Monday, March 20, 2017

Helios Wire is a Canadian Space Based Internet of Things Startup

          By Brian Orlotti

Scott Larson. Photo c/o BC Business.
Vancouver-based Helios Wire, a startup founded by former Urthecast CEO  and co-founder Scott Larson, has announced plans to design and build a space-based Internet of Things (IoT) network using a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites.

Total cost for the constellation is estimated by Helios as being less than $100Mln CDN.

As outlined on the Helios website:
Helios is building a fully disruptive, global, and vertically integrated satellite-enabled monitoring and messaging service that will track and provide communication with up to 5 billion transmitters.   
It will be a space and terrestrial-based Internet of Things and Machine to Machine service specifically designed for ultra-high volume market applications requiring low bandwidth and low service costs."
But while the company promises the system will reduce the cost of IoT enough to make it affordable to small and medium sized businesses, IoT’s inherent security issues may prove a roadblock to their plans.

As outlined in the March 10th, 2017 Helios Wire press release, "The Internet of Things is Ripe for Democratization," the IoT is "primed for democratization, and promises to go beyond the evolution of modern-day conveniences, including refrigerators that can order groceries and have them delivered to your door. Already, big businesses like Virgin Atlantic, Farmers Insurance, and UPS harness IoT data to optimize their business operations. And soon, small and mid-size organizations will be in a better place to reap some of those same rewards." Helios hopes to take advantage of that pent up demand from small and medium sized businesses. Graphic c/o Helios Wire

Currently one of the tech sector’s biggest buzzwords, the IoT refers to the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items with embedded electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity enabling them to collect and exchange data.

The IoT is a means of directly integrating the physical world with computers, allowing objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure (i.e. the internet). IoT also encompasses other technologies such as smart grids, smart homes, intelligent transportation and smart cities. IoT advocates argue that such physical/computer integration will result in greater efficiency, accuracy and economic benefits while reducing the need for human intervention.

Helios’ plan calls for a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites to be launched over three years beginning in 2018.

UrtheCast image over company co-founders Wade Larson (now UrtheCast CEO), Scott Larson (now CEO of Helios Wire) and George Tyr (now UrtheCast CTO). The February 10th, 2016 BC Business post, "UrtheCast's Scott Larson proves a B.C. startup can make it in space," quotes the new Helios CEO as stating that he was “a start-up guy and I am proud to say that UrtheCast is no longer a start-up,” although he remains a shareholder. UrtheCast focuses on a variety of high bandwidth Earth imaging technologies while Helios focuses primarily on the transmission of low-bandwidth data collected by others. Photos c/o UrtheCast, Twitter & Linked-In.

The 30 satellite Helios constellation will use 30 MHz of S-band spectrum to enable its satellites to receive low-bandwidth data from billions of embedded sensors on Earth and then relay the data back to the surface, bypassing terrestrial internet availability, latency and cost issues.

The system’s first two satellites will only be able to receive and relay data three times daily, so applications requiring more timely data (such as transportation logistics) will come later.

When the full constellation is deployed, data packets will be received every five minutes as successive satellites pass over sensor locations on Earth. Helios envisions its system monitoring and controlling fixed and mobile assets in a wide range of sectors, including transportation, consumer products, logistics, security/public safety, energy, mining, manufacturing, wildlife management, and agriculture.

But the enthusiasm surrounding IoT is dampened by serious concerns over security and privacy.

In October 2016, a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks caused a massive disruption of major internet services including Twitter, Netflix, PayPal, Pinterest and the PlayStation Network.

The perpetrators did this by compromising thousands of endpoint IoT devices, most notoriously, as outlined in the October 24th, 2016 PC World post, "Chinese firm recalls camera products linked to massive DDOS attack," the compromised devices included a series of internet cameras manufactured by Chinese firm Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology.

The attackers used the ‘Mirai’ malware to transform the compromised devices into a botnet which then flooded traffic to DNS hosting provider Dyn (a cloud-based internet services provider recently acquired by Oracle Corp).

The attacks were staggering by internet standards, at one time measuring nearly one Terabit per second, according to the October 24th, 2016 WeLiveSecurity post, "10 things to know about the October 21 IoT DDoS attacks."

Here's hoping that, by hopping aboard the IoT bandwagon, Helios Wire won't end up having a bumpy ride.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Part 1: A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets

Abstract, Introduction & The 1950's

By Graham Gibbs & W. M. ("Mac") Evans
Canada's contribution to the ISS. Photo c/o CSA.
This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014, is a brief history of the Canadian space program, written by two of the major participants. 
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first Counselor for (US) Space Affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 
W.M. "Mac" Evans, a career public servant, has provided vision in planning and implementing Canada’s space plans for many decades and was president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from 1994 - 2001.
The paper is reproduced with the permission of the authors. As outlined by Gibbs, "Re the interesting Canada150 series you are running, you might be interested in posting the Paper (attached) Mac Evans and I wrote for the International Astronautical Congress that was held in Toronto in 2014." 
We are. Part 1 begins below.


The Canadian Space Program began at the dawn of the space age during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. 
With the launch of the scientific Alouette 1 satellite in 1962 Canada became the third nation in space. Since then Canada has achieved many “firsts in space” and has established itself as a world recognized space faring nation. Thirty years after entering the space era in 1988, Canada formally became a partner in the then G-7 Space Station program with the signing of the Agreements governing the program, which in 1998 became the International Space Station (ISS) when Russia became a partner. Canada is a leader in radar-based Earth observation, upper atmosphere research, advanced satellite communications technologies, space robotics and much more. 
Canada’s space program, despite its modest beginnings and continuing modest funding, has achieved unprecedented success. This success is largely due to reasoned government space policies during the most formative years of Canada’s space program. 
This paper is, for the most part, an update of a paper authored by W.M. (Mac) Evans and published in the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) Journal (CASJ) [i].
The current paper also provides an analysis of the lessons we have learned from these thoughtful earlier government space policies of how a small space faring nation, from a funding perspective, can hold its own and cooperate with major space faring nations such as the United States/NASA and Europe/European Space Agency.


It is remarkable that today the Canadian Space Agency partners’ with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in all the major public space sector disciplines, which are:
  • Human space flight (robotics for the US space shuttle, now retired, and the International Space Station) 
  • An astronaut program
  • Life and microgravity science research 
  • Earth science and observation (with instruments on NASA space craft and our own RADARSAT program) 
  • Astronomy, including our contribution to the US led James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and our own Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars telescope (MOST)
  • Heliophysics, and planetary exploration through contributions to NASA’s robotic exploration of Mars
In addition we collaborate with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (supporting the Canadian and US Ice Services to ensure safe shipping in the arctic), and the US Geological Survey. 
Canada is also the only non-European cooperating member of the European Space Agency (ESA) a partnership we have enjoyed since 1979. The Canadian Space Agency cooperates with other space faring nations, such as Japan, on a case- by-case or mission-by-mission basis.
There is no question that Canada has “punched above its weight” in space, whether it be in the realm of communications, earth observation, science or robotics. This phenomenal achievement has been possible through informed space policy development in Canada especially during the first thirty years of Canada’s space program. 
We now address the history of the development of space policy in Canada as first articulated by William (Mac) Evans in his paper for the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Journal of March 2004. The underlying thesis is that these policies have been fundamental to the technological and operational success of our national space program for more than four decades.

The 1950's

While the concepts of space flight had been around for centuries it wasn’t until after the Second World War that rocket technologies needed for such adventures were successfully tested.
While primarily driven by the post-war race between the Soviet Union and the United States to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the development of rocket technology gave the world’s scientists a new tool in their on-going research into the earth and its environment. Thus, it is not surprising that when the International Geophysical Year (IGY) was designated (July 1957 to December 1958) as a comprehensive series of global geophysical activities; this new tool provided the most significant findings of the IGY. Indeed, it was during the IGY that both the Soviet Union (1957) and the United States (1958) launched their first satellites. 
For decades prior to the IGY, Canadian scientists had been conducting extensive research into the ionosphere in order to improve radio communications between the northern and southern regions of Canada. Communications between these two areas relied on bouncing high frequency radio waves off the ionosphere. But disturbances in the ionosphere associated with magnetic storms and the aurora caused considerable havoc with these essential communications links. 
Since the northern auroral zone passes over Churchill Manitoba our scientists were intrigued with the possibility of probing the ionosphere with scientific instruments mounted on rockets launched from Churchill. They were able to convince the government to offer Churchill Manitoba as a site for launching sounding rockets and in 1955 the Churchill Rocket Range was established with the assistance of the United States. Churchill became a significant site during the IGY and 95 (45%) of the 210 sounding rocket launches made by the US during the IGY were from Churchill. Between 1957 and 1984 (when the range was closed) more than 3,500 sounding rockets were launched from Churchill.
Canada’s first forays into the lower reaches of space were sounding rocket payloads designed and built by research establishments of the Defence Research Board (DRB). Instruments to make measurements of atmospheric chemistry that had been designed by the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) in Valcartier Quebec were launched from Churchill in 1958. The next year, the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) in Ottawa designed and built instruments to measure electron density and the temperature of the ionosphere and these were launched on sounding rockets from Churchill. 
During this same period, CARDE had been developing solid rocket propellants for military purposes. This technology was incorporated into a sounding rocket called Black Brant. The first Black Brant rocket was launched from Churchill in 1959. The technology was transferred to industry (first Canadair and subsequently to Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg) and since then more than 800 Black Brant rockets have been launched from sites all over the world. 
Early in 1958, in response to the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik in October 1957, the United States consolidated its entire civilian aeronautical and space activities into a new organization called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA was impressed with the success of international cooperation during the IGY and made international cooperation one of its major objectives. 
Consequently, in 1958 the US invited international participation in their scientific space program. The scientists at DRTE who by this time had developed an interest in sounding the ionosphere from above (i.e. from space) responded quickly with a proposal near the end of 1958 to build a satellite to carry a top- side ionospheric sounder – a satellite later to be called Alouette I. 
In April 1959, NASA and DRTE jointly signed an agreement whereby Canada was to supply a satellite and NASA was to provide the launcher. The leader of the Canadian team was John H. Chapman. 
The official announcement of Canada’s intention to build a satellite was made by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on the occasion of the official opening of the Prince Albert Radar Laboratory in June 1959. 
Looking back, one has to marvel at the audacity of the Canadian proposal and the confidence the Government placed in its scientific community. The Alouette program was approved at a time when rockets were still regularly exploding on the launch pad and those few satellites that actually made it in to orbit were lasting for only a few weeks or months. At the time of the signing of the Alouette agreement, the US had only successfully launched seven satellites. 
While Alouette I was a scientific satellite, its objective was to provide scientific information needed to provide more reliable communications between the northern and southern regions of Canada. Thus Canada entered the space age with a very practical proposition to use the advantages of space to help meet important domestic needs here on earth. Pursuing space applications to meet Canada’s needs has been the hallmark of our space program ever since.

Graham Gibbs & Mac Evans. Photos c/o MyCanada & CSA.
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first counselor for (US) space affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 

He is the author of "Five Ages of Canada - A HISTORY from Our First Peoples to Confederation."

William McDonald "Mac" Evans served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from November 1991 to November 2001, where he led the development of the Canadian astronaut and RADARSAT programs, negotiated Canada’s role in the International Space Station (ISS) and contributed to various international agreements that serve as the foundation of Canada’s current international space partnerships.

He currently serves on the board of directors of Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast.


[i] The Canadian Space Program — Past, Present, and Future (A history of the development of space policy in Canada), W M. (Mac) Evans, Canadian Aeronautics and Space Journal, 2004, 50(1): 19-31, 10.5589/q04-004. Used and updated with permission.
Next Week: "The 1960's," as part two of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets" continues.

American MDA Subsidiary Promotes "DEXTRE" for US as NASA RESTORE-L Satellite Servicing Budget Slashed

          By Chuck Black

Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) is having a bad week. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) "2018 Budget Blueprint," has slashed funding for the NASA RESTORE-L on-orbit satellite servicing mission from $133Mln USD ($178Mln CDN) to $45Mln US ($60Mln CDN) for fiscal year 2018.

The cutbacks reflect the fact that there is at least one other major corporation competing against MDA (and its US based surrogates) for multiple US government on-orbit satellite servicing contracts.

This competition will also affect how MDA treats its crown jewels, the legacy Canadian government funded Canadarm derived technology generally considered essential to any realistic on-orbit satellite servicing development program. Until now, MDA has insisted that technology hasn't been used to support any new US contracts.

As outlined in the July 21st, 2009 post, "Even Werner von Braun was Wrong Once in a While...," the driving personality behind our first great space race once laid out a plan to send men to the Moon and Mars, using reusable spacecraft and a space station big enough to sustain and pay for itself plus support the extra repair/ refueling capacity needed to construct a lunar and planetary expedition fleet. Unfortunately for that plan, printed circuits superseded the fragile and short-lived vacuum tube used in the 1950's and we ended up building much more durable and capable satellites which didn't require the additional on-orbit satellite servicing capabilities envisioned by von Braun. But this situation might be changing. Two companies are currently battling over a variety of US government contracts related to on-orbit satellite servicing and more are waiting in the wings to see which way the wind is blowing. Graphic c/o Commercial Space blog

Here's what we know so far.

The 2018 US Budget Blueprint cites the "duplication" of effort between NASA and other agencies, the need to keep costs down and to "better position" NASA "to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry" as justification for the RESTORE-L cutbacks.

The cutbacks directly effect MDA partner/subsidiary Space Systems Loral (SSL). Late last year, as outlined in the December 12th, 2016 post, "Will the New Space Systems Loral $127Mln NASA Space Robotic Servicing Contract Help Canada?," SSL announced that it had been awarded a $127Mln US ($170Mln CDN) contract to build components for the NASA RESTORE-L mission.

The current cutbacks, although not yet formally approved by the US Congress, will likely spread out disbursements on the RESTORE-L program over multiple years, slowing down progress, cutting into SSL's bottom line and adding administrative costs to a program which will remain in existence, but do less and less each year.

RESTORE-L is currently scheduled for launch in "mid 2020."

As outlined in the September 18th, 2016 post, "Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents," nations with active manned space programs, such as the United States, China and Russia, "represent three-fifths of all patent protection with a worldwide total of more than 4,300 patented space innovations filed since 1960." The only real exception to this concentration of space focused patents is Canada. As outlined in the article, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) possesses substantial patents related to its Mobile Services System (MSS), which includes the Canadarm2 and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), also known as DEXTRE, which currently performs a variety of functions on board the International Space Station (ISS). MDA has served as prime contractor for Canadian government contracts related to the SPDM for most of its existence. Graphic c/o Commercial Space blog.

The 2018 Blueprint also reflects the fact that there is at least one other major corporation competing for US government on-orbit satellite servicing contracts. As outlined in the February 12, 2017 post, "Look Ma! No Canadarms!!! MDA & Orbital ATK Battle for US On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts," the very competitive Virginia based Orbital ATK, might slowly be gaining the upper hand.

For example, as outlined in 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," the official MDA position has been that no Canadian derived technology has ever been used in any US based projects.

But that position seems to have been reversed with the release of the March 15th, 2017 SSL press release, "MDA Recognized by NASA for Robotic Servicing of International Space Station,"

The SSL press release explicitly references contributions made by the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), also known as DEXTRE, during "a robotic upgrade to the International Space Station’s (ISS) power system which took place in January (2017)."

The press release also quotes SSL senior vice president of government systems Rich White as stating that the "team," at SSL and MDA US Systems, a division of MDA specifically referenced as being "managed by SSL," was honored "to be recognized by NASA for its contribution to this mission.”

According to White “SSL and MDA have a long history of collaboration in robotics work for NASA and we continue to work together to design innovative advanced robotic augmentation and servicing systems for future missions.”

A short video highlighting SSL capabilities and competencies in June 2012, about the time when then MDA CEO Dan Friedmann announced that MDA would be acquiring SSL for $875Mln US ($1,169Mln CDN), plus a further $112Mln US ($150Mln CDN) in dividends and other payments from SSL. As outlined June 27th, 2012 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler buys Space Systems Loral for $875M," SSL was purchased by MDA in order to "buy a space company with US roots to gain a foothold in the lucrative US market," and not because of any space robotics expertise possessed by SSL. Screen shot c/o SSL.

According to the press release, "SSL and MDA have the ability to build on robotics technologies proven on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station (ISS), and Mars landers and rovers."

Canadian contributions to the space shuttle, the ISS and the various Mars landers and rovers are not mentioned once in the press release. The press release closes out by mentioning that "as a Silicon Valley innovator for more than 50 years, SSL’s advanced product line also includes state-of-the-art small satellites, and sophisticated robotics and automation solutions for remote operations."

That may be true now. But it wasn't true four years ago when MDA purchased SSL.

And it's also not totally clear why MDA needs to hide the Canadian origins of the technology which is seemingly becoming more and more critical to a successful SSL bid on US government satellite servicing contract. No doubt that information will come out over time.

But as for now, e-mail requests for clarification to both MDA corporate communications manager Wendy Keyser and SSL director of communications Wendy Lewis have gone unanswered.

According to Lewis, "We appreciate you giving us the opportunity to respond to your inquiry (but)... We need to gather the facts to make sure we provide an adequate explanation."

This post will be updated as that "adequate explanation" becomes available.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Part 1: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Before Canada: HMS Agamemnon, the Telegraph Cable, William Leitch & "The Fur Country"

Graphic c/o Pixabay.
         By Robert Godwin
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. 
It's also worth noting that the beginnings of Canada's aerospace history predates Canada itself...
Just over 150 years ago His Majesty's Ship Agamemnon took on the daunting task of trying to lay a telegraph cable across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken, and if it worked, for the first time in history there would be almost instantaneous communication between Europe and North America. 

At first, both the British and United States' governments saw little purpose to the project, but several years later, when the first telegraph message arrived via the eastern coast of Canada, an awakening took place, and politicians and businessmen alike suddenly realised the power and benefits of instant communication over ocean-spanning distances. 

HMS Agamemnon, a 91-gun Royal Navy battleship ordered by the Admiralty in 1849, was part of the British contingent of the 1857-1958 cable laying expedition, along with HMS Leopard and HMS Cyclops. As outlined in the undated post, "Cabot Strait Cable and 1857-58 Atlantic Cables," the United States Government provided USS Niagara as their cable layer with USS Susquehanna to assist. Although their first attempt in 1857 was unsuccessful, the project was resumed the following year and Agamemnon and Niagara successfully joined the ends of their two sections of cable in the middle of the Atlantic on July 29th, 1858 . Graphic c/o

Still living under the rule of British authority, Canada was a vast barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources - almost ten million square kilometres of ice, trees, rivers, lakes and granite. It was divided into Lower and Upper Canada and had yet to combine into the Confederation that exists today. The cable across the Atlantic was successfully laid and by 1866 it had begun to earn money, but it would be decades before the great Canadian wilderness would relinquish its secrets and allow similar telegraphic communication to pass from coast to coast. 

During the 19th century thousands of immigrants from Scotland and elsewhere came to British North America to find a better life. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome was the fragmentation of the country into different jurisdictions. Two émigrés from opposite sides of Scotland, fought on opposite sides of the political aisle, until it became clear that the only way to truly breach the wilderness was the grand vision of a united country. Those two men, John Alexander Macdonald and George Brown, put aside their differences, and along with the native-born Canadian George-Étienne Cartier, set about confederating the disparate parts of an immense country. 

Another Scottish émigré, and a friend of Macdonald's, was a minister named William Leitch. Leitch was that most unusual of things, a Presbyterian scientist; a man of God and a polymath who was steeped in the lessons of natural philosophy, physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy. In 1859 Leitch was invited to come to John Macdonald's hometown of Kingston Ontario to take on the role of Principal at one of the new Canadian universities — Queen's College.  In 1860 he arrived with his telescope and books and set about the task of bringing science to his small roster of students. 

William Leitch (ca. 1861). For more on Leitch, check out the October 4th, 2015 post, "Rocket Spaceflight Accurately Described by Scottish-Canadian Scientist in 1861." Image c/o The Space Library

Leitch had worked and studied at the Horslet Hill optical and magnetic observatory in Glasgow at a time when a global initiative had been undertaken by the Royal Society to try and understand why the earth's magnetic field seemed to fluctuate and change over time. The Royal Society established a string of magnetic observatories around the Empire and built one of them in Toronto — it was Canada's first observatory. 

As this research program began to bear fruit in the early 1850s it became apparent that Canada played a unique part in this great cosmic puzzle. The north magnetic pole was located somewhere in the frozen wilderness of Canada's arctic. This random quirk of fate would be a major factor in everything that was to come in Canada's aerospace future. 

To tame such a huge swathe of our home planet was going to take generations of work by scientists and engineers, and the key to success was being able to communicate over wide tracts of territory, when much of it had never even been explored. New technologies like the telegraph would have to be deployed, but it was soon learned that the long cables, even those laid in the dark depths of the ocean were subject to interference from cosmic sources, in particular the cycles of the sun. 

Astronomers like Leitch had been lecturing for years on astronomy and also on the sun's disturbing prominence's, and he had even had a hand in teaching astronomy to Lord Kelvin, the man who had been responsible for laying that first cable across the Atlantic from Ireland to Canada.  

After it had been determined that the sun was interacting with the earth's drifting magnetic fields it was not long before those same fields were also proven to be the source of that most magnificent aerial display, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.  The first peoples to arrive in Canada in prehistoric times had marvelled at these displays of ionized particles, and their oral history attributed them to the place where their ancestors went to play a sort-of primitive version of soccer. 

Another story suggested that the fall of night was caused by a huge animal skin being drawn across the sky and the auroral lights were the skin catching fire. As terrifying a prospect as that might seem, the enigmatic lights would prove to be a somewhat less lethal but much more intractable problem to solve. 

When William Leitch arrived in Canada he had already begun to imagine a future where it might be possible to investigate solar prominences and other phenomena by travelling into space. In the late summer of 1861 he wrote an essay entitled "A Journey Through Space" in which he postulated that the best way to make such a journey would be by using a rocket, operating under the simple principals of action and reaction. 

Leitch realised that a vehicle powered by such a device would be more efficient in space. His insight seems to represent the first time that anyone had considered such a trip, using the right device, for all of the right reasons. William Leitch would not live to see his imaginary rocket-ship venture into the cold depths of space. He died at the age of 49 and was buried with honour in Kingston Ontario exactly 93 years to the day before the first real spacecraft would fly.

Six years after Macdonald, Brown and Cartier had agreed on a vision of a united Canada, the great French novelist Jules Verne wrote a book about scientists exploring the untracked Canadian wilderness. It was called "Le Pays des Fourrures" (The Fur Country) and it told the story of a group of adventurers who are sent above the 70th parallel to a location named Cape Bathurst, where the astronomer in the group is seeking out information about the night sky. Like so many of his other stories, Verne seemed to have an uncanny knack for recognizing the best places to set his scientific romances. 

Just seven years after his novel, in 1879, a group of scientists gathered in Germany to propose just such a campaign, but it would involve contributors from around the globe travelling and establishing research stations in the Polar Regions. By the summer of 1881 the newly united country of Canada was being asked to contribute to this great undertaking. 

The year of 1882 would be designated the first International Polar Year and its legacy would ultimately herald the space age. 
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Next Week, "The International Polar Year, the Silver Dart, Canada's First Air Show and Aerospace Becomes Serious Business," in part two as "100 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Metamaterials" and You!

          By Brian Orlotti

A recently released report has analysed the global metamaterials market, revealing that it is poised for growth of around 19.8% over the next decade, reaching approximately $3.11Bln US ($4.18Bln CDN) by 2025.

Canada has been an active player in this realm, with a variety of new developments.

As outlined in the March 9th, 2017 PRNewswire press release, "Global $3.11 Billion Metamaterials Technologies Market Analysis & Trends 2013-2016 - Industry Forecast to 2025 - Research and Markets," the report, entitled "Global Metamaterials Technologies Market Analysis & Trends - Industry Forecast to 2025," presented detailed market analysis based on interviews with professionals from across the industry supported by secondary research.

It focused on 23 nations including the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Metamaterials are materials engineered to have properties not found in nature. They are made from assemblies of multiple elements arranged in repeating patterns and fashioned from composite materials such as metals or plastics. Metamaterials derive their unique properties not from the characteristics of their base materials, but from their resulting structures.

These structures’ precise shape, geometry, size, orientation and arrangement make metamaterials capable of manipulating electromagnetic waves, such as light and sound. By blocking, absorbing, enhancing, or bending these waves, metamaterials achieve benefits beyond those of conventional materials.

Metamaterials have a wide variety of potential applications. Researchers have shown off optical invisibility cloaks, audio dampeners, as well as "unfeelability" cloaks. Other applications in development include:
  • Tiny elastic ceramics that spring back after being squashed by up to 50%
  • Microchip-sized phased-array antennas
  • Earthquake shielding for buildings
  • Superlenses that would allow imaging beyond the limits of conventional glass lenses
  • Materials with programmable stiffness
Canadians have mounted their own noteworthy efforts in the metamaterials field.

Metamaterial Technologies Inc. (MTI), a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia based firm, has created an anti-laser guard that utilizes metamaterials to protect aircraft pilots from the increasingly common threat of laser strikes. Designed by MTI’s optical filters division, Lamda Guard, the guard is a thin film that can be fixed to the inside of a cockpit window, reflecting excess light away from its surface to protect pilots’ eyes. The guard is made from a flexible, colour-neutral photo-polymer film.

On Feb 21st, MTI announced a partnership with European aerospace giant Airbus to test and certify its new product at Halifax’s Discovery Centre.

At the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS), engineering Professor Safieddin (Ali) Safavi-Naeini and his fellow researchers are working on the next generation of advanced, low-cost "intelligent" antennas utilizing metamaterials.

As outlined in the May 13th, 2016 Waterloo Engineering post, "Next generation of advanced, low cost, intelligent antennas," these advanced antennas would be  initially used in communications among cars, aircraft, ships and satellites and eventually incorporated into consumer goods such as cellphones and computers.

CIARS has partnered with Ottawa, Ontario-based C-Com Satellite Systems Inc. to develop small modular phased array antennas intended to shake up the satellite antenna industry. These antenna modules can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes which can conform to both flat and curved surfaces, using existing 3D printers designed for building low-cost electronic circuits. 

Unlike typical phased array antennas, which require phase-shifters on each separate element, Dr. Safavi-Naeini’s antenna modules include onboard phase shifters without the need for additional power-consuming components, on a printed board compatible with standard circuit manufacturing techniques.

The completed array will even continue to function if some of the components are damaged, exhibiting "graceful degradation" of capability rather than catastrophic failure.

With their layered capabilities now coming to light, metamaterials definitely live up to their name.
Brian Orlotti.

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

The State of the CDN Space Sector, Our "Innovation Agenda," UrtheCast, exactEarth, More Government & Orbcomm, Which is #1!

          By Henry Stewart

It's just got to be noteworthy that the "second" most important space story in Canada this week (after the ongoing selection of two new CSA astronauts) is the announcement from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) that they have released their most recent survey of the Canadian space industry, covering the year 2014.

Yes. 2014. But there's more!

The "State of the Canadian Space Sector 2014" is a direct follow-on to the Euroconsult produced "2015 Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector," which covered 2013 and utilized methodologies developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As outlined by CSA president Sylvain Laporte in the preamble, "the 2014 survey results indicate that the space sector has achieved revenues of $5.4B and a workforce of over 10,000. Upstream segment activities related to research, engineering and manufacturing account for $1B. Downstream segment operations, products and services account for $4.4B, with Satellite Communication dominating the downstream segment. Domestic, and particularly commercial, sales emerged as the most important area for growth in 2014. At the same time, export markets experienced some contraction. Overall, the space sector contributed $2.9B to gross domestic product (GDP) and helped maintain 25,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) in the wider Canadian economy." For a direct comparison between the OECD methodologies and the techniques used in the earlier, CSA created "State of the Canadian Space Sector 2013," check out the June 12th, 2016 post, "A Quick Conversation with Euroconsult on the 'Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector.'" Graphic c/o CSA

The 2% year over year growth rate for the Canadian space industry as reported in the new document (which was released in February 2017) is substantially lower than the 9% year over year worldwide growth rate reported in the "2015 Space Report; The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity," the annual publication of the Colorado based Space Foundation.

And the 2015 Space Report, which also covered 2014, was released twenty months ago, in July 2015. As outlined in the July 18th, 2015 press release, "The Space Report 2015 PDF is Now Available," the larger international based report indicated that:
... the global space economy grew slightly more than 9 percent (in 2014), reaching a total of $330 billion worldwide, up from 2013's $302.5 billion. 
Together, commercial space activities made up 76 percent of the global space economy. The industry as a whole demonstrated a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of seven percent from 2005 to 2014, nearly doubling in size over the course of the decade.
For those who'd like something a little more current, here are a few of the other stories we're tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

  • It's hardly surprising given our first story this week, but it's worth noting that the Canadian Federal government is still in the midst of finalizing its "Innovation Agenda," and the allocation of the $800Mln CDN expected to be spent to support it over the next four years.
At least that's the story in the March 13th, 2017 Canadian Press post, "Feds still finalizing $800M innovation fund." According to the article, "an $800-million commitment central to the Trudeau government’s economic growth strategy is expected to be divvied up within the next few months among groups and companies that can persuade Ottawa they’re best positioned to help young, high-potential firms flourish." 
Ottawa hopes those companies will evolve into strong job creators able to provide Canada with an economic boost and long-term, high paying jobs. However, according to the article, "even with this month’s release of a budget billed as a plan focused on innovation, specifics on the $800-million program will likely have to wait a little longer."
Evidently, at least according to the article, there is still some questions about whether investments will be provided directly to high-growth Canadian companies or focused on funding the universities and incubators which support them.
As outlined in the January 16th, 2017 post, "The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency 'Long-Term Strategy'," no one expects any major money to show up for science and space related CSA driven projects until well after June 2017, when the government said it will unveil its new "long-term strategy" for space. 
The Federal budget is expected to be released next Wednesday, March 22nd.
Some space agencies just know how to do it right. As outlined in the March 8th, 2017 NASA press release, "NASA Selects Over 100 Small Business Projects to Advance Space Innovation," NASA has "selected 133 proposals from US companies to conduct research and develop technologies that will enable NASA's future missions into deep space and benefit the US economy." The proposals, valued at approximately $100Mln US (approximately $135Mln CDN), were selected under Phase II of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. It's unfortunate that the CSA has been publicly opposed to the US SBIR program. To learn why, it's worth taking a look at the July 19th, 2009 post “Canadian Space Agency Provides "No Dedicated Programs" to Support Small Aerospace Firms." and the July 24th, 2009 follow-up post "OK, So Maybe the CSA Does Provide Some Support for Small Aerospace Firms" Graphic c/o NASA.
  • Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast is raising money. 
As outlined in the March 6th, 2016 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Corp. Announces $17 Million Bought Deal," the company has entered into an agreement with a syndicate of underwriters co-led by Clarus Securities Inc. and Canaccord Genuity Corp,, where the underwriters will purchase, on a "bought deal" basis, 11,333,340 common shares of the Company at $1.50 CDN per common share. 
Aggregate gross proceeds to the company should total just over $17Mln CDN. 
The offering is expected to close "on or about" March 23rd, 2017 and is subject to certain conditions including (but not limited to) the approval of the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). 
As outlined in the press release, "the securities have not been, and will not be, registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the "U.S. Securities Act"), or any U.S. state securities laws, and may not be offered or sold in the United States without registration under the U.S. Securities Act and all applicable state securities laws or compliance with the requirements of an applicable exemption therefrom."
The advantage of the bought deal from the issuer's perspective is that they do not have to worry about financing risk, which is assumed by the purchaser or, in this case, by the underwriters.
  • Cambridge, Ontario based ExactEarth Ltd. has reported a $2Mln CDN loss in its fiscal first quarter as revenue from a federal government contract fell sharply.
As outlined in the March 8th, 2017 Waterloo Region Record post, "ExactEarth Q1 loss doubles on lower revenue from government contract," the scrappy supplier of automatic identification system (AIS) ocean tracking services (spun off from what used to be COM DEV International before it was purchased by New Jersey based conglomerate Honeywell International in January 2016), lost only $1Mln CDN during the same period last year.
Orbcomm CEO Eisenberg. Photo c/o Orbcomm.
ExactEarth recorded revenue of $3.3Mln CDN in the three months ended January 31st, down from $6.4Mln CDN in the first quarter a year earlier. 
The company blamed the decreased revenue on a Canadian Federal government contract, which accounted for the $3.1Mln CDN difference. 
That contract was originally outlined in the February 14th, 2016 post, "Newborn exactEarth Faces its First Battle for the Worm," and revisited in the May 7th, 2016 post, "Orbcomm, Skywave, exactEarth, CSA Rovers, High School Robotics, MDA, Emerson, Magellan, Honeywell & UrtheCast," 
ExactEarth said it booked $8.9Mln CDN in orders in the first quarter, up from $4.2Mln CDN in the same period a year earlier. 
To no one's surprise, exactEarth's competition for the Canadian government contract, New Jersey based Orbcomm, trumpeted its success to all who would listen. 
As outlined in the March 2nd, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "Orbcomm: Canadian, Australian, European wins show our AIS dominance," Orbcomm CEO  Marc J. Eisenberg said "the company's recent wins of satellite-based AIS maritime vessel surveillance increase Orbcomm's AIS business to around $8 million per year," or more than half of what Orbcomm views as the total global addressable market. 
In other words, they're number one! Canadian firms will just have to wait for the next Canadian government opportunity.
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Canadian Space Agency is Thinking About "Deep Space" and Relevance

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has announced that it, along with "space agencies around the world" are "exploring how to contribute to the exciting new opportunities that will ensue as humanity takes its next steps into the solar system."

Groovy. This blog, along with most of the rest of the Canadian space industry, is absolutely up for that. We'd just like to be kept updated on a few of the specifics.

However, as outlined in the March 6th, 2017 CSA press release, "Canada prepares for the future of human spaceflight to deep space," not a lot of those details are currently available, although public comments on the process stress how very, very pleased everyone is.

According to the press release, "Over the course of the next year, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will provide multiple opportunities for Canada's space community (academia, industry and government departments) to propose innovative ideas for science and technologies in areas that could contribute to future human space exploration and generate benefits on earth. Opportunities to submit proposals will be consolidated" on the new CSA Funding Opportunities website.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It might even be a useful if the funding opportunities website didn't just link to the already existing CSA Announcements of Opportunity website and the main page of the Canadian Federal government website, which already posts CSA announcements of opportunities (AO), letters of interest (LOI), request for information (RFI) and other types of requests and funding opportunities.

A useful reminder that, except for an overall improvement in style, the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government isn't all that much different from the previous Stephen Harper Conservative government. This is especially true of our science and technology policy, which is currently wrapped around the high sounding idea of "Canada's Innovation Agenda," although most of the practical policy details are missing. The only real exception is the broad bipartisan support enjoyed by the recommendations of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which are mostly not discussed, since they led to the removal of procurement and policy making from the CSA portfolio in 2014. Graphic c/o the Winter 2017 Canadian Dimension magazine.

What the CSA is actually doing is madly hunting down data and information to bolster the concept that it's a useful organization.

It's why, as outlined in the March 6th, 2017 post "CSA offering $100K to $2Mln for STDP Industrial Capability-Building Contributions, MAYBE!," the CSA is posting announcements of opportunities (AOs) to provide financial support to businesses in the Canadian space industry that develop technological innovations with a potential for tangible economic benefits for Canada, and "to encourage the space industry to collaborate with the academic sector in the implementation of the AOs by promoting projects that will include student participation."

Maybe those academics and students will think more kindly of the CSA now, even through there is not a lot of money involved, no formal funding commitments have been made (the AO is pretty explicit about this) and any future funding is quite the ways down the road.

That's also why, as outlined in the February 13th, 2017 post, "OMX, Trump, Trudeau, Bombardier's Bailout, the UK Space Agency, UK Spaceports, CSA Earth Imaging Grants & MAFIC Studios," 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).

AIAC VP Christie. Photo c/o author.
Maybe the drone industry will think more kindly of the CSA now, especially if they feel the need for an intermediary to manage their requirements (one of the listed reasons for the program is "to encourage the space industry to collaborate with the academic sector in the implementation of the AOs by promoting projects that will include student participation").

The need to develop a positive public image might also be at least part of the rational for the recent collaboration between the CSA, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) and the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

As outlined in the February 28th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "‘Old Space’ ‘New Space’ Collaborate on Canadian Space 2.0 Round Table," not much was said at the meeting, but a lot of people attended and everyone was publicly pleased with the result. According to AIAC executive vice-president Iain Christie, who also acted as the event's moderator, "we are very pleased with the discussions that took place at the Space 2.0 event last week."

Of course, most of what's really going on is the simple jockeying for Federal funding which is typical of Canada's pre-budget political process. We certainly should not begrudge the players looking for a few crumbs of sustenance in Budget 2017.

But the Federal liberals have already stated that real changes to the CSA, including the development of a new space plan for the long-term, won't happen until June 2017, well after this budget is released.

That's the real reason why, as outlined in the January 16th, 2017 post, "The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency 'Long-Term Strategy'," no one expects any money will show up for science and space related projects until well after June 2017.

But, at least until then, all the players remain "very pleased." And our space agency is also "thinking" about "deep space."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, March 06, 2017

NASA's Eclipse by the Private Sector

          By Brian Orlotti

Over the past week, four leading commercial space firms have announced major new projects. In the same time frame, across-the-board US government budget cuts by the Trump Administration have been announced likely targeting agencies including NASA and NOAA.

These events, combined with the ongoing discussions regarding Mars settlement between US President Trump and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, could foreshadow both the NewSpace industry’s rise to preeminence and the eclipse of NASA.

To begin with, and as outlined in the February 27th, 2017 Guardian post, "SpaceX to send two people around the moon who paid for a 2018 private mission," Hawthorne, California based SpaceX announced that it will send two unnamed private citizens on a journey around the Moon aboard a crewed version of its Dragon spacecraft in late 2018.

The two paying individuals will undergo health and fitness tests and begin initial training later this year.

As outlined in the article, "if SpaceX accomplishes the trip before Nasa or another space agency can send astronauts to the moon, it would be the first lunar mission with humans in 45 years, on a course that would extend past the record 249,000 miles traveled by the Apollo 13 astronauts in 1970."

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, if NASA really wants to go to the Moon, he would be happy to bounce the paying passengers to a later flight.

Bigelow graphic promoting its BA 330 inflatable space module in orbit around the Moon. Graphic c/o Bigelow Aerospace. 

Just days later, Las Vegas, Nevada based Bigelow Aerospace unveiled plans for a orbital lunar outpost by tweeting images of its BA 330 module orbiting the Moon with the caption, ‘If initiated soon, a lunar depot could be in operation by the end of 2020.’

As outlined in the March 1st, 2017 Florida Politics post, "Robert Bigelow: ‘We stand ready’ to send station to the moon," Bigelow Aerospace CEO Robert Bigelow stated that he decided to go public with his lunar plans after hearing President Trump’s February 28th, 2017 speech to the US Congress, which contained a vague reference to “American footprints on distant worlds.”

Bigelow also said he is "picking up President Donald Trump signals that he wants to see something exciting happening with NASA in his first term, and Bigelow believes that is a signal to those inside NASA to start thinking moon again."

Bigelow Aerospace is marketing its B330 module for combined use by private and public sector astronauts focused in industry and research, commercial exploration and space tourism. A Bigelow module is currently attached to the International Space Station (ISS) for testing.

Most of the 200 current employees of the new 180,000-square-foot Virgin Orbit manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California. As outlined in the March 3rd, 2017 Engaget post "Virgin Galactic forms new company for low-cost smallsat launches," the new company will focus "on low-cost small satellite launches based on the company's LauncherOne system." Photo c/o Virgin Orbit.

The next day, the UK based Virgin Group announced the creation of a new spin-off company, Virgin Orbit, that will focus on satellite launches. Operating out of Long Beach, CA, the new firm’s 200 employees will work out of a 180,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

As outlined in the March 2nd, 2017 post, "Virgin Galactic Unveils Spin-Off Virgin Orbit for Small-Satellite Launches," Virgin Orbit will implement the LauncherOne program, an initiative to launch small satellites from a Boeing 747 aircraft. Under the program, the 747 (named ‘Cosmic Girl’) will carry a ‘LauncherOne’ rocket beneath a wing up to 35,000 feet.

Upon reaching this altitude, the rocket will be released and fire its first stage engine to head into space. The rocket will then separate and ignite its second stage, boosting the vehicle and its payload into Earth orbit.

Amazon's Bezos, eyeing the Moon! Amazon and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post plus a variety of other business interests, and is listed as the 5th richest man in the world (according to Forbes Magazine annual listing of the World's Billionaires, which excludes royalty and dictators ). Such wealth and power makes to difficult to ignore his pronouncements. Photo c/o Getty.

And finally, on March 2nd, the Washington Post announced that Kent, Washington based Blue Origin is planning to develop a lunar spacecraft with a lander dubbed ‘Blue Moon.’

As outlined in the March 2nd, 2017 Washington Post article, "An exclusive look at Jeff Bezos’s plan to set up Amazon-like delivery for ‘future human settlement’ of the moon," Bezos intends to use Blue Moon to establish an Amazon-like shipping service that would deliver equipment needed to establish human settlements on the Moon by the mid-2020s. Blue Moon could also deploy rovers and scientific instruments meant to study the Moon in detail.

As outlined in the article, "the commercial sector's interest comes as many anticipate support from the Trump administration, which is eager for a first-term triumph to rally the nation the way the Apollo flights did in the late 1960s and early 1970s."

It's also worth noting that, as outlined in the March 6th, 2017 Engaget post, "Blue Origin's latest rocket engine is finally complete," Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos has just announced his company's new BE-4 on social media.

The timing of these firms’ various announcements, along with President Trump’s consultations with the two most prominent NewSpace CEOs (i.e Musk and Bezos), suggest at least some degree of coordination.

The potential hobbling of NASA through large budget cuts and Trump’s stated ambition for new space achievements may provide a power vacuum which the growing NewSpace industry could fill.

Such a turn of events would be the ‘perfect storm’ of opportunity.
Brian Orlotti.

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

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