Monday, July 29, 2013

From NewSpace 2013: Interview with a Giver

Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson presenting at NewSpace 2013. Photo c/o Allison Rae Hannigan.

          by Allison Rae Hannigan

Reading about Steve Jurvetson is not the same as meeting him in person, as I found out last week at the NewSpace 2013 Conference organized by the Space Frontier Foundation, which was held in Silicon Valley, California from July 25th - 27th.

Steve is a founder and Managing Director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), a Silicon Valley based venture capital firm which has backed more than 400 companies in "disruptive categories" including Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Synthetic Genomics and Tesla Motors since forming in 1985.

And many of these eclectic investments are because of Steve, who is also into amateur rocketry, collects Apollo artifacts and donates money to space-related organizations such as the B612 Foundation (a group preparing to map near-Earth asteroids) and the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (an effort to create a digital archive of data drawn from the analog tapes of Apollo missions). As an investor, the man is quite literally a giver.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver at NewSpace 2013. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls.

In person, Steve is a fast-paced man, who gives of his time and thinking freely. My first glimpse of him was on Thursday, the day before he was scheduled to speak, and he was practically sprinting through the foyer outside the conference rooms.

We met briefly Friday morning, outside a Q&A with Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator of NASA, and he gave me a minute of his time to connect before he gave Lori a gracious greeting and exchange of pleasantries. And then he was off, probably to give more time to others.

He told me he set our interview for after his talk on purpose, so that a lot of the preliminaries could be dispensed with in advance. Indeed, his talk, pictured here, covered his early influences (Dungeons & Dragons, and Richard “Lord British” Garrriott) as well as his hobby of launching really big amateur rockets. He made reference to his recently-reported love of collecting artifacts from the Apollo space program.

His presentation was swift, content and detail rich, full of stunning imagery, inspiring quotes, and even some video of SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket testing. Key points he offered were that a systems design approach is where the true value lies in an enterprise, and that reusable rockets are the way to bring down costs and allow stimulation of space markets. Well, we all know that already, don’t we?
Allison Rae Hannigan with  Geoff Notkin, one of the Meteorite Men at NewSpace 2013.

Between lunch and our scheduled meeting was an entire session of the conference, and when I popped out ten minutes prior to our meeting time, he had barely progressed a hundred feet from the banquet room. I was chatting with Geoff Notkin, of the TV show, Meteorite Men when Steve and an entourage of supplicants converged in front of the table displaying many meteors and similar artifacts. A lengthy and intricate discussion of meteorites ensued, which was a delight to observe, as neither man knew about the other’s relative celebrity, yet they found common ground in a shared passion.

After two more impromptu pitches, one for which Steve asked my permission to delay our meeting, and the other I offered out of compassion for the young entrepreneur who had been doggedly waiting his turn to pitch to the rock star VC, I finally sat down with Steve and could ask him questions of my own.

And I promptly forgot all that my editor had prepared me to ask. Steve had started a cross-room banter with a young couple about the Inspiration Mars competition, and then started talking about how he wanted to go to the moon, which then segued into a discussion about how his wife doesn’t even like to fly in small planes, and so on. He talks fast, gives lots of information, and I became overwhelmed trying to keep up with him, taking lots of notes, cursing my prejudice in high school against short hand class, and losing my train of thought completely.
Inspiration Mars, a US based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded by Dennis Tito intending to launch a manned mission to flyby Mars in January 2018

So, I relied on my favorite subject, microgravity and the potential for factories in space. He had not mentioned anything in his talk about Low Earth Orbit (LEO) infrastructure, and I was curious to know whether he saw any future in it. And the spigot opened. More copious note-taking ensued.

He started thinking out loud, following a clear and logical process to get to his point.

First, he reviewed what he knows about the subject, as he seems to be mostly informed by the frequent “pitches” he hears. He told me that he’s seen pitches for broadband, polar, constellations of satellites, earth observation, on orbit servicing, and so on. He said he’s held back on ideas he’s seen for on-orbit fuel depots, because of the chicken/egg dilemma. Why build gas stations before cars?
Steve Jurvetson up close.

Then he started focusing on inherent issues with a hypothetical scenario, worrying first about roadblocks. He made a comparison with software being dependent on ship dates and other problems that hold up delivery along the value chain. In this case, he worried that the end date of the International Space Station (ISS) is currently projected for 2020, and that could be a problem for a research-based microgravity business.

He started giving ideas off the top of his head about what would make business sense. He said he didn’t have much expertise in BioTech. His input assumptions in this scenario were “to not bet on the market” and “what you bring back is small.

He went down a logic path that darted from one concept to another, first considering how 3D structures behave without gravity, and the need to find something that can’t be made on earth. He mulled over factors such as how much time in space is available, and whether space-based testing of prototypes is the best way to go, so that we can do things better on earth as a result. He considered materials science, where his experience lies, and the possibility of growing zeolite crystals.

When his mind went to seeds that could be brought back and grown on earth, his eyes lit up with a new idea: genetic synthesis. Given a lower error rate in space, a seed/strand of DNA could be brought back to earth. Voila, output idea.

Allison Rae Hannigan.
So, in the course of several minutes, I could see the wheels spinning in his head, hear him thinking out loud about something he’s not thought about much, and give a thoughtful, knowledgeable response. Most people just say, “There’s no market, and it’s not worth it.

Steve Jurvetson is a giver. He gives his time, his opinion, thoughts, and he gives his passion. At the end of his talk at lunch, he shared about technology to help us live a longer and fuller life. That embodies what Steve gives the most of – himself, for a long time to come.

Allison Rae Hannigan, is an impassioned space industry specialist focused on development opportunities, marketing, communications and business related to microgravity research. She is also a free-lance consultant who has helped set up and manage email marketing campaigns, newsletters, and customer relationship management applications. 

She can be reached at

Sunday, July 28, 2013

CASSIOPE, UrtheCast and Others Face Ongoing Launch Delays

The CASSIOPE satellite towering over Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen in 2009. According to the caption on the  CSA webpage, the satellite was then scheduled for launch in 2010. Photo c/o CSA.

Much like another industrial age icon, the railroads which never seemed to run on time, the typical modern day rocket launch is almost always behind schedule.

Recent Canadian examples of this include the Cascade Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) small satellite, currently scheduled for a September 5th, 2013 launch and two UrtheCast high definition cameras originally set for a October 16th, 2013 launch to the International Space Station (ISS), but now postponed until at least November.
Steve  Bochinger.

In fact, anyone with even a cursory interest in tracking the "Worldwide Launch Schedule" updates on the SpaceFlight Now website would normally notice more launch delays than launch dates.

And according to Euroconsult chief operating officer Steve Bochinger, there is very little which can be done to improve the situation, at least over the short term. "When you include all categories of launch vehicles, such as those required for large geostationary telecommunications satellites, the total market is clearly under-supplied," said Bochinger in a recent phone interview.
An image of the July 1st, 2013 Proton-M launch just seconds before it crashed. According to the July 10th, 2013 Space Safety article "Proton Launch Failure Update: Culprit Found," investigators believe the crash occurred because the angular velocity sensors in the first stage were installed upside down. Photo c/o Roscosmos.

And by "under-supplied," Bochinger means that there is simply not enough reliable rockets to go around.

Recent launch failures such as the February 1st, 2013 Sea Launch mission to launch the Intelesat 27 satellite (which fell into the Pacific Ocean fifty-six seconds after launch as described on the Russian Space Web) and concerns over the July 1st, 2013 failure of the workhorse Russian Proton rocket are further constricting the market.

So while some of the more successful launch providers, such as the French based Arianespace (with over 50 consecutive Ariane 5 launches completed since 2002) are certainly benefiting, most satellite operators and providers are scrambling to find rides in the current tight market, which is generally anticipated to remain "under-supplied" for at least a few more years.

The SpaceX Falcon family of rockets. The expected September 5th, 2013 launch of the Canadian CASSIOPE satellite aboard a Falcon-9 will be the first use of the upgraded Merlin 1D engines, expected to generate approximately 56 percent more sea-level thrust than the Merlin 1C engines used on all previous Falcon 9 vehicles.
According to Bochinger, the first real break for satellite developers and operators could occur later this year, when the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon-9 Heavy rocket becomes operational, but will depend on multiple SpaceX launches at a demonstrated low price.

As outlined in the May 29th 2012, Space-X press release "INTELSAT signs first commercial Falcon Heavy Launch Agreement with SpaceX,"  the new system will be designed to meet "both NASA human rating standards as well as the stringent US Air Force requirements for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, making it an attractive solution for commercial, civil and military customers."

But SpaceX isn't going to be the only new player on the block over the next few years. As outlined in the June 20th, 2013 China Daily article "China seeks to boost share of satellite market," the Chinese will be rolling out the next generation of Long March 5 heavy lift rockets in 2015 as the first step in an effort to expand their share of the international launch market to 15% by 2020. Since 2005, China has launched satellites for Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan, Turkey, Argentina and Ecuador.

India is also continuing with the development of its troubled Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) as outlined in the July 23rd, 2013 NBC News story "India plans to launch first Mars mission, test large rocket this year."

But perhaps the biggest potential launch breakthrough is Stratolaunch Systems, with its plans for huge carrier aircraft capable of launching large multi-stage boosters into a variety of orbits. Founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan (who had previously collaborated on the creation of Ansarii X-Prize winner SpaceShipOne), the new system is scheduled (even if not altogether expected) to roll-out in 2015.

Stand by for adventure when these new systems roll out as the satellite markets react to the expanded capacity.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Whatever Happened to the National Aerospace and Defence Framework?

The Industry Canada website at where the 2005 National Aerospace and Defence Strategic Framework can still be accessed.

Seven years before the November 2012 Aerospace Review, led by David Emerson, presented its findings to then Industry Minister Christian Paradis, another review with much the same mandate also attempted to chart the future of Canadian aerospace.

It failed, but at least two of the senior participants in the earlier process surfaced again as senior contributors to the 2012 review.
A slightly younger David Emerson in 2005, when he was the federal Industry Minister in the Paul Martin government.

And while there is certainly nothing wrong with knowledgeable public policy makers continuing to contribute to important areas where they possess acknowledged expertise, the failure of the 2005 initiative is a reminder that these sorts of things really only move forward with active and ongoing public participation, no matter what any particular mandarin might mandate.

Originally released under the short lived Paul Martin minority liberal government in November, 2005 and titled "The National Aerospace and Defence Strategic Framework," the fifty-nine page document was at the time described as "a 20-year vision aimed at helping leaders in the aerospace, defence and space sectors identify where and how they can be globally competitive."

The document came out of something called the Canadian Aerospace Partnership (CAP), publicly unveiled in April 2005 as a "private/ public sector partnership" to bring together industry, government, academia, and labour representatives.

As outlined in the April 19th, 2005 press release "Canadian Aerospace Partnership Begins Work Toward National Aerospace Competitive Strategy" CAP membership included the federal Minister of Industry along with provincial ministers responsible for industry and economic development from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia and a variety of others. 
Dave Caddy speaking at the 2012 Innovation Nation Robotics Competition.

Participants included the then CAP co-chair (and MacDonald Dettwiler VP) Dave Caddy, who remained involved in the process seven years later as the chair of the Emerson Space Working Group Report and David Emerson (who was then the Industry Minister in the Paul Martin liberal minority government). Emerson even contributed an introduction to the 2005 document, where he stated that that it would:
... provide the basis for the continuing development of federal aerospace and defence industrial policy (plus provide) the foundation for continued collaboration between industry stakeholders to maintain Canada’s role as a leading player in the global aerospace and defence industry...
Of course, the the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) was also heavily involved with both reports as befitting its mandate as the "national organization that promotes and facilitates Canadian competitiveness in the global aerospace industry" as outlined on the AIAC website.
Then CSA president Marc Garneau in 2004.

Unfortunately, the final report, as outlined in the November 25th, 2005 Defense Industry Daily article "Canada Unveils National Aerospace Industry Strategy" was almost immediately superseded by events.

For example, the 2005 report doesn't talk much about the space component of the aerospace industry, which was unfortunate since the then Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Marc Garneau was just about to resign to run for public office as a member of the Liberal party. He'd be replaced by two short term "acting" presidents (Carole Lacombe and Guy Bujold) and ex-Telesat president Larry Boisvert who, as outlined in the September 25th, 2010 blog post "Who Was Larry Boisvert," resigned as a direct result of the January 2008 MDA announcement that it was selling it's space focused business to US firm Alliant Techsystems (ATK).

That sale was eventually blocked by the Canadian government and led directly to the current confusion in the Canadian space industry, which flowed directly into the 2012 Emerson Report and an entire second volume focused on "Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space."

Here's hoping that the 2012 report, especially that second volume, doesn't also end up being superseded by events.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Preparing for the 2013 Newspace Business Plan Competition

Tom Olson at the 9th Annual Expanding Canada's Frontiers Symposium in Toronto in January 2012.

According to Thomas Olson, the emerging newspace industry is both "multidisciplinary" and "cross-contextual."
That's why those vying for the $135,000 USD in total prize money provided by the NASA/Ames Emerging Space Office (ESO) and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) for the upcoming 2013 NewSpace Business Plan Competition include such a wide range of diverse ideas and concepts.

But more are needed. During a phone interview on Friday, Olson reminded potential applicants who may still be sitting on the fence to register online before the August 22nd, 2013 deadline passes. Olson, one of the founding partners of the Exodus Consulting Group, is currently working under contract to the Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) to organize the event.

The competition, originally expected to be held as part of the annual NewSpace 2013 Conference in Silicon Valley, California from July 25th - 27th, will now be held in Silicon Valley in October 2013, as a stand alone event. 
2011 NewSpace Business Plan competition winner Jon Goff poses with his 1st place check. This year's winner will take home $100,000 dollars. Photo c/o Altius Space Machines.

Of course, previous competitions have also championed a wide range of ideas, inventions and concepts which have included: 
  • "Electrically-throttled propellants" built from a new type of "smart energetic materials" able to act as igniters and thrusters for rocket motor and squib applications (Digital Solid State Propulsion LLP).
  • A new type of high bandwidth, low weight, inflatable reflectors, booms and solar array components which were pitched as being suitable for a variety of telecom applications (Space Ground Amalgam, the 2012 competition winner).
  • Therapeutics which used RLIP76 proteins to create medical countermeasures against radiation exposure and chemical threats (Terapio Corporation).
  • Rendezvous and docking solutions for connecting metal, plastics, glass and even asteroids which utilized a "resettable adhesive gripper" mechanism to capture objects which lack "pre-installed" docking targets (Altius Space Machines, the 2011 competition winner).
Peter K. Homer, representing Flagsuit LLC being presented with the NewSpace 2009 Business Plan Competition 1st prize. Flagsuit LLC was founded in 2007 to commercialize technology developed through the 2007 NASA Astronaut Space Suit Glove Competition. Photo c/o Sam Coniglio

The competition is focused on "new, independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early growth stages" which will "advance the NewSpace movement" as outlined on the NewSpace 2013 Business Plan Competition website. Examples listed include:
  • Entrepreneurial space firms directly involved in launch systems hardware technology and supporting infrastructure such as data acquisition, communications, exotic fuels, space suits, flight safety and other areas.
  • Space related process engineering power systems, bioregenerative systems, tourism, media, software, and other supportive solutions.
  • Space-scalable technologies primarily developed to solve problems on Earth for commercial benefit and profit, but also scalable to solve key long range space problems in areas like biotechnology, nanotechnology, medicine, radiation mitigation, smart materials, alternative energy and next-gen IT hardware.
The competition also favors start-ups and small firms by generally excluding buy-outs, expansions of well-established companies, real estate syndicates, tax shelters, franchises, licensing agreements for distribution in a different geographical area. However, licensing technologies from universities or research labs are encouraged, assuming they have not been commercialized previously. 

According to Olson, the intent is to "reach out to start-ups and universities to promote entrepreneurship." However, regardless of niche, applicants must be able to explain why their product or service helps with the economic development of space.

A maximum of ten teams will be chosen from the registrants and invited to compete and network with space industry executives, investors, and successful entrepreneurs who will be in attendance as both guests and judges at the October event. Unfortunately for Canadians, entries must have at least 50% US-citizen ownership to qualify for any prizes offered through US Government agency grants.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Congratulations to the New Industry Minister

James Moore, the new Minister of Industry under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

James Moore, the conservative MP for Port Moody/ Westwood/ Port Coquitlam has replaced Christian Paradis as the Federal government Minister of Industry. The announcement was made Monday morning as part of a long expected cabinet reshuffle.

Among his many other new responsibilities (which include economic development, corporate affairs and telecom policy), Moore will be the minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
Christian Paradis, the new Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie

He will also be the public face of the official government response to the Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (the "Emerson Report"), which was originally presented to then Industry Minister Christian Paradis in November 2012 as part of a two volume independent review of the "aerospace and space industry" which assessed both the CSA and the much larger commercial aerospace industry.

The 140 companies and organizations listed in the Canadian Space Directory generated $3.483 billion CDN in revenue and employed 7500 Canadians in 2011 according to the 2011 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report.

As outlined in the December 12th, 2012 blog post "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," the report recommended "narrowing" the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or be "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government."
Incoming CSA president Walter Natynczyk.

According to the report, the CSA should instead advise and support the Industry Minister (then Paradis and now Moore), act " as a technical supervisor" to project specific committees and to the Minister of Public Works (to help negotiate "co-operative agreements with other countries space agencies") and co-manage (along with the National Research Council) anticipated new space technology development.
Acting CSA president Gilles Leclerc.

Under these recommendations, the CSA would continue to conduct its own research, operate its existing satellite inventory and maintain the Canadian astronaut program. 

In conjunction with the reduced role and new oversight, the report also recommended the stabilization of the overall CSA funding at existing levels, plus recommended the expansion of funding for programs which support the development of space technologies for the enhancement of industrial capabilities, such as the Space Technologies Development Program (STDP), by an additional $10M per year over each of the next three years.

To be fair, the appointment of the new minister, along with the appointment last month of a new CSA president (retired general Walter Natynczyk, who is is expected to take over from acting CSA president Gilles Leclerc in August) doesn't necessarily mean either the adaption of a new or the continuation of an existing policy.

What it does mean likely won't be discovered for a few months yet. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pizza to Go All the Way to the ISS

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 – 1826), the French lawyer and gastronome who said "tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." 

          by Brian Orlotti

3D printing is riding high these days. As most recently outlined in the December 23rd, 2012 post "3D Printers, Additive Manufacturing, Aston Martins & Star Trek Replicators," the process has already begun a revolution in the aerospace world with the advent of 3D printed aircraft & spacecraft parts, robots and hand tools. Now, this technology promises to not only make the ships that will take us to space, but also sustain the people who live there.
Anjan Contractor.

This past May, NASA announced it was awarding a $125,000 USD research grant to Anjan Contractor, a senior mechanical engineer at Austin, Texas-based Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) to develop a 3D food printer. NASA’s interest in developing the technology is for more efficient storage of food for astronauts on the ISS or on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

3D printers work on similar principles to inkjet printers. Cartridges or reels containing the print materials (be they ink, plastic, or food components) are fed into a motorized printer head. Inside the printer head is a heating element and a nozzle. As the printing material is fed into the printer head, it is melted into liquid by the heating element. The printer head then moves around in a programmed pattern derived from a CAD file, squirting the printing material out of its nozzle onto a build platform. As the build material is deposited, the build platform is lowered millimeter by millimeter. Layer by layer, the finished object emerges. In this way, physical objects are born of digital data.
Plastic 3D manufactured pizza display created using templates available online at To make something edible, simply replace the inedible plastic components with the appropriate culinary building blocks.

SMRC’s first attempt at printed food will be pizza, a logical goal since it’s a layered food. It’s also an ambitious goal as pizza not only comprises many ingredients, but ingredients that must be mixed and cooked differently at different times. SMRC’s modified RepRap printer will have material cartridges containing various culinary building blocks like cooking oils, protein powders, carb powders, powdered sauces, etc. The printer will mix and deposit a layer of dough and cook this layer before laying down the next. Tomato sauce will be made from powder, water, and oil. After this will be a "protein layer" in lieu of cheese, ending with a whole pizza cooked by built-in heating elements. The final product will have no real cheese (or meat), but for astronauts used to freeze-dried, non-perishable food, it could be a delectable change of pace.

In space-based applications, 3D printed food would have distinct advantages over traditional space food:
  • Since most or all of the ingredients would be stored in powder form, food would have extended shelf life. Anjan Contractor claims that by dehydrating foods to powders, shelf-life can be increased to as much as 30 years.
  • Food printers would use only the materials needed for a single meal while keeping the rest safely stored, virtually eliminating waste and spoilage. 
  • Storing recipes as digital data would allow for on-the-fly food customization. A food printer’s software could take your personal data like sex, age, weight, etc. and create a pizza balanced for your specific nutritional needs. Food printers could even take existing recipes and remake them into more nutritious versions by substituting healthier fats and oils, adjusting sugar and salt levels or even swapping out different types of protein (from sources as diverse as corn, soy, or even algae).
3D chocolate printer, developed at the University of Exeter in the UK, as outlined in the July 9th, 2013 Pokono blog post "Deliciously tasty 3D printing..."
On Earth, 3D printed food holds the promise of letting billions in the developing world eat at the same level as we in the developed world. Fruits and vegetables would ripen in the field to their peak flavor and nutritional value. They would then be harvested, dehydrated, and packed into cartridges right where they’re grown. With greatly reduced water and fuel requirements and produce no longer rejected due to cosmetic flaws, food shipping costs would plummet. Agriculture would become more profitable even as the cost of food comes down. With the inefficiencies of the current global agricultural supply chain virtually eliminated, food printers could provide gourmet dishes at Happy Meal prices.

Before any of this can happen, of course, much R&D (and trial & error) will need to take place. 3D printing technology (culinary and otherwise) is still very much in its infancy. We may not see its effects for decades. As it was with computers, 3D printing’s effects on our society will be gradual…but profound.

There may come a day when a space traveler staring out the window of their ship, their thoughts adrift, turns their head and casually utters words that beautifully bridge fantasy and reality, “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot."

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Chris Hadfields' Encore Presentations

Chris Hadfield leaves the stage after singing at the July 1st, 2013 Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo c/o Fred Chartrand/ Canadian Press.

Showmanship, entertainment and hyperbole will each be necessary to move forward new space technologies and there is no better example of this than Canada's most famous astronaut ever.

That would be Chris Hadfield, who has just commenced his formal retirement from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with a series of public speaking engagements and concerts, plus a book deal and "other private interests."

As outlined in the July 2nd, 2013 Postmedia News article "Retiring astronaut Chris Hadfield about to launch lucrative speaking career," the engagements will be organized through Speakers’ Spotlight, a Toronto based PR firm which has also represented Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, Hollywood actor William Shatner, and Barenaked Ladies co-founder Steven Page.

After presenting at the July 1st, Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa (where, as outlined in the July 2nd Huffington Post article "Chris Hadfield Rocks Canada Day, Does 'Space Oddity' (VIDEOS)" he sang with Barenaked Ladies lead singer Ed Robertson) and leading the 2013 Calgary Stampede parade (as per the July 5th, 2013 CITY News post "Chris Hadfield ushers in the Calgary Stampede"), Hadfield is currently scheduled to present at a growing series of upcoming business conferences. These include:
According to Speakers’ Spotlight president Martin Perelmuter, his company has so far received more than 500 emails asking for Hadfield to speak at corporate events, and more requests are coming in every day. The top rate for a Canadian speaker is generally around $50,000 per engagement, although Hadfield has stated publicly that he will continue to speak for free at "student events" such as his recent visit to the University of Calgary, as outlined in the July 6th, 2013 CBC News post "Chris Hadfield stops by University of Calgary to talk space."

Hadfield has also signed a book deal.

As outlined in the July 2nd, 2013 Random House press release "Random House Canada to publish book by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield" the first book in a two book deal, titled "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" is expected to be released on October 29th, 2013. According to the press release, Hadfield will take readers:
... deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories filled with the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of spacewalks, and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of real achievement--and happiness...
As outlined in the August 11th, 2011 Space Review article, "VASIMR and a new war of the currents," space exploration is entering a period where showmanship, entertainment, political glad-handing and hyperbole will each be necessary in order to suitably move forward new technologies.

Best wishes to Canada's most famous astronaut ever as he begins his new role. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Resources for the Canadian Space Entrepreneur

US investors have known for the last few years of the money to be made from space technology. This makes the recently announced plans of Ohio based Alphaport to commercialize technology developed through the NASA Glenn Research Center (as outlined in the July 7th, 2013 Cleveland Business News article "Nonprofit is near liftoff to commercialize NASA Glenn technology") essentially nothing new.

But where do you go if you're looking to start or grow a space (or NewSpace) focused start-up in Canada?

Here's some suggestions for places to collect the documents and information you'll need to begin the process.
  • The Alberta Space Program - A listing of Alberta space imaging, science and business activities "attracting international investment."
  • The Alliance for Commercialization of Canadian Technologies (ACCT) – An advocacy group for technology transfer and commercialization. Membership includes "more than 110 academic-based research organizations including universities, hospitals, colleges and polytechnics" according to the website.
  • The Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) - A registered Canadian not-for-profit industry organization existing to advance the economic, legal and political environment for space and aerospace focused companies.
  • The Commercial SpaceFlight Federation (CSF) - Although not a Canadian example, the 40 businesses and organizations who are members of the CSF are a comprehensive snapshot of the emerging international newspace industry. Canadian members include MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA).  
  • The Intellectual Property Institute of Canada (IPEC) - A national association comprised of over 1,700 members from Canada and abroad composed of patent agents, trade-mark agents and lawyers specializing in intellectual property.
  • The MaRS Discovery District – A Toronto business incubator focused on the medical and IT industries but open to new ideas. Maintains the MaRS Funding Sources Directory, a listing of provincial, national and international funding sources suitable for Ontario companies in both the public and private sectors.
  • NewSpace Global - An information services provider that provides timely, accurate and critical information regarding the commercial space (or "NewSpace") industry for their subscribers who include Fortune 500s, investors, universities, government agencies, small and large corporations, and investors. NSG publishes a monthly market tracking report (Thruster) and NewSpace Watch. US based, but often includes Canadian focused articles from a variety of sources and runs a monthly column focused on Canadian commercial space activities.
  • The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) - A not-for-profit, non-share incorporated company located in Sudbury, Ontario, which provides specialized mine training, occupational health and safety services and develops mining technology for space missions. 
  • The Space Angels Network – an American based network of angel investors that also accepts investors and clients from Canadian and Europe, focused on the aviation and aerospace markets, but includes space-themed business (such as entertainment / media projects).
  • Space Works Commercial - A US based aerospace engineering and design incubator focused on next-generation space transportation systems, future technologies, human and robotic exploration of space, and emerging space markets and applications
  • Start-Up Canada - Entrepreneur led, national movement to enhance the nation’s competitiveness and prosperity by supporting and celebrating Canadian entrepreneurship.
  • - An online community of over 17,000 CEOs, Founders and entrepreneurs to discuss fundraising, review investors and comparing strategies to grow a start-up business.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Is D-Wave Systems Riding the Next Frontier of the Information Age?

          by Brian Orlotti

D-Wave co-founder Geordie Rose with one of the firm’s quantum computers. Photo c/o D-Wave.
Quantum computing has been called the next frontier of the information age and with the announced installation of one such machine in California next fall, the first steps have been taken into it.

On May 16th, Burnaby, BC based D-Wave Systems (who claim to be the world’s first commercial quantum computer maker) announced it will install a new 512-qubit D-Wave Two quantum computer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California next fall. This machine will be part of the newly-formed Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, a collaboration between Google, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and NASA.

The new lab will focus on areas such as machine learning — building computers able to sort and analyse data based on previous experience. This would make quantum computers very useful for making advances in areas like language translation, web searches and voice recognition---areas that require creativity as well as horsepower.

In conventional computers, transistors manipulate electrons that are used to represent binary bits (1’s and 0’s). In contrast, quantum computers read the spin positions of photons (called polarization) used to represent quantum bits (or qubits). A key difference between conventional and quantum computing is that while binary bits can only be either a one or zero, qubits can be both simultaneously. This phenomenon (called superposition) is what gives quantum computers their super-fast processing power.

Quantum computers are unlike conventional computers that can be programmed to work through any type of problem. They specialize in solving "optimization problems," where a number of criteria all fight to be met at the same time. An example of this would be trying to find the lowest-energy fold for a protein, in which various amino acids attract or repel each other differently. Scientists have found that they can frame questions in machine-learning research as optimisation problems.

Predictably, D-Wave has faced skepticism that its computers actually operate on the quantum level or are faster than conventional computers. To address these concerns, D-Wave hired an outside expert, computer science professor Catherine McGeoch of Amherst College in Massachusetts, to test the D-Wave Two.
Professor Catherine McGeoch. the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Computer Science) at Amherst College.

McGeoch compared a 439-qubit version of the D-Wave Two to a commercial machine from IBM designed to solve "optimization" type problems. The IBM machine found an answer to the given problem in 30 minutes. McGeoch found that the D-Wave reached the answer in a half-second, about 3,600 times faster. On other types of problems, the D-Wave computer was slowed down by having to use a conventional front-end computer to "translate" them for its quantum CPU. In these instances, the D-Wave Two was about as fast as conventional computers.

McGeoch presented her findings in a peer-reviewed paper at the International Conference on Computing Frontiers in Ischia, Italy last May.

D-Wave’s machine was given a further boost by a team of scientists at the University of Southern California. This team performed their own test on their recently-purchased D-Wave Two and confirmed that it really does operate at the quantum level.

Quantum computing holds the promise of revolutionizing many diverse fields, but there are those who are profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of machines having even a limited form of intelligence. Various voices on the internet conjure dark visions of governments granted god-like powers of oppression and brutality via quantum computing and artificial intelligence. These voices claim that governments will able to read all our communications and brutalize us with legions of intelligent, armed Terminator-esque robots.
Joseph Goebbels as portrayed by Ulrich Matthas in the 2004 film Der Untergang.

Setting aside the fact that these are extreme extrapolations of what quantum computing may do, they ignore a key element…humans.

Governments certainly read our communications, but are hardly omniscient. Osama Bin Laden evaded US electronic surveillance for 10 years by simply bypassing electronic communications altogether, tracked down in the end via traditional means. Whistleblowers like Edward Snowden help keep the public informed on what their governments are up to.

In Oliver Hirschbiegel’s brilliant 2004 film "Der Untergang" there is a cruel but telling outburst from Joseph Goebbels when he is criticized for the Nazi regime’s callousness towards its own citizens during the Battle of Berlin:
I feel no sympathy. I repeat, I feel *NO* sympathy! The German people chose their fate. That may surprise some people. Don't fool yourself. We didn't force the German people. They gave us a mandate, and now their little throats are being cut!
It is our collective responsibility as citizens to make sure that the dark future prophesied by some does not come to pass.

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