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.

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