Monday, June 30, 2014

Canadore College Testing New European Space Plane Design

          by Brian Orlotti

European based Swiss Space Systems (S3) has announced a partnership with the City of North Bay, Ontario and the Aviation Technology campus at Canadore College to perform testing of a suborbital space plane mock-up this fall.

As outlined in the June 26th, S3 press release "S3 Will Initiate mock-up test flights of its SOAR suborbital shuttle from a helicopter in Canada," the tests will centre around a mock-up of the SOAR space plane, a reusable suborbital rocket-powered vehicle designed be launched from an Airbus A300 carrier aircraft and deploy micro and nano-satellites up to 250 kg. SOAR will be capable of both autonomous and crewed flight.

S3 was founded in Payerne, Switzerland in 2012, and now has subsidiaries at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre and in Washington, DC. The company currently has 50 employees drawn from across industry, academia, and the military. S3 is building an impressive global network of partners and sponsors including Breitling, Thales Alenia Space, Dassault Aviation, SONACA (a Belgian aerospace firm with a wing panel-making plant in Mirabel, Quebec), Space Florida, and Kuznetsov UEC. S3's technical advisors include the European Space Agency (ESA) and Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

S3's budget up to its projected first satellite launch in 2017 is roughly $300Mln CDN. Starting with satellite launches, S3 plans to expand into other markets including suborbital science experiments and global suborbital cargo delivery.

The Jack Garland Airport in North Bay, Ontario is one of only fifteen airports in Canada with a 10,000 foot runway. The airport is home to Canadian Forces Base North Bay, serves as a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) base and also houses Canadore College's aviation campus. Photo c/o Wikipedia

Beginning this fall and continuing to mid-2015, the tests will be conducted from North Bay's Jack Garland Airport (YYB) which is located in what S3 considers a “highly interesting zone” due to its geography and large flight corridors. In the first phase of tests, the small-scale shuttle mock-up will be towed by a helicopter with a cable. In the second phase, it will be released from a helicopter at an altitude of 5,000 meters, which will enable testing of the shuttle's flight systems and aerodynamics. Throughout testing, S3 will receive technical and operational support from both Jack Garland Airport and Canadore.

Jay Aspin. Photo c/o
In a June 27th, 2014 CBC Radio Morning North interview, City of North Bay Economic Development Officer Steve MacArthur said that the partnership with S3 came about through the efforts of the federal Conservative MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming, Jay Aspin.

In his role as Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Aerospace Caucus, Aspin helped organize the November 2013 North Bay Aerospace Forum, which was attended by many of the world's aerospace heavyweights, including Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney. At this forum, Aspin introduced Steve MacArthur to Dassault executives. Dassault had been considering CFB Goose Bay in Goose Bay, Labrador for the SOAR tests, but feared bureaucratic foot-dragging from the Ministry of National Defense. Eventually, North Bay's civilian-controlled airport, forward-thinking government and large air corridors won the day.

The partnership with S3 is part of Aspin's larger plans to develop a North Bay Aerospace Centre of Excellence (ACE) along the same lines as the Aerospace Cluster currently being developed at Downsview Airport in Toronto, Ont. North Bay is already home to a sizable aerospace sector centered around Jack Garland Airport which includes Canadore College's Aviation Campus, Voyageur Airways and a Bombardier Aerospace assembly and flight testing facility for CL-415 water bombers. Aspin has publicly stated that expanding North Bay's aerospace sector and infrastructure is a key priority.

Participants at the November 2013 North Bay Aerospace Forum included Canadore College Dean of Aviation, Business and Liberal Studies Martin Galvin; Federal Industry Minister James Moore; Canadore College President George Burton; Canadore College Vice-President of Academic Dr. Marguerite Donohue and Professor Joe Hansford, from the Canadore College School of Aviation. Photo c/o Industry Canada.

In the July 27th, 2013 Northern Ontario Business article "MP seeks to grow North Bay's aerospace sector," Aspin said that a North Bay aerospace cluster doesn't have to compete with a Toronto one; they could complement each other. Aspin envisions North Bay carving out a niche as a provider of aerospace training and ancillary services, with some manufacturing mixed in. To this end, Aspin is working with Canadore College's Aviation Campus to expand its training and mechanical programs as well looking into expanding a nearby industrial park that hosts several mining supply and fabrication firms.

Brian Orlotti.
S3 and North Bay's collaboration is an encouraging sign for the prospects of the newspace industry and for aerospace as a whole. Once, Northern Ontario played a role in space exploration, as a training ground for NASA's Apollo astronauts.

Perhaps once again it can be a stepping stone to space.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

James Webb Space Telescope Preparing for 2018 Launch

          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

Say hello to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the world’s most powerful and advanced telescope. This successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope is a joint collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). 

The JWST design uses a long, single solar array in a “tail-dragger” configuration along with a five layer sun shield and trim tab to balance the radiation torque. The sun shield is stowed on two folding pallets (the "unitized pallet structure" as shown on the lower left), which remain with the observatory after deployment. Graphic c/o Wikipedia.

The search for the mysteries of the earliest stars and galaxies, their evolution, and life beyond Earth are only a few of the new advancements in space exploration this state of the art telescope is planning to shine new light on.

Canada’s contribution to Webb was unveiled on July 25, 2012. The two-in-one Canadian instrument is the second of the four instruments to be sent to NASA’s Goddard Space Fight Center, in Baltimore, Maryland. So far the JWST's Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) have been received for integration into the system.

The FGS, made up of two identical cameras, is critical for the telescope’s ability to “see” where it’s going, location, direction and locate celestial points of interest. The precision and accuracy of the FGS’s guidance has an accuracy of one millionth of a degree. NIRISS gives the WEBB the ability to look back and past the glare or very bright stars, detect thin atmospheres of exoplanets, and find the earliest celestial objects in the universe.

Designed and tested by Cambridge, ON based COM DEVInternational, with contributions from the Université de Montréal and the National Research Council (NRC), the two-in-one instrument guarantees Canadian scientists and astronomer’s time on the world’s largest and most powerful telescope.

"Scientists across the world must remember when they get their data from the Webb telescope, all of those results bear the imprint of the successful hardware contribution that Canada is providing today, because none of it would be possible without the FGS's capabilities," said Dr Eric P Smith, Deputy Program Director for the Webb telescope at NASA in the July 30th, 2012 press release "Canadian Space Agency "Eyes" Hubble's Successor: Canada Delivers its Contribution to the World's Most Powerful Space Telescope."

Sarah Ansari-Manea.
The JWST is expected to launch in 2018.

Canada has made another world class contribution to space exploration, and continues to show the rest of the world that it will be there through every progressive step in discovering the mysteries of the furthest reaches of the universe.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Canadian Universities in Space

          by Chuck Black

While well known Canadian aerospace and space firms such as Bombardier (with 11.3% of its estimated 2013 revenue of approximately $17bln CDN being allocated towards R&D activities according to the latest Research Infosource (RI) listing of "Canada’s Top 100 Corporate R&D Spenders 2013," MacDonald Dettwiler (8.1% of $880Mln allocated in 2013) and others contribute useful amounts to developing innovation, this private sector money is normally tied to larger pots of government and academic funding.

Here's a preliminary listing of some of the better recognized academic institutions for space firms to collaborate with and hire graduates from.


Carleton University - The Carleton Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is the home of the CU3SAT micro-satellite project, which competed in the 2012 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC). A second team from Carleton, also competed in the 2014 CSDC.

    Concordia University - Home of the Concordia Institute of Aerospace Design and Innovation (CIADI), which promotes "awareness and provide leading edge know-how among engineering students engaged in aerospace design and innovation." Also home to Space Concordia, a team of Concordia University engineering students which was an entrant in the 2012 and 2014 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge.

    Laurentian University – The 2011 Lunabotics Challenge (now known as the NASA Robotic Mining Competition) was awarded to a team from Laurentian University.

    McGill University - Home of the McGill Institute of Air and Space Law, focused on "training aviation and space focused lawyers to serve throughout the world." The faculty maintains close relationships with the American Bar Association (ABA) Forum Committee on Air and Space Law, organizes conference on the topic and publishes the Annals of Space Law Journal.

    Queens University - Home of the annual student run Queen's Space Conference (QSC), aimed at connecting university student-delegates with leading professionals in the space industry.

    The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics- A basic research centre dedicated to "exploring the world around us at its most fundamental level." The institute supports over 80 resident researchers and a vigorous visitor program of cross-disciplinary research in condensed matter, cosmology & gravitation, particle physics, quantum foundations, quantum gravity, quantum information theory, superstring theory and other related areas.

    Ryerson University - Possesses a well respected Engineering Graduate Program, which focuses on aerodynamics and propulsion, aerospace structures, manufacturing, avionics and aerospace systems and has some overlap in technologies, with the space industry.

    The University of Alberta - Home to both the Centre for Earth Observation Sciences (CEOS), which uses Earth observation and imaging technology monitor environmental changes, manage resources and formulate sustainable development policies, and the Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology (ISSET), a pioneering interdisciplinary centre for planetary and space research. The university also hosts the annual Canada-Norway Student Sounding Rocket (CaNoRock) exchange program along with the University AlbertaSat-1 team, which competed in the 2012 and 2014 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge.

    The University of British Columbia - Home of the UBC Orbit team which competed in the 2012 and 2014 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge and of Dr. Jaymie Matthews, who acts as chief scientist and principal investigator for the Microvariability & Oscillations of STars (MOST) micro-satellite.

    The University of Calgary - Home of the Institute for Space Research, which is part of the Department of Physics and focused on the areas of space plasma, aural imaging and analysis and modeling plus the Institute for Space Imaging Science which led the development of the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (e-POP), a scientific payload for CASSIOPE, the first, made-in-Canada multi-purpose small satellite mission from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). A team from the University of Calgary also competed in the 2014  Canadian Satellite Design Challenge.

    The University of Guelph - Home to the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF). As part of Ontario Agricultural College, CESRF and its Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture program focus on plant research for space and other closed environment related activities. Has useful connections with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the strong support of NASA's Advanced Life Support (ALS) community.
    The University of Manitoba - Home of the University of Manitoba Space Applications and Technology Society (UMSATS), which competed in the 2012 and 2014 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge.

    The University of Saskatchewan - Home of the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team (USST), a student run organization which dominated the 2011 NASA sponsored Space Elevator Games and competed in the 2012 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC), plus the University of Saskatchewan Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies (ISAS).  ISAS maintains strong links to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) through various contributions to the Optical Spectrograph and InfraRed Imager System (ODIN OSIRIS), the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) mission, the various Canadian Geo-space Monitoring (CGSM) programs and the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change (CANDAC) plus international research connections through the Climate And Weather of the Sun-Earth System (CAWSES) program, the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) and the Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMISR) program.

    The University of Toronto - Home to the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), the first Canadian academic institution able to build low cost spacecraft, micro-satellites and nano-satellites. As the "big boy" of academic space activities in Canada, the lab collaborates with business, government and academic institutions on the development of new space technologies and strengthening the Canadian skill base in space systems engineering. Recent UTIAS-SFL satellites have included the Brite Constellation of micro-satellites, AISSAT-2 (a follow-on from the very successful AISSAT-1) and the recently postponed Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat). The facility also has close relationships with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Bombardier, the NASA Ames Research Center, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and multiple foreign governments.

    The University of Waterloo - Home of Canada's largest engineering faculty (divided up into several different schools and research centres, most notably Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering), the university faculty has contributed to a variety of space focused projects. These include the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory, the VASCULAR and BP-Reg medical experiments conducted in 2012-13 aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by Commander Chris Hadfield (who joined the Waterloo faculty in 2014) and a proposed micro-satellite mission (the Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite or QEYSSat) that would demonstrate long-distance quantum key distribution from space. The university also hosts the Waterloo Space Society (WSS), which organizes and promotes space-related events at Waterloo and within the larger community. WSS has two active engineering sub-teams: WatSat which is participated in the 2012 Canadian Satellite Design Challenge and UW Rocketry which is participated in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition.

    The University of Western Ontario (UWO) – Home to the Canadian Lunar Research Network (now a part of the new Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute), the Centre for Planetary Science & Exploration (CPSX) and the co-host of the Canadian Astrobiology Network. UWO contains Canada's only graduate program in planetary science, with over 40 PhD and MSc students and has just rolled out a new undergraduate minor degree in planetary science and space exploration. The university can also boast of its role in development of the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSAT), the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the proposed 2016 ExoMars Orbiter and EDM mission, plus the proposed ExoMars 2018 mission and has a close relationships with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the NASA Ames Research Center, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and multiple foreign governments.

    York University - The old Faculty of Science and Engineering split apart into the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering in 2012. The new Lassonde school includes the department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering (which bills itself as the only accredited "space engineering" program in Canada) and the Earth and Space Science graduate program. It's expected that the new curriculum slowly being rolled out will also include student co-op placements (in co-operation with the Schulich School of Business and Osgoode Hall Law School) plus an emphasis on business and law components considered relevant to high tech engineering firms. York scientists, engineers and students have contributed the Phoenix Scout Mission, SCISAT (the Canadian Space Agency mission to research the ozone layer) the Canadian WINDII instrument (on NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) and the Canadian OSIRIS instrument (for Sweden’s Odin satellite). York is also home of the York University Rover Team which competed in the 2011 University Rover Challenge, an annual event organized by the US based Mars Society.

    It's also worth noting that not all academic funding or partnerships derive from universities. For a beginners list of research colleges, its worth checking out the RI listing of "Canada's Top 50 Research Colleges List."


    Monday, June 23, 2014

    The "New" Canadian Space Procurement Path

              by Brian Orlotti

    Anyone looking to assess the new pathway for Canadian space projects derived from the November 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (which eventually morphed into the February 2014 policy document called "Canada's Space Policy Framework: Launching the New Generation") need only take a look at the Canadian military and its latest (mostly unfunded) shopping list of requested space assets.

    Defence Minister Rob Nicholson at the annual Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) trade show in May 2014. Military procurement in Canada is booming and the CANSEC trade show reflects this growth. According to the May 29th, 2014 CANSEC website article "Trade Show Success A Clear Sign that Domestic Defence Industry is Competitive on the World Stage,"  the event featured "more than 10,000 registrants, 331 companies exhibiting products and services over 120,000 square feet of display space, almost 3,600 breakfast and luncheon keynote tickets sold, and 31 delegations from other countries visiting to see what Canadian firms have on offer - almost double the number of delegations from 2013. In addition, more than 600 Business-to-Business and Business-to-Government meetings were scheduled, a 50% increase over 2013."  

    On June 16th, the Ministry of National Defence released its first annual Defence Acquisition Guide. Billed as a road map for Canadian military procurement, the guide includes several military-related space projects totaling some $5.9Bln CDN.

    But as outlined in the June 16th, 2014 CBC News article "$100B defence spending plan laid out for industry," the program (part of a larger $100Bln plan covering fighter jets, rescue planes, helicopters, drones, ships, satellites, uniforms and even rifles) is certainly not a rock-solid procurement list. 

    According to the article, it's more of a flexible "road map of sorts for the Canadian defence industrial sector." One source for the CBC report even called the dates in the acquisition guide "notional placeholder numbers," subject to revision. In essence, while the Defence Acquisition Guide contains projects considered a priority today, these priorities are also subject to change based on "national priorities and as needs evolve."

    Areas of interest for the proposed PCW mission include A. Meteorological coverage: 50 degree north latitude (minimum requirement) along the white line; B. Meteorological coverage: 45 degree north latitude (goal) along the white dotted line; C. Communications coverage: 70 degree north latitude (minimum requirement) along the blue line and D. Communications coverage: 66 degree north latitude (goal) along the blue dotted line. Graphic c/o CSA.

    But the list does include a number of high priced and notable space projects:
    • The Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) project, a polar-orbiting communications and weather satellite system intended to bolster Canada's arctic sovereignty in the coming decades. As discussed in the November 4th, 2013 post "Polar Communications and Weather Project Inches Slowly Forward," the PCW would provide high data rate communications for both military and commercial use as well as advanced weather and space weather monitoring capability. The estimated total cost of PCW is listed in the defence acquisition guide as approximately $1.5Bln CDN, very little of which has so far been allocated by the Federal government.
    • The Tactical Narrowband SATCOM project, which would provide global ultra-high frequency (UHF) beyond line-of-sight satellite communications for Canadian land, air, and sea forces according to the September 28th, 2012 Canadian government MERX request for information (RFI) on Space Segment, Ground Infrastructure and Service Provisioning, which referenced the project. The implementation of this program is also estimated in the defence acquisition guide as costing above $1.5Bln CDN.
    • The Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) project. This project would see up to 24 Search and Rescue (SAR) repeaters installed on the U.S. Air Force's next-generation GPS III satellites. The MEOSAR project would greatly enhance the capabilities of the Cospas-Sarsat international SAR system and certainly add luster to the reputation of prime contractor COM DEV International. The estimated budget for MEOSAR is listed as costing between $100Mln and $249Mln CDN.
    Of course, none of these programs are currently funded through to completion. 

    Take PCW for example. First announced with much fanfare by the Federal government in 2009 as part of its plan to bolster Canadian arctic sovereignty, the project languished for years under a fog of political and fiscal uncertainty until November 2013, when the federal government issued an RFI, under the assumption that it's always good to ask for more information when funding isn't forthcoming. 

    It's also worth noting the stated Federal government intention to seek funding for the project from other nations which, as outlined in the February 24th, 2014 post "Team Canada Solution for PCW Mission Competing Against US Bid," is hardly the sign of a firm financial commitment to the program.

    Dr. Lloyd Axworthy. The current President of the University of Winnipeg was once a Liberal member of Parliament and a cabinet minister in the Jean Chrétien government.  As a politician, he helped champion the 1994 Canadian White Paper on Defence, which later became known as the "Axworthy Doctrine" and became the core of the first Canadian military space policy. Photo c/o Jewish Tribune.

    But as outlined originally in the December 27th, 2010 four part blog post on "Canada's Military Space Policy," this process of creating large shopping lists of projects to "run up the flagpole" to see if anyone will fund the listed programs is nothing new.

    From the 1960's to the mid-1990's, the Canadian government pursued a policy of financing civilian space programs focused on space science, exploration and civilian technology spin-offs rather than military initiatives. This policy can trace its origins back to the Pearson and Trudeau governments who refused to distinguish between military space assets used for communication/surveillance and space ‘weaponization’ (i.e. the placing of weapons in space) so that they could be perceived of as being strong supporters of the 1963 United Nations Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty. 

    Without space-based communications and surveillance systems of its own, the Canadian Forces were forced into continually borrowing US satellites and logistical assets. Over time, this borrowing prompted US concerns that Canada was no longer paying it's "fair share" of defense, a state of affairs that continues to this day.

    So, every once in awhile, the Canadian military offers up a few suggestions projects for they'd like to have on the off-chance that some political group with clout, will sign-on to the program and lead the charge for funding.

    But until that happens and even though the projects listed in the Defence Acquisitions Guide display foresight and address Canadian military needs, the historic reticence of the Federal government in funding military space programs cannot help but cast doubt on their future.
    Brian Orlotti.

    Canada's defense needs are clear. The question is, as it has always been, will Canada put its money where its mouth is?

    Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

    COM DEV Wants Compensation after Sanctions Ground M3MSat

              by Chuck Black

    Cambridge, ON, based satellite manufacturer COM DEV International is seeking millions of dollars in compensation after the Federal government scuttled the launch of its Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-satellite (M3MSat) in April, 2014 because it was scheduled to be sent into orbit on a Russian rocket.

    It doesn't look like much from Earth, but the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Russian: космодром «Байконур» Baykonur); (Kazakh: Байқоңыр ғарыш айлағы Bayqoñır ğarïş aylağı) is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. RADARSAT-2 and other Canadian satellites, along with more than a few Canadian astronauts, have begun their journey to space from here. Photo c/o Google Earth.

    As outlined in the June 20th, 2014 Ottawa Citizen article "Canadian space firm wants compensation after sanctions ground satellite," the decision to cancel the M3MSat launch occurred on April, 2014 as part of the government’s campaign to punish Russia for its actions during the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine.

    The article also stated that "industry officials have privately questioned the government’s actions on M3MSat, pointing out the Conservative government did not intervene to stop the launch that same day, June 19, of two smaller Canadian satellites on a Russian rocket. Those satellites and their launch were funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)."

    As outlined in the April 28th, 2014 post "M3Msat and the Politics of Dancing in the Crimea," COM DEV originally received an indication that the CSA would support COM DEV's efforts to secure a new launch slot for M3MSat, but that new launch so far hasn't materialized.

    However, as outlined in the June 21st, 2014 post "Two More Canadian Satellites Launched on Russian Rocket: Another Scheduled," two other small Canadian satellites, part of the BRITE Constellation of micro-satellites designed and built by the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTAIS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL), were launched into orbit on June 19th, 2014 on top of a Russian rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

    A third Canadian satellite,  the Norwegian owned but Canadian built and operated AISSAT-2, is currently scheduled for launch from the same facility on board another Russian rocket on July 8th.

    During a June 5th, 2014 quarterly earnings conference call, officials from COM DEV and M3MSat subcontractor exactEarth LLP told investors that they are in negotiations with the federal government and are seeking compensation for the launch cancellation.

    A graphic showing the available facilities at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Graphic c/o NASA.

    Saturday, June 21, 2014

    Two More Canadian Satellites Launched on Russian Rocket: Another Scheduled

              by Chuck Black

    Quietly and without much fanfare, two small Canadian satellites, part of the BRITE Constellation of micro-satellites designed and built by the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTAIS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL), were launched into orbit on June 19th, 2014 on top of a Russian rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

    An overview of the Brite Constellation,  a group of  six nano-satellites built to study the variability of bright stars. The technology was designed and built through the Canadian Advanced Nanospace eXperiment (CANX) program at the UTIAS-SFL in Toronto. The science case and concept was developed by Emeritus Professor Slavek Rucinski of the University of Toronto, using technology originally developed for the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) space telescope. Graphic c/o

    A third Canadian built satellite is currently scheduled for launch from the same facility on board another Russian rocket on July 8th.

    As outlined in the June 19th, 2014 Globe and Mail article "Canada-Russia relations cast pall over space launch," the lack of public comment from either public or private sources regarding these launches underscores the challenge faced by domestic satellite providers looking for launch opportunities while the federal government pursues sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. 

    AISSAT-2. Photo c/o eoPortal.
    In April 2014, the Harper government decided "not to proceed" with the planned June 2014 launch of the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite (M3MSat) technology demonstrator from Baikonur amid Russian allegations of M3MSat's possible "military" uses. 

    But as described in the April 28th, 2014 post "M3Msat and the Politics of Dancing in the Crimea," the Federal government also decided not to make a public statement in this case. Instead M3Msat contractor COM DEV International issued a press release which quoted the "Government of Canada" as deciding "to not proceed with the planned Russian Soyuz launch of M3M, which was scheduled for June this year."

    Oddly enough, at least one other Canadian satellite with a military connection, the Norwegian owned but Canadian built and operated AISSAT-2, is still scheduled to be launched on board a Russian rocket over the next little while. According to the UTIAS-SFL AISSAT-2 website, the satellite is funded by the Norwegian Space Centre with support from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, the chief advisory organization on defence-related science and technology to the Ministry of Defence and the Norwegian Armed Forces. 

    The June 20th, 2014 update to the Spaceflight Now listing of Worldwide Launch Schedules, the Soyuz-2 rocket carrying the Meteor M2 Russian meteorological satellite, along with a variety of other secondary payloads including AISSAT-2, is currently scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on July 8th. 

    Even better, it's the same launcher originally scheduled to launch M3MSat. Evidently the Russians like the Norwegians better than they like the Canadians. 

    Go figure...

    A political cartoon making fun of US sanctions imposed as a result of the crisis in the Ukraine. As announced on April 28th, 2014 by the US Commerce Department, the sanctions imposed restrictions on Russian purchases of US built satellites and satellites with US components. The sanctions also restrict firms using US satellites or US components from also using Russian Proton rockets launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome by International Launch Services, a commercial subsidiary of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. Canadian based organizations such as the UTIAS-SFL or COM DEV would be subject to these restrictions when utilizing US designed or manufactured components in their satellites. Graphic c/o Forex.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    A New Starship Enterprise to Explore Space!

              by Sarah Ansari-Manea

    Space: the final frontier! These are the voyages of the IXS Enterprise, the latest starship concept design with warp drive capabilities.

    IXS Enterprise. Graphic c/o Harold White.

    NASA physicist, Dr. Harold White, has been working to make his Star Trek dreams of interstellar travel a reality and has been trying to push humanity closer to faster-than-light travel.

    Dr. White, head of NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Team, started his faster-than-light work in 2010, and announced it publicly last fall. But according to the June 12th, 2014 CNN article "What an Enterprise! NASA physicist, artist unveil warp-speed craft design," it wasn't until he joined forces with artist Mark Rademaker, that his inner sci-fi lover was awoken and excited.

    Dr. Harold White. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
    Rademaker spent more than 1,600 hours perfecting the designs, and is still not quite finished, as he plans to repaint and add texture to the designs. The full collection can be viewed in his online flickr album.

    In the June 10th io9 article "Here's NASA's New Design for a Warp Drive Ship," White explained that his design would not defy any laws of physics; “Remember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed…“Perhaps a ‘Star Trek’ experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility.

    Theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre first proposed the idea for a warp drive, basing it on a solution of Einstein's field equations in general relativity. In short, the Alcubierre warp drive would stretch spacetime in a wave, which causes the fabric of space ahead of the spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would ride the wave to accelerate to incredible speeds.

    Adding onto the efforts of Alcubierre, White’s design allows for the creation of a warp bubble, through the addition of the two enormous rings surrounding the spacecraft. The space at the front of the ship compresses, while the space behind expands, re-positioning the ship without it actually moving, or breaking any physical laws.

    However, White is not the only person to have designed a convincing and feasible spacecraft. The Atomic Rockets of the Space Patrol website has a database of amazing and realistic spacecraft concepts. The ships are all planned out with exploration of the galaxy as their primary focus, and are meant be scientifically accurate. Crew modules, habitation modules, various shields, batteries and propulsion methods are discussed in full detail, and the movements as well as accelerations are all apparently pre-calculated.

    There is much praise for the ISV Venture Star from the James Cameron movie Avatar, and the owners of the webpage claim that it is the most scientifically accurate space ship seen in a movie. The ship’s engines are on the front, towing the rest of it behind, and following a concept created by Charles Pellegrino and physicist Jim Powell. Their innovative antimatter powered starship design, called a Valkyrie, was seen in Cameron’s movie, where Dr. Pellegrino was a scientific consultant.

    Sarah Ansari-Manea.
    These beautiful and scientifically accurate designs are promising and exciting, though out of our reach for now, and will remain as nothing more than concepts for many years to come. But it is inspiration for the next generation of space travelers, and will hopefully will be the push they need to boldly go where no man has gone before.

    Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Made in Space and Tesla Motors Riding the Open Source Wave

              by Brian Orlotti

    On June 12th, a 3D printer specifically designed to work in micro-gravity was approved by NASA for installation on the International Space Station (ISS). On the same day, SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced that Tesla Motors will open up its patent portfolio, allowing other companies to harness Tesla-developed electric vehicle technology without fear of legal action.

    Made in Space team members during a recent aircraft flight simulating micro-gravity. Photo c/o Made in Space

    Are the two items related? Of course they are.

    Before being approved for the ISS, the 3D printer, developed by California-based Made in Space, completed a series of tests at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. These tests were designed to ensure the device complies with ISS technical and safety requirements. NASA engineers also examined a set of 21 test objects printed by the device on Earth. Once the printer is installed in the ISS's Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), the same 21 test objects will be reprinted and then brought back to Earth for comparative testing with the Earth-printed objects. The printer will be delivered to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule launched on the company's Falcon 9 rocket.

    SpaceX's next cargo delivery mission to the ISS is expected to launch sometime in August.

    Made In Space was founded in 2010 out of Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California when a group of 3D printing industry veterans (including Autodesk Director Gonzalo Martinez and Bespoke Designs Founder Scott Summit) and space industry pioneers (such as Planetary Resources President Chris Lewicki and astronaut Dan Barry) joined with successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (Aaron Kemmer, Jason Dunn, and Michael Chen). Now located in the NASA Research Park (also at NASA Ames), the company has grown to nearly two dozen employees with a focus on developing 3D printing technology for space.

    Made In Space's 3D printer is based on fused deposition modelling (FDM) (one of the oldest 3D printing methods), but with a number of modifications to enable it to print in a microgravity environment. Should their printer prove successful, Made in Space plans to install a permanent 3D printer aboard the ISS.

    3D printing technology holds the promise of reducing the cost and risk of space exploration. On Earth, 3D printers can produce spacecraft components far faster and at less cost than traditional manufacturing methods. In space, 3D printers could allow astronauts to produce tools and components locally rather than launching them from Earth, saving on storage space and fuel costs as well as providing more options when unforeseen issues arise.

    SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Are lawyers suddenly less relevant? Photo c/o Tesla Motors.

    Also on June 12th, SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced that Tesla Motors will open up its patent portfolio, allowing other companies to harness Tesla-developed electric vehicle technology without fear of legal action. In a media conference call held the same day, Musk also stated that this policy applies retroactively to all currently-held Tesla patents.

    Musk's move has several motivations behind it. By allowing other firms to utilize Tesla's technology, Musk hope to spur growth and innovation in the electric vehicle industry. The move can also be seen as a pre-preemptive strike against companies threatening the nascent electric vehicle industry by buying up patents as also as a means of neutralizing patent trolls. Musk is an outspoken critic of the current US patent system and has pursued a similar policy with SpaceX, choosing to keep that company's technologies under the realm of trade secrets rather than patenting them. Part of Musk's rationale for that decision was also the avoidance of industry-damaging patent lawsuits.

    Brian Orlotti.
    Made In Space's ISS 3D printer deployment and Tesla Motors' opening of its patents are both signs of the growing influence of the open-source movement.

    Open-source hardware and software has  helped drive the rapid growth of 3D printing over the past few years. The open source philosophy is now being applied to the electric vehicle industry (as well as, indirectly, to the space industry) in the hopes of doing the same.

    Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

    Saturday, June 14, 2014

    The "Three Kings" of CDN Commercial Space Prepare for Changes

              by Chuck Black

    Telesat HQ in Ottawa. Photo c/o Globe & Mail.
    The "three kings" of the Canadian space industry, communications giant Telesat, component manufacturing upstart COM DEV International (COM DEV) and robotics expert/ satellite manufacturer Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) are each weighing their options in anticipation of changes expected to occur over the next few months.

    The situation at Telesat, which has been trying to do "something," maybe even "anything" to shake up the corporate structure over the last few years, whether it's a sale, a recapitalization (as per the March 22nd, 2011 post "Telesat Sale (or Recapitalization) Near (or Not)" and the February 13, 2014 post "Telesat Being Shopped Around, Again"), an acquisition or even an IPO (as per the September 1st, 2012 post "Will Telesat IPO before July 25th, 2013?"), is considered the most confusing.

    As per the June 4th, 2014 Seeking Alpha post "Loral higher following fresh Telesat deal report," Telesat owners Loral Space & Communications (LORAL) and Canada's Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP) are "attempting to bridge a $100 million value gap" to complete a deal to sell Loral's Telesat stake to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP). 

    But PSP, because of its complex relationship with OTPP, could potentially end up selling its Telesat shares to itself and needs to weigh the tax repercussions of the various potential valuations on both sides of the ledger before proceeding. According to the the article, "talks are ongoing" and a deal could happen in July.

    COM DEV HQ in Cambridge. Photo c/o COM DEV.

    The situation over at COM DEV is certainly easier to follow. As outlined in the June 6th, 2014 Space News article "COM DEV Itching for an Acquisition amid Shrinking U.S. Losses," the firm is looking to retrace the path of MDA, which in 2012 used its acquisition of US based Space Systems Loral (SSL, which is a different Loral from the LORAL in talks with PSP, although SSL was once owned by LORAL) to double in size, drive up its stock price and gain access into a variety of lucrative US military and commercial space markets. 

    The Space News article quoted COM DEV CEO Mike Pley as stating that “we have a fair number of them (potential acquisitions) in the funnel right now and I would hope to be able to announce something before the end of the fiscal year.” The COM DEV fiscal year will finish up at the end of the calender year.

    MDA HQ in Richmond. Photo c/o MDA.
    As for MDA, given its past successes and current access to US markets normally unavailable to Canadian firms, its problem and opportunity might be of a more subtle nature. After all, MDA shares hit a new 52-week high on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) of $90.53 CDN on June 9th, according to the VURU stock analysis website.

    But what goes up must come down, even in the stock market and the bloom could finally be coming off the company, at least according to the May 27th, 2014 Financial Post article, "Tech selloff presents opportunities in Canada." The article quoted TD Securities analyst Scott Penner as stating that MDA may not be able to sustain or surpass its recent highs and the stock price could be due for a short term "correction."

    Only time will tell the whole story of these three critical Canadian space firms. Whatever happens over the next few months, these "three kings" will have more effect on Canada in space than anything happening at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) or in academia. 

    To learn more about the "three kings," check out the May 22nd, 2010 post on "The "Three Kings" of Canadian Commercial Space."

    Monday, June 09, 2014

    Another Canadian Satellite Moved off a Russian Launcher?

              by Sarah Ansari-Manea and Chuck Black

    The Indian PSLV. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
    A Norwegian funded satellite, constructed by the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) and originally scheduled for launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket along with the Canadian Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite (M3MSat), seems to have found a new home as a subsidiary payload aboard an Indian rocket.

    Maybe... Or maybe not...

    As outlined in the September 27th, 2013 SpaceFlight Now article "Latest Soyuz/ Fregat Delay Underscores Issue for Small-satellite Owners," the anticipated June 28th, 2014 Soyuz launch of the Meteor M2 weather satellite was expected to also include a number of secondary payloads including the SkySat 2 spacecraft from Skybox Imaging, the TechDemoSat 1 spacecraft for the UK government plus several smaller payloads including the UTIAS-SFL built and Norwegian funded AISSAT-2 along with the Canadian M3Msat.

    But, as outlined in the April 24th, 2014 post "M3Msat and the Politics of Dancing in the Crimea," those plans were essentially derailed with an announcement that the Federal government "has decided not to proceed" with the planned June 2014 launch.

    And while the June 1st, 2014 update to the Spaceflight Now listing of Worldwide Launch Schedules, still listed the SkySat 2, TechDemoSat 1 and "other small passengers" on the Russian launcher manifest, an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) , which is scheduled to launch the Spot 7 remote sensing satellite for Astrium Services and at least two other Canadian built satellites sometime in June 2014, might now end up being the new launch provider for AISSAT-2.

    At least that seems to be a reasonable analysis of Gunthers Space Page, which is currently the "publication of record" for amateurs in this area. As outlined on their AISAT webpage, as similar satellite is currently expected to launch in June 2014 aboard an PSLV C-23 mission , along with the SPOT 7 satellite, the UTIAS-SFL built CANX-4 and CANX-5 satellites and the Indonesian Inter-University Nano-Satellite for Research and Education (LINUSAT).

    Of course, its always possible that the AISSAT (with two "S's") mentioned in Gunthers Space page is a second AISAT (but with only one "S"), designed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). No one is making public statements in this area so there is a certain amount of reasonable confusion on this issue.

    It's even possible that the second AISSAT (with two "S's") is still scheduled for launch on June 28th aboard a Russian launcher.

    The UTIAS-SFL is recognized internationally for its low cost, high performance missions, and the ability to successfully exploit the latest commercial technologies in space. They operate multiple satellites from their mission control center, including MOST (Canada’s first space telescope), CanX-2 (Canada’s smallest operational satellite), the Nanosatellite Tracking of Ships (NTS) spacecraft (developed in conjunction with Cambridge, Ontario based COM DEV International) and the BRITE constellation (which proved to the world that inexpensive and small satellites can do great things).

    Their mission statement on the SFL website states: “The Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) mission is to lower the entry barrier to space for companies, research institutions, government, and end users in order to enable more productive use of space for the next generation. SFL believes in offering the lowest cost possible to achieve objectives in space while adhering to approaches known to result in high quality and high reliability...”

    The launch date for CanX-4, CanX-5 and (maybe) the AISAT-2 aboard the PSLV rocket is so far unknown, but presumed to be sometime this month.

    Sarah Ansari-Manea.
    Canada, and especially the UTIAS-SFL, is continuing to prove its dominance and expertise in the satellite and nano-satellite industry, showing the world that inexpensive and smaller scale satellites can be just as beneficial tools as their larger counterparts.

    Here's hoping that the amateurs tracking the space industry have called this specific satellite launch correctly. Canadian satellites must keep flying.

    Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

    Sunday, June 08, 2014

    MakerBots on Mars!!!

              by Brian Orlotti

    Graphic c/o Thingiverse.
    NASA and 3D printing pioneer Makerbot Industries have sponsored an online competition to harness the talents of the maker community to design a future Mars base.

    The contest, called the MakerBot Mars Base Challenge, was created by Makerbot in collaboration with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California with the stated goal, as outlined on their website, of designing "a utilitarian Mars base that can withstand the elements and maybe even make you feel at home, despite being 140 million miles away from Earth, on average."

    The public can upload their 3D design files to Makerbot's 3D design portal, Thingiverse (using the tag #MakerBotMars) between May 30th and June 12th. Entries will be judged by a panel of NASA-JPL and MakerBot employees on scientific feasibility, creativity, and print-ability. The 1st place winner will receive a MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer and three spools of plastic filament. The 2nd place winner will receive two spools of plastic filament and 3rd place will receive one spool. All winners will have their designs featured on Thingiverse.

    NASA is expecting that crowd-sourcing the Mars base design to non-scientists in the public will unearth new innovations as well as inspire the next generation of astronauts. 

    The Makerbot Mars Base Challenge continues the trend of the last few years of various government agencies soliciting the public for innovative new ideas that can foster new companies and products as well as be incorporated back into government programs.

    Examples include The NASA Space Apps Challenge (most recently profiled in the April 14th, 2014 post "Commercializing the Winners of the Space Apps Challenge") the DARPA Open Source Catalog (as described in the March 3rd, 2014 post "DARPA Goes Open Source as Others Beg for Government Assistance") and the European Union's Open Data Challenge

    The crowd-sourcing model is also making headway in the private sector, enabling businesses like open-source vehicle maker Local Motors.

    Some of the more interesting designs submitted so far to the MakerBot Mars Base Challenge have included:

    "The Sustainable Base," submitted by user "VFXBase." The base is circular and designed around a central area containing a greenhouse and a "roof" of arching solar panels. Forming a rectangle around the centre are modular tunnels which connect various housing units together. The outer "ring" of the base holds fuel and oxygen tanks, heating units, and four landing pads, which completes the circular design of the base and provides an easy way to land in and enter. The base was designed to be both visually striking as well as comfortable to live in.

    "The Mars Atmosphere Mine," submitted by user "NathansMind." In this design, the base uses a combination of both solar cells and wind turbines for power geeeration for the sake of redundancy. NathansMind argues that Martian dust storms would block out the sun for months at a time, making some form of backup power desirable. The base also incorporates absorption-based separators to harvest various gasses i.e. CO2 from the Martian atmosphere. Interestingly, NathansMind cites a variety of web links on gas separation, in-situ resource utilization, carbon monoxide fuel cells, and Mars polar wind turbines, which were consulted when developing thh design.

    Brian Orlotti.
    The MakerBot Mars Base Challenge is an attempt to tap the creative power of the public to envision a human home on another world. What greater challenge for a "maker" than to make a new world?

    Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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