Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ambitious MP Announces Canadian "Space Caucus" Focused on the Economics and Business of Space

          by Chuck Black

In a timely reminder of the obvious connections between the space industry and the political process, the federal member of parliament (MP) for Nipissing-Timiskaming has announced the creation of a parliamentary "space caucus," which will focus on the economic and business priorities of the Canadian space industry.

Conservative MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming Jay Aspin in his riding office on March 25th, 2014. As outlined in the March 26th, 2014 Nugget.cs article, "Aspin mum on details," the erstwhile conservative was even then "awaiting new aerospace-related tenants in North Bay." Photo c/o

It's one of a series of local initiatives which conservative MP Jay Aspin hopes will cement his hold on the riding in time for the upcoming and expected Federal election, sometime in 2014. Aspin initially finished just 14 votes ahead of liberal incumbent  Anthony Rota in the 2011 election, which triggered an automatic judicial recount but eventually confirmed his tight 18 vote final victory.

As outlined in the November 26th, 2014 press release "MP Jay Aspin establishes parliamentary Space Caucus; Canadian Space Agency to visit North Bay this week," the new initiative kicked off with a Friday meeting between Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Canadore College representatives along with representatives from the European based, privately held Swiss Space Systems (S3), which recently entered into an agreement with Canadore College to perform tests on a mock-up of the proposed SOAR suborbital space plane.

According to Aspin, “the Space Caucus was established to bring together MPs with space industries in their communities for the purpose of better connecting with business and educational stakeholders, determining challenges and priorities, and creating a better framework for creating and pursuing opportunities. The opportunity for expanding our local space sector in North Bay is important so we need to act on it.”

Aspin may have a point. The 140 companies and organizations listed in the Canadian Space Directory generated $3.327Bln CDN in revenue and employed just fewer than 8000 Canadians in 2012, according to the 2012 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report.

And at least a few of those employers are in Aspin's riding. As outlined in the June 30th, 2014 blog post, "Canadore College Testing New European Space Plane Design," Aspin was also a central player in the recent partnership between the City of North Bay, Ontario, the aviation technology campus at Canadore College and S3 Systems to perform testing of a suborbital space plane mock-up at Jack Garland Airport in North Bay, Ontario.

Of course, this isn't the only recent initiative by Aspin to bolster his chances in the next election.

As outlined on the Jay Aspin website, the ambitious co-chair of the parliamentary aerospace caucus (which has been working hard to move forward with the 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies,or "Emerson Report") has also recently announced a variety of initiatives, designed to build conservative support in this important swing riding.

Aspin (centre) and other local community leaders in September, 2014. As outlined in the September 26th, 2014 Jay Aspin website post,  "MP Jay Aspin discloses his plans for further development of the local space industry: Strategy for Space Success in our Region," Aspin  first disclosed "his plans to further develop the local aerospace and in particular space industry that was launched earlier this summer with the announcement from Canadore College.” Photo c/o

These initiatives include:
  • The funding Aspin has promised to create a new "transportation corridor" in his riding. As outlined in the November 21st, 2014 press release "MP Jay Aspin unveils major initiative for Highway 11 transportation corridor,"  Aspin has also promised to "engage senior levels of government with transportation infrastructure improvements to the Highway 11 corridor north of North Bay to Temiskaming Shores to improve safety and expand the economy of the region. The thrust of the initiative will be to engage provincial and federal governments to provide this strategic investment for the region."
  • The funding Aspin has promised to provide for the various communities in his riding. As outlined in the November 14th, 2014 press release "MP Jay Aspin delivers over $400,000 for Powassan," the busy MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming  has even promised "a $387,600 investment for Powassan’s new business / industrial park and $20,800 on behalf of the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada for an enhancement for the Sportsplex recreational facility."
And he's promised all of these initiatives within the last month.

However they may fare over the long run, these latest initiatives are a reminder that politicians, even those in the Federal Conservative party of Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are finally beginning to come to grips with a new political reality which equates space exploration with activism, innovation, commercialization and job growth.

That's a really good place to start with building Canada's contribution to our next great space age. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Horiemon" Sues Excalibur Almaz over "Museum Pieces" Misrepresented as Working SpaceCraft

          by Brian Orlotti

Takafumi Horie. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
A Japanese investor, popularly known as Horiemon (ホリエモン?) due to his resemblance to Doraemon, the chubby robot cat in a popular Japanese cartoon, is suing Isle of Man-registered space transportation firm Excalibur Almaz (EA) for allegedly misleading him into investing $49Mln USD ($55.2Mln CDN) in a commercial space venture.

According to the November 19th, 2014 IOM Today article "Manx-registered space exploration firm to fight civil suit in US," Japanese businessman Takafumi Horie has filed a civil suit in Harris County district court, Texas, against EA founders Art Dula and J Buckner Hightower. Horie’s suit accuses Dula and Hightower of fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.

Horie claims he realized that his investment was a “sham” when he learned that Dula had sold a Russian spacecraft at auction that allegedly was "only suitable for display in a museum, and not as a potential flight vehicle as had been falsely represented to the plaintiff from the beginning."

But as outlined in the May 18th, 2014 Financial Times article "Takafumi Horie – return of Japan’s enfant terrible," the well known Japanese investor also comes with some history. According to the article, he once spent 21 months in prison for violating Japanese securities laws.

EA founder Art Dula in front of re-purposed ex-Soviet Almaz hardware in 2012. Dula also acts as the literary executor for science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein and maintains a legal practice focused around aerospace, business and intellectual property law.  Photo c/o Pocket Lint.

As for Excalibur Almaz, it was founded in 2005 on the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency located in the Irish Sea between Ireland and the UK. According to the company's website, EA had planned to provide a variety of space related services, including:
  • Unmanned micro-gravity scientific research missions
  • Human transportation including crew and tourism
  • Cargo delivery and return
  • Chartered space exploration
EA's strategy focused on the use of re-purposed Soviet-era space hardware. This vintage hardware was originally part of the "Almaz" (Diamond) program, a top-secret Soviet military space station project which ran from the early 1960's to the late 1970's. Three crewed military reconnaissance stations were launched between 1973 and 1976.

To conceal the program's military purpose, the three launched Almaz stations were designated as civilian space stations: Salyut 2, 3 and 5.  Salyut 2 failed shortly after reaching orbit, but Salyut 3 and Salyut 5 both conducted successful crewed tests.

In 1978, following the Salyut 5 mission, the Soviet Ministry of Defence concluded that the time spent on station upkeep outweighed the stations' benefits compared to automated reconnaissance satellites and the program was ended.

A full scale model of the Salyut 7 space station (with a Soyuz spacecraft docked at the front port and a Progress spacecraft at the rear) which is on display as part of the Exhibition of Soviet National Economic Achievement in Moscow. Photo c/o Wikipedia.  

The Almaz program used three main hardware components:
  • the Orbital Piloted Station (OPS) module, forming the space station itself
  • the Functional Cargo Block (FGB), a resupply craft for the stations
  • the VA spacecraft (known in the West as the Merkur), a launch and return vehicle for the crews, reusable for up to 10 flights.
In a move that could be described as "proto-Star Wars," in addition to reconnaissance equipment, Salyut-3 was armed with a modified Rikhter R-23 aircraft auto cannon mounted on its forward belly.

Originally used as a tailgun on Tu-22 bombers, the R-23 had a theoretical firing rate of up to 2600 rounds per minute and its projectiles flew at a speed of 850 m/s relative to the station. The cannon was envisioned as both a point defence weapon against incoming enemy spacecraft and as an antisatellite weapon. Since the cannon was on a fixed mount, the entire station needed to be turned to aim it. The R-23 carried 32 rounds and was test fired three times at the end of the 1974 Salyut-3 mission, when the station was operating uncrewed, so as to avoid issues with excessive vibration and noise.

The Amlaz-205 module in 2011. At the time of its purchase by EA in 2011, the module was missing payload and subsystems, at least according to a May 21st, 2011 Russian Space web post on the topic. Photo c/o Russian Space Web.

Of course, the Almaz program left behind a rich legacy, which continues to the present-day.

The DOS series of space station modules (based on the Almaz OPS) served as the core of the Salyut 1, 6, and 7 space stations, the Mir space station and the Zvezda service module of the International Space Station (ISS). Hardware derived from the Almaz FGB would also become the basis for the Kvant-1 module of the Mir space station and the Zarya Functional Cargo Block, in use on the ISS.

In 2011, EA purchased two partially completed Almaz-205 and Almaz-206 (i.e. Almaz-OPS) modules and four VA spacecraft hulls from Russia's NPO Mashinostroyeniya (the former Soviet OKB-52 design bureau). The company claimed that the Soviet-era electronics had been gutted and replaced with modern avionics from an unnamed supplier. EA claimed that using refurbished hardware rather than developing new technology would save some $2Bln USD ($2.25Bln CDN) in development costs.

Signs of trouble first appeared in September of 2012, when EA was refused a second round of funding in NASA's Commercial Crew Development program. Then, the company was hit with a lawsuit from investor Donna Beck who claimed that the company had swindled her and her late husband into investing $300,000 USD ($338,000 CDN) in an asteroid mining scheme.

EA settled out of court with Beck for an undisclosed amount.

In May 2014, in what has been seen as the company's dying gasp, one of EA's VA spacecraft was sold at an auction in Belgium for €1.26Mln EUR ($1.77Mln CDN). In July 2014, EA founder Art Dula told the Isle of Man Examiner that the company had abandoned its space tourism plans. Its likely that the financial pressure of this latest lawsuit will trigger further liquidation of the company's assets.

Brian Orlotti.
Although the Excalibur Almaz story reads like a Kurt Vonnegut novel, it can be instructive as a case study for both NewSpace companies and investors.

Due diligence, from both investors and companies remains the key to the industry's future.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in Richmond, an Iconic MacDonald Dettwiler Quietly Plots its Next Move!

          by Chuck Black

PSN CEO Adi Rahman Adiwoso. Photo c/o PSN.
Last week's announcement from BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) subsidiary Space System/Loral (SSL) that a previously announced satellite construction contract was for the Indonesian satellite operator PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), is simply another reminder that the MDA focus of operations is slowly shifting out of Canada.

As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 SSL press release, "SSL names undisclosed customer announced last month," SSL will be designing and building a new commercial communications satellite, named PSN VI, which will provide service throughout South East Asia.

The satellite will include both C-band (used for the data distribution of videos, cellular phones and other data communication) and Ku-band transponders (used for providing satellite services for the pay-TV industry) as part of its high throughput satellite (HTS) payload.

Overall, the win would seem to be a big one. As recently as the December 21st, 2013 Jakarta Post article "PSN to spend $220m on expansion," PSN president director Adi Rahman Adiwoso was quoted as stating that the new satellite, expected to cost approximately $200Mln USD ($224.7Mln CDN) would be provided through American Boeing Satellite System International, a subsidiary of the Seattle based Boeing Corp.

However, the most recent press release from SSL also quoted Adiwoso as stating that the new partnership "will strengthen our commitment to be the best satellite-based company regarding the technology innovation and its products. SSL has provided PSN with a solution including a committed launch, which strengthens and supports PSN's business plan and strategy going ahead."

As outlined in the October 27th, 2014 post "MDA Promotes Recent Wins as Preliminary to Quarterly Conference Call," the company has also promoted recently signed contracts with the US Air Force, Beijing-based EarthSTAR Inc (a subsidiary of EarthView Image Inc, a Chinese geographic information systems developer) and with "undisclosed customers in the oil and gas, and mining sectors" to deliver RADARSAT-2 surface movement monitoring products and services.

But there hasn't been an equivalent growth in domestic business for the company since MDA won the award for RADARSAT Constellation (RCM). As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post "A $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the final RCM agreement included a contractual requirement to "launch the (three) satellites in 2018" for a fixed price but with no substantive follow-on funding.

Of course, the Canadian market hasn't really been critical to MDA's prospects since its November 2012 acquisition of SSL. But the absence of new Canadian government business has caused at least some public hand wringing from MDA executives, along with an implied threat to move the Richmond based head office to another, friendlier jurisdiction if things don't improve.

MDA CEO Daniel Friedmann. Photo c/o MDA.
For example, the October 31st, 2014 Space News article "Canada’s MDA Suggests Lack of Government Support May Prompt Another Move," quoted MDA CEO Daniel Friedmann as stating that, “we are concerned that Canada will not continue in the radar area — just as we were concerned about robotics, and we were right, unfortunately."

According to Friedman, MDA used to invest 90 percent of its research and development budget in Canada, but that has now shrunk to one-third of the total budget, as US and other nations show more promise and offer more support to operations.

The article went on to state that "Canada’s seeming vacillation as to how to advance the nation’s specialty in space-based robotics was in part responsible for the company’s (MDA's) purchase of a small U.S. company that has since been folded into MDA’s satellite manufacturing business, Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, California."

With R&D money already moving out of Canada and a growing international customer base for MDA satellites and services, only time will tell if the next strategic move for MDA ends up being a physical one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Industry Minister Moore Announces Space Advisory Board Members

          by Chuck Black

Minister Moore at the Aerospace Summit. Photo c/o author.
Industry Minister James Moore has announced the membership of the long awaited Canadian Space Advisory Board, composed of industry leaders with a mandate to report on the direction of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Moore made the announcement during the second day of the Canadian Aerospace Summit, an event organized by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which was held in Ottawa on November 18th - 19th.

As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 Industry Canada press release "Supporting Canadian Aerospace Excellence," the members of the advisory board will include:
  • Retired general and former CSA president Walt Natynczyk, who is currently the deputy minister of veterans affairs, in the Stephen Harper government. 
  • Dr. Arlene Ponting, the president emerita of MindFuel (formerly Science Alberta) a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring young people's involvement in science through education.
Moore said he expects the advisory board to have real influence over the future direction of Canadian space activities. "I'm not going to ask them (the advisory board members) to waste their time," he said during his presentation on Wednesday.

The creation of a space advisory board was one of the recommendations of the November 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or "Emerson Report") which was presented to then Industry Minister Christian Paradis in November 2012.

There was no word on when the new board will begin deliberations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Google Takes Control of Hangar One

          by Brian Orlotti

Planetary Ventures LLC (a subsidiary of Google) has announced that it will lease a historic facility at NASA Ames Research Centre near Mountain View, California for $1.16Bln USD ($1.31Bln CDN) over the next 60 years.

Moffat Field Hangar One. As outlined in the June 19th, 2010 NASA update on "The Latest News on Hangar One," the facility "is a recognizable landmark in the San Francisco Bay area and a part of its early aviation history. The Navy built Hangar One at Moffett Field in 1932 for the USS Macon and to serve as the West Coast base for the U.S. lighter-than-air aviation program. The Navy transferred the hangar to NASA in 1994 after Moffett Field was decommissioned." The facility is currently closed to the public because of the high levels of PCBs present in the Hangar One building components, Photo c/o NASA.

As outlined in the November 10th, 2014 press release,"NASA Signs Lease with Planetary Ventures LLC for Use of Moffett Airfield and Restoration of Hangar One," the firm will lease Moffett Federal Airfield (MFA), currently managed by NASA Ames, and restore the facility's historic Hangar One, a large building originally built in the 1930's for US Navy airships that has become a Silicon Valley landmark.

Planetary Ventures plans to invest over $200Mln USD ($225.4Mln CDN) in the 1,000-acre (405 hectares) property, which also includes Hangar Two and Hangar Three, two runways, a flight operations building, and a private golf course. The deal is expected to save NASA $6.3 million USD per year in operations costs in addition to the income from the lease.

Planetary Ventures development plans include refurbishing all three hangars and re-purposing them as research facilities to develop new technologies in space exploration, aviation, robotics and other emerging fields. Planetary Ventures will also build a public outreach facility to educate visitors on the site's historical significance.

Moffett Federal Field in Sunnyvale, California with Hangar One on the left and Hangars Two and Three on the right. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

According to the February 10th, 2014 Silicon Valley Business Journal article, "Google's Moffett Field plans include robots, space tech, aviation," Google’s choice of Moffett Federal Airfield makes great sense from a strategic perspective. To the west of MFA is Mountain View, California's North Bayshore area, home to many Google buildings comprising millions of square feet. To the east is Sunnyvale, California's Moffett Park office sub-market, an office campus where Google has been growing rapidly. Google already leases a 42-acre site at the north end of NASA Ames Research Centre where it is building an ultra-green office campus.

With significant Google presence already in the area (with Google facilities, in effect, encircling NASA Ames), the acquisition of MFA will allow the company to consolidate its control over the region.

Brian Orlotti.
Google's cutting-edge research into cargo delivery drones, internet-via-drone and internet-via-balloon will take the company skyward into the future. The Moffett Federal Airfield will be that future's literal launch point.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ESA's Perspective on Rosetta + Canada's Contributions & Bruce Willis

          by Chuck Black

With all the various media reports trumpeting the recent successes of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta robotic space probe, which landed on and performed a detailed study of comet67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P) last week, it's interesting to note that the most accurate assessment of the mission's significance so far has come through a collaboration between the ESA and video production facility Platige Image, on a short fictional film.

As outlined in the October 25th, 2014 Nerdist post, "Short Film Ambition Has Aiden Gillen as a World Creating Magician," the short, titled appropriately enough "Ambition," first debuted on October 24th at the British Film Institute’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder festival in London.

Directed by Tomek Bagiński, shot on location in Iceland and starring Aiden Gillen as a master magician and Aisling Franciosi as an apprentice attempting to transform dry wasteland into heavenly bodies, the short explicitly referenced Rosetta and provided an inspired, motivational, but perfectly rational reason why the mission could certainly be the start of something big.

November 12th, 2014 graphic showing the Rosetta spacecraft, the Philae lander and a timeline for the mission. Graphic c/o Graphic News/ ESA.
Of course a variety of Canadian organizations and individuals also contributed to the Rosetta mission over the last decade and a half of planning and travel time. They included:
  • Jakub Urbanek, who has been with the Rosetta flight control team for the last two years and Jane Hurley, a member of the science team. As outlined in the November 12th, 2014 CBC News article, "Historic Philae comet landing has Canadian connection," Urbanek grew up in Windsor, Ontario and completed an undergraduate degree in space engineering at York University while Hurley graduated from Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland with a degree in physics and mathematics before attending Oxford University.
  • ADGA Group (Canada), through its Canadian-owned affiliate RHEA (Europe), which provided software to support the mission. As outlined in the November 13th, 2014 press ADGA release "Rosetta "The Comet Chaser" - The Canadian Connection," the firms provided an "indispensable engineering capability (which) supported the design, development, testing and operations of the Rosetta spacecraft."
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan based SED Systems, which built the three ground stations used to communicate with the spacecraft. As outlined in the November 10th, 2014 Canadian Press article, "Canadian firm has role in historic comet Rosetta mission," the firm has had a history of building ground stations for the telecommunications sector.
But while there were many Canadian and other contributors assisting with the success of the mission, the main credit must certainly be placed at the feet of its originators in the ESA, especially given that a similar and complementary US mission, the Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby (CRAF) mission, was eventually cancelled, after going over budget. 

Given that, its likely more than fair that the Europeans are allowed to define the success of the mission by making the first movie that references it. 

Take that, Bruce Willis, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The 2014 Canadian Aerospace Summit: November 18th - 19th in Ottawa, Ontario

          by Chuck Black

The 2014 Canadian Aerospace Summit, focused around the topic of "One World; Delivering Results in a World Market" and organized by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), will be held at the Ottawa Convention Centre in Ottawa, Ontario from November 18th - 19th.

From a space focused perspective,  the important event is a panel discussion on the utilization and exploration of space moderated by Iain Christie, the executive vice president of AIAC, but also including William Gerstenmaier, the  associate administrator for human exploration and operations for NASA and Gilles Leclerc, the director general of space exploration for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

But from a business perspective, there is also a variety of fascinating speakers such as Aviation Week editor in chief Joe Anselmo moderating a panel on the topic of "Industry Trends: Where are We Headed," with Kevin Michaels,  the global managing editor of aviation consulting and services at ICF International and Ronald Epstein, the managing director of aerospace and defence for Bank of America, Merrill Lynch Global Research.

Also presenting will be the honorable Diane Finley, the Federal minister of public works and government services, Dennis Foubert, the president and CEO of the Consortium of Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC), plus quite a number of others.

It's certainly a useful event and well worth attending. To learn more check out the Canadian Aerospace Summit website at

Ontario Firm Building Rocket Engines for Space Port America

          by Brian Orlotti

It's not well known outside rocket science circles, but recent launches from Spaceport America in New Mexico used suborbital sounding rockets built by Colorado based UP Aerospace which included rocket engines designed and built by Gormley, Ontario based Cesaroni Technology.

As outlined in the October 23rd, 2014 Las Cruses Bulletin article "UP Aerospace launches again from spaceport," the most recent flight of the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft SL-9 rocket reached an estimated 407,862 feet, or about 77 miles above the Earth’s surface on October 22nd.

According to Jeroen Louwers of Cesaroni Technology, the firm doesn't only build rockets. It also manufactures a variety of other products for the the aerospace, defence, and automotive industries.

But of course, Louwers is himself a rocket scientist who originally came from the Netherlands, where he earned his PhD in propellant chemistry. Prior to his employment with Cesaroni, Louwers worked at a Dutch company that sold electronics (such as altimeters and accelerometers) to model rocket makers.

Spaceloft SL-9 trajectory. Graphic c/o UP Aerospace.
During his tenure at Cesaroni, Louwers has been involved in the building of ablative insulators. Ablative insulators are used in the interiors of solid rocket motors to prevent damage from the intense heat of a rocket's thrust.

Other projects at Cesaroni include a design study on behalf of the Department of National Defence (DND) for a Canadian launch vehicle and a design study for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) for an indigenous launch vehicle utilizing a thrust vectored hybrid rocket motor.

As outlined in the November 7th, 2006 Cesaroni press release "Inaugural space flight uses Cesaroni Technology propulsion system," the inaugural flight of the Spaceloft XL rocket using Cesaroni technology took place on September 25th, 2006.

According to the press release, while "the rocket did not reach its expected altitude of 110 km because of an airframe instability, the flight was a successful demonstration of the rocket motor developed and built by Cesaroni Technology, Inc."

According to Louwers, most of the Spaceloft XL engine's parts are designed and built in-house at Cesaroni. UP Aerospace launches the Spaceloft XL rockets from its facility at Spaceport America.

Louwers also mentioned that, in addition to its commercial endeavours, Cesaroni supports the Canada-Norway Student Sounding Rocket exchange program (CaNoRock), by supplying the motors used in the program through a European distributor.

CaNoRock is a partnership among the Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Saskatchewan, the University of Oslo, University of Tromsø, the Andøya Space Centre and the Norwegian Center for Space Related Education (NAROM) which provides undergraduate university students a week at Andøya in order to gain hands-on experience in sounding rocket and payload instrument design.

Participants earn course credit for completing the program, which is funded through the CSA and the University of Alberta Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund. CaNoRock is intended to motivate undergraduate students to specialize in space-focused technologies.

Brian Orlotti.
The program also provides background information and practical experience with other platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, aka drones) and long duration balloon missions.

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

Sunday, November 09, 2014

PM Signs Agreement with China a Month After Rejecting Chinese Delegation Attending IAC2014

          by Chuck Black

For those of us who don't believe that space exploration has a political component, it's worth noting that, only a month after Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government denied entry to key members of the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) so that they were unable to attend the 65th International Astronautical Congress, held in Toronto from September 29th - October 3rd, the Federal government has announced that Canada will open new trade offices in the Chinese cities of Hangzhou, Xi’an, Xiamen and Tianjin.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper lauded Canada’s low corporate tax rate and debt levels during a question-and-answer session with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba CEO Jack Ma and mentioned that Canada has an exceedingly attractive place to do business for Chinese investors, at least according to the November 7th, 2014 Postmedia News article "Stephen Harper courts Alibaba’s Jack Ma, opens 4 trades office in visit to China that so far is all business." Photo c/o Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

The Canadian PM made the announcement during his latest trip to China from November 5th - 10th.

As outlined in the November 7th, 2014 press release on the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper's website under the title "PM announces expansion of trade network in China," the new offices will "will help Canadian businesses flourish in some of the fastest growing regions of China with a view to generating jobs and economic growth back home."

According to the press release, China is already Canada’s second-largest trading partner and is indirectly responsible for half a million Canadian jobs.

Of course, trade, technology and innovation weren't the only a topics up for debate during the Canadian PM's latest trip to China, his third since becoming Prime Minister in 2006. As outlined in the November 9th, 2014 CBC News article, "Stephen Harper raises human rights concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping," the PM also claimed to have "raised a full range of concerns with the Chinese in his meetings with the country's leadership over the past few days,"

According to the article, the concerns were raised in "closed-door talks follow[ing] signing of business deals worth up to $2.5Bln CDN."

Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt, shown here flanked by their son Peter and daughter Hannah, are being investigated by Chinese authorities for allegedly stealing state secrets. The Canadian couple own a coffee shop in Dandong, a Chinese city near the North Korean border. Photo c/o Simeon Garratt.

As well, a more recent irritant involved the case of Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt, a Canadian couple accused of espionage by the Chinese government after living in China for 30 years, who have been held without charges since August, 2014. According to the article:
Their detainment came just days after Canada accused the Chinese of spying on federal government agencies. 
Their son, Simeon, said Sunday that he had feared the Canadian government wasn't putting enough pressure on the Chinese to release his parents. But later in the day, Simeon Garratt said those concerns had been assuaged after hearing from embassy officials. 
"I am really glad with ... the leadership role that Harper and I think the rest of the government has taken on my parents' case," he said in Beijing, where he travelled last week, timing his visit to Harper's.
Best of all, "a hotly anticipated reciprocal currency deal between Canada and China was also inked. The agreement will foster far easier trade between the Canadian dollar and the Chinese currency, and makes Canada the first country in the Americas to have a deal to trade in the yuan, also known as the renminbi."

Stand by for adventure...

Monday, November 03, 2014

Orbital Sciences and Virgin Galactic Sift Through Their Wreckage

          by Brian Orlotti

Antares rocket. Graphic c/o OSC.
The NewSpace industry was dealt two hard blows this past week with two accidents (one of them deadly), which have triggered criticism from some media outlets on the merits of commercial space travel.

Here's what we know.

On Oct 28th, an Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) exploded about 15 seconds after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares vehicle was carrying a Cygnus automated cargo spacecraft (also built by OSC) on what would have been Orb-3, the third of eight resupply flights to the International Space Station (ISS) under OSC's Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.

Initial flight data analysis by OSC indicated that all systems functioned normally until about 15 seconds after launch, when a failure occurred in the rocket's first stage after which it lost propulsion and fell back to the ground near the launchpad.

Before hitting the ground, the rocket's self-destruct system was triggered by the Wallops Range Control Centre to minimize the spread of hazardous debris as well as to reduce damage to the launch site.

The Antares' first stage is powered by two Soviet-era NK-33 engines designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau and intended for the ill-fated Soviet N-1 moon rocket, a program which ended in failure. The unused engines were eventually purchased from Russia, re-branded and refurbished as the AJ-26 by Aerojet Rocketdyne and had powered four previous successful Antares flights.

However, as outlined in the June 9th, 2014 article, "Caution Prevails - Orbital Antares Launch to the ISS Postponed," earlier in the year an AJ-26 engine scheduled for a 2015 mission failed a hot-fire test. Both AJ-26 engines on the Orb-3 flight had passed their hot-fire tests.

OSC competitors have also commented on OSC's choice of 1960's era engines to power their rockets. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX has been the most vocal critic, saying in the October 12th, 2012 Wired Magazine article, "Elon Musk’s Mission to Mars," that:
Elon Musk. Photo c/o Art Streiber.
One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. 
It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s.
I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s—I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere...
The OSC crash investigation continues.

The second accident occurred on Oct 31st, when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane was torn to pieces and crashed, after detaching from the underside of its mothership WhiteKnight Two, while on a test flight over the Mojave desert.

SpaceshipTwo was being flown by two test pilots, Peter Siebold, the director of flight operations at Scaled Composites (the builders of SpaceShipTwo) and co-pilot Michael Alsbury.  Although Alsbury was killed in the crash, Siebold survived and is currently recovering in hospital.

Designed to carry passengers on suborbital flights, SpaceShipTwo is carried to its launch altitude by a carrier aircraft, White Knight Two, where it is released to fly into the upper atmosphere by igniting its rocket engine. On its return, SpaceShipTwo glides back to Earth and performs a conventional runway landing.

SpaceShipTwo. Graphic c/o
Initially, suspicions focused on SpaceShipTwo's innovative new hybrid engine, which uses powdered plastic as fuel and nitrous oxide as an oxidizer, as a cause of the crash.

However, prior to May of this year, SpaceshipTwo had a different engine which used powdered rubber as a fuel. The powdered rubber/nitrous mixture garnered years of controversy after a 2007 accident in which two Scaled Composites employees were killed during an oxidizer flow test at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

The test entailed filling an oxidizer tank with 4,500 kilograms of nitrous oxide, followed by a 15-second cold-flow injector test. During the test, an explosion occurred, killing three employees and injuring three others.

Despite subsequent investigations, no definitive cause for the explosion was ever found.

On Nov 2nd, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a press conference and tweeted the findings of its investigation thus far. Significantly, a review of the cockpit's forward-looking camera shows that the feather (the mechanism around SpaceShipTwo's wings and rear tail assembly that can be raised vertically to act as an air brake) had been unlocked by the copilot just before the craft hit Mach 1.

Normal procedure is to unlock the feather after reaching Mach 1.4 to prevent aerodynamic forces from extending it prematurely. The NTSB investigation is likely to continue on for some time.

Media reaction to the two accidents has ranged from the thoughtful and pragmatic, such as the November 1st, 2014 CNN article, "Deadly day for space tourism -- but future 'rests' on such days, official says," to the ignorant and short-sighted, as epitomized in the October 31st, 2014 Wired article, "Space Tourism Isn't Worth Dying For."

The common thread in the criticism of commercial spaceflight is the supposed pointless waste of lives for the sake of a pastime for the wealthy.

All new frontiers come with their own set of perils, and space is no exception. Commercial spaceflight seeks to overcome those perils, taking the first steps toward humans living and working in space. The global aviation industry we rely on today was built on the risks taken and lessons learned from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes and countless test pilots.

NewSpace also owes much to the sacrifices of astronauts in the Apollo program and the crews of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Risk and sacrifice are what open new frontiers and move societies forward.

Brian Orlotti.
Certainly its important to pause for a moment and figure out what happened last week with the Antares rocket and SpaceShipTwo.

But when we've figured it out, lets get back out there and resume our boldly going. 

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

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Hello, I Must Be Going: CSA President Natynczyk Transferred to Veterans Affairs

          by Chuck Black

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Walter Natynczyk, has left the the CSA after barely more than a year on the job. As outlined in the October 29th, 2014 CBC News article, "Walt Natynczyk, head of the Canadian Space Agency, moves to veterans affairs," Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced last Wednesday that Natynczyk will become deputy minister (DM) for veterans affairs, effective as of Monday, November 3rd.

General Walt Natynczyk in March 2013, after CSA president Steve MacLean's resignation on February 1st, 2013 but before Natynczyk took over from acting CSA president Gilles Leclerc in August 2013. As outlined in the March 2013 Lavin blog post "Good Leadership Is All About Trust: Gen. Walter Natynczyk," the former chief of defence staff said "it's important to give your team the skills and tools they need to succeed in their present roles—but it's equally as important to prepare them for a time when you are no longer in charge." Photo c/o Lavin.

Of course, that doesn't mean that anything substantial in the CSA is going to change over the next little while. For the last five years the CSA has been effectively run by the Industry Minister, who remains the honorable James Moore, and that rudder will remain fixed for the foreseeable future no matter who the next CSA president might happen to be.

And the reason for this should be obvious to even the most casual observer. 

As outlined originally in the December 5th, 2012 post "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," the intent of the Federal government, in implementing the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review was always to establish another level of government, a "Space Program Advisory Council" reporting to the Industry Minister and tasked with CSA oversight, plus narrow the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government." 

And they've been quite successful at this point, managing to curtail the relative autonomy the CSA enjoyed under early presidents like Larkin KerwinWilliam MacDonald (Mac) Evans and Marc Garneau with a far more structured environment where important announcements are almost always made by the Industry Minister and not the head of the CSA. 

At this point, it's likely that "the General," as he was known within the CSA, was always expected to be transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs at some point as part of the lead up to the anticipated fall election, currently scheduled for October 2015.

The only real question was when the transfer would become official. 

It's also possible that the shooting in Ottawa last week, as outlined in articles like the November 2nd, 2014 CBC News article, "Ottawa shooting: Reconstructing the Centre Block shootout," served as an impetus to move the plan forward so that Natynczyk would be able to take a prominent role in the upcoming November 11th, 2014 Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Whatever the specifics, it's unlikely that any new CSA president will enjoy as high a profile as Natynczyk, who will almost immediately begin using that profile to assist with another, perhaps far more appropriate role, but one that has nothing to do with space. He will be replaced by Luc Brûlé, the agency's current vice-president, at least for the next little while.

Hello, he must be going. 

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