Thursday, June 22, 2017

Classic Trek Offers Advice to the Canadian Space Industry on Our Latest Postponed Space Plan

         By Chuck Black

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) has gone on record to address the rumours that an expected report from the Federal Space Advisory Board will not be ready in time to meet the government's self-imposed June 2017 deadline for publication.

As outlined in a June 22nd, 2017 e-mail from ISED media relations officer Hans Parmar, the report is to be updated to become more "action oriented."

Parmar provided no estimate of when the final report would be completed and refused to answer a question on whether it will be ready for September, when an expected Federal Cabinet shuffle could potentially plop a new Liberal face into Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains' current portfolio and cause the entire process to reset to zero. 

According to Parmar:
Based on feedback from the Space Advisory Board consultations, the government heard that Canada needs a long term approach that recognizes the strategic importance of space and that is action-oriented.

The Government of Canada continues to work on a space strategy that will support growth in the sector and leverage the benefits of space for all Canadians.

This strategy will set a new approach for space – setting clear directions, promoting partnerships and defining a future role for Canada in space. This comprehensive approach will help to coordinate policies and programs across government, including Canada’s Defence Policy and the Innovation and Skills Plan.
An "action oriented" Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet at the 2014 Farnborough International Air Show. There's nothing like a quick reminder of the great many political fish still to fry on the Innovation Minister's plate and the June 22nd, 2017 CTV News Post, "Boeing plays down Bombardier dispute, still hopes to sell fighter jets to Canada," notes two in a single post. Another, as outlined in the April 17th, 2017 post, "'Massive' Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon 'Drop Down the Memory Hole'" also directly affects science funding and the Liberal "Innovation Agenda." A fourth crisis, the looming purchase of Canadian satellite communications provider Norsat by either an American hedge fund or a Chinese conglomerate is playing out this week in Vancouver. Photo c/o AP/Sang Tan.

While expected for some time, the delay first surfaced in the June 21st, 2017 SpaceQ post, "New Canadian Space Strategy Delayed," which didn't reference any primary sources, but did give two potential reasons for the delay.
  • First of all, "the Space Advisory Board was not announced until mid-April providing it little time to consult with stakeholders and to formulate a report for the government to analyze," which is true enough as things go, but could also indicate incompetence, since government reviews normally take far longer than the two and a half months the ruling Liberal party allotted. This would have been known in advance. 
    Nice, but not "action oriented." Graphic c/o CSA.
  • Secondly, "there was a greater response to the consultation process than was expected including numerous written submissions. What this all means is the government has a lot of input to digest." It could also indicate a lack of understanding of the complexity of the issues facing our space industry.
There is also the possibility that the Space Advisory Board was convened to give the space industry the perception of participation in the process for when the Liberal party rolled out another generic, but mostly useless document in the same vein as the February 7th, 2014 Conservative Party Canada's Space Policy Framework.

A potential template for this new paper might even have been one of the policy documents which derived from the "1st Canadian Space Policy Symposium," focused on "Aligning Canada’s Future in Space with Canada’s Innovation Agenda," an agenda chock full of Liberal party buzzwords, which was held in Ottawa on November 8th, 2016.

As outlined in the November 13th, 2016 post, "Generalists, Data Miners, Lotteries, Comedy, Open Access and the Future of Science in Canada," the Commercial Space blog mentioned the event in passing, as part of the coverage of the larger 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference, but was refused admission to the space policy symposium.

Talk, but no action. Graphic c/o CSCA.
It's interesting to note that many of the people currently active in the Space Advisory Board did attend the 2016 Space Policy Symposium.

If the outline of the current postponed space policy document was known last November, then a three month turn around time becomes understandable, since the Space Advisory Board would be expected to simply "glad handle" and build consensus for an already existing plan, but wouldn't need to develop anything new.

In retrospect, it seems as if participants in both the 2016 Space Policy Conference and the more recent round table discussions of the Space Advisory Board were sold a bill of goods by the organizers, since people who might possibly disagree with the anticipated policy document were refused admission to the Space Policy Forum, and a reasonable discussion of options relating to Canada's Future in space, including contrary viewpoints, doesn't seem to have occurred until the round tables were held.

Now that expectations have been raised, the government will need to spend some time either distilling the round table discussions into a real policy document, or they'll need to find a way to bury the report.

Of course, this isn't the first time that a Federal minister has offered up a plan to "revitalize" the Canadian space industry and our space agency. 

Back in 2008, then Conservative Industry Minister Jim Prentice, offered up the following mandate to the then new Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean:
Jim Prentice. Photo c/o Wikipedia
I have given Steve a mandate to make sweeping changes at the CSA. 
As we stand at this crossroads, he will revitalize the Agency. He will restore its ability to punch above its weight in an international quest. He will develop Canada’s capacity for a new era of prestige and achievement.  
And to that end, as one of Steve MacLean’s first acts as new President, the CSA will begin consultations with stakeholders that will lead to a new Long-Term Space Plan. 
I expect this plan – the fourth in the series – to be as influential for our generation of exploration and development as any plan that Canada has produced for charting our future in space. 
That’s a tall order. I know that Steve is capable of bringing together the stakeholders. Time is of the essence, and I look forward to the plan in the coming months. 
But after the 2008 election, Prentice moved on to became Minister of Environment. MacLean wrote his report, but it was never released to the public and, as outlined in the May 8th, 2017 post, "Steve MacLean's 2010 Long-Term Space Plan Surfaces, CSA Clarifies its Communications Policy & California's Rocket Tax," that document eventually became marketing material for the Gordon Group, an Ottawa based marketing company which assisted with its creation.

During the 2016 election, and as outlined in the October 13, 2015 post on "Part 2 of "Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review?," both the Liberals and the NDP wanted a review of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (perhaps even culminating in a new "long-term space plan"), but once the Liberals gained power in October 2015, that review fell by the wayside.

The current Liberal government mostly supports the Emerson Review, but would prefer the electorate forgot that Emerson happened under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and currently enjoys wide bipartisan support.

As Mr. Scott, the Chief Engineer in the 1967 Star Trek episode, "Friday's Child," once said, "Fool me once, Shame on you. Fool me twice, Shame on me."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Norsat to Reconvene AGM on June 22nd to Discuss US and Chinese Purchase Offers

          By Chuck Black

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Steven MacKinnon, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement will be joining a large delegation of Canadian companies attending the 2017 International Paris Air Show this week, where they are expected to focus on promoting the "aero" component of Canada's aerospace industry to an international audience.

Which is sort of a political shame, because back in Canada, both Chinese based Shenzhen, China based Hytera Communications and Atlanta based Privet Fund Management are plotting their next move to acquire Richmond, BC based Norsat International, which sells custom satellite communications capabilities to Canadian and US civilian and military organizations for "remote and challenging applications."

A showdown is expected this week, whether or not the appropriate Canadian politicians weigh in on the matter.

As outlined in the June 17th, 2017 Norsat press release, "Reconvened Annual General Meeting," Norsat shareholders will have the opportunity to discuss both the Hytera & Privet purchase offers when Norsat AGM reconvenes its annual general meeting on Thursday, June 22nd, 2017.

US based Privet currently seems to possess the advantage. As outlined in the June 19th, 2017 Privet press release, "Privet Fund Management LLC Announces Intention To Vote Against Arrangement Resolution Between Norsat International and Hytera Communications Co," Privet already owns 17.6% of the common shares of Norsat, and intends to vote against the Hytera offer.

But they seem to be opposed by the Norsat board. As outlined in the Privet press release:
"We find it incredible that the Norsat Board believes an identical offer from Hytera represents the best interests of all stakeholders in light of the mounting political scrutiny and regulatory uncertainty surrounding a transaction with Hytera," said Ryan Levenson, managing member of Privet. 
"Even more egregious, in exchange for merely matching Privet's offer, the Norsat Board gifted an additional US$500,000 to Hytera in the form of an increased termination fee, making it even more expensive for a third party to deliver a topping bid. The increased fee brings the total amount of incremental termination fees Norsat has bestowed upon Hytera for just keeping up with Privet to US$1 Million – or US$0.17 per share."
"That is money that could have gone directly to shareholders, rather than used to ensure that Hytera remains in an advantageous negotiating position," added Mr. Levenson.

Privat also seems to enjoy the support of at least one US government organization.

As outlined in the June 12th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "US rebukes Canada over Chinese takeover of Norsat," the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission,  a US congressional commission, warned last week that "the Trudeau government’s decision to green-light a Chinese takeover of a Canadian high-tech firm that sells satellite-communication systems to the American military jeopardizes US national security" and urged the Pentagon to “immediately review” its dealings with Norsat.

But this doesn't mean that the US acquisition of Norsat is a sure thing.

Certainly if the Liberal party were up to date on this particular sale, they could have handled it with a little more finesse. As outlined in the June 12th, 2017 post, "US and Chinese Firms Joust Over Norsat as Opposition Criticizes Liberals for Allowing Sale," they were initially caught unaware of the importance of the company to both Canadian and US national security.

The final sale, as of now, could certainly go either way. And while it would certainly be considered more appropriate to our security requirements if Canadian defence needs were included in the calculation of the final sale of Norsat to any foreign entity, that might not happen.

After all, our Innovation Minister and his colleagues will instead be in Paris, where they will focus on issues other than our national defence and the role of our space industry in its maintenance.

Perhaps Minister Bains will even get in a little sight-seeing before returning to Canada and getting back to work. Paris is a great tourist attraction.

Nuff said...
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Insurance Underwriters in Space at the 2017 World Space Risk Forum

          By Brian Orlotti

The 2017 World Space Risk Forum (WSRF), first organized in 2010 "as a forum for the global space community to better understand space risks, new technologies and innovations with the goal to find ways to best mitigate risks, allowing space to become a safer place to do business," wound up its most recent one day event in London, UK last week with a consensus that the space industry is at a tipping point.

As outlined by SpaceIntelReport editor Peter B. de Selding, "2016 to be historic low for space insurance premiums w/ grounding of SpaceX. But it'll be a profitable yr for underwriters." Graphic c/o Twitter

As outlined in the June 15th, 2017 SpaceWatch Middle East post, "World Space Risk Forum 2017 in London – Space: A Risky Business," the industry has entered an era set to be dominated by the small satellites and low cost launch vehicles.To compete, traditional operators, manufacturers and launch vehicle providers will need to rethink their business models.

A second area of concern was the development of solutions for identifying what's in orbit, where its located, who owns it and how to keep everything from colliding.

Presentations included:
  • Craig Clarke, the chief executive officer of UK based Clyde Space, who highlighted just how far small satellite capabilities have come. According to Clarke, high resolution imaging, SAR, communications and Earth observation capabilities can all be offered on a small 400kg platform and the cubesat sector is very much driving the continued growth of the overall market. As well, the lower cost of download of data has led to a change in the type of customer using the service and the amount of risk which they are willing to accept.
Sometimes its hard to compare a small-sat to a large one without understanding their orbits and capabilities. A good place to start is the Q2 2015 Intelesat Insider post, "LEO and GEO Constellations: 7 Elements to Consider Before Joining the Debate," which defines the key points of comparison as being latency, coverage, efficiency, complexity, cost, frequency spectrum, time to market and adaptability. Graphic c/o Intelesat
  • Antonio Abad, the chief technology office of Madrid based Hispasat, who stressed that the satellite industry needs to be competitive with terrestrial solutions in order to maintain its market. The satellite industry, though adept at broadcasting, needs to be better at point-to-point services and needs to look again at the design of its satellites in order to remain relevant.
  • Peter Elson, the "global head of space" and chief operations officer at London, UK based insurance broker JLT Specialty, who emphasized that what had previously worked for insurers and brokers in the past would no longer work due to the amount of innovation and disruption currently occurring within the industry.
  • Mike Lawton, the founder and chief executive officer of UK based Oxford Space Systems, who explained how NewSpace companies are far more accepting of high risk activities because they are composed of small, "generalist" teams involved in multiple roles and intent on "disruption," not simply "innovation." Traditional players, such as space agencies and aerospace contractors, tend to be risk averse, slower to react to challenges and focused on incremental improvements, rather than disruption.
SpaceX and Blue Origin aren't just competing against each other. As outlined in the June 19th, 2017 Inverse post, "SpaceX and Blue Origin are Set to Solve America's Rocket Problem," they're also competing against far more expensive American rocket manufacturers and 1970's designed Russian rocket engines. Photo's c/o Business Insider
  • Jonathan Hofeller, the vice-president of commercial sales for Hawthorne, CA based SpaceX, who recounted how the industry had originally laughed at Elon Musk’s vision of reusable rockets. The company has since seen a "paradigm shift" in terms of customers interested in this area and Musk's vision is now becoming the "new normal."
In addition to their conferences, the WSRF provides a platform for continual dialogue and the website provides resources to better understand the space risks industry. 

Partners include Euroconsult, Arianespace, Boeing, Space Systems Loral (SSL), SpaceX, Thales Athena and a variety of insurance brokers. 
Brian Orlotti.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Telesat Supports Defence Budget But Inuvik Left Out & Teledyne Dalsa Employee Convicted of Selling Satellite Data to China

          By Henry Stewart

For the week of June 12th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

Has this man got a deal for Telesat? Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan in Parliament earlier this year. Photo c/o CTV News.

  • Ottawa, Ontario based Telesat seems to have responded with enthusiasm after learning the details of Canada’s new defense policy last week, especially the parts which included new Federal funding for arctic military satellites.
As outlined in the June 13th, 2017 Space Intel Report post, "Telesat sees possible LEO partnership in Canada’s new defense posture," just hours after the document was published, "Ottawa-based Telesat said the Canadian government’s willingness to strike public-private partnerships, (is) a move that gives 'an unprecedented opportunity for the Canadian defense industry, including the space sector, to effectively support the military.'"
According to the article, "The biggest near-term potential benefit to Telesat would appear to be having Canada’s armed forces as an anchor tenant for Telesat’s proposed global constellation of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit. The constellation, for which two prototype satellites are scheduled for launch this year, would appear to fill the requirement of the new Canadian defense policy for all-Arctic coverage."
As outlined in the June 9th, 2017 post, "Liberals Waive Review of Chinese Norsat Purchase, but also Pledge Billions in Defence Spending & Revise Satellite Licencing Regs," the Minister has proposed up to $62Bln CDN worth of new defence contracts, which would include space-based telecommunications in the Arctic, plus various space based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and situational awareness initiatives plus perhaps even "a counterspace option."
For more on Telesat's proposed global constellation, check out the May 8th, 2017 Space Intel post, "Telesat: LEO gives more user bandwidth than GEO HTS." 
For more on Telesat's two prototype satellites, check out the February 29th, 2016 post, "Telesat makes Agreements, MDA likes the USA, COM DEV not Forgotten & NSERC has Needs."
Tom Zubko, the president of New North Networks, is concerned Inuvik's image as a good place to invest in satellite related technology could face a setback if the federal government does not move faster to approve transmission licenses for two clients who built six new satellite dishes in Inuvik last year. Photo c/o David Thurton/CBC.

  • Of course, while it's hypothetically possible that the new military spending promised by Minister Sajjan is on the way and will indeed show up sometime after the next election, Canada's north will continue for face telecommunication challenges. 
As outlined in the June 9th, 2017 CBC News post, "Federal delays could smother Inuvik's fledgling satellite industry, says telecom prez," six new satellite antennae are ready for service in Inuvik,a town in the Northwest Territories which acts as the administrative centre for the Inuvik Region, but delays in licensing could kill the project.
The article quoted Tom Zubko, the president of Inuvik based New North Networks, who stated that two clients (Norway based Kongsberg Satellite Services and San Francisco, CA based Planet Labs, also known as Planet) have spent upward of $10Mln CDN to install the antennas, but are unable to use them, because of the "slow progress on a federal licence to transmit data" and are thinking of abandoning the project.
Zubko said Inuvik has great potential for this kind of high-tech investment, but only if proponents can get their projects licensed in a timely matter. According to the article, "New North Networks was contracted to build the basic infrastructure for the equipment, which the two satellite companies then installed. Zubko said his company also has a contract to provide care and maintenance of the new equipment."
As outlined most recently in the July 18th, 2016 post, "Arctic Satellites Should Serve Northerners According to Nunatsiaq Online," the 2016 cancellation of the dual civilian and military use Polar Communications and Weather mission (PCW) in favor of a Canadian military based program without any weather component or assured civilian access to communications, has caused confusion in the North as the civilian population scrambles for an alternative. 
Teledyne Dalsa HQ in Waterloo, Ontario. Photo c/o Teledyne Dalsa.

  • In contrast to the recent public and Parliamentary concerns expressed over attempts the proposed sale of Vancouver, BC based Norsat International Inc. to Shenzhen, China based Hytera Communications, there has been little attempt to assess or comment on the recent situation at Waterloo, Ontario based Teledyne Dalsa, where two employees were arrested in February 2017 on charges of stealing sensitive satellite imaging technology from their company and selling the information to China.
As outlined in the June 12th, 2017 The Record post, "Waterloo tech theft case ends with $50,000 fine," Arthur Pang and Binqiao Li faced a raft of charges, including theft, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and possession of property obtained by crime. 
As outlined in the article, charges were the result of a two-year investigation by the RCMP's organized crime unit, which started after a complaint from the Waterloo company in early 2014. 
Both Pang and Binqiao were fired after being charged and Pang eventually pleaded guilty only to breaking Canada's export and customs laws and was fined $50,000 CDN. 
According to the article, "the other 18 charges he faced were dropped by the prosecution. All charges against Li were withdrawn." As outlined in court documents, Pang admitted to competing against his own employer on bids for space projects in China.
For more, check out our upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Part 14: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Challengers Destruction, the Hubble Space Telescope, a New HQ for the CSA, Spar Flounders

& Orbital Sciences Buys MDA

Challenger's destruction January 28th, 1986. Photo c/o NYT.
         By Robert Godwin
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.

In 1982 Phil Lapp had again tried to spark a cross-Atlantic partnership for Canadian space research with his friend Geoffrey Pardoe in England. SPAR had signed an agreement to work with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a large observation satellite named L-Sat. This agreement would ultimately start discussions which might bring Britain into the next generation of synthetic aperture (SAR) equipped satellites. Unfortunately this was not going to be an easy marriage. Long before the program could bear fruit British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pulled out of the agreement.

Problems were soon compounded by the tragic destruction of the space shuttle Challenger in early 1986. As well as the devastating loss of life, many extremely expensive long-term projects were put into a holding pattern while NASA tried to determine the source of the catastrophic failure of its most advanced and expensive space system.

Canada's next astronaut, Dr Robert Bondar, would see her mission pushed back by years. The hugely expensive Hubble Space Telescope, which used STEM-equipped solar panels, was delayed because it was designed to be launched from the shuttle cargo bay. For two and a half years NASA was grounded. This delay was put to good use, not only to make the shuttle system safer, but it also gave the entire Canadian aerospace community — government, industry and academia — a chance to really explore what was needed next to cement the country's future in space.

A national space agency, just like the one which Phil Lapp and John Chapman had suggested more than two decades earlier, was finally created. A report had been issued just a few months before the Challenger accident urging the formation of the new agency, but not everyone was happy with the idea of the government being "at the wheel" of every space project. However, since almost all of the funding came from Ottawa, it seems the plan was inevitable once so many projects were placed on hold.

Almost immediately political friction took hold when Ottawa and Montreal both lobbied to be the host city for the new space agency.  The science community urged that the new agency be set up with "field centres" following the same model as NASA. This would allow places like Churchill Falls to continue to operate and would spread the work around the country. But by May of 1989 the site had been chosen by the Mulroney government for the new agency to be built in St Hubert Quebec.

Dusk falling outside the main rotunda of the John H. Chapman Space Centre in St. Hubert Quebec. The CSA headquarters is named in honour of John Herbert Chapman, a pioneer of the Canadian space program and author of the 1967 report on "Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada," also known as the "Chapman Report," which has served to guide Canadian space activities ever since. Photo c/o CSA.

In the meantime SPAR's Canadarm would return to flight and SPAR began to pursue a contract to build the next generation of robotic arms for the proposed space station.

As early as 1959 NASA, the US Army and the USAF had been issuing contracts for space station studies. All the way through to the early 1980s there had never been much thought given to international cooperation on the many dozens of proposals. It would not be until the Reagan era that the opportunity would arrive for other nations like Canada to get involved, and it was with the collapse of the Soviet Union's grip on its client states, beginning in Poland in 1989, that it was decided by the US government that cooperation with the Soviets might be a way of keeping the peace.

The end of 1988 saw the space shuttle return to flight and one of the most important missions which had been sitting in storage was the giant Hubble Space Telescope. It would be successfully launched from the shuttle cargo bay in April 1990, but almost immediately the operators of the telescope knew that there was something wrong.

A tiny flaw in the main mirror had rendered the multi-billion dollar instrument myopic. The only way to save the whole program was to send another shuttle to catch the massive telescope by using the Canadarm to pull it into the shuttle's protective bay and make an in-flight repair. It would be the most audacious space repair mission since the Skylab debacle of the early 1970s. It would have been impossible without the Canadarm.

But a year before the repair could take place Dr Roberta Bondar became Canada's first female astronaut. Bondar would be a payload specialist and participated in what was known as the "International Microgravity Laboratory."

An overachiever in the life sciences, Bondar and her crewmates completed "more than 100%" of their flight objectives and were able to work for a day longer than originally planned. Crystals, cells and plants all exposed to micro-gravity were returned to Earth, including proteins grown in space.

Bondar would not fly again, but in November Steve MacLean would follow her into orbit participating in what would be one of the most successful years for the shuttle program, with eight flights in less than 12 months. MacLean's flight also included a raft of biology experiments but also included the CANEX 2 experiment package. One of the experiments on liquid metal diffusion originated at Queen's University in Kingston.

Overview of the Canadian Experiments (CANEX-2). Screen shot c/o NASA.

Just as the Canadarm was performing its most famous task and saving the Hubble Space Telescope things started to slide sideways for SPAR. In 1987 SPAR had become prime contractor for Canada's involvement in the International Space Station and MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) had been brought on board to handle the software. That same year was also when SPAR and MDA combined forces on the new SAR satellite, RADARSAT.

In July 1992 the shareholders of MDA rejected a $50M buy-out offer from SPAR. In 1993 a new management structure at SPAR began to cause oversight issues. The company had grown into a behemoth with aerospace work only accounting for 41% of the revenues. The failed takeover of MDA allowed for another suitor, Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) of Dulles, to make a better offer just a few years later. In September 1995 MDA became a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbital.

This was the beginning of the end for SPAR. Canada's largest space contractor was on the way out. 
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Last Week, "'Spar's Canadarm, George Klein, Ernie Groskopfs and Working Astronauts plus the Mulrony Gov't Divests its Aerospace Assets," in part thirteen of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "RADARSAT, Spar's Destruction and More," as part fifteen of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

Monday, June 12, 2017

US and Chinese Firms Joust Over Norsat as Opposition Criticizes Liberals for Allowing Sale

          By Chuck Black

Policy discussions on Canadian hi-tech and space initiatives are no longer restricted to the "safe space" of polite, off-the-record presentations in places like the government appointed Space Advisory Board (SAB), which the Trudeau government tasked earlier this year to consult with various "stakeholders" and help define key elements of a new space strategy, expected to be released later this month.

Innovation Minister Bains in Parliament on June 9th, 217, when he said, "Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, every single transaction is subject to a national security review. This is a multi-step review process, and the process was followed. We take the advice and feedback from our national security agencies very seriously, and based on that advice, we proceeded with this transaction. I want to reassure the member and this House that we never, ever will compromise our national security." Opposition members simply didn't believe him and cited quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, including a June 2nd, 2017 Norsat press release, "Norsat Announces Investment Canada Notice Regarding Proposed Acquisition by Hytera Communications Co., Ltd.," which stated that there would be no review of the sale. For the full exchange, check out the June 9th, CPAC video record of the discussion. Photo c/o CPAC.

Those discussions spilled over to the Canadian Parliament last week, where they took on an increasingly partisan tone as opposition critics in both the Conservative party and the NDP repeatedly called Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains to task for his handling of the proposed sale of Vancouver, BC based Norsat International Inc. to Shenzhen, China based Hytera Communications

As if matters weren't complex enough already, an obscure US based hedge fund has also made an unsolicited offer to purchase Norsat. And yesterday, a US congressional commission said the Hytera sale "jeopardizes US national security," and urged the Pentagon to “immediately review” its dealings with Norsat.

The June 12th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "US rebukes Canada over Chinese takeover of Norsat," quoted US-China Economic and Security Review Commissioner Michael Wessel as stating that "the Liberals appear to be willing to sacrifice national-security interests of its most important ally in exchange for obtaining a bilateral free-trade deal with China."

As outlined in the June 12th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "US hedge fund makes bid for Canadian tech firm wanted by Chinese giant," Atlanta based Privet Fund Management has made a counter-offer of $11.50 US ($15.30 CDN) a share for Norsat stock. Privet has asked Hytera to match the bid or Norsat will accept the Privet offer and pay a termination fee of $2.5Mln US ($3.3Mln CDN) to Hytera. 

This is not Privet's first attempt to purchase Norsat. As outlined in the May 18th, 2017 Norsat press release, "Norsat Notifies Hytera of Superior Proposal from Privet Fund Management LLC," Hytera and Privet have been jousting over Norsat for the last several months. 

Norsat sells patented satellite communications technology for security, public safety and defence applications to a multitude of Canadian and American government and military agencies, including the Pentagon.

As outlined in the June 8th, 2017 Globe and Mail article, "Critics oppose Liberals' handling of Chinese investor's Norsat takeover," opposition members "slammed the Liberal government on Thursday for giving what they called a serious lack of scrutiny to a Chinese investor’s takeover of a Vancouver high-tech firm even though Canada and its allies depend on the company’s communications technology."

This latest Federal government decision is a reminder that the governing Liberal party is far less concerned about the foreign ownership of Canadian high-tech and space companies than the previous Conservative government.

It's also a reminder that the current iteration of Canadian Earth imaging, communications and space companies, such as Vancouver BC based UrtheCast, Cambridge, Ontario based exactEarth, and even more established firms like Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and Waterloo, Ontario based Teledyne Dalsa often depend heavily on military and government customers to purchase their technology for various command, control and communications (C3) functions.

As outlined originally in the four part series, “Canada’s Military Space Policy,” which ran once a week from December 27th, 2010 until January 16th, 2011, selling to the military and to the intelligence community has not traditionally been a place where peaceful Canadians felt they belonged.

Perhaps we should become acquainted with our new role. The proper forum for that discussion, is a public one.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Engineering: Kardashev Style

          By Brian Orlotti

A new series of YouTube videos portraying a well-rendered vision of future human space exploration is making impressive viewer numbers.

Graphic c/o Fraser Cain.

As outlined the June 8th, 2017 Fraser Cain video "Construction Tips from a Type 2 Engineer - Part 1: Collaboration with Isaac Arthur," and its same day sequel, "Tips from Kardashev 2 Engineers, part 2," the series tells a story, from the perspective of future engineers, of humanity’s transformation into a solar system-spanning civilization.

In Part 1,  ‘practical’ construction tips are discussed as well as key questions such as ‘How did we extract energy and resources from the Moon, planets and even gas giants of the Solar System?’ as well as ‘How did we shift around and dismantle the worlds to provide the raw resources of our civilization?

Part 2 examines the potential mega-engineering projects civilizations may tackle on their way to achieving Kardashev Type 2 status, such as artificial magnetospheres, mining and disassembling comets, asteroids, and even entire planets, as well as harvesting the Sun itself.

The videos are a collaboration between futurist Issac Arthur and Fraser Cain, publisher of space and astronomy news site Universe Today. The two videos were funded via Patreon. Arthur and Cain asked the Patreon community to brainstorm ideas, with Patreon member Gannon Huiting’s idea being chosen for their collaboration.

The video’s striking visuals were created by artists Jakub Grygier, Kevin Gill and Sergio Botero, comprising both custom imagery and animations as well as NASA photos. Audio and music included "We Roam the Stars" by Lombus, "Dark Future - Staring Through pt 1" by AJ Prasad and "A Memory of Earth" by Markus Junnikkala.

According to the video’s narrative, Humanity’s ability to settle the Solar System was spurred by the harvesting of helium 3 from the Moon. This isotope of helium, rare on Earth but more abundant on the Moon, changed everything by enabling the construction of fusion reactors which release no neutrons, enabling them to be used on bases or starships with minimal shielding.

Eventually, lunar helium-3 was depleted but other sources across the Solar System were tapped, like the regolith (dirt) of Mercury, various moons and asteroids and the atmospheres of the gas giant planets (i.e Uranus and Neptune).

One of the videos’ main points was that asteroids and small moons, rather than planets with deep gravity wells, provide an ideal source of raw materials for space construction. These asteroids also enabled humanity to kickstart space-based infrastructure (solar arrays, asteroid habitats) by providing an income stream from vast deposits of precious metals. In addition, these asteroids and moons often contained water in the form of ice, vital to creating life-sustaining habitats in space, as well as fuel for spaceships.

The video’s narrative goes on to say that while these sources offer plentiful supplies for early infrastructure efforts but not enough for major projects like terraforming Mars or creating many artificial habitats. The video then delves mining comets and large moons in the outer solar system. Later the narrative moves into more esoteric realms such as moving planets and building Dyson swarms.

Examining such future scenarios as shown in these videos may appear fanciful and frivolous to some. However, as new technologies and economics that are now opening the space frontier enable more possibilities, such speculation will help humanity decide on where to direct its efforts as well as what shape its future form will take.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

Liberals Waive Review of Chinese Norsat Purchase, but also Pledge Billions in Defence Spending & Revise Satellite Licencing Regs

          By Henry Stewart

When the major domestic stories for the week all revolve around the aerospace industry, it's a reminder of how important our aerospace and space based infrastructure has become for communications and national defence.

With that in mind, and for the week of June 5th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

Industry Minister of Tony Clement (left) along with Norsat CEO Dr. Amiee Chan (centre) at Norsat International HQ in January 2009. As outlined in the January 15th, 2009 Government of Canada press release, "Minister of Industry Invests in Innovative Research and Development Projects for Emergency Services," Clement visited to announce "a repayable investment in Norsat International Inc. (Norsat) to research and develop the next generation of portable ground satellite telecommunications technologies." More recently, and as outlined in the March 14th, 2017 Norsat press release, "Norsat Exhibits at Satellite 2017 Show in Washington, D.C.," the company had launched a series of new Ka-band BUC and LNB solutions. Photo c/o
  • The Federal government has decided "after a preliminary security screening" that further examination of the proposed sale of Vancouver, BC based Norsat International Inc. to Shenzhen, China based Hytera Communications is not required and the sale will be allowed to proceed.
As outlined in the June 8th, 2017 Globe and Mail article, "Liberals waive security review for Chinese takeover of high-tech firm," the Trudeau government "is allowing Chinese investors to buy a Vancouver high-tech firm without a formal national security review even though Canada and many of its allies use the company’s patented satellite communications technology for security, public safety and defence."
The article quoted several independent authorities, including Richard Fadden, the former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, as expressing surprise that no formal review was held.
Norsat CEO Chan. Photo c/o C. Carracedo.
The Norsat position, as outlined in the June 2nd, 2017 Norsat press release, "Norsat Announces Investment Canada Notice Regarding Proposed Acquisition by Hytera Communications Co., Ltd.," is that the current level of Federal due diligence "satisfies the Investment Canada Act condition for closing of the acquisition of Norsat by Hytera."
The press release also quoted Fabio Doninelli, a Norsat director and the chairman of the board as stating that, "the review of the proposed transaction under the Act has been extensive and we are very pleased that the notice received has removed a significant pre-condition to closing of the transaction."
This latest Federal government decision is a reminder that the governing Liberal party is far less reticent about the ownership of Canadian high-tech space companies than the previous Conservative government. 
This was recently demonstrated to the space industry as per the January 24th, 2016 post, "Did the Government Let COM DEV Go Because They Have Bigger Fish to Fry?" which discussed the 2016 purchase of Cambridge, Ontario based Com Dev International by American defence giant Honeywell International and re-enforced by the Federal government decision to ignore the changing structure of Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) as it attempts to gain access to US military contracts.
For more on the hoops MDA is currently jumping through, check out the October 7th, 2016 post, "Iconic MacDonald Dettwiler is Now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company with a Canadian Subsidiary," and it's follow-up, the February 27th, 2017 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler & DigitalGlobe, the Worldview Legion Constellation, Canada's RADARSATs & America's 'Deep State'."
As for Norsat, the company currently boasts various western civilian and military clients including the US Department of Defence, Boeing, CBC News, Reuters, NAV Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard
The Hytera acquisition is expected to close in the third quarter of 2017.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announcing a new defence policy for Canada on June 7th, 2017. For the full text of the ministers speech, check out the June 7th, 2017 Macleans post, "Harjit Sajjan announces a new defence policy: Full speech." Photo c/o  Macleans.
  • On the other hand, what's the loss of one smallish but innovative company, when compared to the opportunity to bid on up to $62Bln CDN worth of defence contracts, especially if there is a strong focus on new technology including:
  • Eighty-eight new advanced fighters. 
  • New "next generation" multi-mission aircraft (replacements for the Canadian Forces Lockheed CP-140 Aurora). 
  • New air-to-air tanker-transports and new ships to replace the current "Halifax" class frigates.
  • And even a replacement of the current RADARSAT remote sensing observation system along with the acquisition of other space-based capabilities, including global satellite communications, surveillance of space, and other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance contracts, at least if the June 7th, 2017 Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) press release, "New defence policy supports Canadian aerospace innovation, industrial capability," is any indication.
But as outlined in the June 7th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Ottawa lays out $62-billion in new military spending over 20 years," the new plan, while expected to boost military spending by more than $30Bln CDN over the next decade (most of which will pay for the ballooning cost of new warships and fighter jets) will also push out the bulk of the new expenditures until after the next Federal election.
This delay places the new policy firmly in the same category as the 2008 Conservative government's Canada First Defence policy, which promised many of the same things, but was never implemented when the funding, also promised for "after the next election," never materialized.
It's a shame. The concept of the Canadian government actually paying for its own defence is the sort of thing which might even give the crazy people currently running Washington a slight pause. 
For more on Canada's new defence policy, check out the June 7th, 2017 National Defence press release, "Canada Unveils New Defence Policy," the new DND website on Canada's Defence Policy under the title, "Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy," and its accompanying PDF report, under the same title.
June 8th, 2017 screenshot of the Federal government webpage on, "Decisions on the Licensing Framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (NGSO) Systems and Clarification of Application Procedures for All Satellite Licence Applications." Screenshot c/o Government of Canada.

  • The Federal government has also issued a series of substantial revisions to its satellite licensing rules. 
As outlined on the June 5th, 2017 Federal government webpage under the title, "Decisions on the Licensing Framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (NGSO) Systems and Clarification of Application Procedures for All Satellite Licence Applications,"  the new regulations include, "changes to the licensing rules for non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) systems and to the procedures for re-assigning spectrum when satellite spectrum authorizations have been returned or revoked."
The new rules are the result of a unexpected demand for commercial non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) satellites and constellations. As outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," this evolving market "is expected to generate $175Bln USD ($236Bln CDN) in satellite manufacturing & launch revenues over the next ten years."
The changes are also the result of a consultation process with input from twelve companies and one "coalition" of firms, which began in March 2017. Participants included Boeing, GHGSat, Kepler Communications, Meridian Global/Northpoint, Microsat Systems Canada Inc. (MSCI), NorthStar Aerospace, O3b Networks (O3b), OneWeb, Planet Labs Inc., SpaceX, Telesat Canada (Telesat) and ViaSat Inc.
The "coalition" included Ciel Satellite LP, Meridian Global Connection Inc., Northpoint Spectrum Development, Parscom Management, and WorldVu Satellites Limited/OneWeb.
An existing moratorium on commercial NGSO satellite applications will be lifted at 08:00 ET on June 26th, 2017 and new applications will be treated in the order in which they are received. 
The Federal government will hold an information session on the changes on June 12th.
For more, check out our upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Part 13: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Spar's Canadarm, George Klein, Ernie Groskopfs and Working Astronauts plus the Mulrony Gov't Divests its Aerospace Assets

Graphic c/o Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
         By Robert Godwin
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.

In April 1981 NASA's space shuttle flew into space for the first time and SPAR's Canadarm was ready for deployment. The team at SPAR had managed to navigate many problematic issues; not least an argument over who should pay what taxes on the equipment as it was shipped across the border into the United States.

The remarkable machine would fly into space aboard the second shuttle mission in November 1981 and would do its first work in space four months later. It had been almost 20 years since the first notions of a Storable Tubular Extendible Member (STEM) derived robotic arm had been suggested at de Havilland.

George Klein in 1980, holding a prototype STEM alongside part of his 1961 patent application for a "coilable extensible apparatus," which outlined how the STEM worked. As outlined in the August 24th, 2014 post, "1970 – “STEM” Space Manipulator Arm – George Klein, Spar Aerospace (Canadian)," the idea for a giant Canadian robot arm, "came first from the Toronto area engineering firm DSMA-Acton, which had been inspired by its work on robotics for the nuclear industry, But it took a consortium of interests and expertise to make it a reality, NRC was the lead, but NASA was convinced to entertain the idea because of Spar's success and track record in the production and delivery of STEM and because of the expertise of firms like RCA Canada Ltd." Photo and graphic c/o

Due to his remarkable aptitude for designing gearing George Klein had been brought back out of retirement by the National Research Council (NRC) and sent into SPAR as Chief Consultant on Gear Design. SPAR and NASA had quickly recognised the inventor's value and his original idea was soon adapted to a multitude of purposes. One of the SPAR engineers, Ernie Groskopfs, who had devised and patented an assortment of new methods for deploying STEMs had also played an integral role in the Canadarm project.

One of the many consequences of Canada's involvement in the space shuttle program was an agreement to fly Canadians into space aboard the orbiting laboratory. While it would always be Americans in the cockpit, there was now an opportunity for scientists and engineers to work on a huge array of new experiments in the mid-deck and aboard the Spacehab (a small pressurized module which fit into the cargo bay) and later the much larger Spacelab. By the end of 1982 it was announced that foreign nationals would soon be flying as mission specialists.

On June 8th 1983 the space shuttle prototype, named Enterprise, flew in the skies above Ottawa on the back of NASA's 747 carrier plane. On the same day it was officially announced that a Canadian would be amongst those chosen to go into space.

The 1983 class of Canadian astronauts. Back row, from left to right: Ken Money, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean and Bjarni Tryggvason. Front row: Robert Thirsk and Roberta Bondar. Photo c/o CSA.

One of the first to apply was Ken Money, an aviation medicine expert based in Downsview Ontario. Money wanted to conduct a study of space sickness.  On July 14th 1983 advertisements were placed in 38 newspapers across the country inviting applications "from Canadian men and women to fly as astronauts on future Space Shuttle missions."

Candidates were not given much time to think about it; their responses had to be received within three weeks. Evidently this didn't cause any problem, with over 400 people applying in the first seven days.

By the time the application process was closed over 4300 people had applied for one of six possible positions. Ken Money's immediate enthusiasm seems to have worked in his favour, garnering him one of the coveted spots, but then he never made it into space. The other five who would go on to become household names in Canada were Bjarni Tryggvason, Marc Garneau, Roberta Bondar, Steve MacLean and Robert Thirsk.

US space shuttle Challenger landing at Kennedy Shuttle Landing Facility runway 33 on October 13th, 1984 during the STS-41g space shuttle flight. Canadian astronaut Garneau acted as second payload specialist for the flight. STS-41-G was also the third shuttle mission to carry a Canadian built IMAX camera on board. Film footage from the mission appeared in the 1985 IMAX movie "The Dream is Alive."

Garneau would be the first chosen to fly, making his maiden voyage in October of 1984. His first flight couldn't have been better suited to Canadian needs and interests.

Onboard the shuttle STS-41G was the "Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications" payload which was a complex system of earth observation instruments; including a Shuttle imaging radar, a large camera for cartography, an air pollution measuring instrument, and a feature identification and location experiment (FILE) for classification of surface materials. The crew also deployed the Earth radiation budget satellite which measured the amount of heat arriving and leaving planet earth.

If studying the Earth from space had been Canada's raison d'être for a space program, Garneau's flight fit right in. He would remain an active astronaut for another sixteen years, flying again in 1996 and 2000.

The success of the Space shuttle program almost immediately started to cut into Canada's other aerospace projects. Scientists who had been launching Black Brant rockets on suborbital hops into the ionosphere were finding that the money for their research was now elsewhere – aboard orbiting observation satellites.

Churchill rocket range in the early 2000's. Only empty buildings and memories remain. Photo c/o Churchill Polar Bears/ Steve Seldon.

In 1985 the rocket research range at Churchill Falls in Manitoba was mothballed. Over 3500 rockets had streaked into the northern skies during its three decades of operation. It had finally become obvious to everyone in the aerospace sector that the government's interests were still rooted in the most efficient way to communicate with and explore Canada's remote regions. Space now held most of the cards.

Canadian astronauts would conduct experiments from the shuttle's cargo bay and mid-deck, Canadian sensors would be on-board massive multi-million dollar satellites and Canadian communications satellites would be cemented into geosynchronous orbits. Canada would still need aircraft to support these roles, particularly when it came to watching things like pollution, fish stocks, forest fires, pack-ice, uninvited shipping in Canadian territorial waters; and of course they would still be needed for defence.

In 1980 the government had finally settled on the Douglas F-18 fighter as the aircraft which would now patrol Canada's skies. It had nothing like the range of the Voodoo or the Arrow, but satellite surveillance had begun to fill the intelligence void.

As outlined in the August 19th, 1986 New York Times article, "Canadair to Be Sold To Bombardier Inc.," the sale, "was part of the Government's plan to sell state-run corporations that it believes could be better managed in the private sector. In January, the Government sold de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. to the Boeing Company for $155Mln CDN." Screenshot c/o NYT.

After years of consolidation and government oversight the Mulroney government came into power and by 1986 had set about divesting the government's aerospace assets.

That year, a family owned business that could barely have been more Canadian, having begun its storied history selling snowmobiles, paid $120Mln CDN for Canadair despite the government having poured $1.2Bln CDN into the company, which at that time was the largest corporate loss in Canadian history.

That same year the Mulroney government sold de Havilland/Avro to Boeing for $90Mln CDN, a $65Mln CDN forgivable note and $500Mln CDN in promised Federal loans.

As the decade of the 1990s began, Canada's expansive aircraft manufacturing industry was being distilled down to fewer and fewer companies.
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Last Week, "The Cape Perry Spaceport, Gordon Shepherd, Hermes, the Battle for the Canadarm and SeaSat,'" in part twelve of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "Challengers Destruction, the Hubble Space Telescope, a New HQ for the CSA, Spar Flounders & Orbital Sciences Buys MDA," as part fourteen of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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