Monday, July 28, 2014

Customers vs Project Managers: The Real Truth about NEOSSat

          by Chuck Black

Beleaguered Mississauga based space contractor Microsat Systems Canada Inc. (MSCI) has lashed out at Canadian Space Agency (CSA) allegations that the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), built by MSCI under CSA supervision, is "underfunded" and not working properly by suggesting that the space agency was a lousy project manager.

The MSCI logo, presented without sarcasm, from the MSCI website.  

They may have a point. As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," even the David Emerson led Aerospace Review noticed ongoing procurement problems at the CSA and recommended its removal from the direct involvement in the design and manufacture of "space assets purchased by the government" such as NEOSSat. 

So what's the real story?
CEO Cooper in 2011. Photo c/o CNW.

Well, as outlined in the July 27th, 2014 Ottawa Citizen article "Satellite company blames Canadian Space Agency for some cost overruns," the NEOSSat problems began with the "poorly written system requirements" provided by CSA employees and CSA mentoring/ supervision from people "who generally got in the way."

The article included direct quotes from both MSCI president and CEO David Cooper and MSCI director of micro-satellite programs Ross Gillett. 

Cooper and Gillett's comments were in made in reaction to the public release of the February 2014 CSA report, "Evaluation of the Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) Project For the period from February 2005 to December 2013," which blamed "a lack of capacity on the part of the prime contractor (MSCI)" as the reason for the cost overruns and problems which have bedeviled the project.

The report also highlighted the role of Dynacon Systems, which won the original NEOSSat contract on the basis of its successful Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) telescope but unexpectedly sold its satellite business to MSCI in 2008, as being one of the reasons for MSCI's lack of expertise. 

Director Gillett. Photo c/o Linked-In.
According to the report, the perceived lack of capacity/ expertise "meant that the CSA and DND were faced with a choice of (either) cancelling the project or taking a calculated risk and continuing to work with the (new) contractor."

But CSA eventually decided to continue on with MSCI as the new NEOSSat contractor and this is where the story gets interesting. 

Dynacon, the original contractor, built MOST on the basis of a strategy described in a fourteen year old paper written by then Dynacon employees Peter Stibrany and Kieran A. Carroll called "the Microsat Way in Canada."

This strategy focused on inexpensive, quickly constructed components used frequently to build up a body of expertise before locking in the design, because of the usefulness of the real world knowledge gained.

It also suggested that space agencies should act as end-user "customers" interested in low cost and practical results rather than as project managers interested in the maintenance of processes and procedures focused around defining (and locking-in) system design before real world validation and testing.

But while the paper included many of the core concepts in what would later become the standard operating procedures at places like the very successful University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL), these methodologies were not a part of the CSA's standard operating procedure.

And the original Dynacon authors never went to work for MSCI although both remain in the industry. Stibany now works as a director of strategic development for MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) while Carroll is currently an adjunct professor at UTIAS and CTO for Mississauga based Gedex Inc, according to their Linked-In profiles.

So it's only natural that the sale of the Dynacon space assets to MSCI allowed the CSA a chance to redefine its role in a more traditional fashion. The result was an initially confused but later annoyed prime NEOSSat contractor, which led first to misunderstanding and later to increased oversight, costs and irritation. 

At least one submission to the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review dealt explicitly with procurement methodologies and how these methodologies affected project management and costs. The June 30th, 2012 Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) position paper "Fostering Innovation, Creating New Markets: Novel Approaches to Space Policy and Programs," recommended that the Federal government explicitly encourage the development of entrepreneurial or "commercial space" industries and approaches using a variety of methodologies quite similar to those advocated in "The Microsat Way in Canada." Document c/o Aerospace Review

The CSA's focus on "system requirements," which MSCI perceived of as coming from people who "generally got in the way," certainly contributed to NEOSSat being delivered 41 months late and over budget.

Of course, this isn't the first time that dissatisfaction with CSA procurement policies and project management has led to a very public confrontation. As outlined in the February 6th, 2006 Montreal Gazette article "RCMP to probe space agency contracts," the CSA was once even subject to a law suit and police investigation from a former CSA scientist who successfully sued the space agency for falsely appropriating one of his inventions.

This latest CSA procurement crisis will likely not rise to that level, but only because the decision to divest the CSA of its direct involvement in the design and manufacture of "space assets purchased by the government," has already been explored by the Aerospace Review and implemented by the Federal government.

Nuff said!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The 2014 Edition of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!"

          by Chuck Black

Time marches on, and those of us looking for gainful employment in the space sector will notice quite a few changes from the August 13th, 2013 post "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!" For those who'd like to keep up to date,  here's the latest listing of places you should be approaching if you'd like to work in the space industry.

The 16th Annual Aerospace and Defence Top 100 growing Companies of 2013 - What better place to start than with the biggest and fastest growing firms in this area. Produced jointly by PricewaterhousCoopers and Flight Global, the report outlines the trends in the industry and ranks the top companies by revenues and profitability.

Astronauts4Hire - A US based, 501(c)(3) non-profit formed in 2010 to recruit and train qualified scientists and engineers for the rigors of spaceflight. The organization conducts a range of activities related to commercial astronaut workforce development and train its members as professional astronaut candidates who can assist researchers, payload developers, and spaceflight providers with mission planning and operations support.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) - Although the CSA no longer has a formal career page and CSA job links now connect to the Federal government career page, the CSA remains home to the Canadian Space Directory, a listing of companies and organizations which work with the CSA. And while it's slow going to apply to these organizations individually, it's also indicative of future trends in Canadian space activities.
The European Space Agency (ESA) career page - It's worth noting that the ESA has more job openings that the CSA, since the ESA web page includes actual job vacancies and useful, industry specific career facts. Ah, Paris in the spring.

HE Space - Denmark  based, specialist supplier of manpower for space programs with offices in the Netherlands, Germany and the US. The firm also manages the Jobs in Space Linked-In group.

The International  Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) - For those who are looking from something a little different from the typical opportunity requiring a science or engineering degree, the IAMAW represents more than 40,000 Canadian workers in air transport and a wide range of manufacturing including aircraft, auto parts, buses, aerospace, electronics, light and heavy machinery, tools and appliances.

Jobs in Space - A mostly European based space industry forum for posting vacancy notices and resumes, organized by Microcom Systems, a UK based consultancy firm which bills itself as being focused on satellite communications and space technology.

NASA Jobs - A public listing of available National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) openings. According to the site, NASA is one of "the best places to work in the Federal government" as ranked by federal employee satisfaction, which makes it officially more fun than the criminal justice system, the healthcare industry or the US Congress.

The NewSpace Global listing of top 300 NewSpace companies - This list is divided up into three smaller lists covering the 100 most influential privately held newspace companies (the NSG 100), a second list covering 100 additional privately held newspace companies perceived as being "on the bubble" of growth (NSG OTB) plus a third list of top rated publicly traded space companies (the NSG PTC). A surprising number of companies on these three lists are Canadian and a surprising number of the rest have offices and employment opportunities in Canada.

The Satellite Today Career Center - Focused on US based jobs in the commercial satellite industry. Includes a comprehensive satellite companies web directory

The SpaceRef Career Center - A small service, acting mostly as an additional source of advertising revenue for the publisher, but also hoping to leverage the "450,000 unique readers who visit SpaceRefNASA WatchSpaceRef BusinessSpaceRef Canada and the Astrobiology Web each month," who might be looking for work.

Space Careers - A French based but English language site focused on "the top jobs and the best talents in the industry." Contains a jobs center (where job hunters and recruiters register), a space industry directory, a news and resource section with space news RSS feeds and a LinkedIn page. Maintained by Spacelinks, a specialist staffing consultancy focused on the European space and defense industry.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI) listing of Employment Opportunities - Located on the Johns Hopkins University Campus in Baltimore, Maryland, the STSCI manages both the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). They offer "the wonder of 21st century space exploration in a job that offers a competitive salary and generous benefits."

UNIFOR - This union, created from the 2013 merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), might not represent the typical career path imagined by the average astronaut wannabe, but Canada's largest private sector union does represent aerospace workers at Boeing Canada (Local 2169), Bombardier/ de Havilland (Local 112), Cascade Aerospace (Local 114), CMC Electronics, Magellan Aerospace (Local 3005) and Pratt and Whitney Canada (Local 510), which makes it worth checking out. Galactic (VG) - For those who prefer suborbital space travel, this firm has a jobs board with literally dozens of new positions waiting to be filled.

The Wikipedia listing of government agencies engaged in space exploration - Categorized according to capabilities and including links to the listed agency's primary website. Consider this as one stop shopping for those inclined towards government service. 

The Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) careers page - The company that built the worlds first "commercial spacecraft" has dozens of job openings covering a wide range of expertise. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Space Activities at the University of Waterloo

          by Michael Kuntz

The recent June 27th, 2014 post "Canadian Universities in Space," was an excellent summary of the amazing breadth of space activities taking place at academic institutions across the country. Universities play key roles in providing high-risk innovations and preparing the next generation of highly qualified personnel.

The early history of the University of Waterloo. The plaque is located just inside the entrance to the university on University Avenue West across from Seagram Drive.  Photo c/o Alan L. Brown.

Since its founding in 1956 (the year before Sputnik), the University of Waterloo has been a Canadian leader in both of these roles, and today our faculty continues to contribute to a variety of space focused projects.

HIFI pocket guide c/o ESA.
For example, Dr. Michel Fich of the Department of Physics and Astronomy was the Canadian principal investigator for the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel, active from 2009 - 2013 and the largest infrared space telescope ever launched, was one of the cornerstone missions of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Cdr. Chris and Dr. Richard. Photo c/o CSA.
As well, Dr. Richard Hughson of the Department of Kinesiology was the principal investigator for the VASCULAR and BP-Reg medical experiments that were conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by multiple astronauts including Robert Thirsk and Chris Hadfield (who is now a member of the faculty at Waterloo). The experiments were funded by the CSA and supported by NASA.

With ESA sponsorship, Dr. Claude Duguay of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management has been using satellite radar imagery to study the impact of climate change on the thickness of lake and ground ice. An example of some of the work being done in this area is outlined in the video below.

As a final example, for the past four years, Dr. Thomas Jennewein of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) has been leading a proposed Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) micro-satellite mission that would demonstrate long-distance quantum key distribution from space. Since October 2013, Dr. Jennewein and IQC have been leading a CSA funded project with industrial partners to develop a prototype quantum key distribution receiver (OKDR) that would be suitable for QEYSSat. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2014 IQC post "Quantum satellite one step closer to space flight," Dr. Jennewein’s team was recently awarded a CSA Flights for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) grant to adapt the QKDR for an airborne demonstration.

In the current environment of fiscal restraint, there can and should be an increased role for universities to drive Canadian innovation in a cost-effective manner. Amongst our international partners, it is common for universities and research institutions to be the project prime for space science instruments and even entire space missions. For the moment, it is not within the means of most Canadian universities to lead a space mission, however, a strong foundation of technical and managerial capabilities exist at the University of Waterloo and other institutions that would enable academia to lead space instrumentation projects within the next couple of years.

The University of Waterloo looks forward to a continued partnership with government and industry to support the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.
Michael Kuntz is the director of research partnerships at the University of Waterloo.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Federal Government Hypes OSIRIS-REx Mission

          by Brian Orlotti

On July 17th, Federal cabinet minister Tony Clement excitedly announced Canada's latest contribution to an upcoming NASA asteroid mission. But while the Stephen Harper government appears to be hoping that the public will allow it to bask in the reflected glare of this latest Canadian space adventure, the actual state of Canada's space budget might just put a lie to the fancy words.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement announcing the Canadian contribution to the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission during a press conference at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario on July 17, 2014. Photo c/o Globe and Mail.

At the press conference, Clement announced that Canada would be beginning the build phase of its contribution to the upcoming Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) NASA spacecraft.

Developed by the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, OSIRIS-REx's mission will be to rendezvous with the asteroid 101955 Bennu, obtain samples from its surface and return them to Earth for analysis.

These samples will enable scientists to learn more about the formation and evolution of our Solar System, the initial stages of planet formation, and perhaps provide the chance to study organic compounds thought to have led to the beginnings of life. OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled for launch in September 2015, reaching 101955 Bennu in November 2018 and returning to Earth in 2023.

Canada's contribution will be the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a LiDAR (a combination of "light" and "radar") instrument that will scan the surface of 101955 Bennu to generate high resolution topographic maps. These maps will allow planetary scientists to select sample sites, provide ranging info for other on-board instruments, and allow analysis of the asteroid's gravity as well as aid navigation. The announcement included an $8.4Mln CDN funding package (on top of the $15.8Mln CDN previously allocated in February, 2013 by the Federal government for the initial design work) with a further promise of $61Mln CDN in total funding over the life of the mission.

In return, the CSA will receive 4% of the returned samples for hands-on analysis.

Page one of a two page fact sheet available online from the NASA website. As outlined in a post on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission website, the Canadian OLA team includes principal investigator Alan R. Hildebrand from the University of Calgary, deputy principal investigator and instrument scientist Michael Daly from York University, Catherine L. Johnson, representing both the University of British Columbia and the Tucson, AZ based Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Rebecca Ghent from the University of Toronto/ PSI and Edward Cloutis from the University of Manitoba.

As outlined in the February 27th, 2013 MDA press release, "MDA to help map an asteroid," the original OLA contract, a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiller (MDA), and researchers from the universities of Calgary, British Columbia, Toronto and Manitoba was announced in February 2013.

Of course, that didn't stop Clement from tweeting, just prior to the July 17th announcement, “Just T minus 11 hours before my announcement with the Canadian Space Agency that is bigger than Michael Bay's blockbusters!”

This obvious hyperbole continues the federal government's pattern of publicly embracing, sometimes to excess, our Canadian space successes.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, left, presents Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz with the $5 bill he took into space at a ceremony to officially issue the new polymer note, which features the robotic Canadarm2, DEXTRE and a Canadian astronaut on Nov. 7th, 2013, in Longueuil, Que. According to the March 29th, 2014 CBC News article "Mark Carney wanted orbiting Chris Hadfield at $5 polymer note unveiling," the "decision to beam Hadfield in came from the very top of the Bank of Canada chain of command." Photo c/o Canadian Press

The pattern began with astronaut Chris Hadfield's 2013 stint as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station (ISS). The Canadian government basked in the global popularity fueled by Hadfield's photos, tweets, skype chats and a now-iconic rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."

In April of the same year, the Bank of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled a new space-themed five-dollar bill with images of the Canadian built Canadarm2, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM or DEXTRE) and an astronaut. For added flair, Hadfield joined the event via webcam to stir up the crowd and later made a formal in-person presentation. In June of 2014, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper even made a point of taking a photo-op with Hadfield during the thick of the Senate scandal.

Astronaut Hadfield, on the right, shaking hands with PM Harper and wife Laureen at a breakfast photo-op on June 9th, 2014. Photo c/o PMHARPER/FLICKR

Of course, the Federal government's tweeting, press conferences and photo-ops are in stark contrast to its actual space policy. For example, the Federal government cut the CSA's budget by 10% in 2013, resulting in the cancellation of the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) space telescope, one of Canada's greatest scientific success stories.

And following the high-water mark of Chris Hadfield's mission, the CSA has used up its remaining ISS "credits" and won't be able to send astronauts to the station until at least 2019.

Brian Orlotti.
So while it's good that the Federal government has finally discovered that space is a popular cause to champion, the disconnect between the government's words and its deeds does little to clarify Canada's future in space.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

UrtheCast Hi-Res Camera Still Not Working but Solution (and More Cameras) are on the Way

          by Chuck Black

It's been a rough few months for BC based UrtheCast, which announced last Wednesday that the firm's high resolution camera (HRC) installed on board the International Space Station (ISS) last winter was still not operational. Fortunately for the company, its partners and its stock price, a potential solution (and more cameras) are on the way.

Members of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (RAL) space engineering team with the high resolution UrtheCast video camera just before it was shipped to Moscow for interface integration and launch to the ISS in November, 2013. RAL, part of the UK based Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), built both the medium resolution (with the ability to image five metre ground objects) and the high resolution (able to image one metre ground objects) cameras. UrtheCast will distribute the software to operate the cameras and administer the project as part of an international agreement involving Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom and several other nations.  Photo c/o STFC.

As outlined in the July 16th, 2014 UrtheCast press release "UrtheCast Announces Commercial Availability Of Earth Imagery & Provides An Update On Its High-Resolution Camera," while the medium resolution camera (MRC), also known as “Theia,” is now fully operational, the HRC, also known as "Iris," has so far not achieved the level of precision required for UrtheCast to meet the target image quality requirements of commercial users.

In essence, the HRC doesn't work yet.

According to the press release, the UrtheCast engineering team, in partnership with RSC Energia engineers, believe they have "developed a solution to this problem using existing gyroscopes on the HRC to improve the BPP pointing control (the bi-axial pointing platform, which controls the direction and accuracy of the HRC). This solution has been successfully tested on the ground (but) the on-orbit implementation of this solution requires software updates and the installation of additional cabling inside the Zvezda module (where the cameras are located)."

A graphic showing the comparative locations of the high resolution camera (HRC), the bi-axial pointing platform (BPP), which controls the direction and accuracy of the HRC, and the medium resolution camera (MRC). The cameras are installed on an external portion of the Russian Zvezda ISS module.

But since the additional cables will need to be launched to the ISS from the ground, a several month delay is expected before the HRC can be commissioned and this is wreaking havoc with the publicly traded firm's stock price.

As outlined in the July 17th, 2014 Stackhouse article, "Urthecast (T.UR) dumps 22% on high resolution camera difficulties," the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) prices for UrtheCast shares initially continued an ongoing slide from their March 2014 high on news of the latest difficulties.

But by the next day, the market had stabilized, at least according to the July 18th, 2014 Cantech letter post "Buy Urthecast on weakness, says Clarus analyst Ofir," which quoted Clarus Securities analyst Eyal Ofir as stating that "the knee-jerk reaction in the share price to the HRC delay is short sighted and presents another buying opportunity for patient investors that are willing to take on the inherent volatility.”

The next great space race; UrtheCast daily stock prices in $CDN along with trading volumes covering the period from July 23rd, 2013 until July 17th, 2014. The stock peaked in March 4th, 2014 at just over $2.68 a share, well under the recently announced one year Clarus Securities target price of $5.50 CDN. As well, it's also worth noting the slight bump in both value and quantities of shares traded during the period between July 14th - 16th, 2014, around the time when the latest round of news on UrtheCast was released. Chart c/o Globe and Mail

Which sounds more complex than the HRC technical problems, although it likely isn't.

According to the article, the Clarus analyst did maintain his “speculative buy” rating and gave a $5.50 one-year target price, implying a return of over 300% within the next year, for those brave enough to take a chance.

But while the promise of high profits over a short period is indicative of the speculative nature of this new industry, this isn't the first spot of trouble UrtheCast has found itself in. Given the space environment in which it operates, it's likely not going to be the last.

Scott Larson. Photo c/o Alberta Venture.
As outlined in the January 28th, 2014 post "UrtheCast Cameras Reinstalled on ISS," the MRC required a second spacewalk by ISS astronauts Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and much work than was expected before it became operational earlier this year.

Of course, the ongoing work also suggests a strong potential, able to weather more than a few setbacks.

Even better, as outlined in the July 16th, 2014 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast & NanoRacks To Install Earth Observation Cameras On NASA Segment Of Space Station," the firm, in partnership with US based NanoRacks, has plans to install two additional Earth imaging sensors (a high resolution dual-mode optical/video camera and a high resolution dual-band synthetic aperture radar) in the US section of the ISS, in 2016.

According to UrtheCast CEO Scott Larson, “having additional sensors on the International Space Station not only mitigates our technology risk, but also adds to our current suite of cameras aboard the Station, improving upon the quality and quantity of data that we can offer our customers — for everything ranging from scientific research to resource monitoring.”

Welcome to NewSpace. It's full of thrills, chills and spills plus options to make up to any amount of money. Just watch your wallet.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Planetary Society is Launching a Lightsail

          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

The Planetary Society, a US based non-government, nonprofit organization involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach and political advocacy, has announced the launch dates of their exciting, and long awaited LightSail mission.

Once in space, it will become the world’s first CubeSat to “fly by light."

The CubeSat, along with parent satellite, Prox-1, will be launched on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, in April 2016, according to the July 9th, 2014 Planetary Society press release "LightSail has a launch date!"

Over $4Mln USD was raised for the LightSail-1 mission by the Planetary Society, which compares well with other recent publicly funded private space initiatives such as the ISEE-3 Reboot Project (which raised $160,000 USD earlier this year via crowd funding service RocketHub to reactivate and utilize a 1970's era NASA satellite) and the 2013 initiative from Planetary Resources (which raised $1.5Mln via Kickstarter for its Arkyd space telescope).

Bill Nye. Photo c/o Planetary Society.
The United States Air Force, and Georgia Institute of Technology, responsible for developing the Prox-1, will cover the launch costs according to the July 10th, 2014 Universe Today article, "The Planetary Society’s Solar Sail Will Hitch a Ride to Space on a Falcon Heavy."

It's fantastic that at last we have a launch date for this pioneering mission,” said Planetary Society CEO Bill ("the science guy") Nye. “When I was in engineering school, I read the book about solar sailing by my predecessor, Society co-founder Louis Friedman. But the dream of sailing on light alone goes back much further.

According to the July 10th, 2014 Planetary Society blog post "LightSail update: Launch dates," the LightSail-1 will start out as a two-unit cube-sat, composed of a parent (Prox-1) plus a solar sailing cube-sat (LightSail-B).

The post references Jason Davis of the Planetary Society, who explained the specifications of the mission further: “Prox-1 and LightSail-B will be released into a circular orbit with an altitude of 720 kilometers (450 miles). After spending a couple weeks going through various checkouts, Prox-1 will release LightSail-B. Prox-1 will then rendezvous with LightSail-B using a thermal imaging camera for navigation, flying as close as 50 meters."

A second cube-sat (Lightsail-A), identical to Lightsail-B, could also potentially be launched on board a US Air Force Atlas V flight as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program for preliminary testing in April 2015.

The Planetary Society’s decade long dream to fly by light was delayed, but not destroyed back in 2005. The Cosmos 1 spacecraft, destined to launch from a rocket off a Russian submarine, had technical difficulties, which caused the rocket’s engine to flame out prematurely, dooming the spacecraft. If successful, Cosmos 1 would have been the first successful solar sail in space.

Of course, that honour was finally won by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on May 21st, 2010, when the agency launched the Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun (IKAROS) spacecraft, which deployed a 200 square metre polyimide experimental solar sail on June 10th. Solar pressure has also been used as a method to conserve attitude-control propellant and tested as a means of de-orbiting dead satellites and space debris.

In essence, solar sailing has its many benefits and can prove to be incredibly advantageous over the current chemical rockets used. From the endless amount of sunlight necessary to propel spacecrafts, to the greatly reduced weight from carrying fuel, it is said by many that it is proving to be “the only practical way to reach other stars.

Sarah Ansari-Manea.
The Planetary Society continues to demonstrate and help lead the charge in awareness for space exploration, and their latest mission is already inspiring a new generation of universities and organizations wanting to send their own, privately funded, miniaturized satellites into space.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cygnus Spacecraft a Final Test for New Canadian Space Eyes

          by Brian Orlotti

An Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) Cygnus spacecraft, launched yesterday on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), will demonstrate Canadian technology that will make future spacecraft more capable.

The Cygnus spacecraft (dubbed the SS Janice Voss in honour of deceased NASA astronaut Janice E. Voss) was launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sunday, July 13th at 12:52 p.m. ET. The craft is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on July 15th, to deliver 1,360 kilograms of food, supplies, and experiments.

The Cygnus spacecraft. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
As it approaches the ISS, the Janice Voss will test the Triangulation and LIDAR Automated Rendezvous and Docking (TriDAR) system. The spacecraft will use the TriDAR to guide it to a point about 12 metres away from the station (called the "berthing box"), where it will hold and wait for the Canadarm2 to grab it and pull it into a docking port.

Although the TriDAR system is capable of guiding the spacecraft to the docking port on its own, NASA (presumably for safety reasons) won't permit it. On this mission, the TriDAR is serving as a backup to the Janice Voss' main guidance system, but for all following missions, the Cygnus vehicles will carry two TriDAR units each (a primary and a backup) and will fully rely on them to dock at the ISS. OSC will fly seven more resupply missions to the ISS as per its contract with NASA.

TriDAR was developed by Ottawa based Neptec Design Group Ltd. with funding from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA and was previously tested on three space shuttle missions (STS-128131 & 135). The system uses both an infrared camera and LIDAR (aka laser radar) to create a 3D model of objects it detects in space (in this case, the ISS). The TriDAR then compares the model of the detected object to one of the ISS stored in its memory. Using this data, the TriDAR can change the spacecraft's orientation and enable it to dock.

Traditional automated space docking systems guide spacecraft by using video cameras to hunt for a "target," a specific pattern painted or placed on the side of an object. The ISS, for example, uses a group of black-and-white polka dots. Although effective, this system has disadvantages. Should the target become obscured or damaged, docking can be hampered. The TriDAR system gives spacecraft greater flexibility. Beyond docking, Neptec forsees TriDAR being used in other areas, such as orbital space junk removal.

Brian Orlotti.
With LIDAR technology, spacecraft will become safer, more flexible and more capable. And Canadians are crafting the eyes that will guide them into the future.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Preparing for the 65th International Astronautical Congress; September 29th - October 3rd in Toronto, ON

          by Chuck Black

It's close to being the greatest show on Earth for space scientists, engineers and policy advocates, second perhaps only to the roar of a manned rocket launch.

Preparations and plans are coming together to make the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014), which is being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, into the best edition yet of what is generally considered to be the "world's premier space event."

The reasons for these perceptions are simple enough to discern. For example, speakers for the Heads of Agencies Plenary of the 2013 International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2013), which was held last September in Beijing, China included Chen Qiufa, the head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA); NASA administrator Charles Bolden: Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director General of the European Space Agency (CSA); Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) deputy director Sergei Saveliev; Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Walter Natynczyk; Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman Radha Krishna and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) president Naoki Okumura.

A similar line-up of heavy hitters is expected for IAC 2014.

But while many of the accolades are reserved for the annual gathering of space agency heads, the event is also a technical congress which brings together thousands of scientists, advocates and business executives from around the world to discuss issues of importance to the space community and build the connections needed to encourage and expand outer both space activities and international co-operation.

"We expect to see many bilateral and multilateral meetings and exchanges of information among space agencies, military representatives, the private sector and even space advocacy groups which would be difficult to organize without the cover of an IAC," said local organizing committee (LOC) chair Ron Holdway during a phone interview last week.

Holdway is currently putting in long nights preparing for the event, which so far boasts over 100 exhibitors and sponsors, about 80% of the available capacity, since he spends his days as the ‎vice-president of government relations for Cambridge, Ontario based COM DEV International.

Of course, he's still expecting to corral a few others over the next two months.

"We need to tie down a few more agencies. We've currently got NASA, ROSCOSMOS, the Israeli Space Agency, the Chinese Space Agency and the UK Space Agency but I know we'll be tying down a few more over the next little while," he said.

IAC 2014 logo superimposed over the MTCC. According to the IAC website, the event "is the one place and time of the year where all global space actors come together." The event attracts more than 3,000 participants each year. Graphic c/o IAC

Current sponsors include ABB, the Aerospace Corporation, Airbus, Boeing Defense, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), Space Systems Loral (SSL) and quite a few others. As well, Lockheed Martin will be acting as the "industry anchor sponsor" and financial support has been provided by Tourism Toronto and the Government of Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation plus the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

According to Holdway, the Canadian organizers are working hard to get the CSA and Canadian expertise front and centre for the event. "No space agency, with the exception of the UK Space Agency, is in expansion mode. We all benefit from comparing our experiences to those of our peers."

The event is hosted by the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) and organized by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) with the participation of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). 

The first IAC was held in Paris, France in 1950 and was an initiative set up by space expert, author and enthusiast Alexandre Ananoff (who also advised fellow author Hergé on his Tintin books "Destination Moon" and "Explorers on the Moon"). Graphic c/o IAC1950 history page.

As outlined by CASI executive director Geoffrey Languedoc, there are even a few openings for those wishing to volunteer for the event if they contact the volunteer coordinator at

All in all, while IAC2014 might not quite provide the roar of a manned rocket launch, the event certainly has enough buzz to fill a room full of opportunities to meet and interact with the people who build and launch them. 

Be there or be square. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Advocates, Activists and Groups in Space

          by Chuck Black

There are a lot of space advocates in Canada.

Some of them are wrapped around academic institutions. Some are wrapped around ideas such as "open source" or "working in space" and a few are wrapped around activities like launching rockets or becoming a space tourist.

Here's a representative sampling of some of the more interesting.

The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) - A non-profit organization run out of the University of Toronto with a mandate to educate, excite, and inspire students, professionals, and the general public about astronomy and space. Best known for its annual January astronomy symposiums.

The AstroNut's Kids Space Club - A space focused educational group for elementary school students created in May 2010 by the father/ son team of Ray and Brett Bielecki. The various "missions" of spaceship "Mercury One" and its successor "Mercury Two" have been profiled on CBC, CTV, CITY-TV, A-Channel, the Daily Planet (for the Discovery Channel) and Rogers TV.

The Calgary Space Workers Society - Local advocacy group focused on how "to live and work in space." The group hosted the 2007 "Canadian Space Summit."

The Canadian Association of Rocketry listing of affiliated organizations - Who says that Canadian's don't build rockets? Certainly not these self-supporting, non-profit organizations whose sole purpose is to promote development of amateur rocketry as a recognized sport and worthwhile activity.

The Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) - A nonprofit technical organization for aeronautics, space and remote sensing. Host for a variety of annual events including the upcoming 65th International Astronautics Congress (IAC), which will be held in Toronto from September 29th - October 3rd.
The Canadian Association of Science Centres - An organization promoting and encouraging public involvement with Canadian public science centres and the organizations needed to support them.

The Canadian Astronomical Society – Founded in 1971 and incorporated in 1983 as a society of professional astronomers devoted to the promotion and advancement of knowledge of the universe through research and education. Membership is open to persons with a professional involvement with these goals in astronomy and the related sciences.

The Canadian Foundation for the International Space University (CFISU) – The charitable organization promoting the International Space University (ISU) in Canada.
The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge - A privately funded, biannual event focused on teams of Canadian university students (undergraduate and graduate) who design and build an operational small-satellite, based on commercially-available, "off-the-shelf" components. 

The Canadian Science Policy Centre - Passionate professionals from industry, academia, and science-based governmental departments who organize the yearly Canadian Science Policy Conference. This years event, will be held from October 15th - 17th in Halifax, NS.

The Canadian Space Society (CSS) – A non-profit corporation promoting Canadian space activities. Organizes the annual Canadian Space Summit and just rolled out its Canadian space asset map, a listing of organizations involved in the Canadian space industry.

The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy - Not Canadian, but this Virginia based think tank does focus on the legal and policy issues associated with geo-spatial data and technology, which is of some use to the Canadians who are ranked as leaders within this growing field.

Engineers Canada - The national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the profession of engineering in Canada and license the country's more than 260,000 members of the engineering profession. The organization also issues national position statements on key issues relating to the public interest, including infrastructure, labour mobility and regulating the profession.

Friends of NASA - An independent non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to building international support for peaceful space exploration, commerce, scientific discovery and STEM education organized by Montreal, PQ based Dwayne Lawrence in 2008. The organization claims over 10,000 professional members worldwide from over 50 countries plus 180,000+ public followers on social media: Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

The Geological Association of Canada - A national geo-science society, publisher and distributor of geo-science books and journals. Also holds a variety of conferences, meetings and exhibitions for the discussion of geological problems and the exchange of views in matters related to geology. Geologists often use Earth imaging and geo-spatial satellite technology derived from our space program to inventory natural resources.

Hacklab.TO - One of a number of small Canadian organizations like the Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, the Kwartzlab Makerspace, the Makerkids non-profit workshop space for kids, Think|Haus, the Site 3 coLaboratoryUnLab and others who focus on the technologies associated with open source additive manufacturing/ 3-D printing. These techniques show great promise for a variety of low cost space manufacturing technologies.

The Mars Society Canada - Semi-active Canadian subsidiary of the US based Mars Society advocacy group. Although the Canadian organizations has a past history of strong activism and support for research projects like the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island, the current website serves mostly as a conduit for general interest science news about the red planet. The one remaining active Canadian chapter of the society is in Winnipeg, MB.

The OpenLuna Foundation - A privately funded public outreach program (officially a US based 501(c) 3) to encourage the use of open-source tools and methodologies (open design) for space focused activities. The founding member and project manager/ director of the organization is Paul Graham, who lives in London, Ontario.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - 4,000 members, including about 500 "unattached" members from remote parts of Canada and around the world and strong chapters in Vancouver and 28 other centres across the country.

Science Rendezvous - Grassroots not-for-profit organization and public platform to promote science awareness and increase science literacy in Canada. Holds the yearly, spring Science Rendezvous at the University of Toronto, St. George campus.

Space Canada – A not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of solar energy from space. Organized the 2009 Symposium on Solar Energy from Space. Space Canada president and CEO George Dietrich has a long history of supporting US and Canadian NewSpace activities.  

Space Launch Canada – A federally incorporated, but privately funded, initiative dedicated to building a space launch facility in British Columbia.

The Space Society of London (SSoL) - Aims to unite members of the University of Western Ontario and greater London communities who have a common interest in space. SSoL is also the local chapter HQ for Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

The Space Tourism Society Canadian Chapter - A Canadian chapter of the US based Space Tourism Society (STS) which intends to promote space tourism and the acquisition of  "financial, political and public support to make space tourism available to the general population in the near future."

The Toronto International Space Apps Challenge - An annual "hackathon" organized each spring as part of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

The Toronto Students for the Advancement of Aerospace (TSAA) - A new group focused on building an annual conference series focused around the "do-it-yourself engineer" in order to "educate, motivate and enrich the experience of students in aerospace and related fields."

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