Sunday, August 31, 2014

Graphene as the Next Great Miracle Material for Space

          by Brian Orlotti

On August 20th, Ottawa-based Grafoid Inc, a company involved in the research, development and production of graphene, opened a 225,000 square foot production facility in Kingston, Ontario. The move has Canada positioned to become a world leader in the production of the much-hyped super-material, with effects on many industries, not the least of which is aerospace.

The facility, located in Queen's University's Innovation Park, in addition to housing research labs and graphene-related product development areas, will be the prime production point for Meso-Graf, a low-cost, high-purity graphene powder developed by Grafoid. The expansion into Kingston was facilitated by Grafoid's purchase of Kingston, ON based advanced materials group ALCERECO in June, 2014 for $1.25Mln USD ($36Mln CDN) as outlined in the June 9th, 2014 press release "Grafoid announces agreement to acquire advanced materials technology group ALCERECO Inc. of Kingston, Ontario."

Through this acquisition, Grafoid gained access to ALCERECO's existing facilities, technical expertise and global customer base. Grafoid 's expansion into Kingston is expected to bring 160 new jobs and provide a $32.7Mln CDN stimulus to the local economy.

Incorporated in September 2011 in Ottawa, ON, Grafoid is a graphene research and investment company. Its partners include Ottawa-based mining development firm Focus Graphite Inc. (the owners of a high-grade graphite deposit in Lac Knife, QC) and Singapore-based graphene producer Graphite Zero (a spin-off of the National University of Singapore's Graphene Research Center).

Graphene and its uses. Graphic c/o

The company is pursuing the commercialization of graphene for applications in numerous fields including renewable energy, 3D printing/additive manufacturing, bio-medicine, specialized coatings and military uses. Grafoid is currently attempting to raise a further $50Mln CDN in capital for further product development, as well as for more acquisitions.

Traditional methods of producing graphene are expensive, low-yield, multi-step processes involving harsh chemicals. Grafoid's proprietary production process (developed by company founder/ president & CTO Dr. Gordon Chiu) produces large yields of high-purity graphene from unprocessed graphite ore without the use of harsh chemicals. Chiu's method achieves higher yields by eliminating unnecessary steps from traditional processes and attains higher purity by eliminating harsh chemicals that typically damage the end product.

Graphene, first discovered in the mid 2000's, has been highly hyped over the past decade as a holy grail of materials science whose unique properties will transform our society and economy. Among graphene's many potential applications:
  • A replacement for silicon in computer circuitry that would enable ultra-fast, Terahertz-speed optical computers and wireless networks. 
  • An aircraft building material even stronger and lighter than carbon fiber.
  • Cheap, high-capacity batteries that could be charged within seconds.
  • Filters that could cheaply desalinize seawater or remove radioactive waste. 
  • Cheap, compact, high-density hydrogen storage for use in transportation.
For all of graphene's tantalizing potential, its development has been hampered by researchers' lack of understanding of the material as well the difficulties in manufacturing it economically in large quantities.

Brian Orlotti.
The efforts of Grafoid and its partners will help mitigate both of these issues. In the coming years, graphene's promise may finally become reality.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Open Source Development of Earth Imaging Data Applications

          by Chuck Black

Two recent announcements, one American and one Canadian, highlight the growing influence of open source development methodologies in the processing of Earth image data.

The first, as outlined in the August 18th, 2014 Waterloo News announcement "Waterloo makes public most complete Antarctic map for climate research," deals directly with what has until now been perceived as the esoteric core of Canadian space agency activities, RADARSAT-2 data. 

According to the article:
Thanks to a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), the prime contractor for the RADARSAT-2 program, and the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network (CCIN) at UWaterloo, the mosaic is free and fully accessible to the academic world and the public.  
Using Synthetic Aperture Radar with multiple polarization modes aboard the RADARSAT-2 satellite, the CSA collected more than 3,150 images of the continent in the autumn of 2008, comprising a single pole-to-coast map covering all of Antarctica. This is the first such map of the area since RADARSAT-1 created one in 1997. 
Next up, at least according to the article, is a similar mosaic for Greenland, "which will provide further crucial information about our shifting climate in the northern hemisphere." There are also plans "to continue creating mosaics of Antarctica every few years to provide more data for researchers."

This RADARSAT-2 pole-to-coast Antarctic mosaic was created by MDA in cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency as part of the International Polar Year. Image c/o CSA.

The second announcement, as outlined in the August 22nd, 2014 article "NASA Picks Top Earth Data Challenge Ideas, Opens Call for Climate Apps," focuses on the NASA OpenNEX challenges. According to the article:
NASA has selected four ideas from the public for innovative uses of climate projections and Earth-observing satellite data. The agency also has announced a follow-on challenge with awards of $50,000 to build climate applications based on OpenNEX data on the Amazon cloud computing platform.
Both challenges use the Open NASA Earth Exchange, or OpenNEX, a data, cloud computing, and knowledge platform where users can share modeling and analysis codes, scientific results, information and expertise to solve big data challenges in the Earth sciences. OpenNEX provides users a large collection of climate and Earth science satellite data sets, including global land surface images, vegetation conditions, climate observations and climate projections.
These two articles are examples of the "public good" model of software development, a model championed by open source developers, whereby existing government/taxpayer needs require the paid collection of geo-spatial data and justify investment in satellites by making the data free and open for the taxpayers' benefit, which ideally leads to economic value and the creation and growth of businesses that make use of the public imagery for the greater good.

In this model, satellites, imagery and data are derived from "infrastructure," built by the government of others, which is available for all to exploit.

There is, of course, a second model, the "commodity" model whereby private companies fund the costs of satellites via sale of the data/imagery as a commodity on the open market. It is the model championed by IKONOS, GeoEye, Skybox Imaging (now owned by Google), Planet Labs along with Canada's Blackbridge (RapidEye) and UrtheCast.

This is the model the Federal government has been supporting recently, with multiple announcements of funding such as those described in the August 9th, 2014 post "Industry Minister Allocates $6.7Mln to Develop Space Apps."

It will be interesting to see which model ends up dominating the market.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Space Agency Seeks Insight into Space Industry

          by Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is soliciting bids of up to $250,000 CDN from "qualified suppliers" to undertake a "comprehensive socio-economic impact assessment" of the Canadian space sector.

Part of the cover of the most recent State of the Canadian Space Sector report. Since 1996, this annual document, normally released publicly in the winter, has tracked the financial impact of Canadian organizations involved in the space industry. According to the report, the 140 companies and organizations listed in the Canadian Space Directory generated $3.327Bln CDN in revenue and employed just under 8000 Canadians in 2012. It's unclear whether the new RFP will supplement or supersede the existing report.

As outlined in the Public Works and Government Services Canada website under the title Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector (9F012-140360/A), the objective of the request for proposal (RFP) is to "capture the economic argument for investment in space, as well as, demonstrate the larger socio-economic impacts that result from activity in the Canadian space sector, whether public or private."

According to the RFP, one bid will be accepted sometime after the August 28th, 2014 closing date for the contract but before October 10th, 2014 , when the preliminary "list of individuals selected for interview" and other initial documentation is scheduled to be presented to CSA for approval. 

The final, completed report is scheduled for presentation to CSA and other government officials "by January 30th, 2015."

The contract is open only to firms who've qualified under a series of restrictions relating to "consultant categories, security level, region and tier." The complete list of qualified contractors is included in the RFP and includes 168446 Canada (which operates under the name Delta Partners), 2Keys Corporation, ACF Associates Inc. ADGA Group Consultants Inc. and about fifty others. 

It will be interesting to see both what this latest CSA contract uncovers and if the new data collected under the contract will ever be released to the wider public.