Sunday, September 30, 2012

Low Cost NovaSAR Constellation at IAC 2012

More details surrounding the British based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) plans to build a three satellite constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) micro-sats, are expected to come out in a public presentation at the 63rd annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC), being held in Naples, Italy from October 1st - 5th.

An artists impression of NovaSAR in flight.

As outlined in the November 10th, 2011 post "SAR Satellite Designers Living in Interesting Times," the program, now known as the NovaSAR Constellation, is expected to be able to compete on features and functionality with the Canadian government SAR based RADARSAT Constellation (RCM), but would cost only a third of the price.

Public reports (including the May 27th, 2012 Commercial Space post "Federal Government Says "Yippee Kai Yay" to MDA") have indicated that the pricing for the RCM project has almost doubled to over $1 billion CDN since the project was announced in 2006.

Graphic from the SSTL marketing literature on the NovaSAR Constellation.

The SSTL website article titled "SSTL showcases innovation at the IAC," provides details on the NovaSAR Constellation presentation, which is expected to discuss:
... the adaptation of new amplifier technologies and collaboration with Astrium (EADS Astrium, the giant European aerospace multinational which owns SSTL) to offer Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capabilities within the cost envelope of an optical remote sensing mission. This very practical technological leap will make radar data, which is currently prohibitively expensive for many civilian applications, more readily accessible for forest monitoring, agriculture, land cover classification, disaster monitoring and maritime applications.
Experts at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and RADARSAT Constellation prime contractor Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) might want to take note that their flagship SAR technology (developed through the groundbreaking RADARSAT 1 & RADARSAT 2 missions) may need to be revised in order to compete in the international marketplace against nimble competitors like SSTL.

But maybe they already know. After all, SSTL has also been contracted by MDA to build the Surveillance of Space (SAPPHIRE) satellite, which will be Canada's first military satellite when it goes into orbit later on this year.

It's a small world we live in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

More Fun than a Barrel of Chris Hadfield's!!!

Once, a very long time ago, all that an astronaut needed to become famous was to be an astronaut. But today, experts from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) marketing department are leaving nothing to chance.

Better than "Magnum PI."

They've laboured night and day to create the veritable meteor shower of marketing they feel is necessary in order to properly promote astronaut Chris Hadfield's upcoming trip to the International Space Station (ISS).

And while the September 24th, 2012 Canadian Press article "Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield launch to space station pushed back two weeks" may state that the trip has been tentatively rescheduled to December 19th, there is certainly nothing "tentative" about these current CSA marketing initiatives.

They focus on music, cardboard cutouts, various types of food (one of which is even called "Holy Crap" and is supposedly good for regularity) but seem to miss out on some of the more traditional and structured science discussions. Here are a few of the more interesting campaigns:

  • According to the September 14th, 2012 Associated Press article "Astronaut Chris Hadfield plans some guitar jams in space," the 53 year old top pilot graduate from the USAF test pilot school has plans to do "some serious space jamming during his six-month visit to the International Space Station." According to the article, Hadfield and his crew mates, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko "are all avid guitar players." Even better, the Canadian commander is teaming up with the Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson to write, record and perform a song while the former is orbiting in space. As demonstrated in the above video with Robertson, when Hadfield gets going on the guitar, he's not half bad.

  • According to the August 29th, 2012 CSA press release "Montreal Band Simple Plan Launches their "Astronaut" into Space" Hadfield has also agreed to play a song from Montreal based band Simple Plan while aboard the ISS. The article quotes Hadfield, who has flown over 70 different types of military and civilian aircraft, as stating that "Canadians have written some of my favorite music. I look forward to floating weightless by the Cupola window, up high across Canada, playing and singing songs from Lightfoot to Simple Plan...a wonderful way to stay close to home."
An image from the "Chris Hadfield World Tour Photo Challenge" on the CSA website.
  • Of course, Hadfield can't be everywhere at once and the CSA marketing department has even tried to take this into account. Why else would a two dimensional, life sized photo of our iconic Canadian astronaut be needed to compete for the "Chris Hadfield World Tour Photo Challenge?" As described on the CSA promotional website, the contest ("the CSA's first-ever photo contest for the general public") involves taking a picture of a cardboard cutout of Hadfield at a "participating" institution. Three lucky prize winners will receive a mission t-shirt "signed by Chris Hadfield" and the grand prize winner will have "the chance to virtually meet Chris Hadfield during a private discussion via Webcast." Unfortunately, the lack of an actual Hadfield to add context and gravitas into the proceedings, tends to make the entire contest look just a tiny bit silly.

  • But  of course, very few marketing initiatives can top a campaign where you've allowed to say "holy crap" over and over and over again. The context for this initiative is outlined in the August 28th, 2012 CSA press release "Winning Canadian Foods to Fly in Space" which outlines twelve new Canadian food choices being taken along by Hadfield for his ISS trip. The final twelve, winners out of a field of 150 recipes from thirty nine Canadians participating in the Canadian Snacks for Space contest, include candied wild smoked salmon, smoked salmon pate, cranberry buffalo stix, dried apple chunks, fruit bars, green tea cookies with orange zest, maple syrup cookies, organic chocolate, honey drops, chocolate bars, maple syrup and the incredible "Holy Crap" cereal, shown above being highlighted in a 2010 episode of "Dragons Den." As quoted by Hadfield on the CSA website "sharing this food will not only lift our spirits, but it will also give me the chance to tell the crew a little bit about the diversity and richness of the natural and cultural landscapes of Canada."
While certainly amusing, only time will tell if these current promotions raise the profile of the CSA.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Aerospace Review and the First Rule of Fight Club

One of the most memorable lines in the 1999 movie "Fight Club" came from Tyler Durden, the fictitious alter ego of the sleep deprived and unnamed main character, who explained that "The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You DO NOT TALK about Fight Club!"

Both the movie and the 1996 novel of the same name name by Chuck Palahniuk, use those words as an example of the isolation people put themselves through and how they adapt in a society wrapped around an explicitly consumerist philosophy. But the words are also indicative of how bureaucracies like the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) normally go about discouraging any public airing of "dirty laundry" or internal issues.

That's why it's so surprising to see public submissions from both Telesat and ComDev International (COMDEV) to the Federal Aerospace Review. These submissions, from two of the three largest Canadian space systems companies, call for major changes in existing CSA and federal government policies in order to help grow the $3.5 billion dollar per year Canadian space systems industry.  

The eight page COMDEV submission, complete with introductory letter from CEO Mike Pley, made four high level recommendations relating to:
  • Affordable access to space and industry partnership activities - This recommendation is focused on moving away from the current CSA emphasis on "traditional large missions" like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and RADARSAT Constellation towards a larger number of lower cost missions such as the exactEarth Constellation or the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) telescope. In essence (at least according to the submission) the lower the cost per mission, the greater the overall access to space for the same amount of money.
  • National competition and "international access to opportunities" which will help contain rising costs - The submission states that growth and international partnerships can be encouraged by utilizing the existing Industrial and Regional Benefits (IRB) tax program for Canadian space projects in much the same way as they are used for Canadian companies involved with military or aerospace procurement.
  • Investment in technology and innovation to "leverage long-term sustainable growth and wealth creation" - According to the submission, "Canadian government investment in new technology has virtually ceased," especially for satellite communications technologies and this trend needs to be reversed.
  • A national space agency that "acts as a catalyst for opportunities" - The submission states that the CSA appears "overburdened with administrative, financial and bureaucratic procedures and practices." and points out a ten year pattern of "increased staff " within a lower overall budget.
Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg.
It's interesting to note that the nineteen page Telesat submission, signed off by President and CEO Daniel Goldberg, generally ignores the CSA altogether.

The Telesat submission instead argues that satellite services require large, fixed operating costs which can only be built with economies of scale and the creation of a favorable business environment. These two items are facilitated primarily by national governments (and not space agencies) which normally buy satellite services to fulfill domestic communication requirements and also craft domestic policies which often benefit their national providers.

According to the submission:
The Government of Canada should use commercial satellite services offered by Canadian satellite services providers to the maximum practical extent to meet Canadian Government requirements and, moreover, should employ other innovative arrangements for acquiring Canadian-supplied commercial space goods and services.
It references the June 2010 National Space Policy, developed by the US as a cost cutting measure which would also assist domestic suppliers, the UK government experience selling their Skynet family of military satellites to private industry and the recent Australian government decision to subcontract the launch of a military communications satellite to commercial supplier Intelsat. In each of these instances, fixed cost commercial suppliers were preferred over traditional cost plus military contractors.

In essence, the Telesat submission seems to be positioning the company (a fixed cost, commercial supplier) to actively bid for a series of potential Canadian government satellite contracts relating to northern sovereignty and military activities, some of which were outlined in the August 23rd, 2012 article "DND wants Arctic Surveillance Network."

Of course, there's certainly more to the Telesat submission. It also calls for the government of Canada to "encourage use of Canadian commercial space services and capabilities in international cooperative arrangements and otherwise actively promote their export," plus "support technology development and innovation through targeted R&D grants and tax breaks and by helping to secure flight opportunities for technology demonstrations" and "first consult closely with industry to ensure a mutual understanding of functional requirements and industrial capabilities" and even to "avoid procurements using detailed technical specifications" among other things.

But the key thing to remember isn't the specifics of any individual submission to the Aerospace Review. All of them are useful and provide insight into an area of Canadian public policy which very few people have any awareness of.

The main point to these submissions is that large Canadian space system companies with a great deal at stake are suddenly taking public stances concerning their industry. This is an approach that none of them would have dared to consider, even as recently as the 2008/2010 period, when the last serious attempt was made to craft a Canadian space policy.

In essence, both the first and the second rules of "Fight Club" have now been broken.

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Mac" Evans to Speak at Canada on Orbit Gala

William MacDonald ("Mac") Evans, a 34-year veteran of Canadian public service, the key architect of the 1985, 1994 and 1999 Federal government space plans and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president from 1994 - 2001, will be the keynote speaker at the 2012 Canada on Orbit Gala.

William MacDonald (Mac) Evans.

The event, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Canadian built Alouette 1 satellite on September 29th, 1962, will take place on September 29th, 2012 at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

According to the April 25th, 2012 CSA press release "William MacDonald Evans Receives Canadian Space Award," Mr. Evans was instrumental in "spearheading the development of the Canadian Astronaut and RADARSAT programs, and negotiating Canada's role in the International Space Station and a number of international agreements which are the foundation of our current international partnerships."

The press release also quotes current CSA President Steve MacLean as stating that "Mac Evans has been at the heart of Canada's Space Program since the late 1960s. Outside of John Chapman, no other individual has been so directly involved in the leadership of our nation's space sector."

It's worth noting that Evans is the only person to have both presented (in his capacity as CSA president) and received the prestigious John H. Chapman Award of Excellence. The award is presented annually by the current CSA president to those who have a "great impact" on Canadian space activities.

In recent years, Evans has been affiliated with Policy Insights Inc, a Federal lobby firm focused on public sector procurement, industrial and regional benefits (IRB's), government policy development and the high technology sector.

It will be well worth attending the Canada on Orbit gala to hear what Mr. Evans has to say about Canada's past, present and future in space.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sapphire, NEOSSat, CanX 3A & 3B Standing By...

 The Satish Dhawan Space Centre
After a multi-year hiatus, during which the only Canadian satellites that ever got off  the ground belonged to Cambridge based exactEarth Ltd., it looks like four new Canadian satellites will finally be launched in December 2012 aboard an Indian designed and built Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

But, according to the September 5th, 2012 article "Canadian Satellites Finally Set For Launch on Indian Rocket," the currently anticipated launch date is four full years behind schedule.

PSLV flight C20, currently scheduled for December 12th, 2012 at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SHAR), will include the Department of National Defence (DND) Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) satellite, the largest Canadian component of the proposed Canadian Space Surveillance System (CSSS) plus the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) and the CanX-3a and CanX-3b (BRIght Target Explorer or BRITE) micro-satellites, which were designed and built at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL).

The main payload for the launch is the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Satellite with ARgos and ALtiKa (SARAL), which is a cooperative altimetry technology mission between ISRO and the French Space Agency (CNES). Also scheduled for launch aboard PSLV flight C20 is the Max Valier micro-satellite and the AAUSAT3 cube satellite.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Canadian Rocket Builders Should Benefit from FAA Regulation Changes

According to the September 5th, 2012 post "FAA Smooths the Path to Commercial Spaceflight" on the IP in Space website, new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations will allow low cost providers of amateur class III advanced high powered rockets to compete for NASA rocket launch contracts under the NASA Flight Opportunities Program (FOP) and use the expertise gained as part of the development cycle to build larger and more capable launchers.

Patent agent Andrew Rush.
Canadian companies, such as Winnipeg based Bristol Aerospace (since 1961 the manufacturer of hundreds of Black Brant suborbital sounding rockets), the Gormley, Ontario and Sarasota, Florida based Cesaroni Technologies (which is a subcontractor to US based UP Aerospace, the manufacturer of the Spaceloft XL series of sounding rockets) and Toronto based Continuum Aerospace are well placed to benefit from these changes.

The article, written by Andrew Rush, a patent agent for the Virginia based PCT Law Group states that the FAA changes are important to drive down the cost of rocket launches:
Despite the name, these rockets are extremely capable, lucrative launch vehicles and licensing opens more commercial opportunities. For example, UP Aerospace’s Spaceloft family of vehicles are (formally) Class III rockets, however they have the capability of flying higher than 150 km (which is higher than the FAA definition of the class III) Since 2006, UP Aerospace has conducted six launches on this class of vehicle, servicing over fifty customers under waivers.

Clearly, there is a market for commercial suborbital flight. Suborbital flights to 100+ km offer access to microgravity environments, provide test beds for satellite hardware, and carry novelty items to space. Suborbital rockets may also carry x-ray telescopes and enable atmospheric science experiments.
The article goes on to state that Class III rockets "may serve as a stepping stone in the development cycles of many emerging aerospace companies. Both Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace developed and operated several Class III rockets during the course of their development cycles. These vehicles are still in use today!"

As outlined in my January 3rd, 2011 post "Advocating DND and CSA Rockets," the technical skills required to to build small orbital rocket launchers already exist in Canada. It's only the development funding that's problematic.

But while that may have been true in 2011, its likely no longer the case in 2012.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Will RADARSAT Constellation get "Bridge" funding?

There is a rumor going around the Canadian investment community that BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), the prime contractor for the RADARSAT Constellation (RCM) program, will soon receive enough "bridge" funding to keep the RCM program active (at least officially) through the end of the year.

RCM, the follow-on to the successful RADARSAT 1 and RADARSAT II missions, is a three-spacecraft fleet of advanced Earth observation satellites, which are officially scheduled for launch in 2016-2017. Government and commercial applications for the RCM include national security, arctic sovereignty, resource/ disaster management and ecosystem monitoring.

However, public reports (including the May 27th, 2012 Commercial Space post "Federal Government Says "Yippee Kai Yay" to MDA") have indicated that the pricing for the RCM project has almost doubled to over $1 billion CDN since the project was announced. As outlined in the March 4th, 2010 article "RADARSAT Constellation Mission gets Funding in Budget," the original government plan was to provide a total of $497 million over five years in order to finish the RCM design work and then move forward with satellite construction.

According to the article, the bulk of the spending was expected to occur "after 2011-2012." The Federal government and MDA are essentially in the midst of negotiating over how these cost overages will be covered now that the money actually needs to be spent.

Any additional funding will likely show up as an amendment to an existing contract and will not be heavily publicized. The project officially ran out of money in August 2012 by which time most of the people working on the project had been either laid off or reassigned.

Its not known how MDA intends to reconstitute the RCM team should funding become available.

The expected formal presentation of the Aerospace Review to the Industry Minister in December 2012 (as outlined in the February 28th, 2012 Commercial Space post "Aerospace (and Space) Policy Review Head Announced") could open the door to further and far more public discussions in this area, which is why the bridge funding is expected to only provide a short term relief.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Canadian Universities with a Space Connection

According to the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada (AUCC), the universities and colleges across the country "educate more than 1.5 million students annually. They perform more than one-third of Canada’s research and development. And as a $30 billion enterprise, our universities generate economic wealth in communities across Canada."

Here are a few specific examples of some of their connections to space focused activities.
  • The Ryerson University Engineering Graduate Program – Focuses on aerodynamics and propulsion, aerospace structures, manufacturing, avionics and aerospace systems. 
  • The University of Alberta Centre for Earth Observation Sciences (CEOS) -Using Earth observation and imaging technology monitor environmental changes, manage resources and formulate sustainable development policies.
  • The University of Calgary (UofC) Institute for Space Research - Part of the Department of Physics at the U of C and focused on the areas of space plasma, aural imaging and analysis and modeling.
  • The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) – The first Canadian academic institution able to build low cost spacecraft, micro-satellites and nano-satellites. Collaborates with business, government and academic institutions on the development of new space technologies and strengthening the Canadian skill base in space systems engineering. According to Wikipedia the institute “has seen a number of firsts: world’s first microwave-powered aircraft, the world’s first engine-powered ornithopter (both inventions of James DeLaurier) and Canada’s first space telescope MOST.” Areas of expertise include aircraft design (particularly at subsonic speeds), flight simulation, space robotics, micro satellite technology, computational fluid dynamics and nuclear fusion. The facility has close relationships with Bombardier, NASA Ames, and MD Robotics (formerly Spar Aerospace). 
There are certainly more, but this short list serves as a useful introduction to some of the areas being investigated within Canadian universities.

Canadian businesses focused on the space systems industry and technically focused business incubators looking for intelligent and high quality employees might want to consider setting up offices along the bus routes going into these facilities.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Will Telesat IPO before July 25th, 2013?

Fascinating data lies buried throughout the Loral Space and Communications August 9th, 2012 "10-Q Quarterly Report" concerning the current holding company of both US based Space Systems Loral (soon to be owned by iconic Canadarm manufacturer MacDonald Dettwiler) and Canadian based satellite communications provider Telesat (which Loral controls in partnership with the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP) of Canada).

The document (also known as a form 10-Q or 10Q) is a quarterly report mandated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, which publicly traded corporations are required to file.

Its certainly useful reading. For example, as outlined at the bottom of page 35:
On July 25, 2012, PSP delivered a notice to Telesat Holdco (the holding company for Telesat stock) and Loral exercising its right to require Telesat Holdco to conduct an initial public offering. Loral is evaluating the effect of the notice and its obligations and alternatives. There can be no assurance as to whether, when or on what terms an initial public offering of Telesat Holdco equity may occur. 
The elephant in the room.
On page 36, the document continues:
Under the Shareholders Agreement, in the event that, either (i) ownership or control, directly or indirectly, by Dr. Rachesky, President of MHR, of Loral’s voting stock falls below certain levels or (ii) there is a change in the composition of a majority of the members of the Loral Board of Directors over a consecutive two-year period, Loral will lose its veto rights relating to certain extraordinary actions by Telesat Holdco and its subsidiaries. In addition, after either of these events, PSP will have certain rights to enable it to exit from its investment in Telesat Holdco, including a right to cause Telesat Holdco to conduct an initial public offering in which PSP’s shares would be the first shares offered or, if no such offering has occurred within one year due to a lack of cooperation from Loral or Telesat Holdco, to cause the sale of Telesat Holdco and to drag along the other shareholders in such sale, subject to Loral’s right to call PSP’s shares at fair market value.
Stripped of all the legal jargon, the essence of these statements is that there is a strong possibility Telesat will IPO before July 25, 2013 and the IPO will be driven by the actions of Canadian based PSP.


As outlined many times before in this blog (most recently in the September 18th, 2011 post "Oхуел Russian Rockets, Telesat Sale Nyet, Quebec Astronaut Finds NEMO and NASA Tabarnac!") Telesat has been looking for either a sale or an IPO opportunity for quite some time as part of a long-term effort by PSP (which invests on behalf of the Public Service, the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Forces Reserves and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to divest itself of Telesat holdings. 

Evidently, the police, the military and the public service don't like holding Telesat stock.

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