Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Telesat, Thales and Maxar Learn to Share Canada's Strategic Innovation Fund

         By Chuck Black

Earlier this month, as outlined in the July 5th, 2018 Space News post, "Canada’s LEO constellation fund draws interest from Telesat, MDA," both Ottawa, ON based Telesat and Brampton ON based MDA Corporation (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies) expressed interest in accessing funding from the Canadian government’s new $100Mln CDN  Strategic Innovation Fund to finance low-Earth-orbit satellite systems.

Now, it looks like both companies, in conjunction with Franco-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, have decided to play nice instead of compete. The three have entered into a consortium to access the fund for a group project and are working together on Telesat's proposed  117-satellite low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

Though not a defined manufacturing contract, the agreement, announced on July 30th, 2018, positions the three companies as the team which could ultimately build the constellation and ground components when Telesat issues the contract to begin the build phase of the program in 2019.

As outlined in the April 18th, 2018 Via Satellite post, "Backed by Government, Telesat to Initiate First Customer LEO Trials This Year," Telesat is hoping to fund the initial stages of their constellation using Federal government contributions from the Strategic Innovation Fund and a $20Mln CDN direct contribution from the government of Ontario.

According to the July 30th, 2018 Telesat press release, "Telesat Signs Consortium of Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies, the Owner of SSL, to Further Develop Designs for Telesat’s Global LEO Satellite Constellation," the new Thales Alenia Space-Maxar consortium, "working in close cooperation with Telesat," has submitted "a highly innovative approach for maximizing the performance and service capabilities of Telesat’s LEO constellation architecture," in order to further develop system designs for Telesat’s proposed constellation.

Telesat has built two demonstration satellites for the LEO constellation.

Telesat's low Earth orbit prototype 2 (LEO-2) built by Palo Alto, CA based SSL (another Maxar subsidiary) with Toronto ON based University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Spaceflight Laboratories (SFL) acting as prime contractor, was lost when the Soyuz-2.1b rocket carrying the satellite failed to reach orbit in November 2017. 

LEO-1, built by Guildford UK based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), a world leader in small satellites and part of the Ottobrunn, Germany based Airbus Defence and Space group, launched successfully in January 2018 and is currently undergoing orbital testing.

As outlined in the July 30th, 2018 Maxar press release, "Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies' SSL Form Consortium to Further Design and Develop Telesat's LEO Satellite Constellation," the consortium could be expected to subcontract work to MDAs Canadian facilities when those contracts are issued, although the press release didn't explicitly say so.

According to the Maxar press release, "the companies have formed fully integrated teams across multiple work streams located in France, the U.S. and Canada in order to apply the consortium's very best talent to every task."

The press release also quoted SSL group president Dario Zamarian, as saying, "participation in the consortium with Thales Alenia Space demonstrates the value of our SSL and MDA businesses working together to bring integrated solutions that drive competitive advantages for satellite operators such as Telesat."

MDA is currently contracted to build antennas for the 882 satellite OneWeb LEO constellation at a Montreal PQ based manufacturing facility.

Other companies have also shown interest in the Strategic Innovation Fund.

As outlined in the Apr 11th, 2018 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) press release, "Government investing in space and satellite communications technologies to improve access to broadband in rural and remote areas," Montreal QC based Advantech Satellite Networks received nearly $11.5Mln CDN from the Strategic Innovation Fund earlier this year in order to "develop an advanced satellite broadband network that will improve the performance of satellite communication systems."

The total value of the project was listed in the press release as being is $29Mln CDN. The funding will:
... help create or maintain more than 95 jobs in Quebec and will bring new high-tech skills to the Montréal region, thanks to Advantech's partnership with local post-secondary institutions like Concordia University and Dawson College.
The project will support the development of next-generation terminals and hubs for faster and higher-capacity broadband networks that allow data to be transmitted more efficiently across networks, leading to significantly lower network costs. 
These innovations could also lead to other broadband solutions that will help bring greater Internet access and more reliable service to communities in rural areas of Canada. As the technology can be adapted to any satellite, the project will position Advantech to capture a share of a growing global market.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A SpaceX Win: US to Require Airforce to "Consider" Both Expendable and Reusable Launchers

          By Brian Orlotti

Within the next week, the US government will almost certainly vote into law a new Federal government policy requiring the US Air Force (USAF) to consider both expendable and reusable launch vehicles for military launch contracts.

The move is a great milestone for the NewSpace industry and another triumph for Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, the only company currently capable of building reusable, orbital launch rockets. SpaceX has spent many years lobbying to open up bidding for military space launches, a market traditionally dominated by Centennial, CO based United Launch Alliance (ULA).

As outlined in the July 27th, 2018 Ars Technica post, "After 25 years, military told to move from “expendable” to “reusable” rockets," the final version of the defense budget bill, known as the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (H.R, 5515), will not only require the USAF to consider reusable rockets, but also require that if a contract is solicited for a mission that a reusable launch vehicle is not eligible to compete for, the USAF must justify it to Congress.

As outlined on beginning on line 10 of page 1183 of the bill:
In carrying out the National Security Space Launch program, the Secretary of Defense shall provide for consideration of both reusable and expendable launch vehicles with respect to any solicitation occurring on or after March 1, 2019, for which the use of a reusable launch vehicle is technically capable and maintains risk at acceptable levels.  
Beginning March 1, 2019, if the Secretary proposes to issue a solicitation for a contract for space launch services for which the use of reusable launch vehicles is not eligible for the award of the contract, the Secretary shall notify in writing the appropriate congressional committees of such proposed solicitation, including justifications for such ineligibility, by not later than 10 days after issuing such solicitation. 
The final bill has already been approved by the US House of Representatives, with the US Senate’s assent expected sometime this week. The bill will then require the US President's signature to become law.

The joint US House/Senate conference report (which formed the basis for the new bill) also calls for the US Department of Defense’s (DOD) Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program to be renamed the "National Security Space Launch" program on March 1st, 2019.

Author Friedrich Nietzsche from his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A Book for All and None," composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. Graphic c/o AZ Quotes.

The new bill will reverse decades of US policy.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the US military relied mainly on modified intercontinental ballistic missiles to launch its satellites into space. In the late 1970’s, the White House directed the DOD to rely on NASA’s space shuttle program to fulfill its launch needs.

The US government had originally intended for all US military satellites to be launched via the space shuttle, which did launch its first military payload in June 1982. However, such hopes were quashed by the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986.

Under the Reagan administration's National Space Launch Strategy, the US military was told to develop multiple ways to access space, which led to the creation of the EELV program in 1994.

The USAF urged Calabasas, Ca based Lockheed Corporation (now Lockheed Martin) and then Seattle WA based Boeing to modernize their Atlas and Delta rocket lines, improving reliability and lowering costs. Before the end of the 1990s, the Air Force awarded Lockheed and Boeing $3Bln US USD ($3.91Bln CDN) for this modernization effort.

The Atlas and Delta rockets’ high prices compared to Russian and European launchers shut the two companies out of the geostationary launch market, leaving them only the US national security market. Both companies began to consider whether they should continue flying with only a split share of the military market.

Fearful of losing its access to space, the US DOD brokered a deal in which Lockheed and Boeing would merge their rocket building ventures into a single company, ULA, founded in 2006. Their monopoly would not be broken until 2015, when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets became eligible to compete for military contracts.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after years of battling ULAs entrenched interests, has achieved its victory.

But that victory as outlined in the July 26th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "ULA Betting Big on New Vulcan Rocket for Future Business," might not last. ULA is betting heavily on its Vulcan rocket and advanced cryogenic evolved stage (ACES).

Only time will tell to ends up winning the bigger contest. Todays winner is SpaceX but tomorrows' winner isn't yet known.

Whoever wins then will receive the greater spoils..., the stars themselves.
Brian Orlotti.

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.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Three CDN's in the Int'l Institute of Space Commerce (IISC) list of "Top 35 under 35" But Only One Lives in Canada

Image c/o IISC.
        By Henry Stewart

The Isle of Man based International Institute of Space Commerce (IISC), established in 2007 as a cooperative venture between the International Space University (ISU) and the Government of the Isle of Man, has released a listing of the "IISC Top 35 Under 35 Class of 2018" space industry movers and shakers.

As outlined in the July 25th, 2018 IISC press release, "State of the Industry Special Edition; IISC 35 Under 35 Class of 2018," the good news is that three Canadian's are included with the list.

The bad news is that only one of those Canadians still lists Canada as the place where they live and/or work.

The IISC list of top 35 under 35 included the following Canadian's:
  • Joel Spark, the co-founder and CTO of San Franscisco CA based Spire Global, a US based privately held company specializing in collecting and reselling data gathered from a network of more than seventy Earth observation cubesats currently deployed in low Earth orbit. Spark received his engineering BA from Ottawa ON based Carlton University.
  • Tahir Merali, a project management engineer with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) who remains the only Canadian on the list who currently lives in Canada. Merali lives in Montreal PQ and received his engineering BA from the University of Toronto. 
All three Canadian's honoured spent time at the International Space University (ISU) as did most of the rest of the people on the list.

As outlined in a January, 2018 post to the IISC webpage, "The 2018 35 Under 35 in the Space Industry Awards," the IISC is "proud to recognize and award the brightest young entrepreneurs, innovators, authors, artist, technicians, engineers, researchers, and overall game changers in the space industry as part of its 35 under 35 annual award."

Now if only a few more of them could find jobs in Canada.

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

Assessing the 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report

         By Chuck Black

The 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector, the latest in an annual compilation of Canada's space capabilities produced by the economic analysis and research team at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), is now online.

Cover page c/o CSA.
As outlined in the December 4th, 2017 post, "The Latest CDN Space Sector Report Notes 5 Year Slump (Except for BC) & Industry Dominates, Not Academia or Gov't," the 2015 report noted a five year stagnation in space focused activities going back to 2010.

The article noted that the domestic slump was in line with international markets during that time.

But the 2016 report has noted a continuous improvement in the international market while the domestic market continues to shrink. It also noted a Canadian workforce which, while increasing, has still not rebounded to 2014 levels.

As outlined in the latest document:
  • In 2016, total revenues in the Canadian space sector came to $5.5B, representing an overall increase of 4%, or $232Mln CDN, year-over-year.
  • The average annual growth rate of the space sector between 2014–2016 was relatively low, at 1.36%. Domestic revenues decreased by 4% year-over-year and totalled $3.5Bln CDN in 2016. 
  • Non-government revenue, at 87%, continued to make up the majority of domestic revenues. 
  • The remaining 13% of domestic revenues were derived from Canadian governments (federal, provincial and municipal), mostly through federal funding.
Overall, in 2016, the Canadian space sector supported a total of 21,654 jobs of which 9,883 were listed as "space-related full-time equivalents (FTEs)" and with 41% of the positions being listed as high quality positions (HQP).

As always, most of those jobs came from the private sector although academic sector positions made up nearly 20% of the workforce.

Business Expenditures on R&D (BERD) were $254Mln CDN in 2016, a minor decline from the previous year. Industry commercialization of R&D projects that were initially funded by public monies more than doubled in 2016, reaching $123Mln CDN.

Page 7 of the 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report. For an overview on the various methodologies used to measure economic impact, check out the April 1997 Economic Development Research Group paper on "Measuring Economic Impacts of Projects and Programs." Screenshot c/o CSA.

As well, Canadian space companies derived $123Mln CDN in revenues through the commercialization of externally funded R&D projects in 2016, a significant increase over 2015.

Space sector organizations also reported a total of 183 inventions in 2016, of which 42% were patented. This is an area the CSA went into a little more depth with as part of its collaboration with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) to produce the first Canadian "Patents in Space Report," released earlier this month.

While the newfound focus on intellectual property was welcome and noteworthy, especially given that current CSA president Sylvain Laporte was CIPO CEO from 2011 - 2015, it's not the last or even the only word on the matter.

After all, some commercial companies don't even collect patents.

Also, as outlined in the September 18th, 2016 post, "Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents," Canadian patents are focused around Canada's Mobile Services System (MSS), which is used on the International Space Station (ISS).

As noted in this graph from the 2016 report, overall revenue for domestic space companies has finally increased past 2014 levels because of growing international sales, although domestic sales continue their decline. Graphic c/o CSA

Overall revenue for domestic space companies has finally increased past 2014 levels because of growing international sales, although domestic sales continue their decline. The workforce has still not rebounded to 2014 levels.

As outlined in the the presidents message section of the document:
The 2016 report is based on information gathered from 150 organizations involved in space activities from across Canada, including small businesses, multinational space companies, not-for-profit organizations, research centres and universities. It details the economic activity generated in the Canadian space sector and highlights the impact of space investments on the economy. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Canadian Aerospace News, More Commercial Space News and Space Conference News

         By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that, while this blog has tracked Canada's space industry since its inception in 2009, we're not the only useful source in this area. The why the Commercial Space blog tracks RSS news feeds from 50 other online sources related to the space industry and makes those feeds available to our readers.

The most interesting stories are aggregated and end up in our Canadian Aerospace News, the More Commercial Space News and the Space Conference News aggregation feeds in the colorful, animated boxes at the top of the right hand column on the main page.

But the raw feeds are also individually posted further down the column, for anyone who'd like to check them out. 

They include Canadian (Canada AI, Vanguard Magazine and SpaceQ), American (Politico Space and Space.com) and international feeds (ESA Top News and SpaceWatch.Global) from recognized news outlets, along with personals blogs (Jan Woerner's blog and Leonard David's INSIDE OUTER SPACE) from acknowledged experts, corporate and institutional press releases (Canadian Space Agency Government Press Releases and the Maxar Technologies Blog) and other sources.

While the core of this blog has always been the independent stories we post in our left hand column, the background materials which inform and influence our articles and editorial decisions are also publicly available to check out whenever you feel so inclined.

The transparency helps to keep this blog honest and allows us to remain a reasonably accurate and independent twice-weekly chronicle of the Canadian space industry.

Don't just take our word for it. Check it out for yourself.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Montreal is Becoming the "Silicon Valley" of Artificial Intelligence

          By Brian Orlotti

Montreal is poised to become the next Silicon Valley owing to its abundance of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, academics, collaborative culture, ready access to capital and social awareness. Even better, Toronto is close behind in those same areas.

As outlined in the July 20th, 2018 AITrends post, "With its Academics, Culture of Collaboration, Access to Capital, Concern with Social Impact, Montreal Poised to be AI Startup Hotbed," Montreal’s AI tech boom has its origins in the Canadian government’s commitment to funding AI research over the past 25 years.

Canada has supported AI pioneers like Yoshua Bengio (University of Montreal and Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA)), Yann LeCun (VP and Chief AI Scientist, Facebook) and Geoff Hinton (who works out of the University of Toronto Vector Institute and serves as Google VP and Engineering Fellow) and is now reaping the benefits of this patronage. These researchers have in turn attracted many foreign students and capital and a surge of Canadian and foreign-backed AI research labs.

The many AI research labs with connections in Montreal and Toronto include:
  • The Toronto ON based Borealis AI Center, which just opened a second office in Vancouver.
  • Element.AI, which "translates cutting-edge AI research into customizable, scalable and human-centric AI products," and has offices in Montreal, Toronto and London UK. Element.AI has received funding through Chinese based conglomerate Tencent Holdings and Silicon Valley CA based Intel.
  • The Toronto ON based Google Brain, located at the University of Toronto (UofT) Vector Institute.
  • The Toronto ON based IBM Innovation Space for Entrepreneurs and Startups (Part of a $54Mln CDN program developed in partnership with the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Government of Ontario to boost innovation in healthcare, natural resources and financial services).

Sunlife, Adobe, LG and TD Canada Trust are also involved in this area.

Companies pursuing AI research and commercialization are attracted to access to top talent drawn from Montreal’s universities, particularly McGill University and the Université de Montréal (UdeM).

The UdeM is home to the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), one of the world’s largest deep learning labs.

Facebook’s new AI lab, the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) centre, will be led by McGill University professor Joelle Pineau, a member of MILA. AI scientists and engineers will be employed in a wide range of projects, with a focus on reinforcement learning and dialog systems.

The Canadian government recently reaffirmed its commitment to AI by allocating $80Mln CDN over the near five years to fuel its growth, while MILA itself has been granted $44Mln CDN to support its work.

The ability of Montreal’s universities and startups to attract capital from tech giants and investors has also helped cement its position.

The ability of Montreal-based incubator Element AI to raise $102Mln CDN in a Series A round of investment in June 2017 was a tipping point.

The round was led by Data Collective, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm which backs entrepreneurs applying deep learning technologies to transform large industries, and whose partners include Microsoft Ventures and NVIDIA.

The Series A round came six months after Element AI announced a seed round from Microsoft Ventures (for an undisclosed amount) and eight months after the company launched.

Montreal’s AI sector has also attracted investments from those concerned with the social impact and risks of AI.

In July 2017, the San Francisco-based Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) awarded $2.4Mln CDN to MILA to support “technical research on potential risks from advanced AI.” The OPP’s two primary aims are to increase high-quality research on the safety of AI, and to increase the public’s knowledge of machine learning and AI’s potential risks.

Montreal and Toronto are also benefiting from a Canadian immigration strategy aligned with the nation’s AI ambitions.

Canada launched a fast-track visa program for high-skilled workers in the summer of 2017. Today, foreign students make up 20 percent of all students at Canadian universities compared with less than five percent in the US, according to a recent account in Politico written by two University of Toronto professors, Richard Florida and Joshua Gans.

Canadian immigration law also makes it easier for foreign students to remain in Canada after they graduate.

Canada’s tech sector is reaping the benefits of an increasingly hostile and xenophobic United States.

Since the election of Donald Trump as US president in November 2016, applications to Canadian universities have spiked upward. International student applications jumped 70 percent in the fall of 2017 compared to the previous year; applications to McGill jumped 30 percent; and those to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver increased by 25 percent, according to the study’s authors.

As the United States wages internal persecution and terror and external economic war against its own allies, Canada occupies a unique position. By embracing openness and leveraging an influx of foreign talent and capital, our nation may have a hedge against the economic onslaught being unleashed by its Southern neighbour.

Canada may well be a bright candle in the growing global darkness.
Brian Orlotti.

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.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Minister Bains Goes to Farnborough

        By Henry Stewart

Federal innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, along with most of the rest of the international aerospace community, is spending the week at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow, currently being held in Farnborough, UK from July 16th - 22nd.

As outlined in the July 19th, 2018 Government of Canada press release, "Government of Canada promotes global investment in our country's world-class aerospace industry," Bains accompanied a Canadian delegation which included transport minister Marc Garneau, public services minister Carla Qualtrough, parliamentary secretary David Lametti and 420 representatives from more than 130 Canadian aerospace companies.

According to the press release, "a number of Canadian-based companies announced sales or investments at 2018 Farnborough International Airshow including Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, the Bombardier/Airbus strategic partnership, CAE, CMC Esterline, Héroux-Devtek, MDA, Pratt & Whitney Canada and, Safran Landing Systems."

The show is considered to be a major opportunity for national governments to promote their domestic aerospace industries and sell their products.


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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Requiem For the Canadian Space Commerce Association

         By Chuck Black

The failure of the Federal government Space Advisory Board (SAB) to contribute to real change in the Canadian space industry has claimed another victim, the Toronto ON based Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

CSCA website screenshot dated May 31st, 2018. Graphic c/o Wayback Machine.

On Tuesday, July 16th, 2018 the entire CSCA website was replaced with single press release from CSCA president Michelle Mendes titled "CSCA Ceases Operations."

As outlined in her post:
After significant consideration and exploring all options, it is with great sadness that the board of directors has decided to declare the CSCA insolvent and will be ceasing operations immediately. 
It is important to note that this is not indicative of Canadian commercial space in general. Due to historical issues, pre-2016, which the new board and management worked very hard to rectify, it was difficult to raise funds and therefore made the business unsustainable. 
Please note that the CSCA email addresses will no longer be monitored as we wind down. However, if there is anything you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact me at my email address michelle.mendes@spacecommerce.ca as I will periodically check in for the next several months. 
For more details about the insolvency, please click on the above Advisory link.
Many thanks to all for your work and support advancing the Canadian space sector.
With kindest regards,
Michelle Mendes
Mendes was also active in the failed SAB.

The current CSCA website on July 19th, 2018 includes a message from president Michelle Mendes. Screenshot c/o CSCA

As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," she was one of the SAB members who strongly advocated the creation of an initial inventory of problems needing to be addressed before going back to the Federal government to see if it would fund a search for solutions.

This approach was taken up by SAB chair Lucy Stojak and served as the core of the August 2017 report by the SAB on "Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard."

As requested by the government, the report included no solutions. It was mostly a request for more money so that the SAB could consult further and perhaps come up with something in the future.

But political advocates know that the ability to develop and recommend solutions is always the first real step in the development of a successful advocacy, not the last. A defined and prepared solution allows advocates to obtain consensus independently from government, and allows them to apply pressure for change independent of any Federal mandate.

But the SAB didn't do this and so their report was mostly ignored. Smart governments look for solutions where they can act and then promote their actions. The lack of actionable items in the SAB report meant that the Federal government wasn't required to do anything and therefore wouldn't be blamed for inactivity.

In March 2018, after the 2018 Federal Budget made it clear that there were no plans to fund further SAB consultations, Mendes resigned from her position as CSCA executive director but retained her position as CSCA president and her role on the CSCA board.

CSCA then embarked on an ineffective campaign to hire a new CSCA executive director.

According to CSCA promotional material, the vacant executive director position would be "unpaid" although candidates which came with sponsors and the promise of funding could certainly negotiate a different package.

The implication was that anyone with a little extra cash would be given special consideration, which is a bad thing for any advocacy group to promise.

In the end, no one was willing to pay for special consideration or even willing to work for free and Mendes and the CSCA simply closed up shop.

It's possible that, over the last few years, the CSCA simply tried a little too hard to make friends with the ruling Federal Liberal party. After all, the Liberals provided many verbal indications of support, but never came through with funding or anything tangible.

The Liberals didn't need to. They knew instinctively that any advocacy group that couldn't support itself or develop solutions wasn't going to influence the next election and didn't deserve their support.

Even CSCA members knew this. Over time, the smart ones went back to work at their day jobs, moved abroad (where the political climate for space and newspace projects was certainly more favorable) or joined domestic organizations such as the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) or the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which possessed lobbying expertise, access to the levers of power in Ottawa and independent sources of funding. 

And that's why the CSCA cited insolvency for it's closure. They had no money and no real members. 

Nor should they have had any. They had no solution; only a litany of problems needing to be addressed.

There were even indications that Mendes was self-funding the organization out of her own pocket near the end. While laudable, this lack of community support for the CSCA must have been troubling for those involved.

So rest in peace, CSCA. Maybe the next time, someone will come up with a real plan of action and a proper source of funding.

As for the SAB, they're subject to the same constraints as the CSCA. If SAB chair Stojak doesn't start changing her strategy soon and start coming up with a few solutions for the Federal government to ponder, the SAB will be the next advocacy group to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Editors Note: According to this July 18th, 2018 CSCA Advisory on the CSCA website, the organization has "filed an application to commence insolvency proceedings and is immediately ceasing all operations. The Board has appointed insolvency practitioners David Sklar and Associates to act as the independent administrator for the CSCA."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. From 2007 until 2014 he was on the board of directors of the Canadian Space Commerce Association.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The UK Gets a Spaceport, a New, Mostly Privately Funded Rocket and a New Partnership With Elecnor Deimos

         By Chuck Black

A remote area on the the northern coast of Scotland between the coastal villages of Tongue and Durnesson is on track to become the UK’s first operational spaceport. The new UK spaceport may also launch a new UK funded and built microsat launcher when it becomes operational in the early 2020's.

Unlike the controversial (and currently unfunded) proposal for a Canadian space port discussed most recently in the May 25th, 2018 post, "Maritime Launch Services Will Not Say When It Will Begin Building Proposed Canso NS Commercial Spaceport," the Scotish proposal is being championed by local government through the Scottish Government's economic and community development agency, known as Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which intends to build the launch site on Scotland's A’Mhoine peninsula.

As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 The Gaurdian post, "Rocket men: locals divided over plans for UK's first spaceport" initial funding for the spaceport will be provided through a £2.5Mln ($4.35Mln CDN) grant from the UK Space Agency.

The prime contractor for the project, which will receive an additional $31Mln US ($40.73Mln CDN) from the UK Space Agency, will be Bethesda, MD based Lockheed Martin, a US based global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company.

According to the article, a second “horizontal” spaceport will also be created at Cornwall airport near Newquay over the next few years in order to accomodate the requirements of Long Beach CA based Virgin Orbit, a company within the Virgin Group which plans to provide launch services for small satellites:
Virgin Orbit, part of the Virgin Group, is aiming to launch satellites into space by using a modified 747-400. 
The Boeing will carry a rocket under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release it at around 11,000m (35,000ft) for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth’s orbit.
As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Lockheed Martin press release, "Lockheed Martin To Help UK Space Agency Build First Commercial Spaceport; Launch First Orbital Rocket," the initiatives "will not only spark advancements in science and innovation, it will create new opportunities for current and future UK-based suppliers to become part of the next space age."

The spaceport announcements were made at the annual Farnborough International Air Show, which is being held in Farnborough UK from July 16th -22nd.

Also, and as outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Orbex press release, "Orbex Secures £30 Million Funding for UK Space Launch Vehicles,"  London UK based Orbex has secured £30Mln ($52Mln CDN) towards delivery of a fully "European orbital micro-launch system."

As outlined in the press release:
Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company, with subsidiaries and production facilities in Denmark and Germany. 
The company has received funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), two of Europe's largest venture capital funds, Sunstone Technology Ventures and the High-Tech Gründerfonds, as well as private investors, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme.
Orbex has "already secured commercial engagements with major aerospace organisations." which have "contracted Orbex to study the development of a European micro launcher solution." As outlined in the press release:
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) has joined Orbex as Chairman of the Advisory Board. He is joined by other notable figures from the space industry, including Jan Skolmli, Orbex’s recently-appointed Chief Commercial Officer, who was formerly Head of Launch at SSTL, the world’s leading small satellite manufacturer. 
Orbex staff members have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA and several other commercial spaceflight organisations. Equipment developed by Orbex team members has flown on more than 50 deep space missions, and collectively they have developed more than 50 rocket engines and a wide range of orbital and suborbital launch vehicles.
The Orbex launcher, called "Prime" is expected to be used at the New Scotish spaceport.
Editors Note: And the announcements keep coming. 
As outlined in the July 17th, 2018 Orbex press release, "Orbex and Elecnor Deimos Form Strategic Partnership for Satellite Launches," Spanish based aerospace systems integrator Elecnor Deimos has acquired a stake in Orbex.
According to the press release, "both companies have (also) signed a strategic agreement, building on previous collaborations between the two companies when successfully bidding together in UK and international tenders."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Maxar Technologies Has Just Bought the Neptec Design Group for $42Mln CDN

        By Henry Stewart

Brampton, ON based MDA, the Canadian subsidiary of the Denver CO based  Maxar Technologies, a company once known as Richmond BC based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, has acquired Kanata ON based Neptec Design Group, in a deal valued at $42Mln CDN.

As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Maxar Technologies press release, "Maxar Technologies' MDA Announces Acquisition of Neptec Design Group, a Leading Space Sensors Company in Canada and the United Kingdom," $8Mln CDN will be paid out in cash, with the balance paid out in Maxar common shares.

According to the press release:
With Neptec, MDA will deliver end-to-end robotic systems and an expanded set of solutions, positioning the company to capture growth in US, Canadian and global space exploration markets and accelerate advancement into new and expanding space segments. 
The transaction is accretive to Maxar's operating earnings per share beginning in 2019, solidifies MDA's leadership in space robotics innovation, and reinforces Maxar's industry-leading space capabilities.
According to MDA group president Mike Greenly, the acquisition "provides a tremendous opportunity to advance and grow MDA and Neptec internationally, develop powerful new technologies and drive future economies."

"The Neptec team is well-established in the industry, and this investment represents an important strategic opportunity to offer broader solutions for the growing space exploration market," he said.

Of course, several commentators have also mentioned that, while the deal adds new technologies to the already impressive Maxar robotics portfolio, it also further consolidates an already shaky and possibly shrinking domestic industry around a single, foreign owned player.

The truth may need to wait for the expected release of the latest of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) State of the Canadian Space Sector report. The newest report (covering the year 2016) should be released sometime this summer.

As for Neptec...

Founded in 1990, the privately owned Neptec Design Group provided "machine vision solutions for space, industrial, and military applications" to NASA for 3D imaging, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and triangulation and LIDAR automated rendezvous and docking (TRIDAR) technologies which controlled the various Canadarms attached to US space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS).

Neptec currently employs approximately 100 people in Kanata and the UK and recently won a series of contracts with the CSA worth several million dollars in total. The company says that the new contracts will help it develop the next generation of cameras and sensors.

It will be missed.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Canadian Science Policy Centre and Chief Science Advisor Connecting Science With Politics

        By Henry Stewart

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), in an effort to build on its successful campaign to increase Federal government science funding and in partnership with the Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, has rolled out a pilot program offering scientists and engineers from various disciplines a chance to "develop an understanding of the parliamentary process."

CSPC is looking for sponsors for its "Science Meets Parliment" program, primarily from academic institutions. To learn more, please check out the Partnership Prospectus. Graphic c/o CSPC.

It's a useful activity which members of Canada's space community, stung by the recent failure of the Federally mandated Space Advisory Board (SAB) to increase Federal funding for private and public sector space activities, would do well to emulate.

As outlined in the July 9th, 2018 CSPC press release, "CSPC in Partnership with Chief Science Advisor Present: Science Meets Parliament," the program offers scientists and engineers a chance to spend a day on Ottawa's Parliment Hill, and shadow a member of parliment (MP) or senator.

The plan was first developed as part of the CSPC Five-Year Strategic Plan (2018-2023), mainly as a mechanism to connect the two communities of scientists and politicians, foster dialogue and enhance mutual understanding.

As outlined in the press release:
This is a unique opportunity that invites scientists and engineers of various disciplines to spend one day on the Hill, shadow an MP or senator, explore their role in modern political decision making, and develop an understanding of the parliamentary process. 
As outlined on the CSPC "Science Meets Parliament" website, the program:
...is modeled on the acclaimed program run by Science and Technology Australia, now in its 19th year. You can find more information about the Science and Technology Australia’s Science Meets Parliament event by clicking here
As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," Canada's space sector was mostly left out of the 2018 budget which included "historic increases" in funding for applied and basic science programs.

Much of the credit for this increased funding was due to the April 10th 2017 release of the of the David Naylor led final report on "Canada's Fundamental Science Review," which advocated for structural changes and increased funding for basic research.

The report was popularized and promoted over the next year through organizations like the CSPC and contributed substantially to the increased basic science funding attached to Budget 2018.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More VASIMR Around the Corner, Just Maybe Not For Canada

         By Chuck Black

Readers of this blog have noted Halifax, NS based Aethera Technologies, which was recently awarded $1.5Mln CDN under the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP) to develop advanced high-power radio frequency power processing units (RF-PPUs) for Webster, TX based Ad Astra Rocket Company’s variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) plasma engine.

But Aethera shows indications of being a spin-off of another NS based company.

Hackets Cove NS based Nautel Ltd., has worked with Ad Astra on similar projects in the past and both Aethera senior engineer Brian Walker and Aethera senior electronic technologist Matthew Skinner were long-term Nautel employees before leaving to join Athera.

Creating a spin-off to commercialize new technology would certainly make sense, given that Nautel is a forty year old firm with an existing global business to focus on.

But some have mentioned that Aethera also shows indications of being mostly a US owned company, albeit with lots of Canadian employees and a NS based primary location.

If the CSA has indeed funded a US run firm to provide a component for a US space breakthrough, that act would seem laden with irony during this period of heighted trade war concerns between Canada and the US.

Anyway, based on information provided by readers and some new research, here's the background:
Both firms were incorporated provincially in NS. 
  • As outlined in the December 11th, 2017 update to the Opencorporates database ("The Open Database Of The Corporate World"), Water Spider Technologies Canada has been around since December 2014 and lists Walker on the board.
Other directors include Kirk Zwicker (another long-term Nautel employee), Tim Hardy  (until 2016, the head of engineering at Nautel), Robert Cowan (a partner at the Halifax NS based McInnes Cooper law firm, who practices corporate/ business law and specializes in technology and intellectual property issues) and Charles Andrew Schue III, the founder, president and CEO of North Billerica, MA based UrsaNAV, a specialist technology company focused around pointing, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies and the eLoran low-frequency radionavigation system, which serves as a ground based network for PNT. 
Coincidence? Maybe not.

July 11th, 2018 screenshot from the UrsaNav website showing Charles Shue III bio. To access the full page, simply click on this link. Screen shot c/o UrsaNav

  • The Virginia based Water Spider Technologies had moved locations within Virginia in Febuary 2014. As outlined in the June 5th, 2018 Opencorporates post on the Virginia based Water Spider Technologies, the company had been created only in January 2014 and was dissolved on December 31st, 2017.
The only corporate director listed was lawyer/agent Joseph F. Jackson, a founding partner of the Richmond, VA based Roth Jackson law firm. As outlined on a Virginia SCC website entity search result for Water Spider Technologies LLC, Roth Jackson acted as the registry agent for the company formation. 
But the company seems to have been run by the same Schue, who was listed as a director at Water Spider Technologies Canada Ltd.
In addition to the above change of address letter from him, on October 21st, 2016 Schue also registered the waterspidertechnologies.info website with Scottsdale AZ based GoDaddy, a publicly traded Internet domain registrar and web hosting company. He also  listed himself as the primary contact person.
  • Schue and UrsaNav also have other public connections to Nautel. An example, as outlined in the March 26th, 2012 Nautel press release, "UrsaNav Tests eLoran, LF Timing Potential," is the 2012 partnership between Schue's UrsaNAV and Nautel to test PNT technologies for eLoran.

Two July 11th, 2018 screenshots from Charles Schue's LinkedIn profile, where he lists himself as "Owner, Director, Investor" of Aethera and states that, "I served as the "start-up" president and today, I remain a majority owner, director and shareholder." Screenshot c/o LinkedIn.

Here's the timeline of activities, based on the based on a variety of sourced documents listed above and below:
  • In 2012 Nautel and UrsaNAV (Schue's company) began working together.
  • In January 2014, Schue created Water Spider Technologies LLC in Virginia. In December 2014, Schue and some Nautel employees started Water Spider Technologies Canada in Nova Scotia.
  • On December 31st, 2017, Water Spider Technologies LLC was dissolved, and one month later on January 29th, 2018, Water Spider Technologies Canada changed its name to Aethera Technologies.
Of course, the Canadian based ex-Nautel employees have done well under Schue.

Tim Hardy left Nautel in November 2016 and is now Aethera's CTO. In March 2017, Kirk Zwicker left Nautel to become either Aethera's president and or chief operating officer (depending on which source you use).

In April 2017 Brian Walker left Nautel and started a new position as senior engineer at Aethera. In Jan 2018, Matthew Skinner left Nautel and joined Aethera as senior electronic technologist.

The Washington DC based Schue also seems to be doing well.

His LinkedIn profile lists him as being "Owner, Director, Investor" of Aethera, UrsaNAV and Leesburg, VA based Tagence, a data management company which partners "with a diverse set of federal, state and local agencies to create efficient, compliant solutions that work in the government space."

Schue's LinkedIn profile also states that he "served as the "start-up" president (of Aethera) and today, I remain a majority owner, director and shareholder."

As for the CSA, the Canadian government organization which provided Aethera with the $1.5Mln CDN grant to perform subcontract work for an US based Ad Astra, here's hoping that they didn't just give the money away to another bunch of opportunistic Americans.

If the CSA or another Canadian public or private granting agency or angel investor had provided funding a little earlier in the process, perhaps there would be a Canadian in the leadership position now.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Russian Space Program is Entering a Dark Age

        By Henry Stewart

ArsTechnica has posted an interesting piece on the decline of the Russian space capabilities, using references from Lenta.ru, a Moscow-based Russian language online newspaper.

As outlined in the July 9th, 2018 ArsTechnica post, "Russian editor: Our space program is entering the 'Dark Ages'"  Lenta.ru author/editor Andrei Borisov has captured:
...the fading zeitgeist of the Russian space program in a lengthy article on the new leader of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, and the changes he has proposed. 
Dmitry Rogozin. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
"(What) Rogozin is trying to create reminds one of the Dark Ages in Europe," Borisov writes on Lenta.Ru, where he serves as editor of science and technology. 
"In it, there is no place for modernization, there is only the mission of survival."
The article catalogs current Russian efforts to develop newer, competitive rockets and modern spacecraft.

But according to Borisov, those efforts are behind schedule, outdated or already non-competitive.

Failed plans include numerous rocket redesigns, multiple political revisions of the various departments comprising the current Russian space program, the failed creation of a "super-heavy" rocket and even a planned, although cancelled, manned mission to the Moon in 2015.

As well, funding for ongoing operations will likely take a hit in the near future. As outlined in the article:
As soon as next year, the United States plans to stop paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Russia for Soyuz seats, because it is developing its own transport to the space station. 
And the European Space Agency has signaled that it will stop launching Russian Soyuz rockets from its French Guiana-based spaceport in the early 2020s.
All in all, the article is interesting reading and well worth checking out for its compilation of recent history and insights into the future of the Russian space program.

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

Support our Patreon Page