Friday, March 16, 2018

Looks Like Intellectual Property Issues Were Addressed in the 2018 Federal Budget

         By Henry Stewart

According to leading Canadian full service intellectual property law firm Bereskin and  Parr LLP, at least one portion of Canada's 2018 Federal budget outlined changes to Canada's intellectual property (IP) laws intended to help Canada’s innovative companies utilize IP assets to help grow their company.

As outlined in the March 9th, 2018 Lexology post, "A Radical New Way of Thinking about our Innovation Economy: Canada’s IP Strategy and the 2018 Budget," last year’s 2017 budget included reference to a Canadian National IP strategy, in order to facilitate an "innovation ecosystem" where commercialized IP (including patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, trade secrets and other items)  assist Canadian firms to grow to scale.

This year's budget allocated financing for the strategy, with "an overall commitment" of $85.3Mln for:
  • A pilot patent collective ($30Mln) or "sovereign patent fund," which, as outlined in the May 19th , 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Canada needs an innovative intellectual property strategy," will address the calls from "innovation experts who understand the critical role of IP in a 21st-century economy."
  • The creation of IP education and legal clinics ($21.5Mln) for "clinical legal education to both train and grow the pool of IP expertise, while at the same time providing much needed IP legal services to early stage companies."
  • The development of IP tools ($33.8Mln) to track the pool of IP available at Canadian research institutions and through funding initiatives, which can be taken over and commercialized by Canadian firms. 
As outlined in the March 1st, 2018 post, "'Patent Boxes, our Canadian Space Agency and the Lack of Real Innovation in the 2018 Federal Budget," IP management is a critical component of growing Canada's innovation economy.

It's good to know that others feel the same. At least some of this message seems to be getting through to the Federal Liberal party.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lauren Southern vs. the UK, the Growing New Media Landscape & Elon Musk Wants a News Service

         By Chuck Black

In the past, this blog has discussed media as it relates to science and the space industry, in articles such as the November 17th, 2013 post, "The 2013 Canadian Space Summit Media Panel," and the February 4th, 2013 post, "Hiding Science Behind Academic Journal Paywalls."

We've also applauded, as outlined in the November 8th, 2015 post, "A New Era for Canadian Space or More of the Same?," when then newly minted Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains fulfilled a Liberal party campaign promise to allow government scientists and experts to comment on their work to the media and to the public, without interference from their political masters.

And we've complained loudly when, as outlined in the September 29th, 2014 post, "No Visas for Russian and Chinese Space Delegates to Attend IAC 2014," the Federal Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused access to senior members of both the Chinese and Russian delegation to attend the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC2015), which was held in Toronto, ON from September 29th to October 3rd, 2014.

But the recent refusal to allow independent Canadian journalist Lauren Southern to enter the United Kingdom (UK) to report on UK immigration and the domestic political situation is problematic to all journalists, everywhere.

As outlined in the March 13th, 2018 Independent post, "Lauren Southern: Far-right Canadian activist detained in Calais and banned from entering UK," Southern was denied entry into the UK because, "her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.”

Southern is known online for her you-tube videos, and is considered as an independant representative of the growing new media. As outlined on her Wikipedia page:
Lauren Cherie Southern (born June 16th, 1995) is a Canadian far-right political activist, Internet personality, and journalist associated with the alt-right. In 2015, Southern ran as a Libertarian Party candidate in the Canadian federal election. 
She worked for The Rebel Media until March 2017. Southern continues to work independently and publishes videos on YouTube.
To be fair, the reference for Southern's categorization as a "far-right political activist," is from the July 27th, 2017 Canadaland podcast, "Why Lauren Southern Got Banned From Patreon." According to Canadaland:
The Patreon account of former Rebel Media personality Lauren Southern was banned late last week by the subscription-based crowdfunding website, following a lobbying campaign by the UK based anti-extremism charity HOPE not hate. 
“Yes, HOPE not hate lobbied Patreon directly, and they removed everyone connected to Defend Europe (a European based identitarian focused political organization which Southern reported on and was active in, but which was also actively at odds with the viewpoints promoted by HOPE not hate) from their service,” Hope not hate director of communications Nick Ryan told CANADALAND in an email. 
A Patreon representative informed Southern by email last Thursday that her account was being banned because some of her actions were “likely to cause loss of life” but didn’t elaborate further on any specific actions that prompted the ban. 
Patreon is a popular crowdfunding platform used by independent media creators, including CANADALAND (and the Commercial Space blog), that allows “patrons” to pledge support via recurring payments.

Curiously enough, HOPE not hate also has other aspects to its agenda. As outlined on its website, the organization grew out as a response to the gains made by the British National Party (BNP) in the middle 2000's.

HOPE not hate opposed the BNP and eventually took credit for its collapse.

So Southern and HOPE not hate both had agendas and viewpoints to disseminate. Southern simply preferred to state her biases in her editorials, unlike others, who preferred campaigns designed to "defund" and "de-platform" their opponents.

Much of the rest of our current media landscape also comes with an attached agenda.

This includes traditional media outlets such as the CBC, and more alternative outlets such as the Vancouver BC based Universe Today (a competitor to this blog, since we both cover many of the same topics) and Toronto, ON based Rebel Media (where Southern used to work).

For example, its interesting to note how Kent, WA based Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos gets such wonderful coverage of his rocket company from the Washington DC based Washington Post, which Bezos also owns.

Even Elon Musk might just be looking to get into the media business. As outlined in the March 14th, 2018 Gizmodo post, "Elon Musk Starts Media Business, Possibly Named 'Thud!,' Musk has certainly made suggestions in that area.

In essence, there is nothing wrong with setting up your own media outlet, or bringing a viewpoint to your posts. The problem isn't even when other organizations (like HOPE not hate) with contrary viewpoints seek to compete in the marketplace of ideas in order to advocate and effect change.

The problem occurs when governments, often in response to lobbying efforts from organizations like HOPE not hate, take it upon themselves to censor people like Southern.

When that happens we all need to take note and object.

Otherwise, the freedom to research, assess, develop independent conclusions then speak and subject those conclusions to peer review via publication and exposure to a wider audience, is in jeopardy.

This is what seems to have happened to Lauren Southern.

As journalists and commentators, we need to point this out and object to it, in order to prevent those same surreptitious actions from secretly hanging over the heads of each and every one of us.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Medbotics & Carbon Engineering: Canada's Tech Sector is Rising from Its Own Ashes

          By Brian Orlotti

In recent weeks, as the Trump Administration sparked fears of a global trade war by imposing new steel and aluminum tariffs, then exempting Canada and Mexico only on the condition of a “good” outcome on current North American Free Trade (NAFTA) negotiations, the need for growing Canada’s own tech sector has never been more apparent.

Ironically, two such new firms are spin-offs of a Canadian tech firm that has all but shed its Canadian identity.

The first firm, Insight Medbotics Canada Corporation (IMCC) was formed by the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation (CSII), a federally-funded Canadian Centre of Excellence working in partnership with Richmond, BC based MDA Corp (a subsidiary of San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

IMCC’s goal is to launch a new generation of intelligent robotics which build on Canadian technology used in the Canadarm, Canadarm 2 and Dextre robots.

Its first device, the Image Guided Automated Robotics-Breast (IGAR-Breast) imager, is designed for detection and treatment of breast cancer in it’s earliest stages.  IGAR integrates with magnetic resonance imaging systems, enabling a radiologist to select a target area from a patient’s scan and remove  cancerous tissue with millimeter accuracy. In addition to the technology’s obvious applications in space, IGAR will also provide patients in remote communities greater access to advanced healthcare.

IMCC is led by Paul Cooper, who is also listed as being the vice president of strategic development at MDA. Cooper, in addition to holding a Ph.D. in Computer Science, is a former entrepreneur and university professor. He sits on the board of Family Outreach and Response, a community mental health serves organization in Toronto, ON.

Incorporated in Hamilton, ON in 2016, IMCC is working to establish its manufacturing base and sales and marketing operations in Southern Ontario. The company expects to create over 100 high tech jobs over the next five years.

The second firm is Squamish, BC-based Carbon Engineering (CE), founded in 2009.

CE’s primary business is ‘Air to Fuels.’ This technology extracts carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere and combines it with hydrogen to synthesize currently-used transportation fuels such as diesel, gasoline and Jet-A.

Because Air to Fuels uses hydrogen produced with renewable energy as well as existing atmospheric CO2, it is a means of mass producing fuels for existing infrastructure with little or no fossil carbon emissions.

CE’s MDA alumni include former MDA CEO Dan Friedmann, who now acts as CE's chairman of the board and former MDA SVP of strategic business development Steve Oldham who, as outlined in the January 11th, 2018 CE press release, "Carbon Engineering Announces Leadership Transition," took over as CE's chief executive officer on February 5th, 2018.

Parallels can be found between MDA and another former Canadian tech giant; Blackberry, formerly Research in Motion (RIM). Just as RIM’s decline and various bloodletting's freed vast amounts of technical talent to launch new innovative firms, so to has MDA’s decline seeded new players.

United States trade representative Robert Lighthizer looks on as President Donald Trump signs an executive order at the White House in January. The March 12th, 2018 Toronto Star post, "Trump exposes free trade as a failed policy for Canada," is a reminder to all Canadian's, especially our space agency (with its preference for building components used by the space agencies of other countries but with no interest in developing complete programs of specific use to Canada), that we might want to broaden our capabilities if we don't want to be left behind.  Photo c/o Doug Mills / NYT.

Out of its decline, Canada’s tech sector could prove to be a Phoenix rising from its own ashes.

As Canada is under threat of being discarded by its old ally to the south and facing an uncertain new world, Canadians can take comfort in the fact that we can adapt...when we choose to.

But much work lies ahead.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Silicon Valley Company Co-owned and Run by a Canadian has Launched Four "Unauthorized" & "Dangerous" Pico-sats

         By Henry Stewart

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has accused Silicon Valley, CA based Swarm Technologies, a communications start-up co-founded by four expatriates, including Canadian born CEO Sara Spangelo, with launching four "unauthorized" and "dangerous" experimental satellites into orbit in January 2018, shortly after the company had been denied an FCC launch licence.

Not to fear. It's unlikely anyone will end up in jail over this. With a bit of luck, it might even help define and develop some needed new legislation in this area.

Swarm Technologies CEO Spangelo's April 24th, 2017 astronaut candidate profile on the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) website. Spangelo applied, but was not accepted, to be a Canadian astronaut during Canada's fourth astronaut recruitment campaign in 2016-2017. Graphic and photo c/o CSA.

As outlined in the March 9th, 2018 IEEE Spectrum post, "FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites," the FCC never approved the June 12th, 2018 launch of the tiny, Swarm built SpaceBee-1, 2, 3, and 4 pico-satellites on the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket which blasted off from India’s eastern coast that day.

The pico-sats (built to a 0.25U cubesat form factor design) are considered extremely small and very difficult to track.

As outlined on the Gunter's Space Page listing for the SpaceBee-1, 2, 3, and 4, are the "world’s smallest two-way communications satellites" and are designed "to serve as a cost-effective low-data rate Internet of Things (IoT) network connectivity solution for remote and mobile sensors."

According to Gunter:
...the tiny satellites have very small radar cross section, which might complicate the tracking. 
Therefore they featured a GPS device in each satellite that would broadcast its position on request. Also the four smallest faces of the satellites are covered with an experimental passive radar reflector developed by the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which according to the FCC application would increase the satellites radar profile by a factor of 10.
Last Wednesday, the FCC sent Swarm a letter revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission with four larger microsats, based on the much larger 1U cubesat form factor, and expected to launch next month.

A pending application for a large market trial of Swarm’s system with two Fortune 100 companies could also be in jeopardy.

The March 7th, 2018 e-mail from Anthony Serafini, the chief of the FCC's Experimental Licensing Branch to Swarm employees postponing the second test of four larger swarm satellites in order to "permit assessment of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch." The original rejection December 7th, 2017 rejection letter from Serafini, is available online at E-mails c/o IEEE. 

As outlined in the March 10th, 2018 The Verge post, "The FCC says a space startup launched four tiny satellites into orbit without permission," Swarm’s launch seems to have been set up by Seattle, WA based Spaceflight Launch Services, a company which helps satellite operators find ride-shares to space for their vehicles. 

Spaceflight told IEEE Spectrum that it “has never knowingly launched a customer who has been denied an FCC license,” and felt that it was the responsibility of the customer "to secure all FCC licenses.”

An FCC license is meant to grant companies use of the radio frequency spectrum, according to the Verge article. However, the FCC: allowed "to consider how a satellite will add to the space debris problem when issuing these licenses," (as per the August 31, 2006 National Space Policy). In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration has partial authority on this too when it issues licenses for commercial rockets. 
The agencies were given this authority mostly because they’ve been doing licensing for such a long time — and there was no one else to do it.

Of course, no one is going to end up in jail over this. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) responsibilities in this area often overlap with the FCC responsibilities and there are also great gaps in the current legal coverage.

The Trump administration has proposed a way to fix this, through the creation of a “one-stop shop for space commerce” at the US Department of Commerce, which would come up with regulations to oversee operations in space through its Office of Space Commerce

Time to send in the space lawyers. Here's hoping that they're not just a bunch of clowns.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector

         By Chuck Black

"I haven't read the story in SpaceQ," insists Marie Lucy Stojak, the chair of the Federal government Space Advisory Board (SAB) mandated by the governing Trudeau Liberals to help support the development of a new vision for Canada's space sector, "but we were certainly disappointed that space was not included as a key theme in the 2018 Federal Budget."

Not feeling tense at all. SAB chair Lucy Stojak. Photo c/o Mosaic HEC Montreal.

Stojak spoke with this blog over the phone on Thursday March 8th, 2018 to comment on the public release of an e-mail she originally sent out earlier this week to approximately 140 "stakeholders" who participated in a series of SAB meetings and consultations last spring. The data collected during those meeting was compiled into the August 17th, 2017 report, "Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard," and then released to the public.

According to the March 7th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "The Space Advisory Boards Emails Stakeholders That it Was 'Very Disappointed with Budget 2018'" Stojak's e-mail stated that:
As you know, the Federal Budget was released on Tuesday, February 27, 2018. Needless to say that the Space Advisory Board (SAB) Members were very disappointed with Budget 2018 as it did not include funding to address a space strategy.
It went on to say:
We were hoping the Government would signal specific measures to advance long-term plans and priorities for Canada in space. Despite the lack of signal, Space Advisory Board Members remain convinced that Canada needs a vision and investments in space to meet national needs and fulfill its aspirations.
Stojak and at least two other members of the SAB have confirmed to this blog that the e-mail does indeed reflect the beliefs of the board and that the original e-mail was sent out to those who participated in the SAB meetings held last summer.

"It's not the first e-mail I've sent to the stakeholders," she said.

According to Stojak and others, the e-mail was meant to be "public facing," although Stojak would not go into the details of how she felt about the SpaceQ post opening her e-mail up to a wider audience. "We recognize that the government does have priorities," she said. "But the SAB board report indicated that there was a need for an 'urgent call to action' to preserve and grow our space activities."

The complete French and English texts of the March 2018 email sent by SAB chair Stojak to "stakeholders" who participated in a series of SAB meetings held between April 19th 2017 to May 21st, 2017. A list of participants at those meetings is included on SAB website. It's worth noting that Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black was included in the list of participants involved in the May 18th, 2017 "WebEx on Canada’s Youth and Next Generation Space Leaders." Graphic c/o SpaceQ.

The August 2017 SAB report made two central recommendations for consideration by Navdeep Bains, the Federal Minister responsible for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), as he moved forward to develop the "new space strategy" promised by the Liberal government since the election which brought them to power in 2015.

Those two recommendations were to:
Designate Space as a National Strategic Asset to ensure that:
  • the country (governments, industry, academia, and civil society) focuses on the importance of space to Canada’s economic and social growth; 
  • a whole-of-government approach is taken in the development and management of the national space program; 
  • the regulatory and procurement regimes support commercialization and export of space technologies; 
  • Canada has the capacity to develop and use space to meet national needs; and 
  • Canada has the specialized human resources required by government, industry and academia to conduct space activities.
Ask the Space Advisory Board to: 
  • engage stakeholders on plans for implementing the Space Strategy; 
  • provide independent advice on the implementation of the Space Strategy; and 
  • develop metrics for evaluation of the implementation of the Space Strategy.
The second recommendation included a specific request from the SAB to remain engaged with stakeholders in order to provide the independent advice and metrics required to develop solutions to the problems outlined in the initial SAB report.

Neither of those recommendations have so far been adapted by the Federal government.

One of the issues noted by the SAB which still hasn't been dealt with. New North Networks CEO Tom Zubko attended the May 19, 2017 SAB webex focused on "The North and Canada’s Future in Space," and the minutes of the meeting note that "stakeholders would like to see the Government take action to address of the recommendations from the independent reviews of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, released in 2012 and 2017," but nothing has been resolved. As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 post, "That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used," Zubko is still unable to move forward with his plan to provide local services to San Francisco, CA based Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT). Graphic c/o Commercial Space Media.

Part of the problem, as outlined in the August 25th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs," might simply be that SAB stakeholders and participants were discouraged from discussing specific policies or policy changes during the SAB meetings.

At the request of the Justin Trudeau Liberal government, the SAB was specifically tasked to build a document to "inform," but not develop, define or create anything which could be mistaken for a new space policy or long-term space plan.

This saddled the SAB with an inability to ask for concrete, definable improvements, unlike for example, the 2016 David Naylor led Review of Fundamental Science. As outlined in the  February 28th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Basic science makes historic gains in research-friendly budget," that report is generally credited with driving a "research-intense budget that commits approximately $3.8Bln CDN spread over the next five years for a range of science programs."

It's almost as if, had the SAB simply asked for money instead of respect (designating space as a "national asset," or requested "engagement," "independent advice" or the development of "independent metrics"), they would have been more likely to have received it.

That's something to note for the next time.

According to Stojak, "we are confident that the Minister (ISED Minister Bains) will continue to champion the space sector."
Editors Note: In an interesting turn of events, and as outlined in the March 9th, 2018 Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) e-mail, "Canadian Budget 2018-2019 Update," the CSCA has announced its disappointment over the 2018 Federal Budget.  
Graphic c/o Mailchimp.
According to the e-mail, the budget "did not reflect the urgent need to develop a vision for Canada’s long term space strategy," although the organization remained "confident that a (space) strategy is forthcoming." 
But the majority of the e-mail focused on items included with the budget which were expected to "benefit some of our members." These items include:
  • That "historic" investment in hard science research and consolidation of programs in order to create "a more client-focused federal partner for business." As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Basic science makes historic gains in research-friendly budget," the 2018 budget allocated $3.8Bln CDN of new funding spread over the next five years to a range of science and academic programs and promised the substantial consolidation of Federal granting programs, down to thirty-five from a pre-budget total of ninety-two. 
  • $572.5Mln over five years, with $52Mln per year ongoing, to implement a Digital Research Infrastructure. 
  • A “re-imaginedNational Research Council (NRC) with additional funding ($540Mln over five years, starting in 2018–19 and $108Mln annually) for measures to "reinforce its research strengths and role as a trusted collaboration partner of industry." 
  • New funding ( $20.6Mln over four years, starting in 2019–20 with $5.1Mln per year ongoing,) for the POLAR Knowledge Canada program.
Graphic c/o Mailchimp.
In a related matter, and as outlined in the second March 9th, 2018 CSCA e-mail, "CSCA Seeking New Executive Director," the CSCA has announced the resignation of CSCA executive director Michelle Mendes, effective March 31st, 2018. 
Mendes is a member of the same Federal SAB chaired by Stojak. She will continue as a member of the CSCA the Board of Directors and retain her position as CSCA president, "for the time being" and as her time allows, according to the e-mail. 
As of Monday, March 12th, 2018, Mendes has not resigned from the SAB.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Caught Up With the Commercial Space Blog? Then Check Out Our European Partner, Space News

         By Henry Stewart

Caught up with the business and entrepreneur focused organizations; educational facilities and government departments, advocates, activists and groups which are either involved directly with or else help indirectly to support Canadian and international space activities?

Find out more about ISS activities by checking out the March 8th, 2018 post, "Plant and Flame Studies Alongside Plumbing, Life Support Work," which covers Expedition 55 crew experiments with how plants adapt to gravity. Photo c/o NASA.  

Then check out our European partner, the space news website, and it's aggregation site, the Space News, Daily, which together cover space agency, space flight and space probes / telescopes data news.

Since 2010, space news has been providing detailed coverage of science and space focused activities and experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS) and in other areas.

Recent, original content on the site has included the March 8th, 2018 post, "NASA Outlines New Lunar Science, Human Exploration Missions," the March 8th, 2018 post, "Earth is a Beaming Beacon in Kepler’s Eyes," and the February 23rd, 2018 post, "On Second Thought, the Moon's Water May Be Widespread and Immobile." editor Roland Berga and Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black also collaborate on the long-running Canadian Space Agency Fans Group Facebook page, which helps to push our stories out to a larger audience.

To learn more, simply click on one of the links.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Monday, March 05, 2018

Establishing a Few New Rules for the Road

          By Brian Orlotti

On March 3rd, Canadian-born US space entrepreneur Robert (Bob) Richards tweeted a “To Do List for US space Leadership.” The list makes reference to an as-yet un-passed piece of US legislation called the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act (ASCFEA).

The ASCFEA was formally introduced June 7th, 2017 by Representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Representative Jim Bridenstine, is quite active in space issues and remains a leading candidate for NASA administrator.

Though the bill has received bipartisan support, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is currently in the process of amending the bill, slowing down its adoption.

Key provisions include:
  • The creation of a single authority for US authorization and supervision of nongovernmental space activities located at the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce
  • The establishment of a transparent certification process in the least burdensome manner possible
The intent of the bill is to:
  • Provide greater certainty to assure nongovernmental space activities
  • Conform to the United States’ Outer Space Treaty obligations
  • Address concerns that certified activities may pose a safety risk to existing federal government space systems
  • Reform the space-based remote sensing regulatory process
  • Preserve US ability to condition remote sensing operations to protect national security 
  • Enhance national security by ensuring insight into operations and capabilities by creating a competitive environment that discourages offshoring
The bill would also create a certification system for commercial payloads not otherwise licensed by the US government, addressing industry concerns about a regulatory gap for "non-traditional" applications such as satellite servicing, commercial space stations and lunar landing craft.

No US federal agency has oversight of in-space activities, except for NOAA for commercial remote sensing systems and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for communications satellites. Industry believes such oversight is needed in order to comply with provisions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requiring countries to provide “authorization and continuing supervision” of activities carried out by its citizens in space.

The bill also addresses concerns in the remote sensing industry over long delays in the current licensing process. Under the bill, authority for licensing such spacecraft would be moved to the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce, combining the existing office of the same name with the NOAA office that licenses remote sensing satellites.

The office would have 60 days from the receipt of a completed application to either issue a permit or deny the application, with a permit automatically granted if the office does not make a ruling at the end of the 60 days.

Such legislative action will be in parallel with the re-examination of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) currently underway in order to enable US commercial space firms to sell their products internationally.

When entering a new frontier, it never hurts to establish a few rules of the road.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used

         By Chuck Black

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

That delay is likely not the fault of the commercial players.

The five Inuvik satellite receivers, built almost two years ago, look forlorn and lonely today. After the failure of multiple attempts to fulfill Canadian government licencing requirements, the facility remains unable to open for business. Photo c/o Rolf Skatteboe.

For example, New North Networks CEO Tom Zubko, last profiled in the July 24th, 2017 post, "NWT Businessman "Perturbed" By Response to Private Sector Inuvik Ground Station Proposal," is still more than a little perturbed by the situation.

As noted by Zubko in a Monday interview with this blog, KSAT is even attempting to fulfill a contract for the European Space Agency (ESA), an international organization which includes another Federal government department, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as a "co-operating" member.

So you'd think the Federal government would at least be interested in not embarrassing one of its departments on the world stage.

But you'd be wrong.

"We are very patiently attempting to wait for a solution to this situation, so that we can open the facility," Zubko noted. He said it takes longer to licence large satellite ground station infrastructure in Canada than it does almost anywhere else in the world and current Canadian law are so onerous and undefined as to act as barriers to entry into the market for new players.

As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 CBC News post, "Inuvik satellite dish installations remain unused, still waiting for final federal approval," two Federal government departments are required to approve the application:
  • The Federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), which is responsible for authorizing radio licences needed to operate fixed Earth stations in Canada, which finally approved their portion of the ground station application last week. 

From a legal standpoint, the existing barriers favor legacy players, such as the Federal government owned Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF), administered by the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation and part of Natural Resources Canada (CCMEO/NRCan), which opened in 2010 and is the only other ground station in the region.

Oddly enough, CCMEO/NRCan is "collaborating" with San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies subsidiary MDA (until recently, the Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler) in order to "further develop the site and offer common services at the facility" according to the ISSF website.

However, according to Zubko, "Planet and KSAT, had information they felt was proprietary and didn't want to give to MDA," which goes a long way towards explaining why Planet and KSAT don't want to work through the government run facility.

As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "Planet and KSAT Licensing Issue Enters 22nd Month," both companies have threatened to pull their ground station assets out of Canada by June 1st, 2018, if progress "hadn’t been made in approving their licenses."

According to Zubko, Planet plans to pull out of the project by June 1st, 2018 unless the licences are approved. "They're gone without those licences," he said.

Oddly enough, other ground stations proposals have had their applications reviewed and accepted over the last two years. As outlined in the December 14th, 2017 C-Core press release, "C-CORE satellite receiving station operational in Inuvik," the C-Core ground station is " is optimized for use with today’s emerging generation of breadbox-sized nanosats and cubesats. Its innovative self-leveling platform ensures stability during seasonal frost heave, making it ideal for Arctic deployment." The press release also said that the project was supported by "the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence program" which, at least as outlined in the post, has a mandate to "foster innovation and collaboration in Canada’s remote sensing sector and to promote commercial use of remote sensing technologies to support responsible, sustainable development of northern natural resources." That's just what we need; another government department needing to be consulted in order to move forward. Graphic c/o

If the project doesn't move forward, Canada could suffer.

Zubko feels that "Canada has been embargoed when it comes to future international Earth observation and communications missions." He feels that the actions of the Federal government have been "inconsistent" at best and could potentially turn the country into an international pariah, unable to partner with other agencies on future space missions.

"At least Planet has a provisional licence so that they can begin testing," Zubco said. He also noted that, as of this morning, KSAT had only been in contact via e-mail with Global Affairs Canada. 

"And  the government seems to want prior notification of new customers and sales," according to Zubko, which will certainly cause concern given the possibility that the competition from the other Inuvik satellite station facility might also come into possession of the information.

In essence, it's a developing story, waiting for a resolution, which may not happen anytime soon.

Stay tuned...
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Patent Boxes," our Canadian Space Agency and the Lack of Real Innovation in the 2018 Federal Budget

         By Chuck Black

It's noteworthy that no one, not even the Federal Space Advisory Board (SAB) tasked with making the Federal government aware of space industry concerns, has stepped up to the plate to criticize Tuesday's Federal budget and its lack of new funding for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Russ Roberts. Photo c/o CATAAlliance.

Part of this reticence is because provisions of the 2018 Federal budget are indeed helpful to Canadian academics and researchers, who make up a plurality of the SAB's members and mandate.

As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Basic science makes historic gains in research-friendly budget," the 2018 budget allocated $3.8Bln CDN of new funding spread over the next five years to a range of science and academic programs and promised the substantial consolidation of Federal granting programs, down to thirty-five from a pre-budget total of ninety-two.

But those improvements won't help rocket scientists, graduate students and entrepreneurs in Canada when it comes time to commercialize the innovative technologies derived from our space program, or assist Canadian academics in other areas to fund and grow their tech driven start-ups.

For that, a different budget is needed.

According to Russ Roberts, the Sr. vice president of advocacy for the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance), the current funding is almost entirely "pre-competitive, and focused around funding basic research. The key to maximizing commercialization opportunities for new technology is to provide tax based benefits for Canadian start-ups and other companies to not only commercialize Canadian developed intellectual property (IP) but to also encourage the new businesses to stay in Canada."

Roberts spoke with this blog on Wednesday morning, the day after the budget was released.

Former Blackberry co-CEO Jim Balsillie is another Canadian who believes that commercialization is an entirely different activity from basic science and requires different tools and policy. As outlined in the February 3rd, 2017 Profit post, "The Problem With Canadian Innovation, According to Jim Balsillie," Canada has world class ideas. "We invented the Internet search engine. That was OpenText. The University of Toronto invented the touch screen. We have invented lots of great stuff. And that shows in science and technology—we get lots of peer-cited stuff." But Canada hasn't updated its policies on commercialization since the 1980's and many of our best and brightest have moved to other countries, where the funding and tax structure needed to encourage commercialization is already in place and entrepreneurs have the tools needed to scale their ideas and inventions into global leaders. Graphic c/o Profit. 

Instead of the Federal government's approach, Roberts argues for the development of a new tax regime designed to "incentivise" research and development by taxing patent revenues at a lower rate from other commercial revenue, which would encourage re-investment in the technology (to maximize its growth) and keep the corporate head office in Canada (to minimize the taxes).

He calls it a "patent box" strategy although its also often known internationally as an "intellectual property box regime."

The strategy, first used in Ireland in the 1970's has subsequently been incorporated into the tax codes of other nations including France, The Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

It's also a well known domestic strategy which, as outlined in the March 21st, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "Quebec’s new ‘patent box’ tax break should be an example for Ottawa," has been adapted by at least one provincial government.

But it's also a strategy which has mostly been ignored by the Federal government.

Of course, not everyone likes the idea of a patent box. As outlined in the November 13th, 2014 Tax Justice Network post, "Goodbye UK Patent Box – don’t let the door hit you on your way out," there are those who consider the implementation of separate tax regimes among countries to be a barrier to the "genuine engagement in the evolution of an international system of corporate taxation that actually works," because variations in national tax law make it easier for corporations to move into jurisdictions with lower tax rates. According to Wikipedia, the Tax Justice Network is an "advocacy group consisting of a coalition of researchers and activists with a shared concern about tax avoidance, tax competition, and tax havens." Graphic c/o Tax Justice Network.

According to Roberts, CATAAlliance is having difficulty convincing Ottawa to even acknowledge the difference between funding basic science and encouraging commercialization efforts.

"We are still in discussions, looking for the government to acknowledge the issue," he said. "This budget has a long way to go before it begins to generate real innovation."

Such concerns are unlikely to be addressed soon, especially given that the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States and Mexico, is in the midst of being renegotiated.

Any talk of creating a Canadian patent box could easily be misinterpreted as creating a "barrier to trade" by setting up a disparate tax regime between the three nations.

So nothing will be done, at least for now. The Federal government will continue to pretend that increased funding for basic science will help the scientists to build the companies needed to cash in on their inventions and build the economy. Ottawa may even allocate additional money to the cause.

After all, the next budget is an election budget.
Editors Note: It looks like the US is also aware of the concept of patent boxes. As outlined in the November 13th, 2017 post on the New York, NY based Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP law firm Tax Reform and Transition blog site, under the title, "Senate Tax Proposal Establishes “GILTI” Patent Box," the US Senate has even entertained the idea of introducing at least some aspects of the patent box concept into US law.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Big Winners" in Tuesday's Federal Budget

         By Henry Stewart

The big winners of Tuesday's Federal budget, at least as far as the space industry is concerned, might just be the firms planning to develop constellations of low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites intended to bring internet services to rural parts of the country.

As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 Space News post, "Canada budgets a boost for LEO broadband constellations," Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the $100Mln Cdn initiative in the 2018 Federal government budget released Feb. 27th, 2018.

The Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to extend internet service to rural areas in the country and believes that constellations of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites providing low latency access to internet services could prove to be the solution.

As outlined in the post, the Finance Minister "didn’t get into specific details on how the funds would be dispersed or whether the Canadian Space Agency would be behind those decisions."

According to the February 28th, 2018 Los Angeles Times post, "SpaceX's Elon Musk dares to go where others failed with space-based web," there are a number of corporations which could benefit from the Canadian funding, including Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, UK based OneWeb and Ottawa, ON based Telesat Canada.

SpaceX has it's own rocket fleet, which will cut costs associated with launching it's approximately 4,000U+ satellites into orbit, but OneWeb, last profiled in the May 3rd, 2016 post, "OneWeb Goes to Gatineau" went so far as to outline it's plans to Canadian officials during the April 25th, 2016 public meeting at Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) headquarters in Gatineau, PQ.

That meeting included OneWeb founder Greg Wyler and policy director Marc Dupuis, plus then Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) Information System Goup CEO Don Osborne and director of government and public affairs Leslie Swartman.

But MDA is now a part of  San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies and Telesat, as one of the only real Canadian options in the current market, might have the inside track at accessing the new Federal funds plus some made in the US advantages as well.

As first reported in the September 11th, 2017 post, "New FCC Rules a Defeat for SpaceX, But May Signal Opportunity for OneWeb & Telesat," a series of proposed (and now implemented) Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations may have given a competitive advantage to smaller satellite constellation proposals from firms such as Telesat and others as they attempt to compete with SpaceX and its proposed 4000 plus army of super-fast internet satellites.

As outlined in the February 28, 2018 Telesat press release, "Telesat Applauds Government’s Support in Budget 2018 of LEO Satellite Constellations to Deliver Advanced Rural Broadband Services" the company "welcomes the Government of Canada’s commitment in Budget 2018 to support investment in new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations for rural broadband communications."

Other, smaller Canadian providers may also receive some of the Federal funds.

For example, Woodstock, NB based Xplornet Communications has also been focused on improving rural broadband services by subcontracting bandwidth from the EchoStar 19 (launched in December 2016) and the ViaSat-2 satellite (launched in June 2017).

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Monday, February 26, 2018

Science & the CSA Don't Need More Money to Keep Things the Same; They Need New Procurement Methodologies

         By Chuck Black

Last fall, as part of the October 26th, 2017 post, "A Quick Overview of the Next Few Expected Federal Announcements Concerning the Canadian Space Industry," this blog suggested that the most likely scenario for budget day 2018 would be for the Federal government to allocate a few tens of millions of dollars in additional funding to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in order to move forward with preliminary work on possible contributions to the US led "Deep Space Gateway," and maybe also fund a few other interesting projects.

The new funding would counteract the growing domestic perception that Canada is falling behind other nations and missing out on a host of potential telecom, Earth imaging and other innovations derived from space focused technology.

And while the new funding wouldn't be nearly as as substantial as the $120Mln CDN provided by the Stephen Harper conservatives for rovers and "next generation Canadarm" research under the 2009 Economic Action Plan or replace the slowly winding down RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) funding, it would be enough to keep space focused academics and industry subcontractors from bolting the Liberal party before the next Federal election.

But that's not really what we need.

Now that the 2018 budget is only a day away, it's worth noting that the current American renaissance in space focused technology and rocketry had almost nothing to do with additional US government funding for NASA and almost everything to do with the implementation of procurement methodologies such as NASA's contracts under its various space act agreements, including its commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) program, which was the key to moving forward with projects developed through Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX and its series of Falcon rockets.

For example, it's noteworthy that NASA is simply unable to compete, or even understand SpaceX development costs for the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets.

As outlined in the August 2011 NASA Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy paper under the title, "Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle NAFCOM Cost Estimates," NASA was essentially unable to explain, when using the standard “NASA‐Air Force Cost Modeling” methodology, why Falcon 1 Launch vehicle development costs were actually approximately $300Mln US ($380Mln CDN), when the Air force model indicated that development costs would be between $1.7Bln and $4Bln USD ($2.16Bln and $5.07Bln CDN).

Not that there was anything wrong with that. According to the article “NASA has verified these costs” as provided by SpaceX, which suggests that the NASA cost modeling has substantial gaps and errors.

In essence, the NASA model is totally clueless, much like the current Canadian procurement model.

Until we revise it, our space program will be unable to move forward, no matter how much money we might want to throw at it.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

The Jockeying Begins for ITAR Access to the US Space Market

          By Brian Orlotti

Robert Bigelow, founder of Las Vegas, NV based Bigelow Aerospace, has announced the formation of Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), a new company that will oversee the marketing of Earth-orbiting space stations to both US and international clients. With the recent success of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, other US space firms are also now courting foreign customers.

A significant hurdle for US space firms accessing international markets remains however, in the form of domestic compliance with US arms-control regulations under US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

As outlined in the February 23rd, 2018 Popular Mechanics post, "America's Starmen Are Selling Space, But Who’s Buying?," US based commercial space companies have long expressed a desire to sell their wares to countries around the world, helping non-spacefaring nations to establish their own space programs.

Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX already launches payloads for many international clients aboard its Falcon rockets, and is willing to send customers anywhere they wish to go in the solar system. Bigelow Aerospace has long marketed its inflatable space stations for research, industrial and tourist activity in Earth orbit.

Even "oldspace" firms have stepped up, with  Chicago, Illinois based Boeing, the makers of the Starliner crewed space capsule, making mention of their intention to sell spaceflight services to foreign customers as outlined in the January 14th, 2018 Fortune post, "SpaceX and Boeing Slated for Crewed Space Missions By Year's End."

With economical heavy-lift launch capability now achieved, BSO (and doubtless other firms as well) are now conducting market studies to seek out potential customers.

ITAR is a US regulatory framework designed to restrict the export of military-related technologies (such as space rockets) to foreign nations. ITAR severely restricts the flow of space technology and expertise even to longtime US allies such as Canada and the EU. Such restrictions may hamper US space firms’ efforts to do business abroad as well as foreign space firms’ ability to setup shop in the US.

Recent signs from the US government, however, indicate a willingness to ease these restrictions.

At a meeting of the newly-reformed US National Space Council last week, it was announced that US export controls will be reviewed with the stated goal of reducing barriers to commercial space activity. The review is scheduled to be complete by Jan 1st, 2019.

Perhaps by no coincidence, this will be at the same time that SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft are due to begin launching human crews to the International Space Station (ISS).

The first obvious market for commercial space transport will be delivering astronauts and cargo (from both the US and ISS partner nations), to the ISS. Beyond that, potential customers include Middle Eastern nations such as the UAE, which has already stated its intent to build a space program with the aid of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, or perhaps African nations.

Looking further ahead, Bigelow Aerospace’s projected earth-orbit space stations could provide destinations for crewed commercial spacecraft. SpaceX’s and Kent, WA based Blue Origin’s planned moon bases as well as SpaceX’s Mars settlement could provide other future markets.     

US space firms will hardly have the field to themselves. China has announced that its modular space station set to launch in 2019 will be open to other nations, in contrast to the US’ exclusion of China from the ISS.

As the space frontier finally opens, the jockeying for position has already begun.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Coverage From the 2018 CSCA Small-Sat Conference

         By Henry Stewart

It's worth noting that, while journalists from the Commercial Space blog were banned from the recently concluded 2018 Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) Canadian SmallSat Symposium, mostly for reasons outlined in the November 9th, 2017 post, "Commercial Space and Rocket Port Shenanigans," there has been much useful coverage on the event.

And most of the best of that coverage has originated from Alexandria, VA based Space News senior staff writer Jeff Foust.

Space News Senior correspondent Jeff Foust, during one of his three recent appearances on C-Span. According to his Wikipedia page, Foust is also publisher of the Space Review (an online publication covering space activities) and the Space Politics blog (which he shut down in 2014 to take his present position at Space News). He has also written for or Astronomy Now and The New Atlantis. Photo c/o C-Span.

His coverage from the event includes:
  • The February 15th, 2018 Space News post, "Canadian Space Agency president not surprised by NASA ISS transition plans," an interview with Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte, who suggested that Canada's decision to follow the Americans down the path of developing "commercial low Earth orbit capabilities, including those that might be able to take over some part of the ISS when NASA funding ends," wasn't a new path or set in stone with a funding commitment. Until funding was forthcoming, Canada would take a "wait and see" approach instead of committing to the US plans.
  • The February 18th, 2018 Space News post, "Telesat to announce manufacturing plans for LEO constellation in coming months," which quoted Telesat VP of low Earth orbit (LEO) Erwin Hudson as stating that "the company was currently reviewing proposals for the 117-satellite constellation submitted by a number of major satellite manufacturers" and plans to settle on a contractor "in the next couple of months."

Competitor coverage, such as the event approved items provided by Kitchener/Waterloo ON based SpaceQ tended to be much slower, focused less on developing an overall sense of what was going on and wrapped around re-purposed talking points cribbed from attendee presentations.

For example, the SpaceQ story on the Planet ground station licence, the February 22nd, 2018 SpaceQ post, "Planet and KSAT Threaten to Pull Ground Station Assets out of Canada (Updated)," came out much later than the Space News post, required updating almost as soon as it was published, and seemed to include far fewer quotes from those involved.

Which is kinda odd, since SpaceQ said they had a team covering the conference. Space News parachuted Foust into the event as a solo act.

Overall, while its a bad idea to restrict the ability of journalists to cover a story, coverage of the space industry is building out to a point where no single source of information is able to cut off all contrary viewpoints.

This is a good thing. It might also be a leading indicator of the future of journalism.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Support our Patreon Page