Thursday, May 25, 2017

Attempting Relevance, the Canadian Space Agency Announces Industry Focused & Small Business Funding

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued another in a series of mostly expected announcements of opportunity (AO) for new programs funded under its longstanding Space Technology Development Program (STDP).

It's not that there's anything wrong with that. It will just be interesting to see if the CSA continues down this path when the Liberal government unveils its high-level follow-on to the previous Conservative 2014 Space Policy Framework later this year.

As outlined first in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "The Canadian Space Agency is "Very" Cautious About Its Post ISS Role," the CSA has embarked on its present course of action before receiving feedback from the Space Advisory Board (SAB), which was supposed to "consult stakeholders to define key elements" of an expected revision to Canada's space policy. Given the short time-frame for consultation (the SAB only announced its membership and began a series of public meetings in April), the CSA's current independent path and the Liberal governments acknowledged embrace of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (which strongly suggests that there will be no radical course changes in the near future), it's just possible that the real role of the SAB was to build support for an already crafted policy. We'll find out sometime this summer. Screenshot c/o

There were two slight surprises in the CSA's current offering.

First of all, and as outlined in the May 24th, 2017 post on the Federal government Buy and Sell procurement website under the title, "Space Technology Development Program (STDP) Industrial Capability-Building Contributions (9F063-20170131)," the new programs are focused on business, not academia, and intended "to support the development of Canadian industrial capabilities in the area of space technologies for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian space companies."

Applications are "limited to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations established and operating in Canada," and explicitly exclude academic institutions. While academics are "encouraged" to sign up to the program as "consultants to the recipient," they are not eligible to apply directly.

Secondly, the program includes a specific small business focused component. 

And while it's not quite the US originated program advocated in the May 11th, 2017 post, "CATAAlliance Calls for Adaption of the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program," it is at least an implicit reversal of the longstanding CSA position that both small and large companies can compete on a level playing field for the same CSA programs. 

That position, first outlined in the July 24th, 2009 post, "OK, So Maybe the CSA Does Provide Some Support for Small Aerospace Firms...," was never taken terribly seriously in the real world, mostly because small businesses have far fewer lawyers able to comprehend and respond to the normal paperwork generated by the typical CSA funded program.

Two of the reasons why the US SBIR program is so successful also relate to why the program will likely never be adapted in Canada. The program depends on "set-asides" totaling 2.9% of the extramural budget of all US government agencies engaged in R&D and with budgets in excess of $100Mln US ($135Mln CDN). The program also operates in concert with the US Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, another "set-aside" program to facilitate "co-operative R&D between small business concerns and US research institutions." In essence, SBIR costs money and is not a stand alone program. Graphic c/o August 2015 Small Business Administration Office of Investment & Innovation SBIR-STTR Presentation

The new AO is organized into three separate categories:
  • STDP AO 4.1 Space R&D - A program focused around commercialization opportunities, which will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $2Mln CDN per "space technology project that expect commercial potential in the short to medium term (i.e. 2 to 5 years)."
  • STDP AO 4.2 Space R&D Small Business - Like the title says, this is an explicitly small business focused program, targeted at firms with up to a maximum of 50 employees. The AO will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $200K CDN per space technology project "for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian small space companies."
  • STDP AO 4.3 Space R&D Feasibility Studies - A program focused around feasibility studies and system design, which will award "non-repayable" contributions of up to $100,000 per project for "studies that expect commercial potential in the medium to long term (i.e. 5 to 10 years)."
While these new CSA programs are slightly more relevant to the current and future structure of the Canadian and international space industry (they're at least targeting industry rather than focusing on academia), it's also worth noting that the new programs provide far smaller amounts of funding for far higher amounts of paperwork and oversight than most other funding options.

After all, we live in an age where, as outlined in the April 3rd, 2017 post, "UofT Undergraduate Satellite Builders Raise Almost $500K to Build & Launch a Microsatellite in 2019," a small not-for-profit student satellite company can be funded with student fees far in excess of what the Federal government is able to offer.

Can our government funded space industry keep up with the private sector? Stay tuned.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Part 10: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

MDA's Rise, Spar's Fall, STEM Antenna's,  the Space Shuttle, the Canadarm, 

COMDEV & Optech 

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

While MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), Canada's newest aerospace company, was capitalizing on its first paid work, the well-established SPAR Aerospace suddenly came under attack.

The United States government had determined that the STEM antenna had become a strategic asset and so the Congress ordered American companies to reverse-engineer the device.

This decision came just a few years after the Soviet Union had already done the same thing and had deployed STEMs on many of their own satellites. In fact Soviet-built STEMs were sitting on the surface of Mars aboard the first spacecraft to soft-land on the red planet. In response to this existential threat SPAR purchased Astro Research in California, and the production of STEMs moved south of the border.

STEM had been aboard all three of America's manned spacecraft and SPAR's Vice President John Macnaughton was determined to have the company play a role in the next generation too – the Space Shuttle.

Despite the Telesat Canada Act, which was supposed to guarantee that Canadian satellites be built in Canada, the first geosynchronous communications satellite for Canada, the Anik A-1, was built by Hughes Aerospace in California. SPAR and RCA vigorously protested this decision and managed to win back contracts for some of the work. This had the fortunate side-effect of demonstrating to Hughes that the two Canadian companies could perform excellent work which led to many other satellites being built in Canada under contract to Hughes.

However, when the Nixon administration announced that it would be going ahead with the space shuttle program it was the potential to provide NASA with robotics which attracted SPAR to the program.

Then Spar Aerospace chairman Larry Clarke, left, and president John MacNaughton were optimistic about projects such as US Space Station Freedom and its potential for Canadian technology sales when this photo was taken in 1990. Space Station Freedom eventually morphed into the International Space Station (ISS) after funding cutbacks forced the US government to solicit international partners. Photo c/o Virtual Reference Library.

An arm designed to capture incoming spacecraft and bring them in to safely dock with a space station had been discussed at de Havilland for at least a decade. Canada was also leading the world in nuclear reactor design and in handling nuclear fuel rods. This capability would give Canada a head start when it came to robotic manipulators. George Klein had been involved in the first nuclear reactor built in Canada and had gone on to contribute to the world-class CANDU reactor. He had also invented the world's first electric wheelchair and was an expert on gearing.

In 1969 NASA issued a contract to study potential remote manipulator systems for the upcoming manned orbital workshop (later known as Skylab). The report was filed in July of 1970 and it compared the usefulness of extravehicular mobility unit (or EMU, also known as "backpacks") to stand-alone service vehicles (also known as "bottle suits") and gear driven robotic manipulator arms.

One of the candidates put forward was a multiple jointed robotic arm and hand made up of a connected series of STEMs. This system could theoretically reach around the Skylab station and perform useful tasks while being steered by an operator inside the pressurized confines of the Skylab multiple docking adapter module.

Klein's STEM had already been used throughout the 1950s as a way of deploying beacons. Then in the 1960s it had done sterling service as the antenna of choice on dozens of spacecraft. Now it was being considered as the basis of a space manipulator system.

Initially the contract pursued was for the proposed space telescope, but Macnaughton wanted SPAR to also bid on a robotic manipulation system for the shuttle. The simple STEM which had started life as a rapidly deployable antenna for trucks and aircraft was to about to give birth to the most sophisticated robotic tool to ever fly in space.

Skylab would fly in 1973 without a remote manipulator system, an oversight which in hindsight almost caused the entire mission to fail. The first crew had to conduct spacewalks to save America's first space station due to various deployment failures after launch. One of the main solar panels had not extended; an issue which presented STEM with yet another opportunity. STEMs would later be used for solar panel deployment on many spacecraft.

While SPAR investigated the future of space robotics the aircraft industry was still in some chaos. In May of 1974 the Government of Canada purchased de Havilland Canada from Hawker Siddeley for $38.8M. This was the beginning of the government's attempt to further consolidate and manage the Canadian aerospace sector.

Eighteen months later they purchased Canadair from General Dynamics (for $38Mln CDN) which at that time was manufacturing long-range patrol aircraft for Lockheed. A few months later Canadair announced plans to build a civilian jet designed by William Lear of Learjet. None of this consolidation resolved the still outstanding problem of what kind of fighter interceptors were going to patrol Canada's home shores. The Voodoo was now considered to be old technology and a whole new generation of fighters were being concocted in the factories south of the border.

Val O'Donovan. Photo c/o Waterloo Region Museum.
Also in 1974 two Canadians working in Quebec both launched new companies with an eye to continuing Canada's primary leads in communications and atmospheric and resource studies. They were named ComDev and Optech. Both companies came out of the research laboratories at RCA Canada. ComDev became a household name under the leadership of Michael Valentine O'Donovan.

O'Donovan had figured out a new way to multiplex radio transmissions. His device would make satellites more versatile and lighter. In his seminal paper he wrote, "In multi-channel microwave radio relay systems it is sometimes necessary to have a number of transmitters and receivers simultaneously utilizing the same aerial. To achieve this a complex branching system is necessary."

O'Donovan would take this concept and build one of Canada's pre-eminent aerospace companies. Over more than three decades Com Dev's fortunes waxed and waned but their technology remained first class. Like many companies its long history and line of products and patents eventually attracted a foreign takeover.

Optech's Alan Carswell had created an advanced Lidar with help from York University. It was one of the sensor systems which Lapp had recommended to the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) back in 1969.

Optech adapted Lidar technology to create portable, versatile systems which could map and study the ground and atmosphere in ways never before anticipated and made Optech into a world leader in the field.  
Robert Godwin.

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

Next Week, "Spar, SeaSat and more," as part eleven of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bombardier's Challenges

          By Brian Orlotti

Over the past few weeks, tottering plane and train maker Bombardier has faced a series of upheavals that have put its already shaky future on even even more unstable ground. Those upheavals, reminiscent of an earlier age of confusion and cancelled Canadian built planes, suggest lessons for both the Canadian aviation and space industries. 

A Bombardier C100 in Delta Airlines livery.  As outlined in the May 23rd, 2017 Leeham News and Comment post, "Delta shoots down Boeing’s CSeries dumping claim," not all US corporations are onside with the Boeing claim that Bombardier is "dumping" aircraft into international markets. Photo c/o Bombardier.

As outlined in the May 11th, 2017 CBC post, "Bombardier's Pierre Beaudoin to quit executive role," just hours before the company’s annual meeting in Dorval, QC, it was announced that Pierre Beaudoin, scion of the Bombardier family, was stepping down as Executive Chairman as of June 30th.

The news came amid a wave of public and shareholder outrage over board-proposed executive pay hikes of nearly 50%, despite massive employee layoffs, billions in debt still on its books and hefty bailouts from both the Quebec and Federal governments. Beaudoin later renounced the pay hikes and executives postponed their compensation plan to 2020. 

Prior to the annual meeting, five of Canada's largest pension fund managers along with several large American institutional investors had stated that they no longer supported Beaudoin’s re-election as Executive Chairman, opposed Bombardier's executive compensation plan and withdrew support for several director nominees. Beaudoin remains non-executive chairman of the company’s board of directors while Alain Bellemare, who replaced Beaudoin as CEO in 2015, remains in place as Chief Executive Officer.

Beaudin in the National Post. As outlined in the May 10th, 2017 Canadian Press article, "Canada’s largest pension fund manager and Alberta fund oppose Bombardier pay policy," the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Alberta Investment Management Corp. "joined several large institutional investors in withholding support for the re-election of Bombardier’s executive chairman and opposing the company’s executive compensation plan." Two days later, and as outlined in the May 11th, 2017 National Post article, "Bombardier chairman re-elected to the board amid public uproar over pay, steps back from executive role," Beaudin was re-elected as Bombardier chairman but promised to reduce his role in the company. Photo c/o National Post.

In an effort to bolster its dwindling cash reserves, and as outlined in the May 18th, 2017 Financial Post article, "Bombardier in talks with Chinese aircraft manufacturer for potential investment: report," Bombardier is allegedly in talks with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (Comac), a state-owned aircraft maker considering either an investment in Bombardier’s aerospace division or the taking a stake in the CSeries aircraft program itself.

Comac and Bombardier’s relationship goes back some years. In 2012, the two firms signed an agreement to find commonalities between the Comac C919 and Bombardier Cseries jets to reduce training and maintenance costs. Bombardier has also advised Comac on its ARJ-21 regional jet, which went into commercial operation in 2016 after years of delays. The two companies have also considered joining forces to compete against aerospace behemoths Boeing and Airbus.

Perhaps by no coincidence, on May 18th, Boeing petitioned the US Commerce Department and the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate subsidies (such as the $ 3Bln CDN bailout money from the Quebec and Federal governments) of Bombardier's CSeries aircraft that it says have allowed the company to export planes at well below cost.

As outlined in the May 18th, 2017 CBC News post, "Cross-border aircraft rivals Bombardier, Boeing clash in trade hearing," preliminary meetings on the issue are ongoing and a determination on the petition is expected by June 12th. 

Bombardier also builds trains, and as outlined in the May 13th, 2017 Toronto Star post, "How do Toronto's light rail vehicles compare? It's Bombardier versus Alstom," Bombardier is also having difficulties in this area as well. As outlined in the post, "after a protracted dispute with Bombardier about delays to its light rail vehicle order for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Metrolinx has taken the drastic step of placing an order for cars with another company." Photo c/o Randy Risling/ Toronto Star File Photo.

If the ITC determines there is a threat of injury to the US industry, preliminary countervailing duties could be announced in July, followed in October by preliminary anti-dumping duties, unless the deadlines are extended. Final determinations are scheduled for October and December. Boeing is calling for countervailing duties of 79.41% and anti-dumping charges of 79.82%.

Quebec Premier Couillard gesturing. Photo c/o Clement Allard / CP.
The US government’s investigation of Bombardier is the latest shot in the US’s escalating trade disputes with Canada and an ill portent for the NAFTA renegotiation triggered by US President Trump on May 18th and expected this summer.

In retaliation, and as discussed in the May 19th, 2017 St. Louis Post Dispatch post, "Boeing scrambles to save deal to sell St. Louis-made F/A-18s to Canada," the Canadian Government has announced that it will review its planned $2Bln CDN purchase of 18 Boeing Super Hornet fighters as a stop-gap measure before running a full competition to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s.

Amidst the frustration and anxiety over Bombardier’s present and future came a counterpoint from Quebec’s premier.

As outlined in the May 22nd, 2017 Presse Canadienne post, "Québec needs to take care of Bombardier, says Couillard," after visiting a Bombardier plant in Haifa, Israel, Premier Philippe Couillard stated that Quebec needs to take care of Bombardier because of its unique importance to the province.

But Boeing, as outlined in the May 23rd, 2017 post BNN post, "In Bombardier fight, Boeing sees ghost of Airbus ascent," remembers the growth of another direct competitor and is not likely to give up this time without a fight.

Will Bombardier suffer the same fate as Nortel and RIM or, like the auto industry, be deemed "to big to fail?" Stay tuned.
Brian Orlotti.

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

Support our Patreon Page