Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Satellite Servicing, Orbital ATK, MDA, "Security Control Agreements," CETA, Minister Duncan's Science Adviser & Nova Scotia Spaceports

          By Henry Stewart

NASA is waiting for the incoming Trump administration to notice its space program. Canada is also waiting for Trump, if only to help define our ongoing role in NASA programs.

But Canada's space industry is also waiting for the Trudeau government to fill all those space focused committees, plans and positions promised over the last year as outlined in the January 16th, 2017 post, "The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency 'Long-Term Strategy.'"

Given those constraints, and for the week of January 30th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

An overview of the RSGS program. As outlined in the March 25th, 2016 DARPA post, "Program Aims to Facilitate Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites," the servicing vehicle "jointly developed with a commercial partner would leverage DARPA’s successes in space robotics and accelerate revolutionary capabilities for working with satellites currently beyond reach." Or not, depending on who you talk with. Graphic c/o DARPA.
As outlined in the January 26th, 2017 Space News post, "DARPA satellite-servicing project comes under congressional fire," Four US lawmakers have complained to DARPA and the Pentagon that the DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program "appears to run afoul of a national space policy that discourages the government from developing space systems and services it could otherwise buy from the private sector."
The disgruntled US policymakers include House representatives Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). 
According to the lawmakers, DARPA should “stop any further action on RSGS” until DARPA completes a review “to ensure its compliance with the 2010 national space policy.” 
At least one US policymaker, representative Hunter, said the RSGS program "essentially duplicates NASA’s Restore-L mission and muddies the business case for commercial companies," chiefly by “indirectly subsidizing space-related activities that private enterprises are willing and able to carry out on their own.”
According to the article, "this week’s attention to RSGS comes about nine months after Orbital ATK’s Space Logistics subsidiary signed its multimillion-dollar contract with Intelsat to provide life extension services for multiple spacecraft over the course of five years. Orbital ATK inked the Intelsat agreement for services with its Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, last April; DARPA issued its initial solicitation for RSGS the following month."
The article also singled out two other potential commercial competitors for on-orbit satellite services, Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) which, as noted in the December 12th, 2016 post, "Will the New Space Systems Loral $127Mln NASA Space Robotic Servicing Contract Help Canada?" was the recipient of the NASA Restore-L contract through its Space Systems Loral (SSL) connection, and United Kingdom based Effective Space Solutions, which is currently "building small satellites for life-extension and other services."
MDA, which as outlined in the January 15th, 2012 post, "MDA Satellite Servicing Agreement with Intelsat Expires," also once had a satellite servicing partnership with Intelsat, is considered to be the current front runner for the upcoming RSGS contracts, but only if it succeeds in obtaining Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI) compliance for its SSL facility in Palo Alto. 
Orbital ATK has so far declined to bid on the contracts. 
MDA HQ in Richmond, BC. Its future is currently dependent on the ongoing FOCI negotiations needed to obtain facility security clearance for its Space System Loral facility in Palo Alto, CA. Photo c/o T-Net.
  • Meanwhile, Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and its San Francisco, California based subsidiary (or holding company, depending on the MDA press release you favor) SSL MDA Holdings, Inc. has signed a "Security Control Agreement" with the US Department of Defense (DoD).
As outlined in the January 26th, 2017 MDA press release, "MDA signs a Security Control Agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense," the contract "completes an important step in the process to position the Company to more effectively pursue the U.S. Government space and defense markets." MDA will "now pursue facility security clearance for its operations in Palo Alto, CA to fully execute the Company's broader U.S. growth strategy." 
Under US law, and as outlined on the HG.org legal resources website page on "Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI) and US Facility Security Clearances:
... if a product or service provider is to access classified national security information in the performance of its contract, it must obtain a facility security clearance. A major part of the U.S. federal government's vetting process for granting a facility security clearance involves assessing the organization's Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI).
But the security control agreement (SCA) is only one method of obtaining FOCI compliance and there are obvious limitations on its usefulness. 
"One on One with Howard Lance" back when he was CEO of Harris Corporation, from the January 5th, 2011 SpaceCast Business post, " One on One with Howard Lance. More recently, the current MDA CEO has seemingly become much more reticent about speaking on the record. Photo c/o SpaceCast Business.
As outlined on the Faculty Clearance Portal (a service set up by Boston, MA based Secure Defense Consulting, for firms seeking a facility security clearance), although "the Security Control Agreement (SCA) is now the instrument least commonly used to mitigate the security risks of Foreign Ownership, Control, or Influence (FOCI), this is not really due to the SCA being undesirable."
The SCA's relative unpopularity is more likely due to companies seeking FOCI compliance being owned or controlled by a foreign entity, which the SCA does not mitigate. 
According to the post, other available options to mitigate FOCI requirements include Special Security Agreements (intended to "mitigate the security risks of the foreign ownership or control while allowing the foreign entity to appoint representatives to the company's board of directors") and the more restrictive Proxy Agreement or Voting Trust Agreement (which "take away much of the foreign investors'control of the company"). 
It's certainly unusual for a foreign company such as MDA to first apply for the SCA clearance when one of the more restrictive options are required. The standard process for the company applying for FOCI clearance is to obtain only the level required in order to fulfill business requirements, which the SCA has not provided to MDA in this case.
Which process will MDA now pursue to obtain facility security clearance for Palo Alto? Stay tuned.
Greenpeace also opposed CETA, although perhaps not for reasons the Canadian space industry might understand. As outlined in the October 30th, 2016 Sputnik post, "Greenpeace on Upcoming Signing of CETA Deal: 'Cat is out of the Bag'," the CETA deal could "undermine standards and regulations on environmental protection, health and safety and workers' rights." Photo c/o REUTERS/ Agencja Gazeta/Kuba Atys.
  • It was claimed by unnamed ""space industry" sources that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (EU), intended to eliminate 98% of the tariffs between the two, would cause great concern if ever enacted.
However, as outlined in the January 24th, 2017 EU press release, "CETA: Trade Committee MEPs back EU-Canada agreement," that doesn't seem to have discouraged plans to move the deal forward. According to the press release, the trade deal, "which aims to boost goods and services trade and investment flows, was approved by the International Trade Committee on Tuesday." 
And, as outlined in the October 28th, 2016 EUObserver post, "Belgium green lights unchanged CETA," the last of the 28 EU member states ratified the agreement back in October 2016, after almost a decade of negotiation.
CETA also enjoyed strong bipartisan political support in Canada. The original negotiations were concluded in August 2014 under the Stephen Harper Conservative government and then embraced by the incoming Liberal Justin Trudeau government after it gained power in October 2015. As outlined in the October 28th, 2016 YorkRegion.com post, "Trudeau Brussels-bound to sign CETA on Sunday," the current Canadian PM even visited Brussels in October, 2016 to sign-off on the final agreement. 
The Canadian kerfuffle over CETA began with the publication of the December 14th, 2016 SpaceRef.ca (now SpaceQ) post, "Free Trade Deal With Europe a Serious Cause for Concern for Canadian Space Industry," which referenced unnamed sources who claimed that CETA implementation "could have a significant negative effect on Canada’s domestic space industry.
The article also claimed that the CETA agreement allowed European "access to the Canadian civil space tendering process for goods and services," but provided "little to no reciprocal access for Canadian companies" which might want to bid on European space projects.
Certainly we'll find out the truth over the next little while. Bidders on Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contracts should possess a robust network of Canadian based employees and subcontractors able to fulfill space agency requirements and contribute to Canadian jobs, no matter where the head office might be located.
Movement in this area publicly languished for almost a full year as the government collected background information on the role, but finally started picking up stream in late 2016 when, as outlined in the December 6th, 2016 CTV News post, "Help wanted: Canada seeks new 'Chief Science Advisor'," the government began accepting applications.
Originally, applications were expected to remain open only until January 27th, 2017, but last week, Duncan announced an extension until February 8th, 2017.
The delay indicates a certain confusion at the ministerial level. It's quite possible that either the mandate for the position has not been defined enough to choose the appropriate candidate or else the appropriate candidate has, so far at least, not applied.
It will be interesting to see what the cause for the delay turns out to be. 
    Screenshot c/o CBC News.
  • And finally, another company has begun making noises about building a Canadian launch facility.
This time, as outlined in the January 31st, 2017 CBC News post, "Why a $100M rocket launch site might be coming to Nova Scotia," it's a small Nova Scotia based technology company, with American partners and undefined funding.
It's also the most recent of numerous plans to create a Canadian spaceport, either on the East coast or somewhere else. 
The most recent previous plan was covered in the  September 11th, 2016 post "Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket." 
That plan had launchers, flight heritage and a defined business plan. This plan seems to be using the same basic building blocks (Cyclone-4 rockets looking for a North American launch facility) but subcontracted out the front facing PR people to someone outside of the Ukrainian based Yuzhnoye Design Office, which builds the Cyclone-4.
Of course, at some point, someone will need to step in with the estimated "$150Mln US (just under $200Mln CDN) in cash or kind," which was identified by John Isella, Yuzhnove's North American business representative, as the minimum investment needed to fund the facility in September 2016.
Given that, here's wishing them the best. 
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Boeing's Stylish New Space Suits

          By Brian Orlotti

Boeing has unveiled a new spacesuit design for astronauts travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its upcoming Starliner spacecraft. This new design, dubbed ‘Boeing Blue,’ will be more comfortable, capable and stylish than those of the Space Shuttle era---the first of a new generation.

The future of the spacesuit is supermodern, superlight and packed with 21st century tech according to the January 26th, 2017 Wired video "Boeing Blue is the Latest in a Long Line of Space Suits." Screenshot c/o Wired.

The Boeing Blue incorporates lessons learned from legacy spacesuits while utilizing new materials and innovations. They include:
  • The use of advanced materials and new joint patterns, making the suit lighter and more flexible. 
  • Helmet, visor, and boots integrated into the suit rather than detachable.
  • Touchscreen-sensitive gloves.
  • A pourous skin that vents water vapour from the suits but retains air, keeping the wearer cool yet pressurized.
  • Strategically located zippers allowing wearers to adjust their suit’s shape when standing or sitting.
The full Boeing Blue spacesuit weighs roughly 9 kg with all accessories, about 5 kg lighter than the suits worn by Space Shuttle astronauts. Flight tests with astronauts aboard Boeing’s Starliner are (after several delays) now slated to begin in 2018.

While legacy space firms like Boeing have opted for updated versions of tried-and-true designs, newer players are taking a different approach.

In May 2016, reports emerged that Hawthorne, CA-based SpaceX had hired Jose Fernandez, founder and lead designer at Ironhead Studios, to design their spacesuits.

As outlined in the May 4th, 2016 Mail Online post, "Elon Musk wants to create ‘superhero astronauts’: SpaceX hires Marvel costume designer to make a spacesuit for Mars," Ironhead Studios has designed numerous superhero suits for Hollywood, including the modern incarnations of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man and Captain America.

The choice of Fernandez reflects SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s desire to jack up space travel’s sex appeal by making spacesuits more stylish and, in Musk’s own words, “badass.” Fernandez’s designs display solid, angular and aggressive aesthetics rather than the soft padded fabric look of legacy spacesuits; body armour rather than diving gear.

Spacesuits from "The Expanse" and "The Martian." Photo's c/o San Diego Comic-Con & Twentieth Century Fox.

Beyond superhero films, this aesthetic can be also be seen in films like Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ and TV series like SyFy’s ‘The Expanse.’ Musk choice of this armor/mechanical aesthetic may also reflect a desire to portray space travel as an aggressive, industrial endeavour rather than the strictly scientific emphasis of the past.

SpaceX has not yet revealed any designs, but anticipation remains high.

Whatever the aesthetic, this next generation of spacesuits will enable humans to explore and build in space and on other worlds in safety and style.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Canada's Contribution to the European SpaceDataHighway

          By Chuck Black

It's not often noted, but there are substantial Canadian connections to the European Space Agency (ESA) SpaceDataHighway, also known as the European Data Relay System (EDRS).

A video overview of the SpaceDataHighway, which is able to transfer high bandwidth/ low latency data using relay satellites equipped with laser communication terminals (LCT), between dedicated Earth observation satellites, other orbital platforms (including the International Space Station), aircraft and ground based facilities in near real time. As outlined in the November 23rd, 2016 Parabolic Arc post, "ESA Inaugurates Space Data Highway With Laser Communications," the system became operational in November 2016 using two geostationary satellites and two more are planned. The constellation currently supports the ESA's Copernicus Earth observation program. To see the complete video, simply click on the graphic above. Screenshot c/o Airbus Defence and Space.

"The SpaceDataHighway is the most advanced communication system bringing data from space back to Earth in operation today," said Hughes Boulnois, the director and head of EDRS business at Airbus Defence and Space, during a recent interview with the Commercial Space blog. "It's only natural that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), as an ESA associate member, would take an interest in the program."

But Canada has done more than simply provide its tacit approval as the ESA moves forward. According to Boulnois, its also the biggest subscriber to the EDRS-D component of the program.

Hughes Boulnois. Photo c/o Linked-In.
Canada has contributed €4Mln Euros ($5.63Mln CDN), or 58% of the total current contribution towards funding the upcoming EDRS-D satellite, the third satellite in the program, up to phase B2 (part of the preliminary definition phase).

The CSA is also expected to contribute more funds in 2017 to move satellite construction forward.

In parallel, Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) will act as the prime contractor for the upcoming Columbus Ka-band (COLKa) terminal, which will be used on the ESA Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS).

But while MDA will act is the prime contractor for COLKa, the terminal will be developed and manufactured in co-operation with Antwerpen, Belgium based Antwerp Space, a subsidiary of Bremen, Germany based multinational technology corporation OHB SE.

As outlined on the undated OHB SE press release, "AntwerpSpace develops new satellite modem for MDA," the equipment developed by Antwerp Space "consists of an advanced modem that uses a high-performing encoding technology for the very first time in Europe. This modem will enable faster communication from the ISS to the Earth via the new European Data Relay Satellite System (EDRS)."

Ka band capabilities, a part of the SpaceDataHighway, also allows satellites to be re-tasked in near real time to improve the satellite productivity and avoid heavy cloud cover. when optical laser data transmission becomes more difficult.

A presentation on the SpaceDataHighway, also known as EDRS, from the June 14th, 2016 "Industry Day for EDRS-D / GlobeNet." As outlined in the presentation, EDRS "is a public private partnership between ESA and Airbus Defence and Space" build upon "already proven technology and space heritage," with the intention to "develop a commercially sustainable data relay service."  To view the complete presentation, simply click on the graphic above. Graphic c/o ESA & Airbus Defence and Space.

According to Boulnois, "we expect to have four satellites (under the the Copernicus Sentinel program) in full operation as part of the SpaceDataHighway by the end of the year. Two more are planned in the future." The satellites are expected to provide great benefits to applications related to emergency rescue in remote locations and military applications to complement and support existing ground station networks using its full end-to-end 1.8 Gbitps data transfer bandwidth.

The laser based communication signal is also resilient, hard to intercept and detect, plus its very difficult to jam or weaken, which makes the technology not only useful for Earth observation satellites, but also useful for aerial communications on military platforms. Airbus Defence and Space, the private component of the public private partnership driving the SpaceDataHighway, is currently testing the technology on an Airbus A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).

Airbus has also moved forward with a competition "to foster further innovation and enlarge the application portfolio," of uses for the SpaceDataHighway.

SpaceDataHighWay contest overview. Graphic c/o Airbus.
As outlined in the January 12th, 2017 Airbus press release, "Airbus Launches “Enter the SpaceDataHighway” Challenge,"  Airbus has issued a call for "SMEs, start-ups, entrepreneurs and students who would like to embark on this adventure with their business ideas for the utilization of the “SpaceDataHighway”."

The winning project will receive a €75K Euro ($106K CDN) investment prize, plus access to "the expertise and support of Airbus Bizlab, the Group’s innovation powerhouse" during a six month program.

The Airbus Bizlab is a global aerospace business accelerator, funded by Airbus. where startups and intrapreneurs speed up the transformation of innovative ideas into valuable commercial products.

The second place project will receive a €25K Euro ($35K CDN) prize to launch a crowdfunding campaign on the SpaceStarters crowdfunding platform, which enables space related businesses and start-ups to raise money and turn their space focused ideas into commercial projects.

According to Boulnois “space communications are the only way to establish broadband communications between humans and machines, whether they are in urban or remote areas, at sea, in the air or even in space. The SpaceDataHighway is like the first optical fiber in space, but with the added advantage of mobility. Therefore, the scope of possible applications is vast.

Here's hoping that Canada's contribution to the SpaceDataHighway will continue to grow.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Swiss Court Confirms Swiss Space Systems Bankruptcy But CEO Jaussi Might Buy Assets and Start Over

          By Henry Stewart

Swiss Space Systems (S3), the European space company which once partnered with the City of North Bay in an attempt to launch a mini-space shuttle, has withdrawn its appeal to contest a bankruptcy judgement brought down by the Swiss canton of Vaud in December, 2016.

A "novel and incredibly economic concept," which ended up in bankruptcy court. S3 plans for its "mini-shuttle" were discussed in the All About Space UK Magazine Volume N14, 2013, Page 28-29. Graphic c/o All About Space.

As outlined in the January 17th, 2017 Orbiter.CH Space News post, "Swiss Space Systems: bankruptcy confirmed," the final S3 bankruptcy took effect on Monday 16th January at 16:15 local time, according to court documents.

At stake, at least in this jurisdiction, were numerous lawsuits exceeding 7Mln SFr ($9.29Mln CDN). But outside of the Vlad bankruptcy court, the European perception remains that S3 isn't quite dead yet. 

The January 24th, 2017 24heures.ch post, "Swiss Space Systems peut-elle redécoller depuis la Croatie?," has even reported on S3 CEO Pascal Jaussi's plan to save his company by buying up S3 assets and re-incorporating the company through a "Croatian subsidiary." 

Other European press reports have echoed this narrative and the situation at press time remains confused.
Editors Note: To complicate matters further and as outlined in the January 24th, 2017 Swissinfo.ch post, "Swiss Space Systems founder accused of ‘staging’ own attack," criminal charges have now been brought against Jaussi. We'll update this post as new information becomes available).
S3 CEO Pascal Jaussi isn't dead yet and neither is his company, at least if you're willing to take his word for it. But S3 is officially bankrupt and, as outlined in the September 7th, 2016 Sun post, "WHAT DOES HE KNOW? Swiss space agency boss is kidnapped by hitmen who beat him senseless then tried to burn him alive," it seems obvious that not everyone believes what Juassi says, as least  when it comes to his business dealings. Photo c/o Keystone.

As outlined in the December 20th, 2017 post, "Swiss Space Systems: Just 'Fugget About It!'" the S3 bankruptcy was the culmination of years of political wrangling and glad handling which included the development of an impressive global network of partners including Breitling, Thales Alenia Space, Dassault Aviation, Space Florida, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

In Canada, the City of North Bay, along with Canadore College were brought aboard through the efforts of North Bay Conservative MP Jay Aspin and Federal Industry Minister James Moore.

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

Elon Musk, Donald Trump, The Globe & Mail, MDA, exactEarth & NASA Admins Bolden & Newman, Who Say Buh Bye

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of January 23rd, 2017, here are some of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

  • It's odd to consider SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a guest of US president Donald Trump at the White House on the first day of the new administration. The two are generally perceived  to have diametrically opposed worldviews.  
But, as outlined in the January 23rd, 2017 Business Insider post, "Elon Musk and other executives are at the White House to meet with President Trump," that's exactly the situation the two seems to have found themselves in. 
According to the article, Musk is one of "several executives attending President Donald Trump's meeting on manufacturing Monday morning. Reuters' reporter Roberta Rampton snapped a shot of Musk in the White House's Roosevelt Room, along with executives from Lockheed Martin, Whirlpool, Under Armour, and Johnson & Johnson."
And, "although Musk and Trump have diametrically opposing views when it comes to climate change, the two seem to be aligned when it comes to US manufacturing."
This is the third meeting between the entrepreneur and the incoming US president over the last few weeks. Trump said on Monday morning that he would cut regulations by 75% to encourage businesses to manufacture their products in the US, though it's unclear if he was referring to the number of regulations or their cost.
  • Back in Canada, it's normally a bit unusual for the "paper of record," to promote publicly traded stocks, but that certainly seems to be the situation with the January 22nd, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Analysts think now is a good time to buy MDA," which tracked some of the recent ups and downs at Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA).
Fortunately, the article proper is certainly more ambiguous than the title would suggest. 
It's primary thesis is that, "investors hoping a new American chief executive officer at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. would help boost the shares of the satellite technology firm may have to be patient this year."
Reasons given include "a weaker communications satellite market" and delays in receiving the necessary US security clearances, which are needed to allow MDA to bid on larger Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and US military satellite contracts.
The Globe piece also noted that US based CEO Howard Lance, "declined to be interviewed for this article."
But the article did reference a variety of other analysts, including Raymond James analyst Steven Li, who categorized classified US government business as incremental revenue which "won’t likely contribute meaningfully until 2018 at the earliest.”
I think some of the issues will resolve themselves,” over the next year or so, said BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Thanos Moschopoulos, who has an “outperform” rating on MDA stock, and an $83 CDN target for the next 12 to 18 months.
  • Cambridge, Ontario based exactEarth Ltd. has posted a Q4 loss on lower overall sales. As outlined in the January 19th, 2017 Waterloo Region Record post, "Cambridge-based ExactEarth post $4.1M Q4 loss on lower sales," the loss was attributed to "a reduction in revenue from a contract with the federal government." 
That contract was originally outlined in the February 14th, 2016 post, "Newborn exactEarth Faces its First Battle for the Worm," and revisited in the May 7th, 2016 post, "Orbcomm, Skywave, exactEarth, CSA Rovers, High School Robotics, MDA, Emerson, Magellan, Honeywell & UrtheCast," 
As outlined in those earlier posts, what had begun in February as a simple renewal of an existing exactEarth Federal government contract worth $19Mln CDN, had shrunk in value to only $116,000 CDN by May 2016. 
Of course, as outlined in the January 19th, 2017 exactEarth press release, "exactEarth Reports Fiscal 2016 Financial Results," waiting for government contracts hasn't been the only revenue generating activity the company has engaged in since it was spun off by parent COM DEV International in January 2016. 
2016 operational highlights include the development of partnerships with Chinese based EV Image Inc. (to distribute exactEarth data in China), Ottawa based Larus Technologies (to develop new "Big Data" analytics applications for the maritime market) and Colorado based DigitalGlobe (to combat "illegal and unreported fishing"), plus expanded collaboration in a variety of areas with Louisville, Kentucky based Genscape
The year also included the signing of a new four year contract with the French Navy and a "small-vessel tracking contract" with the Government of Ghana. 
2016 financial highlights include $18.9Mln CDN in new revenue (with 80% being subscription based, a 30% increase over 2015), an increase in order booking to $27.2Mln CDN (up from $10.0Mln CDN in 2015) and an adjusted EBITDA of $0.52Mln CDN with a cash balance of $13.7Mln CDN as of October 31th, 2016.
Outgoing deputy administrator Newman with outgoing administrator Bolden and incoming acting administrator Lightfoot at a NASA "town hall meeting" on January 12th, 2017. Photo c/o NASA/Bill Ingalls.
As outlined in the January 12th, 2017 Space Policy Online post, "Lightfoot to be Acting NASA Administrator, CFO Radzanowski to Stay On - UPDATE," Bolden and Newman, as political appointees representing the outgoing Barack Obama administration, ended their tenures at noon on January 20th, 2017, when president Obama formally finished out his term and was replaced by incoming US president Donald Trump
The new administration is moving slowly to replace the open NASA positions. 
As outlined in the January 22nd, 2017 Space News Post, "Trump administration assigns first political appointees to NASA," NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot has taken over as acting NASA administrator, at least for the short term. 
The Trump administration has also appointed Erik Noble, a Trump campaign political data analyst (who also spent seven years at NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies) to serve as White House senior adviser and Greg Autry, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California (who is considered a proponent of commercial space activities) as White House liaison.
For more, check out upcoming posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

If Justin Trudeau Wants " Moon Shots," He Should Look to the Moon!

          By Chuck Black

As outlined in both Federal government literature and in a recent editorial in the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is looking for "Moon Shots."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is supposedly pursuing every available option to build actual policies around the concept of "Canada's innovation agenda." As the Friendly Giant once used to say, perhaps the PM should, "Look up - Way up!"  Photo's c/o Singularity Hub & Hollywood Life.

The Federal government's website on "Canada's Innovation Agenda, Innovation for a Better Canada, What you Told Us," provides some context for the type of "Moon Shots," the Canadian PM is interested in. 

As outlined on the website:
In a previous generation, the United States was inspired to put a man on the moon. 
That mission launched breakthroughs and inventions that went well beyond the space program and fueled decades of innovation driven by science and technology. 
Canadians yearn for a similar kind of vision and leadership. Many called for government to take a proactive role in sponsoring "moon shots" that would keep Canada at the forefront of science and technology.
"Moon shots" were also the topic of the January 13th, 2017 Toronto Star post, " Should Ottawa be aiming for a 'moonshot?'" which was written by author Paul Wells and focused on a report compiled for the Trudeau government by east coast based market research company Corporate Research Associates (CRA).

CRA was commissioned to run focus groups and collect data for Canada's Innovation Agenda, the long promised, but so far mostly aspirational, Trudeau government policy platform being developed to "make Canada more innovative." 

Three types of "Moon shots" not covered by Federal government sub-contractors organizing focus groups on "Moon shots" include the mixed drink, the photograph and Moon Express CEO Robert Richards with the rover his company expects to use to land on the Moon. As outlined in the January 17th, 2017 Orlando Business Journal post, "Moon Express Secures $20M for Lunar Mission," the Canadian born Richards, who moved to the US  six years ago in order to fund his dream, is currently the CEO of the first private company to have gained permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land on the Moon. Now that's a "Moon shot." Graphics c/o Complete Cocktails, Astrophotography Tonight & The Orlando Business Journal.

However, when it came to defining a "Moon shot," or putting the concept into terms the average focus group could understand, the pollsters at the CRA, seem to have drawn a blank. 

As outlined in the article:
... it's hard to believe the pollster came up with the examples that were focus grouped (and considered as "Moonshot's"). 
Internet balloons, self-driving cars and drone delivery... they're all projects being developed by X, the long-term research branch of Google. 
Perhaps in the next round of testing the feds should define a moonshot, as 'something Google wants.'
The article also stated that, "Stephen Harper spent $705 million on three Radarsat satellites that aren’t even scheduled to launch before 2018. Trudeau wanted to be different. He seems to be getting shaky advice on what “different” would look like."

Interesting January 2017 tweets from Toronto Star author Paul Wells and MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) public affairs director Leslie Swartman (later re-tweeted by CSA Director General for Space Exploration Gilles Leclerc) on past Canadian accomplishments which might reasonably qualify as "Moon shots" and could certainly be discussed in focus groups. Screenshot c/o Twitter.

Another problem with the current concepts surrounding the idea of "Moon shots" is simply that large governments are no longer perceived as being the go-to organizations for fundraising and fulfillment on "Moon Shot" style projects.

Graphic c/o QuoteHD.com.
And why should they be?

Private sector corporations such as SpaceX, Moon Express, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries and others are currently the ones planning trips to the Moon and Mars and developing the technologies needed to exploit those voyages.

Government organizations such as NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) have programs which have slowly become far more expensive and far less inspirational, with longer time-frames, and with a great deal of "tentativeness," "hyperbole" and cost overruns attached to their ultimate goals.

The future of "Space shots," at least from the current public's perspective, may essentially rest with the private sector.

The concept of the Trudeau government seriously contemplating the idea of "Moon shots" without even once referencing the reality of our current capabilities (where small, privately held start-ups like Moon Express can consider actual trips to the Moon), is an obvious error.

Maybe the next time the Trudeau government funds a survey of potential "Moon shots," they could include a couple of options related to the Moon, or rockets, or rocket science or even something simply related to "space," like the Canadarm or the various RADARSATs.

They could then more effectively determine if the true role of the Trudeau government, at least in this case, is to "lead, follow or get out of the way."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

UrtheCast Closes $180Mln OptiSAR Deal, SpaceX's Success, Canada's Contribution to SWOT & More Thirty Meter Telescope

          By Henry Stewart

Here are some of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Sales and promotion graphic from the UrtheCast website. According to the literature, "OptiSAR™ is designed to be the world’s first fully-integrated, multispectral optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation of Earth Observation satellites. Providing unprecedented capabilities, OptiSAR™ is aimed at solving real-world problems and creating tools for world change." It's worth noting that, when an Earth imaging company receives a contract from a "confidential government customer," that customer is likely to be tied into a national military or intelligence agency. Graphic c/o UrtheCast.
  • Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast has announced a "binding agreement" with a "confidential government customer" for the "sale and shared operation" of the first two satellites in the UrtheCast OptiSAR constellation, described by the company as "the world's first commercial EO constellation with integrated optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors." 
The announced value of contract is $180Mln USD ($235Mln CDN) but could include up to an additional $30Mln US (CDN) for "products and services related to the sale of the satellites, contingent on the parties reaching mutual agreement on the final scope of these deliverables."
As outlined in the January 17th, 2017 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Enters into Binding Agreement Worth US$180 Million to Sell and Operate Two Satellites in the OptiSAR™ Constellation," the sale could "accelerate the negotiation of similar agreements with other customers for the purchase of the remaining satellites."
But the agreement is also subject to a number of conditions. 
As outlined in the press release, those conditions include, "UrtheCast obtaining the necessary customer commitments to allow for the build, launch and financing of the first eight satellites in the Constellation, the Customer obtaining within the next 12 months the funding for its payment obligations, the parties reaching mutual agreement on the detailed procedures for the shared operation and tasking of the two satellites, and other customary covenants and regulatory approvals for agreements of this nature."

Ten critical minutes of the SpaceX Falcon-9 return to flight on January 14th, 2017. Screenshot c/o SpaceX/ You-Tube
  • They said there was a lot riding on the flight and there may have been. But it didn't need to fly on that specific day (it had been delayed previously) and the SpaceX Falcon-9R rocket certainly didn't need to return to Earth, "as God and John W. Cambell intended," on its tail and ready for reuse after a soft landing on the drone-ship "Just Read the Instructions." 
But that's exactly what happened. As outlined in the January 15th, 2017 CBC News post, "SpaceX launches 1st rocket since explosion in Florida,"the two-stage SpaceX rocket "lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:54 a.m. ET carrying a payload for Iridium Communications Inc., which is replacing its entire global network with 70 next-generation satellites."
And, "about nine minutes after the rocket blasted off, to cheers from the control room, its jettisoned first stage landed upright on a so-called droneship in the Pacific Ocean south of Vandenberg — part of Spacex's effort to make boosters reusable."
The Canadian connection to the launch was mostly covered in the January 3rd, 2017 post, "SpaceX Pad Explosion Investigation Concluded; Iridium Launch Scheduled January 8th," and included the first four of exactEarth's next generation constellation, exactView™ RT powered by Harris, as outlined in the January 16th, 2017 exactEarth post, "exactEarth Announces Successful Initial Launch for its Second Generation Real-Time Constellation."
But the title of that January 3rd, 2017 post was also a reminder that the commercial space rocketry industry is a lot like the US rail system, which is often delayed.  
This was the first launch for SpaceX this year and first since a Falcon 9 exploded on the pad in September last year. SpaceX will attempt to launch 27 rockets in 2017, more than triple the eight flights the privately held firm managed in 2016.
An overview of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission presented during the 2011 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Sensing Symposium (IGARSS), which was organized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and took place in Vancouver, BC from July 25th - 29th, 2011. To view the complete presentation, simply click on the illustration above. Image c/o IGARSS 2011.
As outlined in the January 16th, 2017 Waterworld post, "Canadian Space Agency to Provide Components for Survey of Earth's Surface Waters," the Canadian contribution to this international mission is "a set of extended interaction klystrons (EIKs) built by CPI. The high-power EIKs will be used to generate microwave pulses to collect precise water measurements." 
CPI is well known for its expertise in this area and no other firms have built and flown EIKs. In exchange for the contribution, Canadian scientists will have early access to SWOT data and scientific expertise.
As outlined in the August 18th, 2014 CSA press release, "The Government of Canada Announces investment in innovative Mapping System for First-Ever Global Surface Water Survey," this is the second grant provided by the Canadian government to support the mission. The Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper provided an initial $3.3Mln CDN grant to CPI in 2014.
As outlined in the November 23rd, 2016 Spaceflight. 101 post, "SpaceX wins NASA Launch Contract for Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) Mission," SWOT is a  "cooperative effort between NASA and the French Space Agency CNES with the spacecraft currently under construction at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory." 
The total cost of the mission is expected to be approximately to $1.1Bln USD ($1.45Bln CDN) including launch and operational costs. 
The SWOT Canadian science component will be led by teams from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
Culture vs. Science. This April 2015 photo shows protesters on Mauna Kea attempting to halt construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Photo c/o Irtiqa.
  • The embattled $1.4Bln US ($1.84Bln CDN) Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project has suffered another legal setback. 
As outlined in the January 10th, 2017 Hawaii News Now post, "TMT project could face hurdle with another contested case hearing," a local judge has ordered "yet another contested case hearing before construction on the $1.4 billion telescope can begin, but the state (of Hawaii, where construction is planned) intends to fight that ruling with an appeal in the next few weeks." 
Mauna Kea, where the TMT is currently scheduled to be constructed (and where thirteen other telescopes have already been built), is designated by Hawaii as conservation land under the direction of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. 
Although leased by the University of Hawaii, the university is required to obtain approval before subleasing it to others. 
In April, 2015, the Canadian government under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed $243.5Mln CDN to the project. But, as outlined in the December 6th, 2015 post, "Hawaii Supreme Court Rescinds Permit to Build Thirty Meter Telescope," the project began to unravel shortly afterwords. 
And, as outlined in the November 1st, 2016 post, "Thirty Meter Telescope Builders Choose Alternative Site To Mauna Kea In Hawaii," the consortium promoting the project has begun exploring alternative sites
For more, check out upcoming posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Quantum Computing Is Real; A Canadian Company Now Offers Open-Source Tools & the Chinese are Building Spacecraft

          By Brian Orlotti

The Canadian company behind Google's quantum computer has released a new set of open source tools so coders can create software without needing an advanced physics degree.

D-Wave officials pose in front of one of their machines alongside American businessman and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson (on the far right) in 2014. Photo c/o Steve Jurvetson.

As outlined in the January 11th, 2017 Wired post, "Quantum Computing Is Real, and D-Wave Just Open-Sourced It," the new tools were released to the public by Burnaby, BC based D-Wave Systems in order "to get more smart people thinking about applications."

As outlined in the article, the new tool, called Qbsolv, "is designed to help developers program D-Wave machines without needing a background in quantum physics. A few of D-Wave’s partners are already using the tool, but today the company released Qbsolv as open source, meaning anyone will be able to freely share and modify the software."

The goal, according to D-Wave International president Bo Ewald, is to "kickstart a quantum computing software tools ecosystem and foster a community of developers working on quantum computing problems. In recent years, open source software has been the best way to build communities of both independent developers and big corporate contributors."

D-Wave is only one of several dozen organizations included in the Wikipedia List Companies involved in Quantum Computing or Communication, who are attempting to develop quantum computing technology.

Although Canada remains a leader in this field, calls for greater investment in quantum and other leading internet technologies from other countries are becoming louder. And at least one country has taken the lead in developing space based assets to study quantum computer technologies.

China’s quantum satellite takes off from Jiuquan in Gansu provinceon on August 16th, 2016. As outlined in the August 22nd, 2016 Indian Express post, "In fact: Understanding Micius, Beijing’s big push for quantum security," the satellite is not the only satellite designed to study quantum effects. According to the article, that honour belongs to "SPEQS, a joint project of the National University of Singapore and the University of Strathclyde, which reported success in creating correlated photon pairs in orbit in May (2016)." Photo c/o China Daily via Reuters

In August 2016, China launched an experimental quantum communications satellite into orbit.

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) satellite, also called Micius (after an ancient Chinese philosopher), will establish a quantum key distribution network and perform a series of quantum entanglement experiments in space over the next two years. 

Micius is part of the Quantum Science Satellite (QSS) program sponsored and managed by the China Academy of Sciences (CAS). The satellite’s payload was a joint development of the CAS’s Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics (SITP) and the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).

Micius will also perform three sets of experiments. In the first phase, secure transmission of quantum data will be tested by beaming chains of photons containing a message from Micius to three ground stations at Beijing, Hainan and Xinjiang, to be processed by the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) of the CAS. These ground stations will then beam the photon chains (now containing an encrypted message) back to Micius, which will relay them to other ground stations for decryption.

The second and third phases will be more ambitious, focusing on the use of particle entanglement to enable long distance communications (using photons) without the need to transmit radio signals.

"So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." From The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

QSS is a classic ‘dual-use’ program, with both civilian and military applications. While advancing research that could form the basis for the much-speculated "quantum internet," QSS will also advance quantum cryptography, communications and cyberwarfare capabilities for the Chinese military. 

China plans a constellation of quantum satellites by 2030, which will augment a ground-based quantum computer network, which will likely be extended from the currently operational 2,000 kilometer link between Beijing and Shanghai.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also foresees quantum communications being used in combination with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and optical reconnaissance satellites. 

The SAR and optical satellites would gather information on sea and ground-based targets in real-time and in all-weather conditions. Quantum communication satellites would then be used as data relays to securely transmit targeting data to and from command centers while evading interception. These capabilities would serve as a force multiplier, enabling air and naval superiority in contested areas.

Tony Lacavera looking pensive. Photo c/o Canadian Business.
The January 13th, 2016 Computer Dealer News post, "Globalive CEO Tony Lacavera on how Canada can become a leader in AI," quoted Tony Lacavera, the former CEO of Wind Mobile (now Freedom Mobile), and founder of tech angel investment firm Globalive Communications Corp., who felt that Canada has the potential to become a world leader in fields such as artificial intelligence, fintech, machine-learning, autonomous vehicles, and quantum computing, though its institutions must step up their efforts to fulfill it. 

Lacavera, who has helped finance at least two satellite companies (Toronto, ON based Kepler Communications and Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast) also said that Canada’s efforts must go beyond presentations and broad allocations of resources; Canada must narrow its actions and focus on areas where it can win.

Our traditional dependence on its close ties with the US for economic growth will soon be under threat by the incoming protectionist, ultra-nationalist Donald Trump Administration. China is independently pursuing new technologies to fuel future growth. 

Canada must do the same if it is to survive in the coming world. 
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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