Monday, May 29, 2017

Satellite Data for Disaster Management, Super Telescopes & $950Mln for Canadian "Superclusters"

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of May 29th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

  • Canadian satellite data is being used to assist emergency response efforts in Russia.
As outlined in the May 29th, 2017 update to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Natural Disasters page, "as part of its participation in the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters," the CSA is providing RADARSAT-2 satellite imagery to support relief efforts and help mitigate the effects of this natural disaster." 
The webpage also noted recent torrential rains in Russia which have "caused flooding in Stavropol Krai, Russia." A state of emergency has been declared in the region and "at least six villages and towns are affected." According to the website, "more than 1000 homes have been flooded and over 3000 people evacuated."
Other recent efforts to assist with disaster recovery efforts include Sri Lanka (May 2017), Chile (May 2017), Canada (May 2017), Haiti (April 2017), Colombia (April 2017) and Peru (Spring 2017).
The Canadian efforts are part of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, which is an international effort to put space technology at the service of rescue and emergency responders in the event of a major disaster. 
According to their website, the "International Charter aims at providing a unified system of space data acquisition and delivery to those affected by natural or man-made disasters through Authorized Users. Each agency member has committed resources to support the provisions of the Charter and thus is helping to mitigate the effects of disasters on human life and property."
  • The next "super telescope" has begun construction in Chile. 
As outlined in the May 29th 2017 Mail Online post, "Construction begins on the world's first 'super telescope' that could help astronomers find alien life," the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), currently being built in Chile, is designed to help astronomers peer back to the first galaxies 14 billion years ago. 
As outlined in the article, "when completed, it will be the world's largest optical telescope, some five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today." 
The current design comprises a reflecting telescope with a 39.3-metre-diameter (126 foot) segmented primary mirror and a 4.2-metre-diameter secondary mirror, and will be supported by adaptive optics, six laser guide star units and multiple large science instruments, according to the Jun. 14th, 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) post, "Europe Downscales Monster Telescope to Save Money."
Comparison of nominal sizes of primary mirrors of the above extremely large telescopes and some notable optical telescopes. Graphic c/o Wikipedia.
There are at least four other telescopes which qualify as "super telescopes," either completed, planned or under construction. They are:
  • The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), a ground-based extremely large telescope, consisting of seven 8.4 m (27.6 ft) diameter primary segments, currently under construction, and planned for completion in 2025.
  • The Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), also known as the Great Canary Telescope, a 10.4 m (410 in) reflecting telescope located at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canaries, Spain.
According to the September 2000 post, "A Skeleton Science Case For Extremely Large (20m - 100m) Ground Based Telescopes (ELTs)," an extremely large telescope (ELT) is an astronomical observatory featuring an optical telescope with an aperture for its primary mirror from 20 metres up to 100 metres across.
ELT's are considered especially useful for a variety of scientific applications including:
  • Detecting habitable planets. 
  • Seeing the surfaces of other stars.
  • Seeing near black hole event horizons in the galaxy center
They are also considered useful for monitoring man made activities like Moon colonization, since they would be able to detect objects and details on the lunar surface as small as 2 metres, and for detecting small, man-made objects in space.
Innovation minister Bains announcing the supercluster initiative at the offices of BlackBerry Ltd. in Kanata, Ontario on Wednesday, May 24th. Photo c/o CBC News.
  • The Federal government has offered up $950Mln CDN in order to fund the creation of 'superclusters' of expertise, which it says will "create more middle-class jobs and more opportunities for Canadian businesses to grow into globally successful brands."
As outlined in the  May 24th, 2017 CBC News post, "Ottawa offers $950 million for 'superclusters' to create jobs," the new funding is intended to create "up to five" superclusters in specific industries such as advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean resources, clean technology, digital technology, health/biosciences, infrastructure and transportation.
As outlined in the article, "each supercluster will be a non-profit consortium created by large and small companies, along with post-secondary educational institutions or non-profit organizations. Applications will be accepted from both Canadian companies and international companies with Canadian operations."
Of course, much still remains to be learned about the initiative and not everyone is even on board with the plan as it stands. As outlined in the May 26th, 2017 Toronto Sun post, "Navdeep Bains proposes the wrong kind of supercluster," the government is not very good at predicting the next big economic trend, and will likely only end up providing short term funding to supporters and those capable of filling out the expected paperwork. 
For more, check out our upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Rocket Lab Launches "Orbital Class" Rocket From a Private Launch Pad

          By Brian Orlotti

New Zealand-based Rocket Lab has successfully launched the first of its 3D-printed carbon-composite Electron rockets. The launch marks another major milestone in the rise of the NewSpace industry.

A video of the first flight of the Rocket Lab Electron rocket from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, in Mahia New Zealand on May 25th, 2017. As outlined in the March 22nd, 2017 New Zealand Herald post, "Rocket Lab raises $100m - launch possible within the next two months," the total cost of the program, "once it is past the test stage," was approximately $75Mln US ($101Mln CDN) with most of those funds raised through the private sector (US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and the Government of New Zealand have also contributed). The latest round was led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Data Collective, with additional investment from Promus Ventures. As outlined in the article, "Rocket Lab also attracted reinvestment from Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and Sir Stephen Tindall's investment firm K1W1. The Series D funding round - the company's fourth round of investment - increased Rocket Lab's total level of investment to US$148Mln US ($200Mln CDN)." The company is now valued at more than US$1Bln US ($1.35Bln CDN), which seems like a pretty good return on investment. Screenshot c/o Robot Pig. To view the complete video, simply click on the screenshot. 

As outlined in the May 25th, 2017 Popular Mechanics post, "Rocket Lab's 'Electron' Marks First Orbital-Class Launch From a Private Pad," the Electron flew from Rocket Lab’s facility at Mahia, New Zealand after three days of aborted attempts due to weather.

Though the rocket reached space, it did not achieve orbit. Nevertheless, the launch is considered a successful step towards achieving Rocket Labs’ goal of launching satellites and other payloads for various customers. Rocket Lab’s engineers will now sift through flight data to prepare for a second test launch sometime this summer.

The company plans three test flights before it begins commercial launch services later this year. Rocket Lab's customers include NASA and private firms Planet, Spire, Spaceflight and Moon Express, a team competing in the $30Mln US ($40Mln CDN) Google Lunar X-Prize.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's CEO and CTO. In 2009, Rocket Lab launched the Ä€tea-1 sounding rocket. In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a contract from the US Dept of Defence’s Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nanosatellites into orbit.

Infographic comparing the Electron rocket to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) plus showing the location of Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the tip of the Mahia Peninsula, on the North Island of New Zealand. The size and payload of the Electron rocket compare favorably with a 2009 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) concept study which, as outlined in the April 22nd, 2016 post, "2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said "Yes!" But CSA Didn't Move Forward," could certainly have been built in Canada without the need to import technology from any other country. Graphic c/o Rocket Lab/ Graphic News.

The Electron is a two-stage, carbon-composite launch vehicle designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit; the target range for the growing small satellite market. The rocket is powered by in-house built Rutherford engines (after the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford) that burn a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene.

The Rutherford engine incorporates new innovations to minimize weight and cost. These include fuel pumps powered by battery-fed electric motors rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner. In addition, the engine is fabricated mostly via 3D printing, using electron beam melting, in which layers of metal powder are melted in a high vacuum by an electron beam rather than a laser. When the Electron goes into full production, Rocket Lab expects a launch rate of over 50 times a year.

The Electron’s projected cost is less than $5Mln USD ($6.7Mln CDN) per launch.

With the launch of the Electron, New Zealand now joins Earth’s space-faring nations. Rocket Lab’s success proves the wisdom of the NewSpace business model and provides a lesson for other nations, including our own.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Part 11: A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets

The 2000's, Chris Hadfield, Canadarm 2, Dextre, MOST, SciSat, CloudSat, Telesat, RADARSAT-2 and Emerson's Shadow

Political cartoon c/o Halifax Chronicle Herald.
By Graham Gibbs & W. M. ("Mac") Evans

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 history of the Canadian space program, written by two of the major participants.

The decade of 2000 saw important events in the life of the Canadian space program. In 2001 Chris Hadfield flew to the International Space Station (ISS) and became the first Canadian to do a spacewalk as he helped install the first piece of Canada’s contribution – the large robotic arm now called Canadarm 2.

In 2002 the second part of our contribution, the mobile base that gives the arm the mobility necessary to reach all parts of the station, (also known as the Mobile Remote Servicer Base System) was launched and successfully installed on the station. And in 2008 the final robotic component, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), also known as Dextre, was installed.

In 2003 the CSA launched Canada’s first space telescope, the Microvariability of Oscillations of Stars (MOST) along with SciSat, an instrument to probe the chemical constituent of the atmosphere as part of the search to understand the causes of the holes in the ozone layers.

In 2005 a Canadian cloud profiling radar instrument was our contribution to NASA’s CloudSat spacecraft.

These major scientific instruments are a direct result of LTSP II’s commitment to increase substantially the funding for space science.

At the end of 2007 RADARSAT 2 was launched (though the launch for data arrangement envisaged with NASA did not materialize – but that is another story all together). In 2008 Canada’s meteorological instrument on NASA’s Mars Phoenix spacecraft began measuring Mars weather.

In the decade Telesat launched Anik F1 and Nimiq 2. Since its creation, Telesat has now launched more than fifteen spacecraft.

For six months between December 2012 and May 2013 Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield participated in ISS Expedition 34/35 and became the first Canadian to be honoured with the task of Space station commander. Hadfield conducted over 130 science experiments and in his spare time tweeted about life in space and posted 88 videos explaining the many fascinating aspects of life in micro-gravity. He had more than 885,000 followers on Twitter and his videos had been viewed close to 23 million times.

The future of the Canadian space program from a policy perspective is less clear.

In November 2012 the Aerospace and Space Review (also known as the "Emerson Review"), mandated by the Government of Canada, issued Volume two of its report that covered the space sector under the title: "Reaching Higher Canada’s Interests and Future in Space."

It made substantive, pragmatic and by most accounts welcome recommendations with regard to the management and future directions of the Canadian space program.

As outlined in the December 3rd, 21012 post, "Initial Feedback from the Emerson Report," the Canadian aerospace community, including major players like Telesat, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) all reacted favorably to the report recommendations. Screenshot c/o Commercial Space blog.

The Emerson Review provided a list of challenges and opportunities facing the Canadian space sector which formed the basis of their recommendations. The first challenge listed was clear and unequivocal:
The first lies within government: inadequate clarity of purpose with respect to Canada’s space program and its role in providing services and advancing national priorities. This lack of focus appears to go back at least a decade and has been manifested in weak planning, unstable budgets, and confusion about the respective roles of the CSA and those government departments that are major space users. In a sector whose undertakings are, by definition, long-term, expensive, and complex, it is especially important to have concrete goals, predictable funding, and orderly implementation.
Given the clarity of the Review’s recommendations, it is appropriate to highlight them:
Recommendation 1: Canadian Space Program Priorities.
The government explicitly recognize the importance of space technologies and capacity to national security, economic prosperity, and sustainable growth, and that the Minister of Industry bring 10- year, 5-year, and annual government-wide priorities for the Canadian Space Program to the Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, for discussion and approval each spring.
Recommendation 2: An Advisory Council.
The government establish a Canadian Space Advisory Council, reporting to the Minister of Industry, with membership from industry, the research and academic communities, provinces and territories, and federal departments and agencies.
Recommendation 3: Disciplined Governance and Implementation.
A deputy minister-level Space Program Management Board be created to coordinate federal space activities, project-specific arrangements be put in place to ensure disciplined project management, and all agencies and departments with a role in the Canadian space program be required to report on how they are implementing priorities set out by Cabinet.
Recommendation 4: Predictable Funding.
The Canadian Space Agency’s core funding be stabilized, in real dollar terms, for a 10-year period; major space projects and initiatives be funded from multiple sources, both within and beyond the federal government; and increased international cooperation be pursued as a way of sharing the costs and rewards of major space projects and initiatives.
Recommendation 5: Early Project Scoping.
The scope of space projects, project timelines, and performance requirements be finalized as early as possible in the project definition phase.
Recommendation 6: Competitive bids that Encourage Innovation, Control Costs, and Build the Canadian industry.
Space asset and service procurement processes be competitive in nature and proposals be assessed on the basis of their price, responsiveness to scoped requirements, and industrial and technological value for the Canadian space sector.
Recommendation 7: Support for Technology Development.
Total funding for the Canadian Space Agency’s technology development programs be raised by $10Mln CDN per year for each of the next three years, and that it be maintained at that level.
Recommendation 8: Encouragement of Commercial Space Activity.
Where costs are modest and there is no risk to public safety, the government create conditions conducive to the expansion of space-related commercial activity.
The Government’s initial response to the Emerson Review came some fourteen months later in February 2014 and was in the form of the a Space Policy Framework.

The download page for the 2014 "Canada's Space Policy Framework." As outlined in the February 9th, 2014 post, "Conservatives Form Committees; NDP Says "Incompetence Crippling Space Sector!," the report, a follow-up to the 2012 Emerson Review, was far less well received. Graphic c/o Government of Canada.

The Space Policy Framework listed five core principles that will be used to guide the government’s management of the Canadian space program. These are:
  • Canadian interests first - Canadian interests include issues related to national sovereignty, security and prosperity.
  • Positioning the private sector at the forefront of space activities - This will be done by supporting and using the domestic space industry to bring cutting-edge technologies to market that meet national interests.
  • Progress through partnerships - Partnerships will be encouraged at both the national and international level.
  • Excellence in key capabilities - To support and advance proven Canadian competencies while keeping a close watch for new technological niches.
  • Inspiring Canadians. The government recognizes that space is a highly visible means of motivating young Canadians to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Through the Space Policy Framework the government has implemented all the budget neutral recommendations of the Emerson Review.

Graham Gibbs & Mac Evans. Photos c/o MyCanada & CSA.
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first counselor for (US) space affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 

He is the author of "Five Ages of Canada - A HISTORY from Our First Peoples to Confederation."

William MacDonald "Mac" Evans served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from November 1991 to November 2001, where he led the development of the Canadian astronaut and RADARSAT programs, negotiated Canada’s role in the International Space Station (ISS) and contributed to various international agreements that serve as the foundation of Canada’s current international space partnerships.

He currently serves on the board of directors of Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast and as a member of the Federal government Space Advisory Board.

Last Week: "More on the 1990's, the CSA, 'On-Going Budgets,' a 3rd 'Long-Term Space Plan,' 
New Astronauts, More Satellites but Never Enough Funding" in part ten of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets."

Next Week: "Lessons and Conclusions" as part twelve of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets," concludes the series.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Attempting Relevance, the Canadian Space Agency Announces Industry Focused & Small Business Funding

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued another in a series of mostly expected announcements of opportunity (AO) for new programs funded under its longstanding Space Technology Development Program (STDP).

It's not that there's anything wrong with that. It will just be interesting to see if the CSA continues down this path when the Liberal government unveils its high-level follow-on to the previous Conservative 2014 Space Policy Framework later this year.

As outlined first in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "The Canadian Space Agency is "Very" Cautious About Its Post ISS Role," the CSA has embarked on its present course of action before receiving feedback from the Space Advisory Board (SAB), which was supposed to "consult stakeholders to define key elements" of an expected revision to Canada's space policy. Given the short time-frame for consultation (the SAB only announced its membership and began a series of public meetings in April), the CSA's current independent path and the Liberal governments acknowledged embrace of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (which strongly suggests that there will be no radical course changes in the near future), it's just possible that the real role of the SAB was to build support for an already crafted policy. We'll find out sometime this summer. Screenshot c/o

There were two slight surprises in the CSA's current offering.

First of all, and as outlined in the May 24th, 2017 post on the Federal government Buy and Sell procurement website under the title, "Space Technology Development Program (STDP) Industrial Capability-Building Contributions (9F063-20170131)," the new programs are focused on business, not academia, and intended "to support the development of Canadian industrial capabilities in the area of space technologies for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian space companies."

Applications are "limited to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations established and operating in Canada," and explicitly exclude academic institutions. While academics are "encouraged" to sign up to the program as "consultants to the recipient," they are not eligible to apply directly.

Secondly, the program includes a specific small business focused component. 

And while it's not quite the US originated program advocated in the May 11th, 2017 post, "CATAAlliance Calls for Adaption of the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program," it is at least an implicit reversal of the longstanding CSA position that both small and large companies can compete on a level playing field for the same CSA programs. 

That position, first outlined in the July 24th, 2009 post, "OK, So Maybe the CSA Does Provide Some Support for Small Aerospace Firms...," was never taken terribly seriously in the real world, mostly because small businesses have far fewer lawyers able to comprehend and respond to the normal paperwork generated by the typical CSA funded program.

Two of the reasons why the US SBIR program is so successful also relate to why the program will likely never be adapted in Canada. The program depends on "set-asides" totaling 2.9% of the extramural budget of all US government agencies engaged in R&D and with budgets in excess of $100Mln US ($135Mln CDN). The program also operates in concert with the US Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, another "set-aside" program to facilitate "co-operative R&D between small business concerns and US research institutions." In essence, SBIR costs money and is not a stand alone program. Graphic c/o August 2015 Small Business Administration Office of Investment & Innovation SBIR-STTR Presentation

The new AO is organized into three separate categories:
  • STDP AO 4.1 Space R&D - A program focused around commercialization opportunities, which will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $2Mln CDN per "space technology project that expect commercial potential in the short to medium term (i.e. 2 to 5 years)."
  • STDP AO 4.2 Space R&D Small Business - Like the title says, this is an explicitly small business focused program, targeted at firms with up to a maximum of 50 employees. The AO will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $200K CDN per space technology project "for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian small space companies."
  • STDP AO 4.3 Space R&D Feasibility Studies - A program focused around feasibility studies and system design, which will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $100,000 per project for "studies that expect commercial potential in the medium to long term (i.e. 5 to 10 years)."
While these new CSA programs are slightly more relevant to the current and future structure of the Canadian and international space industry (they're at least targeting industry rather than focusing on academia), it's also worth noting that the new programs provide far smaller amounts of funding for far higher amounts of paperwork and oversight than most other funding options.

After all, we live in an age where, as outlined in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "UofT Undergraduate Satellite Builders Raise Almost $500K to Build & Launch a Microsatellite in 2019," a small not-for-profit student satellite company can be funded with student fees far in excess of what the Federal government is able to offer.

Can our government funded space industry keep up with the private sector? Stay tuned.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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