Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The 2009 Proposal for a Canadian Microsat Launcher & the Rocket Lab Electron Rocket

          By Chuck Black

According to Arny Sokoloff, the president of Toronto, ON based Contimuum Aerospace, "Continuum Aerospace applauds Rocket Lab's success but bemoans that we had developed a functionally comparable design for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 2009. It's a shame that we were unable to secure Canadian funding to realize the plan to develop an all-Canadian small satellite launch vehicle. Rocket  Lab, faced with a similar problem, reincorporated in the United States and were able to fulfill their plan."

Sokoloff was interviewed earlier this week after Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand. The rocket successfully achieved earth orbit and deployed three micro-satellites.

Back in 2009, both Rocket Lab (then based solely in New Zealand) and Continuum were soliciting funds for the development of a micro-sat rocket launcher.

As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 post, "The Rocket Lab Electron Rocket Has Placed Three Satellites in Orbit," Rocket Lab succeeded in its quest. However, and as outlined in the April 22nd, 2016 post, "2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said "Yes!" But CSA Didn't Move Forward," the 2009 Canadian plan remains on the shelf.

The Canadian plan focused on creating an environment free of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulations. ITAR is a United States regulatory regime which restricts and controls the export of defense and military related technologies, according to the "U.S. State Department – Policy – Directorate of Defense Trade Control.

According to the 2009 Continuum proposal:
...it should be recognized that external political risk (adverse exposure to policies
of other countries) in fact provides a major motivation for an indigenous launch vehicle program in the first place. As discussed in Section 1.2, chief among these is the ability of foreign government organizations to limit the availability of launch opportunities and scrutinize the technology embodied in satellite payloads.
With respect to components for a Canadian launch program, all potential foreign suppliers have limitations on their technology transfer. The most natural supplier for Canada, being the US, also has the most stringent controls (ITAR) which adds substantial and indeterminate delays in obtaining components and requires sign-off on every shipment. Controls like these suggest that Canada creating a launch vehicle program with key technologies being foreign sourced is pointless, at least from the point of view of assuring non-interference by foreign agencies. 
To mitigate this risk, we have proposed a launch system where all the major components are either Canadian-produced or else COTS (commercial-off the-shelf). With this approach, there is no external point of control where Canada's satellite program can be obstructed (other than government-to-government pressure, for which no technical solution exists). 
Note that the apparent financial penalty of developing local supply for all non-COTS components is mostly illusory; those components tend to be expensive to import precisely because they are non-COTS products and are typically closely guarded as national and industrial secrets. These non-COTS products are also very customized to the design specifics of a particular launch vehicle — they require custom development anyway; it is our contention that such large expenditures would better be invested in Canada where they can enhance Canadian technological and industrial competitiveness.

So while the US is more than welcome to pass any law which it considers to be in its self interest, other countries are also entitled to do the same.

Canada would be well served by taking this page from the US playbook. If New Zealand and US based companies can build orbital capable rockets, so can Canada.

We could even build one without needing to move to America.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Rocket Lab Electron Rocket Has Placed Three Satellites in Orbit

          By Brian Orlotti

Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab has launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand, successfully achieving earth orbit and deploying three commercial satellites. The launch is another critical milestone for the commercial space industry; the entry of a second commercial space launch provider.

As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 Associated Press post, "Rocket launched from New Zealand successfully deploys satellites," this was the company's second attempt. The Electron rocket had made its first flight in May 2017 but, despite reaching space, it failed to achieve Earth orbit.

The latest flight, which took place on January 20th, 2018, saw the Electron rocket deploy a Dove Pioneer Earth-imaging cube-sat for San Francisco, CA based Planet and two Lemur-2 cube-sats for San Francisco, CA based Spire, a weather and ship-tracking firm.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's current CEO and CTO. In 2009, Rocket Lab launched the Ātea-1 sounding rocket. In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a contract from the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nano-satellites into orbit.

The company’s investors include venture capital firms Data Collective (DCVC), Promus Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1 Investments as well as US aerospace behemoth Lockheed Martin and the Government of New Zealand.

Rocket Lab’s Series D funding round increased the company’s total level of investment to $148Mln USD ($200Mln CDN). The company is now valued at over $1Bln USD ($1.35Bln CDN).

Rocket Lab is at the vanguard of a group of firms, which include Long Beach, CA based Virgin Orbit and Tucson, AZ based Vector Space Systems, aiming to launch this year. These firms seek to service the growing market for on-demand launch of small commercial and government satellites.

The Electron is a 17m tall two-stage launcher designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg into a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit. The 3D printed carbon-composite rocket is powered a cluster of 9 in-house built Rutherford engines (after the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford) that use liquid oxygen and kerosene. The Rutherford engine incorporates new innovations to minimize weight and cost, including battery-powered fuel pumps and (mostly) 3D-printed components. The Electron’s projected cost is less than $5Mln USD ($6.7Mln CDN) per launch.

Rocket Lab currently has five Electrons in production, with the next launch expected to take place in early 2018. At full production, the company expects a launch rate of over 50 times a year.

In addition to customers like NASA, Spire, Planet Labs and Spaceflight, Rocket Lab is preparing a Moon launch for Mountain View, CA based Moon Express (ME). Co-founded by Canadian space entrepreneur Bob Richards, ME seeks to offer commercial lunar robotic transportation and data services with a long-term goal of mining lunar resources.

ME was last discussed in depth in the June 5th, 2017 post, "Only Seven Years after Bob Richards Left Canada, His Rover is Going to the Moon."

And where does Canada stand in all of this? Apparently, quite content with our dependence on other nations for launching our satellites, as shown by last week’s launch of Toronto-based Kepler Communications 3U cubesat on a Chinese Long March 11 rocket.

As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 More Commercial Space News post, "Kepler’s first Ku-band satellite is in orbit - Kepler Communications," their first satellite launch is part of a larger plan to eventually deploy a 140 satellite constellation operating in the Ku-band, "a highly sought-after frequency band for satellite communications - especially amongst many of the planned mega constellations," which is expected to be rolled out over the next few years.

For more on the variety of satellite constellations being planned, it's worth checking out the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table."

With the Trump Administration’s termination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) looking increasingly likely and Canada about to be cast adrift, fostering a Rocket Lab of our own might be in order.

Our country certainly doesn’t lack the talent or resources for it.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Private Investors Poured $3.9Bln into Commercial Space Companies Last Year

          By Henry Stewart

According to the New York, NY based Space Angels, a privately held financial services group of angel investors focused exclusively on the aerospace industry, private investors poured $3.9Bln US ($4.85Bln CDN) into commercial space companies last year.

The Q4 2017 Space Investment Quarterly, a listing of private sector venture capital investment in the space industry compiled quarterly by the Space Angels, which served as the source for the CNBC post. According to the listing, "2017 was a record year for the Space industry on multiple fronts including amount of investment, number of venture capital investors, and number of new privately-funded companies." The complete document is available for download on request from the Space Angels website. Images c/o Space Angels.

As outlined in the January 18th, 2018 CNBC post, "Space companies received $3.9 billion in private investment during 'the year of commercial launch': Report," a record 120 private firms made investments in space in 2017, well over the previous peak of 89 in 2015.

According to the article:
... the vast majority of private space investment has come as the government has reeled in its spending in recent years. Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted in October that the space industry would reach at least $2.7 trillion in the next three decades, up from about $350Bln US ($435Bln CDN) today.
The post quoted Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson who called 2017 "2017 the year of commercial launch... The amount of capital put in was the key turning point."

In essence, and as outlined in the article, "the entrepreneurial space age is well underway."

An fiscal overview of 2017 space activities. According to the Space Angels, the firm completed "a record number of investments from our angel fund and closed our first investment from our venture fund. The team continues to see high quality investment opportunities across all market segments and we plan to increase both the number of deals and size of our investments in the year ahead. Strong fundamentals have us extremely optimistic about the continued growth of the industry being driven by the rise of commercial manned space flight, scaling of small launch vehicles and the demonstration of in-space manufacturing." Graphic c/o Space Angels.

The last eight years have also seen around $25Bln US ($31Bln CDN) in exits, as acquisitions and public offerings help to build out the fiscal ecosystem needed to support private sector venture capital investments at all levels.

The Space Angels investment portfolio includes cube-sat deployer Nanoracks, rocket builder Vector Space Systems, asteroid miner Planetary Resources and satellite start-ups Iceye and Planet.

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

MDA Issues a Recruitment RFI for New Canadarm Technology

          By Chuck Black

BC based MDA Corporation, generally considered (even by its current owners) to be "a business unit" of the larger San Franscisco, CA based Maxar Technologies, has taken the unusual step of issuing a January 15th, 2018 request for information (RFI) under the title, "Canadian Capabilities to Support a Future Canadian Robotic Manipulator System."

No doubt the move has absolutely nothing to do with the fast growing Federal government perception, bolstered by recent articles such as December 28th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "How Canada lost its foremost space company," that the current MDA is no longer quite the same company as it was when it was known as "MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates" and served as the one stop private sector prime contractor for Canadian space "capacity building."

And, no doubt, MDA's move has nothing whatsoever to do with the growing understanding that robotics tools very similar to Canada's current space born manipulators are at the core of several other potentially highly profitable initiatives related to satellite servicing.

The latest of these to surface, as outlined in the January 17th, 2018 2018 Space News post, "Effective Space signs first contract for satellite life extension services," is UK based Effective Space Solutions, which recently signed its first contract with a “major regional satellite operator,” covering the launch of two of its satellite life extension vehicles to dock with existing satellites to provide station-keeping and attitude control capabilities.

According to the Space News article, the multi-year contract has a total value of more than $100Mln US ($124Mln CDN).

Join Up Now! According to the January 15th, 2018 MDA RFI, "the international space exploration community is pursuing the long-term goal of permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit. A manned station in lunar orbit, called the Deep Space Gateway, is in the planning stages and will be a proving ground for technologies that will take us to the Moon’s surface, Mars and beyond." To ensure "uninterrupted expansion" of the human presence into the solar system, "the time for action is now." The wording in the RFI is broadly evocative of the recruitment videos in the 1997 Paul Verhoeven directed movie, Starship Troopers and its sequels. So are you doing your part? Graphics c/o MDA & Touchstone Pictures/ Jon Davison Productions.

As outlined in the MDA RFI:
The Canadian capabilities of interest for this RFI are applicable to the Robotics and Automation Division of MDA for commercial and civil applications. 
Responses to this RFI will help identify potential Canadian companies, capabilities and services that could be engaged in to develop a robotic manipulator system that could be used in future commercial opportunities or international collaborations. 
The Robotics and Automation website for space based robotics listed at http://mdacorporation.com/isg/robotics-automation/space-based-robotics-solutions ...
It also attempts to be inspiring:
Canada is considering a robotics contribution as part of this international collaborative project. This builds on Canada’s current robotic leadership position and expertise used extensively for decades on NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and the International Space Station. Canada’s robotics contributions helped construct the ISS itself and are used on an on-going basis for its maintenance and logistical operations. 
This technology is so iconic that it is depicted on our $5 bill and is a globally recognized symbol of Canadian innovation.
The RFI was issued a little over a week after the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) issued a related NPP for a "dexterous interface and tool for planetary and deep space."

That NPP was discussed in the January 8th, 2018 post, "New "Canadarms" Will Now Compete Against Maxar/ DARPA & Orbital ATK/ NASA Satellite Servicing Technologies."

It's worth noting that MDA expects to win any contracts deriving from the recent CSA NPP. They still consider themselves to be the one stop private sector prime contractor for Canadian space "capacity building."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, January 15, 2018

GLXP May Bite the Dust Before Reaching the Finish Line

          By Brian Orlotti

The decade-old Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) will officially end on March 31st, 2018 very likely without a winner due to multiple teams dropping out of the race from financial/technical issues or facing launch vehicle delays. Extracting lessons to be learned would be useful in order to create more successful prizes in the future.

Announced in 2007, the GLXP offered $20Mln USD ($24.85Mln CDN) for the first private team to land a vehicle on the moon, travel 500 meters across it, and send back high-definition video by the end of 2012. A $5Mln US ($6.2Mln CDN) prize was made available for the second team to accomplish that goal.

The global financial meltdown of 2008 and its aftershocks greatly limited access to funds for the 32 teams that had initially registered for the competition, slowing their progress. The deadline was extended several times as competitors dropped out. As of 2018, only two teams remain.

According to the January 9th, 2018 The Ken post, "TeamIndus and Isro call off their GLXP launch contract," a launch contract signed in 2016 between Bangalore, India-based GLXP team Team Indus and Antrix Corporation {the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)} has been cancelled.

That contract’s cancellation will also effectively eliminate another GLXP team, Japan-based Team Hakuto, which was to send its lunar rover on the same flight. The cost of chartering the launch of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is upwards of $20Mln USD ($24.87Mln CDN), with the development costs of a rover adding several million more.

But three other GLXP teams remained; Florida-based Moon Express, Israel-based SpaceIL and San Francisco-based Team Synergy Moon. All three have met the GLXP’s requirement of signing launch contracts by the end of 2016 in order to remain in the competition.

However, SpaceIL dropped out in Nov 2017 due to a lack of funds. The chance of the remaining two teams actually meeting the March 31st contest deadline seems unlikely.

Moon Express had been viewed by many space aficionados as a strong contender to win the race. Recently however, founder (and Canadian space pioneer) Bob Richards and Vice President Alain Berinstain (formerly of the Canadian Space Agency) have indicated that Moon Express would not be able to launch in time to win the prize.

The company had entered into a contract with New Zealand-based Rocket Lab to launch their GLXP spacecraft on the new Electron rocket. However, technical issues have resulted in repeated delays of the Electron’s test flights, in turn pushing back Moon Express’ timetable.

Moon Express has downplayed the GLXP’s importance to its business plan and is willing to wait for the Electron rockets’ testing to be completed.

In term of lessons to be learned, building a lunar rover did not seem be the most difficult aspect of the GLXP. Rather, it was securing funds for a launch vehicle without significant government support.

According to Ryan Anderson, the president and CEO of the Satellite Canada Innovation Network, perhaps a better model would be to have each team build a rover and then rigorously test them in an Earth-based lunar analog environment, awarding the prize to the best performer. The prize could consist of either a fixed cash payment to be used by the winner towards their launch, or perhaps even a negotiated group rate for several finalists on a commercial launcher.

A group deal would have the benefits of lowering costs, increasing odds of success and preserving the ‘space race’ atmosphere of the contest.

Google is to be commended for their vision in creating the GLXP and seeing it through to its end, even if unsuccessful. The lessons learned from it will ensure that future competitions will bear more fruit.

It's worth noting that the January 10th - 12th, 2018 "Lunar Science for Landed Missions Workshop, included two commercial landing opportunities panels that included representatives from numerous past and present GLXP competitors and others.

So the quest continues. Someday soon, another one will bite the (lunar) dust.
Brian Orlotti.

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

ABB Canada Supplies Key Instrument for Joint Polar Satellite System-1

          By Chuck Black

An interferometer built by Montreal, PQ based ABB Canada is at the heart of the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1), an Earth observation satellite launched by NASA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) built Delta II rocket on November 18th, 2017.

The JPSS 1, a 14.8-foot (4.5 meters), 5,060-lb. (2,295 kilograms) spacecraft with five instruments which will let it observe Earth and its climate over the long term while also pinpointing immediate weather changes. As outlined in the November 18th, 2017 Space.com post, "First-of-Its-Kind Satellite Launches to Track Earth's Weather Like Never Before," the satellite's full mission cost, including development and operational lifecycle, is $1.6Bln US ($2Bln CDN). Graphic c/o Ball Aerospace.

As outlined in the January 15th, 2018 ABB Canada press release, "ABB satellite-based technologies help improve weather forecasts and save lives," the JPSS-1 satellite:
...is joining the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting satellite in the same orbit to provide meteorologists with data on atmospheric temperature and moisture, clouds, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash, and fire detection.  
The data will improve weather forecasting, such as predicting a hurricane's track, and will help agencies involved with post-storm recovery by visualizing storm damage and the geographic extent of power outages. 
The interferometer, built under contract for Melbourne, FL based Harris Corporation. as a critical element to the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), one of the instruments that make up the next generation of US polar-orbiting meteorological satellites.

The CrIS is a Fourier transform spectrometer with 1305 spectral channels, designed to produce high-resolution, three-dimensional temperature, pressure, and moisture profiles, which can be used to enhance weather forecasting models asnd facilitate both short- and long-term weather forecasting. 

The instrument is expected to help improve the timeliness and accuracy of weather forecasts from three to seven days out. Over longer timescales, the instrument will help improve the understanding of climate phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña.

The CrIS, one of the instruments that make up the next generation of US polar-orbiting meteorological satellites. As outlined on the undated NASA Joint Polar Satellite System Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) webpage, the instrument takes "soundings of the atmosphere with 1305 spectral channels, over 3 wavelength ranges: LWIR (9.14 - 15.38um); MWIR (5.71 - 8.26um); and SWIR (3.92 - 4.64 um)." Graphic c/o ABB.

According to Marc Corriveau, the general manager of the local business unit for industrial automation measurement & analytics for Canada:
ABB Canada, through its facilities in Quebec City, built the heart of the atmospheric sounder for the JPSS-1 satellite, a very critical element to this mission. Our team has also built a similar system for the predecessor of JPSS-1, the Suomi-NPP satellite, in orbit since 2011.
ABB Measurement & Analytics Business Unit is also under contract with Harris Corporation to build the next 3 units (JPSS-2, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4). 
In addition to the local economic benefits generated by this project, ABB is once again putting forward its experience and rich technological legacy in the space industry.
JPSS satellites circle the Earth from pole-to-pole, crossing the equator 14 times daily, to provide full global coverage twice a day. Polar satellites are considered the backbone of the global observing system. JPSS is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA and presents significant technological and scientific advancements in observations used for severe weather prediction and environmental monitoring.

ABB has a strong history in Canada, and the company continues to expand and localize its offerings for customers. With its Canadian corporate headquarters in Montreal, ABB operates close to 50 facilities and employs approximately 4,000 people across Canada.

The ABB Measurement & Analytics Business Unit facility in Quebec City, Canada has had more than 200 employees working on the CrIS program.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Another of Canada’s Nine Supercluster Finalists Includes a Space Company

          By Chuck Black

Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, a British Columbia based consortium wrapped around Vancouver BC based Telus Corporation, Vancouver BC based Urthecast, Redmond WA based Microsoft Corporation, Burnaby BC based D-Wave Systems, Port Coquitlam BC based Finger Food Studios plus others, has expanding its Canadian footprint to bolster a bid for funding under Canada's Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

UrtheCast CEO Wade Larson with a satellite video shot with his company's cameras. His firm is part of the BC based consortium vying for Ottawa's $950Mln Canadian super-cluster program. Photo c/o Chung Chow.

As outlined in the January 9th, 2018 Business in Vancouver post, "More players join BC’s supercluster bid as Ottawa draws closer to final decision," other early partners in the BC consortium included the BC Tech Association, the Business Council of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC based Wavefront Wireless and Lifesciences BC plus the Research University's Council of BC (RUCBC).

The West Coast consortium announced Tuesday that Vancouver, BC based Canfor Corporation, San Ramon, CA based GE Digital, the Vancouver, BC based Terry Fox Research Institute and Toronto, ON based Shoppers Drug Mart, among others, have joined the bid since the BC group was shortlisted last fall.

As outlined in the article:
... the goal of BC’s bid is to create a supercluster focused on digital technologies capable of transforming traditional industries such as natural resources, transportation and manufacturing, as well as advancing innovations in health technologies, telecommunications, and the creative and digital economy.
In an executive summary released in November, the group estimated that its participants could invest $1.4Bln CDN to fund 100 collaborations involving 1,000 organizations over a 10-year period.

Both Urthecast and D-Wave have been previous topics for posts in this blog, most recently in the August 22nd, 2017 post, "Note to Canadian Space Industry: Find More Larson Brothers!," and the January 16th, 2017 post, "Quantum Computing Is Real; A Canadian Company Now Offers Open-Source Tools & the Chinese are Building Spacecraft."

The BC Digital Technology Supercluster consortium is one of nine shortlisted consortia throughout Canada. Their original application featured 60 participants, a total which has since grown to 260.

As outlined in the October 13th, 2017 post, "Short List for the $950Mln CDN Supercluster Initiative," at least one other supercluster proposal involves a space company, an agri-food focused proposal spearheaded by Calgary-based Agrium Inc., which includes Richmond BC based MDA and ABB Canada, through its space operations business unit in Quebec City.

A third supercluster proposal, the Satellite Canada Innovation Network, last discussed in the August 3rd, 2017 post, "Satellite Canada Applies for Innovation SuperCluster Funds," wasn't included among the nine finalists.

The federal government could choose as many as five of the shortlisted supercluster proposals to share nearly $1Bln CDN in Federal funding. A final decision on which proposals to approve is expected before the government’s fiscal year ends in March, 2018.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

SpaceX, China and Others Start 2018 With Many Bangs

          By Brian Orlotti

SpaceX has launched its first mission of 2018, the deployment of the US military’s secretive Zuma satellite.

Although there are various conflicting media reports as to whether the Zuma satellite is currently orbiting Earth or plunged through its atmosphere to a fiery demise, SpaceX has stated it was satisfied enough with the performance of the Falcon 9 to proceed with the highly anticipated first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket at the end of this month.

SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket on the pad January 7th, 2018, just before launch. As outlined in the January 9th, 2018 Qronos16 video, "SpaceX apparently lost the classified Zuma Government Satellite it Failed to Reach Orbit,' SpaceX's latest rocket may "have launched successfully – but the mission didn't end as a win. The Zuma payload it was carrying, a mysterious classified piece of cargo for the US government believed to be a spy satellite, was lost after it failed to separate from the second stage of the rocket after the first stage of the Falcon 9 separated as planned and returned to Earth." Graphic c/o Qronos16.

Originally planned for a November 2017 launch, an undisclosed issue with the Falcon 9 rocket's fairing caused a delay of several weeks, pushing the launch date back to January 4th. Earlier this week, additional propellant loading tests and abnormally strong winds contributed to further delays.

Zuma is SpaceX's third classified launch for the US military. All that is publicly known about Zuma is that was built by Northrop Grumman and was too be placed in low-Earth orbit.

As discussed in the January 9th, 2018 The Verge post, "Did SpaceX’s secret Zuma mission actually fail?," SpaceX has stated that the Falcon 9 rocket performed exactly as it it should’ve, declining further comment due to the classified nature of the satellite.

Meanwhile, both the January 8th, 2018 Bloomberg post, "Classified Military Satellite Goes Missing After SpaceX Launch" and the January 9th, 2018 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) post, "US Spy Satellite Believed Lost After SpaceX Mission Fails" have reported that US lawmakers and government officials have been briefed on Zuma’s demise.

However, both publications offer contradictory information from their sources as to what happened. One Bloomberg source stated that the upper stage of the Falcon 9 failed, while both WSJ and Bloomberg claim that Zuma did not separate from the rocket and plunged through the atmosphere back to Earth.

Further muddying the waters, the US Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center, which tracks and catalogues all artificial objects orbiting Earth, added a new entry for Zuma to its online catalogue while publicly stating that it has added no new entries.

The SpaceFlight Now website, which is currently tracking the 50+ rocket launches so far scheduled for 2018. Those launches include the second flight of the New Zealand based Electron small-sat launcher, the first crewed missions of both the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule to the International Space Station (ISS), the first flight of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, the launch of Canada's Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) and a surprising number of Chinese missions. Graphic c/o Spaceflight Now.

However shrouded in mystery the Zuma story seems, it appears to have had no effect on SpaceX’s plans for its Falcon Heavy rocket.

On Jan 4th, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced via social media that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launched by end of month. As of writing, the Falcon Heavy has been moved into launch position at Kennedy Space Centre’s storied Launch Complex 39A. This week, SpaceX will conduct various checks as well as a static fire test of the rocket’s 27 Merlin engines.

Billed by SpaceX as the most powerful rocket in the world, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated in a Jan 4th, 2018 Instagram post that, at 2,500 tons of thrust, the Falcon Heavy is equivalent to 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle.

The Falcon Heavy is crucial to restoring independent human spaceflight capability to the US as well as enabling SpaceX’s ambitious plans for human settlement of the Moon and Mars. SpaceX has already lined up a few initial customers for the Falcon Heavy, including satellite firms Arabsat and Inmarsat, as well as the US Air Force.

No concrete launch dates for these have been set, however.

The first Chinese Long March 5 rocket being rolled out for launch at Wenchang in late October 2016. As outlined in the  January 11th, 2018 Pys.org post, "The surprising scale of China's space program," the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced on January 2nd, 2018 that it intended to mount over 40 launches in 2018, including "the Long March 5 returning to flight, the Chang'e 4 mission, and the deployment of multiple satellites." Photo c/o Su Dong/China Daily.

The Falcon Heavy has suffered from multiple delays in its development, as Elon Musk has readily admitted to the public. Last year, Musk admitted that the development of the rocket had been "way harder" than he had anticipated.

For the test flight, the Falcon Heavy will not carry a customer's payload. Instead, in a masterful bit of public relations, Elon Musk announced that it will launch his personal first-gen Tesla Roadster into "a billion year elliptic Mars orbit." The Roadster’s sound system will play David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and have a copy of Douglas Addams’ novel ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ in the glove box, along with a towel and a sign saying "Don't Panic."

After sixteen years of promising to finally open the frontier of space to all, SpaceX is now about to deliver. Brave new world.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Monday, January 08, 2018

New "Canadarms" Will Now Compete Against Maxar/ DARPA & Orbital ATK/ NASA Satellite Servicing Technologies

          By Henry Stewart

It's good that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued the January 5th, 2018 notice of proposed procurement (NPP) covering the "Development of enabling space technologies (9F063-160953/C)." 

The new NPP supersedes the April 19th, 2017 NPP, "Development of enabling space technologies (9F06360953/A)," and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. 

Those NPP's will likely continue until funding is secured from the Federal government, which will most likely happen in the 2018 Federal budget, a document expected to be released in March 2018. The CSA has already expressed an interest in contributing "Canadarm" derived technology to the proposed US Deep Space Gateway (DSP), and will likely fund its development, just as soon as those funds become available. 

But anyone who is seriously contemplating the belief which considers the latest and greatest Canadian technology offerings from the CSA to be without peer or competition, is almost certainly in error and quite possibly deluding themselves in technicolor.

US competitors to the CSA's Canadarm technology have been slowly building up their expertise over the last few years through participation in two US government programs, the NASA RESTORE-L robotics servicing mission and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

And now they are poised to dominate the market. The US competitors are certainly ahead of any CSA non-funded notice of future procurement.

The overlap between the two programs and CSA Canadarm capabilities is so overwhelming that, as outlined in the December 16th, 2016 post, "MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or "Any Other" Project," the Canadarm's prime contractor, Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler or MDA (now a subsidiary of San Franscisco, CA based Maxar Technologies) needed to go on record to state that:
... no Canadarm derived technology is included as part of the recently awarded $127Mln USD ($167Mln CDN) contract to supply the chassis, hardware and various other services for the NASA Restore-L space robotic servicing mission, or as part of "any other" project awarded to MDA."
This blog is cautious of accepting those MDA claims at face value without proof and notes that Maxar Technologies, which now operates MDA as a Canadian subsidiary, is currently the preferred private partner for both the DARPA RSGS and the NASA Restore-L programs.

As outlined in the November 27th, 2017 Via Satellite post, "DARPA Initiates Consortium for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing," DARPA has "coalesced a group of organizations to mock up new rules governing commercial on-orbit satellite repair and refueling. Its Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) seeks to set standards that will ensure on-orbit activities do not endanger the long-term sustainability of the satellite servicing industry."

One of the prime competitors for the NASA Restore-L contract was Dulles, VA based Orbital ATK which, as outlined in the February 12th, 2017 post, "Look Ma! No Canadarms!!! MDA & Orbital ATK Battle for US On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts," is fully aware of the billion dollar competition its currently competing against. 

Oddly enough, Tysons Corner, VA based satellite communications provider Intelsat which is currently partnered up with Orbital ATK to work on on-orbit satellite servicing was once an MDA partner on the failed 2011 Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) program, another in the long line of attempts to develop an on-orbit satellite servicing capability. This earlier attempt explicitly used Canadarm derived technology. 

All of which suggests strongly that the CSA Canadarm robotics program has at least two and possibly more competitors than it had forty plus years ago, when the first Canadarm plans were developed. And the current competitors already have substantial US government contracts and contacts.

Here's hoping that the CSA can move past the non-funded NPP to a point where money can be spent and hardware can be developed really, really quickly.

Otherwise, they'll no longer be able to compete against their larger and better funded competitors.

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

Lots of AIAC "Aero" Initiatives, But Only "Hope" for Space Funding

          By Chuck Black

The incoming chair of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) has a list of priorities for 2018 which include "new investments in space capability, procurement reform, and strengthening the position of small and medium sized enterprises," which are the "key drivers for AIAC as much as they are central pieces of the government’s Innovation and Skills Agenda."

Bell Helicopter Textron Canada president Cynthia Garneau will also serve as AIAC chair in 2018. As outlined in the November 7th, 2017 AIAC press release, "Cynthia Garneau, President of Bell Helicopter Textron Canada, Elected Chair of the AIAC board," Garneau succeeded David Gossen, the president of IMP Aerospace & Defence, who served as AIAC chair in 2016. Photo c/o AIAC.

All of which sounds well and good. But the devil is always in the details, and a lack of specifics concerning those space investments is cause for concern in a Canadian space industry which doesn't seem to have been doing much growing lately.

As outlined in the January 8th, 2018 Skies Magazine post, "AIAC chair focused on innovation and diversity," Cynthia Garneau, the president of Borden, ON based Bell Helicopter Textron (the Canadian subsidiary of Fort Worth, TX based Bell Helicopter Textron) and AIAC’s incoming chair, made the comments in a recent interview.

According to Garneau:
The government’s focus on innovation as a driver of jobs and opportunity is great news... 
Our sector is a poster child for how innovation makes Canada’s economy much better. We can help lead the way and show other industries how…we contribute, how we collaborate…[to] help the government move forward with its innovation and skills agenda...
Graphic providing an overview of the October 2017 MOST21 super cluster proposal supported by the AIAC from the Project  MOST21 website. As outlined in the October 13th, 2017 post, "Short List for the $950Mln CDN Supercluster Initiative," while the MOST21 proposal and a second "agrifood" proposal to use satellite assets to improve crop yields made the shortlist for funding, a third space focused application from Satellite Canada, which put together a consortium of thirty-nine Canadian space focused corporations, associations and academic institutions willing to contribute time, effort and up to $328Mln CDN, to apply for the Federal super-cluster matching funds, was not approved for funding. Graphic c/o MOST21

However, as outlined in the article, much of the AIAC’s focus in 2018 will be a continuation of initiatives begun in 2017 including:
... more investment in the government’s five-year, $950Mln CDN Innovation Supercluster Initiative and support for an AIAC submission on MOST21, a supercluster proposal, led by CAE, on Mobility Systems and Technologies for the 21st Century that was shortlisted by the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) in October.
AIAC will also:
...work with government to refine the five-year, $1.26Bln CDN Strategic Innovation Fund, a repayable and non-repayable funding program for a range of industrial and technology firms that, among other things, consolidates the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI) and Technology Demonstration Program (TDP) into a single program... 
As outlined on the March 10th, 2015 Government of Canada website under the title, " TDP verses SAID," relate to eligibility, project side, types of assistance provided, plus application, approval and reporting requirements. Graphic c/o Government of Canada

But when it comes to Canada's space industry, there seems to be no solid initiatives in place to point out to the government what's required. As outlined in the article, AIAC is only "hoping for new funding in Budget 2018 on a new space initiative."

Of course, hope and three bucks is really only worth a "venti" sized cup of coffee from Starbucks, but at least it always "springs eternal," especially among those who work in Canada's space industry and haven't yet moved to the US.

As outlined in the December 4th, 2017 post, "The Latest CDN Space Sector Report Notes 5 Year Slump (Except for BC) & Industry Dominates, Not Academia or Gov't," there has been a five year slump in Canadian space activities. To compensate, action will be required,

It's expected that the Federal government, as part of the 2018 Budget expected to be announced in March 2018, will allocate a few tens of millions of dollars of new funding for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to support Canadian component contributions (including a new Canadarm) to the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), a so far unfunded US proposal to build a new, smaller but slightly further away from the Earth space station when the existing International Space Station (ISS) program winds down in the 2020's. 

As outlined in the October 26th, 2017 post, "A Quick Overview of the Next Few Expected Federal Announcements Concerning the Canadian Space Industry," the DSG is designed to use existing materials and methodologies in order to save money which can be used for other programs and preserve existing jobs.

Hows that for innovation?
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Globe and Mail Features GHGSat on List of Canadian Clean Tech Firms Poised to "Break Out" in 2018

          By Henry Stewart

It's a noteworthy platitude that space companies, once they figure out how to build the proverbial "better mousetrap" using their space derived technologies, are generally no longer considered space companies.

They are instead, simply "mousetrap manufacturers."

All of which goes a long way towards explaining how Montreal, PQ based satellite developer/operator GHGSat ended up on a list of clean tech firms poised to "break out" in 2018.

As outlined in the January 3rd, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Canadian cleantech startups get ready for a breakout year," Canada's global reputation for cleantech innovation is on the rise and GHGSat is one of the reasons why.

According to the article, Canada is one of 40 countries on five continents that are pricing carbon emissions, which need to be tracked:
One company poised to benefit greatly from this pricing trend is Montreal-based GHGSat, which in June of 2016 launched the first satellite in the world capable of tracking GHG emissions (greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane and others which cause the "greenhouse effect") from any industrial site on the planet.
That data market is set to explode later this year when, as outlined in the 19th, 2017 Guardian post, "China aims to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions through trading scheme," the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases plans to roll-out in "a carbon trading system that will initially cover the country’s heavily polluting power generation plants, then expand to take in most of the economy."

According to its GHGSat Services webpage, the company can measure greenhouse gas emissions from target sites, anywhere in the world without the need for "on-site equipment."

The company can also "augment its measured data with any publicly available data (e.g. local meteorological towers) or private customer data." GHGSat instruments are calibrated regularly, and measured data is "verified and validated against known sources" and "confirmed with visual imagery from the same satellite."

Target sites can include:
  • Industrial facilities with fixed, concentrated sources of emissions (e.g. stacks)
  • Area sources with emission hotspots (e.g. landfill methane, pipeline leaks)
  • Fugitive sources over wide areas (e.g. tailings ponds, mine faces)
  • Mobile emitters (e.g. ships)

The measurements are applicable for the power generation, mining, pulp & paper, pipeline, landfill, chemical, metals & aluminum, cement, agriculture and transportation industries.

A graph from a May 16th, 2016 Nature post on how the "Next generation of carbon-monitoring satellites faces daunting hurdles." Oddly enough, the GHGSat built GHGSat-D (also known as "Claire") isn't listed on the graph, although it had the first mover advantage of being the only commercial satellite capable of monitoring terrestrial greenhouse gas output when it was launched in 2016. For more on GHGSat, check out the November 30th, 2015 post, "GHGSat Competing for 2016 GreenTec Awards, Europe's Largest Environmental & Business Competition." Graph c/o Nature.

As outlined in the May 16th, 2016 Nature post, "Next generation of carbon-monitoring satellites faces daunting hurdles," satellites have been used to monitor carbon dioxide concentrations from outer space since 2002 when SCIAMACHY, an imaging spectrometer able to perform global measurements of trace gases in both the troposphere and stratospher, was carried into orbit as a component of the European Space Agency (ESA) Envisat Earth observation satellite.

The number of orbital satellites capable of measuring atmospheric greenhouse gases is expected to double between 2016 - 2030 to at least a dozen, not including the GHGSat "Claire."

But GHGSat will be commercial, and likely will end up as a vital, and highly profitable component of the tracking and enforcement mechanisms needed to control the various multi-billion dollar commercial carbon emission trading markets either already in existence or expected to soon begin operation.

It just won't be a space company. It will have built its better mousetrap.

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

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Upcoming PSLV-C40 / Cartosat-2F Launch Includes Two Canadian Satellites from Telesat and Kepler

          By Chuck Black

Next weeks anticipated launch of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-40 mission, designed to place in orbit the latest of the Indian build Cartosat series of Earth imaging satellites, isn't only noteworthy for its primary payload or for the large amount of satellites being carried into orbit on the same rocket (thirty-one in total, including the Cartosat 2F).

From a Canadian perspective, the launch is noteworthy for two Canadian private sector satellite firms, Ottawa, ON based Telesat Canada and Toronto, ON based Kepler Communications, who have independently built two small satellites, included as secondary payloads on the PSLV C40, which are intended to serve as demonstrators for two separate and far larger low Earth orbit telecommunications constellations expected to be deployed over the next few years.

The Telesat LEO Vantage 1 is based on the popular Type-42 micro-satellite bus developed at Guildford, UK based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), originally a spin-off company of the University of Surrey and curently owned by Toulouse, France based Airbus Defence and Space.

One way to transform global communications. Graphic c/o Telesat.
Telesat will use the satellite as a test bed to assist with optimizing the design and performance of its planned 290 satellite LEO constellation.

A second test satellite, the Telesat LEO Vantage 2, built to a different design by Palo Alto, CA based Space Systems Loral (SSL) using a bus developed by the Toronto ON based University of Toronto Institute of  Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), was lost shortly after launch in November 2017.

As outlined in the September 18th, 2017 post, "Telesat Now Planning 290 Satellite Constellation," the expanded constellation was first announced at 2017 Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week, which was held in Paris, France from September 11th - 15th, 2017.

More recently, and as outlined in the December 08, 2017 post, "Long Awaited DND Polar Sats Postponed. Will be Cancelled/ Replaced/ Renamed After Next Election (Like Last Time)," Telesat has been suggesting that its constellation could fulfill Department of National Defence (DND) requirements for northern communications better and at a lower cost than the long-delayed Enhanced Satellite Communication Project - Polar (ESPC-P).

According to the undated Telesat website under the name, "Telesat LEO: Transfoming Global Communications," the constellation design "will leverage advanced technologies while utilizing a combination of polar and inclined orbits to create a next generation, global telecom system with unmatched communications advantages."

Graphic of the Kepler 1 nano-sat from the Clyde Space website. A series of Clyde Space nano-sats will support Kepler in deploying its proposed in-space telecommunications network, "to provide connectivity to devices that gather the world’s information. Over the next 5 years, nearly 6 million devices will require satellite Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications, these initial two satellites will pave the way for CubeSat based global M2M communications." Graphic c/o Clyde Space.

As outlined on the Gunter's Space Page listing for the Kepler 1 and 2 micro-satellites, The Kepler demonstrator is a 30cm x 10cm x 10cm 3U CubeSat operating in the Ku-band with deployable solar arrays, software defined radios (SDR) and high gain antennas.

The nano-satellite was designed and built by Glasgow, Scotland based Clyde Space Ltd and is one of two expected to be used for testing before a larger constellation of ten to fifteen nano-sats is deployed.

Up to 120 nano-sats could eventually be added to the constellation, depending on market demand.

According to Gunter, Kepler’s goals "are to provide a vastly improved IoT backhaul for customers on the ground, as well as real time access to satellites in the same orbit." Applications for the data collected from the satellites is expected to have a range of applications including shipping, smart agriculture, traffic management and wearable technologies such as temperature monitors to improve personnel health and safety.

Also noteworthy are two other secondary payloads on the PSLV C40 manifest which will likely have a direct effect on future Canadian space efforts.

These include:
  • Four Dove Earth imaging cube-satellites, designated as "Flock 3m" models, which will join the approximately 165 Dove cube-sats already in orbit to become part of the growing constellation owned by San Francisco, CA based Earth imaging provider Planet
The company, which also owns German geospatial information provider RapidEye and its five satellite RapidEye Constellation (built by what used to be Richmond BC based Macdonald Dettwiler)  is slowly building out massive Earth imaging capabilities likely to overwhelm anything Canada or most other nations could reasonably generate any time in the near future. 
  • The NovaSAR-S, a joint technology demonstration initiative from SSTL (the same firm which also built the Telesat LEO 1), and Airbus, which was funded by the UK Government via the UK Space Agency (UKSA).  
As outlined in the October 10th, 2011 post, "SAR Satellite Designers Living in Interesting Times," the original SSTL proposal was for a synthetic aperture radar satellite (SAR) able to "build, insure and launch" the next generation of SAR satellites for less than 50M euros each, a sum which worked out to only about 1/3 the cost of one of the three upcoming Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) satellites currently expected to launch sometime this year. 
SSTL acts as a subcontractor to RCM prime contractor, the San Francisco CA based Maxar Technologies, so there is certainly a chance that the cost savings will be passed along to Maxar and everyone will benefit. 
Or maybe not. After all, SSTl and it's wonderful new technology, is owned by Airbus, which has made no secret of its wish to go head to head with Maxar on Canadian government aerospace contracts. 
    Editors Note: Looks like this blog was wrong about the Kepler satellite being a secondary payload on the Indian PSLV C40 mission on January 19th, 2018.
    But Kepler Communications has been far more reticent about either confirming or denying that its satellite has launched on board the Chinese rocket.
    We'll likely find out why over the next little while. Stay tuned...
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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