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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Canadians Can Absolutely Build Rockets Anytime They Want!

          By Henry Stewart

This blog certainly missed the story when the winners of the 2017 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) and 1st Annual Spaceport America Cup, which was held from June 20th - 24th in Las Cruces, NM and at Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, NM., were first announced.

An overview of the ESRA, which has historically organized the annual IREC,  and Spaceport America, its new partner for 2017. Video c/o Spaceport America.

But by early August, when the results were posted on the Space Concordia Facebook page, it was becoming obvious that Canadian universities had won far more than their fair share of trophies. As outlined on the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) website post on "the 2017 Spaceport America Cup Winners!!!," Canadian teams won in a variety of categories including:
The IREC Technical Excellence and Innovation Award category;
The Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) Payload Challenge;
  • An honorable mention for "incredible engineering research on propellant slosh done at altitude" was won by Team 9 from Concordia University
  • A second honorable mention for "engineering design and fabulous manufacture of a quadcopter" was also presented to Team 36 from McGill University.
The IREC category award for 10k ft COTS was won by Team 70 from the University of British Columbia. In the IREC category award for 30k ft COTS, Team 53 from Ryerson University placed second, while Team 96 from the University of Waterloo won first place in the 10k ft SRAD Hybrid/Liquid category.
The full list of winners is available on the ESRA website.
It's unfortunate but true that most of the Canadian competitors for this event won't end up in Canada if they decide to look for employment in rocketry, at least the way the industry stands today.

Maybe that will change by the time they graduate. After all, the contest has certainly proved that Canadian's can build rockets anytime they want!
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

The 2017 Edition of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!"

          By Chuck Black

Image c/o Know Your Meme. 
For those of us interested in working in the telecommunications, space or aerospace industry, here's a listing of several dozen useful places to begin the search.

The list includes direct links to the job pages of some of the largest Canadian space companies and a couple of interesting international organizations.

But please note that some of these jobs require security clearances, passports, work permits, landed immigrant status and/or even the acquisition of citizenship from the country where the job just happens to be located.

Happy hunting...

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The 100 Top Aerospace Companies of 2017 - What better place to start than with the biggest and fastest growing firms in this area. Produced by Defence News, this annual report outlines the trends in the industry and ranks the top companies by revenues and profitability.

The Association of Spaceflight Professionals - The former US based, Astronauts for Hire, a 501(c)(3) non-profit formed in 2010 to recruit and train qualified scientists and engineers for the rigors of spaceflight, re-branded itself under this new name in June 2017. Much like A4H, the new ASP conducts a range of activities related to commercial astronaut workforce development, mission planning, operations support and research.

The Bigelow Aerospace Career Page - Where better to discover "your place in space," than the firm which just recently received backing from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As outlined in the February 25th, 2015 Yahoo News post, "Business On the Moon: FAA Backs Bigelow Aerospace," the company has been encouraged by a variety of US Federal government agencies to continue the development of private sector applications for use on the Moon and elsewhere in space.

The Blue Origin Career Page - As outlined in the August 14th, 2017 Business Insider post, "Here’s a first look at Jeff Bezos’ monster rocket factory," Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos is building a new rocket factory in Florida and needs employees to staff it. If you want to become one of the chosen, check out the site.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Careers, Jobs and Internships Page - A one stop shopping emporium for CSA job opportunities. The site includes links to listings covering CSA job openings, internships and student jobsgrants for universities and industry to work on CSA approved programs and the Canadian Space Directory, a listing of private and public organizations and academic institutions which do work for the CSA.

The Epiq Space Job Board - This San Diego, California, based company is an online community dedicated to the satellite industry. The site was developed by industry veterans for engineers, scientists, suppliers, service providers and others who want to find products, companies, resources, industry news and career opportunities related to the satellite industry.

The European Space Agency (ESA) Career Page - As private business slowly begins to eclipse government in importance over the next few years, these government jobs will slowly begin drying up, so get them while they still available.

HE Space - Denmark-based specialist supplier of manpower for space programs with offices in the Netherlands, Germany and the US. The firm also manages the Jobs in Space Linked-In group.

The Indeed.com Listing of Astronomy and Planetary Scientist Jobs - Not all space focused jobs require applicants with an engineering degree. This list, with hundreds of openings from all around the world, focuses on candidates with a scientific background.

The International  Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) - Even in space, there are opportunities for those who are looking for something a little different from the traditional science or engineering degree. The IAMAW represents more than 40,000 Canadian workers in air transport and a wide range of manufacturing including aircraft, auto parts, buses, aerospace, electronics, light and heavy machinery, tools and appliances.

The MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) Corporate Careers Page - Who'd have thought that the Canadian space company which has so often expressed the importance of moving where the clients are, would have so many domestic opportunities available.

NASA Careers - A public listing of available National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) openings. According to the site, NASA is one of "the best places to work in the Federal government®" as ranked by federal employee satisfaction.

Nebula Space - Recruiters of "top class candidates for the most exciting industry in the world."

The NewSpace Global listing of top 1000 NewSpace companies - This list is divided up into three smaller lists covering the most influential privately held companies, a second list covering additional privately held companies perceived as being "on the bubble" of growth (NSG OTB) plus a third list of top rated publicly traded space companies (the NSG PTC). A surprising number of companies on these three lists are Canadian and a surprising number of the rest have offices and employment opportunities in Canada.

NewSpace People - British based, database driven head-hunting firm with 1000's of listings which bills itself as "the business network for the space industry's global professionals and companies." Offers business development and recruitment campaigns, plus "free access to a global network growing by over 5% each month. Our business network is diverse with over 3,000 director-level decision makers, covering 100s of startup founders, chief executives of established space and satellite corporations, and venture capitalists from the global investment community."

The Sapienza Consulting Space & Defence Industry Jobs & Career Page - Focused on jobs for people who are eligible to work in the European Union.

The Satellite Today Career Center - Focused on US based jobs in the commercial satellite industry.

Space Careers - A French based but English language site focused on "the top jobs and the best talents in the industry." Includes a jobs center, a space industry directory, a news and resource section with space news RSS feeds and a LinkedIn page. The site is maintained by Spacelinks, a specialist staffing consultancy focused on the European space and defense industry.

Space Individuals - Augsburg, Germany based  group of proactive people from various industries including aerospace engineering, information technology and user experience design, with  one common goal – to bring together individuals and employers.

The Space Job Market - A recruitment site designed to help job seekers join the right circles through networking and building personal contacts, where they can meet people in the space industry who are able to hire them. According to CEO and founder Paul Koronka, "Space has inadvertently evolved a closed shop that locks out newcomers and makes it difficult even for established people to advance our careers. And yet employers are crying out for new talent."

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI) listing of Employment Opportunities - Located on the Johns Hopkins University Campus in Baltimore, Maryland, the STSCI manages both the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). They offer "the wonder of 21st century space exploration in a job that offers a competitive salary and generous benefits."

The Telesat Canada listing of Current Job Opportunities - The iconic Canadian company, which helped launch a communications revolution in the North back in the 1970's, is still going strong. It's also still looking for a few good people to help administer its current fleet of satellites. 

UNIFOR - This union, created from the 2013 merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), might not represent the typical career path imagined by the average astronaut wannabe, but Canada's largest private sector union does represent aerospace workers at Boeing Canada (Local 2169), Bombardier/ de Havilland (Local 112), Cascade Aerospace (Local 114), CMC Electronics, Magellan Aerospace (Local 3005) and Pratt and Whitney Canada (Local 510), which makes it worth checking out.

UrtheCast - Canada's most creative space company (formed through the "reverse takeover" of a publicly traded mining company) has many openings in Canada and the US on their careers page.

https://careers-virgingalactic.icims.com/jobs/search?ss=1&searchLocation=&searchCategory=&hashed=0Virgin Galactic (VG) - For those who prefer suborbital space travel, this firm has a jobs board with literally dozens of new positions waiting to be filled.

The Wikipedia listing of government agencies engaged in space exploration - Categorized according to capabilities and including links to the listed agency's primary website. Consider this as one stop shopping for those inclined towards government service.

The Wisdom.com listing of Aerospace Company Jobs - India's top jobs site has a large section of employment opportunities, as befitting a nation with one of the fastest growing indigenous space industries. But the real surprise is the number of international position which show up after a basic search.

The Work in Space Global Space Directory – Compiled by KNM Media Kent Ltd., a "marketing and publishing company specialising in the aerospace, defence, space and security/law enforcement markets." Hundreds of listings from dozens of companies.

The Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) careers page - The company that built the world's first "commercial spacecraft" has dozens of job openings covering a wide range of expertise.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ghana in Space

          By Brian Orlotti

Last month, the African nation of Ghana launched its first ever satellite, GhanaSat-1, from the International Space Station (ISS). Africa’s new, low cost space efforts are attracting the attention of new space powers, who sense a business opportunity.

The trio responsible for GhannaSat-1. PhD students Benjamin Bonsu, Joseph Quansah and Ernest Teye Matey worked under the supervision of Professor Mengo Cho (not shown), the director of laboratory of spacecraft environment engineering and several other faculty members at ANU. As outlined in the June 2nd, 2017 Buzz Ghanna post, "GhannaSat-1: Ghanna's First Space Satellite to be Launched in Japan," the program was initially funded by a $500,000 US grant from ANU. 

GhanaSat-1 is a cubesat developed by a student team at Ghana’s All Nations University (ANU), with financial and technical support from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). No financial support from the Ghanian government was provided.

Weighing around 1 kg and powered by on-board solar panels, the satellite carries low and high-resolution cameras that will be used to take pictures of Ghana and monitor the country's coastline as well as sensors to measure the effects of space radiation on commercial microprocessors. GhanaSat-1 was delivered to the ISS in June on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, then launched on July 7th by a Japanese astronaut from the NanoRacks cubesat deployer, located in the station’s Kibo module.

The satellite will serve as both a technology demonstrator and Earth observation satellite. In an interview with the BBC, Richard Damoah, Director ANU’s Space Systems Technology Laboratory, said that the satellite would "...also help us train the upcoming generation on how to apply satellites in different activities around our region. For instance, [monitoring] illegal mining is one of the things we are looking to accomplish."


With the success of GhanaSat-1, Ghana is now reportedly making plans for a GhanaSat-2, to be equipped with better cameras for monitoring deforestation as well as the country’s water usage.

In addition to Japan, other spacefaring nations are taking interest in Africa’s space activites. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s national space agency, is one of them. In an interview with Sputnik Media, Dr Mayank Vahia, a scientist in the department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Mumbai’s TATA Institute of Fundamental Research stated:
ISRO definitely aims to commercially tap the multi-billion dollar global space market as well, which will grow only as nations realise the usefulness of satellites for Earth observation, telecommunications and a host of other objectives. 
When it comes to satellite launches, ISRO has a distinct advantage as it could deliver it in a cost-effective way as seen during the launch of 104 satellites in February earlier this year.
Vahia’s reference to India’s world-record-setting launch of 104 satellites in a single mission aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) last February, combined with its new interest in Africa, reflects the South Asian nation’s hunger for a larger share of the $300 billion USD global space industry.

As new innovations drive the cost of rocket and satellite technology down, smaller nations will be able to contribute to space exploration and development. In past ages of exploration, smaller powers (such as Portugal and The Netherlands) were able to exert their own influence alongside larger ones, shaping large swaths of the world---culturally, politically and economically---(for better or worse) in their own right.

Our own burgeoning age of space exploration will likely see the same.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Canadian Space Agency Will Spend $50,000 So That AI Sales People Can Pitch Them Products

          By Chuck Black

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), sometimes the story just writes itself.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued an advanced contract award notice (ACAN) for $50,000 CDN to Element AI, a high flying Montreal, PQ based artificial intelligence incubator, to "uncover potential applications within the Canadian space sector," suitable for the use of the artificial intelligence (AI) tools which Element AI specializes in.

Element AI co-founder Yoshua Bengio at the 2016 TED Montreal conference, which was held on November 12th, 2016. As outlined in the May 17th, 2017 TEDx Talks post, "The Rise of Artificial Intelligence through Deep Learning | Yoshua Bengio | TEDxMontreal," Bengio is also "the head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), Professor at the Université de Montréal, member of the NIPS board" along with his role at Element AI. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in statistical learning algorithms, is a senior fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and co-directs its program focused on deep learning. According to Bengio, "Montreal has become the largest concentration of deep learning researchers in the world." Screen shot c/o You Tube.

Before we conclude that the appropriate "potential applications" for AI at the CSA include pretty much everything the agency is currently involved with (except for maybe the astronaut program), we might want to take a closer look at the award.

As outlined in the August 8th, 2017 Buy and Sell Canada post, "Assessment and roadmap development for the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Canadian space sector (9F060-20170324),"
...there is a need to grow Canada’s advantage in Artificial Intelligence (AI). A combination of strong public support for research programs and world class expertise at Canadian universities and start-up companies has helped to propel Canada to a leadership role in AI and deep learning. Canada aims to retain and attract top academic talent, and to increase the number of post-graduate trainees and researchers studying in these fields. 
To support these objectives, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) aims to uncover the potential applications and impact of AI within the Canadian space sector. The information gathered will serve to define a cohesive approach and guide Canada’s future investments in space technology development.
Element AI still needs to respond to the ACAN before the award can move forward.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visiting the Magna International facility in Brampton, Ontario on March 30th, 2017. As outlined in the March 31st, 2017 Weekly East Asian Connections post, "PM Trudeau Announces New Pan-Canadian Intelligence Strategy in Brampton,"  the PM was visiting as part of his "post-budget tour" to announce the "new Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy." Photo c/o Weekly East Asian Connections.

The latest CSA announcement is part of the ongoing, $125Mln CDN Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, announced as part of the Federal Budget in March 2017.

The strategy, "will also promote collaboration between Canada’s main centers of expertise in Montreal, Toronto-Waterloo and Edmonton. The investment will build on existing AI advancements and create a critical mass of talent necessary for Canadian businesses to succeed in changing markets."

As outlined in the March 30th, 2017 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Ideas Exchange Post on the, "Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy Overview," there are four major goals of the program:
  • Increase the number of outstanding artificial intelligence researchers and skilled graduates in Canada.
  • Establish interconnected nodes of scientific excellence in Canada’s three major centres for artificial intelligence in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto.
  • Develop global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy and legal implications of advances in artificial intelligence; and
  • Support a national research community on artificial intelligence.
The program is being led by CIFAR and over the next five years, the intent is to:
... enhance Canada’s international profile in AI research and training; increase the productivity in AI academic research and enhanced capacity to generate world-class research and innovation; increase collaboration across geographic areas of excellence in AI research and strengthen relationships with receptors of innovation; attract and retain outstanding AI talent in Canadian universities and industry; and translate AI research discoveries in the private and public sectors leading to socio-economic benefits for Canada.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it's not really a CSA program and has almost nothing to do with space or the space industry, except for the $50,000 CDN the CSA has contributed.

It is instead a well funded CIFAR program ($125Mln CDN, even without the CSA contribution) which will go into a variety of government departments and academic organizations over the next five years to enhance Canada's international profile in AI research and convince them to buy products from AI companies like Element AI, which are located in Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and maybe a few other places.


And while it's good that Canadian government funding is going into an area of acknowledged expertise, it's also a shame that the space industry, another area of acknowledged Canadian expertise, still isn't receiving the attention it requires and deserves.

Maybe the CSA should be spending their allocated $50,000 to meet with AI experts who know about fund raising and lobbyists.

As shown above, CIFAR has even been referenced in a video on the topic, so you just know they gotta have some expertise in this area.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Nat'l & Int'l Approaches & Why the Canadian Space Agency Has No Clue About it's Next Mission, But Wants Your Ideas Anyway

          By Chuck Black

It's not the formal Canadian Space Agency (CSA) mandate, but back in the 1990's when the CSA's primary role was to coordinate Canadian contributions (including astronauts) to the International Space Station (ISS), most everyone understood that "Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its immense size and northern location."

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains twitter account has so far not come up with a usable idea for a CSA program to fill the space between the winding down of Canada's ISS commitments and whenever the next large ISS follow-on program ramps-up. Perhaps the Minister should focus on logical requirements relating to "defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from Canada's immense size and northern location." Or maybe just build a "chicken cannon." Either way works. Graphic c/o Twitter.

Apogee Books founder and owner Robert Godwin, beginning with his March 16th, 2017 post, "Part 1: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History," wrote a sixteen part series with this premise as it's core thesis. Both Telesat Canada (created in 1969 as a crown corporation to improve communications in the far north) and the RADARSAT remote sensing Earth observation satellite program are effective examples of this precept in action.

It's a nationalist approach focused around what's good for the country, especially since we built complete systems and not just components for other space programs. But more recently, others have developed a different opinion of Canada's appropriate role in space.

As outlined by Graham Gibbs (who represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years on the international stage) and ex-CSA president W. M. ("Mac") Evans, starting with the March 19th, 2017 initial post of their twelve part series  "A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets," a more appropriate and modern role for the CSA might be to leverage "international cooperation" and Canadian "niche technology expertise," to add value to international collaborations (like the ISS) and develop commercial applications of use to Canada and the world.

As outlined in the Canadian Encyclopedia, "the Canadarm was a remote-controlled mechanical arm, also known as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS). During its 30-year career with NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, the robotic arm deployed, captured and repaired satellites, positioned astronauts, maintained equipment, and moved cargo." Shown above is the Canadarm-2, which currently performs much the same function as the original space shuttle Canadarms, and is attached to the ISS. Photo c/o CSA.

It's a more internationalist approach, locking Canada into the role of "component manufacturer" for others, but also has its merits. Canada's astronaut and Canadarm contributions to the ISS and the resulting research which came out of these collaborations are a testimony to this methodology.

But the internationalist approach does cause problems, especially if there is no large international programs like the ISS looking for partners at the moment.

When that happens, the CSA spends a lot of time soliciting ideas from an often uninterested public, which rightly believes that, just as soon as the international community defines what it needs from Canada, all those independent ideas solicited from the public will get pushed aside in favour of the next big thing.


So nothing gets done.

That's why CSA promotional puff pieces, like the August 4th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "The Canadian Space Agency Wants Your Concept Ideas," are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Sane contributors know that, as soon as the next large international space plan is run up the flagpole, all that CSA energy currently being put into soliciting new domestic ideas will dry up and reroute itself towards the next large international project.

Solidarity forever!
Chuck Black.
___________________________________________________________

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Waning of Canada’s Prominence as a Commercial UAV Regulatory Frontrunner

         By Kathryn McCulloch
Graphic c/o Twitter.
Canada's space industry is not the only sector hobbled by rules and regulations.
As outlined below, the rules governing the commercial operations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), will also require flexibility for Canadian companies to be able to effectively compete in the international market.
The real secret to appropriate regulations seems to include exceptions for hobbyists and developers... 


Once a leader in the regulation of commercial operations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Canada is no longer at the forefront of an emerging paradigm shift.

Why? 

In short, the initially permissive approach to allowing commercial UAV users to operate in Canada has given way to an administratively-intense regulatory regime, allowing other countries to make advances in commercial regulations that allow companies to more swiftly (and economically) take to the skies.


The Initial Permissiveness of Canadian Regulation of UAVs
UAVs have been regulated in Canada (albeit sparsely) since at least 1996. [1] The only entrenched requirement was that non-piloted aircraft must be operated in accordance with a special flight operating certificate (SFOC). In 2003, a nomenclature change of the “non-piloted aircraft” was made to “unmanned aerial vehicles.” [2]
Then and during the 2000s, UAVs were permitted to operate for commercial purposes, subject to obtaining an SFOC which sets out the general parameters (and limitations) of the flight. Regulation remained at a minimum; coupled with Canada’s vast and relatively uncluttered airscape, the growth of the industry began. 
In 2006, Transport Canada initiated a review of Canadian aviation legislation in order to determine how the existing aviation regulatory framework could accommodate aircraft without pilots and recommend a regulatory framework specific to UAV operations. [3] 
By 2007, recommendations for the core concepts behind regulations and standards of a UAV regulatory framework were formulated. [4] The approach was to ensure UAV regulations and users were integrated with other airspace users and to avoid the creation of a new set of regulations dedicated to UAVs. [5]
Of particular note is that during this time, commercial operations of UAVs were consistently allowed (of course, subject to meeting certain requirements in order to obtain an SFOC). 
In a further move which made operations for commercial users more practicable, Transport Canada released exemptions to the requirements to hold an SFOC in 2014. [6]

Evolution of US Regulation of UAVs
Unlike the regulatory landscape in Canada for commercial UAV operations, the US’s early drone regulatory scheme was formidably restrictive; civilians could not use UAVs for commercial purposes without a ‘Section 333’ exemption, which was an expensive and protracted process. 
Additionally, pilots required a manned aircraft pilot’s licence to operate a UAV. Companies (most notably, Amazon) favoured conducting drone operations in Canada given the permissive structure and the ability to conduct commercial operations. Whereas in the US, models submitted to approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were often rendered obsolete before the company could even obtain the approval for the UAV operation. 
In response, the FAA enacted guidelines for the “non-hobbyist small unmanned aircraft” lifting the earlier near-ban on commercial uses in 2016: the now well-known “Part 107.” [7]
Part 107 came into force in August 2016. Commercial operators of UAVs under 55lbs were no longer required to obtain an operating certificate, like the Canadian SFOC, before taking flight (though other operational requirements for the use of UAVs, knowledge and licencing requirements for pilots and other criteria still need to be observed). If an operator wishes to conduct an operation other than as provided for in the rules, Part 107 provides for a streamlined application process for a commercial operator to obtain waivers of any of the requirements (including the visual-line-of-sight requirements), provided they can demonstrate that the operation will be conducted safely. [8]
Part 107 significantly reduces the administration costs and burden for commercial operations of UAVs in the US. Part 107 and the waiver process have been lauded and commercial flight for small UAVs and registration of drones has since skyrocketed in the US.

Tightening of Requirements on Canadian UAV Operators
Meanwhile, in Canada, SFOC applications continue to flood Transport Canada, drowning staff and increasing wait times far in excess of the 20 day service standard aspired to by Transport Canada.
Some Canadian users are reporting delays of up to three months, delays which stand to cripple a business looking to use UAVs as a resource. For a business seeking to test products and/or services or develop UAV infrastructure, the delay and uncertainty is enough to avoid Canadian airspace. Additionally, safety concerns being raised nationally and internationally seek a tightening of the regulations applicable to UAV flight. 
Canada’s regulators have answered the call. Transport Canada’s recently proposed amendments tighten the requirements and increase compliance costs for virtually all operations, and aim in part at combating to slow SFOC issuance process. [9]
In fact, the recently proposed amendments will do away with the requirement to obtain an SFOC, except for the more risky UAV operations. Will this be enough to hearten Canadian entrepreneurs seeking to (legally) incorporate UAVs into their business? Will it be enough to encourage the foreign investment and corporations back into Canada?
Only time will tell.
Kathryn McCulloch.
_____________________________________________________________

Kathryn McCulloch is a licenced Canadian aircraft pilot and a drone regulatory and aviation lawyer at Dentons Canada LLP, based in Toronto.

Footnotes
[1] Supplement to the Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 130, No. 20, SOR/96-433, section 602.41 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, February 10, 1996 [paperback only].
[2] Regulations Amending the Canadian Aviation Regulations (Parts I, II and VI), Regulations under the Canadian Aeronautics Act, SOR/2003-271, Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 137, No. 17, SOR/2003-271, section 602.41 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, July 24, 2003 [paperback only].
[3] Terms of Reference, Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) Systems Program Design Working Group, RDIMS No. 5705889, published June 29, 2010.
[4] UAV Systems, Program Design Working Group, Phase 1 Final Report, dated March 2012, page 5.
[5] UAV Systems, page 9.
[6] These exemptions were recently revised by amendments to the controlling Advisor Circular, AC 600-004, issued by Transport Canada on December 22, 2016.
[7] Part 107, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Federal Aviation Administration, United States Department of Transportation, June 21, 2016 [effective August 2016].
[8] Fact Sheet – Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107), Federal Aviation Administration, published June 21, 2016.
[9] Consultation and public feedba
ck on the revised regulatory framework is open to the Canadian public until October 13, 2017.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Foreign Buyouts Propelling Canadian Private Equity Deals to Record Highs in 2017

          By Henry Stewart

Something this publication has noted with increasing frequency since the current Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assumed office in November 2015, is the increasing number of buyouts of high tech Canadian companies by foreign buyers.

Two recent examples of this trend would include Cambridge, ON based COM DEV International (purchased by New Jersey based Honeywell in February, 2016) and Richmond, BC based Norsat International (purchased by the Shenzhen, China based Hytera Communications in June 2017).

At least one purchased firm, Montreal PQ based ITF Technologies, which was acquired by Hong Kong-based O-Net Communications, had its acquisition plans initially rejected by the Stephen Harper Conservative government in 2015, before the decision was reversed after the Trudeau government took office. For more on that deal, check out the January 23rd, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "CSIS, Defence warned Ottawa on China laser technology deal."

The pattern is part of a larger trend especially applicable the space industry. According to the August 2, 2017 Reuters post, "Foreign buyout firms drive Canadian private equity deals to reord high to start 2017," the consensus is that it's a good thing.

As outlined in the article:
Foreign buyout firms chasing Canadian assets helped push private equity activity to a record high in the first half of 2017, and lawyers and fund managers say the trend is likely to continue through the rest of the year. 
Deal values jumped 55 per cent in the first half from a year ago to $14.6 billion, an all-time high, according to data released by Thomson Reuters on Wednesday. Deal volumes rose 10 per cent to 184. 
About 38 per cent of the buyout deals targeting Canadian companies had a non-Canadian lead investor, compared with 27 per cent in the first half of 2016.
Most of the interest was coming from US and larger Canadian based tech firms, although the Chinese and others were also active in this area.

In Canada, the consensus is that our small capital markets will prevent companies from growing pass a certain size without direct government intervention in the form of government purchases, tax credits or other actions which often distort the market for competitors.

In essence, the US, the Chinese and others have more funds available to grow a company after it reaches a certain size. In essence, the increased pace of Canadian acquisitions may not be a completely good thing.

The Canadian space industry, as represented by Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), Ottawa based Teleset and many smaller players have historically depended on government contracts, provided through the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Department of Defence (DND) and other government departments to grow to a size able to compete in the world markets.

Will the current Liberal government embrace this reality as previous Liberal and Conservative governments have? And how will the policy relate to the acknowledged Liberal plan to roll out a series of "innovation superclusters," over the next few years?

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

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Satellite Canada Applies for Innovation SuperCluster Funds

          By Chuck Black

Ryan Anderson. Photo c/o R. Anderson.
A small, Ottawa based start-up may have put together a consortium of thirty-nine Canadian space focused corporations, associations and academic institutions willing to contribute time, effort and up to $328Mln CDN, to apply for Federal matching funds under the Justin Trudeau government's new $950Mln CDN Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

But according to Ryan Anderson, the lead organizer for Satellite Canada, the start-up which built the consortium, the real test of his plan to jump-start the domestic satellite industry will come sometime before the end of 2018, when the initial government vetting is completed.

According to Anderson, "if we're invited back we have to submit a Phase 2 application that requires greater detail and more substantial commitment. Whether Satellite Canada is invited to Phase 2 alone, in conjunction with another cluster, or not at all, we still have to work or the details of how our cluster will work."

"My understanding is that two hundred applications had been received by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) when the applications process closed," said Anderson during a recent interview, "so the competition is pretty fierce."

According to Anderson, Ottawa, ON based Telesat (where he used to work) and Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) have both committed to contributing substantial matching funds for the project, along with a substantial contribution from an unnamed "fintech affiliated company."

Letters of support have been received from a variety of organizations, include Cambridge, ON based Honeywell Canada (once better known as COM DEV International); Mississauga, ON based Magellan Aerospace and several academic institutions including Waterloo University, Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. 

Graphic showing the scale of the Satellite Canada proposal and the number of industry verticals it overlaps. Graphic c/o Satellite Canada.

Other organizations such as the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC) and the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) have also provided letters of support, as have several government organizations, including Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Agriculture and Agrifood Canada (AAFC).

"One third of the organizations are interested and committed but have provided no financial support. Eight of the organizations are not for profits and the remainder come from a variety of areas," said Anderson.

Satellite Canada has based its proposed operational model on on two United Kingdom based facilities, the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and the UK Satellite Applications Catapult.


Of course, the current round of this process is designed simply to establish whether or not the applicants know what they're doing. "It's the speed dating round," according to Anderson, and the Satellite Canada application hasn't even got that far right yet.

But no one else has either.

As outlined in the July 24th, 2017 update to the Federal Government Innovation Superclusters Initiative website Frequently Asked Questions page, "contributions to superclusters are normally expected to be in the order of $125-250Mln CDN, with funds matched by industry; however, specific amounts and number of contributions will depend on the nature and scale of the applications received."

Only 25% of the contributions are allowed to be in-kind although ISED has chosen to define salaries of company employees working on cluster projects as cash contributions.

"I don't know how many applications will get to phase two of the process, but I think we're well positioned as serious contender," Anderson feels.

Here's wishing him luck. The space industry in Canada could use a good kick in the pants.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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