Thursday, February 28, 2019

Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan

          By Chuck Black

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that Canada will become the first international partner to join the US led Lunar Gateway program, a plan promoted and managed by NASA but expected to be partially funded by multinational contributions from countries such as Canada.

Trudeau's announcement is the first formal statement of commitment to the program from another nation.

The NASA Lunar Gateway is intended to serve as a follow-on program to the current International Space Station (ISS) and will serve as a stepping stone for NASA's deep space exploration plans.

NASA's newest best friend. Canadian PM Trudeau explaining that "Canada is stepping up" to build another Canadarm for the US Lunar Gateway and also contribute in other ways. According to Trudeau, the new Canadarm "that will repair and maintain the Lunar Gateway" will be "built in Canada by Canadians," although he didn't say which domestic (or foreign owned) company would build it. As always, space politics (even in Canada) is mostly about jobs, not science. The full press conference is available online under the title, "LIVE NOW – Watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau make a historic announcement about Canada in space!" on the CSA Facebook page. Screenshot c/o Facebook. 

Although the fiscal specifics are unclear and likely won't be known until after the 2019 Federal Budget is tabled on March 19th, 2019, Trudeau did make a verbal commitment of $2.05Bln CDN over the next twenty-four years to contribute to the NASA program.

That's less than $100Mln CDN a year, which isn't a lot and could certainly end up being far less depending on whether or not this announcement refers to new funding or is simply a reallocation of existing funds.

Trudeau also announced several smaller space focused funding programs, including $150Mln CDN for a CSA administered Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP) to assist small and medium Canadian enterprises (SMEs) to develop new AI, robotics, and health technology for use in lunar orbit and for a Junior Astronauts program.

The LEAP program is expected to appeal to the majority of Canadian space focused companies such as Bolton ON based Canadensys Aerospace, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia based Leap Biosystems, Moon Express Canada and others who aren't as politically well connected as Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies.

Although not noted explicitly during the press conference, Maxar's Brampton ON based MDA Space Systems subsidiary will almost certainly receive the lions share of the new funding as the prime contractor for the "3rd generation Canadarm" needed to support the Lunar Gateway.

In response to Trudeau's announcement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine issued this February 28th, 2019 NASA post, "Canada Commits to Joining NASA at the Moon," which called Canada:
... a vital ally in this lunar journey as they become the first international partner for the Gateway lunar outpost with their 24 year commitment to deep space exploration and collaboration.
Inflammatory twitter comment. Graphic c/o @Canadainspace.
As outlined on the February 28th, 2019 Justin Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada website post, "Historic investments in Canada’s space program to create jobs and new industries," Canada will:
... develop and contribute a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair and maintain the Gateway. Canada’s partnership in the Gateway ushers in a new era of Canadian excellence in space, and will be the cornerstone of Canada’s new, ambitious space strategy. 
The Government of Canada will invest $2.05 billion over 24 years for Canada’s space program. This investment will create hundreds of good, well-paying jobs over the next ten years – from scientists and engineers to technicians and computer programmers – and will contribute $100 million annually to Canada’s gross domestic product.
The Canadarm program has historically served as a wedge for Canadian access into other facets of the US space program such as transportation to the ISS for Canadian astronauts and enjoys a wide, bipartisan support across party lines.

But some have already categorized the new funding as a political issue. For example, the February 28th, 2019 SpaceQ post, "Canada is Going to the Moon," categorized the Trudeau governments announcement as being:
... designed to send a message before the budget comes out on March 19. 
The commitment means that come election time, if the Liberals are not re-elected, that a plan and some funding will in place, making it harder to renege on the commitment."
SpaceQ is funded in large part through advertising revenue provided by Canadarm prime contractor  Maxar/ MDA.

With its strong Liberal party connections, it's also evidently in Maxar/MDAs best interest to suggest that politics is at the core of any positive government decision going into the next election. Maybe Spaceq is simply acting in the best interests of its sponsor instead of its readers.

And maybe SpaceQ has a point. As outlined most recently in the January 9th, 2019 post, "Why did Maxar Subsidiary SSL "Terminate" its Participation in the DARPA GEOsynchronous Satellite Servicing Program?," Maxar has been having troubles lately and is looking to the Trudeau government to commit to new funding for the Lunar Gateway program to pull its fat out of the fire.

On the other hand, Canada is now a preferred partner for the NASA program. Canadians can now lobby NASA to ask Canadian companies to contribute to the Lunar Gateway program and be funded by the Canadian government. Several companies have confirmed that NASA will soon begin asking for contributions which are completely independent from Maxar/MDA which relate to unmanned Lunar rovers and in-situ resource utilization.

It's useful to note that Trudeau finished up his Thursday morning press conference without being asked any questions on his space policy. He was instead asked questions relating to the SNC Lavalin affair. Maybe everything is indeed eventually boiled down to politics, especially when an election is expected in the fall.

Has the Trudeau government picked Maxar/MDA as the Canadian lottery winner for Canadian space funding for the foreseeable future?

We'll know more when the 2019 Budget is tabled in Parliament on March 19th.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Graphene Electronics Now One Step Closer

          By Brian Orlotti

European researchers have announced that they have succeeded in carving out graphene to nanoscale dimensions without ruining its electrical properties; a key step towards making practical graphene nano-electronics.

As outlined in the February 19th, 2019 NanoWerk post, "Graphene 'sandwich' key to new electronics," the researchers were operating under the European Union (EU) Graphene Flagship program, a €1 billion EUR ($1.5Bln CDN) initiative launched in 2013 to bring together academic and industrial researchers with a plan to commercialize graphene.

Graphene, first discovered in 2004, is a form of carbon made up of hexagonal atoms that is only a single-atom thick.

Graphene’s unique structure gives it remarkable properties: it is over 100 times stronger than steel, a better electrical conductor than copper, transparent, flexible, and impermeable to most gasses and liquids. Recent research has even shown the possibility of graphene being a room-temperature superconductor, a holy grail of modern science.

Graphene’s properties have led to much hype over the past decade, with promises of a revolution in physics and engineering. However, lack of research and difficulties in mass production have kept its promise unfulfilled.

Scientists have long tried using traditional lithography techniques to produce graphene-based nanoelectronics and photonics. However, since graphene is only one atom thick, all its atoms are exposed to the outside world; even small defects and impurities impede its properties.

Graphene Flagship researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) solved this problem by coating graphene with protective layers of hexagonal boron nitride. The team then used nanolithography to drill nanometre-sized holes into the boron nitride, enabling electrical current to flow through the graphene at 100-1000 times greater rates than previous efforts.

The researchers claim this new technique is a key step towards the building of defect-free graphene nanoelectronic and photonic devices.

The ability to produce defect-free graphene-based devices combined with recent breakthroughs in mass production techniques, may have the next few years finally bring graphene’s promise to life.
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.

Will Australia Become the Third Nation to Encourage Private Sector Space Mining?

          By Chuck Black

Both the United States, with its "Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015," and the Grand Duchy of Luxemboug are well known for recent legislation allowing their citizens and domestically based corporations to claim ownership over space based resources.

Mars (on the left) has more than a little in common with the Australian outback (on the right) according to the December 4th, 2014 ABC News Australia post, "Mars V Australian Outback." As outlined in the June 10th, 2018 VentureBeat post, "The best countries for tech companies: 2018 rankings," the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has named Australia, Singapore and Sweden as "the countries most prepared for technological change, and the most attractive places for tech companies to invest in the next five years." It's a shame that Canada wasn't in the top ten rankings. Photo's c/o NASA and Jane Stapleton.

Those laws are designed specifically to encourage private sector extraterrestrial exploration and resource extraction. Now it looks like a third nation could soon be following along the same path.

As outlined in the February 14th, 2019 the Conversation post, "Australia: well placed to join the Moon mining race … or is it?," there has certainly been a lot of discussion on the topic since the establishment of the Australian Space Agency on July 1st, 2018.

Australia's Space Roadmap. Cover c/o CSIRO.
The article noted that one of the priorities of the new space agency is "developing a strategy to position Australia as an international leader in specialized space capabilities" such as space mining.

It also pointed out that terrestrial mining operations often use autonomous drills, robotic tools optimized for extreme environments and other high-tech tools which could be useful for mining operations on Mars or the asteroids.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the independent Australian federal government agency responsible for scientific research, has noted space resource utilization as a key element of its 2018 Space Road Map, more formally known as "Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia."

As outlined in the Space Road Map:
Australian industry has a unique opportunity to leverage the nation's strengths and advantages to increase its role in the international space sector by providing strategic contributions to global value chains that result in economic return and improve the lives of Australians. 
These include:
  • Growing the ecosystem and downstream utilisation of space-derived data and services, such as Earth Observation, positioning navigation and timing, and satellite communications.
  • Building an Australian industry to track space objects to ensure the continued availability of space assets.
  • Leveraging Australia's research and industrial strengths to develop cutting edge technology for global space exploration and utilization.

The Wilde Project is named after Oscar Wilde (it's a long story), and includes Australian researchers from multiple schools and faculties organized through the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. It plans to design a space mission to "process water from the permanently shadowed craters at moon’s poles" to demonstrate the feasibility of a variety of tools and methodologies to the mining community since "both the (Australian) space agency and CSIRO now have it as a priority." Screen shot c/o UNSW Engineering.

But while Australia has (so far at least) not moved forward with the necessary legal regulations needed for citizens and domestically based corporations to claim ownership over space based resources, the national news outlets have starting to notice the local mining expertise and how that skill-set is applicable to the space industry.

According to the February 22nd, 2016 Huffington Post Australia article, "Australia Will Lead The Way In Space Mining Because We're Used To Operating In Isolated, Extreme Environments."

As outlined in the December 4th, 2017 WA Today post, "Gold, water and platinum: Australians lead the way towards asteroid mining boom," Australia "will have asteroid mining before we have people living on Mars," because "there is money involved."

It's odd that no one in Canada has figured this out.

Mining in Australia, much like mining in Canada, is a significant primary industry and contributor to the domestic economy.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Next Three Important Dates For the Canadian Space Industry

          By Chuck Black

The 2019 Canadian Federal Budget (expected to be tabled in the Canadian House of Commons on March 19th, 2019), along with the fourth quarter 2018 report (expected on February 28th, 2019) and the year-end stockholder meeting (currently scheduled for May 8th, 2019) of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies, are currently the hottest topics of gossip among those who focus on the Canadian space industry.

How did that happen?

It's because Brampton ON based MDA is both the maker of Canada's iconic Canadarm and a Maxar subsidiary. Since the formation of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 1989, the space industry in Canada has been wrapped around Federal government funding for its favorite contractor.

This state of affairs is in the midst of changing. But change comes slowly to the industry and many are hoping that change will be delayed or superseded by announcements deriving from one or more of those events.

As outlined in the February 20th, 2019 CTV News post, "2019 federal budget to be tabled March 19: Morneau," Finance Minister Bill Morneau "will introduce the Liberal government's pre-election budget on March 19 in a document expected to touch the issues of prescription drug costs, skills training for workers and helping more millennials get into the housing market."

As part of the budget, the government may or may not announce a commitment to the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway (LOP-G),  a US based initiative with a Canadian component manufactured by Maxar Technologies and covered previously in this blog, most recently in the the January 10th, 2019 post, "That Canadian Space Plan Where We Give Most of the Funding to a Failing, Foreign Owned Maxar is Dumb."

An announcement in favour of the LOP-G would be a boon to Maxar/MDA since the company would then be almost guaranteed to receive a multi-billion dollar contract to build a new "next-generation" Canadarm for the LOP-G.

But that might also not happen because, as noted most recently in the January 30th, 2019 post, "Why did Maxar Subsidiary SSL "Terminate" its Participation in the DARPA GEOsynchronous Satellite Servicing Program?," Maxar has been having a bad year and governments don't want to be perceived to be supporting failing, foreign owned companies.

As for the other two dates, they will likely be the two last chances for a failing Maxar to put its fiscal house in order.

According to the February 7th, 2019 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies Fourth Quarter 2018 Investor Call Scheduled for Thursday, February 28 2019," new Maxar President and CEO Daniel Jablonsky and recently appointed Executive VP and CFO Biggs Porter will host an earnings conference call to review Maxar's fourth quarter results, on February 28th, 2019.

Jablonsky and Porter (or their replacements, if nothing improves after after the fourth quarter results are announced) will also likely be around for the year-end stock holder meeting which, according to the January 29th, 2019 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies Announces Date of Annual Meeting of Stockholders," will be held on May 8th, 2019.

According to the February 13th, 2019 Seeking Alpha post, "Maxar Technologies: Betting On Space," Maxar needs to announce a cut of the quarterly stock dividend plus the successful sale of Palo Alto CA based Maxar subsidiary SSL for a reasonable amount of money, perhaps around $500Mln US ($660Mln CDN), in order to turn around the company.

Of course, even a big Maxar turnaround might not shake any LOP-G commitments from an embattled Federal government gearing up for a fall Federal election.

The Justin Trudeau Liberals might simply have too much on their plate to worry about any large but failing multi-national corporation other than the Montreal PQ based SNC Lavalin.

But that would be another story entirely.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

InvestmentSpace 2019 on Friday, February 22nd in Toronto, Ontario

          By Henry Stewart

It's not going to make an immediate difference, if only because the room will contain far to many of the "usual suspects" of the Canadian space industry. They'd mostly prefer to pine over a quieter past when space was properly managed and fully funded by the appropriate government agency working through a trustworthy prime contractor.

It's also a little late to the party, given all the other events around the world over the last five years which have been focused around much the same topic.

Be that as it may, the 2019 InvestmentSpace Conference, sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), the Toronto ON based Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) and the Ontario Center of Excellence (OCE), is gearing up for a full day of presentations at the St-Regis Hotel in Toronto, Ontario on Friday, February 22nd.

As outlined on the February 18th, 2019 CSA website devoted to the event:
InvestmentSpace 2019 will bring together venture capital investors, aspiring Canadian space entrepreneurs and start-up companies looking for pre-seed (under $500,000) or seed funding (under $5 million), as well as business accelerators and incubators focused on space start-ups. 
The event will feature panel discussions by successful space entrepreneurs and investors as well as a session for start-up companies to showcase and pitch their business ideas.
According to the program, a variety of usual suspects are expected to present during the event. They include:
  • Mike Greenley, the group president of Brampton ON based MDA Corporation, now a subsidiary of Westminister CO based Maxar Technologies.

But there will also be some interesting new presenters, potential funders and curious attendees at the event. They include:
  • Ozan Isinak, the president of the Keiretsu Forum Canada, which is part of a global angel investor network with more than 2500 accredited investor members throughout 47 chapters on three continents.
  • Michelle Killoran, a principal at  Toronto ON based OMERS Ventures, a venture capital firm focused around technology, media and telecommunications companies.
  • Ana Misra, a co-founder & director of the Markham ON based York Angels, "a supportive linkage between local entrepreneurs, seeking early and mid-stage capital, and investors with a commitment to the economic development of the Region and to the entrepreneurial spirit of their community," according to their website.
A complete listing of the speakers and attendees is included online with the InvestmentSpace program

Even with dozens of companies participating and at least a few opportunities to talk with actual private sector venture capitalists and investors, the true worth of the forum won't be known for months, or perhaps years and will become apparent only after one or two of the start-ups gain either fiscal traction, public recognition or international notoriety.

There's also the question of whether this new investment event will be able to properly compete with the great many other US and European based investment conferences in the financial, resource, aerospace and manufacturing sectors which frankly, have been going on for a long-time and attracted a great deal of international capital.

If InvestmentSpace 2019 wants to be any more than a minor stop on a far larger international investment circuit, they'd better put on a great show this Friday.

In space, no one can see your national boundaries. 

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Space Could be the Most Perfect Construction Site for the Most Perfect Fiber Optics

          By Chuck Black

According to Mountain View CA based Flawless Photonics President and CEO Chandra (CK) Singla, the real future of manufacturing in space could begin with a small automated, fiber optic fabrication laboratory (the "Fab Lab") currently scheduled to launch in April, 2019 with the next SpaceX Falcon-9 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The December 2018 cover of "Upward Magazine," the official publication of the ISS National Lab explored the increasing efforts to manufacture exotic fiber optics in a micro-gravity environment in the article "Exotic Glass Fibers from Space. The Race to Manufacture ZBLAN." Graphic c/o Upward Magazine.

Singla is currently working with co-founder Rob Loughan, plus a small team of material science, optical fiber and micro-gravity experts to bring a new generation of innovation and creativity to the final frontier.

He spoke about the upcoming mission, and about why optical fibers are an order of magnitude more useful when manufactured in space, with this blog last Friday.

"We've been focusing in this area to understand how to achieve the theoretical promise of several glass compositions to provide a 10 times or greater improvement in performance of optical fibers, by increasing the operational spectrum at far lower attenuation. Our work builds upon the research on the effects of microgravity on ZBLAN optical fibers by NASA materials scientist Dennis Tucker," said Singla. "The upcoming mission is our proof-of-concept."

CK Singla. Photo c/o CK Singla.
Optical fibers are flexible, transparent strands made by drawing glass (silica or fluoride gas) or plastic to a diameter slightly thicker than that of a human hair.

The strands are used in many industries including telecommunications, aerospace and healthcare because optical information travels over longer distances and at higher bandwidths (data rates) than is possible with electrical information traveling over electrical cables.

But on Earth, gravity influences strand formation by encouraging flaws and crystals to develop within the fibers made from the more promising fluoride glasses during the manufacturing process. Those flaws slow down the transmission of optical information in much the same way as a cloudy window makes it difficult to see through.

According to Singla, as data transmission needs grow exponentially, telecom and data network operators looking for new solutions are closely following our development roadmap due to the possibility of  "sending ten time the data ten times further" using far less infrastructure, provided the influence of gravity is removed from the manufacturing process

The simpler infrastructure will save more than enough money to cover the cost of the added ISS portion of the manufacturing process.

"We're going to use the Fab Lab to test out our theories. If the mission succeeds, it will have a transformative effect on healthcare, telecommunications and other industries," he stated.

The fibers manufactured on board the ISS will be returned to Earth for testing several weeks later on board the Dragon capsule during its return trip.

Flawless Photonics is currently in the midst of plans to raise $20Mln US ($26.5Mln CDN) to commercialize their work.

As outlined on the Mahwah NJ based private equity and venture capital firm Moe Funding LLC undated post, "Space Manufacturing Platform." the technology is
... optimized for the size constraints and the rigors of space travel in order to cost effectively launch our equipment on existing rocket technologies such as those from SpaceX, and can easily be handled and installed by astronauts at the International Space Station’s commercial research lab, 360 miles above the Earth. 
The result is FlawlessFiber™ which has better attenuation and spectrum bandwidth than any fiber made on Earth today. It is composed of a special glass called ZBLAN rather than silica, and its capabilities far exceed the physical properties of silica glass fibers.  So what’s the catch?  ZBLAN optical fibers can only achieve their ideal performance if they are produced in the absence of Earth’s gravity.  Which of course means, we go to space! 
​FlawlessFiber™ will revolutionize many industries that currently use optical fibers while creating entirely new products and markets that do not yet exist because these perfect fibers simply can’t be produced here on Earth.
According to the May 11th, 2018 post, "Making Stuff in Space: Off-Earth Manufacturing Is Just Getting Started," Singla and his team aren't the only people working on the process, although they do seem to be the closest to creating a commercially salable product.
Our plans are to begin quarterly flights to the ISS with enough supplies to create commercial sized quantities of our fibers, just as soon as we complete our proof of concept and complete our fund raising.
It's also worth noting that high-quality ZBLAN fiber optic cables manufactured in the traditional manner on Earth are currently quite pricey, despite being limited by attenuation that is greater than silica.

Any manufacturing process able to increase the performance 10X or more would change the economic equation and the resulting product could end up with significant market share while being very profitable.

Given that, we can reasonably expect to hear more from Flawless Photonics, CK Singla and their partners in the near future.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

A New Generation of 3D Printed Nano-Material Sensor Platforms

          By Brian Orlotti

A NASA team has received a $2Mln US ($2.65Mln CDN) grant to develop a 3D-printed nanomaterial-based sensor platform. The small, low-power, high sensitivity platform could greatly enhance space exploration efforts.

The team, headed by technologist Mahmooda Sultana and located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, will spend the next two years developing the platform.

The platform will be capable of sensing a wide variety of data such as minute concentrations of gases, atmospheric pressure and temperature, then transmitting them wirelessly from a self-contained platform measuring just two-by-three-inches. Such tiny platforms could be deployed on planetary rovers to detect small quantities of water and methane or serve as biological sensors to monitor astronauts’ health.

Key to the effort is a 3D printing system developed by Ahmed Busnina and his group at Northeastern University in Boston. The 3D printing system deposits nanomaterials (such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, molybdenum disulfide and others), layer-by-layer, onto a substrate to create tiny sensors. Each sensor can detect different gas, pressure level or temperature.

Nanomaterials are highly sensitive and stable at extreme conditions. They are also lightweight, radiation-hardened and require less power, making them ideal for space applications.

Under the partnership with Northeastern University, Sultana and her team will design the sensor platform, determining which combination of materials are best for measuring minute, parts-per-billion concentrations of water, ammonia, methane and hydrogen.

Northeastern University will then use its 3D printing system to apply the nano-materials.

The approach differs dramatically from how multi-functional sensor platforms are currently made.

Rather than building one sensor at a time and then integrating it with other components, 3D printing enables the printing of an entire suite of sensors onto one platform, dramatically simplifying integration and packaging. In another innovative twist, Sultana’s team plans to print a wireless antenna and circuitry onto the same silicon wafer as the sensors, further simplifying instrument design and fabrication.

According to Sultana, the project addresses NASA’s need for small, low-power, lightweight, and highly sensitive sensors as an alternative to the mass spectrometers currently used on space missions to detect molecules of interest. Although mass spectrometers can detect a wide variety of molecules, they have difficulty distinguishing between types such as water, methane and ammonia.

A suite of small yet powerful sensors built into a compact package recalls the iconic ‘tricorder’ devices seen in the ‘Star Trek’ franchise. The work done by Sultana’s team reminds us that the science fiction of yesterday can become the science fact of tomorrow.
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, February 15, 2019

And Now for a Moment to Discuss the Upcoming EU Copyright Directive and Small News Outlets

          By Chuck Black

European Union (EU) negotiators have agreed to the wording of Articles 11 and 13 of the infamous EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, known more commonly as the EU copyright directive.

As outlined in the February 13th, 2019 IPPro Magazine post, "EU copyright directive: article 11 and 13 text agreed," the final vote on whether to implement the directives could occur as soon as March 25th - 27th.

As noted in this blog, most recently in the August 20th, 2018 post, "Breaking for Vacation and to Research Issues Relating to Online Press Freedom: Back on September 4th," the legislation will have a substantial effect on freedom of speech on the internet, news coverage in general and the ability to link directly to primary source material for news and commentary.

The BBC has weighed in on the EU copyright directive with its February 13th, 2019 post, "What is Article 13? The EU's copyright directive explained," which noted that  "Google has been particularly vocal about the proposed law, which it says could 'change the web as we know it'" and "Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive states services such as YouTube could be held responsible if their users upload copyright-protected movies and music."

Its worth noting that this blog will also be affected, since it often links to sources and uses tools and services provided by major US based internet giants such as Google, YouTube and others targeted by the EU copyright directive.

Change is almost certainly coming over the next few months, although very few are aware of the specifics of those changes.

We'd better stand by for adventure.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Short History of Canada's Military Space Policy and How it Fits into the Current US Space Force Discussions

Part 5: The Current Liberal Government

          By Chuck Black
This series of posts is attempting to answer some of the questions surrounding the appropriate Canadian response to the recently announced US plan to create an expanded United States Space Force. 
Part one ("The Axworthy Doctrine") focused on how the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's led to a new Canadian focus on aggressive, international peacekeeping missions requiring space focused communication and surveillance capabilities of a type which Canada didn't then possess.
Part two ("The Changing Political Landscape") discussed why Canada never had a military space policy prior to 1998 by going back to the 1960's and the federal liberal party under Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. 
Part three ("Towards Northern Sovereignty") dealt with the changing focus of Canadian foreign policy from international peacekeeping towards northern sovereignty, a policy developed in the 1990's under then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien which also required a substantial space-focused component, and what happened when the Canadian government realized that it still didn't possess those capabilities.
Part four ("Funding an Appropriate Force") outlined Conservative Prime Prime  Minister Stephen Harper's reaction to the policies of the previous Liberal government. It would have been a great strategy, if only the Canadian government didn't keep cutting back on the budget. 
Here is part five of this series. 

PM Trudeau in 2019. Photo c/o CP/ Darryl Dyck.
In the run up to the 2015 Federal Election, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau (the eldest son of Canada's fifteenth PM, Pierre Trudeau) instinctively understood that the problem with the Stephen Harper Conservative government (at least when it came to defence policy) was simply that no one could find the funding for the Conservative "Canada First Defence Strategy."

As outlined on the Liberal Party website:
We will maintain current National Defence spending levels, including current planned increases. 
Under Stephen Harper, investments in the Canadian Armed Forces have been erratic, promised increases in funding have been scaled back, and more than $10 billion of approved funding was left unspent. 
This mismanagement has left Canada’s Armed Forces underfunded and ill-equipped, and the courageous members of the Forces unsupported after years of dedicated service.
It sounded good. It's just a shame the new policy took until June 2017, well after the Trudeau government had won the October 15th, 2015 Federal election, to roll out..

As well, the new policy seemed to be more of a reaction to US policy which, under current US President Donald Trump, simply wasn't prepared to let Canada have as much of a free ride as had been true in previous eras.

If Canada could borrow military assets from its allies in order to complete a mission, then it would need to build up its indigenous capabilities.

The current statement of Liberal Defence policy (at least until after the next election, scheduled for October 21st, 2019) is the June 6th, 2017 "Strong, Secure, Engaged – Canada’s Defence Policy."

As outlined by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in his July 7th, 2017 statement in the House of Commons, "Strong, Secure, Engaged" – A new defence policy for Canada," the new plan will:
... recapitalize the Royal Canadian Air Force, with a full fleet of 88 advanced fighter jets to replace the aging CF-18s. This should have been done years ago. 
The previous government planned to purchase just 65 fighters, but didn’t actually purchase any, and didn’t budget adequately even for that inadequate fleet. 88 fighters are required to fully meet our NORAD and NATO obligations simultaneously, not just risk manage them, as the RCAF has had to do for a number of years. 
This plan fully funds, for the first time, the Royal Canadian Navy’s full complement of 15 Canadian Surface Combatant ships necessary to replace the existing frigates and retired destroyers. Fifteen. Not “up to” 15 and not 12. And definitely not six, which is the number the previous government’s plan would have paid for, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported last week.
Minister Sajjan. Photo c/o Chris Wattie/ Reuters.
The minister also promised to "recapitalize much of the Canadian Army’s land combat capabilities and aging vehicle fleets" and made "new commitments to emerging domains, particularly space, cyber and remotely piloted systems" in order to "address current and looming gaps in existing capabilities."

All of which sounds well and good, except when you note that, as outlined in the October 30th, 2018 Defence News post, "Canada to accept bids for new fighter jet in May — here are the potential competitors," Canada hasn't purchased any new fighter jets yet and doesn't even plan on taking bids for the replacement aircraft until May 2019.

As for the ships, it's worth noting that, as outlined in the February 8th, 2019 CBC News post, "Ottawa makes its $60B frigate project official, even as rival's court challenge goes forward," while a contract was awarded, no money seems to have changed hands.

Military procurement is a mess, and not likely to clean itself up anytime soon.

Most importantly, and as outlined in the March 6th, 2018 MacLeans post, "What’s happening to Canada’s defence spending?," no new funding was allocated in the 2018 Federal budget for the military, which kinda suggests that the Liberal defence policy is slowly walking down the same path as the previous Conservative plan.

As for Canada's space capabilities, there has been some movement, as outlined in the February 4th, 2019 post, "UTIAS-SFL and Raytheon Canada Building Military Funded Spy Sats," which noted $46.2Mln CDN for new funding under the Department of National Defence (DND) All Domain Situational Awareness Science & Technology (ADSA S&T) program. 

Also noteworthy were the eight Canadian companies which received multiple contracts totaling $6.7Mln CDN through the Department of National Defence (DND) in late 2018 in order to develop "situational awareness" applications focused around the analysis and assessment of synthetic aperture radar(SAR) data generated through Canada's Radarsat program. 

In this case, it was the funding mechanism, not the military strategy, which was noteworthy.

As outlined in the December 17th, 2018 post, "New Radarsat R&D Funding is Mostly for Software Analytics But Includes Some Interesting Surprises," the DND contracts were structured as public private partnerships with costs split 50-50 between DND and the various private sector participants.

But dropping a few million here or there for a few new programs doesn't amount to much compared to the total Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) annual budget of approximately $25Bln CDN. 

Canada's military space strategy remains mired in ideas generated decades before and still focuses on how to more effectively gain low-cost access to civilian and military US satellite command, control, communications and space situational awareness assets.

Although the strategy remains the same, most would agree that space is a far more complex environment to operate in today, than it was when Lloyd Axworthy held public office.

Is this our only choice in the matter or are there other options? That will be the subject of our final post on this topic.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Last episode: "Funding an Appropriate Force," as part four of "A Short History of Canada's Military Space Policy and How it Fits into the Current US Space Force Discussions," continues.

Next episode: "Future War, Micro-Sats Controlled by AI "BattleStars" Supported by Fast Launching, Hypersonic Transports and Space Based Solar Power," as part six of "A Short History of Canada's Military Space Policy and How it Fits into the Current US Space Force Discussions," concludes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains Thinks He's Doing a Good Job

          By Henry Stewart

Sometime this week, the Canadian government is expected to release a 100-page report titled "Building a Nation of Innovators."

The report is intended to highlight the various policies, programs, plans and funding mechanisms the Federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) has undertaken since 2015 in order to embrace innovative methodologies, digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

But it probably won't mention anything about Canada's space industry, which is a shame since the space industry is one of the drivers of innovation in the Canadian economy.

As outlined in the February 9th, 2019 Financial Post article, "The race to future-proof the economy: Navdeep Bains on the state of innovation in Canada," Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains is already providing a sneak peak at the contents of the report.

According to Bains:’s a report card, because people need to know as a government you made promises, are you living up to those promises? And what does it mean to them, to their communities, for their own prospects and for their kids’ prospects? 
The speed and scope of change is phenomenal, and that creates anxiety and concerns that Canadians have. And we’re dealing with that and saying, look, we want you to succeed.
Front cover. Graphic c/o ISED.
The full interview is available online. The report is also expected to be available online and will likely be referenced at least once or twice during the upcoming Federal election in the fall of 2019.

The Innovation Minister wants to be judged by this report and by how he has succeeded in advocating for Canada's Innovation Agenda.

He's right. We should do this.

The policy was originally outlined on the July 26th, 2016 Federal Government website "Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda."
Editors Note: The Federal government has released its report. 
As outlined in the February 12th, 2019 ISED press release, "Canada is building a nation of innovators," the report "presents the Government's progress in laying a solid foundation for Canada to remain competitive and for Canadians to succeed in the global economy." 
But it doesn't say much else. It spends most of its 100 pages talking about preliminary results and what could happen if the Liberals are allowed to carry through with their plans. 
There are a few mentions of the space industry, most notably on page 70, where the document states that "Canada can, and must, do a better job in unlocking the potential of its space sector for the benefit of Canadian businesses and society at large."
The complete report, under the title Building a Nation of Innovators, is available online so the curious can confirm the content for themselves.

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Mars One Finally Goes Bankrupt

          By Chuck Black

The plan always seemed more akin to the plot of the 1967 Mel Brooks movie "The Producers," which focused on the down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (played by Zero Mostel), who teamed up with a timid accountant (Gene Wilder) in a get-rich-quick scheme to put on the world's worst show and make off with the production funds.

Be that as it may, Mars One Ventures AG, the commercial arm of the Mars One effort to colonize the red planet, was liquidated on January 15th, 2019 in a case heard in the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt, according to a January 16th, 2019 filing (#CHE-375.837.130) by the canton’s commercial register. 

As outlined in the February 11th, 2019 Space News post, "Mars One company goes bankrupt," the filing was first publicized February 10th, 2019 on Reddit.

According to the Space News post, "the filing offered little information about the bankruptcy case or how the company was liquidated. Bas Lansdorp, founder of Mars One, confirmed that the company was bankrupt, but provided few additional details."

As outlined in the post:
Mars One gained headlines several years ago with plans to privately finance human missions to Mars, with those selected to fly on those missions committing to a one-way trip with no prospect of return to Earth. In its 2012 announcement of its plans, Mars One said it expected to have people land on Mars in 2023, a date that it has subsequently delayed to no earlier than 2032. 
Mars One claimed it could pull off the initial mission, through the landing of the first four-person crew on Mars, for $6 billion, a figure the organization offered few details about and one widely criticized in the broader space industry as far too low. Mars One planned to raise the funds for the mission by selling broadcasting rights, citing the large revenues generated for the rights to events like the Olympics and the World Cup.
This blog first noted Mars One and its activities in the March 22nd, 2015 post, "Springtime for Mars One," which noted the similarity to the Mel Brooks movie and predicted the company would eventually fail.

As noted in the December 5th, 2016 post, "Another Call for Federal Assistance in Space, plus Kepler, Clyde Space, ULA & Mars One, Which Can Now Sell Stock," Mars One even attempted a reverse merger of the Swiss based publicly traded Innovative Finance AG (InFin). 

The expectation was that selling shares in a publicly traded company would allow Mars One to raise money. But that plan didn't work out. As outlined in the Space News post:
Mars One has provided few financial updates since it announced in December 2016 that Mars One Ventures had gone public after an acquisition by InFin Innovative Finance AG, a Swiss firm previously working on mobile payment technologies that was already traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. 
The last shareholder update by Mars One Ventures was published in June 2018, according to the investor relations section of its website. At the time trading of the stock had been suspended on the Frankfurt exchange, with hopes of resuming it in August.

A series of intermediary steps, kicked off with great fanfare, also eventually ground to a halt.
Mars One awarded study contracts in 2013 to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to develop an orbiter to serve as a communications relay, and to Lockheed Martin for a Mars lander based on the design for NASA’s Phoenix mission. 
However, activity on those projects ground to a halt by early 2015 after the companies completed their initial studies and did not receive funding for additional work.
Mars One bears uncanny similarities to various businesses being proposed even today which promise great things but don't have any obvious revenue models.

Examples would include the European based Swiss Space Systems (SSS) which, as outlined in the January 24th, 2017 post, "Swiss Court Confirms Swiss Space Systems Bankruptcy But CEO Jaussi Might Buy Assets and Start Over," once attempted to partner with the City of North Bay ON in an attempt to launch a mini-space shuttle and Halifax NS based Maritime Launch Services (MLS) which, as outlined most recently in the April 13th, 2018 post, "Ukrainian Rockets Like the Cyclone 4M Are Too Dangerous an Investment for Western Interests: Kyiv Post," also has a problematic revenue model.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. A man's reach should always exceed his grasp, just so long as the investors do their appropriate due diligence to recognize the difference between shit and shinola. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Friday, February 08, 2019

The Washington DC Based Wilson Center Begins the Next Phase of Its Campaign for a Renewed Canada/ US Space Partnership

          By Chuck Black

The Washington DC based Wilson Center, the US think-tank which organized the September 7th, 2018 event "Over the Horizon: A New Era for Canada-US Space Cooperation?" which included many US and Canadian senior space focused bureaucrats, has published a February 2019 White Paper on "The Potential for a US-Canadian Spacefaring Partnership: Canada’s Role in The US Return to Space Leadership."

The front cover of the twenty-one page February 2019 Wilson Center position paper on "The Potential for a US-Canadian Spacefaring Partnership: Canada’s Role in The US Return to Space Leadership." Graphic c/o Wilson Center.

As outlined in the position paper:
Canada has a well-developed partnership with NASA that supports space science and exploration, but the changes in US priorities for NASA will require a recalibration of this partnership and open new opportunities for the CSA. Canada’s small but highly regarded commercial space sector will similarly see new business opportunities including the chance to enhance supply chain participation in the US space marketplace. 
But an expanded US space marketplace also implies expanded application of US rules in space and some in Canada may resist the extraterrestrial application of U.S. law in the same way that prior US efforts to apply rules extraterritorially in Earth-bound geopolitics led to strong objections from many Canadians.
To its credit, the paper is a reasonably good inventory of both US and Canadian legislation currently covering each nation's space policy.

The paper is especially good with its mention of the 2008 Canadian Long-Term Space Plan (LTSP), which was commissioned (but never adapted) by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the consequences of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which dealt with space at length in its second volume ("Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space"), but is seldom referenced by most commentators.

In fact, the paper was quite flattering to the Harper government although it was less than complimentary to the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government.

According to the position paper:
The Trudeau government has yet to put its stamp on Canadian space policy, and in particular, it has not taken decisions on major new spending or projects in which the Government of Canada will invest. 
The structures put in place to develop Canadian space policy and priorities are adequate to the task, but decisions must be taken to transform Canadian ambitions for a continued role in the space domain into achievements.
It also argued that a Canada-US partnership could benefit both sides:
First, Canada has been in the position of being one customer among many ever since it developed a space program, and so in contracting, cost-control, and the management of relationships Canada’s experience has value as a model for how US government entities might adapt. 
Second, Canada’s commercial space sector adds to and complements the same sector in the United States.

MDA Group President Mike Greenley is also on the lobbying circuit, a sure sign that, at least as of today, the Federal government has not made a final decision on how to support its space industry. Greenley will be speaking on the topic "Canada in the New Trillion Dollar Space Economy," at a private event sponsored by the Ontario Aerospace Council (OAC) in Toronto ON on February 15th, 2019. Photo c/o The Empire Club.

The Wilson Center White Paper concludes by stating that:
This review of recent space policy decisions taken in the United States and Canada point to the potential for the two countries to work together. The countries have similar goals, and now the structures necessary in place to facilitate action and partnership. 
With smaller budgets and a smaller space sector, as well as a preference for collaborating with other countries on space related scientific endeavors, Canada’s space policy development has been held back while the United States put its attention and resources elsewhere.  
The renewed US engagement on space provides the missing element for Canada: a set of missions and goals it can consider and even partner with the United States to attain.
But while the call for cooperation between the two nations almost certainly has the approval of many of the senior bureaucrats on both sides, the end result will likely be dependent of the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government and the upcoming 2019 Federal election, currently scheduled for October 2019.

Maybe we'll get some indication when the  2019 Federal Budget is released. Or maybe not.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Honeywell Will Formally Open Its Already Operational Smallsat Tech Incubator in Old COM DEV Facility

          By Henry Stewart

Maybe things are starting to look up for Canada's space industry.

Sometime this month, Charlottesville NC based Honeywell International, will formally open its Space Division’s Greenhouse, a technology and space focused incubator in a facility originally owned by the old Cambridge ON based COM DEV International.

Of course, the Honeywell Greenhouse has unofficially been opened for almost a year. It's been publically referenced as far back as the August 22nd, 2018 Space News post, "Small satellites are at the center of a space industry transformation" and many of its core staff have held their formal titles since June 2018.

Before then, most worked for COM DEV and focused on doing pretty much what they had been doing since Honeywell brought the iconic Canadian space company and spun out its Cambridge ON based exactEarth smallsat subsidiary as a separate company in late 2015.

But a formal announcement, as outlined in the January 7th, 2019 Space News post, "Honeywell to open technology incubator," has just got to come as good news, even if only as an implied commitment that the facility will remain open in some capacity.

According to Space News:
The market for geostationary communications satellites has slowed at a time when companies around the world are beginning to build small satellite constellations. 
Increasingly, customers demand reliable satellite components they can acquire quickly and inexpensively. To meet that demand, Honeywell is “picking technologies it is really good at making and bringing them into this new age,” Mississian said. 
Honeywell has 25 full-time employees working in the Greenhouse established in the Ontario, Canada, facility that was home to COM DEV International before Honeywell acquired the satellite component builder in 2015. The Greenhouse also pulls in expertise from the larger company.
The Greenhouse will work on a variety of projects relating to optical intersatellite links, reaction wheels, optical imagers and technology developed initially by COM DEV for Canadian government contracts.

As outlined in the September 1st, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Cambridge Facility Sees Workforce Reduction of 49% Since Honeywell Acquired Com Dev International," up to 49% of the facilities estimated 550 employees were either laid-off, retired of left the company within two years of it being acquired by Honeywell.

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

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