Thursday, August 31, 2017

In Toronto, You Can Take the Bus to the Beach

The Commercial Space blog will be taking the September long weekend off to enjoy the beach, the Canadian National Exhibition and the waning lights of summer, but we'll return with all new stories, beginning September 8th.

Until then, here's a wild romp through the streets of Toronto with the Shuffle Demons rapping about their favorite form of public transit.

It's worth noting that, in at least one Canadian city, you can take a bus to the beach...

MacDonald Dettwiler is Part of an Alberta Based Agrifood ‘Supercluster’ Proposal

          By Chuck Black

This blog has never been terribly kind to Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), but when the company does something right, its important to acknowledge those actions. 

An overview of precision farming technologies from the October 9th, 2012 GIS Lounge post, "Geospatial Technologies in Precision Agriculture," highlighting the use of satellites to provide an overview of crops and weather which can be utilized by farmers on the ground. MDA's contribution to farming could include the capabilities of various satellites such as the Canadian RADARSAT-2, the upcoming RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) and the various Earth imaging satellites owned and operated by MDA subsidiary DigitalGlobe. Graphic c/o GIS Lounge.

And MDAs recent decision to partner with Calgary, AB based potash and agricultural powerhouse Agrium Inc. along with Olds, AB based Olds College, in order to submit an application for the creation of an agrifood “supercluster” under the recently announced Federal government $950Mln Innovation Supercluster Initiative (ISI), is certainly worth a few kudos.

Details of the proposal are currently sketchy. However, as outlined in the August 23rd, 2017 Manitoba Co-operator post, "Trio of groups proposes Alberta-based agrifood ‘supercluster,'" the group goals include "promoting innovation in cropping, livestock, digital and agrifood processing technologies," and is “intended to create a pan-Canadian platform to help the sector’s diverse, and sometimes disparate, ‘silos’ align more coherently to identify and resolve challenges in the agrifood value chain.”

If funded, the "Smart Agri-Food Super Cluster," would be administered from Calgary but would "seek out partners from across the country.

As outlined in the August 3rd, 2017 post, "Satellite Canada Applies for Innovation SuperCluster Funds," the MDA team is only one of dozens of organizations vying for Supercluster funds and it's not the only proposal intending to utilize space based assets or even the only proposal with MDA's name attached.

But it does have a good sense of the traditional role of Canada's space industry, which has typically been used to solve practical Earth bound problems and help tie the country together. 

As outlined originally in the March 16th, 2017 post, "Part 1: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History," 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...
The Agrium, Olds College, MDA proposal is focused on the utilization of Canada's natural resources and, because of this focus, will likely fare reasonably well when the Federal government decides which proposals to support.

This will contrast with some of the other proposals which focus on "exploration," lack concrete aims, stress component building to maintain international partnerships but shy away from original innovations/ complete systems and/or focus primarily on "science" to the exclusion of any practical application.

For this, MDA and its partners should be congratulated. They've got the business case down cold. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Terrence ("Terry") Harvey Ussher (May 28th, 1930 - August 22nd, 2017)

          By Chuck Black

Terry Ussher in an undated photo. Photo c/o
Terence ("Terry") Harvey Ussher, the program manager for the development of the first Canadarm at Spar Aerospace, has died.

Ussher, along with Spar VP of marketing (later president) John MacNaughton (1932 - 2006) and National Research Council (NRC) program managers Karl Doetsch and Gary Lindberg, were the best known of many Canadians shepherding our space program through its early days.

As outlined in his August 26th, 2017 Globe and Mail obituary under the title, "USSHER, Terence Harvey," Ussher was never satisfied with mediocrity:
In 1983, Canadarm was deployed on Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-2 mission where it was first tested in orbit. 
While our dad fretted that the 'Arm' might fail with 'Canada' tattooed on its' side, it performed flawlessly and gained international acclaim for Canada's space program. 
As the Program Manager for Canadarm at SPAR Aerospace, its' success was the pinnacle of a brilliant career borne of a passion for astronomy and space exploration. 
Ussher worked on the US Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs. He is survived by his wife Ellen, sister Mary Brown, his children, Susan, John and Carolyn, their spouses Monica and Derek and his grandchildren, Katie, Sarah, Natalie, Jack and Luke.

A 1991 Toronto Star file photo showing Dr. Karl Doetsch, Dr. Garry Lindberg, John MacNaughton and Terry Ussher checking out the Canadarm as a preliminary to handing it off to NASA. Photo c/o Virtual Reference Library.

Friends and family may pay their respects at the Turner & Porter Yorke Chapel in Toronto on Wednesday, August 30th, 2017, from 10 am until the service begins in the Chapel at 11:00 am.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lacavera Elevating Canada and Canadian Technology

          By Brian Orlotti

The 1st Elevate Toronto Festival, a three day tech start-up extravaganza taking place in Toronto, ON from September 12th - 14th,  has just published its speaker list. Among these is a figure well-connected with Canada’s NewSpace industry; Anthony ‘Tony,’  Lacavera, and two up-and-coming space firms.

Tony Lacavera at the at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, ON in January 2016. As outlined in the January 18th, 2016 BetaKit post, "Tony Lacavera Commits to Series A & B Investments Following "Meaningful" Wind Exit," the Toronto based entrepreneur was on-hand to kick off 2016’s MaRS Mornings speaker series. According to Lacavera, his goal "is to keep more companies in Canada." Photo c/o BetaKit.

Lacavera, founder of Globalive Holdings (a telecom provider and investment firm) and wireless carrier Wind Mobile (now Freedom Mobile), is a former Chairman of the Board for Vancouver-based satellite imagery firm UrtheCast as well as a key investor in Toronto-based nano-satellite startup Kepler Communications.

In January 2016,  Lacavera, via Globalive, established a $100Mln CDN venture capital fund as a follow-on to a series of investments he made in various Toronto tech firms over the previous year.

The fund was intended to plug what Lacavera considered a strategic hole in the Canadian startup landscape. Canada has ample support for entrepreneurs just starting out, and once they achieve success, US venture firms or investors like Toronto-based OMERS Ventures are there to provide tens of millions of dollars.

Between those stages lay a funding gap, which Lacavera’s fund is designed to fill by providing mid-level funding rounds of between $5-25 Mln CDN.

In an January 13th, 2016 Computer Dealer News post, "Globalive CEO Tony Lacavera on how Canada can become a leader in AI," Lacavera said that he felt that Canada has the potential to become a world leader in fields such as artificial intelligence, fintech, machine-learning, autonomous vehicles, and quantum computing, though its institutions must step up their efforts to fulfill it.

He also stressed that Canada’s efforts must go beyond mere presentations and broad allocations of resources; Canada must narrow its actions and focus on areas where it can win. Towards that end, in 2017, Lacavera, now co-chair of startup-funding charity NEXT Canada, revealed a new initiative, NextAI.

NextAI, an artificial intelligence startup funding program, has received  $5.15Mln CDN in initial backing from a series of high-profile donors including the Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank and Magna International.

Lacavera has framed the new venture as the Canadian private sector’s contribution to such AI-supportive government organizations as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which he said had provided Canada with a “small but fleeting competitive advantage” in the field.

As quoted in the January 26th, 2017 IT World Canada post, "Tony Lacavera, RBC, Magna among backers behind new AI funding program," Lacavera said that initiatives like NextAI are needed to stop the US brain drain of Canadian tech talent:
Despite excelling on the research front, in recent years the AI brain drain has become more and more profound, as so much of our top talent leaves for Silicon Valley and beyond. 
At NextAI, our aim is to stop and reverse this brain drain and actually attract the best and the brightest from around the globe to Canada – and the only way we’re going to ensure Canada continues to make its way in artificial intelligence is if we make it the best environment possible for both creation and innovation.
Lacavera’s moves and the Elevate Toronto Festival may have come at just the right moment for Canada. As relations with the United States become increasingly acrimonious, as made evident by President Trump’s recent threats to unilaterally cancel NAFTA, Canada must strive to reduce its economic dependence on the US and finally adopt a more global mindset
Brian Orlotti.

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs

          By Chuck Black

Amidst all the sound and fury of their "urgent call to action," and requests to "designate" space as a "national strategic asset," (whatever that might happen to mean) the essential truth of the August 18th, 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report, released under the title, "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard: Space Advisory Board, August 2017," is that it's not quite done yet.

Sometimes, what's said isn't what's heard, especially when it comes to politics. For more background on what was really said during the SAB consultations, check out the August 18th, 2017 post, "Three Academics With a Paper on Canada's Future in Space," the April 20th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Committee Members Announced: Various Stakeholders Release Independent Assessments, Just in Case," and the public records of various SAB meetings, which were held in Ottawa (April 21st, 2017), Halifax (April 28th, 2017), St. Hubert (May 5th, 2017), Calgary (May 10th, 2017), Vancouver (May 12th, 2017), Toronto (May 16th and 17th, 2017) and online (May 18th and 19th, 2017). Graphic c/o

As outlined on the bottom of page eleven of the nineteen page final report, under the title "Key Proposal," the SAB suggests the development, "in time for the next federal budget (which is expected to be presented to the House of Commons in March 2018), a new space strategy and follow-on space plan that provides the policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity."

No wonder its a key proposal. The current document, which everyone agrees lacks "the  policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity," isn't really much good for anything except pushing off any final political reckoning.

But in order to atone for failing to come up with the serious and actionable policies which most reasonable observers had expected to be completed by June 2017, the SAB members have offered to remain "involved someway in the implementation of the Space Strategy," once it's developed.

That's quick thinking on their part.

It kinda sounds like they had fun making the report, would like a hand in developing the newly promised March 2018 report/ budget input paper (the one which includes the "policies, programs and funding") and want to follow through on the generalizations presented in the current report.

Of course, they might just mostly want to make their jobs permanent.

The  December 21st, 2016 Ottawa Citizen post, "If the port of Churchill is a strategic asset, then why did the Canadian government allow it to close?" questions the utility of designating something as a  "national" or "strategic asset," without supporting legislation or a strong case (business or otherwise) to back up the claim.  For more on what the term has historically meant under the Investment Canada Act, check out the the August 22nd, 2012 Dan Herman's blog post, "Defining a strategic asset – maybe." It's worth noting that the definition relates to the ability of a foreign company to buy a Canadian based firm. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld.

As outlined in the report, the original mandate of the SAB was to:
...conduct outreach and consultations with stakeholders on a vision that: 
  • Encourages a growing and sustainable space sector in the long term. 
  • Inspires Canadians and attracts talent. 
  • Contributes to scientific advancement and the development of emerging technologies; and 
  • Supports companies to scale-up as well as clean growth”
The Minister asked the Space Advisory Board to report on its findings in order to “inform the new space strategy which will use space to drive broader economic growth and innovation while inspiring the next generation of space scientists.”
But the outreach and consultations were held under Chatham House rules where, as outlined on the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House website, "participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed." The intent is to provide anonymity to speakers and "encourage openness and the sharing of information," but the rules often lead to generalizations (since all participants can use the knowledge gained at the meetings when they leave) and insure an overall lack of accountability.

Even worse, participants were discouraged from discussing specific policies or policy changes during the discussions. At the request of the Justin Trudeau Liberal government, the SAB was specifically tasked to build a document to "inform," but not develop, define or create anything which could be mistaken for a new space policy or long-term space plan.

Which, of course, was a large part of the reason why the report was subtitled "What We Heard" instead of "What We Concluded."

The members of the SAB gave the Federal government exactly what they were asked to give when, as outlined in the April 18th, 2017 government of Canada post, "Government of Canada renews Space Advisory Board," the government reformed the board earlier this year. In exchange, board members might even get new part time jobs, if the government reacts positively to their request.

It's just a damn shame they weren't able to provide a document of use to the industry and all the people who participated in those meetings. Some were even counting on them.

So here we go again. The next stop is March 2018.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Background on Incoming Fed Science Advisor, Ontario Chief Scientist & Science/ Innovation Pre-Budget Submissions

          By Henry Stewart

The Canadian Science Policy Centre, the organizers of the annual Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) has announced several useful items in the lead-up to the 9th CSPC, which will be held in Ottawa, ON from November 1st - 3rd.

Graphic c/o CSPC 2017.

As outlined in the August 22nd, 2017 CSPC press release, "Chief Science Advisor, Pre-Budget Submissions, and More/Conseiller scientifique principal, propositions pré-budgétaires, et plus," the announcements include:
Additional materials can be recommended for the list by sending an e-mail to Original opinion pieces regarding this report can be submitted to 
The next Federal budget will be released in March 2018.
Additional publications which advocate for science and/or technology can be added to this list by contacting
To learn more about the upcoming 2017 Canadian Science Policy Conference, check out the website at

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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...


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 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. 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 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.

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.

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.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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