Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The UK Gets a Spaceport, a New, Mostly Privately Funded Rocket and a New Partnership With Elecnor Deimos

         By Chuck Black

A remote area on the the northern coast of Scotland between the coastal villages of Tongue and Durnesson is on track to become the UK’s first operational spaceport. The new UK spaceport may also launch a new UK funded and built microsat launcher when it becomes operational in the early 2020's.

Unlike the controversial (and currently unfunded) proposal for a Canadian space port discussed most recently in the May 25th, 2018 post, "Maritime Launch Services Will Not Say When It Will Begin Building Proposed Canso NS Commercial Spaceport," the Scotish proposal is being championed by local government through the Scottish Government's economic and community development agency, known as Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which intends to build the launch site on Scotland's A’Mhoine peninsula.

As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 The Gaurdian post, "Rocket men: locals divided over plans for UK's first spaceport" initial funding for the spaceport will be provided through a £2.5Mln ($4.35Mln CDN) grant from the UK Space Agency.

The prime contractor for the project, which will receive an additional $31Mln US ($40.73Mln CDN) from the UK Space Agency, will be Bethesda, MD based Lockheed Martin, a US based global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company.

According to the article, a second “horizontal” spaceport will also be created at Cornwall airport near Newquay over the next few years in order to accomodate the requirements of Long Beach CA based Virgin Orbit, a company within the Virgin Group which plans to provide launch services for small satellites:
Virgin Orbit, part of the Virgin Group, is aiming to launch satellites into space by using a modified 747-400. 
The Boeing will carry a rocket under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release it at around 11,000m (35,000ft) for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth’s orbit.
As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Lockheed Martin press release, "Lockheed Martin To Help UK Space Agency Build First Commercial Spaceport; Launch First Orbital Rocket," the initiatives "will not only spark advancements in science and innovation, it will create new opportunities for current and future UK-based suppliers to become part of the next space age."

The spaceport announcements were made at the annual Farnborough International Air Show, which is being held in Farnborough UK from July 16th -22nd.

Also, and as outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Orbex press release, "Orbex Secures £30 Million Funding for UK Space Launch Vehicles,"  London UK based Orbex has secured £30Mln ($52Mln CDN) towards delivery of a fully "European orbital micro-launch system."

As outlined in the press release:
Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company, with subsidiaries and production facilities in Denmark and Germany. 
The company has received funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), two of Europe's largest venture capital funds, Sunstone Technology Ventures and the High-Tech Gründerfonds, as well as private investors, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme.
Orbex has "already secured commercial engagements with major aerospace organisations." which have "contracted Orbex to study the development of a European micro launcher solution." As outlined in the press release:
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) has joined Orbex as Chairman of the Advisory Board. He is joined by other notable figures from the space industry, including Jan Skolmli, Orbex’s recently-appointed Chief Commercial Officer, who was formerly Head of Launch at SSTL, the world’s leading small satellite manufacturer. 
Orbex staff members have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA and several other commercial spaceflight organisations. Equipment developed by Orbex team members has flown on more than 50 deep space missions, and collectively they have developed more than 50 rocket engines and a wide range of orbital and suborbital launch vehicles.
The Orbex launcher, called "Prime" is expected to be used at the New Scotish spaceport.
Editors Note: And the announcements keep coming. 
As outlined in the July 17th, 2018 Orbex press release, "Orbex and Elecnor Deimos Form Strategic Partnership for Satellite Launches," Spanish based aerospace systems integrator Elecnor Deimos has acquired a stake in Orbex.
According to the press release, "both companies have (also) signed a strategic agreement, building on previous collaborations between the two companies when successfully bidding together in UK and international tenders."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Maxar Technologies Has Just Bought the Neptec Design Group for $42Mln CDN

        By Henry Stewart

Brampton, ON based MDA, the Canadian subsidiary of the Denver CO based  Maxar Technologies, a company once known as Richmond BC based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, has acquired Kanata ON based Neptec Design Group, in a deal valued at $42Mln CDN.

As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Maxar Technologies press release, "Maxar Technologies' MDA Announces Acquisition of Neptec Design Group, a Leading Space Sensors Company in Canada and the United Kingdom," $8Mln CDN will be paid out in cash, with the balance paid out in Maxar common shares.

According to the press release:
With Neptec, MDA will deliver end-to-end robotic systems and an expanded set of solutions, positioning the company to capture growth in US, Canadian and global space exploration markets and accelerate advancement into new and expanding space segments. 
The transaction is accretive to Maxar's operating earnings per share beginning in 2019, solidifies MDA's leadership in space robotics innovation, and reinforces Maxar's industry-leading space capabilities.
According to MDA group president Mike Greenly, the acquisition "provides a tremendous opportunity to advance and grow MDA and Neptec internationally, develop powerful new technologies and drive future economies."

"The Neptec team is well-established in the industry, and this investment represents an important strategic opportunity to offer broader solutions for the growing space exploration market," he said.

Of course, several commentators have also mentioned that, while the deal adds new technologies to the already impressive Maxar robotics portfolio, it also further consolidates an already shaky and possibly shrinking domestic industry around a single, foreign owned player.

The truth may need to wait for the expected release of the latest of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) State of the Canadian Space Sector report. The newest report (covering the year 2016) should be released sometime this summer.

As for Neptec...

Founded in 1990, the privately owned Neptec Design Group provided "machine vision solutions for space, industrial, and military applications" to NASA for 3D imaging, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and triangulation and LIDAR automated rendezvous and docking (TRIDAR) technologies which controlled the various Canadarms attached to US space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS).

Neptec currently employs approximately 100 people in Kanata and the UK and recently won a series of contracts with the CSA worth several million dollars in total. The company says that the new contracts will help it develop the next generation of cameras and sensors.

It will be missed.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Canadian Science Policy Centre and Chief Science Advisor Connecting Science With Politics

        By Henry Stewart

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), in an effort to build on its successful campaign to increase Federal government science funding and in partnership with the Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, has rolled out a pilot program offering scientists and engineers from various disciplines a chance to "develop an understanding of the parliamentary process."

CSPC is looking for sponsors for its "Science Meets Parliment" program, primarily from academic institutions. To learn more, please check out the Partnership Prospectus. Graphic c/o CSPC.

It's a useful activity which members of Canada's space community, stung by the recent failure of the Federally mandated Space Advisory Board (SAB) to increase Federal funding for private and public sector space activities, would do well to emulate.

As outlined in the July 9th, 2018 CSPC press release, "CSPC in Partnership with Chief Science Advisor Present: Science Meets Parliament," the program offers scientists and engineers a chance to spend a day on Ottawa's Parliment Hill, and shadow a member of parliment (MP) or senator.

The plan was first developed as part of the CSPC Five-Year Strategic Plan (2018-2023), mainly as a mechanism to connect the two communities of scientists and politicians, foster dialogue and enhance mutual understanding.

As outlined in the press release:
This is a unique opportunity that invites scientists and engineers of various disciplines to spend one day on the Hill, shadow an MP or senator, explore their role in modern political decision making, and develop an understanding of the parliamentary process. 
As outlined on the CSPC "Science Meets Parliament" website, the program:
...is modeled on the acclaimed program run by Science and Technology Australia, now in its 19th year. You can find more information about the Science and Technology Australia’s Science Meets Parliament event by clicking here
As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," Canada's space sector was mostly left out of the 2018 budget which included "historic increases" in funding for applied and basic science programs.

Much of the credit for this increased funding was due to the April 10th 2017 release of the of the David Naylor led final report on "Canada's Fundamental Science Review," which advocated for structural changes and increased funding for basic research.

The report was popularized and promoted over the next year through organizations like the CSPC and contributed substantially to the increased basic science funding attached to Budget 2018.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More VASIMR Around the Corner, Just Maybe Not For Canada

         By Chuck Black

Readers of this blog have noted Halifax, NS based Aethera Technologies, which was recently awarded $1.5Mln CDN under the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP) to develop advanced high-power radio frequency power processing units (RF-PPUs) for Webster, TX based Ad Astra Rocket Company’s variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) plasma engine.

But Aethera shows indications of being a spin-off of another NS based company.

Hackets Cove NS based Nautel Ltd., has worked with Ad Astra on similar projects in the past and both Aethera senior engineer Brian Walker and Aethera senior electronic technologist Matthew Skinner were long-term Nautel employees before leaving to join Athera.

Creating a spin-off to commercialize new technology would certainly make sense, given that Nautel is a forty year old firm with an existing global business to focus on.

But some have mentioned that Aethera also shows indications of being mostly a US owned company, albeit with lots of Canadian employees and a NS based primary location.

If the CSA has indeed funded a US run firm to provide a component for a US space breakthrough, that act would seem laden with irony during this period of heighted trade war concerns between Canada and the US.

Anyway, based on information provided by readers and some new research, here's the background:
Both firms were incorporated provincially in NS. 
  • As outlined in the December 11th, 2017 update to the Opencorporates database ("The Open Database Of The Corporate World"), Water Spider Technologies Canada has been around since December 2014 and lists Walker on the board.
Other directors include Kirk Zwicker (another long-term Nautel employee), Tim Hardy  (until 2016, the head of engineering at Nautel), Robert Cowan (a partner at the Halifax NS based McInnes Cooper law firm, who practices corporate/ business law and specializes in technology and intellectual property issues) and Charles Andrew Schue III, the founder, president and CEO of North Billerica, MA based UrsaNAV, a specialist technology company focused around pointing, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies and the eLoran low-frequency radionavigation system, which serves as a ground based network for PNT. 
Coincidence? Maybe not.

July 11th, 2018 screenshot from the UrsaNav website showing Charles Shue III bio. To access the full page, simply click on this link. Screen shot c/o UrsaNav

  • The Virginia based Water Spider Technologies had moved locations within Virginia in Febuary 2014. As outlined in the June 5th, 2018 Opencorporates post on the Virginia based Water Spider Technologies, the company had been created only in January 2014 and was dissolved on December 31st, 2017.
The only corporate director listed was lawyer/agent Joseph F. Jackson, a founding partner of the Richmond, VA based Roth Jackson law firm. As outlined on a Virginia SCC website entity search result for Water Spider Technologies LLC, Roth Jackson acted as the registry agent for the company formation. 
But the company seems to have been run by the same Schue, who was listed as a director at Water Spider Technologies Canada Ltd.
In addition to the above change of address letter from him, on October 21st, 2016 Schue also registered the waterspidertechnologies.info website with Scottsdale AZ based GoDaddy, a publicly traded Internet domain registrar and web hosting company. He also  listed himself as the primary contact person.
  • Schue and UrsaNav also have other public connections to Nautel. An example, as outlined in the March 26th, 2012 Nautel press release, "UrsaNav Tests eLoran, LF Timing Potential," is the 2012 partnership between Schue's UrsaNAV and Nautel to test PNT technologies for eLoran.

Two July 11th, 2018 screenshots from Charles Schue's LinkedIn profile, where he lists himself as "Owner, Director, Investor" of Aethera and states that, "I served as the "start-up" president and today, I remain a majority owner, director and shareholder." Screenshot c/o LinkedIn.

Here's the timeline of activities, based on the based on a variety of sourced documents listed above and below:
  • In 2012 Nautel and UrsaNAV (Schue's company) began working together.
  • In January 2014, Schue created Water Spider Technologies LLC in Virginia. In December 2014, Schue and some Nautel employees started Water Spider Technologies Canada in Nova Scotia.
  • On December 31st, 2017, Water Spider Technologies LLC was dissolved, and one month later on January 29th, 2018, Water Spider Technologies Canada changed its name to Aethera Technologies.
Of course, the Canadian based ex-Nautel employees have done well under Schue.

Tim Hardy left Nautel in November 2016 and is now Aethera's CTO. In March 2017, Kirk Zwicker left Nautel to become either Aethera's president and or chief operating officer (depending on which source you use).

In April 2017 Brian Walker left Nautel and started a new position as senior engineer at Aethera. In Jan 2018, Matthew Skinner left Nautel and joined Aethera as senior electronic technologist.

The Washington DC based Schue also seems to be doing well.

His LinkedIn profile lists him as being "Owner, Director, Investor" of Aethera, UrsaNAV and Leesburg, VA based Tagence, a data management company which partners "with a diverse set of federal, state and local agencies to create efficient, compliant solutions that work in the government space."

Schue's LinkedIn profile also states that he "served as the "start-up" president (of Aethera) and today, I remain a majority owner, director and shareholder."

As for the CSA, the Canadian government organization which provided Aethera with the $1.5Mln CDN grant to perform subcontract work for an US based Ad Astra, here's hoping that they didn't just give the money away to another bunch of opportunistic Americans.

If the CSA or another Canadian public or private granting agency or angel investor had provided funding a little earlier in the process, perhaps there would be a Canadian in the leadership position now.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Russian Space Program is Entering a Dark Age

        By Henry Stewart

ArsTechnica has posted an interesting piece on the decline of the Russian space capabilities, using references from Lenta.ru, a Moscow-based Russian language online newspaper.

As outlined in the July 9th, 2018 ArsTechnica post, "Russian editor: Our space program is entering the 'Dark Ages'"  Lenta.ru author/editor Andrei Borisov has captured:
...the fading zeitgeist of the Russian space program in a lengthy article on the new leader of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, and the changes he has proposed. 
Dmitry Rogozin. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
"(What) Rogozin is trying to create reminds one of the Dark Ages in Europe," Borisov writes on Lenta.Ru, where he serves as editor of science and technology. 
"In it, there is no place for modernization, there is only the mission of survival."
The article catalogs current Russian efforts to develop newer, competitive rockets and modern spacecraft.

But according to Borisov, those efforts are behind schedule, outdated or already non-competitive.

Failed plans include numerous rocket redesigns, multiple political revisions of the various departments comprising the current Russian space program, the failed creation of a "super-heavy" rocket and even a planned, although cancelled, manned mission to the Moon in 2015.

As well, funding for ongoing operations will likely take a hit in the near future. As outlined in the article:
As soon as next year, the United States plans to stop paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Russia for Soyuz seats, because it is developing its own transport to the space station. 
And the European Space Agency has signaled that it will stop launching Russian Soyuz rockets from its French Guiana-based spaceport in the early 2020s.
All in all, the article is interesting reading and well worth checking out for its compilation of recent history and insights into the future of the Russian space program.

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

Monday, July 09, 2018

VASIMR Around the Corner

          By Brian Orlotti

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has announced the signing of an agreement with a Halifax, NS based company to fund development of a vital component for a futuristic plasma rocket engine.

The move highlights a new Canadian interest in technologies for long-term access beyond-low Earth orbit (LEO) and deep space. 

As outlined in the July 1st, 2018 Costa Rica Star post, "Canadian Space Agency Provided $1.5 Million Funding for Ad Astra Rocket Costa Rica," the agreement, provided under the CSA’s Space Technology Development Program (STDP), calls for approximately $1.5Mln CDN to be granted to Halifax, NS based Aethera Technologies Ltd.

As outlined in the June 1st, 2018 CSA website document "Disclosure of grants and contributions awards for Q4 2017-2018," the award was for:
Future exploration of our solar system (which) will require continuous innovation and improvements to in-space propulsion. 
Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Aethera Technologies is developing critical technology for advanced in-space electric propulsion. Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®) technology has extremely low fuel consumption and much higher performance when compared with conventional chemical propulsion or other electric rockets. 
The technology offers economic and operational advantages in space commerce, including satellite deployment, re-boost services, refurbishment, and end-of-life disposal.  
This technology advances humanity's evolution beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and significantly contributes to the world's technology base for the exploration of space. 
Leveraging Aethera's expertise in the field of High-Power Radio Frequency systems, the project focuses on the development of Radio Frequency Power Processing Units with extremely high electrical energy conversion efficiencies and mass density.
Aethera is a provider of technology and services in the fields of radio frequency power, communications, and dielectric heating. Aethera will use the funds to develop advanced high-power radio frequency power processing units (RF-PPUs) for Webster, TX based Ad Astra Rocket Company’s variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) plasma engine.

The VASIMR, in contrast to chemical rocket engines, uses plasma (an extremely hot, electrically charged gas) accelerated by magnetic fields to generate thrust. Plasma rockets such as VASIMR offer extremely low fuel consumption and greater performance compared to chemical rockets.

Plasma rockets’ disadvantages include a low thrust-to-weight ratio and an inability to operate outside a vacuum, making them unsuitable for launching payloads from Earth’s surface.

Oddly enough, the award passed mostly unnoticed in Canada, although there was much coverage in Costa Rica, possibly because Ad Astra CEO and retired NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz was born there.

Ad Astra is marketing the VASIMR as a key enabler for space commerce in areas such as:
  • Satellite deployment/maintenance/disposal
  • Orbital reboosting of space stations
  • Space junk cleanup
  • Lunar cargo delivery
  • Cargo and passenger transport to Mars
  • Deep-space human/robotic missions (if paired with a nuclear power source)
Ad Astra Rocket Company was founded in 2005 by former NASA space shuttle astronaut Chang-Diaz to develop and commercialize plasma propulsion technology.

The VASIMR engine builds on years of development work by Chang-Diaz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA.

In 2013, as outlined on the Kickstarter campaign "Animating VASIMR®: The Future of Spaceflight," Ad Astra ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for developing a documentary about VASIMR, with 603 backers pledging over $76,746 USD (over $100K CDN).

Aethera isn’t the only Canadian connection to VASIMR.

As outlined originally in the November 7th, 2009 post, "Our Next Real Canadian Rocket Scientists," Hackets Cove NS based Nautel Ltd., these days a Canadian manufacturer of AM and FM radio broadcast transmitters, navigational radio beacons, differential global positioning system (DGPS) transmitters, and other radio applications, built the solid-state radio emitters used in VASIMR to heat the onboard xenon gas, turning it into plasma.

The Aethera-built RF- PPUs will support an upcoming (Q4 2018) 100-hour continuous high-power firing test of the VX-200SSTM prototype engine.

After completion of this test, the VASIMR will be at or above NASA’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5, the stage just prior to space flight testing.

The VASIMR promises to open the realm beyond Earth orbit to greater human activity. The CSA’s investment in VASIMR marks the beginning of a Canadian willingness to think in such terms as well.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Time to Contribute to the Pre-Budget Consultations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance

         By Chuck Black

If you didn't like the 2018 Federal Budget (and a suprisingly large subset of the Canadian space industry most obviously didn't) then it's worth noting that pre-budget consultations are currently being undertaken by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) in advance of the expected release of the next Federal budget in March 2019.

FINA holds a September 19th, 2017 pre-budget consultation with federal officials from the departments of Finance, Industry and Employment and Social Development. As outlined in the September 19th, 2017 CPAC, "In Committee from the House of Commons" post, the witnesses provided an overview of the economic situation in Canada, along with programs and initiatives related to the 2018 Federal themes of increasing productivity and competiveness. Photo c/o CPAC.

Those consultations are open to the public and are considered an integral part of the budget process. So if you didn't like something in last years budget and want it changed, then now is the time to let Ottawa know.

As outlined in the Parliment of Canada FINA webpage under the title, "Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the 2018 Budget," the FINA committee accepted and tabled 409 submissions and called 315 witnesses to Ottawa as part of the process used to develop the 2018 Federal budget.

The year before, as outlined in the Parliment of Canada FINA webpage under the title, "Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the 2017 Budget," the FINA committee accepted and tabled 444 submissions and called 293 witnesses to Ottawa as part of the process used to develop the 2017 Federal budget.

As outlined in the June 4th, 2018 FINA press release, "Canadians are Invited to Share their Priorities for the 2019 Federal Budget," the committee is currently soliciting written submissions for its 2019 report, expected to be tabled in the House of Commons by the end of this year, on the topic of "Economic Growth: Ensuring Canada’s Competitiveness."

The completed report will be "considered" by the Minister of Finance as the 2019 federal budget is developed. As outlined in the press release:
The deadline for written submissions to the Committee is no later than Friday, August 3rd 2018 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. 
Submissions should be no longer than 2,000 words, based on the following template. All text contained in the submission, including, but not limited to graphs, quotes, images and footnotes, counts towards the submission’s 2,000 word limit. 
Written briefs must be submitted through the Committee’s website.‎ 
Completed submissions are also available online for review on the various "Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the Budget" web pages for those looking to get some idea of the details which are included with individual submissions.

In September, once the newest submissions have been read and assessed:
...the Clerk of the Committee will extend invitations to selected groups and individuals to appear as witnesses during the pre-budget hearings. 
All those who make a submission will be considered as having made a request to appear. Priority will be given to individuals and groups that address ensuring Canada’s competitiveness, and have not yet – or have not recently – appeared before the Committee.  
Pending approval by the House of Commons, the Committee intends to hold hearings in Ottawa and in various locations across Canada. Once those locations and the hearing dates have been confirmed, the Committee will issue a news release.
As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," the 2018 Federal budget was less than generous to Canada's space sector.

If ten or fifteen academic or commercial organizations active in the space sector decided to make pre-budget submissions to FINA on the topic of "Economic Growth: Ensuring Canada’s Competitiveness," who knows what might end up in the 2019 budget.

After all, next year is an election year.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

The European Space Agency Post Brexit

         By Chuck Black

Under the belief that "leaving Earth requires international collaboration," the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has built longstanding partnerships with both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) which allow it to gain access to space missions for a lower cost.

But Canada isn't the only country which has placed relationships with other countries at the core of their space program.

The United Kingdom's long standing partnership with the ESA is being torn apart over UK access to the Galileo Satellite Navigation system, which provides geolocation and time information to appropriate receivers anywhere on or near the Earth.

In March 2018, the European Commission (EC), the "executive cabinet" of the European Union (EU) announced that the UK may be excluded from parts of the Galileo program following its exit from the EU. This includes Galileo's publicly regulated service (PRS), an encrypted navigation service for government authorized users and sensitive applications that require high continuity.

Galileo is being built by the EU specifically so that European nations do not have to rely on the Russian GLONASS, Chinese BeiDou or the US Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which could be disabled or degraded by their operators at any time.

The UK, while it has already contributed a staggering £1Bln ($1.74Bln CDN) out of the £8.5Bln ($14.76Bln CDN) in expected Galileo costs over the life of the program, has no guarantee that the EU will continue to provide access after March 29th, 2019, when the country is scheduled to officially exit from the EU in a process known as Brexit.

As outlined in the July 4th, 2018 post, "Galileo satellite launch: EU primed for July liftoff despite UK post-Brexit uncertainty," UK Prime Minister Teresa May has already been publicly advised to "to ditch the European system in favour of America’s GPS," by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, the UK's foreign intelligence service tasked with the covert overseas collection and analysis of human intelligence (HUMINT) in support of the UK's national security.

According to the article, UK Business Secretary Greg Clark has asked for £100Mln in funding ($174Mln CDN) from the Treasury "to investigate whether or not Britain would be better off developing its own navigations system."

At least one, non-EU nation is currently involved with Galileo and others have been in the past. In 2009, Norway joined the programme pledging €68.9Mln ($106Mln CDN) and allowing its companies to bid for the construction contracts. Norway, while not a member of the EU, is a member of ESA, as is the UK.

Before going its own way with BeiDou, China was also a partner in Galileo.

As outlined in the January 17th, 2018 Physics.org post, "Europe's space agency braces for Brexit fallout," the ESA has been "drawing up contingency plans for projects, commercial deals, and staffing that may be adversely affected by Brexit."

As for the UK, it is heavily investing in its space industry and plans to control 10% of the international market by 2030.

That's a new path and, as outlined in the May 21st, 2018 post, "EU "Freezes" Britain out of Galileo SatNav System; RAF Promises New "British" SatNav & Space Defence Policy," its not a path likely to make many new friends for the UK within the EU.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Happy Canada Day

This blog will be taking some time off over the next few days to celebrate Canada's 151st anniversary. We'll be back with all new stories on July 6th, 2018.

The 2019 Election Cycle & the Annual Summer Silly Season Both Begin

         By Chuck Black

The annual summer "silly season," a period when the news cycle seemingly lessens in intensity starting around the July 1st Canada Day holiday and finishing up during the Labour Day long weekend in September, seems to have come a few days early this year.

Amidst chants of "This is What a Liberal Looks Like," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears onstage with Liberal MP Navdeep Bains during a nomination event in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. At the event, which one political commentator compared to scenes in the 1992 American-British satirical mockumentary film "Bob Roberts," Bains was nominated and acclaimed as the Liberal candidate for Mississauga-Milton for the 2019 general election. Photo c/o Chris Young / Canadian Press.

As outlined in the June 27th, 2018 Canadian Press post, "Federal Election 2019: Navdeep Bains becomes 1st Liberal candidate to be nominated," the Liberal party has begun to nominate standard bearers for next year’s federal election, which under law must take place on or before October 21th, 2019.

The Liberal's first candidate, incumbent Navdeep Bains who represents the riding of Mississauga—Malton in the House of Commons, is also the current minister of innovation, science and economic development (ISED), a portfolio responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Research Council (NRC) and a host of other science granting councils.

To be fair to Bains and the Justin Trudeau government, they have been more than generous to Federal scientists and engineers. The 2018 budget commits approximately $3.8Bln CDN spread over the next five years for a range of new science programs.

It's just that the Liberals haven't done very much for the Canadian space industry.

As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," the Federally mandated Space Advisory Board (SAB) was "certainly disappointed that space was not included as a key theme in the 2018 Federal Budget."

In fact, none of the SAB recommendations have so far been adapted by the Federal government.

Several space industry scientists and engineers attended the Wednesday nomination meeting and, rumour has it, they had a chance to talk with Bains about rocketry, planetary exploration and the sad state of the Canadian space program.

Bains presented well, but made no promises. The event was good political theatre but no one said space or rockets or made any new Canadian committments relating to science, the Moon or Mars.

Bains is smart. He knows that he's trading on access and kind words and that's enough for tonight. Later on will come the need for the hard political wheeling and dealing needed to be re-elected.

Hopefully, his guests also understand this and aren't caught up in the political theatre or overwhelmed by the singing.

Bains surrounded by adoring fans after his nomination on June 27th, 2018 in Malton. Photo c/o Al Calder. 

In a few days, the attendees will likely get an e-mail from someone affiliated with the Liberal campaign who will ask them for money.

Then the real horse trading will begin. That's the way these events work.

As outlined in the February 8th, 2017 Hill Times post, "The Top 100: Navdeep Bains, the 'minister of everything'", Bains has been ranked as the 4th most influential Canadian politician behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his chief of staff Katie Telford and senior Liberal party political adviser Gerald Butts.
Editors Note: Those anticipated e-mails requesting funding for the upcoming campaign have begun arriving. 
As outlined in a June 29th, 2018 email from Ishmael Azam, the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada, "In the last election, our platform was built by doing one simple thing: having real meaningful conversations with Canadians, and listening carefully to what they had to say." 
Liberal party campaign literature. Graphic c/o Liberal Party of Canada
The e-mail included a listing of potential issues facing Canada today, along with a request to choose the most important one. The listed issues are:
  1. Fighting climate change 
  2. Achieving gender equality
  3. A secure retirement for seniors 
  4. Opportunities for young Canadians 
  5. Indigenous rights 
  6. An accessible Internet 
  7. A diverse, multicultural Canada 
  8. The rights of disabled Canadians 
  9. Accessible universal healthcare 
  10. Fighting for a stronger middle class 
  11. Legalizing and regulating marijuana 
  12. Science and evidence-based policy 
  13. Renewing Canada's leadership in the world 
  14. LGBTQ2 rights 
  15. Honouring Canada’s veterans 
  16. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms 
  17. Canadian innovation and creating jobs
As expected, there doesn't seem to be anything in the list of Liberal party options which relate to space, rockets, planetary exploration or the sad state of the Canadian space program. Besides, according to the e-mail, we're only supposed to pick one. 
Better luck next time, Liberals.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

UrtheCast Shareholders Endorse the New Board

         By Chuck Black

Vancouver BC based UrtheCast has reported that all resolutions put forward at its June 25th, 2018 annual general and special meeting (AGM) were passed with strong, but not universal, support from UrtheCast shareholders.

Graphic c/o UrtheCast.

As outlined in the June 25th, 2018 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Corp. Announces Results of Annual General and Special Meeting of Shareholders," those resolutions included:
  • The election of four new and two returning directors.
  • An amendment to increase the number of permitted directors who are not Canadian residents to 75% in accordance with the residency requirements of the Business Corporations Act (Ontario). 
Based on proxies received in advance and voted at the meeting, 44,081,427 common shares of UrtheCast, representing 36.3% of the issued and outstanding common shares were voted. This is an increase from 22% of issued and outstanding common shares voted at last year’s annual meeting.

The new board members include:
  • Mark Piegza, a US based investment banker, who also co-founded and acts as CFO and director of Dulles VA based US Space LLC (with 86.23% of the voted shares in favor of his election).
  • Adam Vore, another US based investment banker, currently acting as the managing director of Seaport Global Securities (86.26% in favor).
  • Andreas Georghiou, a well respected US based satellite industry executive (83.43% in favor).
  • John (Jack) Shannon, a New York attorney who for the past 14 years was a managing director and head of compliance for investment banking and capital markets at NY NY based Bank of America Merrill Lynch (83.42% in favor).
As outlined in the June 1st, 2018 post, "UrtheCast Receives a Vote of Confidence from American Investors," the new additions are believed to have been critical for putting together the funding of the UrtheDaily™ constellation.

Their appointment to the board is considered by the broader investment community to be "a vote of confidence" on UrtheCast's future prospects, according to sources.

The new directors will join former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president William "Mac" Evans, who's been a director since June, 2013 (75.38% in favor) and James Topham, an accountant with Vancouver BC based KPMG, who's been a director since May, 2015 and also chairs the UrtheCast audit committee (75.39% in favor).

As outlined in the June 22nd, 2018 post, "New UrtheCast CEO Don Osborne Belongs to a "Secret Society," UrtheCast appointed a new CEO last week.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Canada Gets a New Open-Air Planetarium

          By Brian Orlotti

National Geographic has partnered with Netherlands-based augmented reality (AR) provider Aryzon to create an open-air planetarium in Quebec, using AR to project images into the night sky for an unorthodox take on astronomy.

AR is a means of integrating digital information (text, graphics, audio and video) into the real world. AR systems typically use cameras, microprojectors and mirrors to project digital information onto a person’s field of view.

Some AR devices (such as Microsoft’s Hololens and Google’s ill-fated Google Glass) project information onto glass lenses in headsets. Others, such as the hype-laden Magic Leap or Intel’s Vaunt, use low-power lasers to project information directly onto a person’s retinas.

AR apps are already available on smartphones, including Google Lens, Yelp’s Monocle and Wikipedia’s Wikitude. AR’s potential applications in the consumer, scientific, industrial and military realms are numerous.   

As outlined in the June 24th, 2018 National Geographic post, "National Geographic uses augmented reality to create world's first open-air planetarium in Canada," the show, dubbed "ObservEtoiles" is located in the Au Diable Vert wilderness preserve in Glen Sutton, Quebec.

Au Diable Vert was recently certified as Quebec's second ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ by the International Dark Sky Association, one of only 14 such sites around the world. The IDSA is a US-based non-profit group seeking to combat ‘light pollution,’ human-generated light which advocates claim impedes astronomy, wastes energy and disrupts ecosystems as well as human biological rythms.

Opened on June 23rd, ObservEtoiles allows up to 180 visitors to observe the night sky with a digital overlay showing the names of the constellations, stars and planets.

During each two-hour show, guests are seated 304m above sea level in a mountain-side amphitheatre specially-built for ObservEtoile. The space, created by Lakeville, MN based Arena Comfort Products, is equipped with heated seats, enabling the facility to be used in all weather conditions.

Using Aryzon AR headsets, visitors can observe the stars and planets digitally overlaid with a selection of 17th-century illustrations of the constellations without obstructing their line of sight.

The imagery comes courtesy of Star Chart, an application developed by Guildford, UK based Escapist Games running on Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom smartphones.

After the show, users may keep the headset (minus the smartphone) and use the Star Chart app to explore the stars from home.

Open-air planetarium's, such as the Shoemaker Open Sky Planetarium (which opened in 2006) aren't new. It's combining the open air experience with the VR capabilities of current cell phones which provides a new experience for both astronomers and amateurs. Graphic c/o Starizona.com.

ObservEtoiles is narrated by Andrew Fazekas AKA the ‘Night Sky Guy,’ a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who regularly contributes to National Geographic and The Weather Network. He is also a consultant to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Astronomy has traditionally required a certain ruggedness; long hours spent at night amid heat, cold and insects. Modern tech has now made it a more pleasant experience for all.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

Friday, June 22, 2018

New UrtheCast CEO Don Osborne Belongs to a "Secret Society"

          By Henry Stewart

Going into what is expected to be a "lively" annual general meeting currently scheduled for Monday June 25th, Vancouver, BC based UrthCast has announced that Ex-MDA president Donald F. Osborne has been appointed as its new CEO.

He probably doesn't belong to the illuminati, although the one eyed portrait is certainly evocative. But new CEO Osborne is one of dozens of ex-Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) employees who have left to join UrtheCast over the last several years. Photo c/o Rob Kruyt/ Business in Vancouver.

Osborne, who until November 2017 headed up the MDA information systems group subsidiary of Colorado based Maxar Technologies, isn't the only ex-MDA employee hired by UrtheCast over the last few years. A quick search through LinkedIn, the employment and business-oriented website, where many UrthCast employees store their online resumes, will uncover dozens of others.

They include EVP of operations Peter Duggan (an ex-MDA program director), CTO George Tyc (until 2012, the ex-technical director of small-sats at MDA), principal engineer Joe Steyn (who held the same title at MDA until 2016), director of software engineering Chris Rampersad (who worked at MDA until 2013) and many, many more.

Even UrtheCast co-founder Wade Larson worked at MDA as VP of business development until 2012.

As outlined in the  October 12th, 2017 post, "Osborne Steps Down at Canadian MDA as it Responds to Questions About its US Based "Maxar" Future," Osborne's resignation came as a bit of a surprise to his MDA colleagues.

No doubt, and as outlined in the June 1st, 2018 post, "UrtheCast Receives a Vote of Confidence from American Investors," Osborne's first days at his new job will include a few new surprises.

Osborne's appointment was made public earlier in the week, as per the June 19th 2018 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Corp. Appoints Donald F. Osborne as Chief Executive Officer."


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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Special Senate Committee on the Arctic Holds a Hearing on Northern Infrastructure & That "Unlicenced" Inuvik Groundstation

         By Chuck Black

After well over two years, the new, private sector commercial ground station built by Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks for San Francisco, CA based Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) and profiled multiple times in this blog, has still not received the second of two sets of Federal government approvals needed to operate under Canadian law.

Tom Zubco in Ottawa at the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic on Monday, June 18th, 2018. To see the complete presentation, please click on this link. Graphic c/o SenVu.

It's gotten so bad that the Canadian Senate has become involved. On Monday, the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic held hearings to consider the "significant and rapid changes to the arctic," and how those changes have impacted the original inhabitants.

Among the speakers was New North Networks CEO Tom Zubko.

Most of what Zubko discussed has been previously discussed in this blog, most notably in the May 31th, 2018 post, "Inuvik Mayor Calls Feds "Not Forthcoming" Regarding Private Sector Commercial Ground Station Application," the March 5th, 2018 post, "That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used" and the June 15th, 2017 post, "Telesat Supports Defence Budget But Inuvik Left Out & Teledyne Dalsa Employee Convicted of Selling Satellite Data to China."

But a few items are worth repeating, most notably Zubko's statement that the real problem might be related to the capabilities of Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Federal government department tasked with negotiating the second licence on behalf of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), which is needed in order for the Inuvik ground station built by New North Networks to begin operation.

Zubko referenced two mandated reviews of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (the Federal legislation under which GAC issues licences for satellite ground stations), authored by the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in 2012 and 2017. Both reviews called the GAC "understaffed" and lacking in process, with no defined time frame to report and no defined check list of requirements needing to be fulfilled in order to insure that a licence is issued.

According to Zubko, "well over $50Mln" has so far been invested in building the infrastructure required to support the Inuvik ground station, plus another $100Mln CDN to support the infrastructure needed to transfer the data to clients sites, and those funds are in danger of being lost because of the delay in issuing the second licence required to operate the ground station.

There was also a troubling discussion focused around Planet and KSAT concerns over providing proprietory data to Colorado based Maxar Technologies through it's Canadian based MDA subsidiary, which currently (in conjunction with NRCan) has a contract to operate another Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, which the Federal government seemed to prefer to run contracts through.,

According to Zubko, "we have a lot of advantages which are being wasted because of licencing delays" and a legislative situation which is "not condusive" to investment in Canada.

Committee members in attendance included Senator Dennis Glen Patterson Chair (Conservative - Nunavut), Senator Patricia Bovey deputy chair (Independent Senators Group - Manitoba), Senator Mary Coyle (Independent Senators Group - Nova Scotia Antigonish) and Senator Paul McIntyre (Conservative - New Brunswick).

Kanata ON based First Air president and CEO Brock Friesen as also in attendance and gave a presentation.

The full video of the June 18th, 2018 Special Senate Committee on the Arctic committee meeeting is available online here.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

New US Initiatives on Orbital Traffic Management, Cleaning up "Space Junk" and Creating a US Space Force

         By Chuck Black

US president Donald Trump continues to put his own stamp on American space activities, most recently at the June 18th, 2018 meeting of the National Space Council.

The first initiative, as outlined in the June 18th, 2018 Department of Commerce (DoC) press release, "Space Policy Directive 3 Brings Space Traffic Coordination to Commerce," was expected, and a logical follow-on from previous policy outlined in April 2018 by VP Mike Pence and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

As outlined in the DoC press release:
The policy acknowledges the rapidly increasing volume and diversity of commercial space activity and announces that the Department of Commerce should be the new civil agency interface for space traffic management (STM) and space situational awareness (SSA).
As outlined in the June 18th, 2018 NASAWatch post, "President To Sign Directive Dealing With Space Traffic Management," other US Federal government departments have also been assigned new roles:
...the Department of Defense will take the lead on developing an authoritative catalog of space objects; the Department of Commerce will be responsible for the releasable portions of the catalog for collision avoidance purposes; the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation will lead the development of standards and practices, and the State Department will lead US efforts to conduct these activities internationally with transparency.
One of the goals of new policies is to track and reduce the growing  threat of orbital debris by using a variety of mostly undefined (so far at least) private and public sector technologies.

An overview of Space Policy Directive – 3 (SPD-3) is available online, as part of the June 18, 2018 Whitehouse.gov post, "President Donald J. Trump is Achieving a Safe and Secure Future in Space."

The second part of the presentation, the part where Trump said he would direct the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military to shore up American dominance in space, was also a logical progression of current US thought in this area.

As outlined most recently in the April 2nd, 2018 post, "What George Friedman's 2009 Book "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the Next Century" Said About Space," the ideas and concepts have been knocking around Washington since at least the 2nd George Bush administration.

And, according to the June 18th, 2018 Forbes Beltway Brief post, "Trump's 'Space Force' Motivated By Russian, Chinese Threats To Critical U.S. Orbital Systems," the current satellite infrastructure (which includes military communications, Earth imaging and global positioning satellites) has "become integral to how America conducts military operations on Earth, Russia and China are developing ways of degrading or destroying US satellites in wartime," and therefore the US must develop ways to defend itself:
Against that backdrop, the president's announcement today is arguably timely, because the military space program may be approaching a moment of crisis. 
Mr. Trump made it clear in his remarks that he wants America to regain its lead in space across all relevant areas -- military, civil and commercial -- but it is in the military realm where great-power rivalry is most apparent. 
If the Pentagon doesn't step up its game, the nation's security will be significantly degraded.
Now that these new, US space initiatives are being discussed seriously and publicly, expect national governments (such as Canada) and international organizations (such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) to slowly begin to move their own ideas forward.

The full video of the June 18th, 2018 meeting of the National Space Council, including the president's speech, is available on YouTube for those who'd like to cut through the bias and spin of the traditional media.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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