Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Time to Take a Break

This blog will be taking some time off to enjoy the summer, recharge our batteries, revise our distribution strategy and do our own small part to contribute to the upcoming Federal election scheduled for October 2019.

The Commercial Space blog will return with all new stories and a slightly updated format in October 2019.

Enjoy the summer.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Canadian Space Agency Role "Evolving," But Maxar Technologies Has a New $375Mln US Contract for the Lunar Gateway

          By Chuck Black

NASA has awarded Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies, in conjunction with Kent WA based Blue Origin and Cambridge MA based Draper, a "firm-fixed priced" contract worth up to $375Mln US ($505Mln CDN) to develop the lead element of NASA's planned Lunar Gateway, a component of the new Artemis plan to return US astronauts to the Moon by 2024.


Known as the power and propulsion element (PPE), the module is currently expected to launch in late 2022. The procurement process will be "non-traditional" which, as outlined in the May 20th, 2019 post, "NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers," is designed to keep costs down, lower oversight requirements and speed up implementation.

The announcement was made by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the Florida Institute of Technology on May 23rd, 2019.

The new Maxar contract comes only one day after Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte went to Washington to meet with Bridenstine and discuss speeding up the implementation schedule for Canada's contribution to the Lunar Gateway.

Maxar is also the prime contractor for the new "3rd generation" Canadarm, Canada's primary contribution to the Lunar Gateway. The new Canadarm is currently scheduled to be installed on the Lunar Gateway in 2027, well after the new Maxar PPE is operational and in-orbit.

This also makes the new Maxar PPE a higher operational priority for the program than any new Canadarm.


As outlined in the May 23rd, 2019 NASA press release, "NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion," the new Maxar contract will begin:
... with a 12-month base period of performance... followed by a 26-month option, a 14-month option and two 12-month options. 
Spacecraft design will be completed during the base period, after which the exercise of options will provide for the development, launch, and in-space flight demonstration. The flight demonstration will last as long as one year, during which the spacecraft will be fully owned and operated by Maxar. 
Following a successful demonstration, NASA will have the option to acquire the spacecraft for use as the first element of the Gateway. NASA is targeting launch of the power and propulsion element on a commercial rocket in late 2022. 
Maxar has based the PPE on its Palo Alto CA based SSL owned 1300-class satellite platform. As outlined in the May 23rd, 2019 Maxar press release, "Maxar Selected to Build, Fly First Element of NASA’s Lunar Gateway," the PPE will also include an "affordable and innovative" electric-propulsion-enabled system, which "will provide power, maneuvering, attitude control, communications systems and initial docking capabilities."

NASA's team on the left (with NASA Administrator Bridenstine second from the left) discusses politics and procurement with Canada's team on the right (with CSA President Laporte, the second from the right) in Washington on May 22nd, 2019. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2019 Space News post, "Canada mulls accelerated schedule to keep pace with NASA’s 2024 moon goal," noted that, while "NASA’s previous plans called for a return to the moon by 2028. Laporte described Canada’s role in the Gateway as “evolving” in light of the new 2024 target." Bridenstine and others within NASA have expressed an openness to foreign contractors working on the Maxar PPE, although no confirmed non-US subcontractors have so-far been announced. Photo c/o @JimBridenstine.

The press release also quoted Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky, who stated:
Maxar Space Solutions is proud to play a critical role in enabling American astronauts to build a sustainable presence on the Moon. Our power and propulsion element partnership enables NASA to leverage Maxar’s commercial capabilities to cost-effectively expedite plans for sustainable exploration of the Moon, while also providing significant benefits to American industry.
Time to change socks? Photo c/o Anonymous.
But it likely won't provide all that many benefits to Canada although it will be configured to accept that new Canadarm everyone expects to be installed in 2027.

Earlier this year and as outlined in the February 28th, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would be allocating $2.05Bln CDN over the next twenty-four years to build a new, 3rd generation Canadarm, to contribute to the NASA program.

Trudeau even made it the core of "Canada’s new, ambitious space strategy."

Then US President Donald Trump changed the plan. 

Canadian technology was no longer on the "critical path," at least until after the Americans return to the Moon in 2024.

That's not to say that Canada's contribution is no longer important. But it is a reminder that Canada's domestic space program is no longer totally in the hands of Canada's national space agency.

In a May 23rd, 2019 e-mail exchange with this blog, CSA media relations chief Marie-AndrΓ© Malouin noted that:
President Laporte and Administrator Bridenstine held one of their regular meetings on Washington on May 22. Their brief discussion focused on the lunar program, on the need for Canadian robotics on Gateway and on future collaborations. 
The positive outcome of their discussion is reflected in Jim Bridenstine's comments about Canada's partnership earlier today. We continue to work closely with NASA on the exciting lunar exploration campaign. This is just the beginning.
It is indeed the beginning of something.

Best guess is that, if you're a Canadian company looking to participate in the exploration of the Moon and other heavenly bodies, you might want to skip out on the courtesy call to CSA headquarters in Longueuil PQ and instead focus on making a direct connection with Maxar executives in Westminster CO.

After what happened today, the Colorado executives certainly seem to have more "pull." 
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

NASA's Leaked Artemis Lunar Exploration Plan Includes 37 Launches, 5 Crewed Landings and a Lunar Outpost

          By Chuck Black

Technology focused website Ars Technica claims to have obtained an internal NASA plan for the next 37 rocket launches to the Moon under the proposed Artemis program. The proposal includes the landing of the first of five human astronaut crews on the Moon in 2024 and culminates with the establishment a crewed base at the Lunar South Pole in 2028.

NASA's "notional" plan for a human return to the Moon by 2024 and the creation of a lunar outpost by 2028. Graphic c/o ArsTechnica.

As outlined in the May 20th, 2019 Ars Technica post, "NASA’s full Artemis plan revealed: 37 launches and a lunar outpost," the plan began circulating within NASA last week.

According to the post:
A graphic (above), provides information about each of the major launches needed to construct a small Lunar Gateway, stage elements of a lunar lander there, fly crews to the Moon and back, and conduct refueling missions. 
This decade-long plan, which entails 37 launches of private and NASA rockets, as well as a mix of robotic and human landers, culminates with a "Lunar Surface Asset Deployment" in 2028, likely the beginning of a surface outpost for long-duration crew stays. 
Developed by the agency's senior human spaceflight manager, Bill Gerstenmaier, this plan is everything (US VP Mike) Pence asked for—an urgent human return, a Moon base, a mix of existing and new contractors.
But the plan is currently missing two important components. According to the post:
It's not clear what role there would be on these charts for international partners, as nearly all of the vehicles could—and likely would—come from NASA or US based companies.  
Also missing is a discussion of the estimated total budget needed to fund the program.

As outlined in the May 20th, 2019 post, "NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers," much of the total cost will end up being dependent on the type of procurement methodologies the US uses to purchase the required vehicles and technologies.


But new money might not be easy to come by.

As outlined in the May 20th, 2019 Parabolic Arc post, "House Subcommittee Boosts NASA Budget, Ignores Supplemental Request," the US House of Representatives Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee has just approved a fiscal year 2020 NASA budget increase of $820Mln US ($1.1Bln CDN) over FY 2019.

The increase is far lower than the $1.6Bln US ($2.15Bln CDN) supplemental budget request from the Trump Administration that NASA says is required to land astronauts on the Lunar South Pole in 2024.

But it's also an initial negotiating position from only one of the many committees with input into the final deal. Over the next few months, we'll see if the US government can build out a useful consensus.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers

          By Henry Stewart

NASA has begun issuing contracts to US based companies to develop human rated lunar landers as part of US President Donald Trump's plan to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

In an effort to keep costs down and speed up program roll-out, the contracts will be based around "public/private partnership" procurement methodologies and not the "cost-plus" methodologies traditionally favored by NASA and other national space agencies, including Canada's.


As outlined in the May 16th, 2019 NASA press release, "NASA Taps 11 American Companies to Advance Human Lunar Landers," the new contracts were issued last week to eleven companies for preliminary design studies and the development of prototypes that "reduce schedule risk for the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system."

The awards total $45.5Mln US ($61Mln CDN) and "will help put American astronauts - the first woman and next man - on the Moon's south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028," according to the press release:
To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business. We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations," said Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters. 
"Our team is excited to get back to the Moon quickly as possible, and our public/private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process."
The awards were made under the NASA Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. The successful companies are required to contribute at least 20% of the total project cost of the contract.

To expedite the work, NASA will be invoking what they describe as "undefinitized" contract actions, which allow the agency to authorize partners to start on components of a larger project, while negotiations for the undefined project components continue in parallel.


The eleven companies receiving contracts are from eight states located across the US. They include:
  • Canoga Park CA based Aerojet Rocketdyne -  Awarded one contract for a transfer vehicle study.
  • Kent WA based Blue Origin - Awarded three contracts covering one descent element study, one transfer vehicle study and one transfer vehicle prototype.
  • Houston TX based Boeing - Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.
  • Huntsville AL based Dynetics -  Awarded six contracts covering one descent element study and five descent element prototypes.
  • Littleton CO based Lockheed Martin - Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study and one refueling element study.
  • Dulles VA based Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems -  Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.
  • Edison NJ based ORBITBeyond - Awarded two contracts covering two refueling element prototypes.
  • Louisville CO and Madison WI based Sierra Nevada Corporation - Awarded five contracts covering one descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype and one refueling element study.
  • Hawthorne CA based SpaceX - Awarded one contract covering one descent element study. 
  • Palo Alto CA based SSL - Awarded two contracts covering one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.


In April 2019, NASA notified US industry of its intention to partner with US based companies to develop an integrated lander.

The formal solicitation is expected to be issued sometime this summer, It's expected to provide a general overview of the requirements for a 2024 human landing, "and leave it to US industry to propose innovative concepts, hardware development and integration," according to the NASA press release.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

No Canadarms Needed Under Current US Plans to Return to the Moon by 2024 Says NASA's Gerstenmaier

          By Chuck Black

Short weeks after noting in the May 1st, 2019 post "The Canadian Space Agency has Begun Issuing Millions of Dollars in New Canadarm Contracts for the US Lunar Gateway" that, "if the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) really wanted to build a new "3rd generation Canadarm" for the NASA led US Lunar Gateway, then it might want to wait until someone figures out if and/or when the US wants one," someone has figured out that NASA doesn't really want one.

One of the most famous catchphrases of the 50s was from the TV show, The Life of Riley, which ran from 1953 to 1958. The show featured William Bendix as kind-hearted doofus Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at the Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. When Riley's well-intentioned blunders blew up in his face, he'd turn to the camera and exclaim,  "What a revoltin' development this is!" Kinda reminds you of Canada. Graphic c/o Imgflip.

At least not for today and not until an alternative plan to plant American astronaut boots on the Moon by 2024 is completed.

The information, as outlined in the May 14th, 2019 SpaceQ post, "Accelerated NASA Moon Landing Plan Doesn’t Need Canadian Robotic System," derived from a series of e-mails from Bill Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. The emails occurred after a May 13th, 2019 NASA teleconference announcing a preliminary budget for the Moon 2024 initiative and naming the project "Artemis."

According to the post, Gerstenmaier said that “at this point in our planning the robotic arm is not required for the 2024 landing.” He also said “we would like the arm as soon as available. The CSA arm concept is very creative and (could) be used inside (of the station) as well.”

This publication has never been a fan of SpaceQ, finding the writing and editorial stance tilted way too far away from journalism in favor of promoting legacy CSA subcontractors, but this particular article is timely and throws most of Canada's space community into a tailspin.

As outlined in the February 28th, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the initial announcement that Canada would be contributing to the US Lunar Gateway in late February, just before the 2019 Federal budget was released and the US decided to change its plan.


Unlike the current Canadian space program, which is locked in concrete until after the next Federal election in October 2019. the NASA's preliminary budget is still expected to be subjected to months of political infighting before being finalized.

As outlined in the May 14th, 2019 Space.com post, "Trump Proposes Extra $1.6Bln for NASA's 2024 Return to Moon," the proposed budgetgives NASA an additional $1.6Bln US ($2.2Bln CDN) in fiscal year 2020, on top of the $21Bln US ($28Bln CDN) already allocated to the space agency."

The plan calls for American astronauts to return to the moon using American made landers and hardware.

But NASA won't get the money "until Congress, which has the power of the purse, officially signs off." No one really knows when that will happen or what will happen with next years budget.

Most observers expect that far more funding will be required in future years. The long-term political prognosis for the proposal is, so far at least, far from favorable. 

So while its good that NASA's Mr. Gerstenmaier is still interested in getting free Canadarms which can be traded for future astronaut slots, informed Canadians should note that the US budget and its NASA component are targeted specifically at programs designed to further US interests.

Not Canadian interests. 


Back in March, almost as soon as Canada committed funding for the US Lunar Gateway, the US government, as outlined in the March 28th, 2019 post, "If NASA is Putting US Boots on the Moon by 2024, Who Will Pay for the Lunar Gateway and Space Launch System?," quietly began the process of throwing Canada's proposed contribution under the bus.

In retrospect, this country and the ruling Justin Trudeau Liberal government was foolish to bet so much of its space future on a US space program focused almost exclusively on US domestic and international concerns. 

Let's see about cleaning up our mistake. Canada's space activities should address Canadian concerns, grow Canada's space industry and solve Canadian problems on Canadian timetables.

We don't need to serve as an adjunct to someone else's space program.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Proposed CASTOR Space Telescope is Looking for Funding

          By Chuck Black

A design for a proposed Canadian space telescope intended to provide panoramic, high-resolution imaging in the UV/optical (0.15–0.55 Β΅m) spectral region is being revisited by many of the same academics, scientists and engineers who contributed to the initial design.


The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR) was the subject of a thirty five page Canadian Space Agency (CSA) position paper seven years ago, but the project has received no substantive funding since the paper was published in March 2012.

The original CASTOR proposal was developed in response to the Canadian Astronomical Society's (CASCA) 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy, a review of Canadian capabilities intended to outline "the broad goals and directions of astronomical and astrophysical research in Canada," over the period from 2010 - 2020.

It derived from an earlier CASCA plans to champion a domestically based large space telescope project in order to promote Canadian academic and private sector capabilities to the rest of the world.

As outlined in the CASCA 2010 Long Range Plan:

  • The highest priority in space astronomy is: “…significant involvement in the next generation of dark energy missions — ESA‘s Euclid, or the NASA WFIRST mission, or a Canadian-led mission, the Canadian Space Telescope (CST).”
  • … Canadian space astronomy technology has reached the point that we could [now] lead a large space astronomy mission (such as the Canadian Space Telescope).”
  • Leading such a project would break new ground for Canadian space astronomy and present numerous opportunities for Canadian companies to showcase technological capabilities.” 

The CASCA Joint Committee on Space Astronomy advises the CSA on matters pertaining to the space astronomy segment of the CSA space science program including priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms and funding. They thought that they had a decent chance of moving the program forward, but after the initial reception, the plan languished in unfunded space project purgatory, where it seemingly remained until last week.

Early milestones in CASCA's quest to generate the CST. Chart c/o the July 2014 CASCA CASTOR website

The revival came on the Space Matters website from one of the original authors of the 2012 CASTOR proposal. As outlined in the May 9th, 2019 Space Matters post, "CASTOR: a Beaver or a Canadian Space Telescope?," space astronomy is on the verge of a revolution:
In the next decade, a pair of sophisticated imaging telescopes — Europe’s Euclid mission and NASA’s WFIRST mission — will survey the skies at red-optical and infrared wavelengths, hoping to unlock the secrets of Dark Energy, a mysterious form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. 
CASTOR has been designed to complement these by providing razor-sharp images at shorter wavelengths, in the ultraviolet and blue-optical region.
CASTOR would not only open a new window on the cosmos, but it would succeed the legendary Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as the world’s preeminent imaging facility at these wavelengths. Launched in 1990, HST is nearing the end of its lifetime, and astronomers worldwide will soon lose access to the razor-sharp imaging capabilities that have propelled their research to new heights and captivated the pubic in the process.
Author Patrick CΓ΄tΓ© is an astronomer at the National Research Council’s (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria BC and one of the contributors to the 2012 CASTOR proposal.

The Space Matters website began in 2018 with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) PromoScience grant to the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at the University of Western Ontario (Western).

Current partners in the Space Matters collective also include the Canadian Association of Science Centres, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Partners in Research Canada, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Space Generation Advisory Council and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Cover page from the March 2012 CSA overview of CASTOR, which included a list of contributing authors. Cambridge ON based COM DEV International would likely have become the prime contractor for the program had it been approved and funded by the CSA, which accounts for the large number of COM DEV contributors. Graphic c/o CSA.

Will CASTER ever receive enough funding to move forward? That's not likely given the upcoming election and the uncomfortable fact that the natural prime contractor for the project is no longer in existence.

In November 2015, Cambridge ON based COM DEV International, a strong contributer to the 2012 CASTOR position paper, was purchased by Charlotte NC based Honeywell International.

It's unknown if the current owners would be able to take on the prime contractor role for CASTER. Maybe that's something that can be revisited at some point.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mr. Bezos Goes to the Moon

          By Brian Orlotti

On May 9th, Kent WA based Blue Origin, a private space firm company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos—revealed at an invite-only event in Washington DC its plans to send a lunar lander named Blue Moon to the Moon’s south pole.

Offering images of teeming, free-floating O’Neill space cylinders, Bezos’ ambition has drawn admiration, skepticism and cynicism alike.


Looking liked an amped-up Apollo lunar module designed by Syd Mead, the Blue Moon will be capable of autonomous navigation and delivering 3.6 to 6.5 metric tons of payload to the Moon’s surface.

Blue Moon can also carry as many as four large rovers, or an "ascent stage," which can launch from the lander to transport people off the Lunar surface. the surface of the Moon. The lander will use a newly developed engine called the BE-7, which will see its first ignition test this summer.

Blue Origin’s target, Shackleton Crater, is an area of both scientific interest as well as a source of two settlement-enabling resources; water and steady sunlight.

Lunar water, useful for drinking water as well as making rocket fuel, was first discovered in the 1990’s by NASA’s Lunar crater observation and sensing satellite (LCROSS) and more recently confirmed by India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. This water consists of ice deposits residing in the dark areas of craters, like Shackleton, where temperatures do not rise above -156 degrees Celsius.

The ice, likely mixed in with surface soil, could be present in quantities between 10 thousand and a hundred million tons at the Lunar south pole alone.  The lunar poles are also areas of lengthy (though not constant) sunlight, ideal for powering a lunar base via solar energy.

As noted in the May 13th, 2019 Thinknum.com post, "Billionaire Star Wars: Bezos' Blue Origin is now hiring more than Musk's SpaceX," Bezos has ramped up the hiring at Blue Origin. Graphic c/o Thinknum Open Dataset.

The Bezos presentation was likely an attempt to position Blue Origin as the vendor of choice for contracts expected to be issued by NASA over the next few months to support US President Donald Trump's plan to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

While this might not sit well with some of the more entrenched, traditional and "cost-plus" focused NASA subcontractors over the short term, it is the best opportunity for Bezos and Blue Origin to become a major industry player in the space industry. 
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Maxar Technologies Reports $504Mln US Consolidated Revenues and Net Loss of $0.99 US per share for Q1 2019

          By Chuck Black

Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies has reported a decrease in quarterly revenues due to "lackluster geostationary communication satellite sales," the wind down of new Canadian procurement requirements related to the now ready to launch RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) and the recent loss of its Worldview-4 high-resolution imaging satellite.

The front cover of the twenty-three page powerpoint deck covering its Q1 2019 quarterly conference call. For the complete deck, check out the MAy 10th, 2019 Seeking Alpha post, "Maxar Technologies Inc. 2019 Q1 - Results - Earnings Call Slides." For a transcript of the call, check out the May 10th, 2019 Seeking Alpha post, "Maxar Technologies Inc. (MAXR) CEO Dan Jablonsky on Q1 2019 Results - Earnings Call Transcript." Graphic c/o Maxar. 

The comments were made by Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky during a May 9th, 2019 Maxar earnings call. Other Maxar participants on the call included EVP/CFO  Biggs Porter and VP of investor relations Jason Gursky.

As outlined in the May 9th, 2019 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies Reports First Quarter 2019 Results," key points of the quarterly report included:
  • Consolidated revenues of $504Mln US ($677Mln CDN).
  • A net loss of $0.99 US ($1.33CDN) per share.
  • A adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA1) of $117Mln US ($157Mln CDN) with a adjusted EBITDA1 margin of 23%.
As outlined in the May 8th, 2019 Maxar Press release, "Maxar Board of Directors Approves Quarterly Dividend," Maxar has also issued a quarterly dividend of $0.01 US per share payable on June 28th, 2019 to shareholders of record as of the close of business on June 14th, 2019.

According to CEO Jablonsky, the company remains "laser focused" on reducing the $3.18Bln US ($4.27Bln CDN) debt load, built up during its acquisition of Westminster CO based DigitalGlobe in 2017.

Maxar stock prices dropped sharply after the release of the earnings report from a May 9th, 2019 high of $6.71 US to $5.98 on May 10th, but have since recovered slightly in moderate trading.

The jury is still out on whether Maxar acted prudently by retaining its geostationary communication satellite manufacturing facility and its quarterly dividend. Both cost money to retain and with a growing debt load, the company will likely need to reassess its choices in the near future.

Here's hoping that Maxar can pull a rabbit out of the hat sometime soon.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Procurement is How Governments Reward NASA and CSA's Subcontractors, Domestic Shipbuilders and SNC Lavalin

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that the current US plans to return to the Moon by 2024 are being held up more by procurement issues and whether cost-plus pricing or fixed cost contracts will provide the best combination of jobs and off-sets to the powerful than by any lack of willpower, technology or scientific knowledge.


The US Congress grilled representatives from NASA earlier this week over the agency’s "failure to deliver a plan for getting back to the Moon within five years."

As outlined in the May 8th, 2019 The Verge post, "NASA’s plan to get to the Moon by 2024 isn’t ready yet," the plan "was supposed to be ready by mid-April but NASA officials say it’ll probably be a couple more weeks until the details are finalized and delivered."

That time-line is likely a little optimistic. The program won't be ready to fly anytime soon, unless a great deal of new money is set aside to fund it.

As outlined in the March 27th, 2019 Forbes post, "'Get Americans On The Moon In 5 Years' - VP Mike Pence Challenges NASA," the US VP called for "American astronauts to be back on the Moon within the next five years," during a speech at the Huntsville AL based US Space and Rocket Center on March 21st, 2019.

At that time, it was also expected that the White House would be able to present a budget for accomplishing the goal within a few weeks.

Time flies when you're having fun.

Of course, the US has a history of funding space programs such as the Space Launch System (SLS) which, while highly expensive, never really seem to get off the ground. The latest attempt to cancel or wind-down that program was rolled out as part of the March 2019 NASA budget request.


At one point, as outlined in the March 16th, 2019 post, "Bridenstine Reassures SLS/Orion Workforce That They're Still Needed," the White House even considered using the far less expensive (and mostly operational) commercial crew rockets to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. NASA backtracked only a few days later under pressure from SLS contractors and a variety of others.

In Canada, government procurement from the space industry is a little more subtle.

Graphic c/o Idlehearts.com.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) generally prefers not to use pay-for-performance contracts, a situation which has historically allowed our larger space firms to make money throughout the prototyping and life-cycle phases of a program by recording normal changes and improvements to the design and charging extra to make those changes.

But the case of Canadian Admiral Mark Norman, as recently noted in the May 9th, 2019 National Post article, "In an inspired performance, Norman lawyer Marie Henein did incalculable damage to the Trudeau brand," does suggest a large political component associated with winning large Canadian procurement projects under the current government.

If nothing else, it seems obvious by now that the Federal Conservatives under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper favored a different Federal contractor for shipbuilding in 2015 than the Justin Trudeau Liberal government favored in 2016 and Admiral Norman suffered for this.

The current Federal government also seems to have preferences in other areas of procurement, as the recent stories about Montreal PQ based SNC Lavalin illustrate.

It's also worth noting the general consensus in Ottawa that there are procurement contracts relating to the 3rd generation Canadarm which will likely be won by Brampton ON based MDA, a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, governments used procurement to purchase services useful to its constituents. Maybe they still do, somewhere.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Another Storied Canadian Aerospace Company Twists in the Fiscal Wind

          By Henry Stewart

Anyone remember those grand old days when Montreal PQ based Bombardier Aerospace actually built planes?


As outlined in the May 6th, 2019 Leeham News and Analysis post, "The decline and fall of Bombardier," those days are mostly done.

According to the post, with the announcement that its Belfast manufacturing facility and a smaller one in Morocco are for sale, Bombardier retains control over the manufacture of only the CRJ regional series of airliners. However, analysts expect that this facility will also be sold in the near future.

According to the post:
Bombardier pioneered the regional jetliner and dominated the turboprop sector.
(But Brazilian based Embraer surpassed the former and ATR (the Blagnac, France based ATR Aircraft) the latter.
A bold move to jump into the lower end of the market dominated by Airbus and Boeing, coupled with bad management and over-extending the balance sheet, nearly bankrupted the company.
As outlined in the January 29th, 2018 post, "A Pyrrhic Victory for Bombardier," that last near catastrophe was only averted when Bombardier "partnered" with Toulouse, France based aerospace powerhouse Airbus SE.

Earlier this month, as outlined in the May 2nd, 2019 Bombardier press release, "Bombardier Reports First Quarter 2019 Financial Results and New Strategic Direction for Aerospace, the formation of Bombardier Aviation," the company announced that it was consolidating  its aerospace assets "into a single, streamlined, and fully integrated Bombardier Aviation business unit."

Except, of course, for the parts that it's not trying to sell in an effort to cover its over extended balance sheet. Those components include the Belfast manufacturing facility and, as outlined in the May 6th, 2019 Globe and Mail post, "Bombardier to be supplied by Morocco plant after sale: minister," the smaller manufacturing facility in Morocco.

As outlined in the post, "Canada’s Bombardier Inc will sell its wing component plant in Morocco to a manufacturer that will continue to supply Bombardier after a sale, Moroccan Industry Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy said on Monday."

The new owner will be revealed in three weeks.

Bombardier reported $2.1Bln US ($2.83Bln CDN) in revenues in the three month period ending March 31th, a drop of 11% over the same period last year.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Telesat Prepares to Issue Contracts for its $3Bln CDN Constellation

          By Chuck Black

It's fortunate that Canada's space industry isn't entirely dependent on the $2Bln CDN in new Federal contracts expected to be issued for the US led Lunar Gateway program over the next twenty-four years.

Telesat isn't the only company attempting to build out these complex. satellite constellations As outlined in the March 13th, 2018 Space News post, "LEO and MEO broadband constellations mega source of consternation," the demand for ever-faster broadband internet connections "is maxing out today’s satellites, setting off an industry-wide stampede toward increasingly powerful high-throughput satellites (HTS)." Graphic c/o Space News.

A larger, mostly private sector series of contracts worth approximately $3Bln CDN in total is also expected to roll out within the next few months from Ottawa ON based Telesat for its proposed constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) small communications satellites.

Telesat is competing against London UK based OneWeb, Hawthorne CA based SpaceX and a variety of other satellite providers attempting to build out enormously complex, but potentially profitable satellite communications networks able to compete with existing DSL, cable, fibre and/or other ground based terrestrial networks in urban areas plus provide internet access to rural regions currently without service.

As outlined in the May 2nd, 2019 Space News post, "Telesat to receive constellation bids this summer," Ottobrunn Germany based Airbus Defence is competing for the Telesat contract against a consortium of companies wrapped around Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies and Paris France based Thales Alenia.

Both Airbus and the Maxar/Thales consortium already possess connections with Telesat competitor, OneWeb.

As most recently noted in the May 6th, 2019 SpaceQ post, "Airbus and Thales Alenia Space-Maxar Consortium Complete Milestones in Bid for Telesat Contract," Brampton ON based MDA, a Maxar subsidiary, is providing antennas for OneWeb satellites. And, as outlined on the Airbus website promoting their OneWeb satellite contributions, OneWeb and Airbus have teamed up to design and manufacture up to 900 satellites for the OneWeb constellation.

Airbus and the Maxar/Thales have also said they’re willing to establish factories in Canada to build the satellites.


According to Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg, the next step in the process "would be getting commercial proposals from both of these prospective suppliers,” an activity expected to move forward over the summer.

As outlined in the May 6th, 2019 Telesat press release, "Another Milestone for Telesat’s LEO Program – Manufacturing Teams Complete System Definition and Risk Management Phase," both teams are moving forward with their bid. The proposals are focused around how the satellites would be built and inter-operate with ground systems once in orbit.

According in the April 9th, 2019 post, "Telesat Hires a Four Year Old US Based Start-up to Launch its Satellites," Telesat has signed multiple-launch agreements with at least two launch providers, but hasn't specified how many satellites each company will launch.

Much of the funding for the Telesat LEO constellation is expected to be provided through the $1.7Bln CDN Universal Broadband Fund, first noted earlier this year as part of the Budget 2019 commitment to universal high speed internet access for all Canadians.

Telesat plans to have the constellation in service in 2022 and is expected to decide on a prime contractor to manufacture the satellites in the second quarter of 2019. The Telesat constellation is expected to contain 292 satellites, but could potentially grow to 512 satellites.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Toronto Based Kepler Communications Hires Former Inmarsat Executive as Strategy Advisor

          By Henry Stewart

While its entertaining to report on student focused events and educational outreach posts originating from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), sometimes one of the grown-ups in our domestic space industry does something deserving of note.

As the then Inmarsat VP of business development and strategy, McDougal was one of the presenters at the 2nd Annual European Satellite Day, which was held on September 5th, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium. Photo c/o Flicker

For example, Toronto ON based Internet-of-things satellite start-up Kepler Communications has just up-ended the typical career path of a distinguished Canadian working abroad.

"As a Canadian who has worked overseas all my professional life, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with the Toronto-based Kepler team – smart, highly motivated and ambitious,’’ according to  Patrick McDougal, Kepler's new strategy advisor. "I am delighted to contribute my experiences as I believe that they have what it takes for long-term success. I’m happy to be with them for the next stage of the journey.’’

As outlined in the April 30th, 2019 Kepler Communications press release, "Kepler Hires Former Inmarsat Chief Strategy Officer Patrick McDougal," McDougal joined Kepler this month as a strategy advisor to support its business units. According to the press release:
McDougal is a veteran business strategist within the satellite telecommunications industry with over 30 years of senior experience working for global leaders in the sector such as Inmarsat (29 years) and Intelsat (4 years). 
Before joining Kepler, McDougal was a member of the executive management team at London UK based Inmarsat plc where "he led a number of initiatives including the acquisition of various companies, securing EU-wide spectrum licenses that advanced Inmarsat’s market strength, and global oversight of the company’s overall corporate business development efforts," according to the May 1st, 2019 Telecompaper post, "Kepler hires former Inmarsat chief strategy officer McDougal."

Welcome home, Mr. McDougal. Best of luck with your latest venture.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The Canadian Space Agency has Begun Issuing Millions of Dollars in New Canadarm Contracts for the US Lunar Gateway

          By Chuck Black

If the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) really wanted to build a new "3rd generation Canadarm" for the NASA led US Lunar Gateway, then it might want to wait until someone figures out if and/or when the US wants one.


After all, as outlined most recently in the April 22nd, 2019 post, "Second Thoughts About Bolting Canada's Space Future to the US Lunar Gateway," the US has already moved away from its original proposal to build the Gateway by 2028 and embraced (at least for today) a far more ambitious plan to return American astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024.

No one is sure if the new plan would even need another Canadarm, although its expected that the usual contractors will argue that jobs, corporate profits, the upcoming election and an intangible "Canadian pride" all depend on continued Federal funding for every existing component of the original plan along with additional funding for all the hoped for new components.

The Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to have embraced the contractors perspective. As outlined in the April 26th, 2019 request for proposal (RFP) on the Federal government BuyandSell procurement website under the title, "Gateway External Robotics Interfaces (GERI) Large and Dextrous Arms Interfaces - Phase A (9F052-18-0865)," the CSA has has issued a $2.7Mln CDN Phase-A RFP for a "Lunar Gateway External Large" plus a $3.8Mln CDN Phase-A RFP for "Dextous Arms Interfaces."

The RFPs are a follow-up to the January 29th, 2019 BuyandSell procurement website request for information (RFI) under the title, "Gateway External Robotics Interfaces - Large and dexterous arms interfaces (9F052-18-0648)." Both the original RFI and the current RFPs were issued under the CSA Deep Space Exploration Robotics (DSXR) initiative.

Conventional wisdom expects Brampton ON based MDA, a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies, to receive awards under both parts of the contract, unless the election is called before the awards can be announced.

Both RFPs close on June 13th, 2019 and call for work to be completed before August 31st, 2020. The next Canadian Federal election is scheduled to take place on or before October 21st, 2019 and will likely be called three months before hand, to allow appropriate time for a proper campaign.


The problem with this sort of procurement is quite simply that, once the project is in the funding funnel it's very difficult to cancel the program, even if the customer requirements change.

A good example of this are the various iterations of US space shuttle derived launch vehicles which, since 1991, have been consistently been rolled out under promises to retain existing expertise at a lower cost, but eventually outgrew their budget and were scaled back and canceled before ever actually flying.

The component parts of the program were then repackaged under a new name and refunded, at least until they also spent too much money and got canceled.

As outlined in the May 1st, 2012 post, "Media Reports: CSA "Lost in Space," RADARSAT "Over Budget" & UrtheCast "Hyped Vaporware"," Canada has also come across one or two of these types of programs.

Most were never really meant to create usable technology. Instead, their intent was to achieve political ends and preserve local jobs and existing corporations which would continue to support the incumbent governments in a variety of ways.

PM Trudeau at CSA headquarters in PQ on February 28th, 2019 during a presentation announcing that Canada would allocate approximately $2Bln CDN over the next twenty four years to support the US plan to build a Lunar Gateway by 2028 as a preliminary step before returning astronauts to the Moon and Mars. But in late March, the US publicly pivoted away from that plan towards a new plan to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024. As outlined in the May 1st, 2019 Space News post, "NASA outlines plan for 2024 lunar landing," the current version of the plan calls for a "minimal version of the Lunar Gateway" with power, propulsion and "some kind of docking/ habitation small module." No word on whether any of those modules will need an arm. Photo c/o Adam Scotti/PMO.

And this specific Canadarm funding program, as noted in the  February 28, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," was personally announced by the Canadian Prime Minister, so he's likely to double down on his commitment, even if there is no immediate customer requirement.

Given that, it looks like the new Canadarm program is at risk of becoming the latest in a series of expensive government procurement boondoggles.

It might even end up like CSA Moon rover program, where Canada spent a lot of money and hype beginning in the early 2000's to design, test and build demonstrators, but never got around to actually landing one on another heavenly body.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

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