Friday, November 30, 2018

Procurement Contracts, Not Science or Engineering, Will Define the Next Generation of Robotics and Planetary Rovers

          By Henry Stewart

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has announced that nine US based companies are now eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through a new Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, a series of fixed price procurement contracts NASA will begin issuing in 2019 which are intended to facilitate the planned US return to the Moon.

The new contracts will have more than a passing resemblance to the very successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) fixed priced contracts, which came out of a NASA program to coordinate the delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) by private companies.

Hawthorne CA based SpaceX used COTS and its follow-on programs to grow into the low-cost rocket launching powerhouse it is today.

As outlined in the November 29th, 2018 NASA press release, "NASA Announces New Partnerships for Commercial Lunar Payload Delivery Services," the nine companies selected for the program include:
  • Pittsburgh PA based Astrobotic Technology, a privately held firm founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon professor Red Whittaker and his associates, with the goal of winning the Google Lunar X Prize.
  • Cedar Park TX based Firefly Aerospace, a privately held firm that is also developing small and medium-sized launch vehicles for commercial launches to orbit.
  • Houston TX based Intuitive Machines, a privately held firm a company focused around building  autonomous system solutions for Earth and space.
  • NJ based Orbit Beyond, a mostly unknown US based company reportedly building spacecraft to send to the moon by 2020.
The move is part of US President Donald Trump’s Space Policy Directive, which calls for revisiting Moon exploration.

For Canada, the new procurement program is probably not a good thing. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), using far more traditional procurement methodologies, has for years attempted to develop expertise in this area to sell on the international markets, but mostly failed.

And while some of the Canadian expertise developed will likely end up creating component parts for Moon Express (and maybe others), most won't.

The next generation of rovers and lander will end up being defined by their procurement contracts and commercial markets, not by their science and engineering expertise.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Can the New, Online Media Compete with a Struggling, but Now Subsidized Legacy Print Industry

          By Al Calder

Last week's announcement that the Canadian government planned to spend a larger lump sum of Federal funding to prop up traditional Canadian media outlets than it annually gives to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), seems more than a little disconcerting.

Perhaps the Justin Trudeau Liberals simply believe that it is more important who you hear the news from than it is to get the story right, create new jobs in media and aerospace, or even "go boldly where no one has gone before!

Perhaps those other concerns are just different line items in the next Federal budget. Or maybe not.

Graphic c/o AZ Quotes.

Anyway, and as outlined in the November 21st, 2018 National Post article, "$600M in federal funding for media 'a turning point in the plight of newspapers in Canada," the largest recipients of government funding under the new program will be the struggling, legacy print media industry.

The article quoted Paul Godfrey, the CEO of Toronto ON based Postmedia Network (which publishes the National Post and daily broadsheets in many of Canada’s largest cities) as saying that the tax credit:
... could be looked upon as a turning point in the plight of newspapers in Canada…I tip my hat to the prime minister and the finance minister. They deserve a lot of credit. 
Everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now.
John Hinds, the CEO of Toronto ON based News Media Canada, a trade association representing over 830 Canadian daily, weekly and community newspapers, is also quoted in the article:
We’ve been asking for help and they listened to us. I think they delivered. It’s a substantive investment.
While its expected that smaller media outlets (including this blog, which has applied for and received Federal funding in the past) will also be eligible under the new program, it's likely that the larger players will receive the lion's share of any new funding.

The new program will offer the money to organizations that are "arms-length and independent of the Government. To this end, an independent panel of journalists will be established to define and promote core journalism standards, define professional journalism, and determine eligibility."

Graphic c/o AZ Quotes.

And this is where the new proposal becomes more than a little problematic. professional media is defined, at least by the online Oxford Dictionary, as "engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as an amateur" such as being "a professional boxer."

Which kinda makes it sound like all you really need to be a professional, is to be paid for doing it.

Getting to the issue a little deeper, it's also worth noting that the online Oxford Dictionary defines journalism as "the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast."

Which kinda makes it sound like you don't even need to be paid to be a journalist, although if you're intending to be a "professional" then you need to be paid by someone.

And the government has offered to step in to help create the next generation of professional journalists by paying them under the newly announced program.

These professional journalists (or "presstitutes," as some might call them) will receive the opportunity to join the "panel of journalists" who will help to "define and promote core journalism standards, define professional journalism, and determine eligibility."

Just so long as they don't take too much money from the government and are able to retain their "independence."

Chris Hadfield is a popular icon and regularly addresses space issues within Canada  as outlined most recently in the November 18th, 2018 CTV News post, "Astronaut Chris Hadfield calls on feds to fund Canadian space program." It’s also no surprise that media companies are excited about the hundreds of millions of dollars they can now put to good use. They must have offered something to the government’s vision of Canada that Hatfields message about funding the space industry didn’t fit into. Photo c/o CTV News.

What could possibly go wrong. Surely the plan won't prop up the legacy print media and make it more difficult for new media models to grow and become profitable.

Say it isn't so, Mr. Prime Minister!!!

Of course, it's not all bad. As outlined in the November 25th, 2018 The Conversation post, "Funding journalism means defining who’s a journalist – not a bad thing," the new program "will incentivize consumers to sign up for digital news subscriptions and subsidize publishers through a tax credit on salaries paid to journalists."

To do this, the program does need to develop standards to figure out who will receive the new funding. That seems reasonable.

On the other hand and at the time of writing neither myself nor this publication have seen any of this money (although sometimes, some of us do get paid through other sources). But I do sometimes cover meetings and events as a journalist. Usually the food is fairly good, especially at political events. We usually also get the best spots to stand to see what's going on.

The perks don't sway my personal coverage of the event.

If however, they had been handing out hundreds of million dollars I just might be inclined to speak highly of them. Since that didn't happen I will have no choice but to stick to the truth.

Graphic c/o

Here's the truth.

If you are interested in supporting real independent journalism please support the Commercial Space blog on Patreon. If you'd like to make a lump sum, one time payment please contact my editor, Chuck Black at

If you don't like this blog, then give the funding to someone else who is actually doing journalism.

Just don't expect the government to solve the problem for you. They already have too much on their plate and normally take a large percentage off the top of any contribution, in order to cover their expenses.

But if you believe in the corporate media in Canada and think that even the CBC qualifies as “independent media,” that should be supported through the funding largesse of the Federal government, then you may as well rely on a Bombardier press release to find out the truth about Montreal PQ based Bombardier Aerospace.

It won't give you any real answers or information, but I bet it has nice graphics.
Al Calder.

Al Calder is VP of special projects for the Commercial Space Blog, where he creates events focused on space industry needs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mars InSight Lander Touches Down on the Red Planet

          By Brian Orlotti

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft has landed on Mars after a six-month, 482 million-kilometre journey. The mission includes a small Canadian component.

InSight is a two-year mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) whose goal is to study the interior of Mars.

As outlined in the November 26th, 2018 CTV News post "Mars touchdown: NASA spacecraft survives supersonic plunge," the spacecraft spent six minutes descending through the Martian atmosphere, using its parachute and engines to slow down before landing. A pair of cubesats trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided near real-time updates of the spacecraft's descent. One satellite also sent back a quick photo from Mars's surface. InSight touched down in Elysium Planitia, a plain hear the Martian equator chosen for its flatness and minimal landing risk.

The mission consists of a 360-kilogram lander (built by Lockheed Martin), which will use its 1.8-metre robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The self-hammering mole will then burrow five metres down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for quakes.

InSight is the first mission to attempt these tasks as no previous Mars lander has dug deeper than a few inches and no previous seismometers have functioned.

By examining Mars’ interior, scientists seek to understand how our solar system's rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different.

InSight features contributions from the French space agency CNES (seismometer) and Germany’s  space agency DLR (the mechanical mole and heat probe). CNES and DLR’s contributions total around $180Mln US ($239Mln CDN).

NASA’s total cost for InSight comes to $813Mln US (just over $1Bln CDN).

A Canadian connection to InSight exists in the form of Catherine Johnson, a planetary scientist at the  University of British Columbia and the only Canadian involved in the mission.

As outlined in the November 21st, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "NASA’s InSight probe aims at a deeper understanding of Mars," Johnson's team will study marsquakes as well as examine the water content of rocks to shed light on the history of water on Mars.
Editors Note: As outlined in the November 29th, 2018 CBC News post, "Mars lander features chain mail skirt with Saskatoon connection," there is at least one more Canadian connection to this mission. 
The post cited entrepreneur and mechanical engineer Bernice Daniels, the co-founder of a Saskatoon SK based jewelry company called The Ring Lord, which built a "chain mail" covering to protect sensitive instruments on the InSight Lander.
According to the post, " NASA is not The Ring Lords first high-profile customer. The company has also worked with Boeing and SpaceX."
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.

Monday, November 26, 2018

#DontLetGoCanada Coalition Brings UNIFOR, CATA Alliance and Engineers Canada into its Campaign

          By Chuck Black

The #DontLetGoCanada coalition, smarting over the recent failure of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to publicly convince Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains to announce either funding or support for the "3rd generation Canadarm," has brought several new domestic partners to the forefront of its campaign while moving perhaps its largest (and most divisive) corporate supporter into the background.

Two full page ads, the first from "MDA, A Maxar Company" and the second from the #DontLetGoCanada coalition, which were included in the November 26th, 2018 Hill Times. Both mention the need for a "fully funded space strategy." It's difficult to discuss the #DontLetGo Coalition without at least noting Westminster, CO based Maxar Technologies, which expects its Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions subsidiary to receive the lion's share of any new government funding allocated in this area. As outlined in the September 13th, 2018 post, "Dead Cat Bounce! New Canadian Space "Coalition" Wants Much the Same as Last Time, But With Money" Maxar/MDA is behind most of the funding and strategy formulation the coalition depends upon to get its word out. To be fair to Maxar/MDA, it seems to be currently taking a lower profile in the campaign. Images c/o Hill Times.

The third page of the November 26th, 2018 Hill Times, a twice-weekly newspaper covering Parliament, the government and Canadian politics, contains a full page "open letter" from the #DontLetDoCanada coalition addressed to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bains.

Jim Quick. Photo c/o @JQuickAIAC.
As a one pager, it's mostly an overview of points previously noted, although it does indicate that other nations are supporting the NASA Lunar Gateway, which is where the requested "3rd generation" Canadarm is expected to end-up.

It also calls out the Canadian government to develop a "long-term, fully funded and balanced space strategy," which would include support for the Lunar Gateway, with funding included as part of the upcoming Budget 2019.

The complete document is available online here and it's noteworthy that the open letter was signed by variety of interesting people. They included:
  • Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS Canada) President Roxy Fournier.
  • Unifor National President Jerry Dias.
Of course, Jim Quick is considered to be one of the "usual suspects" in this campaign. As outlined in the October 22nd, 2018 post, "The Difference Between Maxar/ MDA, AIAC and Almost Everyone Else in the #DontLetGoCanada Campaign," Quick and Brampton ON based MDA Group President Mike Greenley co-signed the August 2018 e-mail sent out to executives at 60+ aerospace companies which led to the creation of the #DontLetGoCanada coalition in October 2018.

CATA Alliance CEO Reid. Photo c/o LinkedIn.
But CATA Alliance CEO Reid is a late, but rather interesting addition to the mix. As outlined on the CATA Alliance website:
The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance), Canada’s One Voice for Innovation Advocacy Group, crowdsources ideas and guidance from thousands of opt in members in moderated social networks in Canada and key global markets. 
Supported by evidence-based research, CATAAlliance then mobilizes the community behind public policy recommendations designed to boost Canada’s innovation and competitiveness success.
Examples of past CATA Alliance positions would include:
CATA has often developed business focused policies that this blog has found reason to favor, mostly because the policies focus on simplifying the tax code to unleash innovation in the private sector instead of providing lump sum payments to contractors to build fancy, but mostly non-commercial things that the government seems to think it needs.

However, the current CATA Alliance official position on a long-term space plan seems to flat out support large disbursements for a "3rd generation" Canadarm.

That specific position is unusual for CATA. The November 17th, 2018 CATA Alliance press release, "Canada’s future in space is in jeopardy, as country slips to an 18th ranking in space investment," quoted CEO Reid as stating only that:
MDA CEO Greenley. Photo c/o @MGreenley.
Canada has moved from an 8th place ranking in Space spending in 1992 (as a share of GDP) to an 18th place ranking today, thus we are losing out on the development and sale of space technologies, or missing out on one of the cores to Canada’s future innovation eco-system and competitiveness.  
That downward spiral will accelerate unless we take strong actions to reverse the trend, by developing a long-term, fully-funded space strategy for Canada.  
Also at risk is the potential role that Canada could play in the upcoming flagship Lunar Gateway.
To be fair, the CATA press release also explicitly referenced Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions Group President Mike Greenley, who has gone on record as stating that any Canadian government space plan should reasonably include a $1 - 2Bln CDN Federal contribution to the development of a new Canadarm for the US Lunar Gateway.

As noted previously, Greenley expects most of the funding for any new Canadarm to pour directly into MDA's expansive coffers.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Private sector space companies should certainly be allowed to solicit new business, although it's interesting to note that Greenley is going out of his way to position MDA as being not the only organization involved in the #DontLetGoCanada campaign. 

He wants to stay out of the limelight at this point, so as not to look too self serving.

Of the others who signed the open letter, Bergeron (from Engineers Canada), Chakma (from Western University) and Fournier (from SEDS Canada) could each be said to have reasonable reasons to jump on the Lunar Gateway bandwagon. They are the usual suspects in this list of Canadian space  industry supporters.

Only Unifor National President Jerry Dias seems, at first glance at least, a little out of place.

But, as outlined in the November 23rd, 2018 Unifor press release "Unifor joins Don’t Let Go Canada coalition in support of long-term space sector strategy" the union, created from the 2013 merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) represents "forty companies,  associations, labour groups and academic organizations from the aerospace sector" including workers at Boeing Canada (Local 2169), Bombardier/ de Havilland(Local 112), Cascade Aerospace (Local 114), CMC Electronics, Magellan Aerospace (Local 3005) and Pratt and Whitney Canada (Local 510).

The Unifor president also represents autoworkers at the Oshawa ON General Motors plant which, as outlined in the November 26th, 2018 CTV News post, "GM 'betraying' Canada by closing Oshawa plant: Unifor president," will likely take up much of his time over the next little while, so it's unknown how much he can contribute to the campaign.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Future of Canada's Space Industry is All About Treating Space Like an Industry

          By Chuck Black

Anyone who wants to understand the future of Canada's space industry as it moves away from being a single issue, science focused monolith almost completely dependent on Canadian Space Agency (CSA) largesse ("Canadarm funding," anyone?) towards a more distributed business environment focused around multiple possible private and public sector customers and various commercial considerations, might want to take a look at the Federal Fall Economic Statement (FES) for 2018.

Finance Minister Morneau receives applause after delivering the fall economic update in the House of Commons, on Wednesday. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press.

The annual Federal government FES, generally considered to be a mid-term progress report on the spring Federal budget, was released by Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau on November 22nd, 2018.

As outlined in the November 22nd, 2018 CBC News post, "The economy is running hot. So why is Morneau still stepping on the gas?," the major focus of the FES was a reaction to US President Donald Trump's corporate tax changes introduced last December, which dropped US rates from 35% to 21%, effectively eliminated Canada's corporate tax advantage.

Morneau didn't drop taxes, but he did announce that Canadian businesses will be able to deduct, immediately, the full cost of any investments in new equipment for manufacturing and clean technology.

Tweaking the tax code and dropping the tax rates is the traditional methodology used by governments to encourage innovation, growth and productivity.

It's a methodology suitable even for Canada's space industry, as outlined most recently in the November 1st, 2018 post, "The REAL Path Towards Revitalizing the Canadian Space Industry."

According to the November 21st, 2018 The Logic post, "Breaking down the federal Fall Economic Statement 2018," the key to funding innovative industries like Canada's space industry is the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), the federal government’s "main piggy bank for supporting economically-important industries."

The SIF, originally a established in Budget 2017, was established by the Federal Justin Trudeau Liberal government as a $1.26Bln CDN fund that came mostly from combining existing auto and aerospace programs with $100Mln in new Federal funding. It was bolstered in Budget 2018 with an additional $800Mln CDN infusion.

According to The Logic, it's "the single biggest non-tax line item in the FES." It's also a far larger chunk of change than the CSA is able to disburse.

SIF funds have been used recently to invest in a number of space and innovation focused organizations which this blog tracks including:

In essence, Federal funding for space focused and innovative projects no longer needs to be routed through the CSA, the National Research Council (NRC) or other academically focused, traditional funding mechanisms.

New funding is instead being pushed through Federal mechanisms like the SIF and other programs being tracked in the Federal Budget.

These new programs are forcing the space industry to act less like a traditional government subcontractor responding to a request for proposal (RFP) from a single entity and more like an independent business moving forward with a unique plan with the government as a single stakeholder in a much larger consortium.

With so many partners to please, the Federal focus may may even have changed from fulfilling a centralized long term plan of action towards supporting a series of individual plans which may help the country in the aggregate, but which are difficult to quantify as part of a single plan.

Whether or not this is a good thing, will likely be the subject of a future post.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

What Was Once the Canadian Air and Space Museum is Now the Canadian Air and Space Conservancy

          By Henry Stewart

Short weeks after being called out publicly in this blog regarding the failure to find itself a permanent home after a seven year search, the charity once known as the Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM) has relocated to the Stayner, ON based Edenvale Aerodrome Airport, some 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

Try to ignore the typo above and on the website. According to the Edenvale Aerodrome Airport website, it's "set amongst the scenic landscape of Clearview Township, nestled between the picturesque hills of The Blue Mountains and the pristine shores of Wasaga Beach, Edenvale Aerodrome is a convenient 90 min drive from the GTA." The airport has three runways and is currently the home of the Edenvale Classic Aircraft Foundation, which has organized the annual "Gathering (not "Ghatering") of the Classics" auto and air show for over 25 years. Image c/o Edenvale Aerodrone.

It's also changed its name (again), modified its mandate to reflect a new focus on conserving the museum artifacts (instead of displaying them to the public) and accepted the fact that its not likely going back to being a functioning museum any time soon.

As outlined in the November 14th, 2018 Skies post, "Former Toronto Aerospace Museum secures new airport home," the "first truckloads of aircraft and artifacts started to arrive at Edenvale in early November and the museum’s full-scale Avro Arrow replica will move from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Edenvale at a later date."

Museum artifacts have been stored in twenty-one rented trailers at the Toronto ON based Pearson International Airport and at several other locations around the city since 2013, when CASM was finally evicted from its original facility in Downsview ON.

The original notice of eviction was received in September 2011.

Since then, the museum has been unable to secure a new home at a major airport in a large urban area, in order to support the traffic required to continue to operate as a museum.

According to the post.
"Many politicians and community leaders in Ottawa and the Toronto area offered to help the museum find a new home, but big metropolitan cities have hundreds of worthwhile projects competing for limited government funds," observed Ian McDougall, the chairman of the museum. 
“The circumstances demanded that we focused on asset conservancy as the core mission of the museum, knowing the unlikelihood of securing viable and stable display space in the short term,” said McDougall.
There was initially some hope among CASM members that the organization could one day morph into the North American equivalent of the Hong Hong International Airport Aviation Discovery Centre. The Centre includes over twenty interactive exhibits and graphics plus a flight simulator, where you can experience plane takeoffs and landings from the pilot’s seat and is a well known tourist spot. Photo c/o Trip Advisor

CASM, which several years ago changed its name to the Toronto Aerospace Museum because of a spat it got into with the Ottawa ON based Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (CASM), will now again change its name and become the Canadian Air and Space Conservancy (CASM) in order to more appropriately reflect its new role.
The museum recognizes that its future success will depend on partnering with similar community and national organizations such as museums in Ottawa and Trenton. 
In future, it will make artefacts from the collection available to other like-minded organizations and other venues on a loan or exchange basis, expand its aircraft, artefact and archive collection, and resume aircraft restoration activities once facilities become available.
According to a November 11th, 2018 update to the CASM website:
A Volunteer Association is also being re-established and invitations to apply will be circulated in the months ahead.
As noted in the October 29th, 2018 post, "The Former CDN Air and Space Museum Avro Arrow Replica is Still Sitting in a Parking Lot at Pearson Airport," the situation reached a crisis point last month with some CASM members feeling that the museum needed to be dissolved so that the board could donate the deteriorating museum artifacts to other not-for-profit organizations or museums, where they could be restored and protected.

In the earlier article, CASM curator Brian Keaveney insisted that the museum wasn't defunct and that a new partner "should" be coming aboard soon to help cover costs and assist with the opening of either a new facility or new facilities, where artifacts could again be displayed.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Space is For Cookie. That's Good Enough for Me!

          By Brian Orlotti

New York NY based Zero G Kitchen LLC (ZGK) has unveiled its design for a space oven. The oven is designed to freshly prepare small basic foods such as rolls, cookies, patties and pockets for long duration space travel.

The appliance is the first of a planned ‘Kitchen in Space,’ an open platform for food development in space and zero-gravity environments.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 ZGK press release, "Zero G Kitchen Prepares to Launch its First Appliance to Space," the space oven will be built in partnership with Houston TX based NanoRacks, a private firm which manages payloads and safety processes for the International Space Station (ISS).

The ‘Kitchen in Space’ ecosystem will also see space-adapted versions of other household appliances, including a refrigerator, a blender, a slow cooker and more. ZGK will work with food companies, educators, researchers, appliance engineers and aerospace organizations, to optimize its designs.

ZGK expects to complete building and testing its space oven before year’s end, with delivery to the ISS in early 2019. ZGK has already signed up its first client, and an announcement is expected in early 2019.

Cooking or baking of fresh food in space would offer numerous benefits and opportunities.

Astronauts, currently limited to pre-packaged, microwaveable tv-dinner type meals, would see psychological benefits from the sights and smells of fresh cooking. The human sense of smell’s effect on mood and memory is scientifically documented. Pleasing, positive smells, such as baking cookies or burning wood can trigger a sense of security, cooperation and calm.

Smell has also been linked to memory, with certain smells evoking earlier life experiences stored in the brain. These effects could prove a potent antidote to the stress, boredom and isolation astronauts encounter during space missions.

In addition, operating cooking appliances in space environments would provide an opportunity for research into the differences between zero-gravity and terrestrial cooking, enabling further refinement of the preparation of space-served meals.

A comparable analogy on Earth would be the difference between combustion engines operating at sea level or at high altitudes. At higher altitudes, lower oxygen levels and atmospheric pressure cause combustion engines to be less powerful and efficient, which in turn has driven the development of alternate designs that overcome these issues.

Over the coming decades, the greater tempo and scope of space activity will see more humans in space than ever. The soothing effects of freshly-cooked space meals could not only aid the success of space travel, but also shape the solar system spanning civilization to come.

To paraphrase the great gourmand Cookie Monster, space is for cookie, that’s good enough for me!
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.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maxar Shareholders Approve "US Domestication." Fed's Should Now Find New Canadian Based Firms to Support

          By Chuck Black

Someone should tell Howard Lance, the CEO of Westminster CO based Earth imaging and satellite data focused Maxar Technologies, about political optics.

As outlined in the November 19th, 2018 Financial Post article, "Meet the New York investor who's making all the right calls in shorting Canadian stocks," Maxar isn't just being judged because its leaving Canada. According to the article, in August 2018, New York NY based short seller Spruce Point Capital released a report "raising questions about some of its (Maxar's) accounting practices and warning that the company’s shares could lose more than half their value." Two weeks ago, Maxar reported a $432Mln CDN net loss for the third quarter, "mainly due to impairment losses and inventory obsolescence. Its shares, which had reached a high of $72.68 CDN in July and were at $56.80 CDN" when Spruce Point released its report, "plunged more than 44% to $17.68 CDN. They have since rebounded somewhat, and closed Friday at $24.63 CDN." Image c/o Financial Post

At the very same time that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited Ottawa last week to request billions of Canadian dollars to facilitate Federal funding for a "3rd generation Canadarm" for the US Deep Space Gateway (DSG), Maxar and its Brampton ON based Canadarm building MDA Space Missions subsidiary (the company most likely to benefit from any new Canadarm contracts) were busy finishing off their long-standing plan to re-incorporate as a US based, US owned and US operated entity.

Maxar even issued a press release to promote its re-invention.

As outlined in the November 16th, 2018 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies Shareholders Approve US Domestication," Maxar shareholders have given final approval to something the press release called "US domestication" at a special shareholder meeting held Friday.

It's essentially a Maxar plan to re-incorporate as a US based and managed company, in order to mitigate the onerous regulatory requirements restricting non-US owned entities from receiving US government and military contracts. As outlined in the press release, Maxar anticipates that the plan will be completed "on or about January 1st, 2019." 

And while there is certainly nothing wrong with the plan from a business perspective, especially given that the US market is so much larger than the Canadian market, there are a few problems when you're also in the midst of positioning yourself as an iconic and distinctly Canadian based company in order to receive Canadian government contracts.

That's because Maxar and MDA Space Missions are no longer Canadian based companies. They haven't really been Canadian based for several years. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) should realize this and begin the search for replacement, Canadian based, space mission contractors immediately.

As outlined most recently in the August 17th, 2018 post, "Let's Pick a Canadian Contractor to Build the New Canadarm for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway," the first Canadarm was derived from a distinctly Canadian origin, which is part of the reason why it's such an iconic piece of Canadian technology.

A next generation Canadarm should be built the same way, by using Canadian based assets to provide a distinctly Canadian based contribution to the exploration of the final frontier. 

On Parliament Hill, the optics of potential new Federal funding for the latest generation of iconic Canadian technology being pumped into a company so very intent on renouncing its Canadian heritage was certainly not lost on the Justin Trudeau led Federal government which, as of now, has simply refused to decide whether to contribute to the US program.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 post, "Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus," the Trudeau government is expected to withhold approval of Canadian contributions to the DSP until either just before or just after the next Federal election, currently scheduled for sometime on or before October 19th, 2019.

This should give the Fed's enough time to come up with something, probably.

The Canadian government will likely make a decision just as soon as they figure out how to prevent the lion's share of the requested Canadian funding from falling into foreign owned Maxar's greedy little paws.

This blog agrees. We're rather have the funding for the next generation Canadarm end up in a Canadian company, where it can help to grow Canadian capabilities and contribute to Canada's future, just like the first Canadarms.

Sorry about that, Howard. It's just that, from a political perspective, the optics are bad. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, November 16, 2018

A $52Mln CDN Financing Deal for Northstar Earth and Space Inc.

          By Henry Stewart

It wasn't exactly what people were expecting the day after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited Ottawa to ask for a Canadian contribution to the NASA Lunar Gateway.

But the November 15th, 2018 announcement that the Federal government, along with several other "strategic partners," had contributed $52Mln CDN  in total to Montreal PQ based Northstar Earth & Space for the development of "a global environment information platform which will transform humanity's ability to manage our impact on Earth and its natural resources," was certainly a favorable indicator for at least one Canadian based space company.

Innovation Minister Bains announcing that the Federal government would be contributing $13Mln CDN to the latest $52Mln CDN funding plan for Northstar Earth and Space on November 15th, 2018. As outlined in the November 14th, 2018 Government of Canada press release "Minister Bains to visit Montréal to announce funding that will help create middle-class jobs in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta," the minister was initially ambiguous about the specifics of the announcement and many thought the announcement would relate to the Lunar Gateway. The complete presentation is available online here. Video c/o @ISED_CA

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains made the Northstar announcement at a special presentation at the Phi Centre in Montreal PQ on November 15th, 2018.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 Northstar press release, "NorthStar Earth and Space Inc. announces partnerships, $52Mln in additional financing for global environment information platform," the governments of Canada and Quebec each contributed $13Mln CDN to the total announced funding.

Government of Canada funding includes $9.5Mln from the Federal Strategic Innovation Fund and $3.5Mln CDN from Economic Development Quebec Region. The Government of Quebec, via Le Fonds du développement économique (FDE) also invested $13Mln CDN.

A variety of private partners, including Montreal PQ based Telesystem Space (the Northstar majority shareholder) and the Space Alliance of Europe (a strategic partnership between Rome Italy based Telespazio Spa, Cannes France based Thales Alenia Space and Rome Italy based Leonardo Aerospace) provided the rest of the $52Mln CDN.

The latest financing is in addition to the $31Mln CDN contributed previously by other NorthStar Canadian and US founding partners. The company has gathered a total of $83Mln CDN for its NorthStar platform.

As outlined in the press release:
The NorthStar platform is based on a 40-satellite constellation with sophisticated sensors and information delivery capability. NorthStar will enable new advances in continuous environmental management including pollution detection, charting the health of the world's oceans and rivers, enhancing the productivity of agriculture, wildfire alerts, and pipeline oil and gas monitoring to prevent spills and contamination.
When fully operational, NorthStar expects to create an estimated 400 highly-skilled direct jobs and 1200 indirect jobs related to big data and information analytics, and support the expansion of aerospace, satellite design and sensor technology industries in Canada and abroad.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 post, "Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus," the Canadian government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to contribute to the NASA Lunar Gateway.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Politely Pushes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Under the Bus

          By Chuck Black

It may not last. But at least for now, Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has refused to respond to NASA Administer Jim Bridenstine's request for Canada to fund a multi-billion dollar 3rd generation Canadarm contribution to the proposed NASA Lunar Gateway (also known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G), the next generation orbital outpost and staging platform NASA expects to build sometime in the 2020's.

AIAC president and CEO Quick (left) with NASA administrator Bridenstine (centre) and innovation minister Bains at the Canadian Aerospace Summit, which was held in Ottawa ON from November 12th - 14th. According to Bains, "we obviously can't replicate the Silicon Valley model here," but the Canadian focus on basic research and the funding for a variety of smaller, space focused projects is the best way for Canada to develop an ecosystem of innovation. According to Bridenstine, "we can't (reproduce Silicon Valley) either," but the US offer to Canada to contribute Canadarm expertise to the Lunar Gateway will maintain and grow existing Canada/US partnerships and can be bartered for new flight opportunities for Canadian astronauts. The complete, but surprisingly short, presentation is available online here and begins at approximately the twelve minute mark. Video c/o @ISED_CA

Bains was put on the spot by Bridenstine on the final day of the 2018 Canadian Aerospace Summit, held in Ottawa ON from November 12th - 14th, during a panel discussion on Canada US space cooperation chaired by Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) President and CEO Jim Quick.

As first reported in the September 18th, 2018 post, "Colorado Based Maxar/MDA Asking for $1-2Bln to Build Another Canadarm for the US LOP-G," most of the pressure for Canadian participation in the program is being organized through Westminster, CO based Maxar Technologies, which expects its Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions subsidiary to receive the lion's share of the government funding needed for any substantive contribution to the US program.

But participants in the lobby effort also include NASA representatives such as Bridenstine and Bill Gerstenmaier (the NASA administrator for human exploration and operations, who visited Canada earlier this fall), plus senior members of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) space committee and members of the #DontLetGoCanada coalition which, as outlined on the Don't Let Go Canada website, are currently lobbying the Federal government for a "fully funded space strategy" wrapped around a "third generation Canadarm" for the Lunar Gateway.

The original plan was to co-ordinate a campaign culminating in a Federal government funding announcement sometime in the fall of 2018, a situation which would certainly have helped the bottom line at Maxar. 

As outlined in the November 1st, 2018 post, "Maxar Technologies Share Price Collapses After Q3 Earnings Report Released," the company has been going through some difficult times lately.

Bridenstine didn't come to Ottawa cold. At the very least, he came with a substantive presentation which he shared earlier in the day. According to Bridenstine, Canada has made a "critical" contribution to US space exploration since the 1950's and should continue to do so. "I am here, as the NASA administrator, to ask for the support of Canada in support of Space Policy Directive 1 — our return to the moon,” he said. “We can’t achieve what we want to achieve in space if any of us goes alone.” The complete presentation is available online here. Video c/o @ISED_CA.

As outlined in the November 15th, 2018 Space News post, "Canada not sold on US-led lunar Gateway despite NASA boss’ direct pitch," Canada has essentially not yet decided to move forward with the Lunar Gateway and is still examining the project.

According to the article, Bains told journalists at the Canadian Aerospace Summit that the Canadian government now hopes to release a "new space plan" by the end of next year, a time frame which could potentially push out any formal announcement on space policy to just after the next Federal election, currently scheduled for sometime on or before October 19th, 2019.

Other articles, such as the November 14th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "NASA Administrator Asks Canada to Participate in Lunar Space Station," are kinder to Bains, stating only that he "promised to unveil a new Long Term Space Plan before the end of the administration’s mandate in late 2019."

Which is a good way of saying that Bains and the Justin Trudeau government might not want to pay any more attention to this matter unless its an important issue relating to their re-election.

Nuff said.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Rising Electron Lifts All Boats

          By Brian Orlotti

Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab has launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand, successfully placing seven spacecraft in orbit for its first commercial launch. With this latest success, the company is solidifying its lead in the burgeoning small rocket industry.

The launch, which Rocket Lab has dubbed the ‘It's Business Time’ mission, saw six satellites deployed for San Francisco CA based Spire Global, Irvine CA based Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Beverley Australia based Fleet Space Technologies and the Irvine CA based Irvine CubeSat STEM program, a collaboration between six high schools in Irvine CA to assemble, test and launch a CubeSat into low Earth orbit.

Also launched was a spacecraft built by München, Germany based HPS GmbH to demonstrate space debris removal technology according to the November 11th, 2018 CNBC post, "Space unicorn Rocket Lab reaches orbit again in key first commercial launch."

Originally scheduled to launch last spring following its successful Jan 2018 test launch, the mission was delayed due to a ‘motor control’ issue with the rocket. launch marks the beginning of Rocket Lab's acceleration toward launching at a weekly rate. 

While taking time to correct the motor control issue, the company made the most of the situation by continuing to build up it’s infrastructure, opening a new factory in New Zealand. Rocket Lab also plans to build a US launchpad in Virginia.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's current CEO and CTO. In 2009, Rocket Lab launched the Ātea-1 sounding rocket. In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a contract from the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) OperationallyResponsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nano-satellites into orbit. 

The company’s investors include Palo Alto and San Franscisco CA based Data Collective (DCVC), Chicago IL based Promus Ventures, Menlo Park CA based Bessemer Venture Partners, Menlo Park CA based Khosla Ventures and New Zealand based K1W1 Investments as well as  Bethesda, MD based aerospace behemoth LockheedMartin and the Government of New Zealand

Rocket Lab’s Series D funding round increased the company’s total level of investment to $148Mln US ($200Mln CDN). The company is now valued at over $1Bln US ($1.35Bln CDN).

The Electron is a 17m tall two-stage launcher designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg into a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit. The 3D printed carbon-composite rocket is powered by a cluster of 9 in-house built Rutherford engines (after the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford) that use liquid oxygen and kerosene. The Rutherford engine incorporates new innovations to minimize weight and cost, including battery-powered fuel pumps and (mostly) 3D-printed components. The Electron is priced at $5.7Mln US ($7.5Mln CDN) per launch.

Rocket Lab’s next launch is scheduled for December, with a further 16 launches planned for 2019. The company will aim for a launch rate of once a month in 2019, followed by once very two weeks, with an ultimate goal of once a week by 2020.

Rocket Lab’s success illustrates how modern technology can now enable even small nations to have their own space launch capability. Canada, a declining space power lacking its own space launch capability, must take this lesson to heart if it is to remain relevant.

Fortunately, there are signs of this occurring, most notably as outlined in the October 23rd, 2018 post, "Those New Maple Leaf Brand Rockets," through the LaunchCanada Rocket Innovation Challenge, an effort being led by rocket engineer Adam Trumpour to establish Canada’s first major rocket competition.

The contest will offer Canadians the opportunity to foster a vibrant private launch industry in the same manner that gave birth to firms like Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

A rising Electron lifts all boats, indeed.
Editors Note: As a postscript to this story, it's worth checking out the November 15th, 2018 Tech Crunch post, "After first commercial launch, Rocket Lab announces $140 million in funding," which noted that "When it rains, it pours. And when you’re a successful space startup, it pours money."
Congratulations, Rocket Lab.  
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.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Canada Needs Dedicated Space Technology to Prevent Wildfire Disasters

          By Samuel Looper

Wildfires caught the nation’s attention in 2016 with the Fort McMurray fires, which caused over 80,000 evacuations and nearly $10Bln CDN in before finally burning itself out fifteen months later.

A graphic representation of Canadian forest fires in the last 35 years. As outlined in the Sep 1st, 2017 CBNC News post, "Devastating Fort McMurray wildfire declared out 15 months later,"the Fort McMurray fires started on May 1st, 2016, destroyed more than 2,400 buildings in the Fort McMurray area and eventually spilled over into Saskatchewan before being deemed officially extinguished. According to the January 27th, 2017 Canadian Press post, "Costs of Alberta wildfire reach $9.5 billion: Study," an assessment of the total financial impact of the Fort McMurray fires, including the direct and indirect costs of the blaze are "almost $10Bln CDN." Map c/o NRCan.

But the Fort McMurray fires weren't unique.

Canadian forest fires annually consume over 2.5 million hectares of land, a figure that continuously increases as a result of climate change. Our northern boreal forest is particularly vulnerable, but—as witnessed in Fort McMurray—wildfires have unmediated impacts on humans too. The adverse impacts of wildfires disproportionately affect northern and Indigenous communities.

Without accurate in formation on current wildfire risks, and the analytics required to model and monitor wildfires, communities across Canada will be prone to natural disaster and economic upheaval.

The Aerospace Policy division of the Toronto ON based University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT) believes Canada needs a comprehensive strategy on wildfire disaster management that leverages space technology to accurately monitor and predict wildfires.

The organization has made a series of recommendations to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on developing the necessary technology and infrastructure to ensure our space program is part of the solution in our battle against natural disaster.

Space technologies have tremendous potential to positively impact wildfire prevention and response initiatives across the country.

Earth observation satellites are the most effective way to collect infrared imaging and other critical meteorological data. These orbiting imaging platforms can cover the entire Canadian landmass in 10 minutes, carrying instruments able to precisely measure emissions and thermal anomalies to locate current forest fires.

They are also the best surveying tools at our disposal, providing highly accurate, up-to-date maps of the distribution of biofuels across the country to locate areas prone to wildfire.

In a country of nearly 10 million square kilometers, there is simply no other way to have accurate information on the risks and current status of wildfires for all communities in Canada.

The RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) is a good example of space infrastructure the CSA should leverage to generate our own meteorological and surveying data. Images c/o CSA.

In addition, recent breakthroughs in machine learning powered data analytics can make the use of information from space based imaging more effective.

Computer vision and machine learning are being employed to create better geographic information systems (GIS). Deep learning algorithms facilitate analysis of petabytes of satellite imaging in a GIS, while identifying patterns and anomalies more accurately than traditional algorithms.

Currently, the state of the art in such data analytics platforms is in the private sector, developed and owned by commercial ventures such as San Francisco CA based Planet, Hamburg Germany based Skylab Global and Santa Fe NM based Descartes Labs.

While the future looks positive for wildfire monitoring, it is in private hands. There is a major gap between the data we need for wildfire monitoring and the current capabilities of the CSA and the Canadian government.

The current platform for wildfire data is the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System (CWFIS).

But Canada currently does not own a single space asset capable delivering the data necessary for an information platform like CWFIS. The service is completely reliant on data from the European Space Agency (ESA) GlobBioMass Project and NASA’s Eos-Terra and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).

Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) has recently expressed concern about the lack of data availability and analysis support systems associated with the CWFIS. The lack of Canadian owned space assets and homegrown capabilities limits the technical capabilities of wildfire modelling, and passes over expertise already present in Canada.

In light of this troubling reality, our team at UTAT Space Policy has made a series of proposals on how to remedy the lack of resources within the Canadian government. We want to create an program within the CSA to focus on researching, developing, and operating space technologies for natural disaster management.

The program would liaise with the various stakeholders within the Canadian government for the access and analysis of the data generated by space assets. This would be based on the wildly successful program in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which provides critical information on flooding and typhoons.

There’s no denying the tremendous demand for earth observation and mapping data throughout the Canadian Government. Natural disaster, specifically wildfires, presents the urgent and important case for developing and maintaining accurate information about our geography, environment, and human activity. It is vital that government agencies like the CSA answer the call to adapt and leverage their technologies to meet this growing demand. A program within the CSA with a such a mandate would allow for research and development opportunities with a focus on a clear benefit to society.

These are the initiatives that will grow our space capabilities while improving the lives of Canadians across the country.

Samuel Looper is the director of the Aerospace Policy Division of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT).

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