Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Swiss Court Confirms Swiss Space Systems Bankruptcy But CEO Jaussi Might Buy Assets and Start Over

          By Henry Stewart

Swiss Space Systems (S3), the European space company which once partnered with the City of North Bay in an attempt to launch a mini-space shuttle, has withdrawn its appeal to contest a bankruptcy judgement brought down by the Swiss canton of Vaud in December, 2016.

A "novel and incredibly economic concept," which ended up in bankruptcy court. S3 plans for its "mini-shuttle" were discussed in the All About Space UK Magazine Volume N14, 2013, Page 28-29. Graphic c/o All About Space.

As outlined in the January 17th, 2017 Orbiter.CH Space News post, "Swiss Space Systems: bankruptcy confirmed," the final S3 bankruptcy took effect on Monday 16th January at 16:15 local time, according to court documents.

At stake, at least in this jurisdiction, were numerous lawsuits exceeding 7Mln SFr ($9.29Mln CDN). But outside of the Vlad bankruptcy court, the European perception remains that S3 isn't quite dead yet. 

The January 24th, 2017 24heures.ch post, "Swiss Space Systems peut-elle red├ęcoller depuis la Croatie?," has even reported on S3 CEO Pascal Jaussi's plan to save his company by buying up S3 assets and re-incorporating the company through a "Croatian subsidiary." 

Other European press reports have echoed this narrative and the situation at press time remains confused. 

S3 CEO Pascal Jaussi isn't dead yet and neither is his company, at least if you're willing to take his word for it. But S3 is officially bankrupt and, as outlined in the September 7th, 2016 Sun post, "WHAT DOES HE KNOW? Swiss space agency boss is kidnapped by hitmen who beat him senseless then tried to burn him alive," it seems obvious that not everyone believes what Juassi says, as least  when it comes to his business dealings. Photo c/o Keystone.

As outlined in the December 20th, 2017 post, "Swiss Space Systems: Just 'Fugget About It!'" the S3 bankruptcy was the culmination of years of political wrangling and glad handling which included the development of an impressive global network of partners including Breitling, Thales Alenia Space, Dassault Aviation, Space Florida, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

In Canada, the City of North Bay, along with Canadore College were brought aboard through the efforts of North Bay Conservative MP Jay Aspin and Federal Industry Minister James Moore.

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

Elon Musk, Donald Trump, The Globe & Mail, MDA, exactEarth & NASA Admins Bolden & Newman, Who Say Buh Bye

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of January 23rd, 2017, here are some of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

  • It's odd to consider SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a guest of US president Donald Trump at the White House on the first day of the new administration. The two are generally perceived  to have diametrically opposed worldviews.  
But, as outlined in the January 23rd, 2017 Business Insider post, "Elon Musk and other executives are at the White House to meet with President Trump," that's exactly the situation the two seems to have found themselves in. 
According to the article, Musk is one of "several executives attending President Donald Trump's meeting on manufacturing Monday morning. Reuters' reporter Roberta Rampton snapped a shot of Musk in the White House's Roosevelt Room, along with executives from Lockheed Martin, Whirlpool, Under Armour, and Johnson & Johnson."
And, "although Musk and Trump have diametrically opposing views when it comes to climate change, the two seem to be aligned when it comes to US manufacturing."
This is the third meeting between the entrepreneur and the incoming US president over the last few weeks. Trump said on Monday morning that he would cut regulations by 75% to encourage businesses to manufacture their products in the US, though it's unclear if he was referring to the number of regulations or their cost.
  • Back in Canada, it's normally a bit unusual for the "paper of record," to promote publicly traded stocks, but that certainly seems to be the situation with the January 22nd, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Analysts think now is a good time to buy MDA," which tracked some of the recent ups and downs at Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA).
Fortunately, the article proper is certainly more ambiguous than the title would suggest. 
It's primary thesis is that, "investors hoping a new American chief executive officer at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. would help boost the shares of the satellite technology firm may have to be patient this year."
Reasons given include "a weaker communications satellite market" and delays in receiving the necessary US security clearances, which are needed to allow MDA to bid on larger Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and US military satellite contracts.
The Globe piece also noted that US based CEO Howard Lance, "declined to be interviewed for this article."
But the article did reference a variety of other analysts, including Raymond James analyst Steven Li, who categorized classified US government business as incremental revenue which "won’t likely contribute meaningfully until 2018 at the earliest.”
I think some of the issues will resolve themselves,” over the next year or so, said BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Thanos Moschopoulos, who has an “outperform” rating on MDA stock, and an $83 CDN target for the next 12 to 18 months.
  • Cambridge, Ontario based exactEarth Ltd. has posted a Q4 loss on lower overall sales. As outlined in the January 19th, 2017 Waterloo Region Record post, "Cambridge-based ExactEarth post $4.1M Q4 loss on lower sales," the loss was attributed to "a reduction in revenue from a contract with the federal government." 
That contract was originally outlined in the February 14th, 2016 post, "Newborn exactEarth Faces its First Battle for the Worm," and revisited in the May 7th, 2016 post, "Orbcomm, Skywave, exactEarth, CSA Rovers, High School Robotics, MDA, Emerson, Magellan, Honeywell & UrtheCast," 
As outlined in those earlier posts, what had begun in February as a simple renewal of an existing exactEarth Federal government contract worth $19Mln CDN, had shrunk in value to only $116,000 CDN by May 2016. 
Of course, as outlined in the January 19th, 2017 exactEarth press release, "exactEarth Reports Fiscal 2016 Financial Results," waiting for government contracts hasn't been the only revenue generating activity the company has engaged in since it was spun off by parent COM DEV International in January 2016. 
2016 operational highlights include the development of partnerships with Chinese based EV Image Inc. (to distribute exactEarth data in China), Ottawa based Larus Technologies (to develop new "Big Data" analytics applications for the maritime market) and Colorado based DigitalGlobe (to combat "illegal and unreported fishing"), plus expanded collaboration in a variety of areas with Louisville, Kentucky based Genscape
The year also included the signing of a new four year contract with the French Navy and a "small-vessel tracking contract" with the Government of Ghana. 
2016 financial highlights include $18.9Mln CDN in new revenue (with 80% being subscription based, a 30% increase over 2015), an increase in order booking to $27.2Mln CDN (up from $10.0Mln CDN in 2015) and an adjusted EBITDA of $0.52Mln CDN with a cash balance of $13.7Mln CDN as of October 31th, 2016.
Outgoing deputy administrator Newman with outgoing administrator Bolden and incoming acting administrator Lightfoot at a NASA "town hall meeting" on January 12th, 2017. Photo c/o NASA/Bill Ingalls.
As outlined in the January 12th, 2017 Space Policy Online post, "Lightfoot to be Acting NASA Administrator, CFO Radzanowski to Stay On - UPDATE," Bolden and Newman, as political appointees representing the outgoing Barack Obama administration, ended their tenures at noon on January 20th, 2017, when president Obama formally finished out his term and was replaced by incoming US president Donald Trump
The new administration is moving slowly to replace the open NASA positions. 
As outlined in the January 22nd, 2017 Space News Post, "Trump administration assigns first political appointees to NASA," NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot has taken over as acting NASA administrator, at least for the short term. 
The Trump administration has also appointed Erik Noble, a Trump campaign political data analyst (who also spent seven years at NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies) to serve as White House senior adviser and Greg Autry, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California (who is considered a proponent of commercial space activities) as White House liaison.
For more, check out upcoming posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

If Justin Trudeau Wants " Moon Shots," He Should Look to the Moon!

          By Chuck Black

As outlined in both Federal government literature and in a recent editorial in the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is looking for "Moon Shots."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is supposedly pursuing every available option to build actual policies around the concept of "Canada's innovation agenda." As the Friendly Giant once used to say, perhaps the PM should, "Look up - Way up!"  Photo's c/o Singularity Hub & Hollywood Life.

The Federal government's website on "Canada's Innovation Agenda, Innovation for a Better Canada, What you Told Us," provides some context for the type of "Moon Shots," the Canadian PM is interested in. 

As outlined on the website:
In a previous generation, the United States was inspired to put a man on the moon. 
That mission launched breakthroughs and inventions that went well beyond the space program and fueled decades of innovation driven by science and technology. 
Canadians yearn for a similar kind of vision and leadership. Many called for government to take a proactive role in sponsoring "moon shots" that would keep Canada at the forefront of science and technology.
"Moon shots" were also the topic of the January 13th, 2017 Toronto Star post, " Should Ottawa be aiming for a 'moonshot?'" which was written by author Paul Wells and focused on a report compiled for the Trudeau government by east coast based market research company Corporate Research Associates (CRA).

CRA was commissioned to run focus groups and collect data for Canada's Innovation Agenda, the long promised, but so far mostly aspirational, Trudeau government policy platform being developed to "make Canada more innovative." 

Three types of "Moon shots" not covered by Federal government sub-contractors organizing focus groups on "Moon shots" include the mixed drink, the photograph and Moon Express CEO Robert Richards with the rover his company expects to use to land on the Moon. As outlined in the January 17th, 2017 Orlando Business Journal post, "Moon Express Secures $20M for Lunar Mission," the Canadian born Richards, who moved to the US  six years ago in order to fund his dream, is currently the CEO of the first private company to have gained permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land on the Moon. Now that's a "Moon shot." Graphics c/o Complete Cocktails, Astrophotography Tonight & The Orlando Business Journal.

However, when it came to defining a "Moon shot," or putting the concept into terms the average focus group could understand, the pollsters at the CRA, seem to have drawn a blank. 

As outlined in the article:
... it's hard to believe the pollster came up with the examples that were focus grouped (and considered as "Moonshot's"). 
Internet balloons, self-driving cars and drone delivery... they're all projects being developed by X, the long-term research branch of Google. 
Perhaps in the next round of testing the feds should define a moonshot, as 'something Google wants.'
The article also stated that, "Stephen Harper spent $705 million on three Radarsat satellites that aren’t even scheduled to launch before 2018. Trudeau wanted to be different. He seems to be getting shaky advice on what “different” would look like."

Interesting January 2017 tweets from Toronto Star author Paul Wells and MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) public affairs director Leslie Swartman (later re-tweeted by CSA Director General for Space Exploration Gilles Leclerc) on past Canadian accomplishments which might reasonably qualify as "Moon shots" and could certainly be discussed in focus groups. Screenshot c/o Twitter.

Another problem with the current concepts surrounding the idea of "Moon shots" is simply that large governments are no longer perceived as being the go-to organizations for fundraising and fulfillment on "Moon Shot" style projects.

Graphic c/o QuoteHD.com.
And why should they be?

Private sector corporations such as SpaceX, Moon Express, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries and others are currently the ones planning trips to the Moon and Mars and developing the technologies needed to exploit those voyages.

Government organizations such as NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) have programs which have slowly become far more expensive and far less inspirational, with longer time-frames, and with a great deal of "tentativeness," "hyperbole" and cost overruns attached to their ultimate goals.

The future of "Space shots," at least from the current public's perspective, may essentially rest with the private sector.

The concept of the Trudeau government seriously contemplating the idea of "Moon shots" without even once referencing the reality of our current capabilities (where small, privately held start-ups like Moon Express can consider actual trips to the Moon), is an obvious error.

Maybe the next time the Trudeau government funds a survey of potential "Moon shots," they could include a couple of options related to the Moon, or rockets, or rocket science or even something simply related to "space," like the Canadarm or the various RADARSATs.

They could then more effectively determine if the true role of the Trudeau government, at least in this case, is to "lead, follow or get out of the way."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

UrtheCast Closes $180Mln OptiSAR Deal, SpaceX's Success, Canada's Contribution to SWOT & More Thirty Meter Telescope

          By Henry Stewart

Here are some of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Sales and promotion graphic from the UrtheCast website. According to the literature, "OptiSAR™ is designed to be the world’s first fully-integrated, multispectral optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation of Earth Observation satellites. Providing unprecedented capabilities, OptiSAR™ is aimed at solving real-world problems and creating tools for world change." It's worth noting that, when an Earth imaging company receives a contract from a "confidential government customer," that customer is likely to be tied into a national military or intelligence agency. Graphic c/o UrtheCast.
  • Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast has announced a "binding agreement" with a "confidential government customer" for the "sale and shared operation" of the first two satellites in the UrtheCast OptiSAR constellation, described by the company as "the world's first commercial EO constellation with integrated optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors." 
The announced value of contract is $180Mln USD ($235Mln CDN) but could include up to an additional $30Mln US (CDN) for "products and services related to the sale of the satellites, contingent on the parties reaching mutual agreement on the final scope of these deliverables."
As outlined in the January 17th, 2017 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Enters into Binding Agreement Worth US$180 Million to Sell and Operate Two Satellites in the OptiSAR™ Constellation," the sale could "accelerate the negotiation of similar agreements with other customers for the purchase of the remaining satellites."
But the agreement is also subject to a number of conditions. 
As outlined in the press release, those conditions include, "UrtheCast obtaining the necessary customer commitments to allow for the build, launch and financing of the first eight satellites in the Constellation, the Customer obtaining within the next 12 months the funding for its payment obligations, the parties reaching mutual agreement on the detailed procedures for the shared operation and tasking of the two satellites, and other customary covenants and regulatory approvals for agreements of this nature."

Ten critical minutes of the SpaceX Falcon-9 return to flight on January 14th, 2017. Screenshot c/o SpaceX/ You-Tube
  • They said there was a lot riding on the flight and there may have been. But it didn't need to fly on that specific day (it had been delayed previously) and the SpaceX Falcon-9R rocket certainly didn't need to return to Earth, "as God and John W. Cambell intended," on its tail and ready for reuse after a soft landing on the drone-ship "Just Read the Instructions." 
But that's exactly what happened. As outlined in the January 15th, 2017 CBC News post, "SpaceX launches 1st rocket since explosion in Florida,"the two-stage SpaceX rocket "lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:54 a.m. ET carrying a payload for Iridium Communications Inc., which is replacing its entire global network with 70 next-generation satellites."
And, "about nine minutes after the rocket blasted off, to cheers from the control room, its jettisoned first stage landed upright on a so-called droneship in the Pacific Ocean south of Vandenberg — part of Spacex's effort to make boosters reusable."
The Canadian connection to the launch was mostly covered in the January 3rd, 2017 post, "SpaceX Pad Explosion Investigation Concluded; Iridium Launch Scheduled January 8th," and included the first four of exactEarth's next generation constellation, exactView™ RT powered by Harris, as outlined in the January 16th, 2017 exactEarth post, "exactEarth Announces Successful Initial Launch for its Second Generation Real-Time Constellation."
But the title of that January 3rd, 2017 post was also a reminder that the commercial space rocketry industry is a lot like the US rail system, which is often delayed.  
This was the first launch for SpaceX this year and first since a Falcon 9 exploded on the pad in September last year. SpaceX will attempt to launch 27 rockets in 2017, more than triple the eight flights the privately held firm managed in 2016.
An overview of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission presented during the 2011 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Sensing Symposium (IGARSS), which was organized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and took place in Vancouver, BC from July 25th - 29th, 2011. To view the complete presentation, simply click on the illustration above. Image c/o IGARSS 2011.
As outlined in the January 16th, 2017 Waterworld post, "Canadian Space Agency to Provide Components for Survey of Earth's Surface Waters," the Canadian contribution to this international mission is "a set of extended interaction klystrons (EIKs) built by CPI. The high-power EIKs will be used to generate microwave pulses to collect precise water measurements." 
CPI is well known for its expertise in this area and no other firms have built and flown EIKs. In exchange for the contribution, Canadian scientists will have early access to SWOT data and scientific expertise.
As outlined in the August 18th, 2014 CSA press release, "The Government of Canada Announces investment in innovative Mapping System for First-Ever Global Surface Water Survey," this is the second grant provided by the Canadian government to support the mission. The Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper provided an initial $3.3Mln CDN grant to CPI in 2014.
As outlined in the November 23rd, 2016 Spaceflight. 101 post, "SpaceX wins NASA Launch Contract for Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) Mission," SWOT is a  "cooperative effort between NASA and the French Space Agency CNES with the spacecraft currently under construction at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory." 
The total cost of the mission is expected to be approximately to $1.1Bln USD ($1.45Bln CDN) including launch and operational costs. 
The SWOT Canadian science component will be led by teams from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
Culture vs. Science. This April 2015 photo shows protesters on Mauna Kea attempting to halt construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Photo c/o Irtiqa.
  • The embattled $1.4Bln US ($1.84Bln CDN) Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project has suffered another legal setback. 
As outlined in the January 10th, 2017 Hawaii News Now post, "TMT project could face hurdle with another contested case hearing," a local judge has ordered "yet another contested case hearing before construction on the $1.4 billion telescope can begin, but the state (of Hawaii, where construction is planned) intends to fight that ruling with an appeal in the next few weeks." 
Mauna Kea, where the TMT is currently scheduled to be constructed (and where thirteen other telescopes have already been built), is designated by Hawaii as conservation land under the direction of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. 
Although leased by the University of Hawaii, the university is required to obtain approval before subleasing it to others. 
In April, 2015, the Canadian government under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed $243.5Mln CDN to the project. But, as outlined in the December 6th, 2015 post, "Hawaii Supreme Court Rescinds Permit to Build Thirty Meter Telescope," the project began to unravel shortly afterwords. 
And, as outlined in the November 1st, 2016 post, "Thirty Meter Telescope Builders Choose Alternative Site To Mauna Kea In Hawaii," the consortium promoting the project has begun exploring alternative sites
For more, check out upcoming posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

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