Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cloak and Dagger Between Space Systems Loral and Orbital ATK

          By Brian Orlotti

Space Systems/Loral (SSL), a US based subsidiary of Richmond, BC based Macdonald Detwiler (MDA), has launched a lawsuit against Virginia based Orbital ATK over an alleged computer breach involving proprietary data relating to on-orbit satellite servicing technology. The incident is a ominous milestone in the evolution of the commercial space industry.

It's worth noting that on-orbit satellite servicing concepts have been around for a long long time. Seen above is the first page of a January 11th, 2017 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon presentation on "NASA Satellite Servicing Evolution: 40+ Years of On-Orbit Servicing." Graphic c/o NASA.

According to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at least four confidential SSL documents stored on a server at NASA Langley Research Centre were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee. The documents contain information on SSL technologies for in-space robotic satellite assembly, repair and servicing; research and development data; business plans; procurement strategies; and subcontractor/vendor relationships. SSL was informed of the intrusion by NASA in December 2016.

As outlined in the March 23rd, 2017 Reuters post, "SSL sues rival Orbital ATK over theft of trade secrets: lawsuit," Orbital ATK acknowledged the unauthorized access of SSL’s data, terminated the employee and notified NASA in November 2016.

However, Orbital hasn’t responded to SSL’s queries regarding the scope of the breach or of five other Orbital employees whom NASA say may also have read the documents, according to the lawsuit. NASA said it took immediate action to restrict access and is currently conducting its own investigation.

The SSL lawsuit is the second in six weeks; both filed by companies seeking to kick-start a new in-space satellite repair and servicing industry.

In February 2017, Orbital ATK filed suit against the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Orbital seeks to prevent DARPA from awarding SSL a contract under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

Under RSGS, SSL would provide DARPA with a satellite bus and a robotic arm, possibly utilizing Canadarm techology developed for the Canadian space program although, as outlined in the December 16th, 2016 post, "MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or 'Any Other" Project,'" this has been vehemently denied by SSL parent MDA.

Orbital argues that the RSGS program violates US space policy by funding a technology in competition with the private sector. Orbital is developing its own satellite servicing system, known as the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), to dock with satellites in geosynchronous orbit and maneuver them. The first MEV is scheduled for launch in late 2018.

The theft of SSL’s robotic servicing data could deal the company a severe blow even as it sets out to create a new in-space satellite servicing industry. Even if SSL should manage to win the case and extract financial damages from Orbital, the already compromised data will give SSL’s competitors in the fledgling satellite servicing industry a massive competitive advantage. Even worse, additional proprietary SSL data may end up being made public over the course of the trial.

The SSL data heist is a case of stacked ironies. One of SSL parent MDA’s prime motives for developing a US business through the purchase of SSL was lack of business from the Canadian government.

Both MDA and SSL have declined to comment for this article.

In a sense, the SSL data heist is a sign of the commercial space sector’s evolution; a fierce jockeying for position in the race for new wealth from a new industry.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

UrtheCast, 3D Printing for Space, AlbertaSat & More on Reusable Rockets

          By Henry Stewart

The week of March 27th, 2017 has certainly a busy week for news in the space industry. Given that, here are some of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

A view of East Vancouver, including the Port of Vancouver, as seen from space. Photo c/o Urthecast.

  • Vancouver, BC based Urthecast has scheduled its 2017 year end conference call for 4pm ET on the afternoon of March 28th, 2017. Hopefully, the company will provide some clarification on where it intends to spend the substantial amounts of money its been raising over the last little while. 
As outlined in the March 22nd, 2017 CNW press release, "UrtheCast Closes C$19.6 Million Offering of Common Shares," the company has just closed its previously-announced bought deal public offering of 13,033,341 common shares. These shares were issued at a price of $1.50 per share, for aggregate gross proceeds of $19,550,012Mln CDN.
Those funds are in addition to the $17.6Mln CDN windfall the Federal government provided earlier in March. 
As outlined in the March 14th, 2017 CBC News post, "Vancouver's UrtheCast gets $17.6M from feds for Earth observation technology," the Federal funding, provided under the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI), will be used to develop "patented, cutting-edge technology" to be used in equip "a group of satellites for Earth observation and to make the high-resolution images easier for its customers to use."
The 3D printed spacecraft antenna interface bracket. Photo c/o 3DPrint.com.

As outlined in the March 24th, 2017 3DPrint.com post, "Thanks to a Group Effort, 3D Printed Satellite Bracket Will Soon Go to Space," the bracket, funded by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) under its Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) along with contributions from the Canada Makes’ Metal Additive Manufacturing Demonstration Program, still needs to be tested structurally in order to qualify to fly.
While Canada is a latecomer to the benefits of 3D printing, the technology has become very popular among international aerospace companies because of the cost savings, durability and quick turn around time. 
As outlined in the post, "satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral (an MDA subsidiary) kept costs and part mass down by using additive manufacturing to design the JCSAT-110A antenna tower, Poland’s first commercial satellite was created with a 3D printed housing and Boeing recently started to implement additive manufacturing into satellite production."
Even NASA has taken note. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2015 www.3ders.org post, "Aerojet Rocketdyne completes first 3D printed parts for Orion spacecraft," 3D printing technology is being used in a number of important NASA spacecraft.
The ex-Alta 1. Graphic c/o AlbertaSat.
  • There's no official word on when its going to launch, but when it does (and that could happen as early as Thursday), the University of Alberta (UofA) AlbertaSat 1 (ex-Alta 1), "will be propelling the province into the space industry by launching the first ever made-in-Alberta satellite."
As outlined in the March 21st, 2017 Satnews post, "University of Alberta's Ex-Alta 1 Smallsat to Dig Into Space Weather," the satellite, "is part of a newer generation of technologies that puts space exploration and research within reach of students and smaller startup companies."
Ex-Alta 1 is part of the international QB50 mission of about 50 smallsats built at universities around the world. The Albertan satellite will examine will space weather and attempt to better understand the powerful forces that pose a threat to spacecraft and other satellites as well as vital power and electronic networks on Earth.
According to the article, a group of senior students involved with the project have created their own spinoff company, Promethean Labs, in order to offer expertise to clients in government and industry to commercialize the lessons learned from the project.
Landing a rocket properly, ready for refueling and reuse. "as God and John W. Campbell intended." Photo of the SpaceX' Falcon-9 historic first landing on an ocean barge on April 8th, 2016. Photo c/o SpaceX.
  • Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aren't the only ones considering reusable rockets. 
As outlined in the March 23rd, 2017 Space Daily post, "Russia, China could cooperate on developing reusable rockets," the South China Morning Post has reported that China "is developing a rocket whose first stage will be designed to be reusable. Such a rocket will be capable of competing with the rocket designed by Elon Musks's SpaceX."
The article quoted Russian military expert Vasily Kashin as stating that, "the development of space carriers with returned stages is now considered as the most important direction for reducing costs of launching spacecraft into the orbit."
The article goes on to state that China should co-operate with Russia, which began work on reusable rockets in mid-2016. 
As outlined in the January 21st, 2016 Space News post, "French government commissions report on rocket reuse, competitiveness," other countries such as France have also been working to ramp up reusable rocket programs.
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Part 2: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

The International Polar Year, the Silver Dart, Canada's First Air Show and Aerospace Becomes Serious Business

         By Robert Godwin
A.G. Bell. Photo c/o NNDB.
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location. 
It's also worth noting that the beginnings of Canada's aerospace history predates Canada itself...
A quarter of a century after the first International Polar Year the world changed irrevocably when two bicycle-shop mechanics in Dayton Ohio led our civilization into the era of powered, winged flight.

People around the world became entranced by the adventure and potential of aviation, and Alexander Graham Bell, yet another immigrant from Scotland and one of Canada's most illustrious citizens, was willing to put up the money from his substantial fortune to help pave the way for Canadians into this new realm.

Bell joined forces with one of America's leading proponents of mechanical flight, Glenn Curtiss, and they created The Aerial Experiment Association. They brought into their group two young men named F.W. "Casey" Baldwin and John A.D. McCurdy who were both graduates of the University of Toronto. These pioneers shuttled back and forth between Hammondsport New York, and Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia testing their designs until, on February 23rd 1909, McCurdy became the first citizen of the globe-girdling British Empire to really fly an aircraft over a significant distance.

The Aerial Experiment Association drome No. 4, also known as "McCurdy’s Silver Dart" at Baddeck Bay N.S around February, 1909. Photo c/o the Canada at War blog.

Bell sent a telegram to the newspapers that simply read, "Baddeck: Feb 24. McCurdy flew Silver Dart one mile and a half in great style. Signed, Graham Bell." The very next day McCurdy made the first winged aerial exploration of Canadian territory when he circumnavigated the small lake.

A little more than a year later, 3500 Canadians in British Columbia were thrilled to experience aviation first-hand, when Charles Hamilton became the first person to fly an aircraft on the west coast of Canada at Minoru Park.  Perhaps inspired by Hamilton's feat, just a few weeks after that, a local inventor by the name of Haden Bales filed a patent for what would be the first design for so-called Jet Assisted Take Off. Bales quite rightly anticipated the efficacy of placing rockets underneath an aircraft to help it take-off over a shorter distance. With very little fanfare, Bales had patented the first rocket plane.

Less than a month later Canada hosted its first "air show" in Montreal where the Count de Lesseps demonstrated the first flight of a monoplane in front of a Canadian audience. At the end of his trip he was appointed as an honorary Grand Chief by the Iroquois contingent in attendance.

Aviation quickly changed from fad to serious business when the British Empire went to war with Germany. On February 7th 1915 the Canadian government was asked to enlist pilots. The young volunteers were so enthusiastic that they barely complained when they were told they had to pay for their own flying licenses.

Photo inscribed as "Blakemore/71 King W./Toronto./#989/Curtiss Flying School-Class of July 1916-Toronto," along with the names of the people in the photo. Photo c/o the Baldwin Collection of Canadiana.

Glenn Curtiss established a training school at Long Branch on the waters of Lake Ontario on May 10th 1915, and by 1917 young Canadians were being trained there, before being sent to fight over the skies of Europe. Even enthusiastic Americans who wanted to get into the fight came to Long Branch and joined His Majesty's Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) or Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

Initially this first batch of young pilots would be trained by John McCurdy. One young American who would spend time during the war watching these pilots train in Toronto was a teenage nurse from Kansas named Amelia Earhart.

As the war came to an end the Royal Air Force (RAF) was founded by merging the RNAS and RFC. Two months later uniquely Canadian squadrons were formed and in February 1920 the Canadian Air Force was authorized.

When those young Canadian pilots had arrived in England during the war they had often found themselves flying in aircraft which had been built under the supervision of a young designer named Geoffrey de Havilland. At the end of the war de Havilland began his own aircraft company based around his designs for a family of planes called "Moths."

By 1927 de Havilland had done well enough that he announced his intention to build aircraft in Canada. He opened a factory in Downsview Ontario and construction soon began there on the legendary Tiger Moth biplane.

Not so different from today. A 1927 European ad for the de Havilland "Moth" biplane stressing its ease of use, gas millage and the faults of the competition. Graphic c/o Aviation Ancestry.

In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi had conducted the first radio transmission across the Atlantic when he received a message in Newfoundland from Ireland. For more than 30 years his technology had been refined and improved, but like the cables laid by Lord Kelvin it was still subject to the whims of solar interference.

While the industrial side of Canada's aerospace industry was just starting to flourish, the science side once more turned its attention to the arctic, and in 1932, on the fiftieth anniversary of that first International Polar Year, a crew of atmospheric scientists led by Balfour Currie was dispatched to the Northwest Territories to once more study the Earth and to try and get a better understanding of the aurora and its impact on our planet, and most importantly – why they seemed to interfere with communications.

At this point, the science of liquid rocketry was still in its infancy. The American Robert Goddard had fired the world's first liquid fuelled rocket in 1926. In the spring of 1930, the Austrian pioneer Max Valier had driven the world's first liquid rocket propelled vehicle; a custom built automobile.

Daredevils around the world were intrigued with the potential of this new form of propulsion and the excitement caught the attention of two Canadians – Laurence E. Manning of New Brunswick, and Kurt R. Stehling of Toronto.

Manning had fought for Canada in the First World War and was now living in the United States. In April 1930 he was invited to attend a gathering of like-minds at an apartment in New York City. As one of a dozen people in attendance that night, Manning became a founder of what was to become the American Interplanetary Society and in 1934 he was responsible for the first truly successful launch of a liquid fueled rocket by that organisation.

Manning would go on to become the society's president and would be in that position when the name was changed to the American Rocket Society (ARS). That organisation still exists today under the auspices of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and is still the leading group in the field representing the United States internationally.

Manning was also a writer of science fiction and his stories had inspired Kurt Stehling who at that time was a student at Toronto's Technical High School. Around the same time that Manning was flying his relatively sophisticated rocket in New York, Stehling built what may well have been Canada's first liquid fuelled rocket in his school's biology laboratory.

Stehling's launch was somewhat less glorious than Manning's when his rocket chose to leave the laboratory through the window – while it was closed. Despite this minor setback he managed to get accepted to the University of Toronto's engineering program where he stayed until 1943, at which time he signed up to fight in Europe. He was dispatched to Holland and England where he would come under fire of the infamous V-2 missile. 
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Last Week, "Before Canada: HMS Agamemnon, the Telegraph Cable, William Leitch & 'The Fur Country,'" in part one of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "Rockets, Mosquitoes, Lancaster's, UTIAS, and the Cold War," in part three as "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

Canada's Latest Space Budget; $81Mln for "New Projects" over Five Years Including a Contribution to NASA's Mars Orbiter

          By Chuck Black

Finance Minister Morneau. Photo c/o Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld.
The 2017 Federal budget was tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau last Wednesday, just after 4pm, and over the traditional concerns from opposition party members over who received copies of it first.

As outlined in the January 16th, 2017 post, "The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency 'Long-Term Strategy,'" no one really expected major changes to funding already announced or planned before June 2017, when a new, "long-term" strategy for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is expected to be announced.

But even with that caveat, the Federal liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed a couple of quiet gifts to the space industry, or at least the government supported component. As outlined on page 92 of the 2017 Federal Budget Document, titled, "Building a Strong Middle Class," the budget promised:
... investments that will underscore Canada’s commitment to innovation and leadership in space. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million on a cash basis over five years, starting in 2017–18, for new projects through the Canadian Space Agency that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space, including in the field of quantum technology as well as for Mars surface observation. The latter project will enable Canada to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) next Mars Orbiter Mission...
The CSA budget for 2018/19, as announced previously, remains at $333Mln but will drop in 2019/20 to $298Mln as ongoing programs wind down. The $80.9Mln announced for new programming is supposed to replace at least some of that decrease in the overall CSA budget.

As outlined in the 2015-16 CSA "Report on Plans and Priorities," the current base budget for the CSA (in essence, the bare minimum for keeping the department operational) is approximately $280Mln annually.

Outside of the CSA, the response to the budget among organizations tracking Canadian space activities and innovation has generally been positive. Examples include:
The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) which, as outlined in the March 22nd, 2017 press release, "AIAC applauds federal budget measures to support innovation and advanced manufacturing," approved of multiple components of the budget including "the recognition of advanced manufacturing as a strategic sector for Canadian economic growth, will directly support the ability of Canada’s aerospace industry to innovate, grow, and create wealth and prosperity for middle class Canadians." 
AIAC webpage on March 25th, 2017. Screenshot c/o AIAC.
The AIAC press release also noted: 
  • The identification of advanced manufacturing as one of six high-growth priority sectors (targeted in the budget).
The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) was also mostly approving of the budget. As outlined in CATA press release, "CATA Gives Budget Thumbs Up for Innovation Spark to Talent and Marketplace Success," the organization gave the government high marks for its various allocations, including:
  • $950Mln over 5 years to support "superclusters.
  • $400Mln over 3 years for a new Venture Capital Catalyst program. 
  • $14Mln over 2 years for the Futurpreneur Canada program (which matches investment with funding from departments and the private sector). 
  • $50Mln over 2 years for teaching initiatives to help children learn to code. 
  • $395.5Mln over 3 years to expand the youth employment strategy.
CATA website on March 27th, 2017. Screenshot c/o CATA.
However, not everyone reacted favorably to the budget.

As outlined in the March 22nd, 2017 ScienceMag.org post, "Research stays frozen in Canadian budget," wind chills in Ottawa "approached -30°C as Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled the Liberal government’s second budget on Wednesday. Spring may eventually arrive in Canada’s capital, but the deep freeze for Canada’s research community will continue into fiscal 2017–18 as the granting councils received no significant boosts in funding."

On the other hand, as outlined in the March 24th, 2017 Ottawa Citizen Post, "Federal budget reinvigorates National Research Council: Internal memo," others have a more optimistic bent.

The real truth is likely somewhere in between, in a holding pattern as the Federal government figures out what it's innovation agenda is actually supposed to do and how that will effect the space industry. 

Maybe that will happen in June. Maybe.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Part 2: A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets

The 1960's, Alouette, ISIS, Chapman & Telesat

Alouette & subsystems. Graphic c/o DRTE/CSA.
By Graham Gibbs & W. M. ("Mac") Evans

This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014, is a brief history of the Canadian space program, written by two of the major participants.

The 1960's

Alouette I was not only a bold political step, but a substantial technical challenge. Many innovations were required including the use of transistors, new battery management systems, low-noise receivers, thermal and mechanical designs and perhaps most famously, the development of the Storable Tubular Extendible Member, or STEM.
It was the latter that allowed the satellite to be launched in a compact configuration, but once on orbit to extend antennas up to forty-five metres in length. 
The Canadian built STEM antenna used in the Alouette-1 satellite. The compact, flat, but flexible metallic bar unrolls and bends inward to become a rigid cylinder able to be used as a satellite antenna.  Photo c/o Canadian Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) collection #1992.0357.00.

The STEM was the first product of SPAR Aerospace Ltd. (originally the Special Products and Advanced Research Division of the de Havilland Aircraft Company of Canada). STEM products found their way onto most of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and many communications satellites. The expertise in space flight gained by SPAR through its STEM work formed the basis for the company’s development of the now famous CANADARMs on the shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). 
The first Canadian hardware to fly in space was a prototype of a component of Alouette I (a galactic noise receiver) which flew in June 1960 on the US Navigation Satellite Transit II-A. This receiver provided the first measurements of cosmic noise from above the ionosphere. 
On September 29th, 1962, just two weeks after US President John Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University where he said “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard…,” Alouette I was launched on a Thor-Agena-B rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California into a 1,000 km circular orbit with an inclination of 80 degrees, officially launching Canada into the space age as the third country (after the Soviet Union and the United States) to have its own satellite in orbit.  
The technical and scientific successes of Alouette I are legendary. In an era when satellite lifetimes were measured in months, Alouette I continued to work until it was turned off ten years later. More than 1,200 papers and scientific reports have been published. In 1987 the Engineering Centennial Board recognized Alouette I as one of the ten most outstanding achievements of Canadian engineering over the last one hundred years. 
In 1993 Alouette I received the prestigious IEEE Milestone in Engineering Award to honour the program’s significant achievement in the history of electrical and electronic engineering. Several of the keymembers of the Alouette I program have received the Order of Canada for their pioneering efforts. 
Within a short time after the successful launch of Alouette I, the Canadian Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) initiated negotiations with NASA for additional cooperative scientific satellites.
For more on the ISIS satellite program, check out the 1997 Friends of the CRC post, "The ISIS Satellite Program." Screenshot c/o Friends of the CRC.
On May 23rd, 1963 those negotiations led to the creation of the International Satellites for Ionospheric Studies (ISIS) program, consisting of Alouette II, ISIS I, ISIS II and an undefined ISIS III. The intent was to provide topside ionospheric measurements over a complete eleven year solar cycle. Alouette II, launched November 29 1965, was a modified version of Alouette I and included a probe experiment and an expanded sounder frequency range. ISIS I and II were launched on January 30th, 1969 and March 31st, 1971 respectively. As will be described later, the ISIS III program was abandoned in favour of the Communications Technology Satellite that was launched in 1976. These satellites maintained the heritage of Alouette I for extraordinary reliability and gave Canada a well-earned international reputation and credibility in space. 
In approving the ISIS program the government requested that DRTE transfer its technology and expertise to Canadian industry in order to ensure that maximum economic benefits could accrue from the program. Thus, immediately after the success of Alouette I, which was designed, managed and built primarily by DRTE, a government laboratory, the government issued a significant industrial policy statement that would become one of the fundamental policies guiding our space program ever since. 
While today this policy may appear to be obvious, at the time it was a revolutionary policy that set the Canadian space program apart from most others. It is this policy that has encouraged the Canadian space industry to become the most export oriented industry in the world. 
While the Alouette and ISIS satellites were aimed at understanding the ionosphere in order to provide better communications capabilities here on Earth, rapid advances in rocket and satellite technology in the early 1960’s permitted the development and test of communications satellites capable of providing long distance communications independent of the ionosphere. 
Canadian scientists were naturally interested in these new technologies and concepts and participated in many of the early American experimental systems. Initially these systems used passive reflectors in space (e.g. Echo I in 1960) and required very large,powerful ground segments. These were followed by low Earth orbit systems (e.g. Telstar I in 1962 which provided the first transatlantic TV communications) and required large steerable antennas on the ground to track the satellite as it passed overhead. By 1963, the concept of geosynchronous satellites was proven with the launch of Sycom II. It was the advent of the geosynchronous communications satellite and its relatively simple and cheap ground systems that really opened the commercial satellite business. 
In 1964 the INTELSAT organization was formed with the express purpose of building and operating a global, commercial communications satellite system for the Western world. INTELSAT’s first satellite (Intelsat 1, also known as "Early Bird") was launched in 1965. Canada was a founding member of INTELSAT and leased twenty- four telephone channels on "Early Bird" to provide communications links between Canada and Europe.
It was clear to the government of Canada that these rapid technological advances in satellite communications would have major significance for Canada. In 1966 the government commissioned a study of Canada’s space program. The findings of this study were published in 1967 under the title of “Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs for Canada.” The chairman of the study group was John Chapman of Alouette fame and the report became known as the "Chapman Report." 
Among other things, the report recommended that the emphasis on space in Canada be shifted from science to communications and natural resource surveying. The report forecast (correctly it turns out) that “in the second century of Confederation the fabric of Canadian society will be held together by strands in space just as strongly as the railway and telegraph held together the scattered provinces in the last century.” 
The Chapman Report and an independent Science Council report (entitled "A Space Program for Canada) issued the same year made the case for a Canadian space program that concentrated on satellite communications, Canadian industrial development, cooperation with other countries, and recommended the establishment of a central coordinating and contracting agency for space research and development to oversee and manage the Canadian space effort. 
The Chapman Report, for the first time, codified the two primary tenets that guide Canada’s space program to this day: Canada should focus on using space to meet national needs and it should do so in a way that develops an internationally competitive space industry. 
The front cover of "Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada" by J.H. Chapman, P.A. Forsyth, P.A. Lapp and G.N. Patterson next to a photo of Chapman in the 1960's. Over time, the report became “Canada’s Original Blueprint” for space activities and still contains lessons for policymakers today. Graphic & Photo Phil Lapp & CSA
These successful demonstrations of the capabilities of satellite communications to provide long distance communications services also prompted considerable commercial interest in Canada. In 1966 Niagara Television Limited proposed a domestic satellite communications system to distribute television programs across the nation. This was followed in 1967 with a proposal for a domestic satellite communications system by a consortium of the Trans-Canada Telephone System and Canadian National/Canadian Pacific Telecommunications. 
In response to this mounting interest in a domestic satellite communications system, Prime Minister Lester Pearson announced in July 1967 the creation of a Task Force in the Science Secretariat under the leadership of Dr. Chapman to advise the government on satellite policy in general, and, in particular, on the use of satellite technology for domestic communications. Late in 1967 the Task Force reported its conclusions to the government and in 1968 the government issued a White Paper on “A Domestic Satellite Communication System for Canada.” The paper recommended the creation of a corporation by special statute of Parliament to develop, own and operate a domestic communications satellite system. The government also indicated its intention to seek private sector participation in the Corporation. 
To commence implementation of the White Paper recommendations, a Satellite Project Office was established by the Science Secretariat reporting to the Department of Industry. After detailed hearings before the Standing Committee on Broadcasting, Films and Assistance to the Arts, The Telesat Canada Act was introduced in the House of Commons. It was assented to on June 26th, 1969, and on September 1st, 1969, the date of Proclamation, the Telesat Canada Corporation came into existence under the joint ownership of the Government of Canada and the major telephone companies. The objective of the Company was to establish satellite telecommunication systems providing, on a commercial basis, telecommunication services between locations in Canada. 
In 1969, as part of a major reorganization of the Government of Canada, the Department of Communications (DOC) was created. DRTE (including its facilities and people) were transferred from the Defence Research Board to this new civilian department and re-named the Communications Research Centre (CRC). 
DOC was given responsibility for the Alouette and ISIS programs as well as responsibility for managing the government’s interests in Telesat Canada. This organizational change signaled the intent of the government to place responsibility for Canada’s fledgling space program under civilian control (as the US had done with the creation of NASA eleven years earlier). It was at this time that planning for the final ISIS satellite (ISIS III) was abandoned in favour of the development of an experimental communications satellite, later to be called the Communications Technology Satellite, or Hermes.
The shift in emphasis from science to applications recommended in the Chapman Report did not mean the end of space science in Canada. It did, however, mean that Canada would wait until 2003 before it launched another science satellite after the launch of ISIS II in 1972. 
In the intervening thirty years, the Canadian space science community, assisted at first by the Canada Centre for Space Science at the NRC and later by the Space Science Directorate at the Canadian Space Agency, focused on flying Canadian instruments on the science satellites of other nations and on the US Space Shuttle. 
This approach has allowed a broader range of science activities to be undertaken and Canadian space scientists have established world-class reputations in areas as diverse as solar-terrestrial physics, astronomy, atmospheric pollution, space life science, and microgravity science. 
In response to the Chapman Report recommendation for a “central coordinating and contracting agency,” the government created in 1969 the Interdepartmental Committee on Space (ICS). The ICS had membership from all departments with space interests and was responsible to the Minister of Communications for formulating space policies, recommending cooperation with foreign space agencies, recommending actions for optimum uses of resources, and coordinating space activities to maintain a viable space industry. The ICS was the major forum in the Government of Canada for the development of Canadian space policies and programs until the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was created in 1989. The committee was chaired by Dr. Chapman until his death in 1979. 
From the above, it is easy to see why Dr. Chapman is considered the father of the Canadian space program and why CSA headquarters in St. Hubert Quebec is officially named the John H. Chapman Space Centre in his honour. 
It is interesting to compare the thrust of the Canadian space program during the 1960’s with that of the United States. At the beginning of the decade, in 1962, Canada’s first satellite, Alouette I, was launched and President Kennedy announced the US was going to the moon. At the end of the decade, within weeks of Neil Armstrong’s historic landing on the moon in July 1969, Telesat Canada came into being. During this period, Canada had come to grips with its primary objectives in space and had put in place the mechanisms to accomplish them. 
While the US was pursuing lunar and interplanetary exploration driven by the space race with the Soviet Union, Canada was putting in place the policies and organizations that would ensure that the benefits of space technology could be applied to meet our own specific national needs.

Graham Gibbs & Mac Evans. Photos c/o MyCanada & CSA.
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first counselor for (US) space affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 

He is the author of "Five Ages of Canada - A HISTORY from Our First Peoples to Confederation."

William MacDonald "Mac" Evans served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from November 1991 to November 2001, where he led the development of the Canadian astronaut and RADARSAT programs, negotiated Canada’s role in the International Space Station (ISS) and contributed to various international agreements that serve as the foundation of Canada’s current international space partnerships.

He currently serves on the board of directors of Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast.

Last Week: "Abstract, Introduction & The 1950's," as part one of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets" begins.

Next Week: "The 1970's, A Canadian Space Industry, Telesat, ANIK and a "Canadian Content Premium"" as part three of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets" continues.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Helios Wire is a Canadian Space Based Internet of Things Startup

          By Brian Orlotti

Scott Larson. Photo c/o BC Business.
Vancouver-based Helios Wire, a startup founded by former Urthecast CEO  and co-founder Scott Larson, has announced plans to design and build a space-based Internet of Things (IoT) network using a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites.

Total cost for the constellation is estimated by Helios as being less than $100Mln CDN.

As outlined on the Helios website:
Helios is building a fully disruptive, global, and vertically integrated satellite-enabled monitoring and messaging service that will track and provide communication with up to 5 billion transmitters.   
It will be a space and terrestrial-based Internet of Things and Machine to Machine service specifically designed for ultra-high volume market applications requiring low bandwidth and low service costs."
But while the company promises the system will reduce the cost of IoT enough to make it affordable to small and medium sized businesses, IoT’s inherent security issues may prove a roadblock to their plans.

As outlined in the March 10th, 2017 Helios Wire press release, "The Internet of Things is Ripe for Democratization," the IoT is "primed for democratization, and promises to go beyond the evolution of modern-day conveniences, including refrigerators that can order groceries and have them delivered to your door. Already, big businesses like Virgin Atlantic, Farmers Insurance, and UPS harness IoT data to optimize their business operations. And soon, small and mid-size organizations will be in a better place to reap some of those same rewards." Helios hopes to take advantage of that pent up demand from small and medium sized businesses. Graphic c/o Helios Wire

Currently one of the tech sector’s biggest buzzwords, the IoT refers to the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items with embedded electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity enabling them to collect and exchange data.

The IoT is a means of directly integrating the physical world with computers, allowing objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure (i.e. the internet). IoT also encompasses other technologies such as smart grids, smart homes, intelligent transportation and smart cities. IoT advocates argue that such physical/computer integration will result in greater efficiency, accuracy and economic benefits while reducing the need for human intervention.

Helios’ plan calls for a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites to be launched over three years beginning in 2018.

UrtheCast image over company co-founders Wade Larson (now UrtheCast CEO), Scott Larson (now CEO of Helios Wire) and George Tyr (now UrtheCast CTO). The February 10th, 2016 BC Business post, "UrtheCast's Scott Larson proves a B.C. startup can make it in space," quotes the new Helios CEO as stating that he was “a start-up guy and I am proud to say that UrtheCast is no longer a start-up,” although he remains a shareholder. UrtheCast focuses on a variety of high bandwidth Earth imaging technologies while Helios focuses primarily on the transmission of low-bandwidth data collected by others. Photos c/o UrtheCast, Twitter & Linked-In.

The 30 satellite Helios constellation will use 30 MHz of S-band spectrum to enable its satellites to receive low-bandwidth data from billions of embedded sensors on Earth and then relay the data back to the surface, bypassing terrestrial internet availability, latency and cost issues.

The system’s first two satellites will only be able to receive and relay data three times daily, so applications requiring more timely data (such as transportation logistics) will come later.

When the full constellation is deployed, data packets will be received every five minutes as successive satellites pass over sensor locations on Earth. Helios envisions its system monitoring and controlling fixed and mobile assets in a wide range of sectors, including transportation, consumer products, logistics, security/public safety, energy, mining, manufacturing, wildlife management, and agriculture.

But the enthusiasm surrounding IoT is dampened by serious concerns over security and privacy.

In October 2016, a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks caused a massive disruption of major internet services including Twitter, Netflix, PayPal, Pinterest and the PlayStation Network.

The perpetrators did this by compromising thousands of endpoint IoT devices, most notoriously, as outlined in the October 24th, 2016 PC World post, "Chinese firm recalls camera products linked to massive DDOS attack," the compromised devices included a series of internet cameras manufactured by Chinese firm Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology.

The attackers used the ‘Mirai’ malware to transform the compromised devices into a botnet which then flooded traffic to DNS hosting provider Dyn (a cloud-based internet services provider recently acquired by Oracle Corp).

The attacks were staggering by internet standards, at one time measuring nearly one Terabit per second, according to the October 24th, 2016 WeLiveSecurity post, "10 things to know about the October 21 IoT DDoS attacks."

Here's hoping that, by hopping aboard the IoT bandwagon, Helios Wire won't end up having a bumpy ride.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Part 1: A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets

Abstract, Introduction & The 1950's

By Graham Gibbs & W. M. ("Mac") Evans
Canada's contribution to the ISS. Photo c/o CSA.
This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014, is a brief history of the Canadian space program, written by two of the major participants. 
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first Counselor for (US) Space Affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 
W.M. "Mac" Evans, a career public servant, has provided vision in planning and implementing Canada’s space plans for many decades and was president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from 1994 - 2001.
The paper is reproduced with the permission of the authors. As outlined by Gibbs, "Re the interesting Canada150 series you are running, you might be interested in posting the Paper (attached) Mac Evans and I wrote for the International Astronautical Congress that was held in Toronto in 2014." 
We are. Part one begins below.


The Canadian Space Program began at the dawn of the space age during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. 
With the launch of the scientific Alouette 1 satellite in 1962 Canada became the third nation in space. Since then Canada has achieved many “firsts in space” and has established itself as a world recognized space faring nation. Thirty years after entering the space era in 1988, Canada formally became a partner in the then G-7 Space Station program with the signing of the Agreements governing the program, which in 1998 became the International Space Station (ISS) when Russia became a partner. Canada is a leader in radar-based Earth observation, upper atmosphere research, advanced satellite communications technologies, space robotics and much more. 
Canada’s space program, despite its modest beginnings and continuing modest funding, has achieved unprecedented success. This success is largely due to reasoned government space policies during the most formative years of Canada’s space program. 
This paper is, for the most part, an update of a paper authored by W.M. (Mac) Evans and published in the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) Journal (CASJ) [i].
The current paper also provides an analysis of the lessons we have learned from these thoughtful earlier government space policies of how a small space faring nation, from a funding perspective, can hold its own and cooperate with major space faring nations such as the United States/NASA and Europe/European Space Agency.


It is remarkable that today the Canadian Space Agency partners’ with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in all the major public space sector disciplines, which are:
  • Human space flight (robotics for the US space shuttle, now retired, and the International Space Station) 
  • An astronaut program
  • Life and microgravity science research 
  • Earth science and observation (with instruments on NASA space craft and our own RADARSAT program) 
  • Astronomy, including our contribution to the US led James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and our own Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars telescope (MOST)
  • Heliophysics, and planetary exploration through contributions to NASA’s robotic exploration of Mars
In addition we collaborate with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (supporting the Canadian and US Ice Services to ensure safe shipping in the arctic), and the US Geological Survey. 
Canada is also the only non-European cooperating member of the European Space Agency (ESA) a partnership we have enjoyed since 1979. The Canadian Space Agency cooperates with other space faring nations, such as Japan, on a case- by-case or mission-by-mission basis.
There is no question that Canada has “punched above its weight” in space, whether it be in the realm of communications, earth observation, science or robotics. This phenomenal achievement has been possible through informed space policy development in Canada especially during the first thirty years of Canada’s space program. 
We now address the history of the development of space policy in Canada as first articulated by William (Mac) Evans in his paper for the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Journal of March 2004. The underlying thesis is that these policies have been fundamental to the technological and operational success of our national space program for more than four decades.

The 1950's

While the concepts of space flight had been around for centuries it wasn’t until after the Second World War that rocket technologies needed for such adventures were successfully tested.
While primarily driven by the post-war race between the Soviet Union and the United States to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the development of rocket technology gave the world’s scientists a new tool in their on-going research into the earth and its environment. Thus, it is not surprising that when the International Geophysical Year (IGY) was designated (July 1957 to December 1958) as a comprehensive series of global geophysical activities; this new tool provided the most significant findings of the IGY. Indeed, it was during the IGY that both the Soviet Union (1957) and the United States (1958) launched their first satellites. 
For decades prior to the IGY, Canadian scientists had been conducting extensive research into the ionosphere in order to improve radio communications between the northern and southern regions of Canada. Communications between these two areas relied on bouncing high frequency radio waves off the ionosphere. But disturbances in the ionosphere associated with magnetic storms and the aurora caused considerable havoc with these essential communications links. 
Since the northern auroral zone passes over Churchill Manitoba our scientists were intrigued with the possibility of probing the ionosphere with scientific instruments mounted on rockets launched from Churchill. They were able to convince the government to offer Churchill Manitoba as a site for launching sounding rockets and in 1955 the Churchill Rocket Range was established with the assistance of the United States. Churchill became a significant site during the IGY and 95 (45%) of the 210 sounding rocket launches made by the US during the IGY were from Churchill. Between 1957 and 1984 (when the range was closed) more than 3,500 sounding rockets were launched from Churchill.
Canada’s first forays into the lower reaches of space were sounding rocket payloads designed and built by research establishments of the Defence Research Board (DRB). Instruments to make measurements of atmospheric chemistry that had been designed by the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) in Valcartier Quebec were launched from Churchill in 1958. The next year, the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) in Ottawa designed and built instruments to measure electron density and the temperature of the ionosphere and these were launched on sounding rockets from Churchill. 
During this same period, CARDE had been developing solid rocket propellants for military purposes. This technology was incorporated into a sounding rocket called Black Brant. The first Black Brant rocket was launched from Churchill in 1959. The technology was transferred to industry (first Canadair and subsequently to Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg) and since then more than 800 Black Brant rockets have been launched from sites all over the world. 
Early in 1958, in response to the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik in October 1957, the United States consolidated its entire civilian aeronautical and space activities into a new organization called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA was impressed with the success of international cooperation during the IGY and made international cooperation one of its major objectives. 
Consequently, in 1958 the US invited international participation in their scientific space program. The scientists at DRTE who by this time had developed an interest in sounding the ionosphere from above (i.e. from space) responded quickly with a proposal near the end of 1958 to build a satellite to carry a top- side ionospheric sounder – a satellite later to be called Alouette I. 
In April 1959, NASA and DRTE jointly signed an agreement whereby Canada was to supply a satellite and NASA was to provide the launcher. The leader of the Canadian team was John H. Chapman. 
The official announcement of Canada’s intention to build a satellite was made by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on the occasion of the official opening of the Prince Albert Radar Laboratory in June 1959. 
Looking back, one has to marvel at the audacity of the Canadian proposal and the confidence the Government placed in its scientific community. The Alouette program was approved at a time when rockets were still regularly exploding on the launch pad and those few satellites that actually made it in to orbit were lasting for only a few weeks or months. At the time of the signing of the Alouette agreement, the US had only successfully launched seven satellites. 
While Alouette I was a scientific satellite, its objective was to provide scientific information needed to provide more reliable communications between the northern and southern regions of Canada. Thus Canada entered the space age with a very practical proposition to use the advantages of space to help meet important domestic needs here on earth. Pursuing space applications to meet Canada’s needs has been the hallmark of our space program ever since.

Graham Gibbs & Mac Evans. Photos c/o MyCanada & CSA.
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first counselor for (US) space affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 

He is the author of "Five Ages of Canada - A HISTORY from Our First Peoples to Confederation."

William MacDonald "Mac" Evans served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from November 1991 to November 2001, where he led the development of the Canadian astronaut and RADARSAT programs, negotiated Canada’s role in the International Space Station (ISS) and contributed to various international agreements that serve as the foundation of Canada’s current international space partnerships.

He currently serves on the board of directors of Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast.


[i] The Canadian Space Program — Past, Present, and Future (A history of the development of space policy in Canada), W M. (Mac) Evans, Canadian Aeronautics and Space Journal, 2004, 50(1): 19-31, 10.5589/q04-004. Used and updated with permission.
Next Week: "The 1960's, ISIS, Chapman & Telesat" as part two of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets" continues.

American MDA Subsidiary Promotes "DEXTRE" for US as NASA RESTORE-L Satellite Servicing Budget Slashed

          By Chuck Black

Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) is having a bad week. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) "2018 Budget Blueprint," has slashed funding for the NASA RESTORE-L on-orbit satellite servicing mission from $133Mln USD ($178Mln CDN) to $45Mln US ($60Mln CDN) for fiscal year 2018.

The cutbacks reflect the fact that there is at least one other major corporation competing against MDA (and its US based surrogates) for multiple US government on-orbit satellite servicing contracts.

This competition will also affect how MDA treats its crown jewels, the legacy Canadian government funded Canadarm derived technology generally considered essential to any realistic on-orbit satellite servicing development program. Until now, MDA has insisted that technology hasn't been used to support any new US contracts.

As outlined in the July 21st, 2009 post, "Even Werner von Braun was Wrong Once in a While...," the driving personality behind our first great space race once laid out a plan to send men to the Moon and Mars, using reusable spacecraft and a space station big enough to sustain and pay for itself plus support the extra repair/ refueling capacity needed to construct a lunar and planetary expedition fleet. Unfortunately for that plan, printed circuits superseded the fragile and short-lived vacuum tube used in the 1950's and we ended up building much more durable and capable satellites which didn't require the additional on-orbit satellite servicing capabilities envisioned by von Braun. But this situation might be changing. Two companies are currently battling over a variety of US government contracts related to on-orbit satellite servicing and more are waiting in the wings to see which way the wind is blowing. Graphic c/o Commercial Space blog

Here's what we know so far.

The 2018 US Budget Blueprint cites the "duplication" of effort between NASA and other agencies, the need to keep costs down and to "better position" NASA "to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry" as justification for the RESTORE-L cutbacks.

The cutbacks directly effect MDA partner/subsidiary Space Systems Loral (SSL). Late last year, as outlined in the December 12th, 2016 post, "Will the New Space Systems Loral $127Mln NASA Space Robotic Servicing Contract Help Canada?," SSL announced that it had been awarded a $127Mln US ($170Mln CDN) contract to build components for the NASA RESTORE-L mission.

The current cutbacks, although not yet formally approved by the US Congress, will likely spread out disbursements on the RESTORE-L program over multiple years, slowing down progress, cutting into SSL's bottom line and adding administrative costs to a program which will remain in existence, but do less and less each year.

RESTORE-L is currently scheduled for launch in "mid 2020."

As outlined in the September 18th, 2016 post, "Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents," 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." The only real exception to this concentration of space focused patents is Canada. As outlined in the article, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) possesses substantial patents related to its Mobile Services System (MSS), which includes the Canadarm2 and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), also known as DEXTRE, which currently performs a variety of functions on board the International Space Station (ISS). MDA has served as prime contractor for Canadian government contracts related to the SPDM for most of its existence. Graphic c/o Commercial Space blog.

The 2018 Blueprint also reflects the fact that there is at least one other major corporation competing for US government on-orbit satellite servicing contracts. As outlined in the February 12, 2017 post, "Look Ma! No Canadarms!!! MDA & Orbital ATK Battle for US On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts," the very competitive Virginia based Orbital ATK, might slowly be gaining the upper hand.

For example, as outlined in the December 16th, 2016 post, "MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or "Any Other" Project," the official MDA position has been that no Canadian derived technology has ever been used in any US based projects.

But that position seems to have been reversed with the release of the March 15th, 2017 SSL press release, "MDA Recognized by NASA for Robotic Servicing of International Space Station,"

The SSL press release explicitly references contributions made by the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), also known as DEXTRE, during "a robotic upgrade to the International Space Station’s (ISS) power system which took place in January (2017)."

The press release also quotes SSL senior vice president of government systems Rich White as stating that the "team," at SSL and MDA US Systems, a division of MDA specifically referenced as being "managed by SSL," was honored "to be recognized by NASA for its contribution to this mission.”

According to White “SSL and MDA have a long history of collaboration in robotics work for NASA and we continue to work together to design innovative advanced robotic augmentation and servicing systems for future missions.”

A short video highlighting SSL capabilities and competencies in June 2012, about the time when then MDA CEO Dan Friedmann announced that MDA would be acquiring SSL for $875Mln US ($1,169Mln CDN), plus a further $112Mln US ($150Mln CDN) in dividends and other payments from SSL. As outlined June 27th, 2012 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler buys Space Systems Loral for $875M," SSL was purchased by MDA in order to "buy a space company with US roots to gain a foothold in the lucrative US market," and not because of any space robotics expertise possessed by SSL. Screen shot c/o SSL.

According to the press release, "SSL and MDA have the ability to build on robotics technologies proven on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station (ISS), and Mars landers and rovers."

Canadian contributions to the space shuttle, the ISS and the various Mars landers and rovers are not mentioned once in the press release. The press release closes out by mentioning that "as a Silicon Valley innovator for more than 50 years, SSL’s advanced product line also includes state-of-the-art small satellites, and sophisticated robotics and automation solutions for remote operations."

That may be true now. But it wasn't true four years ago when MDA purchased SSL.

And it's also not totally clear why MDA needs to hide the Canadian origins of the technology which is seemingly becoming more and more critical to a successful SSL bid on US government satellite servicing contract. No doubt that information will come out over time.

But as for now, e-mail requests for clarification to both MDA corporate communications manager Wendy Keyser and SSL director of communications Wendy Lewis have gone unanswered.

According to Lewis, "We appreciate you giving us the opportunity to respond to your inquiry (but)... We need to gather the facts to make sure we provide an adequate explanation."

This post will be updated as that "adequate explanation" becomes available.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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