Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where's Canada's "Ministry of Space?"

          By Brian Orlotti

The UK government has announced upcoming legislation to allow spaceports to be built in the United Kingdom; enabling the country, for the first time, to launch its home-built satellites from its own soil.

But the move calls Canada’s own longstanding space policies into question since, much like the UK, the Great White North has also long been unable to launch its own pioneering homegrown spacecraft and has suffered for it.

The new spaceport initiative enjoys broad support throughout the UK, even among tabloid readers. As outlined in the February 20th, 2017 The Sun post, "START SAVING NOW! You could fly to SPACE from the UK within three years as plans for space port are unveiled," the specifics of the new Spaceflight Bill "will be revealed in Parliament this week." Graphic c/o The Sun.

As outlined in the February 20th, 2017 UK government press release, "New legal powers could send UK scientists into space to research vaccines and medicines," the new legislation, called "The Spaceflight Bill," calls for commercial spaceports to be established across the UK beginning in 2020.

These spaceports will provide a variety of services, from satellite launches to space tourism to zero-gravity research.

The Spaceflight Bill builds upon a £10 million GBP ($16.3Mln CDN) grant announced earlier this month by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to create an environment in which the UK’s commercial space sector can thrive.

UK Lord Ahmad. Photo c/o UK Government.
Next steps will involve the UK government encouraging industry to come forward with specific proposals for space launches.

After introduction of the Bill later this year, rules and regulations will be developed for space operators i.e. safety and insurance matters. In addition, the UK government will invite individual commercial space firms to solicit funding to help kick-start a UK space launch industry.

The press release also quoted UK Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon as stating:
The UK’s space sector is the future of the British economy. It already employs thousands of people and supports industries worth more than £250 million to the economy, and we want to grow it further. Forty years ago, meteorologists couldn’t have imagined the importance of satellites for predicting the weather. Today over 90% of data used in every forecast comes from a satellite, with hundreds of other applications used in GPS, telecommunications and broadband. 
We have never launched a spaceflight before from this country. Our ambition is to allow for safe and competitive access to space from the UK, so we remain at the forefront of a new commercial space age, for the next 40 years.
The UK could have pioneered manned spaceflight in the 1950's,  landed on the Moon in 1957 and established a 700 person colony on Mars by 1969 according to Warren Ellis in his "Ministry of Space" graphic novels. Artwork c/o Chris Weston/  Image Comics.

In his influential 2001 - 2003 graphic novel series, "Ministry of Space," British writer Warren Ellis posits an alternate history in which the UK captured the German rocket base at Peenemünde in World War II before the US and the Soviet Union, and brought all the key personnel and technology to Britain.

The graphic novel mirrored the real-life Operation Paperclip, a secretive United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were brought to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany.

Upon this foundation, a new "Ministry of Space" is established to pursue the development of British space technology. Eventually, the ministry forges a new off-world British Empire, ushering an age of unparalleled prestige and prosperity for Britain.

Canada, with its own federal space program withering and its space industry unable to launch its own products despite possessing a skilled scientific and industrial base, stands at its own crossroads. The UK has chosen to see space as a path back to prosperity, not an expense to be minimized.

What choice will Canada make? When will our "Ministry of Space" emerge?
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, February 20, 2017

DigitalGlobe in "Buyout Talks" With MacDonald Dettwiler, 17 New CSA "Enabling Technologies" & the 2017 NSERC Awards

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of February 20th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

An overview of Digitalglobe stock price on February 17th, 2017, when the news broke that MDA might be attempting to buy the company. As would be expected, Digitalglobe shares went up in heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) after the story broke. MDA's shares were down slightly on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Both the NYSE and the TSX were closed for holidays on Monday but will reopen on Tuesday. Graphic c/o Marketwatch.
The February 17th, 2017 Reuters post, "Canada's MacDonald Dettwiler to buy DigitalGlobe: Dow Jones," quoted unnamed sources as stating that a final deal would close for about $2Bln - $3Bln USD ($2.6Bln - $3.9Bln CDN). 
But Dow Jones was also hedging its bets on the validity of its source. As outlined in the post, "financial conditions of the deal couldn't be learned and it is also possible that talks might fall apart before a decision is reached, the Dow Jones report said." 
DigitalGlobe’s current market cap is approximately $1.8Bln US ($2.4Bln CDN). 
Curiously enough, both MDA and Digitalglobe, as publicly traded corporations, will be holding their quarterly conference earnings calls over the next week. DigitalGlobe is set to report its full year and fourth quarter 2016 financial results on Monday, February 27th, 2017 and MDA will release its fourth quarter and year end financial results on Thursday, February 23rd, 2017. 
Perhaps by then, the real situation will begin to shake out. 

Screenshot c/o Buyandsell.gc.ca.

  • The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued a letter of interest (LOI) for seventeen "enabling technologies," needed in order to facilitate Canadian contributions to a variety of potential international space missions.
As outlined in the February 16th, 2017 Buyandsell.gc.ca listing, "Development of enabling space technologies - Letter of interest (9F063-160864/A)," the LOI will focus on the development and improvement of technologies able to reach CSA "technology readiness level TRL 6." 
TRL-6, as defined by the CSA, normally includes the development of "a representative model or prototype system," suitable for testing and showing off to potential customers.
The technologies identified under the program include upgrades of existing technology relating to Earth imaging, space medicine and rover technologies. The LOI includes time-frame, beginning and ending tech-levels and estimated budgets once the programs are underway,
Budgets range from $75 - $100K CDN (for the "development of technology that will help to secure Canada’s position as leader of inspace biological sample analysis in support of space research and health monitoring") to $1 - $1.3Mln CDN (for the "development of an advanced low frequency power amplifier for the harsh space environment around Mars"). 
The CSA normally defines "enabling technologies" as components or subsystems of space missions organized by other nations and/or private companies, which the CSA will commit to developing in order to be allowed to participate in the mission.
Funding for the development of "enabling technologies" are normally allocated under the CSA's space technologies development program (STDP).

Seven short videos, highlighting several of the 2017 winners were posted (but with very little fanfare) to the 2017 NSERC Prizes You-Tube page on February 7th, 2017. That's a bit of a shame since the individual awards focus on useful accomplishments from Federally funded scientists and are well worth celebrating.
This years winners include:
  • Sylvain Moineau, from the Université Laval, who received the 2017 John C. Polanyi Award for playing a leading role in the international collaboration which identified the adaptive immunity system known as CRISPR-Cas, found in about half of all bacteria. 
  • André Longtin and Leonard Maler, from the University of Ottawa, who received the 2017 Brockhouse Canada Prize for interdisciplinary research in science and engineering, for combining their expertise in physics, mathematics and neurobiology to uncover the neural code that underlies the operation of the brain. 
For a complete listing of the 2017 NSERC prizes and their winners, check out the February 7th, 2017 "NSERC Prizes page."
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Those Pesky Kids at Kepler Communications

          By Chuck Black

The future of Canada's space efforts, and the growth of its telecommunications infrastructure, is suddenly a lot less reliant on Canadian government initiatives and foreign controlled multinationals.

Toronto, Ontario based, Kepler Communications has contracted Amsterdam based Innovative Space Logistics to launch their first nano-satellite, using an Indian polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, in November 2017.

Some of the "pesky kids" at Kepler include, from left to right: Nick Spina, Stephen Lau, Mina Mitry, Mark Michael, Wen Cheng Chong and Jeffrey Osborne. As outlined in the January 26th, 2017 Xconomy post "Techstars Picks 9 Startups for Seattle, Complementing Local Strength," Kepler, a graduate of the Techstars Seattle 2016 program, was the accelerator's first investment in the space sector, but was considered so successful that Techstars is actively looking for more space focused start-ups for their 2018 program. Photo c/o Kepler Communications.

As outlined in the February 16th, 2017 Kepler press release, "Kepler Contracts Innovative Space Logistics for Inaugural Mission" the mission will serve as a technology demonstration of Kepler's Ku-band software defined radio (SDR) and high gain antenna.

Kepler plans to use the technology as the backbone for a proposed constellation of "up to 140" low-Earth nano-satellites, placed in a variety of orbits for use as low cost satellite data re-transmitters. As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, " SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," the company plans on targeting the fast growing machine-to-machine communications market currently growing up around "internet of things" applications and not the conventional terrestrial telecommunications market.

One hard to reach place where Kepler expects demand is in Canada's far north, particularly satellite-dependent Nunavut. As outlined in the February 16th, 2016 Financial Post article, "Cellphone towers in space: Startup Kepler Communications plans first Canadian nanosatellite launch," the company was co-founded by Samer Bishay, who also owns both Iristel, a Montreal based  provider of voice over internet protocol services, and Ice Wireless, a Canadian mobile network operator and telecommunications company that provides 3G/4G mobility services, mobile broadband internet, and fixed line telephone in the territories of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Bishay "absolutely" plans to use the Kepler nano-satellites to improve wireless and internet service in the north, according to the article. "What we're providing is the data pipe basically... with satellite connectivity it helps remote communities where infrastructure like fibre would be very expensive to deploy."

The Kepler Ku-band repeater. According to Kepler CEO Mina Mitry, the upcoming flight in November, will launch "the first commercial LEO communications satellite to operate in Ku-band, a coveted band within the communications service provider world. With the increasing interest in mega LEO constellations, being the first company to actually bring this spectrum into use is a major step forward for Kepler." The nano-satellite launch is expected to cost between $200K and 300K US ($262K and $393K CDN), one hundredth of the cost of a standard launch Photo c/o Kepler Communications.

According to Kepler CEO Mina Mitry, “in the most basic sense, we’re putting up cell phone towers in space that can pick up signals from on the ground and from assets in space.”

The initial micro-satellite will serve as a "proof-of-concept" and additional micro-satellites will be added to the constellation as required to service commercial demand.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Comparing Canada's Northern Watch to Kiribati's Global Fishing Watch

          By Brian Orlotti

The recent failure of the Canadian government's "Northern Watch" program of Arctic air and maritime surveillance, when compared to governmental and private efforts currently in place in other nations, is a reminder that low cost space assets could play a central role in such a system.

It's not as though the Canadian government doesn't understand the benefits of space based surveillance. Perhaps is just prefers to have its programs associated with high costs, long lead times and multiple levels of bureaucracy. The illustration above, from the website of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), shows the kind of weather forecasting that the proposed, Polar Communication and Weather (PCW) constellation of two Earth imaging satellites could have provided when the program completed its first milestone (a "Phase 0" assessment) in September 2008. However, as outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Nunatsiaq News post, "Arctic satellites should serve northerners," the incomplete PCW was all but cancelled in 2016 over concerns about cost and functionality, and amidst bureaucratic infighting between Environment Canada and the Canadian military. For more, check out the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money." Graphic c/o CSA.

As outlined in the January 29th, 2017 Toronto Star post, "Bid to monitor traffic in Arctic waters hits snags," the Northern Watch project, was run by the Canadian military’s R&D wing, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) from 2007 to 2015.

PM Harper. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
Born of a 2005 election promise by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to assert Canadian Arctic sovereignty, the project attempted to develop a year-round surveillance system in Canada’s Arctic waters through the use of underwater acoustic sensors, supplemented by land-based cameras and satellite imagery. Northern Watch was based out of Gascoyne Inlet on Nunavut’s Devon Island. The Barrow Strait, on the south shore of the island, is considered a natural choke-point for arctic ship traffic.

As outlined in the article, after eight years of effort, Northern Watch was only capable of monitoring marine traffic twice, and only then for a few weeks during the hospitable Arctic summers. During the system’s last test in the summer of 2015, twenty-one different vessels were logged transiting the Barrow Strait.

According to the DRDC, several reasons contributed to the failure of Northern Watch; insufficient funding, high fuel and transport costs, equipment failures and technical issues. Although a technical failure, the political rhetoric surrounding the project helped carry Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to victory (and nearly a decade of rule) in the 2006 federal election.

The current Canadian government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has recently requested proposals for an Arctic air and maritime surveillance system under a new $133Mln CDN research program to boost Canadian Arctic sovereignty and replace Northern Watch.

A screenshot of the GFW website, taken on February 14th, 2017. Although not a direct equivalency to previous Canadian government plans to track Arctic activities, the GFW systems could certainly be implemented on a commercial basis in the arctic as commercial satellite coverage of the far north improves. For a list of proposed satellite constellations, their coverage and proposed date of service, check out the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table." Graphic c/o GFW.

Maybe they could buy something "off the shelf." An example of this, as outlined in the September 19th, 2016 post, "New Leonardo DiCaprio App Tracks Fishy Things on the High Seas," could certainly start with the free service championed by the famous actor.

Actor DiCaprio. Photo c/o Forbes.
In September 2016, DiCaprio unveiled Global Fishing Watch (GFW) which utilizes satellite imagery to enable the public to monitor global fishing activity in an attempt to curb illegal fishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks.

The service is a partnership between the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, SkyTruth, Oceana and Google. GFW uses satellite imagery provided by Orbcomm Inc. and is available online to anyone with an internet connection and a WebGL-capable browser.

Adopting a crowd-sourcing approach, GFW enables the public and non-government organizations (NGOs) to track fishing vessels around the world through a combination of ship transponder beacons, radar data from nearby ships, and ships’ wakes as they travel through water.

The project cost $10.3Mln US ($13.6Mln CDN) over the past three years to build, with $6Mln ($7.92Mln CDN) of that contributed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in January, 2016.

GFW scored an initial success within its first month of operation. Kiribati, an island republic in the central Pacific comprised of 33 coral atolls and isles, has used GFW data to reveal illegal fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, declared off-limits to commercial fishing in January 2015. The offending ship’s owners were fined $1Mln US ($1.32Mln CDN) along with a "goodwill" donation of another $1Mln.

The failure of the Northern Watch project and the (at least initial) success of Global Fishing Watch prove the truth of Frank Herbert’s dictum, “A plan depends as much upon execution as it does upon concept.”

Future Canadian efforts at northern surveillance should take heed.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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