engine; Canada Pitched Cyclone-4's

          By Chuck Black

In a useful reminder that the future of rocketry is reusable, France’s Prometheus reusable engine program will receive funding from the European Space Agency (ESA). The new engine is designed to be a direct competitor to the reusable SpaceX Merlin rocket engine.

The ASL Prometheus rocket engine (right) is a follow-on of the ASL Vulcain 2.1 rocket engine, which ASL designed for its Ariane 6 rocket program. The Prometheus is designed to be cheaper ( €1Mln EUR or $1.41Mln CDN for the Prometheus as compared to 10 times the cost for the Vulcain) and take extensive advantage of new technologies and production methods, including 3-D printing. As outlined in the September 15th, 2016 BBC News post, "Clear path to Ariane 6 rocket introduction," the current Ariane 5 rocket, "although remarkably reliable and consistent in its performance, costs substantially more to build and launch than some of its competitors - in particular, the Falcon 9 rocket operated by SpaceX in the US." Graphic c/o ASL

But that useful reminder is also a shot across the bow of organizations like Maritime Launch Services (MLS), the recently incorporated Nova Scotia based company formed by three US based partners, who are attempting to sell spaceports filled with 45 year old Ukrainian based single use, hypergolic propellant based rocket technology, to a credulous East coast populace.

As outlined in the February 1st, 2017 Space News post, "France’s Prometheus reusable engine becomes ESA project, gets funding boost," ESA leaders "agreed during December’s ministerial conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, to make Prometheus part of the agency’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program (FLPP)."

The article also quoted Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) CEO Alain Charmeau who said that FLPP will allocate €85Mln EUR ($120Mln CDN) to fund research and development leading to a 2020 test firing of the Prometheus engine.

Now that Prometheus is an ESA program, Charmeau expects more countries will get involved. As an ESA associate member, Canada could certainly participate in the program.

The Ukrainian built Tsyklon-4 (Cyclone-4) rocket and the Yuzhnoye RD-861 engine it uses. The RD-861 engine is a Soviet era liquid propellant rocket burning unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) in a gas generator combustion cycle. It is not built to be reusable, but can be restarted once during its flight. As outlined in the September 2nd, 2016 SpaceFlight 101 post, "Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 Rocket seeks North American Launch Base," the "Cyclone-4 is largely based on the Cyclone-3 that itself uses heritage of the Cyclone-2 rocket that first flew in 1967 and made over 120 flights with a good success rate." Graphics and photo's c/o KSP & Dietrich Haeseler.

Canada's other option for funding a rocket launcher, at least for now, comes with substantial concerns over:
  • The Soviet era technology used to build the rockets. 
  • The transportation and storage of the corrosive and extremely toxic hypergolic propellant used for the rocket fuel.
  • The business plan expected to be used to sell the rockets to satellite companies looking for a ride to orbit.
As outlined in the Jan 31st, 2017 CBC News post, "Why a $100M rocket launch site might be coming to Nova Scotia," MLS, a recently incorporated Nova Scotia based company, created by US based partners and using technology designed and built by Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office, is currently promoting a Nova Scotia launch site for its Cyclone-4 launcher.

MLS is essentially acting as a local agent for Yuzhnoye, which needs at least $100Mln CDN to fund its Cyclone-4 rocket launch facility. MLS CEO John Isella even continues to work out of the Washington, DC Yuzhnoye office, where he also acts as the North American representative for Yuzhnoye business development.

As outlined in the article, once funded, the "first launch could be as soon as late 2019 if all goes according to plan." Of course, those plans don't seem to work out very often.

An SS-18 rocket body in front of Yuzhnoye Design Office headquarters. As outlined on the company website, "Yuzhnoye State Design Office is one of the most well-known and recognized scientific and design companies in the world." Photo c/o Yuzhnoye Design Office.

Cyclone-4 development originally began in 2002, in partnership with the Brazilian Space Agency. The maiden flight was initially scheduled for 2006 from a proposed launch pad at the Alcântara Launch Center in Brazil. 

However, as outlined in the April 16th, 2015 Space News post, "Brazil Pulling Out of Ukrainian Launcher Project," that deal eventually fell apart over escalating costs and questions about Cyclone-4's ability to take market share away from SpaceX and other low cost rocket providers.

Since then, and as outlined in the September 11th, 2016 post, "Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket," Yuzhnoye, and now MLS, have been looking, "for business and investment partners to develop the launch infrastructure and conduct sales, marketing, and mission management."

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that Canadian's would be better served by throwing buckets of money at more current, and maybe even a few homegrown designs.

Local NS citizens will make their determination on the Yuzhnoye spaceport sometime in March 2017.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Bread and Circuses" and Canada's Astronaut Selection Process

          By Henry Stewart

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has released short biographies and statistics on the remaining seventy-two candidates vying for the two open positions in the Canadian astronaut corps.

Seventy-two candidates from across the country, with three immigrants (Elzbieta Ledwosinska, Peter Lee and Andrew Vorozcovs) and even someone (Jesse Koovik) born in the far north, although he's listed as currently living in Berlin, Germany. Graphic c/o Canadian Space Agency.

As outlined in the February 1st, 2017 CSA post, "Who are the astronaut candidates?," those selected are in the running to become:
...modern-day explorers (who) courageously travel beyond the Earth to help acquire new scientific knowledge. Their courage and determination are an inspiration to many. 
Despite their unique journeys, astronauts have a few things in common: an academic background in science or technology, excellent health, and outstanding qualities and skills. 
The candidates participating in the astronaut selection process also share these attributes.
The Canadian media has jumped on the bandwagon to provide coverage.

Examples include the February 2nd, 2017 CBC News post, "Canadian Space Agency narrows astronaut candidates down to 72," which pointed out that there were 3,772 original applicants for the two positions, the February 1st, 2017 Global News post, "Pool of potential Canadian astronauts down to 72," and the February 1st, 2017 CTV News post, "Meet the 72 candidates shortlisted for two Canadian astronaut jobs."

Regional outlets have also contributed some interesting stories focused around local candidates.

Examples include the February 5th, 2017 The News post, "Man with New Glasgow ties wants to go to space," the February 5th, 2017 CBC News post, "3...2...1...MUN professor on short-list to blast off with Canadian Space Agency," which focused on astronaut hopeful John Jamieson, the February 3rd, 2017 The Now Post, "Six from B.C. in space race to become Canada’s next astronaut," and the February 2nd, 2017 University of Toronto Engineering News post, "Five U of T Engineering alumni make the shortlist to become Canada’s next astronaut."

It's worth noting that the present candidates, to be chosen later this year, likely won't end up going into space until well after 2021, when current CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen is expected to visit the International Space Station (ISS).

By then, who knows how the world might have changed.

Only one thing is certain. While stories about Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and maybe even Marc Garneau are certainly worth telling and remembering, stories about the final 72 candidates in the CSA astronaut program are perhaps less so.

Here's wishing the remaining candidates the best of luck.

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

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