Monday, September 26, 2016

The REAL Reason Why Canada Won't Be Participating in the NASA Resolve Mission Anytime Soon, Probably!

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has been looking for funding and partners for a planetary rover mission since Marc Garneau was CSA president from 2001 - 2005. By 2009 small amounts of funding for the project had begun flowing towards Canadian subcontractors.

An overview of the 2012 NASA RESOLVE mission simulation, one of three which were held in Hawaii and Utah between 2008 - 2012 to highlight the mission, the partners expected to collaborate on it and their technical challenges. To view the complete video, please click on the graphic above. Photo c/o CSA.

That trickle expanded with the 2009 - 2010 federal budget, which was presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on January 27th, 2009. The budget included $110Mln CDN over three years "for space robotics research and development," much of which quickly ended up funding research on Canadian rovers.

By 2012, at least as outlined in records received through a federal government access to information request for "All records related to the NASA invitation to provide (a) Deltion Innovation drill system for a proposed lunar prospecting (mission) in 2018," CSA involvement was considered "essential" to the success of at least one international plan to land a rover somewhere.

But then everything fell apart. What happened?

A two page letter dated March 30th, 2012 from William H. Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations to Gilles Leclerc, the CSA director general of space exploration. Gerstenmaier called CSA's continued participation in RESOLVE development efforts "essential, especially as RESOLVE moves into vacuum chamber testing. The vacuum testing phase, building on the lessons from the field test, will verify flight hardware and software in simulated launch landing and operating environments. In short, RESOLVE will be advancing towards flight readiness." Letter c/o Government of Canada.

As outlined during a September 23rd, 2016 phone interview by Gilles Leclerc, the CSA director general of space exploration, RESOLVE was "never a formal, approved project." According to Leclerc, "the object of our CSA program was to develop and utilize in future programs and to build a business case for initiating a formal project."

According to Leclerc, CSA had two major issues going forward with RESOLVE:
First of all, there was the lack of funds. In order to commit to a project of this nature, we needed to have in hand the full life cycle funding, which covers the actual mission, and not just the project planning and ground testing.
Gilles Leclerc. Photo c/o CSA.
For that, we need the appropriate instructions from the Federal government. Otherwise we simply can't move forward. 
Secondly, we found the original NASA project time frame to be too aggressive.
Evidently, NASA also found their original project plan to be too aggressive.

As outlined in the 2011 European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) Abstracts document "RESOLVE for Lunar Polar Ice/Volatile Characterization Mission," the original plan was to test using Earth analogue missions between 2008 - 2012, move on to lunar environment simulation, or vacuum testing in 2014 and then launch in 2018.

The current plan, now under the title NASA Resource Prospector (RPM), is scheduled for launch sometime after 2021. Oddly enough, it's also tied to one of the early test flights of the proposed NASA Space Launch System (SLS), another problematic NASA program.

As for appropriate funding, the CSA did make at least one attempt to move forward with RESOLVE by diverting Canadian funding used to support the International Space Station (ISS) for a year or two just to get the rover development underway.

This was necessary to meet the aggressive NASA schedule and took consideration of the fact that it would be a year or two before CSA could get significant funding from the Treasury Board of Canada for a large rover program.

But that plan didn't work.

A two page letter dated April 1st, 2013 from Gerstenmaier to Jean Claude Piedboeuf, then the CSA acting director general of space exploration in response to an earlier query for International Space Station (ISS) Common System Operations Costs (CSOC) offset credits to help fund the CSA commitment to the RESOLVE mission. Piedboeuf eventually followed up Gerstenmaiers April 1st letter with a November 20th, 2013 response where he stated that "Unfortunately, based on our understanding that RPM (the Resource Prospector Mission, the program which grew out of RESOLVE) is currently not a priority for NASA and that our potential Canadian contributions are not eligible for credit to CSA under the Common Systems Operations Costs (CSOC) structure, CSA will not be able to seek authority to fully engage in RPM as a candidate flight mission." At the time of the first letter, Leclerc was acting CSA president. He was replaced on August 6th, 2013 by incoming CSA president Walter Natynczyk. Letter c/o Government of Canada.

"The original letter from Bill (Gerstenmaier) to Gilles (Leclerc) was optimistic and both parties anticipated a strong future working together," said Peter Visscher, the VP Engineering at Ontario Drive & Gear (ODG), one of the Canadian rover subcontractors who received funding from the 2009 Federal funding package. "There are still opportunities out there," he said, during a recent phone interview.

According to Visscher:
The Artemis Jr. rover, which was originally expected to be part of the RESOLVE mission has been slowly improved over the last few years. 
In 2012 we were a TRL-4 CSA program and the rovers demonstrated to innovation minister Navdeep Bains in May 2016 (as outlined in the May 6th, 2016 CBC News post, "Canadian Space Agency unveils lighter, less expensive rovers"), were TRL-6 in terms of drive-train and suspension.
Leclerc is also cautiously optimistic. "We keep the door open. We will continue to look for flight opportunities for the rovers we've developed and the technologies we've built, and support further development in this area."

Until then, time marches on.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

A Short History of SpaceX

          By Brian Orlotti

As the world prepares for Elon Musk’s much-anticipated Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 speech at the 2016 International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2016), where he will outline his plan to settle Mars, a look back at SpaceX’s history is in order.

An inventory of the company’s wins and losses can provide some perspective on the ambitious goals ahead:
  • June 1st, 2002 - Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX is founded by Elon Musk in El Segundo, California. The company is later relocated to Hawthorne, California.
  • March 1st, 2006 - CEO Musk invests $100Mln US ($132Mln CDN) of his own money into SpaceX.
  • June 4th, 2010 - The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes its maiden flight after launch from Kwajelin Atoll,  part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
  • December 8th, 2010 - A SpaceX Dragon capsule orbits Earth then safely crashes into Pacific Ocean making it the first commercial spacecraft to do so.

  • May 25th, 2012 - The SpaceX Dragon capsule becomes the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).
  • October 8th, 2012 - SpaceX completes its first resupply mission (CRS-1) to the ISS using its Dragon spacecraft. It's the first private spacecraft to do so and delivers 1,000 pounds of cargo.
  • December 17th, 2012 - SpaceX completes a successful 12-story test flight of its Grasshopper rocket. The Grasshopper is a reusable rocket whose first stage is designed to fly back to Earth, refuel and fly again.
  • March 9th, 2013 - SpaceX completes a successful 24-story test flight of the Grasshopper.
  • October 7th, 2013 - SpaceX completes its 8th and final test flight of the Grasshopper. It reaches 2441 feet and lands successfully. The vehicle is then retired but the knowledge collected from the flights, and the soft landings, are integrated into the Falcon-9 design.

  • April 14th, 2014  SpaceX sues the US Air Force for the right to compete for national security payload launches, then a monopoly of UnitedLaunch Alliance (ULA).
  • September 16th, 2014  SpaceX signs an agreement with NASA to be first US commercial company (along with Boeing) to launch astronauts to ISS.
  • January 16th, 2015 - A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship during the fifth cargo resupply mission (CRS-5) mission to the ISS fails. The failure is traced to a loss of hydraulic fluid just before touchdown.
  • January 23rd, 2015 - The US Air Force agrees to certify SpaceX rockets for national security launches and SpaceX drops its April 14th, 2014 lawsuit. SpaceX is certified for national security launches on May 26th, 2015 and ULA’s monopoly on launching national security payloads is broken.

  • April 24th, 2015 - SpaceX's second Falcon 9  1st stage landing attempt on a drone ship during CRS-6 mission to ISS fails. The rocket tipped over on landing due to excess lateral velocity.
  • June 28th, 2015 - A Falcon 9 rocket explodes during the seventh SpaceX cargo resupply mission (CRS-7) launch to the ISS and the Dragon spacecraft is lost. The cause was traced to the failure of a strut which secured a high-pressure helium bottle inside the second stage's liquid oxygen tank, causing it to over pressurize and burst.
  •  December 21st, 2015 - A Falcon 9 rocket makes a historic landing on land at Cape Canaveral after it delivers eleven satellites into orbit. "I do think it's a revolutionary moment. No one has ever brought an orbital class booster back intact," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a teleconference after the launch and landing success.
  • January 17th, 2016 - The third Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship fails. The landing legs didn't lock and the rocket simply fell over after landing.

  • March 4th, 2016 - A fourth Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship fails. The rocket landed hard, fell over and exploded.
  •  April 8th, 2016 - The fifth Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship finally succeeds.
  •  April 26th, 2016   SpaceX announces they will relaunch a recovered Falcon 9 rocket later in the year and its first crewed mission to ISS in 2017 or early 2018.
  • April 28th, 2016 - SpaceX tweets they will send a non-crewed Red Dragon to Mars as early as 2018 in preparation for human landings.
  •  April 28th, 2016 - SpaceX is awarded its first national security launch contract to launch the USAF's GPS-3 satellite. But SpaceX won competition by default as ULA declined to bid.

  • September 1st, 2016 - A Falcon 9 rocket explodes on the pad at Cape Canaveral. The rocket was due to launch the Israel built Amos 6 communications satellite for Facebook.
  • September 23rd, 2016 - SpaceX releases the initial results of its investigation, which reveal that it believes a breach in the helium system in the Falcon 9's liquid oxygen system caused the explosion. The investigation continues as SpaceX says it wants to resume launches in November 2016.
It's worth noting that, while many of the points listed above came originally from the April 26th, 2016 Techcrunch post, "A Brief History of SpaceX," the future of the company is still very much to be written by Musk, and by others.

Here's wishing them the best.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Scott Larson Has Started Another Space Company

         By Henry Stewart

Scott Larson. Photo c/o @scolarson.
The ex-founder and CEO  of Vancouver based Urthecast, has resurfaced as the owner of another Vancouver based space company.

Entrepreneur Scott Larson, whose brother Wade Larson helped to co-found Urthecast and continues in the role of CEO, spoke about his latest venture in the September 23rd, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "UrtheCast founder plots a new course to space."

The new start-up, called Helios Wire, is attempting to build out and democratize a space-enabled internet of things network.

As outlined on the company website, "Helios believes that the IoT shouldn't be expensive, complicated, or only for large global companies. If done right, it can literally be for everyone."

As outlined in the article:
Mr. Larson’s plan for Helios Wire – having acquired the use of spectrum, originally reserved for cattle tracking in Australia, through a partnership with (the Australian based mobile satellite systems operator) Sirion Global – is to raise $10-million to launch a mobile satellite system by 2018 using 30 MHz of the S-band spectrum, enough bandwidth to potentially service five billion transmitters. 
The plan is to deliver a two-way communications from space for potential IoT customers in transportation, security/public safety, energy, industrial and agriculture.
Helios will have access to the spectrum through its partnership with Sirion until 2019, which is enough time, at least according to Larson, to get the first couple of satellites up and demonstrate the commercial viability of the program.

Graphic from the Helios website. The company expects to use low cost micro-satellites and and other tools to provide a price advantage over traditional earth imaging organizations. Graphic c/o Helios.

According to the Sirion Global website, "there are numerous industries that could benefit significantly from the Sirion global M2M (machine to machine, another term for internet of things) service," because they require the tracking of assets located outside of the range of terrestrial cellular services. These include the livestock industry, the agricultural industry, the environmental industry, the transportation industry and the defence industry.

As outlined in the September 19th, 2016 post, "New Leonardo DiCaprio App Tracks Fishy Things on the High Seas," applications are already being developed to utilize the data which can be derived from these sorts of networks.

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

New Leonardo DiCaprio App Tracks Fishy Things on the High Seas

          By Brian Orlotti

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has unveiled a free service called Global Fishing Watch (GFW) that utilizes satellite imagery to enable the public to monitor global fishing activity in an attempt to curb illegal fishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks.

Leonardo DiCaprio being spied on by others. Photo c/o

As outlined in the September 15th, 2016 post, "DiCaprio unveils free technology to spy on global fishing," the service is a partnership between the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, SkyTruth, Oceana and Google. It uses imagery provided by satellite powerhouse Orbcomm Inc and is available online for anyone with an internet connection and a browser capable of using WebGL.

Adopting a crowd-sourcing approach, GFW enables the public and non-government organizations (NGOs) to track fishing vessels around the world through a combination of ship transponder beacons, radar data from nearby ships, and ships’ wakes as they travel through water.

According to the article, the new technology was officially released to the public during the 2016 Our Oceans Conference, which was held in Washington, DC from September 15th to 16th.

The project cost $10.3Mln USD ($13.6Mln CDN) over the past three years to build, with $6Mln ($7.92Mln CDN) of that contributed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in January, 2016.

In order for GFW to provide this data free of charge, the partners negotiated with Orbcomm to use its three-day old data as well as historical data. Although this means that GFW users cannot monitor ship traffic in real-time, advocates say the system will open up the world's waters to public watchdogs like never before.

Also, GFW’s presence itself is expected to serve as a deterrent to illegal fishing.

The Republic of Kiribati which, according to Wikipedia, is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean composed of 33 atolls and reef islands plus one raised coral island with a total land area of 800 square kilometres spread out over 3.5 million square kilometers, which is a massive area for the total population of just over 100,000 people to govern effectively. Applications like GFW go a long way towards allowing the Kiribati government to administer its own territory. Graphic c/o Wikipedia.

The application has already scored at least one success.

Kiribati, an island republic in the central pacific, comprised of 33 coral atolls and isles, has used GFW data to reveal illegal fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, declared off-limits to commercial fishing in January 2015.

The offending ship’s owners were fined $1Mln USD ($1.32Mln CDN) along with a "goodwill" donation of another $1Mln.

A Canadian parallel to GFW can be found in the form of the Edmonton, AB based startup Promethean Labs Inc. Promethean Labs’ team includes MaxQ Accelerator (Canada’s first space-startup accelerator) co-founder and president Brodie Houlette and the builders of the University of Alberta’s ExAlta-1 satellite.

The company’s stated goal is the sale of satellite imagery for pollution, fishery and forestry monitoring to Governments, NGOs and the general public.

As the democratization of space technology continues, with ever more powerful tools being put into the public’s hands, much good seems about to be done.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents

          By Henry Stewart

Cover c/o CPA Global.
Privately owned rocket companies, many of which have announced their presence, promoted their products and criticized their competitors since the September 1st, 2016 SpaceX accident when a Falcon-9 rocket catastrophically blew up on the launch pad, provide compelling anecdotal evidence that the space industry is about to enter an intensively competitive phase.

And now, a large intellectual property focused firm has issued a report showing rocket companies perform at least one other business function common to other highly competitive and highly disruptive industries.

They collect patents to guard their intellectual property (IP) from competition and protect their bottom line from patent trolls.

Jersey Island based CPA Global has issued a thirty-six page "Technology Intelligence Report on Commercial Manned Spaceflight" focused around "an in-depth patent analysis on manned spaceflight innovation."

As outlined in the August 25th, 2016 CPA Global press release, "It is rocket science: how manned spaceflight is the new frontier of innovation," nations with active manned space programs, such as the United States, China and Russia, "represent three-fifths of all patent protection with a worldwide total of more than 4,300 patented space innovations filed since 1960."

Key findings of the report include the following:
Manned spaceflight patent activity is much larger and diverse than one would anticipate. While it’s difficult to calculate, we estimate that there are over 17,000 manned spaceflight inventions that have been patented since the early 1960s.
Patent flings are trending sharply upwards, particularly since China’s entry into the crewed space race. China’s frst astronaut, Yang Liwei, flew aboard the Shenzhou 5 space craft on October 15, 2003, making China the third country in the world with a manned spaceflight program.
The fling trend is also due to increasing patent activity by private launch providers in the United States – where a clear transition from the public to private sector is currently underway. 
The US, China and Russia, each with active manned spaceflight programs, represent three-fifths of all patent flings. Other countries, including Japan, represent only 5% of the patent activity that’s occurred in the last 5 years.

Direct competitors in a cut-throat marketplace. United Launch Alliance (ULA) president and CEO Tory Bruno, Blue Origin founder and owner Jeff Bezos and Arianespace chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël operate rocket companies which have responded to the September 1st, 2016 SpaceX explosion at Cape Canaveral in different, but decidedly opportunistic ways. As outlined in  the September 14th, 2014 Space News article, "ULA says it could accommodate additional Atlas 5 launch next year," ULA has offered increased capacity, and the roll-out of its RapidLaunch program, which would allow satellite providers to schedule a launch as a primary payload aboard an ULA Atlas 5 rocket in as little as three months from purchase. Blue Origin, as outlined in the September 17th, Headline and Global News post, "Plans for a Powerful Orbital-Class Launcher Revealed," has released plans for a powerful new class of  launcher to compete with both ULA and SpaceX offerings. Ariannespace seemed the most philosophical, at least that's the impression left after reading the September 14th, 2016 Via Satellite post, "After SpaceX-Amos 6 Loss, Arianespace Sees Demand Surge." Perhaps that stoicism grew from reading the September 16th, 2016 Space News post, "Mowry leaving Arianespace for Blue Origin," which reported on Clay Mowry, the longtime president of Arianespace’s US subsidiary, who left to join Blue Origin.  Photo's c/o Zimbio, River Janga & Arianespace.

Top patent holders listed in the report included NASA (mostly because of its long history, since "securing patent protection is not a core strategy of the agency"), the Boeing Company, Russian based RSC Energia (which together vie for the largest amount of recent patent applications) and the European based Airbus Group.

The report also listed Lockheed Martin, General MotorsMicrosoft, Thales Group, a variety of Japanese businesses (who have mostly "existed the industry"), the French aerospace engine manufacturer Safran SA, US defence contractor Harris Corporation and Blue Origin (a private spaceflight company founded by Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos) as holders of substantial amounts of rocket and space focused patents.

The SpaceX “no-IP” strategy, which makes the company unique among the firms referenced in the report, also came in for comment. It said, "so far, SpaceX has successfully navigated the IP minefeld, but considering the volume of information included in this study, it is likely that this test will not be the last."

For more on the US patent law system and the SpaceX approach, its worth checking out the January 6th, 2016 post, "Is the US Patent System Broken?"

The increasing amount of private patents issues as compared to government patents. As outlined in the report, "the shift to private sector manned spaceflight has seen a reversal of technical focus. Industry (once) supported government programs by supplying parts and components (guidance, electronics, life support etc.), but commerce is now fully engaged in the development of “core” space technologies such as propulsion and spacecraft design.." Graph c/o CPA Global.

Canada was cited for Canadian Space Agency (CSA) patents related to its Mobile Services System (MSS), which is used on the International Space Station (ISS).

It's also worth noting that, as outlined in the March 1st, 2015 post, "The REAL Reason our Next Space Agency Head is a Marketing Maven and IP Commercializer," CSA president Sylvain Laporte was once the commissioner of patents and registrar of trademarks in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).

However, no Canadian companies were cited in the report and Canada was not considered to be one of the important IP generators.

Looks like the great white north is going to sit this one out.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Part Four: So You Want to be a Space Advocate?

Why the Activism of the 1970's US Pro-Space Movement Didn't Work

                   By Chuck Black
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014.

Its thesis is that successful advocacy requires:
  • Strong media skills able to define the problem, craft a compelling narrative and define appropriate solutions
  • A mechanism to move the narrative forwards by solving the defined problem using those previously identified solutions.
  • A funding network willing to pay for the costs associated with the campaign.
The question of whether or not those three conditions apply in our current aerospace and space environment is open for debate.

One of the best places to learn about space activism is the 1970's US pro-space movement.

Might have been better titled "Reaching for the government funded and academic tenure track frontier." but still required reading for background on advocacy organizations such as the National Space Society (NSS), the Planetary Society and others. Michaud notes that most of those organizations grew out of the decline in US civil space spending after the Apollo Moon missions ended in the early 1970's, which sparked the creation of organizations advocating "space exploration" and science, tied to increased educational and government funding (often for a small series of specific projects) and which were mostly wrapped around university campuses, as a way to solve Earthbound problems. Many of the organizations ended up shrinking, collapsing or combining with others after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Others, such as the advocacy for multi-billion dollar space based solar power satellites as outlined in the April 6th, 2016 post, "More Space Based Solar Powered Shenanigans," continue to this day. Graphic c/o Amazon.

As outlined in "Reaching for the High Frontier: The American Pro-Space Movement, 1972-1984" by Michael A. G. Michaud [i], the era saw the wind-down of the Apollo program and the ramp up of the space shuttle amidst an increasingly tight budget and the beginnings of an advocacy community convinced that “space holds answers to such real-world problems such as economic growth, environmental degradation, international tension and the threat of nuclear war.” [ii]

The final preface of the book was put together just before the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. It therefore serves also as a last gasp of the optimism of the Apollo era and an endpoint for the childhood of those who considered themselves to be the “Children of Apollo.” [iii]

But the key activists of this era were essentially either “citizens,” or “rebels” as defined in part three of this document, who articulated a vision of the favored outcome and put the issue on the public agenda for discussion. Missing from this discussion were the “societal change agents” and the “reformers” who nurture any emerging cultural consensus and bring about real institutional change.

The social change agent and the reformer marching into real danger. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (third from left) with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (right) at the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march. Photo c/o  Hebrew Union College.

Most of the space activists from the 1970's were academics and artists interested in commercializing their ideas and obtaining tenure in the educational system. Their roles didn't require real change in order for them to be perceived as being historically successful. They included:
  • Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986), an American painter, designer and illustrator, whose paintings were a major influence on science fiction art and illustration and who helped inspire the American space program. [iv]
  • Freeman Dyson (1923 - ), a theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering, who also worked on the Orion Project, which proposed the possibility of space-flight using nuclear pulse propulsion and advocated space exploration and colonization. [v] 
  • Mark Hopkins (1949 - ), active today as the chairman of the executive committee for the National Space Society (NSS), he began his career during this period by being responsible for most of the early economic studies of space settlements and has been called the "Father of the Space Movement." [vi]
  • Kathy Keeton (1939 - 1997), the president of Omni Publications who, along with Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione (1930 - 2010) created Omni Magazine, the first of a new generation of mass marketed general science magazines which openly supported space activities and served as a forum to popularize space related developments. [vii]
  • Gerard K. O'Neill (1927 - 1992), an American physicist and space activist who developed the idea of a space habitat design known as the O'Neill cylinder and founded the Space Studies Institute (SSI), an organization devoted to funding research into space manufacturing and colonization. [vii]
  • Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996), the American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and communicator who  hosted the 1980 television program “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” published more than 600 scientific papers and articles during his career and authored, co-authored or edited more than 20 books. In 1980, he helped to form the Planetary Society. [x]
But as “citizens” and “rebels,” the advocates of this era, while providing alternatives to the existing way of doing things, weren't really going out and building things or providing practical suggestions to those who were. They were academics and artists, fascinated with the concepts surrounding the new ideas and interested in promoting those concepts in the abstract, but without the skill-set to actually build something.

There were no “social change agents” to nurture the emerging public consensus and no “reformers” to take control of the agenda and move the big ideas towards action.

And that, in a nutshell, is why we never moved out into space. Even worse, the 1986 Challenger disaster essentially halted funding on many of the projects near and dear to the space community.

But all was not lost. The "social change agents" and "reformers" who built hardware and helped humanity move our next space age forward, along with a discussion of their historical antecedents, will be the subject of another article in this series, after a discussion of the Canadian landscape.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

[i] "Reaching for the High Frontier: The American Pro-Space Movement, 1972-1984" by Michael A. G. Michaud at Last accessed September 17th, 2016. 
[ii] Ibid. 
[iii] As outlined in the October 9th, 2001 Space Daily article, “The Children of Apollo & Visions for the Future,” by Eric Strobel, at,  the “Children of Apollo” are members of the generation growing up during the 1960’s and 1970’s which feel “vaguely cheated that the nation that went from Kitty Hawk to Tranquility Base in a single lifetime seems likely to go no further in their lifetimes.” Last accessed September 16th, 2016. 
[iv] “Chesley Bonestell Artist Biography.” The Nova Space Art website at Last accessed September 16th, 2016. 
[v] “Freeman Dyson: The Scientist as Rebel,” The Academy of Achievement website at Last accessed September 16th, 2016.  
[vi] “Mark Hopkin Biography,” The National Space Society website at Last accessed September 16th, 2016. 
[vii] “Bob Guccione Biography,” The “Biography” website at Last accessed September 16th, 2016.  
[viii] “Gerald K. O’Neill,” The Space Frontier Society website at Last accessed September 16th, 2016.   
[ix] “Space: The Crucial Frontier – Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy,” by Howard Gluckman. L5 News, April 1981 at Last accessed September 16th, 2016. 
[x] “The Carl Sagan Portal” at Last accessed September 16th, 2016.
Last WeekVarying the Characters and Narrative to Move the Story Forward in Part Three of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate."

Next: Measuring the Current Canadian Space Sector as Part Five of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate" continues!

Monday, September 12, 2016

William Leitch: Presbyterian Scientist & the Concept of Rocket Spaceflight 1854-64

          By Brian Orlotti

Cover graphic c/o Apogee Books.
Last year, Canadian author, space historian and Commercial Space blog contributor Robert Godwin released a paper claiming that Ontarian Presbyterian minister William Leitch (1814-1864) was the first trained scientist to apply scientific principles to advocate the rocket as a means of space travel, decades before Robert Goddard and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

Godwin has now expanded his paper and released it as a book under the title, "William Leitch: Presbyterian Scientist & the Concept of Rocket Spaceflight 1854-64."

As outlined in the October 4th, 2015 post, "Rocket Spaceflight Accurately Described by Scottish-Canadian Scientist in 1861," Leitch first published his suggestion that the rocket could be used for spaceflight in an Edinburgh journal in 1861 and also included it in his 1862 book, "God's Glory in the Heavens."

But the work fell into the dustbin of history when Leitch died young and the copyright fell into limbo after the bankruptcy of his publisher in 1878.

In the course of his research, Godwin discovered that Leitch’s book had remained in print for over forty years, though his name had been purged from it. In addition, the book’s title was changed at the last minute to remove all references to astronomy, condemning it to 150 years of obscurity in various libraries’ theology sections.

Leitch had studied at the University of Glasgow in the same classroom as William Thomson (aka Lord Kelvin) who did much to unify the emerging discipline of physics into its modern form and even once assisted Kelvin in an electricity experiment. In 1859, he was appointed principal of Queen's University in Kingston, ON. Leitch died in 1864 and is buried near Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, whom he apparently knew.

The Cataraqui Cemetery National Historic site of Canada, where William Leitch and Sir John A. MacDonald are both buried.  As outlined in volume 3 of the 2016 Queens Alumni Review, under the title, "A historic place of final rest," the Cataraqui Cemetery has "been the final resting place of many principals, faculty, and friends of the University for more than 135 years." Photo c/o

In an email, Godwin encapsulated his new book:
Leitch was a remarkably accomplished person. In the book I take the reader through his entire life, exploring his background as an unconventional example of his profession. He was a Presbyterian minister who loved science. He was a polymath with expertise in botany, geology, medicine, physics, ethics, classics, astronomy, ballistics, biology, divinity and more. He worked with some of the most brilliant minds of the 19th century like Sir David Brewster, Lord Kelvin and John Pringle Nichol. Scotland was ground-zero for the industrial revolution. James Watt who fixed Newcomen's steam engine worked on the telescopes that Leitch used.
There were a lot of surprises that came out of tracing his life. His extraordinarily unconventional political views. His encounters with some famous players in the American civil war. His family ties to some of the most famous people of his generation. His role in the search for alien life. His insights into things that Einstein would later establish as fact three generations later. His predictions about the nature of our solar system, things that wouldn't be confirmed for generations.
In a phone interview with the author, Godwin stated that he’d received little criticism or hostility for his findings, although he was challenged by the chairman of the American Astronautical Society’s (AAS) history committee to prove that Leitch had scientific training and wasn’t just "guessing." Godwin stated  that he welcomed the challenge and used his thoroughly-researched evidence to convince the Chairman.

An illustration from Leitch's 1862 book "God's Glory in the Heavens." Photo c/o The Guardian.

According to Godwin:
He (Leitch) put the pieces together; Newtonian physics (action, reaction) with military ballistics...He was NOT Cyrano De Bergerac. He didn’t have bottles of dew on his belt that carried him up towards the moon.
Godwin’s book weaves many threads together, forming a new patch in the tapestry of spaceflight history. Canadians and space aficionados everywhere would do well to take a look.

To learn more, check out "William Leitch: Presbyterian Scientist & the Concept of Rocket Spaceflight 1854-64," on the Apogee Books website.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket

          By Chuck Black

Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office, a designer of satellites, rockets and once, even Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), has been authorized by the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) to establish a launch base for its Cyclone-4 rocket in North America.

Perhaps he'd be taken more seriously with a Ukrainian rocket launcher? Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau talks with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko during a free-trade agreement signing ceremony in Kyiv in July, 2016. As outlined in the September 11th, 2016 CBC News post, "Canada's credibility problem keeps doors closed during Ukraine talks," Canada is not been taken seriously as an honest broker in Ukraine's current conflict with Russia over the Crimea, although both the current Trudeau and previous Stephen Harper governments were hoping for the opposite. As outlined in the April 4th, 2014 post, "The Crimean Crisis and Canadian Aerospace Activities," the conflict has certainly had consequences for Canada. These include the cancellation of a $279Mln CDN contract with Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) for "ground infrastructure facilities for the Ukrainian communication satellite program" and the failure of a joint venture between Dorval, PQ based Bombardier and the Russian state-owned defense firm ROSTEC to build Q400 turboprop aircraft. More recently, as outlined in the July 13th, 2016 Yahoo News post, "Does Canada's decision to cut off Ukraine from satellite data show a shift in relations?" the Canadian government cut off Ukrainian access to Canadian satellite imagery after initially offering to provide it. Photo c/o Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press.

As outlined in the September 1st, 2016 Yuzhnoye Design Office press release, "Ukrainian Cyclone 4 Launch Operations Will be Established in North America," the search has begun "for business and investment partners to develop the launch infrastructure and conduct sales, marketing, and mission management. On site assessments have already been conducted in Canada and the United States for possible launch complex locations."

According to John Isella, Yuzhnove's North American business representative, the potential Canadian site being assessed is in New Brunswick, although other sites are in the running. "There is also a strong interest from at least one central American nation," he said during a phone interview on September 8th.

According to Isella, the planned facility will provide jobs for "several hundred workers" during the estimated two and a half years allocated for construction, plus almost a hundred permanent, full time employees once it becomes operational.

As well, a North American launching facility is expected to "eliminate the need for US customers to seek waivers  for the use of other launch service providers" such as is required by the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) under the current plethora of US and international arms control regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Of course, the specifics of of any such legal waivers are, more than likely, still to be decided (TBD).

Rocket for sale. As outlined in the June 6th, 2016 Space News post, "An untethered Ukraine seeks new orbits for its space industry," the last two years have not been kind to the Ukrainian space industry. According to the article, "Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 meant Ukraine lost access to a major ground station located there. That annexation, and ongoing unrest in eastern Ukraine, has also cut off most business Ukraine’s space industry had with Russia. The conflict also put on hold plans to launch Lybid, a communications satellite for Ukraine built by Canada’s MDA Corp." The article also contained an interview with, Lyubomyr Sabadosh, the chairman of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, who visited Washington, DC in May 2016 in order to represent Ukraine at the first meeting of a new US-Ukraine space cooperation working group intended to assist the Ukraine space industry. Graphic c/o Yuzhnove.

In exchange for the technology and the jobs, Yuzhnove is looking for enough financial "off-sets," in the form of tax credits, cash or some other reasonable trade, to cover the cost of rolling out the rocket and building the facility. According to Isella, "we're looking for approximately $150Mln US (just under $200Mln CDN) in cash or kind, although we're certainly willing to negotiate for an appropriate facility."

Once complete, the facility will target the growing satellite constellation market.

As outlined in the April 16th, 2015 Space News article, "Brazil Pulling Out of Ukrainian Launcher Project," the Cyclone-4 had been planned to launch from a proposed launch pad at the Alcântara Launch Center in Brazil, but that deal collapsed in 2015.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

"Impossible" Cannae Drive Will Sink or Swim on Proposed Demonstration Flight

          By Brian Orlotti

The inventor of a controversial propellant-less spacecraft engine has announced that he is forming a company and raising funds to launch a demonstrator into Earth orbit. A success would force a rethink of known physics and serve as vindication in the face of harsh criticism from the scientific community.

The proposed mechanism for the Cannae drive, an updated Emdrive. As outlined in the August 4th, 2014 Nerdist post, "How Possible is that "Impossible" Space Drive," NASA tested a version of this engine developed by American inventor Fetta in 2013 and found that it could produce "thrust without any fuel." Of course,the Cannae and EM drives are both closed systems which seem to develop thrust out of thin air and violate the law of conservation of momentum, which states that "the total momentum of a closed system does not change." Independent validation that the drive functions as advertised would certainly upend our current understanding of physics. Graphic c/o Nerdist.

As outlined in the August 17th, 2016 press release under the mostly generic title, "Press Release from Cannae,"Guido Fetta, an American chemical engineer and CEO of Cannae Inc., has solicited commercial partners, including aerospace component manufacturer LAI International of Tempe, AZ and spacecraft engineering firm SpaceQuest Ltd. of Fairfax, VA to help design and launch an orbital cubesat, to test the engine.

This engine, dubbed the Cannae Drive, was invented in 2006 by Fetta. It consists of a conical chamber into which a magnetron emits microwaves. The microwaves cause the chamber to resonate and, so Fetta claims, produce thrust. Fetta’s device shares a lineage with another propellant-less engine, the EmDrive, first demonstrated by British engineer Roger Shawyer in 2003.

A propellant-less drive would revolutionize spaceflight. Satellites’ useful lifetimes would no longer be limited by their amount of on-board fuel and flight times through the solar system could be greatly reduced. The technology’s tantalizing prospects have helped spur enthusiasm for research, despite unknown physics and vocal opposition.

Shawyer’s EmDrive was initially ridiculed and ignored in the West. Scientists dismissed the idea of a propellant-less drive on the grounds that it violated the law of conservation of momentum i.e. that a spacecraft cannot accelerate forward without some form of exhaust ejected backwards.

Shawyer and Fetta have offered their own explanations for their results. Shawyer claims that relativistic effects produce different radiation pressures at the two ends of the drive, leading to a net force. Fetta has put forth a similar idea involving Lorentz (electromagnetic) forces.

In 2008, a Chinese research team at Xi'an Northwestern Polytechnic began investigating the EmDrive. The team conducted experiments and published a series of papers. In 2012, the team claimed to have built a device capable of producing a few ounces of thrust for a few kilowatts of input, comparable to standard ion thrusters.

In 2014, propellant-less drives gained wide exposure as NASA's Eagleworks Laboratories team at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas tested several devices, including two built by Cannae Inc. When the Eagleworks team reported positive results, they encountered intense disbelief and open hostility from the scientific community.

Orthodox scientists’ reactions ranged from shrieking outrage over NASA’s supposed waste of taxpayer funds to open accusations of incompetence/fraud against Guido Fetta and the NASA Eagleworks team. Eagleworks researchers have suggested that the drives are actually pushing against "quantum vacuum virtual plasma"--- virtual particles that shift in and out of existence. The team’s work continues and is currently undergoing peer review.
Editors Note: As outlined in the August, 30th, 2016 International Business Times article, "EmDrive: Nasa Eagleworks' paper has finally passed peer review, says scientist in the know," an "independent scientist" has "confirmed that the paper by scientists at the Nasa Eagleworks Laboratories on achieving thrust using highly controversial space propulsion technology EmDrive has passed peer review, and will soon be published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)." 
For reaction to the announcement, check out the September 6th, 2016 Universe Today post, "NASA’S EM Drive Passes Peer Review, But Don't Get Your Hopes Up."
In 2015, Martin Tajmar, a physicist at the Dresden University of Technology, investigated the EmDrive. Previously, Tajmar had highlighted various errors in Fetta’s experimental setups that had likely skewed their results. Despite this, when Tajmar built his own EmDrive, he found that it truly did appear to generate thrust. Tajmar has worked to rule out some sources of error in his experiments such as air currents, leaking microwaves, ionization, photon thrust—though not enough to satisfy skeptics.

Having endured intense skepticism and ridicule over the years, it appears that Guido Fetta has now decided to "go for broke."

Roughly the size of a shoebox, one quarter of the cubesat will be taken up by a small Cannae drive. Fetta intends for the satellite to remain in orbit for at least six months. Doubtless, Fetta’s logic is that the longer the satellite remains in orbit, the more evident propellant-less thrust will be.

No launch date has been announced as yet.

In its derision of Fetta and Shawyer, the scientific community has dismissed their work as flawed and even fraudulent. A visceral demonstration of propellant-less propulsion will either prove the skeptics right or allow the technology to move forward and fulfill its potential.

Either way, progress continues.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Canadian Space Activities Potentially Delayed by Last Weeks Falcon-9 Explosion

          By Henry Stewart

As SpaceX investigates the causes surrounding the September 1st, 2016 accident which destroyed a Falcon-9 rocket and its payload, the Israeli Amos-6 communications satellite, its worth noting that the investigation will likely delay future Falcon-9 launches until the cause of the accident is better understood.

Video showing space launch complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida during and after the explosion of a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket on September 1st, 2016 along with commentary from Scott Manley. As outlined in the September 3rd, 2016 SpaceFlight Insider post, "SpaceX and NASA have released full statements about Thursday's rocket explosion — here's what they said," no one was hurt during the blast, but the rocket and payload were utterly destroyed. Original video c/o US Launch Reports.

Those delays could effect several Canadian satellite launch dates. They include:
The accident investigation could also push back the US Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which is intended to stimulate development of privately operated crew vehicles to be launched into low Earth orbit and eventually restore the US capability to sent astronauts and resupply the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX's current CCDev contract depends on Falcon-9 rockets. 

It's also generally assumed that the next Canadian astronaut to visit the ISS will fly on a Dragon spacecraft, which launch on a Falcon-9 instead of the Russian Soyuz. Last week's explosion makes that a little less likely, although not impossible. 

AMOS-6 being prepped for flight in early 2016. As outlined in the September 5th, 2016 Ars Technica post, "SpaceX explosion: Amos-6 satellite owner demands $50M from Musk’s firm," Israeli communications firm Spacecom, which owned the AMOS-6, has demanded £37Mln GBP ($64Mln CDN) or a free flight as compensation the accident. Insurance will likely cover the satellite replacement but not the additional launch costs. One company which might benefit from a re-order is MDA. As outlined in the December 10th, 2012 MDA press release "MDA signs contract in excess of CA$100 million to provide communications payload for Israeli AMOS-6 satellite," the company made good coin  developing and building the AMOS-6 communications array. Photo c/o Spacecom.

One program mostly unaffected by the September 1st explosion is the upcoming OSIRIS-REX asteroid sample return mission, which is currently scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-5 rocket from Cape Canaveral space launch complex 41 (SLC-41), just down the coast from the SpaceX explosion, on September 8th. 

It's currently scheduled for launch on the same day as India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which will be carrying the Insat 3DR geostationary weather satellite. 

Interestingly enough, the GSLV launch was delayed from August 28th. Delays are common enough in the satellite industry, where no one company has a monopoly on skill. And perhaps that's the real secret takeaway from the events of the last few days. 

Individual efforts may succeed or be delayed or fail, but a distributed program with multiple suppliers utilizing different strategies and design philosophies are always going to build a more robust infrastructure. 

As Robert Heinlein once pointed out,"The Roads Must Roll."

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

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