Monday, July 31, 2017

Large Satellite Manufacturers Like MDA/SSL are Already Coping with a SmallSat Revolution in LEO Orbit

          By Henry Stewart

Iconic Canadian space company and well known American wannabe, Vancouver BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) surged 8.42% in a single trading session following the release of it's Q2 2017 results and seems poised to keep going.

As outlined in this July 31st, 2017 Globe and Mail post on "MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd," the company "closed up sharply Monday, rallying $1.82 or 2.64% to $70.71 and setting a new 50-day high. Over the last five days, shares have gained 9.20% and 5.71% year to date."  Of course, the stock rise came hot on the heels of a mostly positive Q2 earnings call, which was held after the markets closed on Thursday, July 27th. It's good news for MDA, which has under-performed the S&P TSX by 21.28% during the last year. For a transcript of the Q2 call, check out the July 28th, 2017 Seeking Alpha post, "MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates' (MDDWF) CEO Howard Lance on Q2 2017 Results - Earnings Call Transcript." Graphic c/o Globe & Mail.

But the results weren't all sweetness and light. 

As outlined in the July 28th, 2017 Space News post, "MDA slashes GEO order expectations," MDA CEO Howard Lance believes that "commercial satellite operators will probably order half as many geosynchronous satellites this year than usual, deepening a drought that has affected satellite manufacturers for the past two years."

According to Lance, "MDA counted just three commercially awarded satellite orders for the first half of this year, none of which went to Space Systems Loral (SSL), the satellite manufacturer MDA owns in Palo Alto, California." Lance forecasted ten to twelve large satellite orders he expected to be awarded in the second half of the year, but did not say how many he thinks his company will win.

I don’t know that it will ever get back to 22 satellite (contracts being awarded) a year,” Lance said, “but … the question is less around numbers and, from our standpoint, more around dollars.”

Of course, as outlined in the July 27th, 2017 post, "SpaceX Dominates, MDA Builds Comms & Telesat Plans LEO Sats (But Hasn't Yet Committed)," the real problem with the current crop of large commercial satellites placed in geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO) which MDA's subsidiary SSL has traditionally preferred to build is that they are increasingly in competition with large numbers of smaller, lower cost satellites being place in low (LEO) or medium Earth orbits (MEO) which, because of those lower orbits, possess lower latency (the time between when a signal is sent and received) and are therefore better for two way communication.

Expect this to further reduce the pool of available, large GEO satellite contracts traditionally preferred by MDA/SSL for their high dollar value in the coming months. The SSL subsidiary laid off some of its workforce in June to compensate for the paucity of communications satellite orders.

Of course, Lance remained bullish on the impending purchase of Earth observation satellite operator DigitalGlobe, even while acknowledging (and then dismissing) concerns over MDA’s refiling of acquisition paperwork to the US government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a US Treasury Department agency which assesses the national security impact of foreign acquisitions.

As outlined most recently in the July 17th, 2017 post, "Orbital ATK, DARPA, MacDonald Dettwiler, DigitalGlobe & Unleashing the Lobbyists," MDA has promised that it will eventually control Digitalglobe through a US based holding company in order to satisfy CFIUS requirements.

Only time will tell if CFIUS buys that story. Lance said the re-filing of CFIUS documentation initiated a new 30-day review period, which will close on August 14th. The impending DigitalGlobe acquisition is likely the reason for MDA's stock surge which likely means that the market does buy that story.

As for DigitalGlobe, financial results for the three months ending June 30th show the effects of the addition of the WorldView-4 satellite, which entered service in February 2017 and those results, as outlined in the  July 21st, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "DigitalGlobe: US government exercises option, WorldView-4 draws commercial customers," are good.

According to the Space Intel Report, "DigitalGlobe’s five-satellite fleet generated $225.7Mln US ($282Mln VDN) in revenue for the 3 months ending June 30. Two-thirds of it was from U.S. government contracts. The company is spending up to $600Mln US ($750Mln CDN) to replace the WorldView-1, WorldView-2 and GeoEye-1 satellites starting in 2020. A fleet of at least six smaller, lower-resolution satellites, being built with the government of Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to enter service in 2019." The “CE90” metric is a measure of geolocation accuracy. Graphic c/o DigitalGlobe.

Also, as outlined in the conference call, MDA reported a $29Mln CDN drop in its communications segment for the three months ended June 30th, which generated $332.4Mln CDN in revenue. The company’s surveillance and intelligence segment balanced the loss from fewer geostationary satellite orders by pulling in $171.3Mln CDN for the quarter, up $30.1Mln CDN.

The total revenue for the quarter was $503.7Mln CDN, comparable to last year’s $502.5Mln CDN. Net MDA income was $25.8Mln CDN, slightly up from last years $28.3Mln CDN but the order backlog shrank to $2Bln CDN, down $500Mln CDN over last year.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Cyclone 4M Launch Facility Getting Mixed Reviews in Nova Scotia

          By Chuck Black

It's been panned in this publication, but others have been kinder. For example, the April 28th, 2017 Halifax meeting of the Space Advisory Board (SAB) noted "considerable optimism and excitement regarding plans for a spaceport in the Province of Nova Scotia."

But that was then and this is now...

As outlined in the May 29th, 2017 Russian Space Web post, "Tsyklon-4M (Cyclone-4M) prepares a move to Canada," the violent breakup between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, "opened new opportunities for Tsyklon-4." As outlined in the article, "the conflict between the two former Soviet republics essentially grounded the leading low-cost launchers of small satellites -- Dnepr and Rockot. At the same time, Russia's new-generation light-weight Angara-1 rocket was continuously delayed, while the European Vega was too expensive for many small satellite operators. Although the US-based SpaceX attempted to fill the void with its competitive prices, the company's Falcon-9 rocket is often oversized for many small-satellite missions. It left the Indian PSLV rocket as the one vehicle well-suited for that particular market niche" and gave Tsyklon manufacturer Yuzhnoye the opportunity to re-enter the marketplace with a heavily modified Tsyklon-4 (now called Cyclone 4M) able to reach the near-polar orbits frequented by small satellites, "such as those comprising future remote-sensing constellations." Photo c/o MLS.

While local officials in the Municipal District of Guysborough, Nova Scotia (NS) have given a green light to the construction of a local facility just outside of Canso, NS able to launch modified Ukrainian-built Cyclone 4M rockets, others are slowly developing reservations about the thirteen year old project which has already failed once in Brazil...

As outlined in the July 21st, 2017 Herald News post, "Canso rocket project getting mixed reviews,"  the planned launch site is "only a couple of kilometres from the tiny communities of Hazel Hill and Little Dover," which has caused concern in those communities, since rockets are noisy and sometimes explode.

The plan is being spearheaded by NS based Maritime Launch Services (MLS). Earlier this year, after much hemming and hawing, MLS announced plans to invest upwards of $225Mln US ($281Mln CDN) to set up the spaceport and (officially) wound down plans to solicit Canadian government investment, although the question of tax credits and "off-sets," is certainly still on the table.

Most of that money is expected to be provided  through the Ukrainian based Yuzhnoye State Design Office, which designed the Cyclone-4M rocket (and where MLS CEO John Isella works as the North American development manager) and Santa Maria, CA based United Paradyne Corporation (where MLS CTO Dave Walsh works as VP/CTO).

MLS plans a ten to fifteen metre high control centre and rocket assembly area (which will assemble components manufactured in the Yuzhnoye Ukrainian facilities), a concrete launch pad and a custom rail system to transport and position the rocket for liftoff. The complex will use Ukrainian technology from Yuzhnoye (including the Cyclone 4M launch vehicle) and fuel (including liquid oxygen, refined kerosene and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, a hypergolic and carcinogenic liquid rocket fuel derived from hydrazine) procured through United Paradyne.

As outlined in the the October 3rd, 2016 post, "Sixteen Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers," and the follow-up October 12th, 2016 post, "Sixteen More Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers," there are a lot of organizations currently developing small-sat launchers to fill the market gap. For all its worth, and as outlined in the April 22nd, 2016 post, "2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said "Yes!" But CSA Didn't Move Forward," Canada doesn't really need the Ukraine's help, or anyone else's for that matter, in order to build and launch domestically produced rockets. Photo c/o Rocket Labs.

According to the article, there are concerns in the community about not being knowledgeable enough to ask important questions relating to the facility and greater concerns over what happened in the early 2000's when Yuzhnoye and the Ukrainian government announced plans to launch Cyclone-4 rockets in Brazil.

That deal fell through in 2015, just before MLS was formed and began promoting Cyclone-4M's for Canada.

Another concern is labour. According to MLS president Steve Matier, the launch facility is expected to need several hundred workers for construction and a further thirty to fifty full-time people will be needed to run the facility after construction is completed. Those workers will be difficult to source and house locally and could certainly change the culture of the community, which only holds a few hundred people in total now and is mostly focused on fishing.

For more on MLS and NS rocket ports, check out the April 17th, 2017 post, "An Update on NS Rockets, Intelsat Hunting for Canadian Gov't Satellite Contracts & More Ukrainian Lybid News," the February 6th, 2017 post, "Europe Will Fund the Prometheus Reusable Engine; Canada Pitched Cyclone-4's" and the September 11th, 2016 post, "Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SpaceX Dominates, MDA Builds Comms & Telesat Plans LEO Sats (But Hasn't Yet Committed)

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of July 24th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

The SpaceX share of the global commercial launch market since 2010. Graphic c/o Ars Technica.

As outlined in the article, SpaceX recently raised $350Mln US ($440Mln CDN) in additional funding. During this process the company was valued at $21Bln US ($26Bln CDN).
In 2015, when Google and Boston, MA based Fidelity Investments dropped $1Bln US ($1.26Bln CDN) into SpaceX, the company was valued in total at only $12Bln US ($15Bln CDN).  
This represents almost a doubling of value in only two years. The article also noted that the current valuation places SpaceX in a very rarefied air:
... just six other venture-backed companies are valued at $20 billion or more around the world. These companies include US-based companies Uber, Airbnb, Palantir, and WeWork, as well as Chinese firms Didi Chuxing and Xiaomi.  
The common thread among most of these business is their potential to become a globally dominant business, which SpaceX aspires to in the commercial launch market. 
During his testimony before a Senate subcommittee earlier this month, a senior vice president for SpaceX, Tim Hughes, noted that in 2013 SpaceX had less than 10 percent of the global share of commercial launch contracts. That number jumped to about 40 percent this year, and Hughes predicted it would rise to 60 percent in 2018...
In 1992, after spending two years at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Elon Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. 
Maybe we should have given him some incentive to stay in Canada. 
As outlined on the SNC "About Dream Chaser" webpage, "the Dream Chaser spacecraft is 30 feet, or 9 meters, long which is roughly ¼ the total length of the space shuttle orbiters. The spacecraft can carry the same crew size as the space shuttle and can remain docked to the ISS considerably longer." Graphic c/o SNC.
As outlined in the July 26th, 2017 MDA press release, "MDA to provide communications subsystem to Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) for Dream Chaser transportation spacecraft to support the ISS," the Dream Chaser is scheduled for at least six cargo delivery missions to and from the International Space Station (ISS) between 2020 and 2024.
No dollar amount was included with the announcement. 
More likely than not, the latest contract will be one of the items discussed during the MDA earnings conference call, which will begin promptly at 6am PT (9am  EST) on Friday, July 28th, 2017 to review the company Q2 financial results.
We'll talk about that meeting, next week. 
Telesat CEO Goldberg. Photo c/o SpaceNews/ Kate Patterson.

  • According to Ottawa, ON based Telesat President and CEO Dan Goldberg, his company is considering the option to add a low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of 117 satellites to provide telecommunications services with improved performance and smaller latency delays. 
As outlined in the July 26th, 2017 Space News post, "Telesat says low latency led to LEO constellation," the satellite industry "has and still does debate the significance of latency, depending on the applications served, but the growing number of LEO systems suggests a changing tide in that discussion."
According to the post, "low latency is a core tenant of OneWeb’s LEO-HTS constellation, which counts Intelsat among its investors. Similarly LeoSat argues that latency will be a discriminating factor for its constellation, as has corporate backer Sky Perfect JSAT of Japan."
The first two satellites in the Telesat constellation are expected to launch later this year, although the remainder have yet to be funded. The company expects to spend between $165Mln and $185Mln CDN on capital expenditures this year, even with the increase in LEO activities, but Goldberg told investors that the company still has a long way to go before the design of the satellite constellation is frozen and serious capital investment begins.
However, and as outlined in the July 27th, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "Telesat to investors: Dollars, not dreams, motivate our LEO constellation plan," the final decision to move forward with the constellation is dependent on "profit — and not a dream of global internet connectivity."
Goldberg made his remarks during the July 25th, 2017 quarterly conference call, which covered financial results for the three and six-month periods ended June 30, 2017. As outlined in the July 26th, 2017 More Space News post, "Telesat Reports Decline in Revenue for the Quarter Ending June 30, 2017," Telesat also reported consolidated revenues of $226Mln CDN, or a decline of 3% ($6Mln CDN) from the same period in 2016. 
For more, check out upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Thirty Meter Telescope Should Be Approved With Conditions, Hawaiian Supreme Court Judge Says

          By Chuck Black

A year and a half after its Hawaiian construction permit was revoked, and over a year after beginning discussions on the possible relocation of the project to the Canary Islands, a Hawaiian Supreme Court judge has recommended that a new permit should be issued for construction of the controversial 30 Metre Telescope (TMT) on the big island of Hawaii.

An artist’s rendering of the TMT complex. There are presently thirteen other telescopes on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii,  where the TMT is expected to be built. But the TMT is also 18 stories high and would not only be the biggest telescope on Mauna Kea but also the biggest building on the Big Island. It's also subject to the rule of the special conservation district where it, and all those other astronomical facilities, are located. Graphic c/o Thirty Meter Telescope. 

As outlined in the July 27th, 2017 CBS News post, "New twist in legal battle over big plans for Hawaii mountaintop," retired Hawaiian judge Riki May Amano, who is overseeing contested-case hearings for the TMT, has issued a 300+ page proposed decision, which includes a recommendation that the board issue a new construction permit.

But the new permit will come with over thirty conditions. These include:
  • The state land board will set a deadline for telescope opponents and permit applicants to file arguments against her recommendations. 
  • The board will later hold a hearing and then make the final decision on the project's conservation district use permit.
  • TMT employees will attend "mandatory cultural and natural resources training" and employment opportunities be filled locally "to the greatest extent possible."
  •  Guidance on how to handle newly-discovered burial and cultural sites, requirements for "substantial rent" on the facility and the establishment of a $1Mln US ($1.25Mln CDN) per year fund for STEM education in the local community.
As outlined in the article:
Protests disrupted a groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony at the site in 2014. After that, the protests intensified. Construction stopped in April 2015 after 31 protesters were arrested for blocking the work. A second attempt to restart construction a few months later ended with more arrests and crews retreating when they encountered large boulders in the road. 
The telescope has become one of the most divisive issues in the state, with some telescope supporters saying they are afraid to publicly express their stance on the project.

As outlined in the December 6th, 2015 post, "Hawaii Supreme Court Rescinds Permit to Build Thirty Meter Telescope," Canada is one of the TMT funders, with the Federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper having contributed $243.5Mln CDN in 2015 towards the $1.4Bln US ($1.8Bln CDN) total cost of the TMT.

As outlined in the Thirty Meter Telescope website, "the nonprofit TMT Observatory Corporation was founded in June 2003 by its partners: the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), the University of California (UC), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)."

Of course, the project is still in a state of flux, no matter what any single judge might happen to recommend. As outlined in July 27th, 2017 Hawaii News Now post, "TIMELINE: A look back at the TMT project — and what could happen next," no one really knows what's going to happen next.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 24, 2017

NASA Releases Earth Images Showing British Columbia Wildfires from Space

          By Henry Stewart

NASA has released images from its Terra (EOS AM-1) Earth imaging and other satellites, showing the extent of the wildfires currently raging across Northern British Columbia.

A July 11th, 2017, image from NASA's Terra satellite showing wildfire smoke filling valleys in southern British Columbia. Actively burning areas are outlined in red. Image c/o NASA.

Some of he images were created with the help of the Canadian built measurements of pollution in the troposphere (MOPITT) scientific tool, which is used in conjunction with four other remote sensors on board the Terra satellite, to monitor the state of Earth's environment and ongoing changes in its climate system.

According to the July 14th, 2017 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) post, "Monitoring the impact of British Columbia wildfires from space," the data collected is being passed along to various government agencies involved with monitoring the Wildfires in British Columbia.

As outlined in the July 24th, 2017 CBC News post, "BC wildfires remain relatively stable despite wind, scattered storms," fire flare-ups "caused by strong winds and thunderstorms in the forecast largely failed to materialize on Sunday, leaving many British Columbians breathing sighs of relief — but thousands are still out of their homes, and may not return for some time."

The BC government Wildfire Service interactive map of active wildfires as per 7pm EST on Monday, July 24th, 2017. For the current status of BC wildfires, simply click on the graphic above. Graphic c/o BC Wildfire Service.

There are 152 wildfires currently burning across the province and BC has spent more than $125.8Mln CDN fighting wildfires so far this summer.

In May, 2016, a wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta. By May 3rd, it had swept through the community, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta's history, with upwards of 88,000 people forced from their homes.

In both cases, earth imaging technology was instrumental in delivering men and equipment to the most advantageous locations to combat the blazes. Canada's satellite infrastructure repeatedly proves its worth in monitoring, strategizing and addressing significant public problems.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

NWT Businessman "Perturbed" By Response to Private Sector Inuvik Ground Station Proposal

          By Chuck Black

According to Tom Zubko, the president of  Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks, "we don't seem to be having any trouble selling our high technology companies to the Chinese, but we're certainly having trouble finding a way to licence our allies to work in Canada when they want to provide a useful service to northern communities, especially when those allies have demonstrated that they want to work with us and received licenses in their home jurisdictions to do so."

Those who argue that the present confusion in Inuvik between the Federal government owned ISSF and the privately owned CSGSI can be resolved with new legislation, don't really know the whole story. As outlined in the May 5th, 2016 Northern News Service Online post, "Satellite station boss opposes proposal for second facility," there is tension between the two facilities which certainly supersedes existing and potential legislation, and may relate to the differences between the cultures of small privately held "newspace" companies, large legacy aerospace firms and the publicly owned government facilities they both use and sometimes build. MDA Geospatial Services is the prime contractor on the government owned ISSF. According to a July 24th, 2017 e-mail from MDA marketing manager Wendy Keyzer, MDA has "no further comment on the issue." Screenshot c/o Northern News Service Online.

Zubko was not just referring to the recent sale of Richmond, BC based Norsat International Inc. by Chinese based Hytera Communications after a hard fought battle with Atlanta based Privet Fund Management, as outlined most recently in the July 6th, 2017 post, "Avoiding "Norsat Like Uncertainty" by Allowing the Chinese to More Easily Buy Advanced Canadian Companies."

He was also referring to the difficulties his clients were having licensing a privately owned ground station complex in Inuvik for San Francisco, CA based Earth imaging company Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), instead of working through the Canadian government owned Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF).

"I got involved in the front end in 2007 to see if it was worthwhile to set up as a service," said Zubko during a recent phone interview with this blog. "We helped build the first thirteen metre ISSF satellite dish in 2009 and contributed a second in 2010."

Tom Zubko. Photo c/o author.
But, in 2015, Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) was awarded with a Federal government contract providing "exclusivity" to the site, which included licensing on behalf of the ISSF for all clients.

About that time, at least according to Zubko, everything started going south.

"My clients, San Franscisco based Earth imaging company Planet and KSAT, had information they felt was proprietary and didn't want to give to MDA," said Zubko.

After much negotiation, his clients failed to resolve their impasse with MDA and decided to build their own facility, which eventually became the Canadian Satellite Ground Station Inuvik Inc. (CSGSI).

The new facility was supported by the local community and the government of the Northwest Territories which had committed to building a $100Mln CDN fibre optic line from Alberta to link to the ground station facilities and the community.

This new line, completed in June 2017 is now operational, but the CSGSI ground station remains idle while Ottawa completes its review process and continues to support the government owned ISSF facility.

According to Zubko, the new facility also caused MDA to sever ties between New North Networks and the ISSF. "They pulled my security clearance," he said, which made it difficult, since Zubko's clients couldn't work with him anymore and now needed to work through MDA.

To be fair to MDA, Zubko thinks its actions were at the behest of the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation ( CCMEO), the Federal government agency responsible for the ISSF.

"MDA acted as a messenger, no more," he feels. "Our problems with the Federal government relate to price, licensing requirements and time frame for approval," said Zubko. "We first broke ground for the CSGSI facility in April 2016 and by October of the same year we had competed the two larger and five smaller dishes for the facility. But since then, we've had nothing."

As outlined in the May 1st, 2017 New North Networks Ltd., ten page"information note" under the title: "The Challenges of Private Satellite Development in Inuvik, Northwest Territories," three main issues affect "the development, growth and sustainability of the space sciences sector in the Northwest Territories." None of the points listed are terribly complementary to the Federal government. To download the complete document, simply click on the image above. Document c/o New North Networks.

According to Zubko, it's taken longer to complete the paperwork for the application than it took to build the actual facility and a resolution doesn't seem to be in sight.

However, as outlined in the July 19th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Natural Resources Canada in Apparent Conflict of Interest Over Ground Station Licensing," there is at least one organization, the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, which thinks it has some idea of how to craft a solution. According to the article, the implementation of a new "general outer space act," to replace the existing legislation will appropriately regulate and administer both sides of this dispute.

But the government, either at the national level, or at the CCMEO and agency level and through its contractors such as MDA, has made it clear that it doesn't really want a second satellite facility in Inuvik and appears to be intent on institutionalizing the ground station segment of the industry in Canada.

Legislation is not likely to change that.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hytera Communications Expelled From China Based Trade Association Over "Disputed Bidding"

          By Chuck Black

Canada's Globe and Mail is reporting a new ripple in the ongoing takeover of Vancouver-based Norsat International, the Canadian high technology satellite communications company acquired in June 2017 by Chinese based Hytera Communications.

Hytera chairman, and principal shareholder, Chen Qingzhou.  Photo c/o Hytera.

As outlined in the July 21st, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Chinese firm expelled from trade association days before takeover of Canadian high-tech company," Hytera was expelled from a mobile-technology trade association run by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security for its involvement in the disputed bidding on a Chinese police contract, "just days before it closed a deal to buy Vancouver-based Norsat International."

According to the article, "the expulsion is unrelated to the takeover of the Canadian satellite communications company, but critics say Hytera’s past connections to Chinese security authorities and its questionable business dealings should have raised red flags in Ottawa."

As of publication, the details of Hytera’s expulsion from China’s Professional Digital Trunking (PDT) alliance remains shrouded in mystery. According to the Globe and Mail account, "it is unknown whether Mr. Chen, (Hytera chairman, and principal shareholder Chen Quinzhou) who has traveled on trade missions with the Chinese President, has run into trouble with the Communist Party, which has recently detained several billionaire businessmen and top party officials over alleged corruption and bribery."

This blog will be updated as new information becomes available.

The Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the Norsat sale to Hytera in June 2017 without conducting a full-scale national security review.

However, and as outlined in the July 6th, 2017 post, "Avoiding "Norsat Like Uncertainty" by Allowing the Chinese to More Easily Buy Advanced Canadian Companies," the US government has announced a review of the purchase. The US military has contracts to buy satellite communications equipment from Norsat and that technology will now be transferred to China.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

2017 NewSpace Global SmallSat Report is Now Available

          By Henry Stewart

There are a lot of space reports on the market. These include the annual Space Report Online (with "eleven years of data, resources and information on the worldwide space industry" collected by the Space Foundation, a US based charity) and the Annual Space Security Index, a "comprehensive, and integrated assessment of space security."

An overview of the 2017 NewSpace Global Smallsat Report. Graphic c/o NSG.

But, at least from a business perspective, one of the best resources is the annual NewSpace Global SmallSat Report. As outlined in the July 17th, 2017 press release, "The 2017 NewSpace Global SmallSat Report is now available" the newest report is now online.

The report highlights NSG's ability to combine historical analysis with accurate market and industry forecasting around the small-sat sector. The report also provides and overview of the ancillary companies and markets positioning themselves to profit from the expected growth in the smallsat sector over the next few years.

It also examines the increasingly important surge in dedicated small-sat vehicles seeking to capture global launch demand and assesses the importance of key events such as the potential broadband internet "mega-constellations" of SpaceX, OneWeb and Boeing; Softbank's $1.2Bln cash injection; and the general climate for private investment activity and M&A.

The report is designed to provide information on SmallSats that have been launched and are planned to be launched, analysis of the applications and sizes of various payloads, trends in capitalization and investment, and will answer questions such as:
  • Who are the fastest growing start-ups?
  • What is the market size?
  • How many SmallSats have been launched to date? What are trends with respect to the geography, entity type, time, size, and application? What are the 5-year projections?
  • Who are the top players in the industry?
  • What are the investment trends in SmallSat manufacturers and investors by geography and time?
  • How many SmallSats are launched by launch vehicle type and provider and geography? What are the trends?
  • What are the trends with respect to the 6th Vertical (In Space services)? Who are the players? What are the projections and analysis on growth in this evolving vertical?
The report has two components:
  • The Data Dive: a database of all SmallSats covered in the report as raw data designed to provide the user with a powerful tool to draw your own conclusions.
  • The Analysis Guide: select insights and data visualization based on the data collected.
Complete subscribers may access the Report on the NSG Deep Dive page. Core subscriber interested in obtaining this report, you can contact NSG at to request access. 
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Selling CDN Space Companies to the US & China, Luxembourg's Evolving Space Mining Policy & NORsat 1 & 2

          By Henry Stewart

While many gainfully employed, academically inclined or politically motivated Canadian space geeks are soaking up the sun at one of  the many beaches accessible via train, plane and automobile, that's not necessarily true for all, especially if you're working in Washington, DC and intent on negotiating a new free trade agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico.

Given that, and for the week of July 17th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Then Industry Minister James More announcing the first Space Advisory Board (SAB) in 2014.  As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 post, "Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members," the original members of the SAB included Colonel Chris Hadfield, retired general and former CSA president Walt Natynczyk and a number of other, very memorable participants in the Canadian space community. But they came up with nothing, and it looks like the present membership of the SAB, is well on its way to similar success. Photo c/o Chuck Black

  • It's just gotta be a damn shame for the Canadian space industry if the only real question which comes out of the recent Space Advisory Board (SAB) series of meeting, held across Canada from April 19th to May 20th, 2017 and including over 130+ participants from all regions and space industry specialties, is whether we should sell our small Canadian based companies only to the Americans or if we can also sell them to the Europeans and the Chinese. 
But that seems to be the core take away if one focuses only on current media accounts. For example:
The article also compares the Canadian initiatives with China to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which, as outlined in the January 31th, 2017 post, "Satellite Servicing, Orbital ATK, MDA, "Security Control Agreements," CETA, Minister Duncan's Science Adviser & Nova Scotia Spaceports," the Trudeau government signed off on earlier this year.   
Given that the SpaceQ website, once known as, has been both an important, ongoing advocate for Federal Liberal Party policies in this area and also a strong advocate for the SAB, the current article suggests a growing rank and file impatience with official Liberal policy under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
For an overview of those issues, check out the July 6th, 2017 post, "Avoiding "Norsat Like Uncertainty" by Allowing the Chinese to More Easily Buy Advanced Canadian Companies." 
  • Other media outlets, including this blog, which have objected to some of the machinations employed by Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) in order to gain access to lucrative US government and military contracts. 
For the most recent update on those activities, it's worth checking out the July 17th, 2017 post, "Orbital ATK, DARPA, MacDonald Dettwiler, DigitalGlobe & Unleashing the Lobbyists."
It's not that the Canadian space industry should avoid the sensible discussion of logical places for hard working founders to cash out their investments.
But we certainly shouldn't focus exclusively on selling off small innovative companies to foreign firms if we can instead build the infrastructure needed to support them as growing Canadian owned companies.
An English translation of the July 13th, 2017 Space Resources LU "Draft Law on the Exploration and Use of Space Resources." Graphic c/o Space Resources LU.

  • Speaking of space advisory boards, the Luxembourg Parliament has released a draft law on the exploration and use of space resources.
As outlined in the July 13th, 2017 Space Resources LU post, "Luxembourg is the First Nation to Offer a Legal Framework for Space Resources Utilization,"  the new document "is a key action of an overall strategy to be implemented by the Luxembourg government within the initiative whose goal is to support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space industry." 
The post also quotes Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider as stating that, "Luxembourg is the first adopter in Europe of a legal and regulatory framework recognizing that space resources are capable of being owned by private companies." 
According to Schneider, "the Grand Duchy thus reinforces its position as a European hub for the exploration and use of space resources. The legal framework is part of the expertise ecosystem and the business-friendly, innovation-nurturing environment that Luxembourg is offering to space industry companies. By adopting almost unanimously the respective draft law, the Luxembourg Parliament confirmed the strong political cross-party and national commitment to the initiative." 
Luxembourg also continues to promote international cooperation in order to progress on a future governance scheme and a global regulatory framework of space resources utilization. Examples include "a joint statement on future activities concerning missions to the asteroids, related technologies and space resources exploration and utilization with the European Space Agency (ESA)."
Is the Canadian Space Advisory Board listening and willing to learn? If so, there is much they could learn from Luxembourg.

Norsat-1 graphic showing major components. Both Norsat-1 and 2 utilize the UTIAS SFL "Nemo" next generation satellite bus, which offers fine attitude control, high power generation, and high down-link rates. The satellite are approximately 15 kilograms with main body dimensions of 20x30x40cm, but vary slightly in specific configuration due to payload. Graphic c/o UTIAS-SFL.

As outlined in the July 14th, 2017 UTIAS SFL press release, "Norway Successfully Launches Microsatellites built by Toronto's Space Flight Laboratory," the two Norwegian micro-satellites, NORsat-1 (which carries a state-of-the-art automatic identification system (AIS) receiver to track maritime vessels, a set of langmuir probes to study space plasma characteristics, and a compact lightweight absolute radiometer (CLARA) to measure total solar irradiation and variations over time) and NORsat-2 (with a second AIS receiver and a VHF data exchange (VDE) payload to enable higher bandwidth two-way communication with ships.) , were "developed and built by SFL for the Norwegian Space Centre with support from the Norwegian Coastal Authority, Space Norway, and the European Space Agency (ESA)
The payloads were provided by Kongsberg Seatex, the University of Oslo and the Physikalisch-Meterologisches Observatorium Davos World Radiation Center.
As outlined in the July 14th, 2017 ESA post, "Norway Launches Advanced Satellite-AIS Payloads to Improve Maritime Shipping Coverage," the new satellites are expected to be able to detect 90% of all vessels in Barents Sea and Svalbard in a single pass.
Perhaps the Great White North still retains at least some expertise in space. At least our universities remain able to contribute effectively to international projects.
For more, check out upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Orbital ATK, DARPA, MacDonald Dettwiler, DigitalGlobe & Unleashing the Lobbyists

          By Chuck Black

Those of us who need a reminder that our space industry is heavily dependent on the largesse of our political class need look no further than the recent adventures of Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) as it seeks to gain access to US government and military markets.

Want an overview of the DARPA RSGS program? Check out the March 25th, 2016 DARPA post, "Program Aims to Facilitate Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites." Graphic c/o DARPA.

To begin, Dulles, Virginia based Orbital ATK has failed in a legal bid to halt a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract for robotic satellite maintenance devices awarded under the DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program in February 2017. That award, originally made to MDA subsidiary Space Systems Loral (SSL), will now be able to move forward.

But plaintiff Orbital ATK hasn't given up on its claims and will instead go to the next level and lobby the political arena to see "if the White House can help it to bring the work to the private sector."

As outlined in the July 17th, 2017 The Register post, "DARPA's robot sat-fixing program survives sueball strike," the core of the Orbital ATK suit rested with a claim that the RSGS program violated America's 2010 National Space Policy, because the policy "forbids government space research from competing with the private sector."

As outlined in the July 12th, 2017 ruling handed down by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed Orbital ATK's complaint "on the basis that the 2010 National Space Policy doesn't have the force of law, meaning there was no basis for the lawsuit to proceed."

Leaving aside for the moment the question of "why" a US government agency would formulate a space policy document they didn't expect to be used as policy, it's worth noting that plaintiff Orbital ATK was also "miffed that DARPA had awarded the robosat contract to a competitor, Space Systems Loral (SSL) which, although based in California, is owned by Canadian outfit MacDonald Dettwiler. The suit suggested that at the contract's conclusion, SSL would then have the technology for its 'sole commercial use'."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, unless you're an MDA competitor. In which case you can argue that the US government provided an unfair advantage to your competition and "distorted the market."

Since the ruling avoided the question of whether the DARPA RSGS program was duplicating civilian programs, Orbital ATK will try other avenues to promote its views. They'll most likely try to gain an exception to the law for their specific case but it's possible that they might even attempt to change the law.

In either case, there is no doubt, that both sides in the court case will now unleash their lobbyists on the US government. 

As outlined in the February 4th, 2017 DennisWingo post, "On Orbit Servicing Controversy; DARPA VS Commercial," on-orbit satellite servicing has a long history, with commercial proposals going back to the 1950's and operational technology first being rolled out for the 1980's space shuttle missions, which utilized Canadian designed and built Canadarm technology. 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,'" MDA insists that no Canadarm derived technology is being used in any of its current satellite servicing plans. Graphic c/o Dennis Wingo

Speaking of MDA and lobbyists, the company seems to be slowly working through its paperwork to finalize the acquisition of Westminster, CO based DigitalGlobe, and become the contractor of choice for various US military and civilian programs relating to Earth imaging and on-orbit satellite servicing.

Unfortunately for MDA, it's not all smooth sailing.

As outlined in the July 13th, 2017 Space Intel Report post "MDA, DigitalGlobe withdraw, resubmit acquisition documents for US national security review," the two companies have both "withdrawn and then re-filed documents about their planned merger with the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to give the committee additional time to assess the transaction for US national security implications."

Normally, the need to refile documents would indicate issues needing resolution before the merger is able to move forward. But the specifics of this refiling were not discussed in the public documentation, so we don't know what those issues are.

Here's what we do know. The CFIUS review is required under US law because MDA is a Canadian based company which has committed to operate DigitalGlobe as “a stand-alone division under SSL MDA Holdings Inc., which is MDA’s U.S. operating subsidiary," in order to comply with US laws and regulations governing Federal government subcontractors.

In essence, US military contractors normally need to be US owned and operated, which MDA isn't, at least so far. The official portion of MDA's US access plan to gain compliance with, or at least develop a workaround to the CFIUS requirements, is on the public record, but it likely isn't sufficient on it's own to obtain compliance.

So it's being rewritten and updated.

For more on the strategy as it stands today, check out the February 27th, 2017 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler & DigitalGlobe, the Worldview Legion Constellation, Canada's RADARSATs & America's "Deep State." For an MDA specific take, check out the July 12th, 2017 MDA/ DigitalGlobe joint press release, "MDA and DigitalGlobe Provide Update on Merger."

It's worth noting that, at least some of the strategies being used by MDA are either trade secrets (information not generally known or reasonably ascertainable by which a business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customer), or else heavily dependent on the political arena to facilitate. 

In which case, expect MDA/DigitalGlobe/SSL to begin unleashing a second set of lobbyist's, focused around gaining support for the DigitalGlobe acquisition.

As Daffy Duck once said, "Yike's and away!"
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Canadian Space Industry Might Want to Embrace the 2017 Elevate Toronto Tech Festival

          By Brian Orlotti

The Canadian government hasn't had a long-term space plan for almost a decade, since 2009 when Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) tried (and failed) to sell it's space business to Virginia based Alliant Techsystems (ATK), in an attempt to gain access to the lucrative US military market.

Toronto Mayor John Tory at the July 11th, 2017 press conference announcing the 2017  Elevate Toronto Conference. It's a  a three-day tech festival that will showcase the best of the Canadian innovation ecosystem and welcome the world to Toronto. Photo c/o author.

And while there has been many promises, from both Federal Conservative and Liberal governments under Prime Ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, each has failed to provide consistency and direction to the Canadian space industry.

Which is kinda odd since the future of our space industry has always been, and will likely continue to remain, providing space focused solutions to Earth based problems.

Of course, if you're really looking for the best solutions to Earth based problems, you might want to check out the 2017 Elevate Toronto conference, which will be held from September 12th - 14th in Toronto, Ontario.

Elevate Toronto Chair and former Achievers Inc CEO Razor Suleiman citing his gratitude to Canada for welcoming his Ismaili family from East Africa decades ago. Razor wants to build on the international success of Toronto events like the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Austin TX based  South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) and its Toronto partner, the Toronto, ON based North by North West Festival (NXNW) to launch Elevate Toronto. Photo c/o author.

On July 11th, leaders from Toronto’s tech startup community gathered near the top of the CN Tower to unveil the event, intended to showcase Toronto’s thriving tech scene as well as promote the city internationally as a hub for investment and innovation.

Elevate Toronto is a non-profit collaboration between 17 technology organizations coming together to create the three-day festival (which will run September 12-14). These organizations include:
  • TechToronto – A local organization supporting the growth and development of the Toronto tech community. Best known for its monthly TechToronto Meetups.
  • MaRS Discovery District - A Toronto tech incubator founded in 2000 as a public/private partnership with the goal of commercializing research in medicine/biotech, information technology, engineering and other fields.
  • MoveTheDial – A local organization dedicated to bringing more women into the tech industry.
  • OneEleven – A Toronto tech incubator backed by OMERS Ventures, the venture capital arm of the powerful Ontario municipal employee pension fund 
  • Cossette Communications - A Canadian marketing communications firm headquartered in Quebec City with offices in Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg. Cossette’s clients include McDonald’s, General Motors, General Mills, Bank of Montreal, Procter & Gamble and Nike.
A recurring theme among the speakers at the Elevate Toronto unveiling was how diversity and prosperity complement and reinforce each other and provide a bulwark against current populist winds.

Elevate Toronto Chair and former Achievers Inc CEO Razor Suleiman eloquently championed diversity as a strength and not a weakness, offering his gratitude to Canada for welcoming his Ismaili family fleeing persecution in East Africa decades ago.

Suleiman pitched the new festival as a means of strengthening Canada by showcasing its talent to the world as well as enticing Canadian expats in the US and Europe back home. He also spoke of how his team seeks to model Elevate Toronto on internationally successful Toronto events like the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and The South by Southwest Festival (aka SXSW).

Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke next, making the point that supporting a thriving Toronto tech community boosts Canada’s prosperity which, in turn, helps prevent a descent into the xenophobic nationalism seen in the US and UK. Many Canadian expats in the audience, recently returned from the US with tales of racist harrassment, loudly applauded.

Standing in the crowd, the author could detect an energy---a zeal for greatness---emanating from the Toronto tech community. Canada’s space industry—listless and adrift---would do well to emulate the tech community as it seeks to step out of other nations’ shadows and elevate ours to new heights.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Astronaut Julie Payette is Canada's Next Governor-General

         By Chuck Black

Retired Canadian astronaut Julie Payette will become Canada's next Governor-General, but don't get too excited. 

After all. it's mostly a symbolic role, so Payette won't be able to pester the Liberal government about the delayed report from the Space Advisory Board (SAB) pondering Canada's future in space or push for action on the review of Federal science funding, announced by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan back in June 2016, but mostly abandoned since the public report was released in April 2017. 

Trudeau and Payette at a press conference on Parliament Hill on Thursday. As outlined in the July 13th, 2017 CBC News post, 'Unquestionably qualified': Ex-astronaut Julie Payette formally introduced as Canada's next GG," Payette, who is also an accomplished athlete, pianist and choral singer, will succeed outgoing Gov. Gen. David Johnston. Photo c/o Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press.

But then, as an ex-government employee focused on supporting government policy, she wasn't really in a position to do that before, either. At least, she won't have to wear the blue Canadian Space Agency (CSA) jumpsuit to formal events. 

The announcement of the appointment was made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a news conference on Parliament Hill on Thursday, although government leaks insured that most major news outlets were aware of her new role the day before. 

As outlined in the July 13th, 2017 CBC News post, "As an astronaut, an engineer and a woman, Julie Payette will make her mark as governor general," the symbolism of her appointment, "will not be what some imagined it might be." However, the country "will soon be officially represented by an accomplished female astronaut and scientist. And that has a symbolic quality all its own."

Virtue signaling? Probably. And it would certainly be a bad thing for the person and her new position to overshadow and eventually supersede the development of appropriate policy.

But for now, the 53-year-old Montrealer, who speaks six languages, will become Canada's 29th governor general. She will be the fourth woman appointed to the role and is expected to take over from current Governor General David Johnston in the fall.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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