Friday, November 16, 2018

A $52Mln CDN Financing Deal for Northstar Earth and Space Inc.

          By Henry Stewart

It wasn't exactly what people were expecting the day after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited Ottawa to ask for a Canadian contribution to the NASA Lunar Gateway.

But the November 15th, 2018 announcement that the Federal government, along with several other "strategic partners," had contributed $52Mln CDN  in total to Montreal PQ based Northstar Earth & Space for the development of "a global environment information platform which will transform humanity's ability to manage our impact on Earth and its natural resources," was certainly a favorable indicator for at least one Canadian based space company.

Innovation Minister Bains announcing that the Federal government would be contributing $13Mln CDN to the latest $52Mln CDN funding plan for Northstar Earth and Space on November 15th, 2018. As outlined in the November 14th, 2018 Government of Canada press release "Minister Bains to visit Montréal to announce funding that will help create middle-class jobs in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta," the minister was initially ambiguous about the specifics of the announcement and many thought the announcement would relate to the Lunar Gateway. The complete presentation is available online here. Video c/o @ISED_CA

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains made the Northstar announcement at a special presentation at the Phi Centre in Montreal PQ on November 15th, 2018.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 Northstar press release, "NorthStar Earth and Space Inc. announces partnerships, $52Mln in additional financing for global environment information platform," the governments of Canada and Quebec each contributed $13Mln CDN to the total announced funding.

Government of Canada funding includes $9.5Mln from the Federal Strategic Innovation Fund and $3.5Mln CDN from Economic Development Quebec Region. The Government of Quebec, via Le Fonds du développement économique (FDE), also invested $13Mln CDN.

A variety of private partners, including Montreal PQ based Telesystem Space (the Northstar majority shareholder) and the Space Alliance of Europe (a strategic partnership between Rome Italy based Telespazio Spa, Cannes France based Thales Alenia Space and Rome, Italy based Leonardo Aerospace) provided the rest of the $52Mln CDN.

The latest financing is in addition to the $31Mln CDN contributed previously by other NorthStar Canadian and US founding partners. The company has gathered a total of $83Mln CDN for its NorthStar platform.

As outlined in the press release:
The NorthStar platform is based on a 40-satellite constellation with sophisticated sensors and information delivery capability. NorthStar will enable new advances in continuous environmental management including pollution detection, charting the health of the world's oceans and rivers, enhancing the productivity of agriculture, wildfire alerts, and pipeline oil and gas monitoring to prevent spills and contamination.
When fully operational, NorthStar expects to create an estimated 400 highly-skilled direct jobs and 1200 indirect jobs related to big data and information analytics, and support the expansion of aerospace, satellite design and sensor technology industries in Canada and abroad.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 post, "Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus," the Canadian government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to contribute to the NASA Lunar Gateway.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus

          By Chuck Black

It may not last. But at least for now, Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has refused to respond to NASA Administer Jim Bridenstine's request for Canada to fund a multi-billion dollar 3rd generation Canadarm contribution to the proposed NASA Lunar Gateway (also known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G), the next generation orbital outpost and staging platform NASA expects to build sometime in the 2020's.

AIAC president and CEO Quick (left) with NASA administrator Bridenstine (centre) and innovation minister Bains at the Canadian Aerospace Summit, which was held in Ottawa ON from November 12th - 14th. According to Bains, "we obviously can't replicate the Silicon Valley model here," but the Canadian focus on basic research and the funding for a variety of smaller, space focused projects is the best way for Canada to develop an ecosystem of innovation. According to Bridenstine, "we can't (reproduce Silicon Valley) either," but the US offer to Canada to contribute Canadarm expertise to the Lunar Gateway will maintain and grow existing Canada/US partnerships and can be bartered for new flight opportunities for Canadian astronauts. The complete, but surprisingly short, presentation is available online here and begins at approximately the twelve minute mark. Video c/o @ISED_CA

Bains was put on the spot by Bridenstine on the final day of the 2018 Canadian Aerospace Summit, held in Ottawa ON from November 12th - 14th, during a panel discussion on Canada US space cooperation chaired by Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) President and CEO Jim Quick.

As first reported in the September 18th, 2018 post, "Colorado Based Maxar/MDA Asking for $1-2Bln to Build Another Canadarm for the US LOP-G," most of the pressure for Canadian participation in the program is being organized through Westminster, CO based Maxar Technologies, which expects its Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions subsidiary to receive the lion's share of the government funding needed for any substantive contribution to the US program.

But participants in the lobby effort also include NASA representatives such as Bridenstine and Bill Gerstenmaier (the NASA administrator for human exploration and operations, who visited Canada earlier this fall), plus senior members of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) space committee and members of the #DontLetGoCanada coalition which, as outlined on the Don't Let Go Canada website, are currently lobbying the Federal government for a "fully funded space strategy" wrapped around a "third generation Canadarm" for the Lunar Gateway.

The original plan was to co-ordinate a campaign culminating in a Federal government funding announcement sometime in the fall of 2018, a situation which would certainly have helped the bottom line at Maxar. 

As outlined in the November 1st, 2018 post, "Maxar Technologies Share Price Collapses After Q3 Earnings Report Released," the company has been going through some difficult times lately.

Bridenstine didn't come to Ottawa cold. At the very least, he came with a substantive presentation which he shared earlier in the day. According to Bridenstine, Canada has made a "critical" contribution to US space exploration since the 1950's and should continue to do so. "I am here, as the NASA administrator, to ask for the support of Canada in support of Space Policy Directive 1 — our return to the moon,” he said. “We can’t achieve what we want to achieve in space if any of us goes alone.” The complete presentation is available online here. Video c/o @ISED_CA.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 Space News post, "Canada not sold on US-led lunar Gateway despite NASA boss’ direct pitch," Canada has essentially not yet decided to move forward with the Lunar Gateway and is still examining the project.

According to the article, Bains told journalists at the Canadian Aerospace Summit that the Canadian government now hopes to release a "new space plan" by the end of next year, a time frame which could potentially push out any formal announcement on space policy to just after the next Federal election, currently scheduled for sometime on or before October 19th, 2019.

Other articles, such as the November 14th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "NASA Administrator Asks Canada to Participate in Lunar Space Station," are kinder to Bains, stating only that he "promised to unveil a new Long Term Space Plan before the end of the administration’s mandate in late 2019."

Which is a good way of saying that Bains and the Justin Trudeau government might not want to pay any more attention to this matter unless its an important issue relating to their re-election.

Nuff said.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Rising Electron Lifts All Boats

          By Brian Orlotti

Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab has launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand, successfully placing seven spacecraft in orbit for its first commercial launch. With this latest success, the company is solidifying its lead in the burgeoning small rocket industry.



The launch, which Rocket Lab has dubbed the ‘It's Business Time’ mission, saw six satellites deployed for San Francisco CA based Spire Global, Irvine CA based Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Beverley Australia based Fleet Space Technologies and the Irvine CA based Irvine CubeSat STEM program, a collaboration between six high schools in Irvine CA to assemble, test and launch a CubeSat into low Earth orbit.

Also launched was a spacecraft built by München, Germany based HPS GmbH to demonstrate space debris removal technology according to the November 11th, 2018 CNBC post, "Space unicorn Rocket Lab reaches orbit again in key first commercial launch."

Originally scheduled to launch last spring following its successful Jan 2018 test launch, the mission was delayed due to a ‘motor control’ issue with the rocket. launch marks the beginning of Rocket Lab's acceleration toward launching at a weekly rate. 

While taking time to correct the motor control issue, the company made the most of the situation by continuing to build up it’s infrastructure, opening a new factory in New Zealand. Rocket Lab also plans to build a US launchpad in Virginia.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's current CEO and CTO. In 2009, Rocket Lab launched the Ātea-1 sounding rocket. In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a contract from the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) OperationallyResponsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nano-satellites into orbit. 

The company’s investors include Palo Alto and San Franscisco CA based Data Collective (DCVC), Chicago IL based Promus Ventures, Menlo Park CA based Bessemer Venture Partners, Menlo Park CA based Khosla Ventures and New Zealand based K1W1 Investments as well as  Bethesda, MD based aerospace behemoth LockheedMartin and the Government of New Zealand

Rocket Lab’s Series D funding round increased the company’s total level of investment to $148Mln US ($200Mln CDN). The company is now valued at over $1Bln US ($1.35Bln CDN).


The Electron is a 17m tall two-stage launcher designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg into a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit. The 3D printed carbon-composite rocket is powered by a cluster of 9 in-house built Rutherford engines (after the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford) that use liquid oxygen and kerosene. The Rutherford engine incorporates new innovations to minimize weight and cost, including battery-powered fuel pumps and (mostly) 3D-printed components. The Electron is priced at $5.7Mln US ($7.5Mln CDN) per launch.

Rocket Lab’s next launch is scheduled for December, with a further 16 launches planned for 2019. The company will aim for a launch rate of once a month in 2019, followed by once very two weeks, with an ultimate goal of once a week by 2020.

Rocket Lab’s success illustrates how modern technology can now enable even small nations to have their own space launch capability. Canada, a declining space power lacking its own space launch capability, must take this lesson to heart if it is to remain relevant.

Fortunately, there are signs of this occurring, most notably as outlined in the October 23rd, 2018 post, "Those New Maple Leaf Brand Rockets," through the LaunchCanada Rocket Innovation Challenge, an effort being led by rocket engineer Adam Trumpour to establish Canada’s first major rocket competition.

The contest will offer Canadians the opportunity to foster a vibrant private launch industry in the same manner that gave birth to firms like Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

A rising Electron lifts all boats, indeed.
Brian Orlotti.
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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, November 12, 2018

Canada Needs Dedicated Space Technology to Prevent Wildfire Disasters

          By Samuel Looper

Wildfires caught the nation’s attention in 2016 with the Fort McMurray fires, which caused over 80,000 evacuations and nearly $10Bln CDN in before finally burning itself out fifteen months later.

A graphic representation of Canadian forest fires in the last 35 years. As outlined in the Sep 1st, 2017 CBNC News post, "Devastating Fort McMurray wildfire declared out 15 months later,"the Fort McMurray fires started on May 1st, 2016, destroyed more than 2,400 buildings in the Fort McMurray area and eventually spilled over into Saskatchewan before being deemed officially extinguished. According to the January 27th, 2017 Canadian Press post, "Costs of Alberta wildfire reach $9.5 billion: Study," an assessment of the total financial impact of the Fort McMurray fires, including the direct and indirect costs of the blaze are "almost $10Bln CDN." Map c/o NRCan.

But the Fort McMurray fires weren't unique.

Canadian forest fires annually consume over 2.5 million hectares of land, a figure that continuously increases as a result of climate change. Our northern boreal forest is particularly vulnerable, but—as witnessed in Fort McMurray—wildfires have unmediated impacts on humans too. The adverse impacts of wildfires disproportionately affect northern and Indigenous communities.

Without accurate in formation on current wildfire risks, and the analytics required to model and monitor wildfires, communities across Canada will be prone to natural disaster and economic upheaval.

The Aerospace Policy division of the Toronto ON based University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT) believes Canada needs a comprehensive strategy on wildfire disaster management that leverages space technology to accurately monitor and predict wildfires.

The organization has made a series of recommendations to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on developing the necessary technology and infrastructure to ensure our space program is part of the solution in our battle against natural disaster.

Space technologies have tremendous potential to positively impact wildfire prevention and response initiatives across the country.

Earth observation satellites are the most effective way to collect infrared imaging and other critical meteorological data. These orbiting imaging platforms can cover the entire Canadian landmass in 10 minutes, carrying instruments able to precisely measure emissions and thermal anomalies to locate current forest fires.

They are also the best surveying tools at our disposal, providing highly accurate, up-to-date maps of the distribution of biofuels across the country to locate areas prone to wildfire.

In a country of nearly 10 million square kilometers, there is simply no other way to have accurate information on the risks and current status of wildfires for all communities in Canada.

The RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) is a good example of space infrastructure the CSA should leverage to generate our own meteorological and surveying data. Images c/o CSA.

In addition, recent breakthroughs in machine learning powered data analytics can make the use of information from space based imaging more effective.

Computer vision and machine learning are being employed to create better geographic information systems (GIS). Deep learning algorithms facilitate analysis of petabytes of satellite imaging in a GIS, while identifying patterns and anomalies more accurately than traditional algorithms.

Currently, the state of the art in such data analytics platforms is in the private sector, developed and owned by commercial ventures such as San Francisco CA based Planet, Hamburg Germany based Skylab Global and Santa Fe NM based Descartes Labs.

While the future looks positive for wildfire monitoring, it is in private hands. There is a major gap between the data we need for wildfire monitoring and the current capabilities of the CSA and the Canadian government.

The current platform for wildfire data is the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System (CWFIS).

But Canada currently does not own a single space asset capable delivering the data necessary for an information platform like CWFIS. The service is completely reliant on data from the European Space Agency (ESA) GlobBioMass Project and NASA’s Eos-Terra and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).

Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) has recently expressed concern about the lack of data availability and analysis support systems associated with the CWFIS. The lack of Canadian owned space assets and homegrown capabilities limits the technical capabilities of wildfire modelling, and passes over expertise already present in Canada.



In light of this troubling reality, our team at UTAT Space Policy has made a series of proposals on how to remedy the lack of resources within the Canadian government. We want to create an program within the CSA to focus on researching, developing, and operating space technologies for natural disaster management.

The program would liaise with the various stakeholders within the Canadian government for the access and analysis of the data generated by space assets. This would be based on the wildly successful program in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which provides critical information on flooding and typhoons.

There’s no denying the tremendous demand for earth observation and mapping data throughout the Canadian Government. Natural disaster, specifically wildfires, presents the urgent and important case for developing and maintaining accurate information about our geography, environment, and human activity. It is vital that government agencies like the CSA answer the call to adapt and leverage their technologies to meet this growing demand. A program within the CSA with a such a mandate would allow for research and development opportunities with a focus on a clear benefit to society.

These are the initiatives that will grow our space capabilities while improving the lives of Canadians across the country.
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Samuel Looper is the director of the Aerospace Policy Division of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT).

Friday, November 09, 2018

US Elections Have More Influence on the Space Industry than Canadian Elections

          By Henry Stewart

Unlike in Canada, where suggestions on what the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) should be doing tend to slip into a "black box" controlled by Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and are never seen again, US space policy is often wrapped around the initiatives of specific US House representatives and/or specific US senators, who spend a lot of time pushing their personal agendas.


The most notable example of this would be US Senator Richard Craig Shelby, the chair of the powerful US Senate Appropriations Committee, who has a reputation for staunchly advocating pretty much any funding bill associated with the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), especially if the funding can be spent in Alabama, where he needs to be re-elected every six years.

Shelby wasn't running for re-election this week, but others were. Here are a few quick overviews of some of the winners and losers from Tuesday's US election.
The post also said that, while the Republican party expanded its majority in the Senate and Senate committees will remain under their control: 
... the Republican party will likely rediscover its resistance toward non-defense discretionary spending and debt, something that had largely been set aside for the previous 2 years. 
Non-defense discretionary spending includes NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation, and though these are generally not political targets, they are small enough to be caught up in the larger politics and brinkmanship likely to follow efforts to fund the government in coming years.
The post also noted five strong advocates for the US space industry in the Senate and House and noted whether or not they were successfully re-elected.
Screen shots c/o ADMO.

For the last four years, Culberson was the chair of the House Appropriations Committees' Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NASA funding and where he acted as a strong advocate of science and human spaceflight. 
Programs Culbertson was personally involved with included the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle (an American-European spacecraft program intended to carry a crew of four astronauts to destinations at or beyond low Earth orbit), the NASA Europa Clipper mission and the legislative language that prohibits NASA from cooperating with China on a bilateral basis unless certain conditions are met.
As outlined in the November 7th, 2018 Space Policy Online post, "Democrats Win the House, Republicans Keep the Senate - Updated," it's not clear if the Democrats agree with Culbertson's policy decisions, especially as they relate to China.
During the campaign, Fletcher ran a series of ads accusing Culberson of preferring to spend money "to fund the search for aliens on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa" instead of providing funds for flood protection in his district and promised that “Lizzie Fletcher will invest in humans, not aliens.” 
Articles such as the November 8th, 2018 National Post article, "Is USMCA in trouble? What’s next for our trade deal," and the November 9th, 2018 Atlantic post, "Trump's Space Force Faces an Uncertain Fate," suggest that the path forward for at least the first two initiatives is problematic. 
Expect at least some of the confusion surrounding these policies to remain until January 2019, when the newest crop of US legislators formally take office. 
For more on the politics of our current space age, check out future editions of the Commercial Space blog.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Canada's "Signature" Contribution to GOSAT-2

          By Chuck Black

ABB Canada is very proud of its involvement with GOSAT-2, our tenth optical system currently in orbit" according to Quebec PQ based ABB Canada Space and Defense systems director Marc-Andre Soucy, who talked with this blog on Thursday morning.

The TANSO-FTS, also known as the GOSAT interferometer subsystem. According to ABB datasheet (DS/TANSO–EN Rev. A),  the TANSO-FTS consists of tree modules: an opto-mechanical (OM) module and two remote control electronics modules. The OM module is inspired by the Canadian Space Agency's Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE) which was launched on SCISAT-1, a Canadian satellite launched in August 2003. SCISAT-1 is still in operation and expected to remain operational until 2021, according to the July 27th, 2018 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) update to its SCISAT webpage. Photo c/o ABB.

Soucy and company have reason to be proud of their contribution to the second Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT-2), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) next generation satellite designed to monitor greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere.

Under a contract from Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, ABB designed, built and tested one of one of two instruments aboard GOSAT-2, the thermal and near infrared sensor for carbon observation – Fourier transform spectrometer (TANSO-FTS), the core sub-system of the FTS instrument. The main purpose of the TANSO-FTS is to measure spectra of reflected and emitted radiance that will be used to determine the total column amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (NH4).

But the current success, at least according to Soucy, is heavily dependent on the long-term support of the Canadian government in the form of appropriate research and development programs and for "flight heritage" which demonstrates capabilities and help ABB and others to break into tough international markets, where people often prefer to buy locally.

Soucy said that, without the support of the Canadian government over the last twenty years, ABB would not have had the legacy flight hardware to export these optical technologies.
Exporting optical technologies is challenging as optical instruments are often highly customized to meet the specific needs of a mission. Given the high level of customization of optical sensors, few companies succeed in maintaining a sufficiently strong competitive edge. 
On government programs, there is a natural preference to procure from domestic suppliers:  a strong competitive edge is therefore vital to succeed in exports 
Marc-Andre Soucy. Photo c/o ABB
On risk-averse large space programs, you cannot export with only breadboards and nice viewgraphs:  you need flight heritage.  
Soucy is concerned that very few optical instruments were developed and flown by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in the last decade. He feels that this may begin impacting Canadian space industry exports in the near future.

ABB Canada also contributed an earlier generation TANSO-FTS to the first GOSAT-1, which launched in January 2009, from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan.

GOSAT-1 is generally considered to be the world's first satellite dedicated to greenhouse gas monitoring, and is still in operation.

But time marches on and improvements build over time.

As outlined in the November 6th, 2018 ABB press release, "ABB optical technology launched aboard GOSAT-2 Japanese satellite," the new satellite "is expected to double greenhouse gas readings per day over its GOSAT-1 predecessor."

According to Soucy:
GOSAT-2 relies on the heritage of GOSAT-1, a highly successful satellite in orbit since 2009, and GOSAT-1 relies on heritage developed through previous projects, including Canada's SCISAT, which was launched in 2003. 
The current generation TANSO-TFS used on GOSAT-2 is essentially a signature Canadian technology which we've developed domestically over the last four decades and now offer to the world. 
In fact, ABB has provided technologies for the Japanese space program for over 20 years, and contributed to several other high profile space missions including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Soumi NPP), the Meteosat series of satellites, the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometers (IASI) being used on a variety of European Union (EU) satellites and quite a number of others.
But we've also learned from our previous efforts. Approximately thirty people are currently on the project and over one hundred have contributed over the years to the GOSAT program.

GOSAT-2 graphic. The details of the GOSAT-2 mission are outlined online in the Earth Observation Portal (EOPortal) Directory under the title "GOSAT-2 (Greenhouse gases Observing Satellite-2) / Ibuki-2." Graphic c/o Mitsubishi Electric Corporation.

GOSAT-2 (also known to the Japanese as Ibuki-2) was launched on October 29th, 2018 on the Japanese H-IIA launch vehicle from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan.

"With our technologies, we are helping to contribute to a better understanding of our planet, helping to overcome climate change challenges and creating important high value careers for our employees,” said Soucy.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Going to the Bar to Watch the US Midterm Election on Tuesday Night

          By Chuck Black

The US is wrapping up one of the most consequential US midterm elections on record and the aftershocks are expected to reverberate even across the space industry, at least according to the November 2nd, 2018 issue of "POLITICO Space," the weekly online "must-read briefing on the policies and personalities shaping the second space age."


This blog will be covering the US elections on Tuesday November 6th, 2018 from the main barstool of the Toronto ON based Madison Avenue Pub, which will be hosting several hundred expatriate US citizens who will be watching the activities on the major networks from a dozen or so strategically placed televisions throughout the bar.

As for POLITICO, they say that the new year is "shaping up to be a spaceflight turning point" and the politicians, democrats and republicans, are looking to leverage their positions to influence policy.

Issues include:

  • The eventual status of the proposed US "Space Force," a possible new branch of the US armed forces intended to control military operations in outer space. It's a topic also discussed in the October 15, 2018 post, "Blue Origin Joins the US Military Rocket Building Club."
As outlined in the November 5th, 2018 CBC News post, "How the US midterm elections could shake up Canadian business," some Canadian policy experts say "a Democratic win is not necessarily better for the Canadian economy or Canadian business."

Screen shots c/o ADMO.

The ad accuses Culberson of preferring to spend money "to fund the search for aliens on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa" instead of providing funds for flood protection in his district. 
Fletcher promotes herself as being "Down to Earth, Where We Need Her" and her ads promise that “Lizzie Fletcher will invest in humans, not aliens.”
The action at the Madison begins as soon as the polls close across the US. I'll be showing up around 8pm EST. Feel free to drop by, say hi, tell me your story and buy me a drink.

Especially that last thing.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Planetary Resources Purchased by US Based Blockchain Company

          By Brian Orlotti

Richmond WA based asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources has been purchased by ConsenSys Inc., a Brooklyn, New York-based blockchain software company. The acquisition could serve as an opportunity for the application of blockchain technology to commercial space activities and may also end up serving as a model for new fund raising and profit-taking strategies in the new space sector.


As outlined in the October 31st, 2018 Planetary Resources press release, "ConsenSys Acquires Planetary Resources," the full terms of the acquisition have not yet been publicly announced but both Planetary Resources’ President & CEO Chris Lewicki and General Counsel Brian Israel have joined ConsenSys and will continue to develop space initiatives out of the Planetary Resources’ former facility in Redmond WA.

Founded by Peter H. Diamandis, Eric C. Anderson and Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources debuted in 2012 with the stated goal of expanding Earth’s resource base by developing and deploying asteroid mining technologies.

In the short-term, however, the company sought to generate a revenue stream by marketing a series of small, inexpensive space telescopes for Earth observation and astronomy.  These spacecraft would employ a laser-based communications system to reduce payload mass as compared to conventional radio systems.

The deployment of these space telescopes was envisioned by the company as a first step towards asteroid mining; the capabilities that the company hoped to sell to its customers could also be used to survey and scrutinize near-Earth asteroids.

Earlier this year, as noted in the March 12, 2018 Space News post, "Planetary Resources revising plans after funding setback," Planetary Resources failed to close an anticipated round of funding. The company had planned on receiving investment from an unnamed “major global mining company,” but the funding was “delayed” due to budgetary reasons.

Layoffs ensued, and the company's first asteroid prospecting mission, scheduled to launch in 2020, was delayed indefinitely.

Planetary Resources had successfully launched two test satellites into orbit: Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) in July 2015 and Arkyd 6 in January 2018.


ConsenSys, founded in 2015 by Canadian entrepreneur Joseph Lublin, is a software company developing decentralized software services and applications that utilize the Ethereum blockchain. A Blockchain is a decentralised and public ledger of transactions shared via computer networks (i.e. the Internet) with each transaction linked to previous ones by cryptographic hashes.

This use of cryptography ensures the authenticity and integrity of the ledger, making it supposedly immune to fraud. Blockchains are used extensively by cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. The global banking and financial industries are currently investigating blockchain for use in their operations. 

As of July 2018, ConsenSys has over 900 employees. The company’s projects include:
  • Meridio - a platform to create, manage, and trade fractional ownership shares in real estate assets.
  • Blockapps Strato - a partnership with Microsoft Azure to build industry-specific blockchain database applications.
  • TransActive Grid - a joint venture with Brooklyn, NY based LO3 Energy to enable peer-to-peer electricity sales.
  • MineraC -  a consortium of mining companies and financial institutions working to create a blockchain system for minerals trading and logistics.


ConsensSys’ purchase of Planetary Resources may be a part of a two-step strategy. First, revenue from blockchain products may enable the development of asteroid mining technologies. Second, the emergence of an asteroid mining industry would provide a ready-made market for MineraC’s mining logistics platform.

When combining an old idea (asteroid mining) with a new one (blockchain), the results can be anything but predictable. But with the chance to finally achieve the dream of an off-world economy, it’s a gamble worth taking.
Brian Orlotti.
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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.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Maxar Technologies Share Price Collapses After Q3 Earnings Report Released

          By Henry Stewart

On the upside, most everyone agrees that Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies) is a US company and will likely become even more of a US based company by the end of the year, so the Canadian government likely won't feel the need to bail it out by purchasing any more expensive third generation Canadarms to keep it solvent.

Five day Google market summary for Maxar Technologies stock prices on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) as per 4pm EST on November 1st, 2018. As outlined in the November 1st, 2018 Wall Street Investor post, "Maxar Technologies Ltd. (MAXR) could lead to an upward move," the stock has lost 76% of its value so far this year and approximately 45% over the last week. Graph c/o Google.

On the other hand, the #DontLetGoCanada space advocacy coalition might soon need to attract a new anchor advocate to lead the charge for increased funding for Canada's space industry. Maybe the Canadian based offices of Toulouse, France based Airbus will sign on. Airbus is certainly looking to increase its domestic corporate footprint and might even decide to be not quite so overtly self-serving with its recommendations.

Be that as it may, those are potential consequences of a story still playing out in the investor press. The core of the story is far, far simpler.

Maxar Technologies share prices have collapsed because, as outlined in the October 31st, 2018 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies reports third quarter 2018 results, declares quarterly dividend," the company missed its quarterly earnings forecast, by a large amount and included a massive writedown of assets, which wasn't expected.

Maxar CEO Howard Lance. Photo c/o Speakerpedia.
As outlined in the press release, Maxar reported:
  • Consolidated revenues of $508.2Mln US ($665.07Mln CDN). 
  • The company was expected to report a far higher $560Mln US or $733Mln CDN in consolidated revenues. Consolidated revenues a convenient accounting shorthand "covering all revenue generated by a parent company and its majority-owned subsidiaries, after intercompany eliminations" according to Quora
In essence, Maxar didn't sell enough product. 
  • A net loss under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) of $432.5Mln US ($566Mln CDN) including $383.6Mln US ($502Mln CDN) in impairment losses and inventory obsolescence. A net loss under IFRS of $7.31 US ($9.6 CDN) per share; net loss excluding impairment losses of $0.83 US ($1.1 CDN) per share.
  • The $383.6 Mln US net loss/ write-down was something no one was expecting. When combined with the shortfall in consolidated revenue, the news caused the Maxar stock price to plummet.
  • An adjusted earnings of $44.6Mln US ($58.4Mln CDN) and adjusted earnings per share of $0.75 US ($1 CDN). 
  • IFRS operating cash flow of $119.2Mln US ($156Mln CDN) with an adjusted operating cash flow of $91.9Mln US ($122.3Mln CDN) and adjusted free Cash flow of $29.2Mln US ($38.3Mln CDN). 


And the good news just continues. As outlined in the October 31st, 2018 Motley Fool post, "Why Maxar Technologies Stock Just Imploded -- Down 41%," Maxar told investors that:
it expects to end 2018 with a 6.5% decline in full-year revenues. Worse, management is forecasting total capital spending to exceed $300Mln US this year, potentially wiping out the company's predicted $300Mln US to $400Mln US in adjusted operating cash flow and putting Maxar's cash-flow statement in the red for the year.
Maxar almost immediately moved to respond to investors concerns. According to the October 31st, 2018 Space News post, "Maxar trying to sell GEO business as defective components compound troubles," one of the options on the table is to sell off the Palo Alto CA based SSL subsidiary formerly known as Space Systems Loral.

Independent analysts also moved to revise their assessments regarding the Maxar stock price, a reasonable thing to do since most considered the stock to be a good buy, according to the October 31st, 2018 Regina Post article, "Space systems company Maxar sees shares crater on earnings miss."

According to the post:
While its geostationary satellite manufacturing business has been lauded as an industry leader, Maxar’s orders have fallen every year for the past three years. GEO comsat orders declined to eight in 2017 from 15 in 2016. At one point, the company was averaging 20 or more per year.
In fact, the only analyst which seems to have a reasonable assessment of Maxar stock prospects is New York NY based Spruce Point Capital Management which, as outlined in the August 10th, 2018 post, "Maxar Technologies Might be Getting Paranoid," suggested earlier this year that Maxar stock was overpriced and Maxar's dividend was at risk.


As outlined in the October 9th, 2018 Maxar Technologies press release, "Maxar Technologies Advances Planned US Domestication," Maxar/ MDA is still moving forward with its plan to become completely US owned and operated and "expects to complete this process in January 2019, subject to security holder approval."
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

The REAL Path Towards Revitalizing the Canadian Space Industry

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that a great many academic, non-governmental and business organizations want the Federal government to give them bucketloads of new money for various projects and insist that this will revitalize the Canadian space industry.


They are wrong. Totally and irrevocably wrong. Our current worldwide explosion of private sector space accomplishments has nothing whatsoever to do with simply shoveling new government money into traditionally structured programs.

The problem is the structure of the program, not a lack of funding.

The only real way to revitalize the Canadian space industry and make it competitive in the marketplace of ideas (not just as a component manufacturer) is to change the procurement methodologies of government departments such as the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and update the Federal tax code to support innovative, Canadian based, private sector corporations.

This is what the US and Luxembourg are currently doing and it is the main reason why companies like Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX,  Las Cruces NM based Virgin Galactic, Betzdorf Luxembourg based SES SA and even Ottawa ON based Telesat are currently investing so heavily in the final frontier.

Oddly enough, back in 2012, the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) did look at those areas in the first two of its three part series of submissions to the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review.


As outlined in the June 30th, 2012 CSCA submission to the Aerospace Review under the title, "Submission to the Aerospace Review Part 1 of 3 - Fostering Innovation, Creating New Markets: Novel Approaches to Space Policy and Programs," the CSCA recommended that government "explicitly encourage the development of entrepreneurial or “commercial space” industries and approaches," using a variety of policies and programs.

These included:
  • Updated government policies and regulations covering the experimental permitting, safety standards, liability limitation and launch licencing for commercial launch providers in Canada. 
  • The ability to commercially access existing US and Canadian government civilian and military facilities related to the space industry and the encouragement of the creation of appropriate new facilities (such as spaceports and satellite receiving facilities) and build new ones, as required. 
The often discussed "unlicensed" Nunavik ground station, last covered in the June 21st, 2018 post, "The Special Senate Committee on the Arctic Holds a Hearing on Northern Infrastructure & That "Unlicensed" Inuvik Groundstation," would surely have benefited from some of the proactive approaches discussed in this paper. 

Halifax NS based Maritime Launch Services (MLS), although saddled with the obsolete, expendable Cyclone-4M launch vehicle at the core of its plan to build a launch facility on Canada's east coast, would also have benefited from at least knowing the process required to gain government approval to build a spaceport. 

And, as outlined in the May 11th, 2017 post, "CATAAlliance Calls for Adaption of the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program," other organizations have also called for the use of novel contracting approaches for Federal procurement.

According to the May 25th, 2017 post, "Attempting Relevance, the Canadian Space Agency Announces Industry Focused & Small Business Funding," the Canadian government has at least begun to take a few small baby steps down this path. 


But it's the second of the three CSCA submissions to the Aerospace Review, "Using Tools from the Mining Industry to Spur Innovation and Grow the Canadian Space Industry," which may hold the most unique lessons for Canada's space industry.

The second submission doesn't suggest adopting new methodologies or co-opting techniques from others.

It suggests only that the techniques and tax breaks already in place to grow our mining industry, can also be used to grow our space industry.

The second submission contained two recommendations:
"Canadian companies engaging in extraterrestrial resource development should be granted all tax and other benefits now granted to them in their terrestrial exploration and development activities."
"The Federal government should create provisions in Canadian law for clear, transferable title to extraterrestrial mining claims and returned resources and work to negotiate international agreements to the same effect"
  • To support this recommendation, the paper referenced the specific terms of the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, referenced a number of independent authors with expertise in this area and reviewed how the implementation of certain "revenue neutral" changes to Canada's tax code changes led to the massive growth of the Canadian mining industry, beginning in the 1980's. 

As noted above, the changes recommended in the CSCA submissions are "revenue neutral" for the Federal government to implement. Large new buckets of funding are not required to change the tax code or modify procurement contracts.

They're also changes which are being adapted in the US and in smaller jurisdictions, like Luxemburg, with great success.

Once the recommended changes have been made, our domestic space industry will begin to grow in the same way that Canada's mining industry (which grew in response to the tax changes) and private sector companies like SpaceX (which thrived at NASA under the various COTS programs and used its resulting expertise to dominate the launch market) have started to thrive.

It's simply a question of seeding the industry with the proper resources and opportunities needed to make things grow.

Of course, the whole plan is a least modestly dependent on the willpower of our political class. They certainly didn't have the willpower to implement those recommendations six years ago. They may not have the willpower now.

But if they do then maybe one day, even some of those who've left Canada for more favorable regimes will return to put down new roots in their country of origin. They might even relocate their corporate head offices. Mining companies have certainly done that over the last thirty years.

Here's hoping.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

He contributed to the CSCA's three part submission to the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review. 

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