Friday, September 29, 2017

Elon Musk Shrinks his SpaceX Mars Rocket to Cut Costs

          By Henry Stewart

Speaking of private sector space pioneers, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has modified and updated his one year old plan to land on and colonize the planet Mars. 

As outlined in the September 29th, 2017 Thompson Reuters post, "Elon Musk shrinks SpaceX Mars rocket to cut costs," SpaceX now plans its first trip to the red planet in 2022, carrying only cargo, to be followed by a manned mission in 2024.

According to the post:
NASA's first human mission to Mars is expected about a decade later. 
Musk had previously planned to use a suite of space vehicles to support the colonization of Mars, beginning with an unmanned capsule called Red Dragon in 2018, but he (Musk) said SpaceX is now focused on a single, slimmer and shorter rocket instead...
In a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk outlined a revised version of his original scheme.

To pay for that rocket, Musk suggested using it to deliver satellites into orbit and to service the International Space Station (ISS). He also suggested that the rocket could be used to transport people between any two points on Earth in less than an hour— or perhaps help build an outpost on the moon.

The complete presentation is available online.

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A New Science Advisor, that "Massive" Science Review, the Deep Space Gateway & the Latest JWST Postponement

          By Chuck Black

Science is a method to help us answer questions about the physical world, officially at least. 

But in this age of military/university partnerships, government grants, industry-funded research and "evidence based decision making," it's not the scientists, but instead its the people who fund the science, who control the questions being asked and the answers being provided.

After all, even scientists have families and gotta eat. Given that, it's useful to note the context of some of the important government focused science and space stories which broke this week.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, have announced the appointment of Canada’s new chief science advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer. 
As outlined in the September 26th, 2017 Canadian Press post, "Mona Nemer, heart researcher, appointed Canada's new chief scientist," the new chief scientist begins with a staff of two "to help with transition" and a $2Mln CDN annual budget. Her job will be to advise the government on ways to keep "government science accessible and public" and protect "federal scientists from being muzzled."
Dr. Nemer. Photo c/o Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Many remain cautious over the new appointment. 
As outlined in the September 25th, 2017 Macleans post, "Commander Spock, report to the PMO," the real purpose of the 2015 Liberal campaign promise, and the subsequent appointment, might have been simply to "remind people that Stephen Harper had fired the previous science advisor, Arthur Carty, in 2008." 
But the announcement does provide Trudeau, Duncan and the Liberal government a little extra time and goodwill to deal with their Federal review of science, released back in April 2017 and officially ignored ever since. 
As outlined in the April 17th, 2017 post, "'Massive' Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon 'Drop Down the Memory Hole,'" no one in government really wants to tackle the reports key recommendation, which is an increase in "core" Federal science funding from $3.5Bln CDN per year to $4.8Bln CDN. Canada currently spends more than $10Bln CDN annually on science research and development. 
Here's hoping the new chief scientist has enough time and funding to cover her new beat.
  • They call it the "Deep Space Gateway," but it's really a US/ Russian collaboration (with the potential for other countries, such as Canada, to contribute) to consider building another space station, this time near the Moon.
As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 Popular Mechanics post, "NASA is teaming up with Russia to put a new space station near the moon. Here's why," the main thrust of this new proposal, first unleashed publicly at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2017), which is being held in Adelaide, Australia from September 25th - 29th, is to build a way-point to anywhere we might want to go in the solar system. 
Politically incorrect. Graphic c/o Quote Addicts.
The International Space Station (ISS) in Earth orbit was once considered to be a way-point to anywhere we wanted to go in the solar system, but evidently that was wrong. 
The new station has been pitched as an "enabler" for an "affordable" and "sustainable" exploration architecture and far better than the aging ISS, at least according to the article. 
But the new station is only affordable because its just "half way" to any potential destination and nothing important has so far been defined. 
As outlined in the article, "speculation on the cost of the station is not available yet."
It could certainly end up as a gateway to nowhere, in much the same way as the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), which currently has no real mission to justify its ongoing existence.
Of course, if the Deep Space Gateway is build then the SLS has at least one destination. It could go to the Deep Space Gateway. As outlined in the article, "These plans are all based around the Space Launch System and Orion capsule, NASA’s next-generation system that it hopes will have its first crewed launch in 2023."
Problem solved.  
In addition to Russia and the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency (ESA) are all interested in the project. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has already issued several small proposals (and pitched at least one idea for the Gateway to use a solar sail) to generate potential contributions.
And that's the real problem with this proposal. Nothing is yet defined and the funding does not yet exist. The Deep Space Gateway is simply a paper study awaiting funding from whichever government or private concern sees fit to salute the proposal, now that its been hoisted up its public flagpole. 
Will the proposal move forward? Stay tuned. 

  • For a sense of what political promises related to science are currently worth in the real world it's worth noting that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been delayed, again.
As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 Ars Technica post, "The oft-delayed James Webb Space Telescope gets delayed again," the latest delays will push out the next-generation space telescope expected launch in October 2018 into 2019. According to the article, the integration of the various subsystems into a complete satellite is simply taking longer than expected.
The original JWST contract, as described by the September 11th, 2002 New York Times (NYT) article "Next Generation Space Telescope Chosen to Peer into Past" was expected to cost $824.8Mln USD ($1.1Bln CDN) and launch in 2010. 
The current budget is estimated at $8.8Bln USD ($11Bln CDN) and the launch is currently scheduled for 2019, but only if everything goes well, which is kinda like hoping for a miracle based on the history of the program. 
For a sense of the cost overruns and delays which have dogged the program since the beginning, its worth checking out the July 12th, 2011 post, "Tracking Costs for the James Webb Telescope." 
Here's hoping everyone in government funded space and science programs a bit more luck next week.

Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Kepler Communications Co-Founds US Based Small-Sat Lobby Group

          By Chuck Black

Here's another reminder that Canadian space companies must compete in the world marketplace and not just domestically.

Toronto, ON based Kepler Communications has joined with ten other small satellite companies to establish a Washington, DC based trade association tasked with addressing spectrum policies and regulations specific to the growing small-sat industry.

Now they have their own club. As outlined in the  July 13th, 2017 Euroconsult press release, "$30 Billion Market Value for Small Satellites over Coming Decade," over 6,200 small-sats are expected to be launched over the next ten years, "a substantial augmentation over that of the previous decade." The total market value could reach $30.1Bln US ($37Bln CDN) in the next ten years, up from $8.9Bln US ($11Bln CDN) over the previous decade. Infographic c/o Euroconsult.

The new organization, called the Commercial Smallsat Spectrum Management Association (CSSMA), will focus on "issues unique to small-sats" which are not addressed by the larger and more established Satellite Industry Association (SIA), according to the September 22nd, 2017 Space News post, "Smallsat companies band together in new spectrum-advocacy organization."

Founding members of the CSSMA include San Jose CA based Astro Digital, Herndon VA based HawkEye 360, San Francisco CA based Planet and Spire Global, Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), Redmond WA based RBC Signals,  El Segundo, CA based The Aerospace Corporation, international law firm Hogan Lovells and Kepler. Planet, Spire, The Aerospace Corp. and HawkEye 360 are also a part of the Washington DC based SIA.

As outlined in the article, CSSMA members hope that their collective voices "will gain more attention when it comes to spectrum access."

The article also quoted Spire general council Jonathan Rosenblatt as stating that:
... a notice of proposed rule making from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expected early next year about small satellites will be a “big priority” for CSSMA. 
Similarly, small-sat rule-making at the 2019 World Radiocommunications Conference — the United Nation’s once-every-four-years gathering of governments, regulators and companies to address international spectrum allocations — sits near the top of the association’s agenda...
Kepler was last profiled in the February 20th, 2017 post on "Those Pesky Kids at Kepler Communications."
eveChuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

IAC 2017, the Australian Space Agency, Canadian Space Miners & the Seraphim Space Fund

          By Henry Stewart

It's conference season, a season which normally kicks off with the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2017) at the end of September. But conferences aren't the only things happening in the space industry.

For the week of September 25th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Australian senator Simon Birmingham announcing the creation of an Australian Space in Adelaide, on September 25th, 2017 as part of the IAC 2017 opening ceremonies. As outlined in the September 25th, 2017 Agence France-Presse post, "Australia to create national space agency," Birmingham committed on Monday "to creating a national space agency as it looks to cash in on the lucrative and fast-evolving astronautical sector." 
  • It looks like Australia is gonna get its own space agency, although most of the details are still to be decided. 
According to the September 25th, 2017 The Register post, "Australia commits to establish space agency with no budget, plan, name, deadline …," an ongoing Federal government review of Australia's space capabilities has evidently demonstrated an "overwhelming need" to establish a national space agency.
Oddly enough, although the review is not yet complete, the formal announcement that the Australian government was intending to create a space agency was made by Senator Simon Birmingham, the minister of education in the government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, during the opening ceremonies of IAC2017, which is being held in Adelaide, Australia from September 25th - 29th.
According to The Register, this announcement, when combined with the July 2017 Australian government "Terms of Reference for a Review of Space Industry Capability," which outlined the scope of the inquiry and the August 2017 "Australian Government Issues Paper," which further defined the issues the committee is expected to address, could lead the committee to only two possible conclusions: 
The Register mentions those documents because it appears that either the Reference Group's consultations to date have so unanimously recommended the creation of a space agency that any other recommendation would be folly, or because the contents of its output have been decided in advance. 
Whatever the reason for today's announcement, there's zero evidence Australia hopes to build launch capacity or has any missions in mind... 
How's that for democracy in action?
The review, under the title, "Review of Australia's Space Industry Capability," was announced in July 2017. Formal consultations began in mid-September, after the review had staged "preliminary chats" with 400 people. 
Thousands of the world's top scientists, business people and space experts are attending the week-long IAC 2017 in Adelaide and many more announcements are expected.
Graphic c/o NRC

  • Curiously enough, Australia is Canada's biggest competitor for mining technology. Where Australia's space industry goes, can Australia's mining industry be far behind? 
Maybe not. As outlined in the September 19th, 2017 Computerworld post, "Govt to launch ‘Digital Economy Strategy’," the Australian government will also release a "digital economy strategy" early next year “to seize the benefits of digital transformation and secure Australian jobs into the future.” 
The new strategy will cover "areas of competitive strength," including energy resources, medical and mining related technologies. According to the article, the latest consultation also "welcomes views on a number of emerging technologies, namely 5G, artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing."
The new strategy is in addition to the government’s $1.1Bln AUD ($1.08Bln CDN) "National Innovation and Science Agenda" which was launched in December 2015, and seems to have much in common with Canada's Innovation Agenda (now renamed "Canada's Innovation and Skills Plan"), a 2016 Canadian Liberal government initiative to do much the same thing.
And here's where we come to space mining. Canada still has no formal position or initiatives related to space mining on the books although, as outlined in the May 1st, 2017 post, "This Week's 8th Joint Planetary and Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium & Space Resources Roundtable," there is an active Canadian community involved in this area.
If Australia becomes interested in space mining initiatives, either through tax changes like those advocated in the October 31st, 2016 post, "'Super"' Flow Through Tax Shares & Why Space Companies Need Them," or through the direct funding of new initiatives (the favored methodology of the Americans, although they have also passed recent legislation), then Canada companies will not be able to compete in this new frontier as effectively as they have been able to compete terrestrially.
In essence and from the Canadian perspective, here's hoping that the new Australian space agency doesn't set up a "space mining group."

The Seraphim Space Index covering $2.57Bln US ($3.17Bln CDN) in major space focused investments from July 2016 to June 2017. Graphic c/o Seraphim.

  • Given the above, it's worth noting that not all news about the space industry involves a government or a government space agency.
For example, the world's first venture fund "dedicated to financing the growth of companies operating in the Space ecosystem," London, UK based Seraphim Capital, has closed out the latest round of funding for its Seraphim Space Fund at £70Mln ($116Mln CDN). 
As outlined in the September 18th, 2017 This is Money post, "SES invests in Seraphim's £70 million Space Fund," the money raised came from a variety of small and large space focused players including Luxembourg based SES SA, Paris based Airbus, Mumbai-based Rolta, California's Teledyne Technologies and Rome-headquartered Telespazio. 
"By virtue of being a specialist space-tech investor – the only dedicated space-focused VC globally  – we are benefiting from very strong global deal flow," said Michael Jones, a managing partner at Seraphim in a press release outlining the close. "We've been targeted by many other VCs asking us to participate in space-related transactions they're working on."
As outlined in the August 27th, 2015 Via Satellite post, "European Space Industry to get Venture Capital Boost," the new fund has partnered with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) applications program and "is poised to accelerate startup and small business activity within the UK space industry.
Seraphin's primary focus is to invest in projects that commercialize data above the earth, collected either by satellite or drone. The company manages £100Mln ($166Mln CDN) in venture capital across two funds, the newly launched Seraphim Space Fund and a £30Mln ($50Mln CDN) fund launched in 2006, which is currently in divestment. 
For more, check out upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Friday, September 22, 2017

Elevate Toronto; It's Our Time

          By Brian Orlotti

It's not specifically a space conference, but the 1st Elevate Toronto Festival, a three day tech start-up extravaganza held in Toronto, ON last week, dealt with many of the same technological questions, business concerns and features some of the same players. As the global landscape undergoes its most profound political, economic and technological upheavals since World War II, Elevate Toronto even adopted a telling slogan: It’s Our Time.

Toronto Mayor John Tory at the Elevate Toronto Festival in Toronto on September 12th. Photo c/o Brian Orlotti.

The festival, created by returning Canadian expat Silicon Valley techies and backed by Canadian and American investors, struck a confident and uncharacteristically nationalist tone. Spread out over multiple venues, the festival featured speakers from the world’s biggest technology and venture capital firms as well as Toronto’s own vibrant tech startup community.

Divided into multiple tracks such as Elevate AI, Elevate Work, Elevate Health and Elevate FinTech and Blockchain, the festival focused on two main themes:
  • Harnessing Canada’s tech talent to strengthen its economy and global influence, thereby reducing its dependence on an increasingly hostile United States
  • Embracing disruptive new technologies to create new employment and long-term prosperity, rather than simply eliminating jobs for short-term profit

Key highlights from the festival include:
  • An eloquent and surprisingly frank speech from Toronto Mayor John Tory. Tory praised Toronto as a tolerant, safe city with high quality of life even while admitting its challenges with poverty, gridlock and infrastructure. Tory was quite blunt in his admission that Toronto’s government is both inefficient and technically behind the times, dubbing it "two generations behind" in tech practice compared to the business world. To address this, Tory unveiled Toronto’s new Civic Innovation Office, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. This new office will serve as the link between Toronto's government and it's tech industry. It's mandate will be to 'disrupt' City Hall via a series of new 'Civic Challenges' to be unveiled soon. 
  • Canadian Tech Titan Tony Lacavera gave an electrifying presentation in which he stated Canada must purge it's colonial mindset and build Canada's brand on the world stage if it is to stop the leaking of its economic value to foreign powers. Lacavera gave the example of the light bulb actually being a Canadian invention whose patent was purchased by US inventor Thomas Edison. He then put forth the question of why doesn't the Canadian govt hasn’t purchased any Canadian-made D Wave quantum computers (as Google and NASA did) and created an ecosystem around them? Lacavera ended with a slide showing the tagline, ‘It's time to go for the gold.’ Lacavera’s sentiments were greeted with thunderous applause.
  • Vinod Kosla, venture capitalist, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and co-creator of Java spoke about the challenges of fundraising as well as possible uses for artificial intelligence (AI). Kosla framed the current debate over the dangers of sentient AI as wrong, saying that the true danger is rather from non-sentient AI in the hands of "bad actor" nation states and criminals.
  • In a panel discussion entitled ‘Building an AI Ecosystem,’ panelists listed several Canadian advantages vis-a-vis the US in growing its global presence. As the US increasingly restricts  immigration laws to block the hiring of Muslims and other undesirables, Canada's more liberal policies will make it well placed to thrive in the new geopolitical order. In addition, Canada can leverage its advantage in centralized medical record and genetics databases as compared to the US where most such systems are scattered at the hospital and insurance level.
Elevate Toronto proved to be an energizing, patriotic and hopeful event. A welcome addition to Toronto’s array of cultural events, it may well be the crucible in which a great Canadian future is forged.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

First Canadensys Got a Lunar Rover Contract: Then They Scooped 3 Ontario Drive & Gear Engineers

          By Chuck Black

Back in July, Caledon, ON based Canadensys Aerospace picked up a contract from the Waimea, HI based International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) to build instrumentation for the first ILO Lunar Observatory stationary research station

We live in a small world. As outlined in the July 3rd, 2014 Lunar Enterprise Daily post, "ILOA Partnering With Canadensys Aerospace Corp On ILO-1 Flagship Moon Mission," the partnership between the two organizations goes back several years.The ILOA is also part of the Space Age Publishing Company, which shares links and stories with the Commercial Space blog. Graphic c/o Space Age Publishing Company.

Almost immediately, and in a stunning human resources coupe, Canadensys scooped-up New Hamburg, ON based Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) ARGO VP of engineering Peter Visscher, project manager Perry Edmundson, and senior mechanical designer Peter Woolfrey.

And yesterday, as if to celebrate those acquisitions, Canadensys announced the creation of a Waterloo, ON based "new facility for space mechanical design and advanced manufacturing."

As outlined in the September 21st, 2017 Canadensys press release, "Canadensys announces advanced manufacturing capability in the Waterloo region," the new facility will support the company's "expanding space and exploration initiatives." Of course, the expectation is that the new facility will also support ILOC efforts to build a stationary Moon research station.

And, as outlined in the July 20th, 2017 ILOA post on "The ILO Mission," contract work is advancing through Cape Canaveral, FL based Moon Express Inc for "ILO-1 Landing Technology Advanced R&D, with actual ILO-1 spacecraft development by Moon Express to begin in 2018."

According to the post, the Canadensys contribution was a “a flight-ready low-cost optical payload for the ILO-1 mission, ruggedized for the Moon South Pole environment,”  called the "Lunar Optics Program."

A sampling of proposed Moon Express robotic explorers. It's worth noting that Toronto born Moon Express CEO Robert Richards also started out in Canada, but eventually ended up moving to the US to generate funding for his company. Graphic c/o ME.

ODG was evidently sanguine about the  manpower losses. The September 21st, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Canadensys is Expanding its Operations Opening an Advanced Manufacturing Facility in Waterloo," quoted  Joerg Stieber, the chairman of the board at ODG, as stating that his company "had decided to refocus on their terrestrial extreme terrain robots."

Of course, there was also the possibility that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) had run out of money for ODG to research lunar rovers.

As outlined most recently in the April 10th, 2017 post, "General Fusion, exactEarth's Missing (But Insured) Satellite, More CSA Rovers & ULA Drops Launch Costs," those funds were substantial, but depended in the final analysis on acquiring a deal with another international partner, a situation which never materialized.

It's also worth noting that the senior team at Canadensys, including president and CEO Christian Sallaberger, VP of space exploration Nadeem Ghafoor, chief engineer of space exploration Howard Jones and director of strategic development Jim Middleton each started off in far duller and more traditional jobs in either Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) or at the CSA.

We all gotta start somewhere.

Here's hoping that the Canadensys people and their previous employers are able to manage the intellectual property derived from their earlier positions so they can still be utilized by Moon Express, the ILOA and anyone else who wants to use it.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that "Canadensys Aerospace picked up a contract from the Waimea, HI based International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Silicon Valley CA based Moon Express to build the first lunar observatory rover."
That statement was in error. Although both Moon Express and Canadensys do have a customer in common (the ILOA), there is no contractual relationship or formal partnership between Moon Express and Canadensys.
eveChuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Telesat Now Planning 290 Satellite Constellation

          By Henry Stewart

Ottawa, ON based Telesat has confirmed that its proposed 117 satellite low Earth obit (LEO) constellation has now grown to approximately 290 satellites.

Artist’s rendition of a small satellite in LEO. Photo: SSTL

As outlined in the September 13th, 2017 Advanced Television post, "Canada’s Telesat planning 290 satellites," Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg made the announcement to delegates at the recently concluded 2017 Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week, which was held in Paris, France from September 11th - 15th.

Goldberg also told delegates that, under proposed new FCC regulations, Telesat was obliged to launch half of the new fleet, about 140 craft, within six years. The balance, once the second batch of 140 had been launched, would be in-orbit spares/replacements.

As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," Telesat had initially proposed a much smaller fleet.

Telesat CEO Goldberg. Photo c/o SpaceNews/ Kate Patterson.
However, and as first reported in the September 11th, 2017 post, "New FCC Rules a Defeat for SpaceX, But May Signal Opportunity for OneWeb & Telesat," a series of proposed new Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulations may have given a competitive advantage to smaller satellite constellation proposals from firms such as Telesat, UK based OneWeb and others as they attempt to compete with Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX and its proposed 4000 plus army of super-fast internet satellites.

The new FCC rules were released for comment and feedback on September 7th and are expected to be approved at the next open FCC meeting on September 26th, 2017. Goldberg and others may be positioning themselves to take advantage of the new rules, once they take effect.

Telesat’s 1st prototype test LEO satellite is currently scheduled for launch in November on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket. A second LEO prototype is also scheduled for launch before the end of the year.

The satellites are built by UK based Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) and Palo Alto, CA based Space Systems/Loral (SSL).

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

The Commercial Space Blog will be at the 18th CASI ASTRO Conference; May 15th - 17th, 2018 in Quebec City, PQ

          By Chuck Black

As outlined by Geoffrey Languedoc, the executive director of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI), the upcoming 18th CASI ASTRO Conference, "promises to be the must-attend space event in Canada next year. We expect top-level speakers from Canadian industry, government and academia, international panels and keynotes, a technical program including over 200 oral and poster presentations and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss."

With a heartfelt promo like that, its no wonder that this blog often attends and covers CASI organized events.

But this year, we decided to try something a little more adventurous. Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black has volunteered to speak and help organize some of the conference sessions relating to commercial start-ups, social media marketing of space activities and maybe even one or two other areas.

In exchange, Languedoc has promised (perhaps only half jokingly) a "small private, soundproof room" where members of the industry can give Commercial Space media representatives an off the record "piece of their minds."

On a less "cathartic" note, participation will also provide the opportunity for this publication to delve a little more deeply into upcoming space focused initiatives in Canada and around the world, and to help push those initiatives out on to the world stage.

The upcoming conference is the latest in a series of astronautics and aeronautics events that CASI holds every year. They are renowned for offering unparalleled opportunities to delegates from industry, academia, defence, security and government to meet and network with colleagues from Canada and around the world.

Another CASI organized and sponsored event. The fourth plenary of the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014), which was held in Toronto, ON from September 29th - October 4th, 2014.  As outlined in the undated CASI IAC 2014 website, IAC 2014 "was a fantastic week of meetings, knowledge sharing and networking with a great line up of events, social programs and informative technical sessions involving industry leaders and heads of space agencies." Several of the most popular and interesting Commercial Space blog articles, including the multi-part, "A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets," and the multi-part "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History," originated as presentations at IAC 2014. This blog is hoping to push out many new stories based on knowledge gained from the upcoming CASI ASTRO. To see the complete video, simply click on the photo above. Photo c/o IAF.

ASTRO 18 will focus on Canadian capabilities, current activities, and prospects for growth domestically and in the international space arena. Five parallel tracks will be offered, as well as a robust Interactive Poster session.

The co-chairs of the ASTRO’18 Technical Committee are Dr. Christian Lange, the deputy of exploration strategic planning at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)  and Dr. Michele Faragalli, the space exploration and advanced technologies manager at Mission Control Space Services Inc.

The deadline for abstract submission is November 1st, 2017. Authors submitting abstracts will be notified by December 15th, 2017. For more information on the 2018 CASI ASTRO, check out the web page at

This blog looks forward to the upcoming ASTRO 18 and the opportunity to meet and greet with the finest of Canada's space community.
eveChuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Politico Revisits Kennedy's Famous "We choose to go to the Moon" Speech

          By Henry Stewart

On the anniversary of president John F. Kennedy's famous "Moon Speech" at Rice University on September 12th, 1962, a new generation of explorers, politicians and adventurers sat down in Washington, DC with the Arlington based Politico News Service to revisit many of the same questions which fascinated Kennedy.

The complete eighty-one minute discussion is available by clicking on the graphic above. Graphic Politico.

The September 12th, 2017 public presentation, sponsored by Colorado based geo-spatial content provider DigitalGlobe (currently being acquired by Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), focused on Kennedy's legacy and how to move forward from it.

Featured speakers at this event included:
  • John Logsdon, the founding director and professor emeritus of the Space Policy Institute, at George Washington University.
  • Alex MacDonald, the senior economic adviser at NASA.
  • Teasel Muir-Harmony, the curator of the space history department, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
  • Bob Richards, the founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley, CA based Moon Express.
  • Secretary Heather Wilson, the principal space adviser at the US Department of Defense.
  • Eric Stallmer, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
The complete discussion, moderated by Politico defence editor Bryan Bender is available online by clicking on the graphic above. It's well worth a look.

And for those of us who'd like to compare the original, in all its glory, to what we say about it today, here's Kennedy's seventeen minute "Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort" from 1962.

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Ukrainian Space Agency Issues Press Release About the Lybid-1 & Building Rockets for Canada

          By Chuck Black

The press service of the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) has announced a meeting between SSAU head Pavlo Dehtiarenko and Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine Roman Waschuk on a topic of "mutual interest in the implementation of a potential of cooperation in the aerospace sphere."

If accurate, the "mutual interests" could certainly affect a variety of projects including the recent Maritime Launch Services (MLS) proposal to place a Ukrainian built Cyclone 4M commercial rocket launching facility in Nova Scotia and the Lybid-1 satellite, built several years back by Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) under contract to the SSAU and with the help of Export Development Canada (EDC), which provided a $254.6Mln CDN loan under "Ukrainian government guarantees to finance the project in the summer of 2009," but which never really got around to being launched.

And the press release certainly does suggest that.
Ambassador Waschuk. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

But while it's likely a reasonably accurate representation of what the SSAU would like to see moving forward, only when the Ukrainian wish is combined with three Canadian dollars do you start to get a sense of its true value, which taken together adds up to only the cost of a large cup of coffee at Starbucks.

As outlined in the September 12th, 2017 Interfax Ukraine new agency post, "Ukraine, Canada start creating contract and legal base for developing cooperation in aerospace area," both sides have:
...pointed out the importance of creating the contract and legal base for promising partnership and supported the idea that the memorandum of understanding between SSAU and the Canadian Space Agency on cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space. 
At the meeting the sides also discussed urgent issues of the project being implemented with the participation of Ukraine and Canada and plans of promising cooperation on the global space market...
According to the e-mail:
Canada approved SSAU's measures to solve financial, organization and technical problems to complete the project on the creation of the National satellite communications system of Ukraine and the launch of the Ukrainian satellite Lybid. 
The creation of a launch complex in Canada with participation of private companies from the Ukrainian and Canadian space sector (has also been) determined as a priority direction for developing partnership in the aerospace area.
As for whether these meetings will have an real effect on Canadian/ Ukrainian cooperation, that's still up in the air. Certainly the Ukraine is hoping for the best although they might need Russian cooperation to move forward.

For more on the real situation behind the Lybid-1 satellite, check out the December 12th, 2016 post, "exactEarth, Lybid-1, the CSA (which Needs more Committees) and the Upcoming 2017 Earth Observation Summit."

For more on what it would actually take to build the MLS Cyclone 4M rocket and launch it in Canada, check out the September 08, 2017 post, "CATA Rage, Liberal Strategy, Space Advisory Board Tactics & Yuzhnoye Can't Manufacture Some Cyclone 4M Parts."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, September 11, 2017

New FCC Rules a Defeat for SpaceX, But May Signal Opportunity for OneWeb & Telesat

          By Chuck Black

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released its proposed updates to the rules for non-geostationary-satellite orbit (NGSO) fixed-satellite service constellations and reasonably expects that the new rules will be adapted by majority vote at the next open FCC meeting, currently scheduled for September 26th, 2017.

An overview of Musk's plan. As outlined in the November 17th, 2016 International Business Times post, "Space invader Elon Musk to swarm Earth with 4,425-strong army of superfast internet satellites," the eccentric entrepreneur and Tony Stark doppelganger has asked the FCC for approval to launch thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit. And he's not the only one. As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," there are quite a few others. Screenshot c/o IBT.

But those updates, posted online as the September 7th, 2017 FCC Fact Sheet, "Updating Rules for Non-Geostationary-Satellite Orbit Fixed-Satellite Service Constellations; Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, IB Docket No. 16-408," could mark a major defeat for Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, which intends to launch several thousand satellites into orbit over the next several years.

On the other hand, those same rules could also signal opportunity for UK based OneWeb and Ottawa based Telesat, who are hoping to do much the same.

As outlined in the September 8th, 2017 Telecom, Media and Finance (TMF) Associates blog post, "Me first, no me…," the key text on the geographic scope of the FCC’s in-line interference avoidance rule, that requires the spectrum to be shared equally between NGSO systems when their satellites are aligned with one another, marks "a major defeat for SpaceX," because the FCC will need to defer to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an international body which uses a “first-come, first-served” coordination procedure and allows for non-US satellite systems operating outside the US to take precedence in some cases.

According to the FCC Fact Sheet:
While SpaceX argues that it (the FCC) should govern such operations worldwide, a grant of market access typically considers radio frequency operations only within the United States. 
Sharing between systems of different administrations internationally is subject to coordination under Article 9 of the ITU Radio Regulations. We believe this international regime is the appropriate forum to consider NGSO FSS radio frequency operations that fall outside the scope of a grant of U.S. market access. Because ITU coordination procedures do not apply between two U.S. systems, our coordination trigger of ΔT/T of 6 percent will govern such operations both within and outside the United States.
In essence, since OneWeb is licensed by the UK and Telesat by Canada, and those nations have domestic priority over their airspace through the ITU, SpaceX will have to operate on a "non-interference basis" with respect to these systems outside of the US when it comes to deciding how to deal with any potential constellation interference.

If the competition launches first, they might even end up with priority, under the proposed rules. The FCC changes are also expected to benefit satellite networks backed by SES Networks’ O3b and Space Norway, whose constellations are not intended to provide all-US coverage.

Of course, SpaceX doesn't like the plan.

According to the TMF post, the proposed ruling "represents a big problem for SpaceX, which needs to find another line of business outside of launch to justify its latest $21Bln US ($25.4Bln CDN) valuation."

The ruling could even "force SpaceX to completely reconsider its strategic approach to its proposed Low Earth Orbit broadband constellation."

As outlined in the September 11th, 2017 Teslarati post, "SpaceX’s internet satellite strategy faces possible setback after FCC decision,"  SpaceX had specifically "requested that the FCC apply their non-interference rules for lower orbit communications satellites to internet constellations operating both inside and outside the physical United States," and is quite disappointed that the FCC has decided not to do so.

Teslarati is the Tesla Motors blog, another firm controlled by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, so it presumably knows what it's talking about.

On the other hand, as outlined in the September 8th, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "U.S. regulators propose to relax satellite constellation in-service, coverage rules," there are a least a few FCC rule changes which are expected to assist the SpaceX program.

The lowering of the proposed in-service requirements to 50% of the proposed constellation within six years will benefit all satellite constellation operators, except perhaps OneWeb. The current rules require complete deployment within six years and OneWeb is on track to make this milestone.

Other proposed FCC changes also enjoy broad support.

As for Telesat, the TMF post claims that the company is sitting pretty and will "wait until next summer before deciding how to move forward, presumably expecting to have a wide variety of suitors once its ITU priority status is recognized."

OneWeb also has a Canadian connection. As outlined in the May 3rd, 2016 post, "OneWeb Goes to Gatineau," the company has partnered by Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and applied to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to provide broadband access to remote Canadian communities, using its satellite network.

As for TMF, the company is, at least according to it's website, a "consulting and research firm based in Menlo Park, CA. We focus on business planning, technical analysis, financial and spectrum valuations and expert witness services in the satellite and telecom sectors and have particular expertise in mobile satellite services (MSS), where we have worked for almost all of the leading operators over the last decade."

As the old saying goes, sometimes it's hard to tell the players without a scorecard.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Long Running Cassini Spacecraft Prepares For A Fiery Farewell In Saturn's Atmosphere

          From the Space Age Publishing Company

The sensational Cassini spacecraft is set for its grand finale plunge into Saturn starting 04:37 am EDT on Friday, September 15th. Final communication and craft disintegration is expected to occur 1,510 km above Saturn cloud tops at 07:54 am.

As outlined in the September 8th, 2017 NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory video post, "NASA's Cassini Spacecraft: A Journey's End," the epic, thirteen year Cassini mission to Saturn is coming to a close. On Sept. 15, the spacecraft "will make a planned plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn in order to protect pristine icy moons that warrant future exploration." Screenshot c/o JPL.

Cassini data will continue to provide revolutionary insight into Saturn, its complex rings, magnetic environment, giant storms, Solar System evolution and moons Enceladus with its icy jets and Titan liquid ethane and methane lakes and seas.

Launched together with Cassini on October 15th, 1997 the Huygens probe provided the first close up images of Titan and is the only landing accomplished in outer Solar System.

A joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency, the development of Cassini began in 1980s and thousands of people have contributed, many dedicating most of their careers to the significant mission.

Contributors include (TL-R) Program Secretary Karen Chan, Project Scientist Linda Spilker, Program Manager Earl Maize, and Propulsion Engineer Todd Barber.

As Cassini winds down, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft is expected to wake up on September 11th, 2017 for tests and instrument checks prior to its upcoming encounter with Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2017 MU69 at 12,500 km or closer on January 1st, 2019.

Recent observations indicate the KBO, discovered in June 2014 about 44 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, could be a primordial 4-billion year old binary object with two lobes of diameters 20 and 18 km. New Horizons has the potential to observe around 20 other KBOs if the mission is extended further.

According to principal investigator Alan Stern (BL), "new exploration awaits us and promises a scientific bonanza for the flyby."

This story was originally published in the September 11-17, 2017 online edition of the Space Calendar Weekly (Vol 36, No 37).

The Space Age Publishing Company, publishes the Lunar Enterprise Daily and Space Calendar weekly. It operates offices on Hawai‘i Island, Hawaii and in Palo Alto, California. The Commercial Space blog exchanges banners, and sometimes stories, with them. 

For more, check out the best space calendar in existence at the Space Age Publishing Company...

Friday, September 08, 2017

CATA Rage, Liberal Strategy, Space Advisory Board Tactics & Yuzhnoye Can't Manufacture Some Cyclone 4M Parts

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of September 4th, 2017, amidst the growing realization that a top down, centralized Federal strategy mandating and defining the future path of our space industry via large government programs might not be the right way to proceed, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Federal finance minister Bill Morneau outlines the Liberal’s new tax strategy during a briefing in Ottawa on December 7th, 2015. As outlined in the December 7th, 2015 MacLeans post, "Bill Morneau on tax cuts and fiscal realities," the current Liberal government has promised to balance the Federal budget in 2019. Photo c/o Canadian Press/ Adrian Wyld.

  • New federal tax legislation, currently aimed at closing loopholes exploited by the richest Canadians could end up penalizing the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) owners and entrepreneurs who serve as the backbone of Canada’s innovation economy. At least that's the story outlined in the August 30th, 2017 IT Business post, "New tax legislation would penalize entrepreneurs, stifle innovation, CATA says." 
The article quoted Paul Labarge, a member of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) Innovation Leadership Council and co-founder and partner of Ottawa law firm Labarge Weinstein, as stating that the changes "would functionally see the CRA treating entrepreneur and employee earnings exactly the same way every tax season, with no accounting for either the increased risk experienced by business owners, or the greater resources enjoyed by enterprise and government employees."
As announced in July, 2016 by Federal finance minister Bill Morneau (with feedback expected on October 2nd), the proposed tax code changes have been framed by the Liberal government as a simple amendment to existing rules to prevent the richest Canadians from “unfairly exploiting” rules designed to help businesses grow and ensure that people of similar income levels pay similar amounts of taxes.
It's an interesting debate just so long as we remember that taxes and tax "loopholes" almost always effect small business more than large, multinational corporations or the very rich, no matter what the experts might think. 
It's also a useful reminder that private efforts, not multi-year centralized, externally imposed long-term business plans, are the real innovation drivers in Canada. 

Graham Gibbs. Photo c/o My Canada.
Our space industry and Federal government should take note. 
  • Of course, not every public policy maker is willing to dismiss the subtle esteem and influence they inherit through their position.
An example of this would be Canada's recently retired space agency representative in Washington DC, Graham Gibbs who, as outlined in the September 7th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Rationale and Framework for a Canadian National Space Policy," has taken it upon himself to critique the August 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report "Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard." 
That report, as outlined in the August 25th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs'," was mostly about SAB members coming clean and admitting they weren't done yet, but wanted a chance to complete their report and retain their positions. 
But Gibbs, while mostly focused on what to clarify and who to include when writing the final report, also noted some useful and until now mostly unacknowledged context.
Chief is the fact that the SAB had been tasked only to "inform a national space policy" which is all about offering suggestions regarding procedures and generating public support for existing policies; but doesn't include defining or creating any new ones. 
Unfortunately, the development of new policies was kinda what most of the participants were really looking for.
However, and as mentioned in this blog numerous times in the past, "space policies" are highly political discussions which often demand new ideas, new funding and additional incentives to bring aboard longstanding government stakeholders and/or contractors. 
Our current domestic space industry, hasn't really ever been able to lead the government towards crafting one, although there have been several recent attempts.
A scanned copy of the lower section of page three of the September 13th, 2015 Toronto Star. As outlined in the article, both the federal NDP and the federal Liberal party committed to developing a long-term space plan (LTSP) during the October 2015 Federal election. As reported in the January 19th, 2013 post, "Praising Steve MacLean," the last LTSP, developed in secrecy by then CSA president Steve MacLean in 2009, was rejected by the federal government because of its high cost, and finally superseded by the David Emerson led aerospace review in 2012. LTSP's  Scan c/o the Toronto Star
Most notable were the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review and the 2015 election promises from both the Federal Liberal and NDP parties to craft a new "long-term space plan" if elected.
Initially, the new SAB, announced in spring 2016, was considered to be the Liberal fulfillment of this political promise. 
Now its not, although Gibbs is perhaps the first to acknowledge this publicly.
Gibbs also noted that the last Federal government space policy document was a 1974 document issued by the then Ministry of State for Science and Technology (MOSST). All the rest, including the various long-term space plans (but with the notable exception of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which he called "a good start") were simply documents designed to "inform" but not alter.
Now that the most current SAB report has been publicly denounced as being as dead as the parrot in the Python sketch, the stage is now set for SAB conclusions to be disavowed by the Federal government, no matter what they might eventually end up looking like.
And now we also know why the original SAB, as announced in the November 19th, 2014 post, "Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members," never published a final report.
They were just too smart. 
A cluster of three two-chamber RD-250 (8D518) engines formed a six-chamber RD-251 (8D723) propulsion system of the R-36 rocket. Image c/o RussianSpaceWeb.

  • Speaking of smart asses, a well respected journalist focused on Russian space activities doesn't think the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau is capable of building any complete models of the Cyclone 4M rockets which it has promised to beginning launching out of Canso, Nova Scotia, starting in 2018.
As outlined in the September 5th, 2017 Russian Space Web post, "The RD-250 engine at the center of an international storm," journalist Anatoly Zak, as part of a larger article on the history of the Soviet era rocket engines and their modern day derivatives, has concluded that there are multiple components on various models of the rocket, which are only available through Russia.
Since Russia and the Ukraine have been on the outs lately, this has obvious consequences for the building of any Canadian launch facility. According to the article:
The newly proposed Tsyklon-4M aimed to fly from a new spaceport of Canso in Canada, would rely on a newly developed Ukrainian engine — the RD-870 — burning non-toxic cryogenic oxidizer (which also makes the engine largely useless for military purposes). 
The RD-870 will employ all the key components of the Soviet-era RD-120 engine (the genesis of most current Yuzhnoye rocket designs, including the  Tsyklon-4 and its Canadian derivative, the Tsyklon/Cyclone-4M), which was also mass-produced in Ukraine, for the exception of its combustion chamber made in Russia. 
The newly proposed Ukrainian version of the engine would use an available cache of 50 combustion chambers still retained at the KB Yuzhnoe design bureau. These combustion chambers were intended for Soviet-era ballistic missiles, but their production line was dismantled after the end of the Cold War... 
Even with available combustion chambers, Ukrainian engineers are still facing an uphill battle in manufacturing the RD-870, especially after a complete breakdown of cooperation with Moscow during the Crimean crisis in 2014. Without a supply of key construction materials from Russia, the RD-870 program has huge challenges to transition from paper to metal and the problem has remained unresolved until now. 
Anatoly Zak. Photo c/o RussianSpaceWeb.
The article also noted that the development of the Tsyklon/Cyclone-4M rocket and its supporting facilities has turned out to be a substantially more intensive program than originally anticipated.
According to the article, "the Tsyklon-4M program would be the first significant step in the process of building a fully Ukrainian space launcher, resembling the Russian effort in the 1990s to develop the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle." 
Zak also provided a far higher cost for the aborted Ukrainian-Brazilian Cyclone-4 rocket facility which predated the Canadian rocket program and used much of the same technology:
The total price tag for the fruitless Tsyklon-4 (Ukrainian Brazilian) project was estimated at more than $900Mln US, with as much as $400Mln US spent by Ukraine. 
However, KB Yuzhnoe (Yuznoye) hoped to re-use much of the engineering experience gained in the failed enterprise in the newly proposed Tsyklon-4M (Canadian) rocket...
As first reported in the September 11th, 2016 post, "Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket," Yuzhnoye has been authorized by the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) to establish a launch base for its Cyclone-4M rocket in North America. 
Early this year, the company pledged to set up a Canadian launch facility in Nova Scotia.
For more, check out upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

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