Thursday, November 26, 2015

Say Hello to the New US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

          By Chuck Black

US president Barack Obama has just signed into law the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (HR 2262) of 2015. The action is a pointed reminder that lawmakers, advocates and those who can access the resources are often the real facilitators of space exploration.

If Canada wishes to compete effectively in the next great space age, we might want to consider passing a similar law.

An infographic outlining the possible profits to be made from the nascent space mining industry. As outlined in the November 10th, 2015 press release, "Planetary Resources Applauds U.S. Congress in Recognizing Asteroid Resource Property Rights," the legislation encourages "private sector investment" and "a more stable and predictable regulatory regime." According to the November 16th, 2015 press release, "Deep Space Industries Congratulates U.S. Congress on Landmark Legislation," the extension of ownership rights under US law to now include recovered space resources, as outlined in HR2262, "will allow the capital markets to take a closer look at the space resource utilization industry, now that we have a legal framework for operations.” Graphic c/o Planetary Resources

As outlined in the November 24th, 2015 Fortune article, "Obama is About to Give Private Space Companies a Big Break," the HR2262 bill has passed both the US Senate and Congress and was expected to be signed into law later this week.

According to the article, HR2262 would extend a so-called “learning period” for the industry until at least 2023, keeping agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from regulating commercial space companies as closely as the rest of the aerospace industry. The intent of the bill is to exempt start-up "newspace" companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic from most US government oversight and regulation for the next eight years, as they develop and test new technologies.

The current act is the follow-on from a 2004 bill, which was set to expire at the end of this year.

HR2262 also:
  • Defines and codifies ownership and extraction of resources in space in a manner consistent with existing US law. 
  • Extends third party indemnification for launch services companies through September 30, 2025.
As outlined in the November 14th, 2015 Space Safety Magazine article, "Senate Passes Compromise Commercial Space Bill," HR2262 even provides a "use policy" for NASA’s space launch system (SLS).

 HH2262 isn't a new idea. This paper on "Creating A Robust Canadian Space Research Exploration & Development Industry - The Canadian Mineral Industry Flow-Though Share Analog," written by a mining executive and three MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) senior executives, was originally presented at the 2008 Canadian Space Summit. Its thesis was that private capital would flow into the space industry if the government provided the same tax breaks and legal protections (such as the ability to stake a "claim" on space based resources) as was provided to the mining industry.  The paper became the basis for the second of  three Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) submissions to the 2012 Emerson Aerospace review under the title "Using Tools from the Mining Industry to Spur Innovation and Grow the Canadian Space Industry." Graphic c/o CSS

Of course, not everyone is happy with the new law, especially its provisions related to the ability of individuals and the private sector to stake claims over space based assets as a preliminary to working those claims and ownership of the assets which may be derived from those claims.

As outlined in the November 26th, 2015 NewEurope article, "Obama signs controversial space ownership law," it "remains unknown whether the unilateral move by the US to claim space ownership is valid."

The article also quoted the Popular Science website that, "according to the Outer Space Treaty, which the US, Russia, and a number of other countries have signed, nations can’t own territory in space," and despite arguments claiming otherwise "this prohibition also extends to private entities.”

But, for those who'd care to check, there are obvious, relevant, historical examples of what did happen in situations where resources were subject to multiple competing claims and jurisdictions.

Back in the day when he was simply the ex-president of the Canadian Space Society (CSS), future Deep Space Industries CEO Daniel Faber wrote an interesting commentary on "Who Owns the Moon?: Extraterrestrial Aspects of Land and Mineral Resources Ownership" by Virgiliu Pop. As outlined in the February 5th, 2010 post, "Feedback on 'The Men Who've Sold the Moon',"  history has a number of examples that show "how the implementation of appropriate ownership rights over a communally owned environment," can allow individuals, corporations and even nations to benefit from the exploitation of natural resources, whether they're on Earth or in space. 

One example would be the 1848 California gold rush. The initial find was in Sutter's Mill, California, which was then technically a part of Mexico, although the territory was under American military occupation in the aftermath of the Mexican–American War. This historical situation created an environment where local residents operated under a confusing and changing mixture of Mexican rules, military regulations, American principles and personal dictates.

So what happened?

Essentially, the initially unorganized locals (and not the far distant, competing governments in Washington and Madrid) coalesced their disparate principles and dictates into a coherent system of rules they could operate under, for which ownership of resources required both access to the resource being claimed and the ability to utilize the resource within a reasonable time frame. Those who couldn't access and work a claim would lose it in favor of those who could.

By the 1860's many of these ad-hoc regulations had been proven so successful at adjudicating claims and encouraging development that they had been incorporated into US Federal law, where they mostly remain to this day.

HR2262 is a logical progression of earlier US laws and regulations in this area.

And the earlier gold rush in California is of direct relevance now, when access to space is not easily assured by private prospectors or even nation states, and space activities are addressed by possibly contradictory national laws (the most recent of which is HR2262) and international treaties (especially the 1967 Outer Space Treaty).

Of course, the basics of the technology needed to harvest space resources has existed for some time, and access to space is now improving thanks to companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, who were given several additional years of reduced regulations as part of other provisions included within HR2262.

And now that at least one nation has allowed for the legal ability to make an advanced claim on space resources, we can begin moving forward in this area.

Chuck Black.
It least, that's the case if you're an American citizen or corporation subject to US laws which now include HR 2262.

But Canadians are neither creating the laws, nor building the rockets nor in possession of the appropriate assets to stake a competitive claim in this area.

We should change this and the first step in doing so is to pass our own version of HR2262.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. He also wrote the second of three CSCA submissions to the 2012 Emerson Aerospace Review. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Scientists, Astronauts & Politicians at First Ministers' Meeting

          By Henry Stewart

The new Federal government has come to the obvious conclusion that astronauts and scientists are sexy, knowledgeable and authoritative, which is probably why they were so much in evidence during Monday's First Ministers' meeting.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau with Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen at the First Ministers meeting on Monday, November 23rd. Given the obvious benefits which undoubtedly derive from simply standing next to an astronaut, it seems to be only a matter of time before the new Federal government announces a massive funding initiative to ensure a continued supply of these photogenic heroes. Photo c/o @csa_asc.

As outlined in the November 23rd, 2015 Federal government press release, "Prime Minister hosts First Ministers’ Meeting," prime minister Justin Trudeau met with provincial and territorial premiers to discuss the country's strategy to fight climate change in advance of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place from November 30th - December 11th, in Paris, France.

The meeting also discussed the next steps to support the successful resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, with a focus on how to support their integration following a robust security screening process.

The last first ministers' meeting was in 2009.

Astronaut Hansen, who always seems to wear a NASA/CSA jumpsuit instead of a business suit to these sorts of events, posing with innovation minister Navdeep Bains and science minister Kirsty Duncan at the First Ministers meeting on Monday. Photo c/o @csa_asc.

Prior to the meeting, a climate science briefing was provided by senior environment and climate change Canada scientist Dr. Greg Flato and Ouranos executive director Mr. Alain Bourque. Ouranos is a Montreal-based consortium which focuses on climate science.

The briefing was moderated by Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen.

As outlined in the November 23rd, 2015 Canadian Press and National Post article, "Five things to know about the first ministers’ meeting on climate change ahead of Paris talks," the intent of the Monday meeting was to "demonstrate to the international community" that the new Canadian PM has "at least taken the first steps towards delivering on that commitment (to take steps to mitigate climate change) and that Canada is now serious about combating climate change after a decade in which the country was widely condemned as an environmental laggard."

Now that the photo-ops are done, expect new Canadian based but space focused technology suitable for measuring and mitigating climate change to surface, in the run up to the Paris meeting.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Two New Government Players Looking to Prove their Usefulness

          By Chuck Black, with files from Chris Gainor

CSA president Laporte at the summit on November 18th. Photo c/o Chris Gainor.
It's noteworthy that neither Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte, who finally made his first domestic job related speech during the 2015 Canadian Space Summit in Vancouver, nor new Federal innovation minister Navdeep Bains, during his presentation at the 2015 Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa, focused their talks on anything other than getting up to speed on their jobs and building on the accomplishments of their predecessors.

Both know full well that the real challenge for political players is to simply "hold on to your hats" and "go with the flow" until the current firestorm of changes now underway is mostly complete, defined and understandable.

Only then will either be in a position to do what government does best and push, file, stamp, index, brief, debrief and number those changes into a nicely wrapped package comprehensible to the typical public servant.

Laporte was perhaps the most overt. He confessed that he had indeed appeared at international events since appointment in March, 2015 as CSA president, but that this was his first domestic event. He said he was still learning the space arena and felt that, at least in his current position, “every day is a new discovery.”

He also mentioned his five year mandate and commented that "I plan to be here for the duration.” He even credited his predecessor, ex-CSA president, former defence chief and current deputy minister of veterans affairs Walt Natynczyk, who quarterbacked a series of changes "that were important to Ottawa," including the development of the 2014 space policy framework.

Laporte promised to work with both minister Bains and science minister Kirsty Duncan in a program expected to include "targeted investments" in space technologies, which may or may not be a veiled reference to additional funding for the CSA space technology development program (STDP),

UrtheCast CEO Scott Larson, perhaps the most successful of the new breed of Canadian based "NewSpace" entrepreneurs, also spoke at the 2015 Canadian Space Summit, which was held in Vancouver from November 19th - 20th. As outlined in the November 12th, 2015 Space News post, "UrtheCast Shelves New ISS Camera To Focus on Satellite Constellation," UrtheCast is currently preparing to role out "a 16-satellite constellation of eight optical and eight synthetic-aperture radar satellites in low Earth orbit." The project, if successful, will place the company in direct competition with Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and its iconic RADARSAT Constellation mission (RCM), which uses much the same technology and is expected to be launched in 2018. According to the article, UrtheCast will subcontract the construction of the satellites to British based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) which, oddly enough, already gets subcontracting work from both MDA and the Canadian government. As outlined in the October 10th, 2011 post, "SAR Satellite Designers Living in Interesting Times," SSTL first rolled out plans for a new generation of low cost SAR satellites in 2011. Photo c/o Business Vancouver.

According to Laporte, four major national or international space missions are currently on the CSA's to-do list. They are the NASA Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, scheduled for launch in 2016; the Canadian Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), scheduled for launch in 2018; the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, also scheduled for 2018 and the NASA Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, scheduled for launch in 2020.

Minister Bains, in his role as keynote speaker for the aerospace summit, which was held in Ottawa from November 17th - 18th, was perhaps a bit braver.

Minister Bains at the IP office on November 17th. Photo @CIPO_Canada.
As outlined in the November 18th Federal government transcript of his presentation, under the title of "Building Strong Ties with Canada's Aerospace Industry," he said:
I have the Emerson report (the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which was organized through the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which organized the summit, and served as the core of conservative government policy in this area under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper) on my desk. Rather than reading the 25 recommendations, I thought I would call Mr. Emerson instead. 
I am aware of the work that the Association and its members did with Mr. Emerson on the Review of Aerospace and Space Policies and Programs. 
I'm impressed by what has been accomplished, and I'll review what remains to be implemented...
He also promised to support research and technology development, ("a large focus for my department") encourage the trade of Canadian products and services abroad ("which is key to industry growth"), provide assistance with the safety certification of aircraft and parts (a "critical step in the development and production process") and assist with defence acquisition ("which has the potential to leverage significant industrial and technological benefits").

The real burr under the saddle of the new Liberal government has nothing to do with the space industry. It's the Bombardier  C-Series, shown here taking off on its maiden test flight at the Bombardier facility in Mirabel, PQ on September 16, 2013. As outlined in the November 21st, 2015 iPolitics post, "Mr. Trudeau’s Bombardier problem," Montreal based Bombardier is looking for the Federal government to bolster the recent billion dollar Quebec government investment in the company, either by providing further direct financial support or else by facilitating the sale of Bombardier jets to Toronto based Porter Airlines, which intends to operate them from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Islands. As outlined in the November 13th, 2015 Toronto Star post, "Ottawa kills Porter’s plans for island airport jets," the recent decision by transport minister Marc Garneau to reject this option sets the stage for a future battle between Montreal and Toronto based Liberal MP's. Even better, as outlined in the November 4th, 2015 Financial Post article, "Canada’s railways optimistic that new transport minister Marc Garneau can thaw frigid relations," the transport minister is shortly expected to receive an "arm’s-length review" of transportation issues from the very same David Emerson who headed the 2012 aerospace review. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Photo c/o Canadian Press /Ryan Remiorz.

Bains also categorized his role as being "to help Canadian businesses grow, innovate and export so that they can create good quality jobs and wealth for Canadians."

Of course, both presentations are full of good thoughts from good people who are at the beginning of their journey to define roles and there is certainly nothing wrong with any of the sentiments being voiced.

Chuck Black.
But, over the next few months, it might be for the best if we started judging both president Laporte and minister Bains by their slowly accumulating actions, and not simply by their far-too-easy to mouth, preliminary statements.

Hold on to your hats...

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.