Thursday, August 16, 2018

Celebrities, Dreamers, Engineers and Opportunists on our Past, Present and Potential Space Future

          By Al Calder

Chris Hadfield, past astronaut and current space idol. Is he merely a musician from out of this world? Or does he have a point when, as outlined in the July 8th, 2018 Business Insider post, "Astronaut Chris Hadfield says we could have gone to Mars decades ago — here's why we haven't," he discussed our capacity to travel to Mars. 

As outlined on his Wikipedia record, Hadfield is the recipient of numerous awards and special honours. These include appointment to the Order of Ontario in 1996 and the Order of Canada in 2014, receipt of the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross.

"We could send people to Mars decades ago," Hadfield told Business Insider. "The technology that took us to the moon and back when I was just a kid — that technology can take us to Mars." However, "Hadfield noted that having the ability to go doesn't mean it'd be easy, safe, or worth the risk of human life — even considering new spacecraft."

"The majority of the astronauts that we send on those missions wouldn't make it," Hadfield said. "They'd die." But some wouldn't and perhaps that's the real problem.

According to Hadfield, the limits to current space exploration are dictated by use of chemical rockets which, while perfectly capable of traveling from the Earth's surface to orbit in a timely fashion, do not possess the ability to provide thrust for the days/weeks and/ or months at at time needed to get anywhere substancial in the solar system within a reasonable timeframe.

A slower spacecraft needs to be bigger and more complex to store the additional food and supplies needed for the journey. It also needs to deal with the known concerns such as the health risks associated with exposure to deep-space radiation and all those unknowns which, by definition, we currently don't know a lot about.

Altogether, there will be plenty of opportunities for catastrophe and death.

Hadfield might just be suggesting that space travel is currently so high profile, expensive and important to domestic and international perceptions, that no national space agency or government will risk leading a space mission likely to fail.

Of course, there are those, mostly from the private sector, who disagree with him. A few are even betting money on it.

Take Hawthorne CA based SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, for example. He has bet his public fortune and his reputation on a promise of being able to live out his final years in a well appointed Martian retirement community. He is perhaps the most noteworthy person to disagree with Hadfield. 

But Musk and Hadfield consider themselves practical and there is a reasonable argument to be made in both casesIt might be best to describe Musk as a dreamer/engineer. Who else would ever go? Hadfield has retired.

However, the Fortune 500 monied sorts are banking that quite a few would go, if allowed.

Dennis Muilenburg, the chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Chicago Il based Boeing, has even been quoted in the July 25th, 2018 The Street post, "Boeing's CEO Said He Will Beat Elon Musk's SpaceX to Mars: Rewind," as stating:
We are working jointly with NASA and building that first rocket space launch system. It's about 38 stories tall, the first story is being built right now. It has 9.2 million pounds of thrust on that rocket, it's the biggest rocket ever. We will begin test flights starting next year. 
I firmly believe that the first person to step foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket.
The Boeing launch system is more commonly known as a component of the US government funded Space Launch System (SLS), a shuttle-derived heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which has come in for more that its fair share of criticism.

The SLS is a high-priced traditionally engineered and run NASA program dedicated to the belief that no one should ever die in space and nothing should ever go wrong, just so long as all the Earth bound aerospace jobs in Huntsville, Al are preserved.

Naturally it costs far more than the SpaceX program and there is even some question over whether it will ever fly, since money doesn't grow on trees and risk can never be reduced to "absolute" zero. 

According to the August 3rd, 2018 NASA post, "Commercial Crew assignments; NASA nears goal of human space transport innovation," NASA has officially announced the flight assignments for the first crewed test and operational flights of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner crew transportation vehicles.  

For now, both teams seem to be progressing towards their first milestone, the ability to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

As outlined in the July 11th, 2018 NASA Commercial Crew Program update to the US Government Accountability (GAO) office under the title, "Plan Needed to Ensure Uninterrupted Access to the International Space Station," both Boeing and SpaceX are "making progress finalizing designs and building hardware for their crew transportation systems." 

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. As outlined in the November 15th, 2015 Spaceflight Insider post, "Aerojet Rocketdyne Signs Deal With Boeing to Provide CST-100 Propulsion System," the Starliner subcontracts out substancial portions of its capsule construction, unlike SpaceX, which prefers to make most components in house. Graphic c/o Boeing / Beyond Earth.

However, both contractors are also pushing back certification milestones needing to be achieved in order to move the program forward, although Boeing may be further behind, at least as outlined in the July 30th, 2018 NASA post, "ASAP reviews Boeing failure, positive SpaceX success ahead of Commercial Crew announcement." 

So here we are wondering if this is a contest to see who has the fastest car in the space race? Is this comparable to comparing the fastest race car to the fastest horse to the fastest space vehicle? 

According to Chris Hadfield:
"Burning chemical rockets is the equivalent of using a sailboat or a pedal boat to try and travel around the world. Someone has to invent something we haven't thought of yet, maybe the work that's going on with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the space station and in the particle accelerator in CERN and other places ... is going to show us how we can harness gravity. 
"It sounds outlandish, but we figured out how to harness electricity and what electrons do, and that seemed crazy, and it's revolutionized life and travel. So who knows?"
Meanwhile, Elon Musk dreams big of retiring on Mars while Dennis Muilenburg mostly just wants to get there first and make some money on the trip. 

Graphic c/o

At least Hadfield has experience in space, having flown two space shuttle missions and serving as ISS commander before retiring in 2014. He's probably right when he said we've had the same technological motor capabilities for decades.

This isn’t leaps and bounds of innovation by any stretch of the imagination.

But maybe, just maybe, some of the celebrities, dreamers, engineers and opportunists currently interested in the idea are willing to give it a good go this time round.

Here's hoping.  

Al Calder is VP of special projects for the Commercial Space Blog, where he creates events focused on space industry needs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An Overview of the Canadian Space Industry

          By Henry Stewart

Want an overview of the Canadian space industry and the public policy and political issues associated with it?

Then check out these freely available online publications from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Paris, France based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to the Space Economy at a Glance 2014, a "statistical overview of the global space sector and its contributions to economic activity," compliled by the OECD:
Canada has a well-developed space industry, including about 200 private companies, in addition to research institutions and universities, some of which have some commercial activities.
The ten biggest companies accounted for almost 88% of revenues and 64% of employment (Canadian Space Agency, 2013). Space manufacturing is mainly located in Ontario (more than half of the workforce) and in Quebec (19% of workforce). Some 7,993 people were employed in the space sector in 2012, an increase compared to 2011, with more than half defined as “highly” qualified’ (engineers, scientists and technicians). 
Total Canadian space sector revenues amounted in 2012 to $3.3Bln CDN, a 4.5% decrease as compared to 2011 (Canadian Space Agency, 2013). 
Satellite communications applications and services generated the largest revenue share, followed by the earth observation sector. The applications and services segment generated two thirds of total revenues...
Of course, the data used in the OECD publication had to come from somewhere and most of the OECD numbers were referenced from the 2012 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report, which was released in January 2014 by the CSA.

The 2012 CSA report was discussed in the January 24th, 2014 post, "Canadian Space Industry Shrinks While International Markets Grow!"

The latest CSA report is the 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector, which was released in July 2018 and discussed in the July 26, 2018 post, "Assessing the 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report."

As discussed in that post, there has been a six year stagnation in Canadian space focused activities going back to 2010, which shows no signs of abating. In part, the stagnation reflects the international markets which also stagnated during that period, although the Canadian decline is generally considered more severe.

The key metrics and statistics used to measure the space sector by the CSA and others are explained in the OECD Handbook on Measuring the Space Economy.

Meant to be complementary to the Space Economy at a Glance report, both documents are updated every few years and available on the OECD website.

The CSA report on the "Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector," completed in March 2015 but only released in June 2016, was developed using OECD methodologies in an effort to "capture the economic argument for investment in space."

The report was discussed in the June 3rd 2016 post, "Canadian Space Agency Releases "Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector" and the June 12th, 2016 post, "A Quick Conversation with Euroconsult on the "Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector."

The OECD also covers the economic argument for the investment in space.

The OECD Space and Innovation Report, published on October 27th, 2016, notes that "after decades of innovation, satellites now play a discrete but pivotal role in the efficient functioning of modern societies and their economic development."

The report was compiled using data collected from the OECD Space Forum project on the state of innovation in the space sector, with a view to examine how space innovation may impact the larger economy. According to the paper:
New analysis and indicators contribute to answering some of the following questions: is the space sector still a driver for innovation in the 21st century? What are the determinants for an innovative space sector? And what are the policy responses to encourage and harness better space-related innovation? 
After becoming familiar with the publications described above, even the most casual of space geeks will possess a working knowledge of the public policy issues associated with the space industry.

And that's a good thing.

Knowledgeable people who understand the context and constraints under which existing policies were developed are dangerous, capable of bending the political process to their will and well able to build better policies.

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Stopping Satellite "Pwnage"

          By Brian Orlotti

A team of postgraduate researcher from Yale and Stanford Universities and the University of Colorado have urged the space industry to adopt a policy requiring the use of encryption on all cubesats and smallsats with onboard propulsion.

"From scytales in the year 700 BC to the first password, CAPTCHAs and literally unbreakable 258-bit encryption, take a walk with us through the history of encryption," says the introduction to this infographic. To see the complete infographic, simply click on this link. Graphic c/o Visually.

As outlined in the August 9th, 2018 Space News post, "'No encryption, no fly' rule proposed for smallsats," the team made their presentation at the recently concluded American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Annual Smallsat Conference, which was held from August 4th - 9th, in Logan, UT.

Their request comes at a time when multiple independent groups have demonstrated the vulnerability of various mobile platforms (aircraft, spacecraft, automobiles and drones) to hacking---with potentially disastrous results.

As part of their presentation, the researchers modelled several different propulsion systems on a hypothetical 10 kg nanosatellite in a 300-kilometer Earth orbit with propulsion systems accounting for half of the spacecraft’s mass.

The results ranged from the satellite reaching medium Earth orbit altitudes within two hours when using chemical propulsion to passing geostationary orbit in about a year with an electric propulsion system.

Cubesat builders, who once had few options available for onboard propulsion, now seek to make use of more advanced chemical and electric propulsion systems. These systems can provide smallsats with big boosts in velocity, which can enable rapid orbital changes.

The researchers were troubled by potential scenarios where hackers can take control of and quickly redirect satelites with unencrypted command and control systems. These compromised satellites could then be used to attack other satellites.

Government satellites, as well as many commercial ones, strongly encrypt their command signals to make hacking unlikely.

However, many satellites run by academic institutions have no such security, often due to funding or technical limitations.

To prevent such incidents, the researchers recommended that the space industry adopt a policy  requiring the use of encrypted command systems on small satellites, called  ‘no encryption, no fly.’ This policy could be enforced by launch providers or via contract provisions from satellite propulsion manufacturers.

History has proven that any system that can be hacked will be hacked, given time. Satellite encryption will prove all the more critical in the coming decades as multiple commsat constellations come online, more space-based construction takes place and private crewed orbital and suborbital flights increase.

Recent signs show the dangers of inactivity in this area.

As shown in the August 9th, 2018 Forbes post, "This Guy Hacked Hundreds Of Planes From The Ground," cybersecrity researcher Ruben Santamarta demonstrated how he spied on hundreds of commercial passenger aircraft during November and December of 2017 due to vulnerabilities in satellite communications equipment, i.e. antennas and modems.

Santamarta could monitor data being sent to and from the aircraft and, had he wished, access their onboard WiFi systems and passengers’ connected devices.

Luckily, the aircraft’s safety systems were inaccessible due to the way modern aircraft’s onboard networks are segmented. Santamarta has shared his data with the relevant airlines, satellite equipment vendors and government agencies and most (though not all) have patched the vulnerabilities. Santamarta also presented his findings at the prestigious 2018 Black Hat USA Conference, which was held in Los Vegas NV from August 4th - 9th.

New frontiers always bring new dangers, and space is no exception. All stakeholders will need to do their part to prevent the space industry from being ‘pwned.’
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, August 10, 2018

Maxar Technologies Might be Getting Paranoid

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't offer up any new funding for the Canadian space industry during his Thursday trip through the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue PQ based facility owned by Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies and operated by its Brampton ON based MDA subsidiary.

He wears a white hat so he must be here to rescue us! PM Trudeau (right) with MDA scientists at the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) manufacturing facility in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue PQ on Thursday, August 9th, 2018. As outlined in his twitter post, "The satellites being built at @MDA_maxar in QC will help us measure the effects of climate change, monitor the oceans, and provide valuable information when natural disasters strike. It was great to learn about the Canadian tech & workers behind them before they head into space." Photo c/o @JustinTrudeau.

After all, just the day before, as per the August 8th, 2018 CBC News post, "Government, private sector invest $1B in information technology in Montreal," Trudeau announced that the "federal and provincial governments along with Canadian tech company CAE" will be teaming up "to invest about a billion dollars over five years into training and simulation technology."

Earlier the same day, as described in the August 8th, 2018 Montreal Gazette post, "Quebec, Ottawa to give CAE nearly $200 million for aviation training," we learned where most of the money being contributed by Montreal PQ based CAE for the training and simulation technology was going to come from.

But local MDA employees were far more concerned over recent reports indicating that Maxar HQ was "under attack" by a "short seller" encouraging Maxar stock to drop in price on major exchanges.

The "attack" on Maxar/MDA evidently began with the August 7th, 2018 Spruce Point Capital press release, "Spruce Point Capital Management Releases a Strong Sell Forensic Research Opinion on Maxar Technologies Ltd. (NYSE / TSX: MAXR)," which warned, among other things, that Maxar’s dividend was at risk.

As outlined in the August 7th, 2018 Financial Post article, "Maxar stock plunges after short-seller says space company's dividend is at risk," the Spruce Point press release also set an intermediate price target for Maxar stock in the range of $20 US ($26 CDN) to $25 US ($33 CDN) per share, which was about half of Maxar’s previous 52-week low of $42.11 US ($54.94 CDN) on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

During the day, Spruce Point also tweeted out a series of unflattering assessments of Maxar prospects, including this Auguest 7th, 2018 @sprucepointcap tweet, which referenced "Maxar's dire financial situation and aggressive accounting."

Maxar shares traded at $49.49 CDN at mid-afternoon Tuesday (August 6th) at the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE), down $8.24 from Friday’s close prior to a holiday weekend.

Who's the most important person in this picture? Maxar/MDA executives, including MDA director of public affairs Leslie Swartman (center) and MDA group president Mike Greenley (far right) with CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen (3rd from left), PM Trudeau (3rd from right) and others at the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue PQ based MDA facility on August 8th, 2018. Photo c/o @mda_maxar.

By the end of the day, the dip in stock prices encouraged Maxar to formally respond to Spruce Point allegations. The April 7th, 2018 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies Responds to Misleading Short Sell Report," went so far as to state that "Maxar believes it is a direct attempt by a short-seller to profit, at the expense of Maxar shareholders, by manipulating Maxar’s stock price."

Of course, Maxar may have a point. According to its website, New York NY based Spruce Point Capital Management, "focuses on short-selling, value, and special situation investment opportunities" and "conducts in depth fundamental research and takes an activist approach to investing."

Which is a polite way of saying that the firm would benefit from a decline in Maxar stock prices, and would not be opposed to "activist" measures, such as the release of an unfavorable assessment, which would encourage those sorts of declines to occur.

Dropping stock prices benefit "short sellers" like Spruce Point, which make money buying up bargain basement stock shares and reselling them after the stock price recovers.

As if on cue and by the close of business on Thursday August 9th, Maxar shares had risen to $51.11 CDN on the TSE as the markets began to discount the Spruce Point recommendations..

However, it's worth noting that these sorts of situations are normally dealt with at a much lower level, well before the need for public pronouncements.

Maxar's very public response to the Spruce Point allegations suggests internal fear over the state of the financials which might also indicate the need for a cautious "wait and see" investor approach before any long-term Maxar stock is added to a portfolio. 

According to the November 5th, 2012 Space News post, "Canadian Radarsat Constellation Mission Delayed, Cost Rises by $400M," the RCM program has increased in cost and had its development cost substancially stretched out since first being announced over a decade ago. As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post,  "A $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," RCM was finally placed on a fixed price contract with a required hard launch date in January 2013. Screenshot c/o Space News.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Maxar shouldn't be getting paranoid. The market did dip on the initial Spruce Point pronouncements, just like Spruce Point knew that it would.

As outlined in the August 9th, 2018 Cantech Letter post, "Maxar Technologies can’t just ignore short report, Christine Poole says," some think Maxar should even respond in greater public detail to the Share Point allegations in order to prevent Maxar stock prices from dropping further.

According to that article, Maxar’s stock had previously plunged 20% in late February in response to its fiscal fourth quarter and full-year 2017 earnings report, which featured higher revenues related to its DigitalGlobe business unit (which focuses on the growing Earth imaging market) but lower revenues from its SSL business unit, which depends on the sale of large geostationary communication satellites in a shrinking international market.

The fourth quarter report also estimated a revenue decline of between 2% and 4% for the upcoming fiscal year, a bad sign given the normal investor preference for year over year growth and a lot of downside for the market to digest.

As for PM Trudeau, although he seems more than willing to pose for photo-ops, he hasn't offered up any big new fiscal bones to Maxar either, although there have been recent small contracts awarded.

As outlined in the second volume of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review under the title, "Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space," there is a broad consensus on both sides of the Federal House of Commons that budgetary problems and ballooning costs on the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), soured the reputations of both the CSA and prime contractor MacDonald Dettwiler (a firm which has now morphed into the foreign owned Maxar subsidiary MDA) in the early 2010s.

That's what has led led to the current lack of support for new funding for Canada's space agency, which is another reason why Maxar might be getting paranoid. 

Just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean that everyone isn't out to get you.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Could Space Industry Funding Come From Canada's New Cannabis Industry?

          By Al Calder

Canada has one advantage in the international space industry which very few people are talking about. The scientific advances being developed through efforts cultivating crops designed for the closed environment of space are also directly applicable to the quite similar problem of growing marijuana, a crop which Canada is in the midst of legalizing. 

As outlined in the September/Octorber 2014 issue of Lab Business article, "Mission to Mars," Dixon is also ready to grow food on Mars, which will certainly be of interest to Elon Musk. who is hoping to relocate there over the next few decades. However, Dixon's also happy to settle for helping to grow crops in Canada's far north, an area which is also shaping up to be a lucrative business according to the article. Graphic c/o Lab Business

Mike Dixon, the director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) at the Guelph ON based University of Guelph (UofG), has even figured out a surefire way to get funding for space farming: make it applicable and useful to the nascent Canadian based cannabis industry. 

As outlined in the Jun 22nd, 2016 Popular Mechanics post, "Science For Space Farming Is Also Being Used to Grow Weed," no technology is too expensive to grow cannabis, according to Dixon.

Dixon also calls funding "precious" in the world of academia. However:
If Canada were to legalize pot (as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to do this fall), it's expected the country would generate $5Bln CDN in tax revenue and growers like ABCann (now VIVO Cannabis) a medical marijuana company in Ontario that collaborates with Dixon, know that any possible advantage could become a worthwhile investment to get a foothold in the upstart economy. 
Dixon and CESRF connect and often work in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the NASA Advanced Life Support (ALS) community and the European Space Agency (ESA) Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative (MELiSSA) programme. 

As outlined on their website, CESRF government sponsors include the Centre For Research in Earth & Space Technology (CRESTech), the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the CSA and the ESA.

Industry sponsors include twenty corporations such as Surrey BC based Argus Control Systems Ltd., the Pittsburgh, PA based H.J. Heinz Company, St. Louis, MI based Monsanto, the Sudbury ON based Northern Centre for Advanced Technology Inc. (NORCAT), the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Producers Marketing Board (OGVPMB) and others.

Off campus, Dixon has a number of other interests.

As outlined in his undated profile for the Canadian edition of The Conversation, he's "the technology exchange coordinator for the International Advanced Life Support Working Group (IALSWG) which is a strategic planning group offering information and personnel exchange between international space agencies such as NASA, CSA, ESA, RSA and JAXA (Japan)."

Dixon has also served as "Chair of the Space Exploration Advisory Committee (2004-10) of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and is a member of the Life Sciences and Technical Committee within the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)."

But while he certainly has his eyes on the stars, Dixon sees no reason why Canada cannot "take a leadership role" in the burgeoning field of botany as a bonus.

As for where all the smoke surrounding this topic ends up getting blown, that will be for future generations to decide.

Al Calder is VP of special projects for the Commercial Space Blog, where he creates events focused on space industry needs.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Playing PoSSUM: Citizen Scientists Chase Space Clouds with a Canadian Forces Jet and a NASA Balloon

          By Brian Orlotti

A private non-profit group recently concluded a high altitude research project in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and has another joint effort planned with the National Research Council (NRC) this fall. This work highlights the increasing role of private groups in supporting space focused scientific research in the face of decreasing government support.

The Summer 2018 edition of the Project PoSSUM News which provides a quarterly overview of PoSSUM activities. To download the complete eight page newsletter, please click on this link. Image c/o Project PoSSUM

From June 29th to July 1st 2018, two members of Project PoSSUM (polar suborbital science in the upper mesosphere), used a CT-155 ‘Hawk’ training aircraft of the RCAF’s 15 Wing at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to study noctilucent clouds.

Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds in Earth’s atmosphere, forming near an altitude of 83 km above the polar regions during summer. Noctilucent clouds are considered by scientists to be accurate indicators of man-made climate change as well as good analogs for low-density planetary atmospheres like Mars.

Project PoSSUM is a US based 501(c)(3) non-profit research and education group that conducts atmospheric and space technology research as well as various educational outreach programs. Project PoSSUM primarily operates out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach FL.

The group practices ‘citizen science,’ scientific research conducted in whole or in part by amateur (i.e. non-professional) scientists. Groups like Project PoSSUM contrast with traditional space advocacy groups which enforce a rigid (yet unspoken) caste system relegating non-scientists to menial and subservient roles.

Operating out of Edmonton International Airport, three night flights were conducted along the 56th parallel at altitudes of up to 45,000 ft. The Project PoSSUM team took images of the clouds’ fine structures in the hope that these will reveal more about the highly complex patterns of turbulence and instability in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

PoSSUM members Capt. Theon ‘TK’ Te Koeti (pilot) and Dr. Jason Reimuller (mission specialist) prepare for a noctilucent cloud reserach sortie from Edmonton, AB in a Royal Canadian Air Force CT-155 ‘Hawk’ aircraft earlier this summer. Photo c/o Project PoSSUM.

This research builds upon work done by Project PoSSUM in July 2017 at High Level, Alberta, in which 17 PoSSUM members tested a NASA-funded camera system aboard a Mooney aircraft.

These cameras were the redeployed as part of NASA’s PMC PMC Turbo balloon mission. Launched from Kiruna, Sweden this past July, PMC Turbo is the first dedicated mission to explore the small-scale dynamics of  Earth’s mesosphere as well as the first balloon mission to employ a lidar.

PoSSUM eventually plans to use its instruments on reusable suborbital launch vehicles to build 3D models of the mesosphere at previously unattainable resolutions.

Continuing its Canadian collaborations, a team of PoSSUM scientist-astronaut candidates will, in cooperation with the NRC, test a prototype spacesuit in zero-G in Ottawa from October 15th-19th.

With government space programs’ continuing decline and Canada’s descent to the status of third-rate space power, groups like Project PoSSUM fill an important need. They can cover ‘gaps’ in manpower or skillsets and also serve as a workforce training ground for the blossoming private space industry.

Playing PoSSUM might be just what the doctor ordered.
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.

Monday, August 06, 2018

In Space, You are the Master of Your Fate and the Captain of Your Soul

          By Chuck Black

The deadline to contribute position papers to the pre-budget consultations held annually by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) in advance of the expected release of the next Federal budget in March 2019, has passed.

But it's worth noting that there are many things we can still do to support the Canadian space industry. For example, we could kick in a few bucks for the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT).

UTAT team members surround a model of their rocket. Graphic c/o UTAT.

As outlined in their GoFundMe webpage under the title "Defiance: Record-breaking rocket," as of August 6th, 2018 the team was approximately $2000 CDN short of the $8500 CDN needed in order to be able to fund and build a hybrid sounding rocket, called "Defiance." The rocket will be used in an attempt to break the current Canadian amateur rocketry altitude record.

As a side benefit, it will also help motivated and capable Canadian university students learn about building rockets...

According to the website:
Your contributions will help construct the state-of-the-art propulsion system to power Defiance. This includes manufacturing the oxidizer tank, combustion chamber, rocket fuel core, and validating crucial flight systems through low altitude tests. 
In June we plan on flying a demo vehicle to 5km altitude to verify avionics and recovery systems but your contributions will allow us to test the most important system of all: propulsion.
UTAT doesn't just build rockets. As outlined on their website, UTAT is an "interdisciplinary university design team that designs and builds rockets, satellites, drones and unmanned aerial vehicles."

They were last profiled in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "UofT Undergraduate Satellite Builders Raise Almost $500K to Build & Launch a Microsatellite in 2019."

Graphic c/o UTAT.

As outlined in the July 6th, 2018 post, "Time to Contribute to the Pre-Budget Consultations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance," this blog has advocated contributing to the annual FINA budget consultation process in order to encourage the Federal government to assist the Canadian space industry, either through additional direct funding, improvements to the Federal procurement process or through tax breaks for space focused organizations.

But we could certainly be doing more.

And we should absolutely not be depending on any one single level of government or any specific political party to support Canadian efforts to contribute to our next great space age.

Waiting for someone else to take the ball and solve our problems is the surest route to failure. So lets take the future in our own hands and begin contributing directly to useful, space focused projects like UTAT.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, August 03, 2018

The Space Industry, Artificial Intelligence Applications and Canadian Venture Capital

        By Henry Stewart

Want to find our where there smart venture money is pooling? Then check out the latest PwC MoneyTree report.

The complete Q2 2018 PwC Money Tree report, is available online from the PwC website by simply clicking on the graphic above. Graphic c/o PwC.

The quarterly report covers updates on the Canadian venture capital and high-growth startups ecosystem and is a staple of the financial community. It's compiled by Toronto ON based PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada, the Canadian subsidiary of a multinational professional services network headquartered in London, UK, and New York, NY based CB Insights.

The latest report, covering the second quarter of 2018, is all about funding analytical tools and artificial intelligence applications capable of dealing with very large data-sets.

As outlined in the July 26th, 2018 Betakit post, "Report: AI Drives VC Investments As Canada Hits $900 Million USD For Second Straight Quarter," which reports on the current Q2 2018 report, the AI sector continues to attract Canadian venture capital.

According to the article:
AI experienced a 104 percent funding increase in Q2 2018 compared to the last quarter, with $222Mln CDN ($169Mln US) invested across 13 deals. Total quarterly deals and investment reached an all-time high this quarter; the second highest quarter was Q2 2017, when $209Mln CDN ($159Mln US) was invested across 12 deals...
“Approximately half of the deal volume this quarter went to businesses that provide analytics tools to their customers,” said Dave Planques, national deals leader at PwC Canada. “These companies are supporting enterprises in making better data-driven decisions.”
The article goes on to state that the preponderance of AI deal has been a fixture of the Canadian investment opportunities over the last several quarters and shows no sign of slowing down.

Overall funding trends in Canada over the last six quarters. Graphic c/o PWC.

While AI is perceived of as being the "next generation of analytics for the investment community," its also worth noting the space focused applications of the new tools.

The analytical capabilities are of interest to astronomers and Earth imaging satellite experts because of the large volumes of data they are required to assess.

The European Space Agency (ESA) in particular has been organizing events to assess the new tools to see if they can handle "the massive spatio-temporal Earth and Space observation data collected by a variety of sensors - ranging from ground based to space-borne - and the synergetic use of data coming from other sources and communities," according to the website for the "2019 Conference on Big Data from Space (BiDS'19)," an ESA sponsored event which will be held in Munich Germany from February 19th - 21st, 2019.

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

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Airbus Competing Against Thales/ Maxar to Design and Build the 117 Satellite Telesat Constellation

         By Chuck Black

Ottawa ON based Telesat has announced the creation of a second team, wrapped around the Ottobrunn, Germany based Airbus Defence and Space group, to work on a competing design for its proposed 117 satellite low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband constellation.

Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg (above) also took time out of his busy schedule to helm the August 2nd, 2018 quarterly earnings conference call and discuss Telesat financial results for the three and six month periods ended June 30, 2018. As outlined in the August 2nd, 2018 Telesat press release, "Telesat Reports Results for the Quarter Ended June 30, 2018,"  the company reported a net loss of $21Mln CDN, compared to net income of $236Mln CDN for the same period in 2017, which was attributed to "higher foreign exchange losses in the first half of 2018, arising from the translation of Telesat’s U.S. dollar denominated debt into Canadian dollars." Photo c/o Space News.

As outlined in the July 31, 2018 post, "Telesat, Thales and Maxar Learn to Share Canada's Strategic Innovation Fund," the first team, complosed of Brampton ON based MDA Corporation (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies) and Franco-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, was announced on Monday. 

According to the August 1st, 2018 Telesat press release  "Telesat Signs Airbus Defence and Space to Further Develop the Design for Telesat’s Global LEO Satellite Constellation," Telesat:
... now has two separate teams, comprised of industry leading satellite manufacturing companies, who will work in close cooperation with Telesat over the coming months in a series of engineering activities and technical reviews. 
These efforts will culminate in each team submitting a firm proposal for final design and manufacture of Telesat’s LEO satellites and ground system infrastructure. 
Telesat anticipates deciding by mid-2019 on a prime contractor for Telesat’s LEO program – space segment, ground segment and system integration.
The second team announcement wasn't a totally unexpected development. 

Two Telesat development satellites were initially planned. But the low Earth orbit prototype 2 (LEO-2) built by Palo Alto, CA based SSL (another Maxar subsidiary) with Toronto ON based University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Spaceflight Laboratories (SFL) acting as prime contractor, was lost when the Soyuz-2.1b rocket carrying the satellite failed to reach orbit in November 2017.

LEO-1, built by Guildford UK based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), a world leader in small satellites and part of Airbus Defence and Space, launched successfully in January 2018. It is currently undergoing orbital testing.

A graphic showing the Telesat LEO-1. Graphic c/o SSTL.

Oddly enough, both teams possess connections to Arlington VA OneWeb, which has announced plans to begin building out a larger constellation of LEO microsatellites, starting in late 2018.

As outlined in the August 1st, 2018 Space News post, "Telesat picks Airbus Defence and Space as second constellation design partner,"  OneWeb and Airbus have created a joint venture called OneWeb Satellites to build the estimated 900 spacecraft required for the Oneweb constellation, as well as satellites for other companies.

However, "the satellites Telesat envisions will be materially larger than the 145-kilogram satellites OneWeb plans," and its not clear if OneWeb would consider building larger satellites.

And, as outlined in the July 30th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "Telesat Selects Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies for LEO Satellite Constellation Systems Design," Maxar subsidiary MDA "is already contracted to mass-produce antennas for the OneWeb constellation using a new manufacturing facility in its Montreal location."

Maxar released its second quarter earnings yesterday and, as outlined in the  August 1st, 2018 Space News post, "Maxar creating new smallsat division as it shrinks SSL," is looking to offset losses in its geostationary satellite manufacturing business from its Palo Alto CA based SSL subsidiary, with downsizing at SSL and the creation of a new smallsat division.

For more on the Q2 2018 Maxar quarterly earnings report, check out the July 31st, 2018 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies reports second quarter 2018 results, declares quarterly dividend."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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