Friday, March 23, 2018

NASA & US Science Programs Win Big in 2018 US Budget

         By Henry Stewart

The 2018 omnibus budget passed by both the US Congress and the US Senate this week will allocate NASA $20.7Bln US ($26Bln CDN), significantly more than either the Trump Administration or NASA had originally requested.

As outlined in the March 22nd, 2018 Behind the Black post, "Congress pumps pork money to NASA in omnibus budget," the budget:
... gives SLS (the Space Launch System a space shuttle-derived heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which is part of NASA's deep space exploration plans) and Orion (the crew capsule currently under development by NASA for launch on the SLS) more than $3Bln US ($3.88Bln CDN), funds all the Earth science and education projects the Trump administration wished to cut, as well as WFIRST (the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope), which the Trump administration wants to cancel because of cost overruns.
Overall, the new budget provides $1.083Bln US ($1.4Bln CDN) more than what NASA received for FY2017 and $1.644Bln US ($2.13Bln CDN) more than the Trump Administration’s FY2018 request.

According to the March 22nd, 2018 Planetary Society post, "NASA stands to win big with pending budget deal," Congress reached a broad budget deal that lifted self-imposed spending caps—the "sequester"—for the next two years:
Yesterday, we saw the fruit of that deal with the release of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, a bill that would fund nearly all government agencies through the remainder of this fiscal year (which ends September 30). 
NASA—and science in general—did very well in this legislation. Congress thoroughly rejected every major cut proposed to NASA and other science agencies by the Trump Administration, often providing them with funding increases instead. 
This is arguably the best budget for national science investment in a decade.

Oddly enough, the increased US science funding follows closely on the heels of significant increases for Canadian science funding in the 2018 Canadian Federal budget.

As outlined in the March 1st, 2018 post, ""Patent Boxes," our Canadian Space Agency and the Lack of Real Innovation in the 2018 Federal Budget," the 2018 budget allocated "$3.8Bln CDN of new funding spread over the next five years to a range of science and academic programs."

The current NASA budget is broadly equivalent to the annual Canadian military budget, but higher than Canadian science focused funding.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) budget hovers around $350-400Mln CDN annually.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Thursday, March 22, 2018

What Happens After the Failure of the Space Advisory Board?

         By Chuck Black

The Space Advisory Board (SAB), renewed in October 2016 by the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in order to "advise the Government of Canada on long-term objectives for space and to engage with Canadians," isn't quite dead yet, but it's days are certainly numbered.

With all the billions of dollars flowing to scientists in the 2018 Federal budget, as outlined in the February 27th, 2018 University Affairs post, "Budget 2018 gives a major boost to fundamental research in Canada," you'd think that the Trudeau Liberals could have allocated a few tens of millions for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) or said something nice about space in order to keep the SAB from looking incompetent. The reasons for rejecting any new funding for the CSA go back to 2012 and were outlined initially in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says." They derived from the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which advocated the removal of much of the CSA's independence because of perceived fiscal irregularities. Emerson enjoyed broad bipartisan support when it was adapted as public policy by the Federal government under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Graphic c/o YouTube.

The Trudeau government has failed to respond in the February 28th, 2018 Federal Budget or anywhere else, to the documentation generated by the SAB during the various round-table discussions held between April and May 2017, or to the final report, released on August 18th, 2017 under the title "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard."

As outlined in articles such as the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," and the March 13th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Lost in space: Why Canada’s diminishing role in the heavens is a problem," the response from the space community has been so bad that even the members of the SAB have come out against the governments lack of response to their report.

Oddly enough the final report requested only that space be dedicated as a "national strategic asset," and that the SAB be allowed to "remain engaged" with "stakeholders" to finish a report which could actually draw conclusions and recommend action.

At this point, neither of those things are going to happen. 

A scanned copy of the lower section of page three from the September 13th, 2015 Toronto Star. As outlined in the September 15th, 2015 post, "Part 1: Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review?," both the Federal Liberal party and the NDP promised to role back the Emerson Aerospace Review in favor of new funding and a revised "long-term space plan," during the 2015 Federal election. But once the Liberals gained power, the party changed its mind. David Emerson, the chair of the 2012 review, began his political career in 2004 as the Liberal candidate in Vancouver Kingsway before crossing the floor to join the governing Federal Conservative party in 2006, and possessed a fair understanding of the political process. That knowledge goes a long way towards explaining why the 2012 Aerospace Review is influential to this day. Scan c/o Toronto Star.

So what will happen? That's easy enough to guess.

The SAB will fade away, if only because they have lost the support of both the space community and the Federal government.

The SAB's supporters in the space community will come to the perfectly sensible conclusion that the SAB is unable to generate funding and support for their personal projects, or for the larger industry, and they'll move on.

The Federal government will conclude that the SAB cannot be reasonably expected to keep their mouths shut and support the government in the hope of receiving some political payback at some future date, and will also move on.

The Feds will have a particularity strong case for coming to this conclusion, given the recent public comments from many of the SAB members. 

As for everyone else:
As some point, likely after the current NASA budget is passed and assessed, more money may become available for further Canadian contributions to the LOP-G. As outlined in the March 22nd, 2018 Space Policy Online post, "NASA Budget to Soar Over $20 Billion in Final FY2018 Appropriations," the signs are currently positive. 
And, to be fair, none of the funding for the LOP-G or any of the other core CSA missions was ever dependent on input from the SAB.
  • The business community will note that private corporations with ideas requiring space assets to create programs useful to Canadians, will still have a fair shot at funding, although that funding will be paid directly rather than provided through the CSA.
As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 post, ""Big Winners" in Tuesday's Federal Budget," the Federal government has put aside $100Mln CDN in the 2018 Federal budget for "firms planning to develop constellations of low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites intended to bring internet services to rural parts of the country."
What better way to use space assets to solve domestic problems and help tie the country together. 
Of course, the business community will also abandon the communal process favored by the SAB in favor of more traditional, individual sales pitches direct to government and important "stakeholders."
They will also move on to greener pastures.
As outlined in the February 27th, 2018 Toronto Star post, "Budget boosts science research, grant funding," the 2018 Canadian Federal budget committed "$925Mln CDN over the next five years for the three main research granting councils," which represents "a 25-per-cent increase in “fundamental research” over existing levels by 2021."
In addition, "the budget proposed $275Mln CDN over the same period for “interdisciplinary . . . and higher-risk” research, to be administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)."
Not that there is anything wrong with the budget increase in other areas. All things considered, it could certainly be worse.

But overall. the space industry in Canada will continue along pretty much as it has since 2012, when the David Emerson led Aerospace Review was first released. Perhaps the true assessment of what the SAB brought to the table is to note that, without it, nothing much has changed.

Maybe we'll do a better job next time.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Measuring Canada's Ability to Scale Small Businesses into Large Corporations

         By Chuck Black

As covered many times in this blog, our largest space and aerospace companies tend to go bankrupt and get picked over by others (Toronto, ON based Avro Canada and Brampton, ON based Spar Aerospace, for example), or reincorporate as US based firms in order to take advantage of the American market (Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates) or they get purchased by large, American based corporations (Cambridge, ON based COM DEV International).

The front cover of the March 2018 Impact Report on "Measuring Canada's Scaleup Potential" along with an estimate of companies per one million population in Canada, the US, the UK, Germany and France. Canada's ability to to create companies is average when compared to the other countries on the list. Graphic c/o Impact Group.

They don't generally stay operational or remain Canadian. This is usually perceived as not being a good thing, but the situation persists and not just in aerospace (remember Nortel? Or Research in Motion?).

For example, as noted in the March 19th, 2018 More Commercial Space News post, "UrtheCast will now report Q4 2017 results & host the 2017 year-end investor conference call on April 2nd, 2018," Vancouver, BC Urthecast is currently in the midst of a fiscal crisis caused by the inability to close previously announced financing for its UrtheDaily™ Constellation. The extent of this current crisis might not become clear for another two weeks since the firm has postponed it's most recent public investor conference call until then.

Ottawa, ON based Telesat Canada could also be preparing for a crisis of it's own. As outlined in the March 16th, 2018 post, "Loral warns of possible Telesat legal battle, Xtar restructuring," the New York, NY based Loral Space & Communications (which holds the majority of Telesat shares) is planning to move ahead with a "strategic transaction" involving Telesat, which could spark a legal battle with Telesat's only other shareholder, the Montreal, PQ based Public Sector Pension Investment Board (which owns more of the valuable voting shares).

So what's the problem? According to Charles Plant, the senior fellow with the Toronto, ON based Impact Centre at the University of Toronto, Canada might just be good at starting companies, but not growing them.

A quick reminder that Canada has been obsessing over research and development initiatives for a very long time. As outlined in the April 7th, 1967 Globe and Mail post, "Ottawa hopes to spur research and development through five programs," Canadian industry was "being wooed into research and development as never before," over fifty years ago and not a lot has changed since then. Original graphic c/o Globe and Mail.

As outlined in the March 19th, 2018 Impact Centre post, "Measuring Canada’s Scaleup Potential," Plant and his colleagues at the Impact Centre have put together a useful, eighteen page study, under the same title, which attempts to measure Canada’s startup and scaleup rate and compare that to other countries around the world.

According to the Impact Centre, "there seems to be a shift away from focusing on startups to focusing on those companies in Canada that are scaling. This appears to have been predicated on the premise that Canada has become good at starting companies but is challenged at scaling them to world-class size. "

The report looked at how Canada stacked up against other major regions in the world, such as the US, the UK, France and Germany. It concluded that:
We have a higher startup rate than Germany and France but trail the UK on the same metric. 
We lead all European jurisdictions in terms of scaling rates. 
We report a rate of startup and scaleup that is dramatically lower than the US and, in particular, Massachusetts, California and New York. 
We have lower rates of both startup and scaleup than Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Georgia.

The report also identified a series of potential high growth companies capable of growing to "world class" size:
Based on additional analysis of revenue and employee growth and financing in public or private markets, we identified businesses with the potential to grow to world-class size, but only if they maintain current growth trajectories. 
In total, we identified 50 Canadian companies with over $10Mln CDN of invested capital that were growing at more than 20% a year. This represents 12% of all of the 423 Canadian companies above $10 M in capital.
The full report is available online at and its well worth taking a look at.

The executive summary, for those of us who are too lazy to read the full report, is available online at
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

US & UK Develop Satellite Servicing Spacecraft; Canada Will Likely Miss the Boat, Again

          By Brian Orlotti

In recent weeks, two space firms have made public their plans for deploying satellite servicing spacecraft within the next two years. These plans highlight another emerging market for the burgeoning commercial space industry. While one of these firms is UK based and the other US based, Canada has a connection with a third player, albeit a flimsy one.

On March 12th, 2018 the London, UK-based Effective Space Solutions (ESS) announced a $100Mln USD ($131Mln CDN) deal with an unnamed customer to dispatch two spacecraft to service two orbiting communications satellites in 2020.

As outlined in the March 12th, 2018 Space News post, "Effective Space reserves ILS Proton rideshare for two satellite servicers," the spacecraft, dubbed ‘space drones,’ will be launched into geostationary orbit on a Russian Proton Breeze M rocket where they will attach themselves to the two satellites.

The space drones, using their on-board fuel, will then take over from the communication satellites near-empty on-board propulsion, enabling them to remain in orbit and extend their lives.

The ESS Space Drone is a 400 kilogram spacecraft (measuring 1m x 1m x 1.25m) that uses a universal docking connector to attach itself to a host satellite and then engages its on-board electrical propulsion to take over the station keeping and attitude control maneuvers from the host’s propulsion system. In this role, the space drone’s duties can include station-keeping, relocation, deorbiting, orbit correction and inclination correction.

ESS also has other roles in mind for space drones. After the launch of the first two space drones in 2020, the company intends to launch up to six new drones annually, servicing low Earth orbit satellite constellations, cleanup of space debris and performing other logistical services.

On March 13th, just a day later, the SpaceLogistics subsidiary of Dulles, VA based Orbital ATK, announced at the Satellite 2018 conference in Washington, DC that its satellite servicing spacecraft, called Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV1), had just passed a critical design review and will be able to launch by the end of 2018.

As outlined in the March 14th, 2018 Space News post, "Orbital ATK unveils new version of satellite servicing vehicle" as part of a deal signed with satellite communications giant Intelsat, the MEV1 will attach itself to Intelsat-901, a communications satellite in geostationary orbit for nearly 15 years that is running out of fuel.

The MEV1 will use its six-foot-long extender to connect to Intelsat-901’s liquid apogee engine nozzle, a standard component, to refuel the satellite. Intelsat has also agreed to lease MEV2, expected to be completed by mid-2020.

Intelsat is leasing MEV 1 for five years, with an option for two more years. With an expected lifespan of 15+ years, MEV 1 can detach itself from Intelsat-901 after the initial five-year lease and service other customers for ten or more years due to its large store of fuel. In geostationary orbit, this would comprise a large market of military and spy satellites. Orbital ATK intends to build five MEVs.

Also revealed at the same conference was the company’s next-generation satellite-servicing concept, dubbed Mission Extension Pods (MEPs). It envisions a spacecraft carrying ten to twelve fuel pods that can be placed on aging or failing satellites with a robotic arm. Each pod could then move its host into a new orbital position or provide it more fuel to extend its life. After the mother spacecraft dispenses all of its pods, it would then become an MEV able to attach itself to other satellites for up to fifteen years.

Orbital ATK aims to deploy MEPs by 2021.

Finally, San Francisco based Maxar Technologies (formerly Macdonald Dettweiler and Associates of Richmond, BC), via its Space Systems Loral (SSL) subsidiary, has entered into a partnership with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and a second partnership with NASA (via its Restore-L program), to develop a robotic servicing spacecraft for geosynchronous satellites.

These partnerships will likely be the slowest moving, despite the current Restore-L tentative 2020 launch date, because of the government connections through DARPA and NASA, and the paperwork and oversight those connections engender. Of course, they are also likely to be the most lucrative, because of the cost-plus government contracts provided to SSL in order to fulfill the contracts.

Those partnerships and contracts spurred Orbital ATK to sue DARPA in 2017 on the grounds that the US government was unfairly competing with the private sector for the same service.

But as outlined in the July 17th, 2017 post, "Orbital ATK, DARPA, MacDonald Dettwiler, DigitalGlobe & Unleashing the Lobbyists," that lawsuit was ultimately dismissed even though, as can be seen here, there were and continue to be, at least two private companies (ESS and Orbital ATK) currently competing against the DARPA and NASA funded projects.

And while, 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," this blog finds that claim dubious, so we concede a very slight Canadian connection with Maxar.

Of course, none of the benefits from SSL or from any other on-orbit satellite servicing program currently gearing up, are likely to benefit Canadian taxpayers, no matter what the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) might have promised as recently as 2013.

While on-orbit servicing of satellites is expected to be another lucrative market that can foster the growth of the commercial space industry, it also appears to be another market where Canada has fallen behind.

While US and UK firms prepare to service the heavens, Canada seems ready to miss the boat.

Brian Orlotti.

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

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