Monday, October 30, 2017

The Comsat Industry "Abides"

          By Brian Orlotti

Leading satellite operator SES S.A. has issued an ultimatum of sorts to traditional satellite manufacturers that the company intends to radically change how it procures, launches and operates geosynchronous communications satellites.

Originally, it was the dude that "abides." As outlined in the undated Dictonarykiwi post, "“The Dude abides” — what does “abide” mean in that context?," the term “abide” is a "complex, archaic word" that means variously “lives in,” “goes in accord with,” and “co-exists in harmony with.” In the context of the the 1998 Cohen brothers crime/ slacker comedy film "The Big Lebowski", it "occurs because the narrator and the main character/characters, who have been extravagantly shown to be archaic, obsolete, rambling and pointlessly verbose, were struggling to describe a state of personal acceptance of fate." To see more of The Big Lebowski and contemplate the similarities between the characters in the movie and the state of the current satellite industry, simply click on the photo above. Photo c/o You Tube

As outlined in the October 26th, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "SES tells satellite builders to prepare for a total rethink of their business," this major shift in the industry will focus on smaller, cheaper and quicker-to-deploy satellites able to compete with upcoming next-gen systems from major new players.

According to the post, SES CTO Martin Halliwell outlined the criteria it will seek in this new generation of satellites:
  • Smaller weight than current-gen commsats i.e. 2000kg rather than the current +4000kg
  • A shift to all electric propulsion
  • The discarding of the current analog/digital hybrid processing architectures in favour of purely digital systems
  • Systems that can reallocate bandwidth on the fly to different customers based on their needs at a given time (similar to the concept of quality of service (QoS) in terrestrial networks)
  • A greater emphasis on standardization to ensure reliability
  • Reducing the entire satellite procurement cycle (from initial order to working satellite in orbit) down to 18 months from the current average of four years
  • Satellite working lifetimes of seven to eight years rather than up to 18 years, enabling lower costs and faster upgrade cycles
  • Designs enabling three or four satellites to be launched at a time so as to spread out launch and unit cost
The primary drivers for these changes include lower launch costs enabled reusable rockets such as the SpaceX Falcon-9, as well as upcoming next-gen satellite constellations from SpaceX, OneWeb, O3b Networks and Leosat.

In fact, influenced by the success of O3b Networks’ broadband satellite constellation in medium earth orbit, SES invested early in the company and then purchased it in May 2016 (renaming it SES Networks).

SES’ emphasis on COTS components, standardization and all-digital systems will ensure that future constellations will be adaptable, able to provide a variety of services to multiple markets while in orbit.

The traditional satellite industry will face formidable competition from these new players, particularly from SpaceX. Dubbing its constellation ‘StarLink,’  SpaceX is promising gigabit-speed internet access at latencies of around 25ms.

These low latencies (comparable to terrestrial broadband links) will be enabled through the use of low Earth orbit (LEO). SpaceX is currently testing its satellites and plans to launch a prototype before year’s end. SpaceX intends to begin launching Starlink in 2019, reaching its full capacity of 4,425 satelites in 2024.

Drawing on their considerable experience and resources, it’s clear that the traditional satellite industry has no intention of sitting still in the face of the coming sea change. This is ultimately a good thing. Greater competition will enable better service at better prices while pushing the cutting edge of innovation.

Here’s to greater things ahead.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Four Upcoming Science, "Aero" & Space Policy Events Which Won't Raise Questions in Parliament

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that many otherwise well informed industry experts quietly hold to the belief that the "real" job of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president is to make sure that "no questions about the space agency or space policy" are ever asked by an opposition politician during the House of Commons Question Period.

As outlined in the August 3rd, 2013 Canadian Encyclopedia post under the title, "House of Commons," the House "is the centre of political power in Canada. The prime minister and his Cabinet receive their authority through the confidence of the House. It is an institution steeped in tradition and history." It's also the place you need to influence if you intend to make real political changes, a point often lost on the current crop of Canadian science and technology activists who are happy enough when National Research Council (NRC) and CSA department heads promise to get back to them "next week, for sure." Photo c/o Adrian Wyld/CP.

That's why the current government encourages organizations like the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (the AIAC, which defines itself as the industry representative for both the "aerospace" and the "space" industry) and the Canadian Science Policy Centre (the CSPC, which defines itself as a "national forum" for "issues in national science, technology, and innovation policy") to act as intermediaries in the political process by funneling concerns directly to the appropriate Federal government bureaucrats.

They do this by organizing events where politicians meet and mingle with association members to exchange information and concerns (plus gossip) in a less formal, far more casual environment which bypasses the general public, media and the political opposition.

But while the process creates the illusion of access and participation in the political process, it also removes most of the social sanctions and political pressure typically applied by the public and political opposition. Those sanctions and pressures have historically served as the only true mechanism to drive real change.

This fall, four organizations are looking to promote their role as intermediaries and guides to Canadian space activities. Here's a quick overview of their events.

The big player in this small Canadian pond is the 2017 Canadian Aerospace Summit, which will take place in Ottawa, ON from November 7th - 8th.

The annual event is organized by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which considers itself to be "the voice of Canada’s aerospace industry," and sometimes talks about space as well.

An example of this would be the September 2016 position paper on "The Future of Canada’s Space Sector, An Engine of Innovation for Over 50 Years." And, as outlined, most recently in the October 2nd, 2017 post, "Registration is now open for AIAC's Space Day on the Hill, October 16, 2017," AIAC has also sponsored space advocacy activities. In 2012, AIAC strongly supported the David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which defined the current aerospace industry political landscape and the current structure of the CSA.

But today, the organization is focused most heavily on its core members who almost exclusively represent the "aero" component of the industry. Confirmed government speakers for this event include Federal innovation minister Navdeep Bains, Ontario provincial public services and procurement minister Carla Qualtrough and large numbers of "C" level officers from large aerospace companies including Airbus, Bell Helicopter, CAE, GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, ViaSat and others.

Expect traditional AIAC booster Bombardier Aerospace to also be in attendance, but relegated to a more subsidiary role focused around introducing its new best friend Airbus to Canadian subcontractors.

For a sense of what happened last year at this event, it's worth checking out the November 21st, 2016 post on "The US Military, CSeries, Roland Berger, Bell, MDA, Airships & Minister Bains at the 2016 Canadian Aerospace Summit."

The second major player in this space is the 9th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC2017), which will take place in Ottawa, ON between November 1st - 3rd.

This annual event is organized by the Canadian Science Policy Centre which, at least according to its website, "serves as an inclusive, non-partisan and national forum uniting stakeholders, strengthening dialogue, and enabling action with respect to current and emerging issues in national science, technology, and innovation policy."

From a practical perspective, this means that the organization is focused around policies which control government funded science generated through grants provided by the National Research Council (NRC), the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), the Networks of Centres of Excellence and others who act as the primary Canadian government resource for science and technology (S&T) funding. Academics, the major recipients of most of those government grants, are well represented at this event.

Confirmed government speakers include Governor General and former astronaut Julie Payette, Federal science minister Kirsty Duncan, Federal science advisor Mona Nemur, Quebec chief scientist Rémi Quirion, Ontario innovation and science minister Reza Moridi and quite a large number of senior academics.

The focus for the event will likely be wrapped around issues brought to light in the 2017 David Naylor led Federal Review of Fundamental Science which, as outlined in the October 16th, 2017 post, "Researchers, Heal Thy Selves!," is the subject of much current controversy as the Canadian scientific community struggles over whether to accept or reject its conclusions.

For a sense of what happened at the last CSPC , it's worth checking out the November 13th, 2016 post, "Generalists, Data Miners, Lotteries, Comedy, Open Access and the Future of Science in Canada."

A third, far more minor event, is the 2017 Canadian Space Summit, which will also be held in Ottawa from November 21st - 22nd.

Organized by the Canadian Space Society (CSS) around the concept of "Canada’s Next Space Generation,” the event intends to "speak to Canada’s future in space and provide a spotlight on the up-and-coming leaders of Canada’s space sector."

The essence of this event is less political then academic and informational. Confirmed speakers include CSA president Sylvain Laporte, several members of the Space Advisory Board (including chair Marie Lucy Stojak and SAB member and executive director/ president of the Canadian Space Commerce Association Michelle Mendes), along with quite an interesting group of small business NewSpace companies and a couple of academics.

All in all, it's more of an introduction to the industry than the two larger conferences are able to provide. Undergrads and freshly minted NewSpace entrepreneurs are well advised to at least consider this event before moving on to the larger, more established conferences listed above.

The presence of OMX CEO Nicole Verkindt on the speaker list is a strong indication of opportunity for small business owners. OMX is an online platform which manages obligations government contractors have to invest in local economies, a policy called “offsets,” which is often quite profitable if you sell the right product.

For more on OMX, check out the January 23rd, 2013 post, "Buy Canada: New Firm Tracks IRB Offsets."

The final event, the 2017 Canadian Space Policy Symposium is perhaps a little more problematic.

Organized around the August, 2017 report from the Federally mandated Space Advisory Board (SAB) by the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), this event is mostly an advocacy meeting for the SAB report which, 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 released incomplete and is almost wholly reliant on the existing SAB members being given a renewed mandate if its ever going to get finished.

All of which is well and good and might be even useful if there were a logical way forward.

But with no politicians listed as attending and a speaker list full of SAB members and mid-level public bureaucrats (including CSA president Sylvain Laporte (again), CSA director general of space exploration Gilles Leclerc and CSA director of communications Anna Kapiniari), the event is unlikely to do more than preach to the converted.

Even worse, CSCA president Mendes is also speaking at CSS organized Canadian Space Summit, discussed above, which suggests that most of that she has to say at the CSCA event will also be covered at the CSS event.

And the closing speaker, AIAC executive VP Iain Christie serves only as a reminder that the AIAC organized Canadian Aerospace Summit, also discussed above, at least included a couple of politicians on its speakers list.

As outlined above, at their best these sorts of events provide direct access to the politicians, but only if the politicians attend the meetings. The CSCA has not demonstrated that it can do that and, unlike the Canadian Space Summit, has no educational fall back position to justify its existence.

Of course, access to politicians doesn't necessarily lead to political change. As outlined above, it helps to be noticed during Question Period, and that leverages the attention of the public, the media and the opposition politicians.

For more on the events put on last year by both the CSS and the CSCA, check out the November 21st, 2016 post, "The 4th Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, NASA, SLS, More Urthecast, the CSA & the 2016 Canadian Space Summit."
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Friday, October 27, 2017

    Richard Branson's Virgin Group Receives $1Bln US from Saudi Arabian Wealth Fund

              By Henry Stewart

    Here's the latest example to illustrate that our space future rests squarely in the hands of the private sector and the irrational, entrepreneurial and crazy rich people who make it move.

    Virgin spaceship Unity glides to Earth in June 2017 June. Photo c/o Oliver Ouyang/ VG.

    As outlined in the October 28th, 2017 Los Angeles Times post, "Saudi Arabia to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic," Saudi Arabia’s primary wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, plans to invest about $1Bln US ($1.3Bln CDN) in British billionaire Richard Branson’s three commercial space companies, including space tourism firm Virgin Galactic (VG).

    According to the article, "the kingdom’s fund also has an option to invest an additional $480 million in 'space services'."

    Branson (left) announcing deal. Photo c/o @richardbranson.
    This isn't the first time Branson and VG have accessed Middle Eastern funding.

    As outlined in the April 29th, 2013 post, "SpaceshipTwo Flies Supersonic,"  Abu Dhabi based Aabar Investments has also made substantial investments in Branson owned companies.

    The latest funding will "also go toward Virgin Orbit, a Long Beach firm that plans to launch small satellites from the belly of a modified commercial airliner, and the Spaceship Co., a Mojave firm that is building propulsion systems as well as the space plane and carrier aircraft for Virgin Galactic," according to the Los Angeles Times post. 
    Virgin Group said in a statement that the investment will support human spaceflight plans, as well as increase Virgin Orbit’s manufacturing and operational capabilities and help develop “commercial supersonic point-to-point travel capabilities.” 
    The statement also teased the possibility of developing a “space centric entertainment industry” in Saudi Arabia.
    The investment, subject to regulatory approval, will give the Saudi Arabian fund a “significant stake” in the three Virgin space companies, although London UK based Virgin Group will remain the majority shareholder.

    According to Branson, a VG spaceship is "months away" from going into space with people aboard.

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

    Thursday, October 26, 2017

    A Quick Overview of the Next Few Expected Federal Announcements Concerning the Canadian Space Industry

              By Chuck Black

    Several months back, 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," the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally got around to issuing its 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report.

    Innovation minister Navdeep Bains announcing an open call for two new astronauts at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum on June 17th, 2016. As a result of that announcement,  Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Col. Joshua Kutryk and Dr. Jennifer Sidey became CSA astronauts in June 2017. Here's hoping that the Ministers next announcement regarding the Canadian space industry is made against as photogenic a backdrop and leads to as pleasing a result. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld/ CP.

    At the bottom of page eleven of the nineteen page final report, under the title "Key Proposal," the SAB suggested the creation, "in time for the next federal budget (which is expected to be presented to the House of Commons in March 2018), a new space strategy and follow-on space plan that provides the policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity."

    Given the rumours currently flowing though the Ottawa political scene and amongst major aerospace corporations such as San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies (the once Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), Toulouse, France based Airbus Aeronautics (especially in it's hungry, Port Erie, ON based Canadian subsidiary) and throughout Canadian Space Agency (CSA) headquarters in Longueuil, PQ, here are a few areas which likely will need to be addressed soon.

    • To begin with, any satisfying announcement must include a new mission (and funding) for the CSA after the International Space Station (ISS) ceases operation in the middle 2020's. 
    The prime CSA job since its creation in 1990 has been to co-ordinate Canadian contributions to ISS operation. This mandate includes astronauts, scientific experiments, and the installation and operation of the various iconic shuttle and ISS remote manipulator systems (or "Canadarms"), which helped to build and support the ISS. 
    This function is the CSAs largest current role and an understanding of the expertise required to do it will go a long way towards explaining why the CSA wants to continue building components for other space agencies instead of boldly moving forward with Canadian specific missions. 
    Any new CSA role will probably be related to US plans for the Deep Space Gateway, the developing proposal for a crew-tended cis-lunar space station planned by NASA for construction in the 2020s. NASA is looking for partners for the project to defray funding and the CSA seems willing to hop on board.
    As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 post, "A New Science Advisor, that "Massive" Science Review, the Deep Space Gateway & the Latest JWST Postponement," the CSA has already issued several small Deep Space Gateway related proposals (and pitched at least one idea for the Gateway to use a solar sail). 
    CSA certainly seems to be on-board with the idea, if only because they can continue on doing pretty much what they've always been doing, only for a shiny new space station instead of the old one.
    Expect any announcement to be padded out with several tens of millions of new funding for research and development. But don't expect this new funding to be as substantial as the $120Mln CDN provided by the Stephen Harper conservatives for rovers and "next generation Canadarm" research in their 2009 Economic Action Plan. The funded technology was never sold to a space agency or traveled anywhere extraterrestrial. 
    But there should be enough money this time around to at least keep the usual suspects at the CSA sullenly acquiescent, especially in Quebec, where aerospace is a major employer and the Trudeau government needs to build bridges in anticipation of the next Federal election.
    • We can also expect at least a few more CSA announcements related to artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives.
    AI is one of the tools traditionally used to assess the large data-sets collected by Earth observation (EO) satellites, which has traditionally been a favored area within the CSA. 
    As outlined in the October 25th, 2017 More Space News post, "EO Data & Services Market in 2026: $8.5Bln, with Potential to Reach $15Bln," the market continues to grow.
    And. at least according to the August 10, 2017 post, "The Canadian Space Agency Will Spend $50,000 So That AI Sales People Can Pitch Them Products," all the best AI products seem to come from Montreal, which is expected to be ground zero for the next Federal election campaign.
    Among other things, Montreal is also cashing in big-time on the $125Mln CDN Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, announced as part of the Federal Budget in March 2017.
    An overview of the PCW mission still residing on the CSA public website and last updated May 25th, 2012. Graphic c/o CSA.

    • Of course, no sensible aerospace contractor is cheering the addition of a few tens of millions of dollars to the CSA budget. The big fish, including Airbus, Maxar and Ottawa, ON based Telesat are all waiting for either the proposed enhanced satellite communication project (ESCP), or perhaps for something better.
    That program, as outlined in the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money," derived from the failed CSA led Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) satellite mission, which had been kicking around for a decade and had grown from a useful $600Mln CDN proposal into a far larger $4.5Bln CDN boondoggle.
    To make it more affordable, the Department of National Defence (DND) ripped out the civilian weather component of the program, which dropped the cost estimates to $2.4Bln CDN, and then re-branded it as the military and communication focused ESCP.

    The new program will be ready by 2023, as opposed to the old program, which was once supposed to be ready by 2016. As quoted in the June 30th, 2016 Space News post, "Canada eyes $2.4 billion Arctic satellite communications constellation," the new project would likely include "at least two satellites in an elliptical orbit," able to cover the arctic, much like the old project.
    But now, the ESCP might also be in trouble. 
    As outlined in the June 15th, 2017 post, "Telesat Supports Defence Budget But Inuvik Left Out & Teledyne Dalsa Employee Convicted of Selling Satellite Data to China," Telesat has begun suggesting that Canada’s armed forces should act "as an anchor tenant for Telesat’s proposed global constellation of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit. The constellation, for which two prototype satellites are scheduled for launch this year, would appear to fill the requirement of the new Canadian defense policy for all-Arctic (communications) coverage."
    Of course, everything up until now (except for maybe the Telesat constellation, which has two satellites ready to go) has been just an unfunded proposal, run up the political flagpole to see if anyone would salute.  
    But in June 2017, the Trudeau government promised up to $62Bln CDN worth of new defence contracts, including space-based telecommunications in the Arctic, plus various space based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and situational awareness initiatives plus perhaps even "a counterspace option."
    In order to take electoral advantage of pushing all this new money into the Canadian economy, the Trudeau government needs to begin announcing it, soon. Aerospace companies (and the electorate) are expecting it. 
    They seem like such nice people in this photo. Innovation minister Bains (fourth from right) meets with members of the SAB on July 28th, 2017. Photo c/o @MinisterISED

    To be fair to the SAB, the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review was the first to argue for the creation of a permanent space advisory board.

    Its perhaps unfair to focus too intently on how unseemly the SAB acts when its members focus so much effort on explaining why the board should continue to exist and they should continue to remain on it.

    If only the SAB wasn't so curiously quiet when defining the broader priorities needed in order to move the Canadian space industry forward. It's almost as  if they have no idea what could logically be expected to happen next. 

    Perhaps, after reading this post, they'll come up with some new ideas.
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2017

    The Canadian Space Agency Wants More and Outsourced Public Relations

              By Chuck Black

    The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) "needs to identify a Contractor offering extensive media relations services to support the activities of its Media Relations Unit at CSA headquarters in St-Hubert, Quebec, and across Canada, on an as-requested basis."

    October 24th, 2017 screenshot of the Outcrop Communications website which, as outlined in the October 24th, 2017 "List of Interested Suppliers for Media relations services on as and when requested basis for the Canadian Space Agency (9F015-20170405)," is currently the only company on the list of interested suppliers for this RFSO. According to its website, Outcrop "is the North’s largest full-service agency specializing in everything that is marketing and communications. Our mission? To help you get your message to sing, your team to shine, and your business to fly." This is likely a good thing for the CSA since, as outlined in both the October 20th, 2017 post, "Inuit Leaders Ignored as ESA Satellite Launched Over the Arctic," and the July 24th, 2017 post, "NWT Businessman "Perturbed" By Response to Private Sector Inuvik Ground Station Proposal," the agency has recently been having difficulties getting its Northern message out. Graphic c/o Outcrop

    At least that's the story outlined in the October 16th, 2017 CSA request for standing offer (RFSO) on the Federal government Buy and Sell procurement website under the title "Media relations services on as and when requested basis for the Canadian Space Agency (9F015-20170405)."

    According to the RSFO, the contractor shall provide the following services as required:
    • Media relations services, positioning and coordination
    • Public awareness and promotion initiatives
    • Communicate with media and coordinate interviews
    • Media coaching and training
    • Media event planning and organization
    • Strategic communications and public relation services
    Individual call-ups against the standing offer must not exceed $25K CDN including applicable taxes. It's not made clear in the available documentation, but its assumed that any contracted work would be in conjunction and under the supervision of the CSA's existing media relations staff. 

    According to the July 28th, 2015 update of the CSA Mission and Mandate webpage, the CSA mandate is "to promote the peaceful use and development of space, to advance the knowledge of space through science and to ensure that space science and technology provide social and economic benefits for Canadians."
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Monday, October 23, 2017

    EXTRA! EXTRA! Financial Times EXPOSES International Space Mining Plans

              By Brian Orlotti

    The UK's Financial Times (FT) newspaper, generally known as a low-key conservative style publication focused on business and economic news, has included a four page supplement on space mining and commercial space activities as part of its Thursday, October 19th, 2017 print edition.

    Leading with the October 19th, 2017 post, "Cosmic plans take giant leap from sci-fi to reality," FT kicked off its assessment of the efforts of a variety of public and private players in this fast developing, multi-trillion dollar industry. It's just a shame that there were no stories listing Canada's contributions in this area. Photo c/o Financial Times

    Such media exposure highlights the continuing rise of the NewSpace industry. Here are a few of the stories:
    If their "evil" side is in charge, they can impact Earth, causing death and destruction. Their "good" side is that they offer a treasure trove of scientific information as well as an enormous supply of raw materials for humanity. The post makes the point that to embrace the "Jekylls" and avoid the "Hydes," we’ll need to know the asteroids’ location and composition. 
    Both government and private efforts are discussed. On the government side, NASA’s OSIRIS-REX and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 missions are mentioned, as well as the European Space Agency's (ESA) Asteroid Touring Nano-sat Fleet.
    This nano-sat fleet, proposed to the 2017 European Planetary Society Congress (EPSC2017), which was held in Latvia from September 17th - 22nd, would launch 50 nano-satellites propelled by solar sails. Each nano-sat would use a 4cm telescope to image six asteroids from a distance of about 1,000 km. 
    On the private sector side, the focus was on Mountain View CA based Deep Space Industries and Redmond WA based Planetary Resources.
    Noted were both the Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-301 mission, a small group of spacecraft expected to launch in 2020 that will investigate asteroids believed to be rich in exploitable water, and the Deep Space Industries’ Prospector-1 spacecraft, which will intercept a near-Earth asteroid to determine its value as a source of space resources, and is currently scheduled to launch around the same time.
    Remy and Lu argue that such a project is urgently needed to fill in the still-missing details on the millions of asteroids in our inner solar system. Such information will be crucial for both commercial mining efforts as well as in dealing with asteroid strikes on Earth like the 2013 impact of a 17m-wide asteroid near Chelyabinsk, Russia that released 30 times more energy than the Hiroshima bomb.
    One firm discussed was Moffett Field, CA based Made in Space, a NASA spin-off company founded in Silicon Valley in 2010. In 2014, the company installed a 3d printer on the International Space Station (ISS) and used it to produce the first "additively" manufactured object in space. 
    This was followed by another printer from the company, installed on the ISS and in operation since 2016. This printer has produced parts, tools, devices and multi-part assemblies. Later this year, Made in Space will also launch equipment that can print fibre-optic cable in space with greater quality than those made on Earth. 
    Also noted was the ESA’s successful 3D-printing of a 1.5-tonne demonstration building block from simulated lunar soil in 2013. 
    This 1.5 tonne, mostly hollow 3D printed building block, composed of "simulated Lunar regolith,," was produced as a demonstration of in-situ Lunar construction capabilities by the ESA in 2013. As outlined in the May 16th, 2016  The Conversation post, "Want to build a moon base? Easy. Just print it," entire houses "have now been 3D printed, including out of renewable resources such as clay and earth.." Photo c/o
    Singled out in the article was Glasgow based Clyde Space, a cubsat maker founded in 2005 that worked with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to design and build UKube-1 — Scotland’s first satellite, launched in 2014. 
    The company is currently building twelve satellites for six missions, but by 2020 hopes to be producing constellations of 50-100 small satellites.
    There were a number of other articles in the four page series of profiles on space mining and all are useful to view, such as the October 19th, 2017 FT post, "Private investors push down stratospheric cost of space start-ups," which focused on how the commercial opportunities of space are snowballing, and the October 19th, 2017 post, "Cosmic plans take giant leap from sci-fi to reality."

    Taken together, the Financial Times’ supplement is a heartening sign that commercial space ventures have left the fringe and finally shed the "giggle factor" that plagued them for so long.

    If only there were a few Canadian stories included with the supplement.
    Brian Orlotti.

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

    Friday, October 20, 2017

    Inuit Leaders Ignored as ESA Satellite Launched Over the Arctic

              By Chuck Black

    The European Space Agency (ESA) ignored Inuit concerns by launching a hydrazine loaded rocket last week, using a second stage which fell to Earth in the waters between Nunavut and Greenland after launch with up to a tonne of its unburned toxic fuel still onboard.

    The Sentinal 5P being launched on a Russian rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on October 13th, 2017. As outlined in the October 15th, 2017 Spaceflight Now post, "ESA details construction of Sentinel-5P satellite and Tropomi instrument," the satellite carried the Dutch/ UK built TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (Tropomi), a spectrometer that measures ultraviolet, visible, near visible, and short-wavelength infrared to monitor trace gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Photo c/o ESA.

    As outlined in the October 13th, 2017 APTN News post, "European Space Agency ignores Inuit concerns, launches hydrazine loaded rocket," the Sentinel 5P satellite was launched from a site in northern Russia on October 13th, 2017.

    We condemn Russia’s actions and demand that this launch be halted,” said Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna. “Our people rely on the marine ecosystem to support our families, communities, and livelihoods.” The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, an organization that represents Inuit around the world, also protested the satellite launch.

    The Canadian Federal government in Ottawa also protested the launch as did Kuupik Kleist, the former Prime Minister of Greenland. According to the article:
    Hydrazine is so toxic that almost every space program in the world, including Russia’s, has moved away from it. 
    That area falls within Canada’s exclusive economic zone and is within the jurisdiction of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.
    The second stage of the rocket, containing up to a tonne of unburned hydrazine, splashed down in water between Greenland and Baffin Island.

    According to the March 2017 Cambridge University Press paper, "Toxic splash: Russian rocket stages dropped in Arctic waters raise health, environmental and legal concerns," at least 10 similar launches have discarded rocket stages in Pikialasorsuaq or in the Barents Sea, off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia, since 2002.

    As outlined in the October 13th, 2017 Russia Space Web post, "Rockot delivers Sentinel-5P," the Rockot launch vehicle used for the mission is a re-purposed Soviet era ballistic missile.

    More modern launchers, typically don't use hydrazine or other hypergolic and highly carcinogenic fuels to power their rocket launchers.
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Don't Let Canada's Chief Scientist Fool You: Today's Publicly Funded Science Absolutely Demands Political Activism

              By Henry Stewart
    Chief scientist Nemer. Photo c/o Alex Tétreault.

    It's worth noting that Mona Nemer, Canada's new chief scientist, works out of an office suite in the CD Howe Building in Ottawa which "used to house Canadian Space Agency (CSA) personnel," according to staff members.

    But she's not immediately going to champion the cause of the scientists at the CSA. That's not trendy or politically astute.

    Nemer's main focus as she settles into her new position is the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program (CCAR), which supports seven independent projects in climate science and is due to run out of funds at the end of the year.

    At least that's the story in the October 19th, 2017 National Observer Post. "Top scientist teases 'solution' to climate funding crisis," which quoted Nemer as stating that, "My understanding is that a solution (for funding both the CCAR and one of the projects it supports, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory) is actually in the works, and things are on track and the community will be pleased.”

    Not that there's anything wrong with coming to that conclusion, especially if the evidence supports it. But the major impetus to revisit funding for the CCAR, at least according to the article, doesn't come from academics or those curious about the research and data being collected by CCAR.

    It instead comes from organizations like Evidence for Democracy, which describes itself and an organization "standing up for science and smart decision-making in Canada."

    Their "issue-based campaigns tackle emerging issues affecting science and evidence-based public policy in Canada" and they work with "national and local partners to organize events, raise awareness, and engage the public directly with policy-makers."

    Many of their members are even scientists, but they're not performing scientific experiments or political advocacy on behalf of science. Instead they're engaging national and local partners to organize events, raise awareness and engage the public directly with policy makers.

    In essence, they're telling the politicians what they feel is important and needs to be addressed.

    And again, it's not that there is anything wrong with that. It's just that political advocacy is something the Canadian space community doesn't really know how to do.

    If we did, there would be far fewer empty CSA offices for the newer and trendier political appointees to move into.

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

    Monday, October 16, 2017

    A Game Changer for Canada: Airbus Takes a Majority Stake in Bombardier's C Series Program

              By Henry Stewart

    Here's something which, over the next few weeks, will completely destroy several very, very traditional "Chinese Walls," erected decades ago within the Canadian aerospace industry.

    Until today, those information barriers (originally erected around business verticals to prevent exchanges that could lead to conflicts of interest with the Federal government) separated not just Canadian aerospace military and civilian providers, but also the aeronautical and space focused providers which traditionally populated the Canadian aerospace industry.

    But not anymore. Airbus, a European multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells civil and military products for both the aerospace and space sectors, is poised to buy a majority stake in the Bombardier C Series program.

    As outlined in the October 16th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Bombardier teams up with Airbus to secure C Series future," Bombardier Inc. has struck an agreement "to sell control of its marquee C Series airliner program to Europe's Airbus Group SE, a bet that handing the keys to a better-financed global giant will ensure the Canadian plane maker's future in the face of relentless competition and punishingly high tariffs imposed by the United States."

    As outlined most recently in the October 8th, 2017 post, "Au Revoir, Bombardier," the C Series program has been at the centre of major political and investor drama in Canada since its inception, and has driven Bombardier to the brink of bankruptcy.

    According to the Globe and Mail article, the Quebec government supports the transaction with Airbus, as does the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, a major Bombardier shareholder. Ottawa has also offered a preliminary endorsement of the transaction, saying "it would require review under federal investment law."

    As outlined in the article:
    Although Bombardier itself has not been sold, the deal is an acknowledgment that the company could not go it alone in the global market for passenger airlines.
    Under the agreement, Airbus will take a 50.01-per-cent interest in the C Series limited partnership for no cash consideration.

    In exchange, it will offer Bombardier's 100- to 150-seat plane its global procurement, sales, marketing and customer support expertise. Bombardier's stake will be 31% and Quebec will own about 19% when the deal is finalized.

    Of course, Airbus is comprised of both military and civilian subsidiaries, as well as aerospace and space components and possesses an aggressive Canadian subsidiary which would surely like to expand its list of successful contracts. Boeing's fight with Bombardier over the C Series has already influenced the Canadian military procurement of new Boeing F-18's.

    This is certainly a novel situation for Canadian industry to be in. As outlined in the October 12th, 2017 post, "Osborne Steps Down at Canadian MDA as it Responds to Questions About its US Based "Maxar" Future," US based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) president Howard Lance even called Airbus the only company able to compete with MDA/ MAXAR across the various business verticals.

    And now both companies are well entrenched in the Great White North and able to use a wide variety of both domestic and international business resources to influence procurement decisions. Will the Federal government be strong enough to control the power these two behemoths bring to the table?

    Time to queue up the explosions and stand by for action. Anything can happen now.

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

    Researchers, Heal Thy Selves!

              By Brian Orlotti

    According to Alan Bernstein, the president and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), the Canadian scientific and research community needs more than money. It needs a "bold new vision" of how to perform scientific research.

    Bernstein at the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), which took place in Ottawa, ON on November 25th - 27th, 2015. As outlined in his Wikipedia entry, Bernstein has received a variety of awards and accolades including "the McLaughlin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, the Robert L. Noble Prize from the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the Genetics Society of Canada Award of Excellence, the 2001 Australian Society of Medical Research Medal, four honorary degrees, the 2007 Medaille du merite from the Institut de Recherche Clinique de Montreal, the 2008 Gairdner Wightman Award and the Order of Canada in 2002. He is a Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto. In 2015, Bernstein was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame." Screenshot c/o Canadian Science Policy Centre.

    As outlined in his October 12th, 2017 MacLean's post, "It’s time for a bold new vision for Canadian fundamental science," Bernstein made the point that aside from the need for more funding, the Canadian research field has large barriers to entry, especially for young researchers.

    He questioned why ambitious young researchers would choose a career in science when the odds of securing a grant are only between 8-12% in health research, or when average funding for physical sciences has remained nearly unchanged for the past decade at less than $35,000 per year and is lower today than in the early 2000s. Bernstein warned that Canada risks losing an entire generation of scientists unless it finds ways to attract and fund the best young researchers.

    Bernstein provided two examples for Canada to learn from.
    • The first was the last "golden age" of Canadian science funding i.e 1997-2007 which saw large across the board funding increases. According to Bernstein, "that transformation wasn’t just about money: It also profoundly changed the landscape for research in Canada. New agencies to fund research infrastructure, health research and genome science were created as were new programs like the Canada Research Chairs, the Indirect Costs Program and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. These changes were not easy; real change rarely is. For example, the creation of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in 2000 was the culmination of an intense and difficult national discussion that lasted almost two years."
    • The second example was more recent, more difficult and occurred in the UK, whose government recently introduced major changes including the merging of eight separate agencies into a single entity overseen by a single board and chief executive; UK Research and Innovation. In essence, the second example produced a fast-moving system composed of increasingly international, interdisciplinary, and collaborative units operating under a centralized structure. 
    Bernstein noted that the UK model appeared too ambitious for Canadians given that the committee that wrote the 2017 Canada's Fundamental Science Review, which was headed by Canadian physician David Naylor, rejected similar changes for Canada as being "too risky."

    But he thinks we should do it anyway.

    Bernstein did agree with the crux of the 2017 Naylor report’s findings, namely that Canada’s scientific research structure suffers from 20 years of balkanization and bloat, with too many agencies (in traditional academic style) at each other’s throats with varying cultures, rules, grant levels and partner requirements.

    This disunity and lack of coordination has compromised the Canadian research establishment’s ability to plan and act strategically.

    Bernstein stated that Canada’s research system must place far more emphasis on interdisciplinary and international research teams, rather than the current individualist "superstar/prima dona" oriented approach.

    This notion has met resistance from senior researchers who fear encroachment on their individual fiefdoms. Bernstein himself sees no conflict between individual  and team-based research, arguing that the Canadian system should utilize both.

    There are hundreds of academic space science conferences going on every month in Canada and around the world. Most focus not just on publicizing and promoting new research and developments, but also depend on driving revenue generating and fee paying undergrad admissions to the faculties and organizations being promoted, whether or not there are jobs available for the surviving graduates and post docs. This particular, just concluded event was sponsored by a variety of universities, colleges, institutes, associations and private organizations. After all, low cost, well trained and pliable help is hard to find. Graphic c/o MSSA

    While streamlining bureaucracy and bringing squabbling fiefdoms into line are positive steps, the Canadian research field must take more immediate steps to make itself more attractive to young talent.

    After all, we live in a time when the tech industry is using multiple incentives to entice new talent (bonuses, catered meals, gym memberships, paid training) and senior academics draw six figure salaries at their respective institutions, but Canadian graduate students live in poverty and squalor..

    Researchers heal thy selves.
    Brian Orlotti.

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

    Friday, October 13, 2017

    Short List for the $950Mln CDN Supercluster Initiative

              By Henry Stewart

    The Canadian government has selected nine consortium's for its supercluster program shortlist, including the MOST21 aerospace focused bid led by Montreal-based flight simulator maker CAE Inc., and an agrifood focused proposal spearheaded by Calgary-based Agrium Inc., which includes Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (soon to be re-branded as "MDA" in much the same way as what was once Kentucky Fried Chicken is now known only as "KFC").

    Screenshot of the MOST21 website taken on October 13th, 2017. The Canadian aerospace community is mostly on-board with this choice. As outlined in the October 10th, 2017 Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) post, "AIAC Applauds Shortlisting of Aerospace Supercluster," quoted AIAC president and CEO Jim Quick as expressing his "delight" at the choice. The October 10th, 2017 CARIC newsletter quoted Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC) CEO Denis Faubert as stating that, "It’s a strong message from the mobility industry: a willingness to participate actively to the creation of jobs and wealth in Canada. This supercluster may become a major player and narrative for Canada’s role on the international scene." Graphic c/o MOST21.

    As outlined in the August 31st, 2017 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler is Part of an Alberta Based Agrifood ‘Supercluster’ Proposal," the agrifood proposal plans to explore the uses of satellite data and other technology to improve crop yields.

    Left out of the final selection is Satellite Canada which, as announced in the August 3rd, 2017 post, "Satellite Canada Applies for Innovation SuperCluster Funds," put together a consortium of thirty-nine Canadian space focused corporations, associations and academic institutions willing to contribute time, effort and up to $328Mln CDN, to apply for the Federal supercluster matching funds.

    An overview of the nine remaining successful applicants is included with the October 10th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Short list for $950 million supercluster initiative revealed." For more on the program, its worth checking out the October 12th, 2017 Federal government Innovation superclusters initiative (ISI): Program guide.

    Final bids, due from the shortlisted groups by November 24th, could end up being different from the current shortlist. The consortiums have been encouraged to add more participants, including those from unsuccessful applications, in order to create “more ambitious job-creation plans.”

    It's also worth noting that not everyone is enamored with the supercluster concept. A good place to start exploring that is the October 11th, 2017 Financial Post article, "Tech accelerators are booming — what's not clear is whether they work."

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

    Thursday, October 12, 2017

    Osborne Steps Down at Canadian MDA as it Responds to Questions About its US Based "Maxar" Future

              By Chuck Black

    This blog, along with quite a few of the internal staff at the Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) office, has known for a week that Don Osborne, the president of MDA's Information Systems Group, was resigning his position. 

    It's unusual to have a conference call during the blackout period leading up to the formal quarterly announcement of earnings, which in this case will be on November 2nd, 2017. But Maxar CEO Howard Lance held one anyway. He even included Osborne as part of his leadership team as recently as today, as can be seen from these power-points taken from the October 12th, 2017 Maxar Shareholder Luncheon and Webcast, which Lance hosted. During the presentation, Lance introduced the other MAXAR executives by name but forgot to mention Osborne, although he was prominently listed in the power-point presentation. For a complete audio recording of the presentation, check out the webcast  and presentation here. Graphic c/o MDA/Maxar.

    But now it's official. According to an October 12th, 2017 e-mail from Wendy Keyser, the manager of marketing communications with the MDA Information Systems group:
    Don Osborne has chosen to step down from his position as president of MDA effective October 31st. We’ve begun a search for the best internal or external candidate to lead MDA with a focus on Canadian nationals.

    Don has been a valuable member of the team and we appreciate his many contributions to our success. We wish Don the best in all his future endeavours.
    Osborne, at least until his resignation takes effect at the end of the month, is the senior Canadian based MDA employee of the new San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies Ltd. As outlined in the October 5th, 2017 post, "MDA Acquisition of DigitalGlobe Closes; New US Based Combined Company now called Maxar Technologies," the new Maxar technologies includes the old Space Systems Loral (SSL), MDA and DigitalGlobe, which have been combined into a single entity.

    Earlier this month, Osborne sent out an e-mail to internal MDA staff stating that he would be leaving his role effective October 31st. The blog became aware of the e-mail last week and requested clarification from Osborne, Keyser and MDA director of public affairs Leslie Swartman.

    In response, MDA released the resignation announcement from Keyser. 

    As outlined in the October 12th, 2017 Maxar Shareholder Luncheon and Webcast: the revenues by market and by product line and the synergies expected from elimination of duplicate costs and increased size expected to be realized over the next two years. According to Lance, only Netherlands based Airbus Group can compete with Maxar synergies, "but they're not organized (for commercial operation) the way we are." According to Lance, "MDA and SSL never integrated. Even across Canada, MDA is not integrated. And so the opportunities, we put some of that on pause while we were waiting for the closing, the opportunity now to integrate the whole enterprise, is extremely attractive. That's what's going to deliver the synergies. Its going to deliver an operating cadence and a level of efficiency which we believe is going to be helpful to all four of the (Maxar operating) businesses." In essence, now that the sale has closed, Maxar can integrate, synergize and cut costs. Graphic c/o MDA/Maxar.

    But Keyser also released answers to several questions this blog was originally hoping to discuss with Osborne. Here are both the original questions and their responses from Keyser:
    • The deal has closed and there's no doubt that the acquisition is a net positive for the company as a whole. But what's next for MDA in Canada?
    MDA is – and will continue to be – one of Canada’s leading technology companies and an internationally recognized leader in space robotics, satellite antennas and subsystems, surveillance and intelligence systems, defense and maritime systems, and geospatial radar imagery. 
    MDA has provided government and commercial customers with innovative space systems and solutions for decades. 
    The acquisition of DigitalGlobe creates a company that has the scale, resources and technology to create even greater growth and innovation, enhancing our ability to invest, innovate and grow these businesses and our Canadian presence. 
    The MDA brand associated with the company’s Canadian business will serve a vital role as part of the Maxar Technologies portfolio. 
    MDA will continue to operate independently and be led by a Canadian leadership team, and will remain committed to our enduring and valued partnership with the Canadian government and our Canadian employees. 
    • The Federal government put the kibosh on US control of MDA and its sale to ATK in 2008, mostly because RADARSAT-2 was considered essential to Canadian security and needed to remain under Canadian control. How will the re-organization, acquisition and new corporate structure affect the launch and operation of the follow-on RADARSAT Constellation (RCM)?
    This acquisition in no way affects the completion and launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), which will be a Government of Canada-owned satellite mission. 
    • SpaceQ has indicated that MDA will continue under the MDA name and banner in Canada for the foreseeable future but others disagree. The October 5th 2017 Washington Technology post, "Inside MacDonald Dettwiler's new 'Maxar' era as DigitalGlobe buy closes," even quotes CEO Howard Lance as stating that, "each business unit within Maxar will operate under its current branding as the new name is rolled out through the remainder of this year." Will this re-branding include MDA in Canada?
    While we will be phasing out use of the name MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, the ‘MDA’ brand name will continue to be used by all of our Canadian businesses and serve as a vital brand within the company portfolio. 
    Being an instrumental part of Maxar Technologies will mean that the MDA brand, an icon of Canadian technology growth and innovation, will continue.
    • The same article mentions a second re-org in 2019, when the company becomes "fully American." How will this second re-org affect Canadian operations?
    While we cannot discuss future, or forward-looking, plans for our business, rest assured that MDA’s Canadian operations will continue to be managed by an experienced Canadian management team, who will continue executing MDA’s Canadian business plans and investments for growth. 
    We remain fully committed to our enduring and valued partnership with the Canadian Government and our Canadian employees.
    Of course, any future experienced Canadian management team won't include Osborne. And the real concern at the Canadian MDA offices is over the "synergies" expected to be achieved by consolidating the  services of Space Systems Loral (SSL), MDA and DigitalGlobe into a single entity.

    As outlined in the September 6th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Cambridge Facility Sees Workforce Reduction of 49% Since Honeywell Acquired Com Dev International," the last time a US based space company attempted to develop synergies with a recently purchased Canadian subsidiary, the end result was a substantial loss of Canadian jobs.

    Here's hoping that doesn't happen this time. 
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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