Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Note to Canadian Space Industry: Find More Larson Brothers!

          By Chuck Black

While this blog will certainly address the August 18th, 2017 release of the Space Advisory Board (SAB) report, "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard, Space Advisory Board, August 2017," for our upcoming August 25th edition, its worth noting for now that not everyone is looking to the Federal government to facilitate their space based activities.

Brothers in arms. Helios Wire CEO Scott Larson and his brother, UrtheCast CEO Wade Larson. As outlined in the March 20th, 2017 post, "Helios Wire is a Canadian Space Based Internet of Things Startup," Helios Wire was founded by former Urthecast CEO and co-founder Scott Larson to build a space-based Internet of Things (IoT) network using a constellation of 30 low-cost satellites. UrtheCast Co-founder and COO Wade Larson took over as UrtheCast CEO in December 2015. Photo c/o @scolarson & Space News/Science & Technology Facilities Council.

An example would be August 21st, 2017 Helios Wire post, "Helios Wire Raises US$4 Million in Financing to Continue Building its Satellite-Enabled IOT Service," which announced that Vancouver, BC based Helios Wire had raised "an additional $4Mln US ($5.02Mln CDN) in financing to help facilitate the launch of its first two satellites."

Oddly enough, Helios Wire CEO Scott Larson is the brother of UrtheCast CEO Wade Larson and both brothers seem to be having an exceptional summer. 

As outlined in the August 21th, 2017 post, "UrthCast "Customer Funds" $100Mln CDN OptiSAR Constellation Precursor Satellite," the UrtheCast CEO has just brought in his own big contract. But the Helios Wire CEO has also been having a great deal of success. According to brother Scott: 
We’re extremely pleased with the level of investor interest in Helios Wire’s mission. The funds from this round of financing will be put towards the launch of our first satellite this Christmas, as well as the two other satellites scheduled to be launched during the second half of 2018.
We’re in the midst of a seismic shift in the way industries operate. Our goal is to make certain that companies and organizations, regardless of size, are able to participate in the enabling technologies of IoT, particularly in the industrial sectors.

According to the Helios Wire press release, "the Boston Consulting Group has predicted that $267Bln US ($335Bln CDN) will be spent on IoT technologies, products, and services by 2020. Already, IoT is improving operations, but small and medium-sized companies have yet to fully capitalize."

According to Larson, "Today, Industrial IoT is frequently considered to be costly, inaccessible, and best suited for larger, international organizations; but that won’t always be the case." His newest company to take advantage of this trend.

Given that both CEO's seem to have put their money where there mouth is, maybe what the Canadian space industry really needs (despite what the Space Advisory Board and others might think) is a few more people with the mettle of one or both of the Larson brothers.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, August 21, 2017

UrthCast "Customer Funds" $100Mln CDN OptiSAR Constellation Precursor Satellite

          By Brian Orlotti

Vancouver, BC-based UrtheCast Corp. has announced the signing of a contract “in excess of one hundred million Canadian dollars” with an undisclosed customer to build a single synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite which will act as a precursor to its currently planned sixteen satellite constellation of eight optical and eight dual-band X- and L-band Earth observation satellites.

From top left, a sample X-band SAR image with a sample L-band SAR image on the top right. From bottom left, a sample multi-spectral optical image with a sample fused image, combining the highlights of the first three images on the bottom right, and suggesting new patterns. While the Urthecast OptiSar Constellation is expected to serve as a platform for advancing the development of a host of new applications and services, its not the only player in this niche. Major competitors include Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (currently building the RADARSAT Constellation series of three SAR satellites for the Canadian government) along it's subsidiary, Colorado based DigitalGlobe (a commercial Earth imaging provider which owns the four satellite Worldview Constellation and has strong ties to the US military), plus Paris, France based Astrium (a division of Airbus Group) and San Francisco based Planet (which controls over a hundred small orbiting Earth imaging cubesat's now and plans to launch more). Images c/o UrtheCast.

But the new contract will also delay the roll-out of its integrated, multi-spectral optical and radar (OptiSAR) constellation by "at least a year," to around 2023. As outlined on the undated European Space Agency (ESA) EO Portal Directory webpage under the title, "the OptiSAR (Optical and SAR) Commercial Constellation of UrtheCast," the constellation was initially expected to be deployed over multiple launches in 2019 and 2020.

UrtheCast President and CEO Wade Larson stated during the August 14th, 2017 Urthecast Q2 2017 investor conference call that the company purchasing the SAR satellite was one of three that had already signed a memorandum of understanding to be clients of the OptiSAR constellation once it becomes operational.

The August 14th, 2017 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Enters Into Binding Agreement Worth US$180 Million to Sell and Operate Two Satellites in the OptiSAR™ Constellation, quoted Larson as stating:
Building and delivering this accelerator SAR satellite will validate our technology, substantially reduce our financial, programmatic and operational risks, and get us into the business of selling SAR-XL data sooner than we were anticipating. 
Subject to final approvals, we’ll soon be customer-funded to build our first operational-class SAR mission.
This precursor mission will enable Urthecast to both demonstrate its OptiSAR technology to prospective clients as well as enable an additional revenue stream for the company prior to the constellation’s launch in 2023.

The company also plans to launch an eight-satellite constellation in 2020, called UrtheDaily, designed to capture daily, medium-quality optical imagery of the Earth's entire landmass (excluding Antarctica).


This is the third substantial announcement UrtheCast has made regarding the OptiSar constellation over the last year.

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," another client, also unnamed, agreed to pay $180Mln USD ($227Mln CDN) for the sale and shared operation of the first two satellites in the constellation earlier this year.

And, as reported in the March 15th, 2017 Via Satellite post, "UrtheCast Raises CA$17.6 Million to Support OptiSAR Constellation," the company has also received funding from the Canadian Innovation, Science and Economic Development's (ISED) Industrial Technologies Office as part of its Strategic Aerospace & Defense Initiative (SADI) program.

UrtheCast currently operates various Earth observation systems, including two satellites, Deimos-1 and Deimos-2, to produce imagery that is displayed on UrtheCast's cloud-based web platform and sold to various partners and customers.

Through its subsidiary Deimos Imaging, UrtheCast processes and distributes imagery and value-added products on behalf of the PanGeo Alliance, a global network of eight satellite operators with a combined fleet of 15 Earth Observation systems.


OptiSAR is intended to be the world’s first multispectral combined optical/SAR constellation of Earth Observation satellites. The constellation will consist of 16 spacecraft; 8 pairs of SAR and optical satellites working in tandem. Closely pairing both types of satellite will enable near-simultaneous acquisition of both radar and optical imagery. Each satellite pair will be capable of providing very high quality imagery at 1m resolution in X-band and 5m resolution in L-band as well as colour video at 30 fps.

The OptiSAR system will combine the best of both worlds; optical imagery taken during best weather conditions augmented by SAR’s greater detail, day-or-night flexibility and cloud-penetrating abilities. This fusion will result in far richer data-sets (the SAR data acting as metadata for the optical) that will enable more powerful analysis in fields as diverse as agricultural monitoring, disaster relief and urban planning.  

The contract covers delivery of the spacecraft (to be built by UK based Surrey Satellite Technology), key elements of the ground segment and post-launch maintenance and operational support. Urthecast and its client will enter into a separate contract to provide UrtheCast with the exclusive distribution rights to the client’s unused imaging capacity on a shared 50/50 net revenue basis outside the client’s own region.

Subject to government approvals, work on the satellite is anticipated to begin in early 2018 with a launch in late 2020.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Three Academics With a Paper on Canada's Future in Space

          By Chuck Black

A trio of authors from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Western University have publicly released "A Vision for Canadian Space Exploration," a proposal originally submitted to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains in response to the Space Advisory Board consultation on the creation of a new space strategy, which was announced earlier this year.

Jeremy Heyl. Photo c/o UBC.
According to UBC astronomy professor Professor Jeremy Heyl, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has no money for international cooperation and needs a space policy able to offer up long-term consistent funding with which academics, policymakers and corporations can use to plan government activities and assess proposals.

Ilaria Caiazzo. Photo c/o J. Heyl.
Heyl, in a phone conversation with this blog on Thursday, called current CSA funding "uninspiring" and suggested that "Canada is no longer a reliable partner for international aerospace proposals."

The 26 page document, created by Heyl and two other authors, Western University associate professor of astronomy Sarah Gallagher and UBC doctoral student Ilaria Caiazzo, proposed "a sustained and balanced program in space exploration to fuel innovation in the space sector, ​support Canada's world-leading space researchers, inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators, and create thousands of highly skilled, well-paying jobs for Canadians."

Sarah Gallagher. Photo c/o J. Heyl.
To support those goals, the document requested a "total investment of approximately $1Bln CDN, increasing to $1.3Bln CDN in each decade that follows," for a variety of academically led space missions "including a regular flagship mission that Canada would lead and a constellation of smaller missions, either led by Canada or in collaboration with international partners..."

According to Heyl, the additional funding will allow the CSA to again contribute to international programs like the upcoming James Web Space Telescope (JWST), allow Canada to lead a variety of "flagship" missions and smaller projects and allow for the creation of a consistent process around CSA decision making.

According to the paper:
While Canada has had a track record of impressive contributions to international space exploration missions, we have failed to join several key recent NASA mission opportunities, including the Mars 2020 rover and the MoonRise lunar sample return mission. The window is closing fast for a Canadian contribution to NASA’s dark-energy flagship mission WFIRST and for the ESA X-ray flagship mission Athena...
The document also referenced "Canada’s Fundamental Science Review," the independent review of federal science funding led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, which was released in the spring.

As outlined in the April 17th, 2017 post, ""Massive" Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon 'Drop Down the Memory Hole,'" that review also requested large sums of new funding and is not likely to be implemented any time soon.

The latest paper is not the only document independently released to the public while the Space Advisory Board continues its private deliberations on Canada's future in space. For other perspectives, check out the April 20th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Committee Members Announced: Various Stakeholders Release Independent Assessments, Just in Case."
Editors Note: Looks like the Space Advisory Board has just released their preliminary assessment.
As outlined in the August 18th, 2017 Government of Canada post, "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard, Space Advisory Board, August 2017," the board's recommendations include the following:
  • Designating space as a National Strategic Asset.
  • Strengthen world-class Canadian capabilities
  • Adopting new policies and regulations to capitalize on technological advances.
  • Continuity of policies and sustainable funding
  • Outreach and educational activities to inspire and prepare Canadians
  • An urgent call to action
On the other hand, there seems to be very little concrete statements or recommendations, in the way of funding or specific regulatory changes, which would help pave this highway to the future. It's also amusing to note that the board explicitly recommended that it remain in existence so that it's members can continue "building upon the contacts established" by its activities.
This blog will take a look at that document and those recommendations and provide a proper, informed assessment over the next few days. Stay tuned.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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