Monday, March 02, 2015

Will the Last MDA Employee Leaving the Country, Please Turn out the Lights

          By Brian Orlotti

MDA CEO Dan Friedmann. Photo c/o MDA.
While Richmond BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) is benefiting from a "surging" international demand for Earth observation satellites and data, none of that business is coming from Canada and the company is currently transferring resources out of the country to follow the market.

At least that's the story coming out of the February 25th, 2015 fourth quarter conference call, a transcript of which is available online as part of the February 26th, 2016 Seeking Alpha article, "MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates' (MDDWF) CEO Dan Friedmann on Q4 2014 Results - Earnings Call Transcript."

As outlined in the transcript, with the Canadian government's lack of interest in new space related-projects, it seems obvious that Canada’s leading space firm, one of the "Three Kings" of the Canadian space industry, has in effect lost its home market.

A large source of the increased demand for earth observation data, according to MDA CEO Daniel E. Friedmann, is the US government. After a period of reduced spending in 2014 due to US budget sequestration, 2015 has seen renewed US government spending in intelligence-related earth observation.

Overview of MDA SS/L facilities in Palo Alto, CA. Power point slide from the June 27th, 2012 MDA conference call on the acquisition.

As outlined in the June 27th, 2012 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler buys Space Systems Loral for $875M," MDA was initially able to become a supplier for US satellite contracts through its 2012 purchase of Palo Alto, CA based Space Systems Loral (SSL), which provided the firm with a US based manufacturing facility, as required under US law.

Subsequent US purchases have followed, the most recent being the October 2014 $40Mln US ($50.15Mln CDN) cash purchase of General Dynamics Advanced Systems, as outlined in the October 5th, 2014 IHS Janes 360 article, "MDA completes purchase of Advanced Systems business from General Dynamics."

Beyond the US, MDA is pursuing a strategy of joint ventures rather than acquisitions. Currently in the works are joint ventures in Brazil, India and Turkey. In Brazil, MDA is preparing to bid on a coastal-surveillance project. In parallel with its Indian joint venture, MDA is also preparing to bid on a contract for an Indian geostationary orbit telecom satellite. In Turkey, MDA has  even won a joint contract with Aselsan Electronics Industries to provide a Ku-band payload for the Turksat 6A telecom satellite.

The Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (DEXTRE), a two-armed robot manufactured by MDA for use with the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm in Brampton, Ontario in 2007. As outlined in the March 7th, 2013 Bloomberg article, " MacDonald Dettwiler Launches to Orbit on Satellite Boom," the SSL purchase was always considered "critical" to MDA’s growth. Photographer: Norm Betts/Bloomberg.

Friedmann also stated that MDA believes that contracts for several massive low-Earth-orbit commsat's will soon be within reach. SpaceX and Google, OneWeb, the Virgin Group and others have laid out plans for constellations of hundreds, even thousands, of satellites.

All of this contrasts with MDA's shrinking Canadian business, which once totaled over $200Mln CDN per year, but now stands at only half that.

Most telling of all was Friedmann's comment on Canada’s traditional power base of space robotics and satellites:
This is in the process of disappearing...Basically, we have lost our indigenous customer.
Brian Orlotti.
Only time will tell whether other firms can step in and find their own place, independent of government support, in Canada's space sector.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The REAL Reason our Next Space Agency Head is a Marketing Maven and IP Commercializer

          By Chuck Black

Sylvain Laporte. Photo c/o Industry Canada.
The Friday announcement that Sylvain Laporte, currently the commissioner of patents and registrar of trademarks in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), will shortly become the next president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), suggests a series of obvious conclusions concerning future CSA initiatives.

To begin with, and as outlined on the CIPO website, it's worth noting that Laporte spent the last few years responsible for the administration of regulations surrounding the development and commercialization of Canadian derived intellectual property (IP).

This is a skill-set which past CSA presidents, typically focused on science and the international glad-handing needed to retain access to US continental defence resources and the International Space Station (ISS), have generally not spent many cycles cultivating.

This is mostly because, up until a few years ago, it was quite common for federal government agencies to treat technology developed through government programs as government property which they would refuse to release to the private sector, a process which violated long-standing federal regulations.

The June 10th, 2011 post, "Federal Government Improperly Hoarding Patents," discussed then auditor general Sheila Fraser's report on this practice. The October 10th, 2010 post "Overnight Success Plus IP Rights," discussed how unusual it was, even as recently as four years ago, for a CSA contractor to retain IP developed through CSA contracts.

But the CIPO mandate does dovetail well with the traditional mandate of Industry Canada (IC), the government department to which CIPO and CSA both belong. As outlined on the 2012-2013 archived IC website, the IC mission "is to foster a growing, competitive, knowledge-based Canadian economy."

As outlined in the July 12th, 2012 Managing Intellectual Property article, "Sylvain Laporte, Canadian Intellectual Property Office; Inventors, Not IP Agents," his goal at CIPO was to make Canadian companies more competitive by using intellectual property to leverage innovation "and to better understand the innovator."

CIPO and CSA are both governed by IC policies on science and technology (S&T) such as the May 2007 Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Report and the June 2009 follow-up Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Progress Report. These policies generally advocate turning over intellectual property developed through government programs to the private sector for commercialization.

The official portal for commercializing technology developed under CSA programs is the CSA technology transfer portal.  According to the website, this is where "business and research interests can be joined with CSA technology transfer experts and excellent licensing opportunities." Graphic c/o CSA technology transfer portal. 

Laporte also possesses substantive expertise in other IC departments focused on IP and commercialization activities. As outlined in the March 11th, 2011 IC press release, "Sylvain Laporte Appointed to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office," these include stints as executive director of the Industrial Technologies Office (ITO), manager of the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI) and other projects under Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) such as the Hydrogen Early Adopters Program (HEAP) and the Program for Strategic Industrial Projects (PSIP).

Given this background, a fair assumption is that the new space agency head will focus far more on commercialization and the farming out of IP derived from space agency activities to private industry and far less on scientific and international initiatives.

A recent example of this would be the February 27th, 2015 Edmonton Sun article, "Gateway Energy Services partners with new technology company," which discussed the private partnership developed by New York based Gateway Energy Services and Edmonton, AB based Synodon, in order to commercialize IP developed by the CSA in the 1990's but only recently passed along to the private sector.

Of course, it's also worth noting that the new CSA president is a career government employee with established loyalty, a background in marketing and contacts in the military.

Before joining IC, Laporte spent time at the Canada Post Corporation, where he occupied a number of director-level positions in logistics, retail merchandising, marketing and information technology. Laporte has also worked at National Defence in Ottawa and across Canada on a variety of programs.

Laporte is, in essence, the government equivalency of a "company man," with long-term loyalty to IC instead of CSA and all the political advantages and disadvantages that go with that role. The government is essentially hoping that, unlike former CSA president Walt Natynczyk and several of his predecessors, the newest CSA president will enjoy a good long run at the job and insure that no CSA activities ever lead to public embarrassment during question period.

Career bureaucrats with developed contacts within the government have traditionally performed more effectively in this role than retired astronauts (think William MacDonald "Mac" Evans and Larkin Kerwin as compared to Steve MacLean or Marc Garneau).

But it's also worth noting that, as outlined in the February 10th, 2010 post, "Who Was Larry Boisvert?" even the currently almost totally forgotten fifth head of the CSA, was once considered a "keeper.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Part 4: 100 Years of Aerospace History in Canada: From McCurdy to Hadfield

Space Based Radar, Black Brant Rockets and the Churchill Rocket Range

By Robert Godwin 
This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014, is a brief synopsis of the history of astronautics in Canada.
The author wishes to thank the late Dr Phil Lapp and his wife Colleen Lapp for their permission to reveal some of Dr Lapp's memoirs. Dr Lapp was a founder of the the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) and of SPAR Aerospace. 
He passed away in 2013; the text herein was written by Robert Godwin.

In 1953, while on short leave from Bell Aircraft, at the James Forrestal Research Center in Princeton New Jersey, Kurt Stehling published a paper in which he described the advantages of using space-borne radar to "paint the surface of the Earth" and transmit the data back to the ground for study.[i]

Stehling delivered his paper, entitled Earth Scanning Techniques for Orbital Rocket Vehicles, on January 26th 1953 at a technical session of the American Rocket Society (ARS) in New York. He compared both optical and microwave systems, concluding that the optical systems at that time had the weight and resolving power advantage, but the microwave radar system didn't rely on daylight or good weather.[ii]

In the years ahead space radar mapping technology would become one of Canada's main fort├ęs in space science and astronautics.

In July 1955 James Van Allen and Stehling's rockoons would be covered in Time magazine. Five months later Stehling was recruited by the US Navy to work on their proposed earth satellite program.[iii] In 1956 the US government, in conjunction with the Canadian Defense Research Board (CDRB) announced that rockoons would be fired from ships in Frobisher Bay, and from Fort Churchill Manitoba and Baffin Island to study the upper atmosphere.[iv]

Indirectly, Stehling was bringing about the very role in space science that he had advocated for Canada back in 1948. He continued his swift ascent in the US space program and would establish a reputation for many progressive ideas, including inflatable space station modules.

Stehling was also the first to suggest that women astronauts, given equal training, would make better astronauts both physically and psychologically.[v]

Perhaps most importantly, he also contributed to the establishment of a US national space agency. Stehling was on the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel (along with Wernher von Braun[vi], Krafft Ehricke, James van Allen, Ernst Stuhlinger, Fred Whipple and others) which urged U.S. President Eisenhower in 1957 to form NASA.[vii]

Canada had played an important role in the two International Polar Year's and so, along with many other countries, Canadian researchers recognized the importance of contributing to the proposed International Geophysical Year. In this regard Canada already offered a convenient vantage point for studying the high northern latitudes and particularly the Earth's magnetic field. Therefore an arrangement was made in 1955 to establish a permanent scientific research establishment at Fort Churchill, with funding provided by the US Army.

The location selected at the mouth of the Churchill River had been used for vital observations as early as 1769 when astronomers William Wales and Joseph Dymond from the Royal Society traveled there to record a transit of Venus across the Sun. Wales and Dymond built two observatories at the Prince of Wales Fort which they used for the event.[viii] 186 years later the Churchill Research Range came into existence as one of the world's key places for launching sounding rockets to the ionosphere and beyond.

The following year, just before the launch of Sputnik 1, the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) commissioned a domestic rocket program which would eventually be named Black Brant.

This design and development program was to be undertaken by a Canadian based branch supplier of components to the Air Force's CF-100 interceptor program, named the British Bristol Aeroplane Company. The Black Brant rocket, designed by Albert Fia of Alberta, would be the nearest thing to a space launcher that Canada would develop and over the next decade would become one of the two most expensive programs undertaken in Canadian space research.[ix]

The launch facilities at Churchill would quickly evolve and be able to accommodate a variety of medium size US-built rockets including the Arcas, Nike, Apache, Tomahawk, Astrobee, Aerobee and Javelin as well as the Canadian built and rapidly evolving Black Brant.

While things were getting up to speed at Churchill, back at Downsview Dr Phil Lapp, an engineer at DeHavilland, recognized the need for Canada to become more involved in the new science of astronautics. Immediately following the launch and consequent political shock of Sputnik 1, Lapp arranged for his colleagues at Downsview to start an informal astronautical group which he dubbed, The Canadian Astronautical Society (CAS).

The group had their first meeting on January 8th 1958 at the Special Projects office of DeHavilland in Downsview.[x] Over the next two years many meetings of the CAS took place, usually with invited guest speakers. One such speaker that Dr Lapp remembered with fondness was his old mentor Dr Charles Draper, the famed MIT scientist. In 1950 Lapp had earned one of the coveted positions to study for his graduate work at Draper's labs in the United States. 

One of the first coordinated projects undertaken by Lapp's CAS was their participation in Operation Moonwatch, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory study of the orbits of satellites. Members of the CAS stood out on the cold rooftop at DeHavilland in Downsview during the course of 1958 taking measurements and timings of the over-flights of Sputnik III, Explorer 1, Explorer IV and their various boosters. They published their findings in October 1958.

Robert Godwin.
The CAS also published several other papers, most notably Project CHARM (Canadian High Altitude Research Missile) and Project CLAMP (Canadian Lunar Antenna Moon Probe) which was a proposal for a sort-of mini Arecibo radio telescope for studying the moon's surface; to be built in a natural bowl near Guelph, Ontario.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


[i] New York Times, Aug 6 1953
[ii] Journal of the American Rocket Society Mar-Apr 1953
[iii] Globe and Mail December 14th 1955
[iv] Ibid. April 12th 1956
[v] Milwaukee Journal Sep 6 1955
[vi] Von Braun and British Interplanetary Society Chairman Arthur C. Clarke had both been on a multi-year program to persuade the residents of the USA and UK that space flight was inevitable. Both also published extensive prognostications in Canada, Clarke in 1947 in the Toronto Star and von Braun in 1956 in MacLeans Magazine.
[vii] New York Times Jul 30 1955, Dec 13 1957, Apr 10 1960
[ix] Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada, Chapman, Lapp, Patterson, Forsyth, Science Secretariat, 1967
[x] Phil Lapp Memoir Pg 117

Last Week: "The Canadian Rocket Society Builds a Rocket for the CNE" in part 3 of "100 years of Aerospace History in Canada: From McCurdy to Hadfield."

Next Week: "That Watershed Year when the Best Canadian Engineers moved to the US," as part 5 of "100 years of Aerospace History in Canada: From McCurdy to Hadfield" continues!