Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Changing Times; Space Start-up Accelerator Announced in Waterloo

          By Brian Orlotti

On April 24th, as part of Waterloo, Ontario's contribution the upcoming International Space Apps Challenge a small Canadian NewSpace start-up plans to help unveil Canada’s first space startup accelerator.

The move is an important milestone in Canadian space history and highlights the continuing shift of space activities away from government/academia-focused models and towards those of the IT industry.

Bob Dylan singing "The Times They Are A Changin," in 1964. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.

The revelation first came out in the March 22nd, 2016 Cantech letters post, "Waterloo’s SkyWatch to host regional NASA Space Apps Challenge."  As outlined in the post:
SkyWatch is promising to open a “space startup-specific” accelerator sometime in 2016, providing a venue for open source, not-for-profit, and for-profit ventures, who will have access to technical resources, NASA’s open data and tools, community support and mentorship, and business resources to develop the next generation of space innovation solutions.
The tantalizing press release, lacking the specifics of who will fund the program and how it will be administered, seems almost to have been released by accident. As outlined in e-mail correspondence with SkyWatch Space Applications co-founder James Slifierz:
Co-founder Slifierz. Photo c/o Linked-In.
...While the press release mostly pertains to the Space Apps Challenge (which will be held in Waterloo on April 22nd - 24th), there is mention of the accelerator. 
Other than the fact that it will be coming in 2016, and that it will be based in Waterloo, we won't be revealing any more facts until we get closer to the Space Apps Challenge... 
We'll be putting out a press release the week of the Space Apps Challenge and I would be happy to talk about the details of the program at that point.
Skywatch Space Applications is a Waterloo, ON based company focused on creating apps that harness government open-sourced astronomical data.

As outlined in the May 19th, 2014 post, "CDN "SkyWatch" wins "Best Use of Data" at Int'l Space Apps Challenge," the origins of the company date back to April 2014, when it was a team competing in the 2014 NASA International Space Apps Challenge, an annual competition held in cities around the world in which teams create apps, robotics and other technologies that harness open-sourced data from NASA and other US government agencies. 

Skywatch’s web app (also called Skywatch) provides real-time access to and visualization of astronomical/geospatial data culled from a wide variety of sources, including ground and space-based telescopes, drones, satellites and deep-space probes.

It's win and the resultant publicity attracted the attention of investors and enabled the group to form a company, which is now a part of the Communitech Hub, a Waterloo, ON based startup incubator with financial backing from Google, the C100 Group, the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) and the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence.

Of course, SkyWatch isn't the only bell weather in this area. Another sign of the ongoing fusion of the space and IT industries occurred just this past week.

Jeff Bezos. Photo c/o Guardian.
As outlined in the March 22nd, 2016 Bloomberg article, "Amazon Secret Robot Event Boasts VR, Ax Making, Wood Splitting," organized a secret, invite-only conference in Palm Springs, California last week.

The event, focused around machine-learning, automation, robotics and space exploration (MARS), featured attendees from robotics and AI companies (i.e. Rethink Robotics, Toyota) as well as academia (MIT, University of California at Berkeley and ETH Zurich).

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of space company Blue Origin, which launched its New Sheppard reusable rocket last December and earlier this month opened its factory to the media.

Elon Musk. Photo c/o Brainprick.
The intensifying cross-pollination of the space and IT industries can also be seen in SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s recent ventures with US-based tech incubator Y Combinator.

As outlined in the December 11th, 2015 BackChannel article, "How Elon Musk and Y Combinator Plan to Stop Computers From Taking Over," Musk and Y Combinator have jointly founded a new non-profit that will pursue artificial intelligence research and open source its data to the public. The space and IT industries, becoming increasingly intertwined, both stand to massively benefit.

Brian Orlotti.
After decades of wheel spinning, broken promises and doctrinal squabbling, the times they are a changin.’

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Japanese Hitomi (ASTRO-H) Satellite Suffers Major Malfunction

          By Henry Stewart

March 27th JSpOC tweet. Screenshot c/o Twitter.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hitomi (ASTRO-H) X-ray astronomy satellite launched on February 17th, 2016, has suffered a major and perhaps fatal accident.

As outlined in the March 27th, 2016 JAXA press release, "Communication anomaly of X-ray Astronomy Satellite “Hitomi” (ASTRO-H)," contact with the satellite was initially lost on March 26th. 

On March 27th, the US Military Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) tweeted that the satellite had broken up into five pieces and dropped into a lower orbit in a pattern indicative of either an internal explosion or an external impact with space debris.

Later that same day,, which  shares space situational awareness services and information with international satellite owners/operators, academia and others, confirmed the JSpOC tweets by releasing the chart below, which showed that the satellite had suddenly lost altitude on March 26th, about the same time as when JAXA lost contact.

The March 27th, 2016 National Geographic Phenomena blog post, "Japan Loses Contact With New Space Telescope," quoted astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, as stating that "that some kind of “energetic event” has occurred—something more than a simple failure of communications." chart of Hitomi's sudden change in orbital altitude on March 26th along with twitter commentary from astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell. Graphic c/o National Geographic Phenomena

According to the article:
It’s not clear exactly what has happened on board Hitomi. Scientists are currently investigating the situation, and the Japanese space agency, JAXA, reports that it has gotten a trickle of a signal from the spacecraft. 
That means it’s possible the five pieces detected by radar are things like insulation, rather than large chunks of debris resulting from a catastrophic explosion; it’s also possible the spacecraft is tumbling, McDowell says, and that signals from Hitomi are periodically sweeping across the Earth.
As outlined in the March 28th, 2016 Christian Science Monitor post, "Japan has lost a recently launched space satellite. Where could it be?," this is the third in a series of space observatories that JAXA has tried and failed to operate.

In 2000, Hitomi’s first predecessor, the ASTRO-E space telescope, crashed at launch. Five years later, a series of cooling system malfunctions aboard the next iteration of the satellite, called Suzaku (ASTRO-EII), effectively shut down the X-ray spectrometer (XRS), which was the spacecraft's primary instrument

Hitomi was designed to detect X-rays spewing from supermassive black holes, dark matter, and other cosmic sources. It carried a Canadian built Astro-H Metrology System (CAMS), a laser alignment system used to measure the distortions in the extendable optical platform which the Hitomi satellite uses for image correction.

The CAMS system was built by the Ottawa based Neptec Design Group, in consultation with Canadian researchers.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

    Sunday, March 27, 2016

    No Puppies Falling from the Heavens With Space Funding in this Federal Budget

              By Chuck Black

    It's worth noting that puppies haven't begun falling from the heavens with new funding for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in the wake of last weeks Federal budget.

    It's certainly not focused on growing  the "space class" as can be seen from the cover page of the 2016 Federal budget. For the full document along with the text of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget speech, which he delivered on Tuesday in the House of Commons, check out the March 22nd, 2016 National Post article, "Federal budget 2016: The full document." For Federal government literature on the budget, check out the Budget 2016 website. Screenshot c/o Government of Canada

    That budget, the first under the new Liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, predicted large deficits over the next five years (beginning with $29.4Bln CDN in the first year), which will be used to finance a new tax-free monthly child benefit, more money for First Nations, infrastructure spending and extended employment insurance benefits to hard-hit regions.

    But it didn't provide any real boost in Federal funding for space technology development or discuss any new attempt to create a "long term space plan."

    As outlined in the October 13th, 2015 post on, "Part 2: Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review?," both of those campaign promises were made and promoted in the media, but evidently weren't taken terribly seriously by the Liberal party candidates who originated them in the last Federal election.

    Overall CSA funding is an estimated $432Mln CDN in 2016, approximately $49Mln CDN more than 2015's projected budget of $383Mln CDN. That total is actually declining when the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) is removed from the totals. As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post "a $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the RCM program should be pretty much wound down except for maintenance and support costs within the next two years.

    And the "big announcement," that the government has committed up to $379Mln CDN over eight years (beginning in 2017), in order to maintain Canada's commitment to its International Space Station (ISS) partners, is something the government always knew it had to do in order to preserve slots for Canadian astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen to visit the ISS in 2019 and 2021. Of course, those travel commitments were made well before the current government took office.

    The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) rather liked the Federal budget, at least if you take the March 22nd, 2016 press release, "AIAC applauds budget commitments to space, innovation, defence strategy" at face value. The press release applauds the $379Mln CDN the budget commits over the next eight years to extend Canada’s participation in the ISS to 2024. According to the press release, the budget "also reaffirmed last year’s commitment to provide $30 million over four years for Canadian participation in the European Space Agency’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program." However, the press release failed to mention $8.7Mln CDN which was set aside to to upgrade the anechoic chamber at the David Florida Laboratory test facility at Shirleys Bay, Ontario. As outlined in the expansively titled March 22nd, 2016 post, "What You Need to Know About the Budget and Canada's Space Program," the funds will allow the CSA to "continue to support technology development in Canada's space sector through state-of-the-art assembly, integration and testing capabilities." Screenshot c/o AIAC.

    Of course, some companies and institutions, although not likely firms focused around space activities, will absolutely benefit from the latest budget. As outlined in the March 25th, 2016 Motley Fool Canada post, "Get to Know 6 Companies Poised to Benefit From the Federal Budget," these firms are mostly focused around infrastructure, which is scheduled to receive $11.9Bln over five years. They include:
    • Etobicoke, ON. based Aecon Group - Canada's largest public construction and infrastructure development company.
    • Winnipeg, MB. based New Flyer Industries - The company manufactures transit buses and, with $3.4Bln CDN is tagged for transit spending. If new vehicles are part of the $3.4Bln tagged for transit spending in the budget, then New Flyer is very likely to get in on the action.
    • Mississauga, ON. based Pure Technologies - The Motley Fool article considers this company, with its focus on pipeline managements technologies, as being well placed to receive a large chunk of the $5Bln allocated in the budget for new water and waste water management technologies.
    • Montreal, PQ. based SNC-Lavalin - A "one stop shop when it comes to engineering and construction" according to the article. 
    • Edmonton, AB. based Stantec - A professional services company wrapped around design, energy, environmental and infrastructure projects.
    More money (around $800Mln CDN over four years) is budgeted for incubators and accelerators to help grow new ideas and start small businesses. According to the Canadian Association of Business Incubation (CABI) there are currently 60+ business incubators and accelerators across Canada with a broad range of expertise. That total is sure to grow with this new funding.

    A further $2Bln over three years is allocated for a new post-secondary institutions Strategic Investment Fund. This initiative will support up to 50 per cent of the eligible costs of infrastructure projects at post-secondary institutions and affiliated research and commercialization organizations, in collaboration with provinces and territories.

    Taken together, it's not too shabby. But its also not directly related to the Canadian space industry, although space companies might certainly take advantage of many of the programs.  

    It's worth noting that the Prospectors and Developers Association (PDAC) also came down in favor of the Federal budget. As outlined in the March 22nd, 2016 PDAC post "PDAC welcomes measures to support Canada’s mineral exploration and development sector," the organization was particularly happy with the renewal of the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit (METC) and the expansion of deductions allowed under the Canadian Exploration Expense (CEE)." As outlined in the June 30th, 2012 submission to the Emerson Aerospace Review under the title, "Using Tools from the Mining Industry to Spur Innovation and Grow the Canadian Space Industry," many of the legislative tools and regulations which currently support our domestic mining industry could also be used to support our space industry. Graphic c/o PDAC.

    Although not mentioned in the budget, it's expected that Montreal, PQ based Bombardier Inc. will receive substantial Federal funding over the next little while. As outlined in the February 21st, 2016 post on "Saving Bombardier," the giant Canadian company requires the new funds in order to remain solvent and (perhaps) protect Canadian jobs.

    Also not mentioned in the budget was funding for the upcoming (at least officially) Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) mission. As outlined in the February 14th, 2014 post, "'Team Canada' Solution for PCW Mission Competing Against US Bid," PCW development (estimated to cost upwards of $600Mln CDN in total) was expected to begin this year.

    So where does that leave our space industry? Pretty much where we expected it to be.

    As outlined in the September 16th, 2015 post, "Meanwhile, Back in the Real World: Seasoned Entrepreneurs are Jockeying for Position in the Fast Growing NewSpace Economy," the government isn't really in a position to drive space exploration and is not currently funding any large projects, except for those related to previously announced international initiatives.

    Those hoping that military programs will require the purchase of space based assets might also be in for a disappointment. As outlined in the March 27th, 2016 CBC News post, "Canada's defence budget heads back to the future," the new Liberal government seems set to follow along the same path of inactivity as did its predecessor. For more on the intersection of Canadian space and the military, check out the four part series on "Canada's Military Space Policy." Graphic c/o CBC.

    Companies like Telesat, MacDonald Dettwiler, UrtheCast (a space company which has taken advantage of legislation originally designed to support the mining industry) and exactEarth now drive our domestic space agenda irrespective of what Ottawa might want or wish simply because they have the money to do things and not just talk.

    So the Federal government has moved on to other, less specific tools which the space industry may or may not decide to use. Innovation, incubators, infrastructure and accelerators are now the order of the day.

    However, if someone could find an infrastructure project which required the use of space based assets (for example, the original mandate of Telesat Canada to improve communications in the far north, which required the development and use of communications satellites), then there might still be opportunities for a savvy space company.

    Chuck Black.
    But the CSA itself has become far less trendy. There are no puppies falling from the heavens with space funding for new programs in this Federal budget.

    All that's really left for us to do is to wish our space companies the best of luck. They're in the driver seat now.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    Our Editor Went to the Annual University of Waterloo Capstone Design Competition and Got a T-Shirt

              By Chuck Black

    It's spring at Canadian colleges and universities, when faculties show off their best and brightest with the intent to recruit next year's freshmen class. And one of the more memorable of these events is the annual University of Waterloo (UoW) Faculty of Engineering Capstone Design Competition.

    The main floor of the William G. Davis Computer Research Centre on March 18th, 2016 showing various presentations from fourth year mechatronics engineering students participating in the annual UoW Capstone Design competition. Displays varied throughout the event, with software engineering, nanotechnology engineering and management engineering student displays being the focus of the March 16th, 2016 presentations and the mechatronics students taking over on March 18th. The event will continue through March 21st and 22nd with displays from the mechanicalchemical, systems design and civil, environmental & geological engineering students before finishing up with electrical & computer engineering student displays on March 24th. Photo c/o author.

    Capstone isn't just an academic event. The UoW engineering faculty lists over 600 companies in Canada and abroad which were founded by Waterloo graduates.

    Many, including firms such as the Pebble SmartWatch (a wearable computer which managed to raise $10Mln CDN via kickstarter in 2012), the Myo armband (developed by Thalmic Labs, which lists an impressive grouping of venture companies, including Spark Capital, Intel Capital, Formation 8, First Round Capital and FundersClub, as investors and supporters), Athos Live Wear (most recently noted in the February 9th, 2015 Fast Company article on, "The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies Of 2015 In Fitness") and Suncayr (a "smart" UV indicator to let you know when your sunscreen is "no longer protecting you"), have developed directly from fourth year student projects developed for Capstone.

    The key to these successful start-ups is Waterloo's intellectual property (IP) rights policy #73, which grants ownership of inventions developed at Waterloo "in the course of teaching and research activities" to the inventor (or inventors) except in cases where "assigned tasks" are performed or in situations where "sponsored or contract research activities" are funded by outside organizations.

    This policy is perceived by Waterloo executives as being a key feature in attracting entrepreneurial oriented faculty and graduate students who want to engage in commercial activities which transfer ideas and technology to the private sector.

    Eleven: Eleven co-founder and forth year student Leia Shum at the UoW Capstone Design competition on March 18th. According to the Eleven: Eleven sales literature, "one in fifty Americans is affected by some form of physical paralysis. To improve patients’ quality of life, eleven:eleven is developing Periphero —a non-invasive, wearable device that reinstates real-time motor control of the upper limb. Current solutions use external mechanical methods of actuation, whereas Periphero uses electrical stimulation of pre-existing muscles to elicit desired movements with positional feedback. Periphero is a stepping stone into a greater system of controlling the upper limbs outside of the peripheral nervous system." Team members include Shum, Genevieve Serafin, Li-Yen Yang,  Farzad Niroui and Jakub Dworakowski. Photo c/o author.

    As outlined by UoW engineering professor Sanjeev Bedi, the real key to a successful student project is the ability to "define the need" for any specific solution, before actually going out to build anything.

    According to Bedi:
    Professor Bedi at work. Photo c/o author.  
    This is a high impact educational activity defined around needs. 
    What we do is allow the students to spend a significant amount of time on a specific problem and interact with others, end-users, professors and students, in order to define real needs and build a polished and commercial product. 
    The intent of the program is to prepare students to work in teams with other students, communications, business people and engineers in order to build a very excellent, and commercially useful project.
    There are also quite a number of other UoW programs designed to help entrepreneurial engineers get started. They include:

    • The Entrepreneurship Option in Engineering program, designed for students who want to explore entrepreneurship by taking courses to enhance their technical background with business skills. 
    • The Enterprise Co-op program, which allows students to pursue an entrepreneurial co-op option to start their own business while earning co-op credits. 


    • The various programs taking place through the UoW Velocity entrepreneurship program, the largest free startup incubator in North America. These include:
    • The Velocity Garage, a home base for up to 120 startups building cutting-edge technology in the heart of the Waterloo region. 
    • The Velocity Fund, a non-equity grant program for startups that offers $375,000 annually to local startups in $5K to $25K increments. 
    • The Velocity Residence, a unique opportunity for UoW students to live in an on-campus entrepreneurial environment. 
    • Velocity Start, a new 6,000 sq ft space on-campus for people who want to learn about entrepreneurship and collaborate with like-minded people. 
    • The Waterloo Commercialization Office (WatCo), which promotes the commercialization of leading-edge intellectual property opportunities arising from research enterprise.

    Chuck Black.
    Taken together, these programs provide both general insight into the way in which universities are changing to remain relevant in the 21st century and specific examples of how UoW is attempting to grow into a world class blending of commercial and educational training.

    It will be interesting to see where it takes them.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. He is very happy with his new t-shirt.

    Is it "Science" without "Peer Review?" Federal Liberals told to be Wary of "Unmuzzled" Scientists

              By Henry Stewart

    Senior Ottawa civil servants have warned the new Justin Trudeau government that "unmuzzled" scientists working in the Federal bureaucracy and on government research contracts should still be subject to tight controls and restrictions over their ability to freely distribute their findings and comment on issues of public policy.

    "Above the fold." The upper half of the front page of the March 19th, 2016 Saturday Star where (traditionally)  the important news stories and photographs were placed. It's interesting to note the intentional juxtaposition of an "investigation" about local psychics (on the left, with photo) with an "exclusive" on the political dangers of "experts" and "scientists" speaking freely. The second article was on the right, which has also just got to raise eyebrows given the well known political slant of the publication. Graphic c/o Toronto Star.

    As outlined in the March 19th, 2016 Toronto Star article, "Be wary of 'unmuzzled' scientists, Liberals told," documents prepared for Treasury Board president Scott Brison warned that, "when government policy and scientific pursuits don't align, the scientists may exact their revenge." Although not the federal minister responsible for science (that honour is currently held by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, who is supported by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan), the treasury portfolio is responsible for the government's overall communication policy.

    The article also quoted Debbie Daviau, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the union which represents most government scientists, as stating that her members, "simply want the ability to speak publicly about their research."

    As outlined on the PIPSC "Presidents New Year’s Message 2016," Daviau is also a strong advocate of "evidence-based public policy," which typically indicates a policy informed by rigorously established objective, and independently verifiable evidence.

    It's also a valuable catchall set of criteria which scientists could use to disagree with any number of government policies. The specter of staff on the government payroll working against Liberal policies no doubt frightens the current government just as much as it frightened the previous one.

    A September 2013 CBC News video focused around the protests against cuts to Canada's public science programs, which were announced in 2013 by the Stephen Harper government. Organizers also presented allegations that Canadian scientists were widely denied permission to promote their research, comment on their findings or even publish papers in peer reviewed journals without the approval of their supervisors. It will be interested to see if the protests resume now that it has been established that the current Liberal government is under the same pressures to restrict the free flow of information from publicly funded scientists. To see the rest of the video, please click here. Screenshot c/o You-Tube

    But back in November, as outlined in the November 6th, 2015 Huffington Post article, "Liberals Unmuzzle Canadian Scientists, Promise They Can Now 'Speak Freely,'" then newly minted Minister Bains announced that he was fulfilling a Liberal party campaign promise to allow government scientists and experts to comment on their work to the media and the public.

    At the time, the consensus was that the real test of the new policy would occur sometime in 2016, when some currently unknown Federal government employee attempted to talk about something which conflicted with Liberal government policy.

    Welcome to 2016.

    Of course, the real problem with the concept that evidence should be the one true criteria for the development of public policy has nothing to do with where you sit in the House of Commons. It has to do with who pays for the research and who gets to decide what to do with it.

    Government scientists think that they're working for the Canadian people for a higher good while the politicians think the people elected them to administer, manage and guide the scientists.

    Both consider themselves the appropriate guardians of the public trust. And eventually, the public will tell them which of their viewpoints is correct.

    Henry Stewart is the pseudonym for a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Waiting for Garneau

              By Henry Stewart

    Transport Minister Garneau. Photo c/o Sean Kilpatrick/ CP.
    After the last election in October 2015, Canadian space advocates could reasonably have hoped that ex-astronaut and veteran Liberal MP Marc Garneau was about to be assigned a leading role in redefining the political landscape surrounding the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and other Federal government drivers of research and technology.

    But that happy day never arrived.

    As the current Minister of Transport, Garneau is playing a decidedly supporting role in a series of decisions relating more to aerospace than space, which are being quarter-backed through the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Industry Canada's successor, the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

    That's not to say Garneau doesn't have his hands full. After all, last week he agreed to put his department under "special oversight" by the Treasury Board after it was reported to have repeatedly overspent its budget. 

    The last time transportation safety bubbled up into the public consciousness was during the 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, which killed 47 and destroyed roughly half of downtown Lac Mégantic, PQ. The March 12th, 2016 PostMedia article, "If financing rail safety has no optics, is it worth it?" suggests that transport safety measures endorsed by the outgoing Harper government, along with new initiatives promised by the incoming Trudeau government are being held up until the Federal budget is tabled on March 22nd. Depending on what's in the budget, some of those initiatives might not ever see the light of day. Screenshot c/o Toronto Sun.

    As outlined in the March 9th, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "Marc Garneau vows to fix Transport Canada’s financial situation," the Auditor-General raised concerns in the fall of 2013 over the number of Federal transport inspectors responsible for transportation safety and the costs associated with maintaining them. 

    According to the article:
    Transport Minister Marc Garneau says he’s “not happy” with the financial situation of his department and is vowing to fix the problem without sacrificing the department’s key role in protecting the safety of Canadians. 
    But unions representing Transport Canada inspectors warn that ongoing restraint is putting safety at risk and that many of the staffing problems identified by the Auditor-General more than two years ago remain unaddressed. 
    The Treasury Board is the Federal government's only statutory cabinet committee and is responsible for the federal civil service and much of the fiscal operation of the Canadian government.

    The first Bombardier C-Series taking off on its maiden test flight at the Bombardier facility in Mirabel, PQ on September 16, 2013. As outlined in the November 21st, 2015 iPolitics post, "Mr. Trudeau’s Bombardier problem," Montreal based Bombardier was looking for the Federal government to bolster the recent billion dollar Quebec government investment in the company, either by providing further direct financial support of an equal amount or else by facilitating the sale of Bombardier jets to Toronto based Porter Airlines, which intended to operate them from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Islands. As outlined in the November 13th, 2015 Toronto Star post, "Ottawa kills Porter’s plans for island airport jets," the Trudeau government eventually rejected this option, which set the stage for the latest Bombardier request for support. Photo c/o Canadian Press /Ryan Remiorz.

    Of course, transportation safety isn't the only ball the Transport Minister has been tasked with juggling.

    As outlined in the March 8th, 2016 Canadian Press article, "Liberals vote down Tory move to force Bombardier execs to testify at committee," Garneau has also taken point in Federal government discussions related to Bombardier and the types of government assistance it could reasonably expect to receive from the Trudeau government.

    As outlined in the article:
    Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who introduced the motion to invite Bombardier executives to testify on why they need federal dollars, said opposition MPs likely won't get any answers from Bombardier or the government about a possible bailout until after it is announced. 
    The move was part of a larger push by the Official Opposition to pressure the government over Bombardier's future, a possible federal bailout for the company and the government's decision not to allow a runway extension at the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto.
    None of this is to suggest that the Transport Minister has any actual decision making responsibilities. Garneau is just the messenger, passing along the decisions of others and ready to take the flack should any of his political opponents feel the need to shoot the messenger.

     A cool new job. Graphic c/o Linked-In.
    And none of the above is in any way related to the high hopes held by some space pundits back in November 2015, when all things seemed possible, although it is worth noting that at least one other CSA manager has joined the Transport Ministry to work with Garneau.

    As outlined in his Linked-In profile another longtime CSA employee, former director of science and academic development Alain Berinstain was hired as director of policy in the Transport Ministry in December 2015.

    It's unlikely that either will return to anything associated with the Canadian space industry anytime soon.

    Besides, as outlined in the June 14th, 2015 post, "Jobu Won’t Save Your Space Start-up: Do it Yourself," governments were never really very helpful in this area, anyway.

    Henry Stewart is the pseudonym for a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

    Saturday, March 12, 2016

    Bond, Beer and UrtheCast; Heineken Builds Event to Take "Selfies from Space"

              By Brian Orlotti

    As part of a global marketing campaign for the recent James Bond film, 'SPECTRE,' powerhouse beer brewer Heineken International held a contest utilizing ultra HD satellite imagery provided by Urthecast Inc. of Vancouver, BC. The contest is an example of NewSpace firms reaching out to untapped, non-traditional markets for space technology.

    Neither Bond nor "M" nor even "Basil Exposition," but useful background material nonetheless. Futurist Peter Diamandis discusses why we haven't gone back to the Moon or sent people to Mars and why this state of affairs will likely change soon because of innovative NewSpace companies like UrtheCast in this March 5th, 2016 video titled, "Why Don't We Explore More." Screen shot c/o Google Lunar XPRIZE.

    As outlined in the March 7th, 2016 Marketing post, "Direct mail case study: Taking a selfie from space," back in November 2015, Heineken invited over 200 guests (including journalists, social media stars and other "opinion influencers") to a private party held at the Hoover Dam.

    Organizers, using Urthecast's Deimos-2 satellite as well as its "Iris" camera mounted on the International Space Station (ISS), took ultra HD imagery of the party from space. In an innovative twist, the cameras were used in tandem to create satellite images of individuals. Proclaiming this to be the "first selfie from space,"

    Heineken has dubbed this the "spyfie" and party guests were able to post their "spyfies" on social media.

    The November 6th, 2015 Broadway World post, "Heineken Celebrates James Bond with World's First Selfie from Space Dubbed 'Spyfie'," quoted Urthecast CEO Scott Larson as  stating:
    When Heineken approached us with the idea earlier this year, capturing a SELFIE from space was not something we'd ever attempted, but we were delighted to lend our technological expertise. 
    This "Spyfie" showcases the capabilities of Deimos-2 in a truly original way, and highlights precisely what our camera and web technology provides tools for change and creative collaboration.
    Urthecast's and Heineken's unique application of space technology to wow a non-technical/scientific audience is a definite change of tack. Traditional efforts at promoting space products and services have tended to focus on their technical/scientific merits rather than framing them as something (in the words of Steve Jobs), "insanely great."

    Brian Orlotti.
    Just as over decades of improvement and innovation computers and telecom gear evolved from arcane geek's toys to the hipster fetish items of today, so too must space tech.

    Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

    Monday, March 07, 2016

    High School Engineering Contests as the REAL Future of Innovation

              By Chuck Black

    Ryerson on Saturday. Photo c/o Heather Young.
    There was a time, back in the 1980's, when the Canadarm was the pinnacle of robotics technology and innovation could be jump started by adding a few tens of millions of dollars to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) budget.

    Those days are long past.

    Anyone looking at the future of innovation and robotics today needs to start with events like the 2016 Greater Toronto Central Regional First Robotics Contest, which was held at Ryerson University in Toronto from March 2nd to March 5th.

    As outlined in the March 4th, 2016 Toronto Star article, "Students gather at Ryerson for robot wars," teams from more than 40 different high schools spent six weeks building and designing robots to compete in a series of medieval themed match-ups designed to test their creations' capabilities and have a little fun.

    The event, organized by First Robotics Canada, a registered charity established in 2001 and incorporated in 2004, is intended to inspire Canadian high school and elementary school students to pursue further studies and careers in science, technology and engineering.

    Sponsors for the event included the Argosy Foundation, Boeing, Bruce Power, Dow Chemicals Canada, Hatch Engineering, Magna International, NASA, the Power Workers Union, the Ontario Ministry of Education, Redpath, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Rockwell Automation, Scotiabank, Synnex Canada, Union Gas, Xerox, a half dozen Canadian universities and quite a few others.

    The crowded pit area where 40 teams prepared their machines to run the obstacle course. As outlined in the event program, teams work together in groups of three to breach a series of defined fortifications and "fire boulders" through goal posts in order to obtain points which determine the final winner. Photo c/o Heather Young.

    Individual teams also received sponsorships from a variety of organizations including GM Canada, Qualcomm, RBC Wealth Management, Union Gas and others, which makes sense given that individual teams generally need to raise 10's of thousands of dollars in order to successfully compete.

    The sponsors are happy to contribute because it gives them first look at Canada's next generation of manufacturing and robotics innovators. As outlined in the August 18th, 2013 post, "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!" a substantial portion of our current engineering workforce is nearing retirement age, and will need to be replaced over the next few years.

    The event isn't even all that unique. It was simply one of approximately 125 equivalent events organized by First Robotics (seven of which are expected to take place in Canada) for elementary and high school students interested in robotics.

    Typical of the robots entered into the competition is this 114.5 pound machine built over a six week period by students at the Runnymede Robotics Club, which operates out of the Runnymede Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Ontario, and which is sponsored by Thales, local Optimist and Lions clubs and others. From left to right the video shows Runnymede students Brent Watling, Brennan Stanfield, Rishab Bhatt, mentor Kelly Wilson and driver Keiran Wilson helping their 1310 unit engage its "tower scaling mechanism." The mechanism utilizes a compact scissor lift for scaling hook deployment, along with a dual motor winching mechanism and passive rope cleat restraints in order to prevent the robot from falling back to Earth at the end of the demonstration. Video c/o Jana El Aridi. 

    As outlined on the March 9th, 2014 First Robotics post, "2016 FIRST Robotics Scholarships for Ontario Universities!," there are also multiple universities and colleges in Ontario that offer scholarships to graduating students participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

    The charity also has the support of the public sector. As outlined on their website, "in April 2010, the Province of Ontario announced that it would make a grant of $3Mln CDN to FIRST Robotics Canada over five years to offer its programs to school boards across Ontario. In 2011 the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario announced at grant of $1.5Mln CDN over three years."

    Chuck Black.
    So while it's nice to hope that the Federal government can solve all our problems, it's also worth noting that the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs and engineers is in good hands, no matter what the mandarins in Ottawa might happen to decide over the next two weeks.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Sunday, March 06, 2016

    Say Splunge! 13 Space Orgs Release White Paper Advocating Nothing

              By Henry Stewart

    A coalition of thirteen US space advocacy groups has released a slim white paper on space policy with the intent to avoid the appearance of indecisiveness, while not offending anyone or encouraging any real action.

    Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham speaks at a March 4th, 2016 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to discuss a space policy white paper developed by a coalition of 13 organizations. Members include the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the Aerospace States Association (ASA), the American Astronautical Society (AAS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, the Colorado Space Coalition, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), the Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, the Space Angels Network (SAN), Space Florida, the Space Foundation and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Photo c/o AIAA.

    As outlined in the March 4th, 2016 Space News post, "Organizations offer space policy white paper to US presidential candidates," the white paper, under the title, "Ensuring US Leadership in Space," mostly just asked for stability and hoped that space issues would "not become a topic in this year’s US presidential campaign."

    Also as outlined in the article, the major US Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have said little about space policy in the current campaign. None have yet released policy papers about civil or military space and have addressed the topic only in passing in campaign speeches or town hall meetings.

    And while some space advocates have bemoaned that lack of public discussion about space, it’s a situation the coalition members expressly want to encourage. 

    According to Space Foundation, CEO Elliot Pulham, who heads one of the organizations involved in the creation of the white paper, "to some extent, the purpose of this (the white paper) is not to have space become a big presidential issue.” 

    The goal, he said, is to instead have presidential candidates “embrace the space program because it is quintessentially American.” According to Pulham, “we thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns.

    In this classic Monty Python comedy sketch, the cowardly writers at a major Hollywood studio say "splunge," whenever asked by the studio founder (Graham Chapman in a Texan "cattleman" cowboy hat) to critique his idea for an upcoming movie. They all end up fired anyway. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.

    Certainly the actual document is a five page fount of political platitudes. According to it, US leadership in space is at risk because of budget uncertainty, international competition, the space operating environment (an "increasingly congested, contested, and competitive domain") and workforce trends.

    And the specifics of any of the potential solutions are intentionally avoided.

    The solutions instead require "predictable budgets," a "continued global space engagement," the restoration of American access to space (by fully funding the NASA space launch system, the commercial crew and cargo programs and anything else NASA might like to try), the continued use of "fully competitive, innovative partnerships" (whatever that means) along with "strengthening and growing" the domestic industrial base for space companies.

    Of course, platitudes do have their place. In the classic Monty Python sketch "Splunge," the head of a fictitious Hollywood studio browbeats his writers until one of them creates a made up word meaning "it's a great idea but possibly not and I'm not being indecisive" to respond to questions.

    And that might be the real lesson of the white paper. The thirteen US space advocacy groups which contributed to its creation might have just learned a useful lesson.

    They have learned to say "splunge." It's a good word.

    Henry Stewart is the pseudonym for a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

    Part 5: A Short History of COM DEV International


    By Robert Godwin 
    The COM DEV website on February 8th, 2016.
    As outlined most recently in the January 24th,2016 post, "Did the Government Let COM DEV Go Because They Have Bigger Fish to Fry?" iconic Canadian space company COM DEV International has been purchased by US based Honeywell International
    And that's not the only recent sale of an iconic and militarily significant Canadian company to the US. 
    There were once limits to the types of sales we would allow. 
    For example, we don't allow foreign ownership of our chartered banks and in exchange for that quasi-monopoly our banks have acceded to some relatively stringent regulations which were certainly useful for cushioning our economy from the worst vicissitudes of the global meltdown of 2008. And, in 2009, we refused to allow BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) to be purchased by US based Alliant Techsystems (ATK).
    In this new age of mega-data, information and incessant global security fears, it would simply seem prudent to establish safeguards to protect our high tech industry...

    Michael Valentine O’Donovan died in 2005 having earned the order of Canada. He became a valuable member of the Galt/Cambridge community as well as a generous philanthropist.

    His $5000 bet on Hansen and Springer's little start-up provided him with the life he had dreamed of since he was a child reading Arthur C. Clarke novels. His technology is aboard more satellites in the "Clarke" or geostationary orbit than almost any other technology made by any other company.

    It's worth noting that COM DEV's largest contract ($160Mln CDN spread out over a decade) is also a government contract for Canada's contribution to the James Web Space Telescope (JWST). Hopefully the Federal government will find some new Canadian company to fund the next time they wish to contribute to an international partnership. Screenshot c/o CSA.

    Would he have approved of his company being purchased by American interests? We'll never know. But what we do know is that he wasn't averse to buying and selling American companies when it suited his purposes.

    But you might ask, is it a matter of scale? America has something like 30 times as many defense contractors as Canada so they can afford to lose them more readily. But this argument makes no account of the human factor; such as the many benefits and good jobs brought to the community of Cambridge by the presence of such an accomplished company. We can only hope that Honeywell recognizes that a solid, smart and technologically savvy work-force is worth more than a string of patents.

    The evidence would seem to suggest that COM DEV was built on the back of no small amount of government largesse in its early years. Many millions of tax payer dollars, both directly and indirectly, have slipped into the COM DEV coffers since O'Donovan cut his deal with RCA in 1974.

    But this is a game played by almost every country. You're either "in" or you're "out."

    Being "in" doesn't just mean you get lots of grants and contracts, it also means you get to sit at the grown-ups table and learn the wiles and tricks of the trade. Governments don't like to give money to start-ups, but if you are useful and reliable then they don't like to miss out.

    Being "out" means you aren't taken seriously. If your own government doesn't think you are worth supporting, what foreign government will?

    COM DEV isn't the only Canadian company which has been sold to Americans since the current Federal government took power in November, 2015. As outlined in the January 27th, 2016 Globe and Mail article, "Liberals criticized for not conducting security reviews on foreign takeovers," the recent sale of the Allstream fiber-optic network to the US based Zayo Group also raised concerns over Liberal party policies in this area. As outlined in the article, in 2013, the Harper government blocked the sale of Allstream to an Egyptian telecom group on the grounds that it provided “critical telecommunications services to businesses and governments, including the government of Canada.” But that was then and this is now. Graphic c/o Globe and Mail.

    Val O'Donovan was a dreamer. He was a history, Latin and English literature graduate who wanted to do something cool in outer space. So he forced himself to learn mathematics and engineering.

    Canada proved to be a worthy host for his ambitions. He invented something clever and unique which could be applied to the technology invented by his hero Arthur C. Clarke. He likely would have enjoyed the irony of his company being purchased by the same company who designed all of the controls and systems for the spaceships seen in Clarke's greatest work, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Robert Godwin.
    At the end of the day COM DEV’s story carries many lessons that are relevant. It includes hard working immigrants, cutting edge dreams, government competence and incompetence, foreign investors, foreign purchases, political shenanigans and high achieving young people with dreams.

    Like any true story there is always another chapter still to come.

    Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the former space curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and the curator of the The Space Library, an online repository of 30,000+ pages of space information and papers. 

    Please consider subscribing to the library for only $5. Your contributions help to support new research and the maintenance of the existing repository.

    Last Week: Into the 21st Century as part 4 of "A Short History of COM DEV International" continues!

    To Start at the Beginning, check out John Hansen, Samuel Singer and Michael Valentine O'Donovan in part 1 of "A Short History of COM DEV International."

    Support our Patreon Page