Friday, December 21, 2018

From All of Us to All of You: Merry Christmas on this Happiest of Holiday Seasons

The Commercial Space blog will be taking a short break over the next two weeks to rest and reconnect with our families and loved ones.

We will return with all new stories beginning January 4th, 2019. Until then, Best Wishes to All and a Happy New Year.


BREAKING NEWS: RADARSAT-2 Offline for Most of the Week. RADARSAT Constellation February 2019 Launch Date in Doubt

          By Chuck Black

RADARSAT-2, the high-tech Earth imaging satellite held up internationally as a symbol of Canadian technological prowess, was offline in "safe mode" for most of the week and was only revived on Thursday evening, according to Michel Doyon, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) manager of flight operations, who spoke with this blog earlier today.


Doyon also confirmed that the follow-on RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), officially scheduled for launch between February 18th - 24th, 2019 will likely be further postponed over concerns about the performance of a reusable Falcon-9 rocket built by Hawthorne CA based SpaceX which didn't come down "quite where it was supposed to" earlier this month.

As outlined in the December 5, 2018 C-Net post, "SpaceX sends Dragon to ISS but Falcon 9 rocket misses landing pad," the rocket "succeeded in its primary mission of sending a Dragon spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver supplies, but the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral" and crashed into the ocean, missing its intended landing zone.

According to the November 13th, 2018 CBC News post, "Canada's key satellite system hit with another launch delay," the June 2015 explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket led to a growing backlog for launches, which would likely increase due to this latest partial failure.

According to Doyon, "there is currently no confirmed date for the upcoming RCM launch. (Brampton ON based) MDA (which built RCM) and (Hawthorne CA based) SpaceX (which built the Falcon 9 rocket) are currently talking but nothing is confirmed and it's too early to say what will happen."


As for RADARSAT-2, Doyon confirmed that the satellite went off-line on December 15th, 2018 at 2AM UTC (9pm EST on December 14th) and was immediately placed into safe mode by controllers.

The satellite was returned to service on Thursday December 20th, 2018 at 9pm EST.

"It took awhile to recover," said Doyon. The problem was traced to the failure of an orientation sensor.

The satellite is currently back to normal operation and "the image quality and the satellite capabilities are the same as they were previously," according to Doyon.

RADARSAT-2 was launched on December 14th, 2007 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was originally designed to last for seven years and is now four years beyond its planned life expectancy.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post referenced "Michel Voyen, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) manager of flight operations." This blog regrets the error and has updated this post with Mr. Doyon's correct name.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. He was actually hoping to take a short break over the next two weeks to rest and reconnect with families and loved ones.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Airbus Has Been in Canada for Thirty-Five Years and Wants to Increase its Contribution to Our Space Activities

          By Chuck Black

Most Canadians don't think of Airbus as a space company. Those who track the industry recognize Airbus as the firm which took a 50.1% stake in the Dorval PQ based Bombardier Aerospace C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP) in July 2018 to fund the production ramp-up needed to turn Bombardier’s single-aisle C Series (now known as the Airbus A220) into a commercial success.

Airbus in Canada. As outlined on the Airbus in Canada website, Airbus is a successful provider "of space technology and solutions to Canada’s government, military, commercial and civil space markets. Airbus’ commercial space credentials include providing advanced geostationary telecommunications satellites to Telesat, a leading satellite operator headquartered in Ottawa. The company’s military communications accomplishments include providing military satellite communication terminal equipment and secure communications services to the Canadian Armed Forces." The page also notes Airbus contributions to the DND Sapphire space surveillance satellite and the upcoming Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM). Graphic c/o Airbus.

Others note the Fort Erie ON based Airbus helicopter manufacturing facility and the contract awarded in 2016 by the Department of National Defence (DND) Fixed Wing Aircraft Procurement Project, for 16 Airbus CC-295 aircraft to take over the search and rescue duties currently provided by six CC-115 Buffalo aircraft and 12 CC-130 legacy Hercules aircraft.

But according to Simon Jacques, the President at Airbus Defence and Space Canada, Airbus is also the second largest aerospace company in the world and heavily involved with Canada's space industry.

Simon Jacques. Photo c/o LinkedIn.
Jacques, along with Pierre-Alexis Joumel, the Airbus executive who recently co-founded "The Moon Race," initiative and Chris Dodd, the Director of business development at Airbus, spoke with this blog on Tuesday. 

According to Jacques, "Airbus has been in Canada for thirty-five years. We are Canadian and our roots are as deep as any other large company operating here."

He should know.

Jacques is also a Canadian, who spent who spent seven years at what was then known as MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (now a part of ‎Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies).

He began his career in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a combat system engineering naval officer, according to his bio on the Montreal PQ based Aero Montreal website.

According to Jacques, his current priority is grow the Airbus footprint in Canada by building out partnerships with Canadian experts and companies able to supplement the capabilities of existing Airbus suppliers. Airbus currently lists 665 suppliers across Canada and supports over 17,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Airbus website.

"Our existing supply chain already supplies us with much interaction with space companies," he feels.


According to Pierre-Alexis Joumel, one of the current Airbus initiatives to target key technologies for future space exploration is "The Moon Race," an international competition to support technology demonstrations in space and on the lunar surface.

As outlined in the October 1st, 2018 Moon Race press release, "The Moon Race: Pioneering Sustainable Lunar Exploration," the goal is to:
...bring together a group of space and non-space partners from the Moon-bound community (and beyond) that will jointly award opportunities for technology demonstrations on the lunar surface to up to four candidates in order to foster global entrepreneurship.
Pierre-Alexis Joumel. Photo c/o LinkedIn.
The initial announcement of the competition was made during the 69th International Astronautical Congress (IAC2018), which was held in Bremen Germany from October 1st - 5th, 2018.

As outlined in the October 3rd, 2018 Space.com post, "'Moon Race' Backed by Blue Origin, Airbus Aims for 2024 Lunar Flight," participating entities in the competition include the European Space Agency (ESA), the Mexican Space Agency, Airbus, Kent WA based Blue Origin and Cedex France based construction giant Vinci Construction.

"We're looking to bring the best and most useful technologies to the Moon's surface," according to Joumel. Those technologies are currently divided up in to four "parallel technology streams" including:
  • Manufacturing ("to construct useful items wherever they're needed" according to Joumel). 
  • Energy ("to help survive the long winter night").
  • Resources ("to provide the raw materials for manufacturing" and maybe even fill the first bottle of Moon water).
  • Biology ("to eventually grow food on the Lunar surface").
"We're attracting teams from all over the world. We're actively looking for Canadian teams and talking with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)," he said. "I invite Canadians who are interested in participating in the Moon Race to contact me."

More information on the event will be announced in January 2019


The Airbus executives also had some strong opinions and useful suggestions relating to Canada's future in space. 

According to Chris Dodd, "we need to move forward with the low-Earth orbit telecommunications constellation infrastructure."

As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 post, "'Big Winners' in Tuesday's Federal Budget," the Federal government included $100Mln CDN in the 2018 Budget to develop constellations of low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites intended to bring internet services to rural parts of the country, but the program hasn't been moving forward as fast as expected. 

"A $100Mln contribution is a good start, but most of it hasn't been released yet and it's not a lot when you look at the big picture and how many Canadian companies could participate in building this system," he said. 

According to Dodd, the total cost of the LEO constellation is in the range of several billions of dollars and the amount so far provided by the Federal government is only a small proportion of the total amount needed.

He also added that:
Telesat’s LEO constellation is largest space project ever conceived in Canada. It has the potential to revolutionize the delivery of affordable, high capacity, secure and resilient broadband connectivity throughout Canada and the world. 
The government needs to join with private industry to bring this ambitious telecommunications infrastructure project to fruition. It’s a good investment that will benefit Canadian, increase exports and is fully aligned with both the skills and innovation agendas.
As outlined in the August 2nd, 2018 post, "Airbus Competing Against Thales/ Maxar to Design and Build the 117 Satellite Telesat Constellation," Ottawa ON based Telesat will act as the lead on the project.

Dodd also believes in increased transatlantic space co-operation. "Canadian industry acknowledges the benefits of the current CSA efforts within the ESA. Major Canadian players including Honeywell and MDA benefit from Canadian/European co-operation and much can be gained from our partnerships." He added “The CSA should increase its contribution to ESA programs to create more opportunities for Canadian industry to participate in Europe’s Earth observation, telecommunications, science and exploration projects.” 


According to Jacques, it's "difficult for the government to pick out what's important and while we all agree that aerospace is vitally important, we often get hung up on the specifics. That's why we need a balanced space plan, something that's good for Canada and for the industry as a whole including stakeholders."

"A clear commitment by the government to a long-term, balanced space plan is long overdue," he said.

Jacques also said that the Federal government plans to begin moving forward with the proposed enhanced satellite communication project (ESCP). The program is a long running Federal proposal to build a two node constellation of modified Molniya orbiting DND satellites "to fill the requirement of the new Canadian defense policy for all-Arctic (communications) coverage."

But as outlined in the December 8th, 2017 post, "Long Awaited DND Polar Sats Postponed. Will be Cancelled/ Replaced/ Renamed After Next Election (Like Last Time)," this blog doesn't expect any further announcements on ESCP until after the next election.

Of course, who knows what will happen over the next few months, especially since it's an election year. Here's wishing Airbus the best of luck with their future plans.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, December 17, 2018

VSS Unity - A Welcome Christmas Gift to Space Fans Everywhere

          By Brian Orlotti

On December 13th,  Las Cruces NM based Virgin Galactic’s suborbital Spaceship Two spacecraft, dubbed VSS Unity, reached the edge of space during a powered test flight, marking the first human spaceflight from US soil since the end of the US Space Shuttle program in 2011.

After years of delays and setbacks, the company has cause for celebration; for its own success as well as the likely future success of others and the end of US dependence on Russian craft for human spaceflight.


As outlined in the December 13, 2018 The Virge post, "Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane finally makes it to space for the first time," the VSS Unity climbed to an altitude of 82.7 km after launch from California’s Mojave Desert.

There is some debate as to whether Unity reached space, since the internationally recognized boundary is 100 km, aka the Kรกrmรกn line. However, the US Air Force awards astronaut wings to personnel who reach an altitude of 80 km.

Aboard the craft were pilot Mark "Forger" Stucky and co-pilot Frederick "C.J." Sturckow. VSS Unity is designed to carry six passengers, two pilots and scientific experiments on brief trips to suborbital space. Virgin Galactic is selling seats on the craft for $250,000 US ($335,000 CDN) each.

In a typical flight profile, a SpaceShipTwo-type craft such as VSS Unity is launched from its mother ship, White Knight Two, at an altitude of 15,000 metres, then fires its single hybrid rocket engine to achieve supersonic speed within 8 seconds. After 70 seconds, the engine cuts out and the spacecraft coasts to its maximum altitude.

The crew cabin is 3.7 m long and 2.3 m in diameter. Its wing span is 8.2 m with a length of 18 m while its tail height is 4.6 m. SpaceShipTwo and White Knight Two are, respectively, roughly twice the size of the first-generation SpaceShipOne and mother ship White Knight, which won the Ansari X Prize in 2004.


VSS Unity uses a feathered wing for re-entry, made possible by its lower re-entry speed as a suborbital craft. This in contrast to orbital spacecraft, which require heat shields due to their much higher re-entry speeds.

The ship is also designed to re-enter the atmosphere at any angle. It decelerates through the atmosphere, switching to a gliding position at an altitude of 24 km, then takes 25 minutes to glide back to its spaceport.

The success of VSS Unity comes at a key time for the commercial space industry. Blue Origin is developing its own reusable suborbital spacecraft, New Sheppard, with ticket sales expected to begin next year. In the orbital spaceflight realm, two other US firms are developing and near operational deployment of spacecraft to fulfill multi-billion-dollar NASA contracts to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is scheduled to launch on its first uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on January 17th, 2019 while Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will do so in March. If all goes well on these flights, SpaceX will send a crewed test flight to the station in June, with Boeing following in August 2019.

The successful flight of VSS Unity is a welcome Christmas gift to space aficionados everywhere as well as a sign of greater things to come.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

New Radarsat R&D Funding is Mostly for Software Analytics But Includes Some Interesting Surprises

          By Chuck Black

The issuing of multiple contracts totaling $6.7Mln CDN through the Department of National Defence (DND) to eight Canadian and international companies to develop "situational awareness" applications focused around the analysis and assessment of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data-sets generated from Canada's Radarsat program, is typical of the ramp up of any new military program.


But the new contracts issued last week could potentially end up being just another example of Canadian ingenuity arriving late to an international party already bursting with experienced data analytics experts and ingenious applications.

As outlined in the December 14th, 2018 Government of Canada backgrounder "Government of Canada announces contract awards aimed at improving space-based earth observation capabilities," the new awards included:
Quebec PQ based ABB Canada, which received $305,000, or one half of the $610,000 required to investigate a "Complementary Electro-Optic/Infrared (EO/IR) payload to RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) follow-on.
The study will "help define mission objectives, requirements, and concepts for a secondary electro-optic/infrared payload for the RCM follow-on mission." 
Until now Radarsat's have focused on supporting only one payload, the SAR.
Ottawa ON based AstroCom Associates, which received $165,000 CDN, or one half of the $330,000 CDN required to fund "Project Arviq.
Project Arvig will investigate "the feasibility of a proposed capability to detect ocean waves in sea ice. Arviq builds upon recent results that show centimetre-scale ice waves can be imaged directly using synthetic aperture radar interferometry technology."
 St. John’s based C-Core, which received funding for two proposals.
  • $775,000 CDN, or one half of the $1,550,000 CDN needed to fund a study on "Multi-satellite data integration for operational ship detection, identification and tracking." This study will investigate and develop a "multi-satellite data classifying approach to enhance the capacity to discriminate ships from icebergs. Efficiently and rapidly classifying detected objects of interest in or over water is a key area of interest to the maritime domain situational awareness community." 
  • $940,000 CDN, or one half of the $1,880,000 CDN needed to fund a study on "Modelling the geo-spatial intelligence capability to support Canadian surveillance and sovereignty." The study will "evaluate the spatio-temporal aspects of acquiring, down-linking and analyzing imagery for the generation of geographical intelligence products in support of land and maritime monitoring. It will investigate and develop a multi-satellite data classifier to better characterize ship and non-ship targets."
Calgary AB based Complex System Inc., which received $200,000 CDN, or one half the total $400,000 CDN needed to fund a study on "Electro-Optic/Infrared data analytics for enhanced maritime surveillance."
The study will "develop an on-board video processing system which will be used together with space-based radar and ship detection sensors to enhance near-real time vessel detection, tracking and identification. Complex Systems Inc. will develop a new data analytics system by leveraging leading edge computer vision and machine learning technologies and deliver a suite of advanced processing tools enabling enhancing maritime surveillance capabilities."
Gatineau PQ based CubeWerx, which received $485,000 CDN, or one half the total $970,000 CDN needed to fund a study on a proposed "RADARSAT thematic exploitation platform demonstrator." 
The project "will study big data and cloud computing approaches to support scalability, agility, and on-demand availability of earth observation data products" plus "develop a RADARSAT thematic exploitation platform and demonstrate a working environment where users can package their applications and upload them to a Cloud environment that supports the processing of users algorithms at scale, avoiding the need to download and store large volumes of images locally."
Ottawa ON based General Dynamics Mission Systems, which received $75,000 CDN, or one half the total $150,000 CDN needed to fund a study on "Real-time processing of large-volume space-based multi-modal data."
The project "will develop new approaches using emerging graphics processing unit architectures and the latest algorithms to process large volumes of satellite remote sensing data from multiple sources and types such as multiband radar, electro-optical and infrared sensors."
Brampton ON based MDA, which received funding for three proposals.
  • $1Mln CDN, or one half of the $2Mln CDN needed to fund a study on "Augmenting Canada’s maritime surveillance capability with complementary electro-optic/infrared information products." The project "will demonstrate how incorporating various types of space remote sensing satellite data elements can augment maritime surveillance capabilities with additional detections and improve classification, identification, and tracking." The contract was awarded through the Richmond BC based MDA Systems division.
  • $500,000 CDN, or one half of the $1Mln CDN to fund a study on the "Application of Big Data analytics techniques to extracting GEOINT from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery." The project will "investigate Big Data analytics and automatization techniques to better exploit the large and growing data archives" collected and expected to be collected during the RADARSAT-2 and RCM programs. The contract was awarded through the Richmond BC based MDA Geospatial Services division.
  • $750,000 CDN, or one half of the $1.5Mln CDN needed to fund a study on "Persistent multi-sensor land surveillance and change monitoring." The project "will explore how wide-area automated change monitoring techniques can be enhanced by using a combination of earth observing data types such as RADARSAT and electro-optical data." The contract was awarded through the Richmond BC based MDA Systems division.
Vancouver BC based UrtheCast, which received funding for two proposals. 
  • $1Mln CDN, or one half the total $2Mln CDN needed to fund a study on "Architecture innovations for analytics-ready data." The project "will demonstrate scalable warehousing and on-demand processing of analytics-ready space remote sensing data from multiple types of earth observation systems, to enable emerging techniques including artificial intelligence to be used for the production of geographical information products." 
  • $499,000 CDN, or approximately one half the total $999,000 CDN needed to fund a study on "Complementary sensor exploitation." The project "will develop, implement and demonstrate a new system to deliver thematic maps derived from complementary satellite earth observation data sources in support of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) land operations."

Only one of the listed awards, for ABB to investigate a secondary EO/IR payload, covered research on potential future hardware.

The other awards covered software and data modelling applications related to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), the "study of human activity on earth derived from the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information," according to Wikipedia.

The contracts were structured as public private partnerships with costs split 50-50 between DND and the various private companies. They were provided under the second of two DND Defence Innovation Research Program (DIRP) calls for proposals under its tasking-collection-processing & exploitation-dissemination (TCPED) initiative.

However, as outlined in the May 22nd, 2018 Space News post "Not convinced of the promise of commercial radar satellites? Meet the radar mafia," there is already a growing international geospatial data analytics community creating military and civilian applications for the SAR data-sets being generated now by many other space-based radar satellites.

So the latest DND awards are certainly not enough by themselves to insure Canadian leadership in this area.

The Space News post focused on the 2018 GEOINT Symposium, which was organized by Ithaca NY based Ursa Space Systems and held from April 22nd - 25th in Tampa FL.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, December 14, 2018

2019 Federal Pre-Budget Consultation Report Mentions "Significant, Ongoing Investments to Advance Canada’s Space Program"

          By Chuck Black



The report was formally adopted by the Committee on December 6th, 2018 and presented to the Canadian House of Commons on December 10th, 2018. It's essentially a summary of the 493 written briefs and 393 in-person presentations made by a variety of individuals and organizations looking to influence how the Federal government spends the money it collects from Canadian taxpayers.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The report even mentions two sets of recommendations from Brampton ON based MDA (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies) and Nova Scotia based Maritime Launch Services (MLS). As outlined on page 64 of the PDF version of the report:
Maritime Launch Services Ltd. identified a need for more streamlined funding structures for budding launch vehicle and launch site technology initiatives. It advocated for a specific research category for launch R&D funding under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), among others.
Page 94 of the report noted that:
In order to prevent the loss of talents in the space industry, Maritime Launch Services Ltd. called on the federal government to invest in Canadian space industry and incentivize new business practices through partnerships with Canadian companies, not-for-profits and charities so that the youth may be equipped with STEM skills relevant to the launch industry and the overall space industry.
On page 74 of the PDF report:
The MDA Space Missions Group asked that the federal government recognize space as a national strategic asset and a key contributor to Canada’s competitiveness. It proposed the creation of a long-term space plan for Canada, including enough funding to maintain existing leadership in space science, cultivate new areas of leadership and position Canada for competitiveness in the space economy. The space plan should also include a commitment to building a third-generation Canadarm at a cost of $1 to $2 billion over the next 20 years.


Those three quotes weren't weren't the only mention of items of interest in the 272 page report and working through this parliamentary committee is not the only avenue being pursued to encourage the government to make changes of benefit to the space industry.

As outlined in the December 6th, 2018 post, "Space Mining and Innovation Should Be Encouraged Through the Tax Code, According to NRCan and CATA Alliance" and the October 15th, 2018 post, "The Federal Space Advisory Board (SAB) Insists that It's Working Hard," there are other ideas being promoted by other organizations.

Longtime readers of this blog will also note some serious serious concerns relating to the context of the proposals being championed by MDA and MLS.

But the overall process is far more transparent and open than the one which existed prior to the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review. The old Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which until then essentially managed and controlled most Canadian space projects, was a black box impervious to outside assessment or oversight.

As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," Emerson acknowledged the ongoing (but then mostly unacknowledged) procurement problems within the CSA and recommended increased oversight.

It also called for a narrowing of the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government." The old role would essentially be taken up by other departments and carried on in a far more "ad-hoc," but also more public process.

That's the situation we have today and it's part of the reason we know what the major players in the industry are advocating.

As noted in the January 19th, 2013 post, "Praising Steve MacLean," no one knows what was in the 2009 long-term space plan compiled by the former CSA president Steve MacLean and no one knows what became of it, although there are certainly rumors.

The current Justin Trudeau Liberal government should be congratulated for following through on Emerson's recommendations to change that.


As is normal with these annual pre-budget consultations, no government response was requested, although it is expected that the ninety-nine recommendations listed will inform and influence the next annual Federal Budget, currently expected to be released in the spring of 2019.

Links to the in-person and written presentations for all the participants in the process are included on the government website.

As for whether or not the next budget will include mention of a new space plan or the funding required to move forward with specific projects, we'll just have to wait and see.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

GHGSat, ABB and UTIAS SFL Providing a "Made in Canada" Solution for Global Emissions Tracking

          By Chuck Black

The Quebec City PQ based ABB Canada measurement & analytics business unit is building sensors for the third in a series of upcoming microsats planned by Montreal PQ based GHGSat and, according to GHGSat president Stephane Germain, it most certainly makes sense to source out high quality Canadian based suppliers for Canadian based projects, especially if they come with the capabilities possessed by ABB.

The GHGSat-D short-wavelength infrared (SWIR) optical sensor. According to Germain, the follow-on sensors for the second and third satellites will be manufactured to the same successful, patented design but will also contain a variety of incremental, but useful improvements. "For example, the sensor for GHGSat-C2, will contain a new detector for improved performance." Photo c/o GHGSat

"We think we have a strong partnership with both ABB and the University of Toronto Institute of  Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL)," he said during a recent interview with this blog.

As outlined in the November 29th, 2018 ABB press release, "ABB to manufacture an optical sensor for GHGSat," ABB has previously provided key hardware contribution to sensors flying on leading Earth observation missions including the NASA led Aura satellite (EOS CH-1) studying the Earth's ozone layer, air quality and climate, the NASA TERRA satellite (EOS AM-1), the Canadian SciSat‑1, the Japanese GOSAT 1 and GOSAT 2 greenhouse gas observing satellites, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership weather satellite (Suomi NPP), various satellites of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and quite a few others.

ABB operates close to 50 facilities and employs approximately 4,000 people across Canada. The company was most recently profiled in the November 8th, 2018 post, "Canada's "Signature" Contribution to GOSAT-2."

SFL, the third partner in the group, contributed its Gryphon Bus (GNB) technology for the first satellite in the series and expects to use the same bus for the next two. The bus measures 20 cm by 20 cm by 40 cm and is capable of peak power generation up to 80 W. It weighs 15 kg, 9 kg of which is dedicated to the payload, according to the SFL website.

SFL also has a storied history and was most recently cited in the August 2nd, 2018 post, "Airbus Competing Against Thales/ Maxar to Design and Build the 117 Satellite Telesat Constellation," as being a subcontractor to Palo Alto, CA based SSL (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies) in a potential satellite contract with Ottawa ON based Telesat.

Artist impression of two GHGSat's in orbit. According to Gunter's Web page, the first GHGSat-D (the "demonstrator") launched in 2016 and demonstrated "an advanced miniature hyperspectral SWIR imaging spectrometer for monitoring targeted greenhouse gas emitters such as area fugitive sources (tailing ponds and landfills) and stacks (emissions such as flaring and venting)." The next two satellites in the series (GHGSat C1 & C2) will help build out "a commercial constellation of greenhouse gas monitoring satellites as part of a service provided by GHGSat Inc." Image c/o GHGSat.

Germain is also quick to note that the business plan for his company is also moving forward.

As outlined in the September 28th, 2018 post, "GHGSat Raises $10Mln US in Series A2 Financing; Gains Access to Worlds Largest Oil and Gas Customers," his firm recently raised US$10Mln US ($13Mln CDN) in Series A2 financing in a deal led by the London UK based OGCI Climate Investments.

OGCI is the billion dollar investment arm of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) a voluntary, CEO-led initiative composed of approximately a dozen of the world's top oil and gas companies. OGCI was "created to pool knowledge and collaborate on action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions" according to the OGCI website.

That deal also included financial backing from Houston TX based Schlumberger (the world's largest oilfield services company), the New York NY based Space Angels Network and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a Montreal PQ based crown corporation.

"We've got a couple of good fiscal partners, too" said Germain, smiling. His next two satellites should be launching in 2020.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The AstroNuts Kids' Space Club is Relocating to Calgary

          By Henry Stewart

One of the most effective and sensible organizations currently advocating for Canadian space activities and the science technology engineering and math (STEM) background needed to support those accomplishments, the AstroNuts Kids' Space Club is pulling up its Newmarket ON roots and relocating to Calgary.

Members of the 2014 AstroNuts Kids' Space Club at the Orlan Space Suit display on the trade show floor of 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014), which took place from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014 in Toronto ON. From left to right are AstroNuts Ray Bielecki, Tim Fowler (wearing a blue shirt in back), Jack Fallows (wearing the orange jumpsuit in front), Brett Bielecki, Jessica Hunter, Jacob Fowler (wearing the Orlon Soviet space suit), Josiah Harris, Brandon Palos and Tom Harris.  Photo c/o Chuck Black.

According to organizer Ray Bielecki, "thank you for all your enthusiasm and support of the AstroNuts Kids Space Club …it's been a great run and its definitely picking up where it left off, very soon."

Bielecki will be moving west to Calgary AB "by early May in 2019" after he retires from the CBC, where he has worked for the last twenty-five years.

He's found a lot of interest in opening up a new AstroNuts chapter after he's settled into his new home and expects to find many new "individuals, organizations and companies that are interested in me bringing my passion and love of space, science and education to their workplace."

For the last eight years, thousand of children have attended monthly missions aboard his home-built "Mercury One" and "Mercury Two" spaceships or participated in the larger, annual AstroNut Kids' Space Day Camps and STEM Contests, which were held in different locations and as part of a variety of other unique activities.

The AstroNuts website also includes dozens of in-house and skype educators who assisted with the program. They included York University astronomy professor Paul Delaney, Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald, CBC Newsworld meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe along with a multitude of Canadian and international scientists and astronauts.

During the annual AstroNut Space Camps, British astronaut Tim Peake talked to the kids “live” from the International Space Station (ISS) and Canadian icon Chris Hadfield skyped in for a chat.

The 2018 class of the AstroNut Kids' include (from left to right) Danica Keeler, Alayna Keeler, Violet Bristow, David Tran, Danial Balugas, Stan Taylor, Benji Ho, Mitchell Bruni, William Duncan, Ray Bielecki, Josiah Harris, Tim Harris, Aevaha Arun, Ryan Marciniak and Anthony Skorik. Photo c/o Ray Bielecki.

The AstroNuts were first organized into a club eight years ago by Bielecki, along with his then seven year old son Brett, in order to learn "about all things space." The club was first noted here in the June 25th, 2011 post, "'Astronut' Brett at NASA for Final Shuttle Launch."

A new space club will starting up in February 2019 in Uxbridge ON called the “Kids Space Club.” Its founder is "Scientist Stan” Taylor and many of the Ontario based members of the current AstroNut Kids' will be joining.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Canadian Intelligence Agency "Warning Country's Top Universities" About Chinese Telecom Giant Huawei

          By Chuck Black

The full story is hidden behind a legacy media paywall, available only if you're willing to buy a newspaper or sign-up for a subscription.

University of Toronto (UofT) VP of Research and Innovation Professor Vivek Goel and Huawei’s Central Research Institute President Jun Zha celebrate the signing of a "bilateral strategic partnership agreement between the two groups," in Toronto ON in September 2018. As outlined in the September 14th, 2018 UofT News post, "UofT, Huawei extend research partnership," the new, five-year agreement, is an extension of an existing partnership which has provided more than $3.5Mln CDN in research funding to UofT projects over the last few years. Photo c/o UofT

But it's a story with far reaching implications for academic cooperation between Canadian universities, their international partners/funders and pretty much anyone the United States might happen to disagree with.

It's therefore a story well worth looking into.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "CSIS cautions universities about ties to Chinese telecom giant," Canada's spy agency is "warning the country's top universities to be cautious" about their extensive relationships with Shenzhen China based Huawei Technologies.

As outlined in the post:
The Globe and Mail has learned officials with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) including assistant director of intelligence Mike Peirce, delivered the warning to research vice-presidents, from a group of leading research-intensive universities, known as the U15, at a meeting in Ottawa on October 4th.
At least one follow-up meeting is planned for about twenty McGill University academics on December 19th. According to the Globe, several of those academics are currently engaged in research underwritten by Huawei.

According to its website, the U15 is a consortium of the largest Canadian universities. They perform approximately "$8.5Bln worth of research annually" including approximately "83% of all contracted private sector research in Canada" and hold 81% of all "Canadian university patents." Their website is also available in multiple languages, including English, French, Portuguese and written Chinese.

There is no better way to learn about Chinese connections to Canadian academia than to read "Canadian Universities in China’s Transformation: An Untold Story" by Ruth Hayhoe, Julia Pan and Qiang Zha. As outlined in the book, "Canada was one of the first Western countries to sign an agreement to provide development aid to China in 1983, and the Canadian International Development Agency invited universities to cooperate in ways that would facilitate "the multiplication of contacts at the thinking level." Collaboration occured in areas "as different as environmental science, marine science, engineering, management, law, agriculture, medicine, education, minority cultures, and women’s studies." While Norman Bethune might be pleased, its also quite likely that the US intelligence community was less than happy. Graphic c/o McGill Queens University Press

The Globe post goes on to state:
People who attended the October meeting described it as an information session where CSIS officials did not reveal classified information, but shared their concerns about Huawei's development and deployment of next-generation wireless technology across Canada. 
The story came hot on the heels of last week's detainment of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou as she was changing planes at Vancouver International Airport.

As outlined in the December 10th, 2018 CBC News post, "Flight would be 'inconceivable,' lawyer for Huawei CFO argues at bail hearing," Meng (who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder, Ren Zhengfei) was arrested in Vancouver on December 1st, 2018 on suspicion of fraud involving violations of US sanctions against Iran.

American prosecutors are currently fighting for her extradition to the US from Canada, although the real concerns of the Americans almost certainly go much deeper.

After all, Meng is a Chinese citizen working for a Chinese multinational who was travelling through Canada which is, officially at least, outside of US jurisdiction and thousands of miles away from Iran.

It's generally conceded that the telecom technology championed by companies like Huawei is essentially "dual use" technology, with a variety of both commercial and security related applications. Canada has an extradition treaty with the US covering these sorts of violations of US law.

The US almost certainly wants to keep control of the security applications and is absolutely intent on limiting Huawei's reach among traditional US allies. The decision to invoke treaty obligations was likely the obvious choice to enforce US law and to send a message to US allies to keep their distance from technologies controlled by China.

But for Canada, the situation is far more problematic and could lead to long-term consequences well outside of the telecom industry.


As outlined the April 6th, 2018 CBC News post, "Chinese ambassador calls for Canada's cooperation in US trade fight," Canada has been attempting a precarious neutrality in the middle between China and the US almost since the day US president Donald Trump assumed power in January 2017.

For it's part, Canada's aerospace industry has been looking to expand into China for years.

There's even a Canadian based space company which is betting on its strong Chinese connection. As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 UofT News post, "Liftoff! U of T startup's business takes flight with satellite launch in China," Toronto ON based Kepler Communications used a Chinese booster to launch and deploy its first nano-sat on January 19th, 2018. The article noted that:
The launch – touted as a first for a commercial communications satellite operating in low earth orbit on a frequency known as the Ku-band – is an important first step toward Kepler’s goal of providing low-cost data communications for connected devices on Earth and beyond.
As outlined in the November 22nd, 2018 Yahoo Finance post, "Small in space: Toronto company's satellites no bigger than a loaf of bread," Kepler is expecting to launch its second nano-sat over the next few months and a total of 140 nano-sats over the next few years, although it won't say where those launches will take place.

Since nano-sats are also traditionally considered to be "dual use" services with both commercial and security applications, here's hoping that Kepler's future prosperity isn't restricted by US concern over its Chinese connections.

As noted in the December 10th, 2018 CBC News post, "China's threats over Huawei CFO's arrest rattle Canadian business," the options for payback (on all sides) are essentially limitless.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Kickstarting the Space Industry

          By Henry Stewart

Futurist Isaac Arthur has created an interesting video on "Kickstarting Space Industry," which is available on his Science and Futurism You Tube Channel.


The video is focused around robust and profitable industries which would require access to space in order to maximize profits.

It's an interesting and reasonably comprehensive inventory of the concerns, constraints and opportunities surrounding the economic exploitation of the high frontier. It notes that humanity already has substantial industries (such as telecommunications, military activities and space science) which require access to space and suggests that there will soon be many more.

The sections on solar powered orbiting satellites, space mining, industrial manufacturing, novelty marketing, "space" advertising and pharmaceutical development in the microgravity environments are of particular interest to the entrepreneur.

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

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Space Mining and Innovation Should Be Encouraged Through the Tax Code, According to NRCan and CATA Alliance

          By Chuck Black

Two new initiatives, the first generated through Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Federal government ministry responsible for natural resources, remote sensing and regulations under which Inuvik based satellite ground stations operate (but that's a different story), along with a second initiative originating from the Ottawa ON based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA Alliance), are both advocating changes to the Federal tax code which (they feel) will encourage independent and innovative private sector activities to grow the Canadian space sector.

These new initiative fly in the face of traditional space advocates such as the #DontLetGoCanada coalition, which argue that large lump sums of Federal funds must be distributed to specific contractors, such as Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies (a US based company), in order to build specific projects, such as a "3rd generation Canadarm" for the proposed NASA Deep Space Gateway, in order to encourage innovation and speed the development of Canadian space activities.


Here's what we know about those new initiatives.

As outlined in the June 8th, 2018 post, "NRCan Explores Space Mining," the initial incentive for NRCan to move into this area was as part of the consultative process to generate and develop the upcoming Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan (CMMP). As outlined in the earlier post: 
NRCAN and other officials were cautious about entering into public discussion on the forum, possibly over fear of a backlash from other government departments such as the National Research Council (NRC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who have traditionally taken the lead in this area and are known to jealously guard their turf in interdepartmental meetings.
But the initiative moved forward and led to a series of public presentations at the 2018 Canadian Space Summit, which was held in Ottawa ON from November 27th - 29th. The track included presentations from:
Most of the conversations which took place during the event paralleled to a surprising degree items previously outlined in the November 1st, 2018 post, "The REAL Path Towards Revitalizing the Canadian Space Industry."

That post noted the similarities between the mining and space industries and suggested that the current worldwide explosion of private sector space accomplishments has nothing whatsoever to do with simply shoveling new government money into traditionally structured programs and everything to do with creating the correct tax incentives needed to support the growth of a new industry.

The next step in the NRCan plan is another meeting to generate consensus. It's expected to take place in March 2019 in Toronto ON at the annual 2019 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention, which will be held in Toronto ON from March 3rd - 6th, 2019.


As outlined in the December 3rd, 2018 CATA Alliance press release, "YES Canada to Adopting 5 All Party Election Platform Recommendations, Sign & Share the CATA E-Petition," another organization is attempting to move down a different path toward innovation, although the expected end result is also wrapped around tax reform.

According to the press release, CATA Alliance is "advancing important tax, finance and innovation advocacy and we need your help in amplifying key recommendations to decision makers."

To that end, the organization is asking members to sign an online petition committing the leaders of "the five Federal political parties" to embrace five key policy recommendations. Those recommendations include:
  • Recognizing that "while Canada remains strong in terms of the quality and impact of its scientific output, it is lagging further and further behind in its ability to commercialize that output and generate wealth.
  • The creation of "a 21st century tax commission" focused on "improving the nation’s support for innovation through fiscal measures." The petition suggests that all tax measures should be tested "through robust public consultations," and incorporated into a "final report" which would be delivered within the next "twelve months.
  • The completion of a scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) tax credit review to assess proposed improvements and then test them through "robust public consultations." SH&ED credits are one of the primary Federal tax programs encouraging private sector innovation, although there are certainly questions as to the efficiency of the program. 
  • Supporting the development of "a modern IP system with appropriate fiscal measures for IP (intellectual property) exploitation in Canada" and to provide "assistance to cover some of the costs of the patent process." IP issues are a common concern in the space industry and were most recently discussed in the March 16th, 2018 post, "Looks Like Intellectual Property Issues Were Addressed in the 2018 Federal Budget." In essence, IP issues are well worth looking into.
  • Publish benchmarking metrics comparing Canada to other leading countries building innovative capacity. Of course, some of those surveys, such as the one discussed in the August 17th, 2016 Global News post, "Canada ranks 15th on Global Innovation Index: Here’s where we fall behind," have already been published and its unclear whether or not a new survey would provide any information not already publicly available. 
Taken together, these points are useful measures designed to encourage political parties to discuss and improve their innovation policies and tax regimes. It's a welcome addition to the public discourse in this area and absolutely of assistance to the Canadian space industry.


On the other hand, there is also precious little difference between encouraging innovation by holding more meetings (the path chosen by NRCan) and encouraging innovation by signing a petition (the path chosen by CATA).

Neither approach seems likely to bear fruit before the upcoming Federal election, which is expected to occur on or before October 21st, 2019. The approaching deadline kinda suggests that time is running out to achieve real political change in the near future.

So while it's good that we're finally creating a consensus that the tax system might hold the secret to encouraging innovation and building robust Canadian industries, we now need to come up with a plan able to engage both the electorate and the political mandarins before the next election.

We've got less than a year. 
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Canadians in Space, Exploring the Asteroids and Launching Small-Sats on a Reusable Falcon 9

          By Chuck Black

Photo c/o Toronto Star.
We live in a twilight period between a post cold-war space race dominated by government space agencies, expensive science projects and covert military considerations and the beginning of what could just possibly be a new, lower cost "commercial" space age.

As always, Canada is busy performing its designated "utility player" role.

Today's contributions included:
  • Supplying two small satellites, from Cambridge ON based exactEarth and Vancouver BC based Helios Wire, for the NASA Small-Sat Express mission.
All three missions either successfully launched from Earth or achieved major milestones today. Here's what we know so far.


Inside the John H. Chapman Space Centre in Longueuil PQ, retired astronaut Robert Thirsk spent the morning providing a running commentary on the launch of Expedition 58/59, which included NASA astronaut Anne C. McClain, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut David Saint-Jacques, to a crowd of nervous CSA staff and guests.

According to the December 3rd,  2018 National Post article, "Anxious crowd watches on at Canadian Space Agency as David Saint-Jacques successfully blasts into space," it was only:
...after the spacecraft safely entered orbit about nine minutes later, drawing the first applause from an audience watching a live NASA feed, that Thirsk admitted to some pre-launch jitters about the Canadian astronaut’s mission. 
It was the first manned launch since a rocket failure  forced a Soyuz capsule carrying two astronauts to abort and make an emergency landing in October. Russia briefly suspended launches to investigate before giving the mission the all-clear Nov. 1st.
As outlined in the article, today's mission was watched across Canada at multiple public locations by both the worried and the curious.

The concern wasn't restricted to Canada. As outlined in the December 3rd, 2018 Space.com post, "Liftoff! Russia Launches 1st Crewed Soyuz Rocket to Space Station Since Dramatic Abort," its been a challenging few months for the ISS:
After a perfect launch on June 6th, a tiny air leak on their Soyuz spacecraft was discovered in late August. 
Although it never posed a threat to the astronauts on board and was quickly plugged, the implications for astronaut safety were troubling, and an investigation was launched. (The leak is in a part of the Soyuz module that does not survive re-entry and it will not interfere with the crew's journey home.)
The Expedition 58/59 crew docked with the ISS after a six hour transit and are expected to remain on-board the station for the next six and a half months. The single use Soyuz rockets used to launch manned ISS missions have been in use since 1966 and are the most frequently used launch vehicle in the world.

But while the US currently uses the Soyuz to access the ISS and has done so since 2011 (when the US space shuttle program wound down), it is expected that newer, lower cost US spacecraft developed through the NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCD) program will soon allow access to space from US soil.

The era of the Russian Soyuz will soon end.


The NASA OSIRIS-REx mission has finally arrived at its destination and will soon begin a series of experiments designed to seek clues to the early solar system.

As outlined in the December 3rd, 2018 New York Times post, "NASA’s Osiris-Rex Arrives at Asteroid Bennu After a Two-Year Journey," the spacecraft pulled alongside the asteroid Bennu on Monday.

Bennu, also known as 101955 Bennu is a "carbonaceous asteroid in the Apollo group" discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project in 1999, according to Wikipedia.

It's theorized that the carbonaceous material originally came from dying stars such as red giants and supernovae, which combined to become Bennu approximately 4.5 billion years ago during the early formation of the Solar System. Study of the materials collected by the mission will provide clues to the early composition of the solar system.

As outlined on the CSA webpage focused on the OSIRIS-REx mission, a Canadian-made instrument called the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will map the asteroid so that scientists can pick a spot where a probe will take the samples to return to Earth.

The OLA was built by the Planetary Exploration Instrumentation Laboratory at York University. Dr. Michael Daly is the OLA instrument scientist for the mission.

The OSIRIS-REx was launched by a single-use Atlas V rocket on September 8th, 2016 from the Cape Canaveral Launch complex in Cape Canaveral FL. The mission is expected to conclude in September, 2023 with the planned landing in Utah of the collected asteroid samples.

A human-rated version of the Atlas V was selected by NASA in late 2014 to launch the first Boeing CST-100 space capsule to the ISS sometime next year.


A Falcon 9 rocket built by Hawthorne CA based SpaceX and exclusively dedicated to small satellites, has successfully lifted off from Vandenburg Air Force Base into low Earth orbit with its payload of 64 small-sats.

As outlined in the December 3rd, 2018 Space News post, "SpaceX launches all-smallsat Falcon 9 mission," the Space Flight SSO-A Smallsat Express Mission launch was:
...procured by smallsat (Seattle WA based) rideshare company Spaceflight Industries, (and) was the first time SpaceX reused the same first-stage booster for three missions. 
The rocket booster previously launched Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu-1 satellite in May and the Merah Putih (formerly Telkom-4) satellite in August for Telkom Indonesia.
Eight minutes after the successful launch, SpaceX landed the 1st stage booster on the drone ship "Just Read the Instructions" in the Pacific Ocean. The rocket is expected to be reused again at some future date.
The launch is the largest single rideshare mission from a US based launch vehicle — carrying spacecraft for 34 organizations from 17 countries —  but is not the first, nor the largest launch of smallsats on a single mission. 
In February 2017 India’s space agency ISRO launched 104 satellites on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle — 88 of them for U.S. company Planet. Six months later a Russian Soyuz rocket launched 73 satellites, though a few of them were unresponsive after launch.
Although SpaceX didn't release the full launch manifest for the mission and didn't webcast the deployment of the satellites after its second stage reached orbit (citing an absence of ground stations in view from the rocket to beam down video), small satellites from Vancouver BC based Helios Wire and Cambridge ON based exactEarth LLP were included with the mission.

The expectation is that several military small-sat were also included on the manifest, which accounts for the lack of confirmation and suggests that military secrecy is one of those things that never change in space, or elsewhere.

A human-rated version of the reusable Falcon 9, using a SpaceX Dragon capsule, will begin launching astronauts to the ISS sometime next year.


As for the Canadian satellites included with the mission, according to the November 16th, 2018 Helios Wire press release, "Helios Wire Satellite Scheduled to Launch on Spaceflight's SSO-A Smallsat Express Mission," the Helios Wire Pathfinder II satellite "is the first satellite in a constellation of up to 28 smallsats that will provide global IoT coverage."

The exactEarth Vesta satellite is a 3U (4kg) technology demonstration satellite that will test a “new two-way VHF data exchange system (VDES) payload for the exactEarth advanced maritime satellite constellation” according to its Guildford UK based builder Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), a subsidiary of Ottobrunn, Germany based Airbus Defence and Space.

As outlined in the December 3rd, 2018 Space Daily post, "KazSTSat and VESTA due to lift-off on Spaceflight's SSO-A SmallSat Express Mission," SSTL also built KazSTSat "a small Earth observation satellite jointly developed by SSTL and JV Ghalam LLP, a joint venture between JSC "National Company Kazakhstan Garysh Sapary" (KGS) and Airbus," which launched on the same mission as VESTA and Pathfinder II.

Welcome to the future.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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