Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cosmonauts, Street Performers and the Kwartzlab Society

As shown in the video below, Canadian billionaire and Cirque du Soleil entrepreneur Guy Laliberté, retired US Army Colonel Jeffrey Williams and Russian Army Colonel Maxim Surayev blasted off today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Russia Today's Gayane Chichakyan was right there, perhaps even a little too close to the action that looks to be only a few dozen meters behind as she provides launch coverage and background material while being blown about by the blast of the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft's engines.

Back in the early 1980's, Laliberté was just an enterprising street performer in Quebec, hanging with other street performers in much the same way as he is now hanging with cosmonauts and astronauts.

But how does any of the above relate to the Kwartzlab Society you may ask? In fact, does anyone even know what the Kwartzlab Society is?

For those who don't, this Kitchener, Ontario based organization is defined on the about page of their website as focused around something called a "hackerspace," which is a:
physical location where like-minded people get together in a cooperative environment to pool their knowledge, experience, and physical resources with a goal to bringing into reality the projects about which they’ve been dreaming.
The sky is the limit, almost literally: projects range from building hardware to building art, from restoring antique equipment to putting electronic blinking eyes in a crocheted doll.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Cirque du Soleil was formed in Quebec in the early 1980's by a group of enterprising street performers:
At that time, the province of Québec did not have a circus tradition, so this group of stilt-walkers, jugglers, fire-eaters and buskers banded together to create a performance platform for themselves. They called themselves "Club des Talons Hauts" or "High-Heels Club," since most of them were stilt-walkers.
The group organized a festival "Fête Foraine de Baie St-Paul" (The Baie Saint-Paul Fair), in which the street performers could exchange ideas and techniques and this led to the birth of Cirque du Soleil.
So in the 1980's a group of performers banded together to exchange ideas and techniques and this led to the creation of the Cirque du Soleil and in 2009, another group banded together to pool their knowledge and expertise in much the same way.

I'm not sure yet what the Kwartzlab Society wants to create or build or accomplish over the next few years but at least one of their members has been active in the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) and worked with the DaVinci Project when it competed for the Ansari X-Prize several years back.

Perhaps in twenty or so years, members of the Kwartzlab Society, using the same techniques as led to the Cirque du Soleil and Guy Laliberté's current adventure will themselves get to hobnob with astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (or whatever ends up replacing it).

As for Laliberté, the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft is scheduled to dock at the International Space Station on Oct. 2, where Laliberté, Surayev and Williams will join Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk and five others.

The Montreal Gazette has indicated that the "CBC Might Air Show From Space" when Laliberté hosts his unprecedented program from the International Space Station, titled "Moving Stars and Earth for Water" on October 9th. The production is part of his plan to raise awareness of water-related issues and is organized through the ONE DROP Foundation.

Let's hope CBC ends up running the program. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Difference Between Butter Knives and Bayonets

Adam Côté, an MA candidate at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carelton University believes that comprehensive legal structures governing space based activities are vital in order to provide the appropriate framework to undertake space based scientific, engineering, business and technical projects in much the same way as the works of Hugo Grotius, Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili laid the foundations for modern international law and contributed to the growth of trans-national trade, exploration and discovery beginning in the 17th century.
And the key to any international treaty or legal structure, according to Côté, is a credible verification regime.

He will be speaking at the upcoming Canadian Space Summit, being held on November 20-22, 2009 in Kingston, Ontario as part of the law and policy track, which is focused on space traffic management, potential legal regimes for space debris removal, international space surveillance/situational awareness and space arms control.

According to Côté, verification is the process of gathering and analyzing information to assess compliance or non-compliance with an international agreement through the development of defined criteria to distinguish between harmful, space based devices and benign satellites.

Simply put, we should be able to tell the difference between a "butter knife" and a "bayonet," the latter of which generally doesn't work well when spreading marmalade.

"The design of a space system, which is constrained by the initial launch and by the space environment, is generally closely related to its function which can be extrapolated from form, location and observed activities," states Côté. "Plus, the development of verification mechanisms based on observational evidence is something that has been done many times previously as part of a international treaties on trade practices, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.”

So what's the real difference between a space based butter knife and a space based bayonet?

Côté won't tell me that over the phone. He says I need to go to the 2009 Canadian Space Summit and attend his presentation in order to find out.

For more information on the 2009 Canadian Space Summit, please contact the Canadian Space Society.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Science "Blinded" by Social Media

Thomas Dolby, one of the more famous one hit wonders of the 80's but also a working artist today (having begun performing again in 2006 after a long hiatus) is best remembered for the quirky, playful synth-pop song "She Blinded me with Science."

Of course, these days social media is blinding, confusing, modifying and changing science all out of recognition, at least according to Hornby Island resident Fraser Cain and the rest of his team at Universe Today, a popular internet site dedicated to news about astronomy and space exploration. The site receives over 600,000 page views a month, and the newsletter edition goes out to 26,000 subscribers every weekday.

Along with Dr. Pamela L. Gay, he hosts the Astronomy Cast podcast and recently had some interesting things to say about the advent of social media and how it affects the scientific process.

For example, according to Cain and Gay:
Astronomy is one of the scientific fields that have been completely shaken up by new media. The internet has enabled communication by researchers in a dramatic new way creating new collaborations, removing obstacles and drawing in an army of enthusiastic volunteers to help with the research.
Changes include:
  • The advent of portable text based content that can be read by small devices or cell phones anywhere in the world. This essentially means that there is no more need for traditional library or even formal internet access since the data is now posted online and available anywhere cell phones function.
  • A more open research environment using blogs to provide ongoing research updates, compare notes and provide context for scientific collaborations. This new environment is building an openness among scientists who may always have hungered for the opportunity to discuss problems, compare solutions, build community and provide insight into the "life of a scientist," but were never able to do so until now.
  • The creation of entire "virtual worlds" through social media constructs like Second Life, which has pretty much replaced the construction of physical buildings for the traditional planetarium experience of astronomy for a generation of students.
Essentially, where before solitary scientists would toil for years in private before eventually publishing a paper in a prestigious journal and then wait patiently for feedback and "peer review," science today is now done "out loud" and peer review is done in real time without the "middle man" to screw things up.

According to Cain and Gay, there is nothing scarier for a scientist than to talk to a "network or a mainstream journalist" because "they get it wrong a lot."

The podcast (episode 148 in the long running series titled "Astronomy and the New Media") is available here, for those who'd like to learn more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Space Scientists and Contractors Thumbing Rocket Rides
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), various contractors and suppliers (including Bristol/ Magellan, Burley Scientific, EMS, Magnametrics, MDA, Novatel and Routes AstroEngineering), multiple universities ( including the University of Calgary’s Institute for Space Research, the University of Alberta, the University of Athabasca, the University of New Brunswick, the University of Saskatchewan the University of Western Ontario and York University) plus even the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) are each waiting patiently for someone to provide extra, free space aboard an appropriately pointed rocket in order to launch their “CASade, Smallsat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer" (CASSIOPE) satellite.

This program is “vital to the future of the Canadian space program” according to the CASSIOPE website so it’s a shame that the project team is having such a difficult time finding a launcher.

Now it’s not as if Canada doesn’t have any rockets it can use. It might just be that no one recognizes them for the assets they are as evidenced by this recent article where a NASA launched Black Brant XII suborbital sounding rocket built by Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg, Manitoba was mistaken for a UFO.

Geoffrey V. Hughes has even written a book about a previous attempt to upgrade the suborbital Black Brant series of rockets to orbital capability under the title "The Orbital Express Project of Bristol Aerospace and MicroSat Launch Systems Inc." According to the book, this previous effort died because of a simple lack of funding and political infighting among the main participants. There were no large technical hurdles to overcome.

Perhaps, if Canadians don't want to generate their own orbital launch capability, they could try hitching a ride with Telesat. This former Bell Canada Enterprises subsidiary (now privately held and with most shares owned by either the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board or Loral Space and Communications Inc.) celebrated the launch of its Nimiq 5 television satellite from Kazakhstan on September 17th.

Telesat now operates twelve satellites in total which is quite a few more than is currently administered by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

For those of us who don't wish to buy Canadian (hitchhikers generally don't like to buy anything), here's the Wikipedia list of orbital launch systems.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Canadian Space Stories Now Available!

Congratulations to on the launch of their new and updated website at

A quick search shows a variety of original Canadian space focused articles from Elizabeth Howell (who’s written for the Globe and Mail, Air and Space/ Smithsonian, the Space Review and the Ottawa Business Journal), Chief Architect Marc Boucher, Editor Keith Cowing and others.

I’ve even posted an article on the site titled “This Week in Space for Canada" for anyone who’d like to take a look.

Also of note are the articles listing Canadian Space Agency (CSA) postings for requests for proposals (RFP's) on the federal governments MERX website, which is a listing of Canadian public tenders, private tenders, U.S. tenders and private-sector construction news presently available through the Canadian government and it's respective agencies.

There is a burning need for the various, disparate Canadian space focused communities and advocates to tell their stories and build public awareness, create connections, grow community and publicize opportunities in the Canadian space sector.

I congratulate for the steps they’ve taken to begin this process.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Americans Engaged in Spirited Strategic Space Debate

New media stalwart "The Huffington Post," listed as the "Top Blog for Authority" by Technorati has joined the debate on the future of NASA with a series of articles focused on "Launching Commercial Space Flight" by X-Prize Foundation founder and newspace icon Peter Diamandis, which is a follow-on to previous articles by planetary science writer Jeff Goldstein on "Weighing in on the Blue-Ribbon Panel Exploring NASA's Strategic Options For Human Space Flight" and Seth Borenstein who believes that "Obama's space panel says moon return is a no go."

These article join other recent articles on the future of NASA published online by Discover Magazine ("The Future of NASA"), The Orlando Sentinel ("Future of NASA's manned space program comes before Congress") and quite a few others as they attempt to interpret the Augustine Committee Preliminary report.

For those interested doing the appropriate due diligence, the Augustine document is located here in PDF format.

Given that the Canadian Space Agency President Steve MacLean and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. have just signed an agreement on "Civil Space Cooperation" it might be worthwhile for Canadian's to do some research and get a sense of who we've decided to continue to cooperate with.

Ten years from now, we may have more money and greater options than they have.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Focused Today on the Boring Business of Making a Living

With all the interesting space focused stories coming out of NASA, the CSA and the private sector over the last little while (including the recent release of the Augustine Committee Summary Report with it's description of the US human spaceflight program as being on "an unsustainable trajectory," the Wednesday announcement of a signed agreement between NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and CSA President Steve Maclean providing for a framework for cooperative civil space activities which formalizes the exiting "ad-hoc" mechanisms between the organizations and Guy Laliberte's upcoming trip to the International Space Station) its useful to sit back and note that most of the people who are engaged in space focused activities are doing it, at least in part, to make a living.

This includes the Augustine Committee, the NASA administrator, the CSA president and most of the other people commented upon or noted in this blog. Of course these people probably like their jobs and perhaps perceive of their positions as being somewhat of a higher calling than most of the rest of the potential jobs available but they certainly still need to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head.

With that in mind, here are a couple of recent reports illustrating the success that Canadian space focused firms have been having lately as they struggle to be fiscally responsible and provide a sustainable return on investment for their stakeholders:
These revenue increases seem to be a general trend across the industry and perhaps bode well for those of us who are merely looking to make a decent living, much like most of the people profiled in this blog.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Guy Laliberté, New Media and the 119th Carnival of Space 

The 119th Carnival of Space has just been posted on the Planetary Society website and it's interesting to note that their choice for the top space focused story this week is an article from the MS-NBC Cosmic Log on Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté and his plans to host a global extravaganza starring Al Gore, U2, Dr. David Suzuki, Peter Gabriel, space station astronauts Frank De Winne and Julie Payette plus Laliberte's own Cirque du Soleil performers along with quite a few others from the International Space Station on October 9th. 

The article has even been picked up by the regular media including this article in the Montreal Gazette which states:
Adding a wondrous twist to the halting issues of climate change and water conservation, Guy Laliberté will host an unprecedented live show from Earth’s orbit on Oct. 9.

The Cirque du Soleil founder and former fire breather announced yesterday the 120-minute live show will involve shows broadcast from 14 cities, starting in Montreal, and he’ll conduct it all from the International Space Station.
The show will promote the ONEDROP Foundation,  which is using this "poetic social mission in space" as described on their website, to raise awareness of the need for accessible water supplies to fight poverty and disease. It will reportedly be carried live on the Internet through the website and in partnership with

It's interesting to note that most of  the links provided to reference this story (with the exception of the links to the Montreal Gazette and perhaps the MS-NBC Log sites) come from internet based new media sites. It's essentially a platitude to even mention this but these new media sites are the future of news no matter what large media owners such as Rupert Murdoch might think.

It's also interesting to note that Mr. Laliberté (no matter what else he may be) is turning into a newspace entrepreneur without peer as he builds profitable, far reaching and useful connections between his day job at the Cirque du Soleil and the various businesses and national organizations involved in government and civilian space access, the political and social activists concerned over climate change, access to fresh water, the commercialization of the worlds water supplies and even simple recording artists looking to sell a few extra records.

It's a far better performance than expected in June when his trip was first announced and I suggested "Let's Not Embrace our First Canadian Fire Breathing Space Tourist Too Tightly." 

At this point, it's a performance worthy of Delos D. Harriman, the Robert Heinlein character in the novel "The Man Who Sold the Moon" and I look forward to seeing the big show on October 9th and learning more about future business opportunities that may follow from this adventure.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Plan to Move Power Plants into Orbit

Space Canada, in cooperation with the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) has just announced the final speaker line up for their 2009 Symposium on Solar Powered Satellites being held next week at the Ontario Science Centre.

The symposium, hosted by Bob Macdonald (the national science correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and host of CBC Radio One’s “Quirks and Quarks”) is expected to attract an international assortment of academics, economists, global warming pundits and space focused legal experts along with representatives from provincial, federal and international government and non-government organizations plus dedicated space activists and quite a few others.

Speakers include Dan Fortin (the CEO of IBM Canada), Marc Garneau (MP for Westmount-Ville-Marie), Dr. Robert Zee (Manager of the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory), John Mankins (former NASA and CalTech Jet Propulsion Laboratory policy guru) and others.

So what will they be talking about, you may ask?

They'll be talking about space based solar power (SBSP) which, according to Wikipedia is "a system for the collection of solar power in space, for use on Earth. SBSP differs from the usual method of solar power collection in that the solar panels used to collect the energy would reside on a satellite in orbit, often referred to as a solar power satellite (SPS), rather than on Earth's surface."

Here's a video from futurist David Houle attempting to provide some context for the overall thrust of the space power advocates in Canada, the US and elsewhere.

Here's a higher level discussion on space solar power provided by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The idea does have quite a few international backers at this point and yesterday, Bloomberg even ran this news report announcing that Mitshubishi Electric Corp. and IHI Corp. will be joining a $21 Billion Japanese initiative to develop the technology needed to build a space solar power satellite. The effort is being coordinated through the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

I am personally a little cautious about the financial, the engineering and the political difficulties surrounding an effort of this nature. I remember how even Werner Von Braun was wrong once in awhile, especially when he advocated the immediate creation of large expensive space infrastructures to do things that could best be done in a smaller scale way.

But I would also like to see what the organizers, attendees and participants at the symposium have to say when it's concludes.

They may perhaps know things that I don't.

Support our Patreon Page