Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Crowd Sourcing the Next Great Space Application

          By Brian Orlotti

The 2015 Toronto Space Apps Challenge, being held this year from April 10th - 12th at the offices of BNOTIONS (a mobile data and analytics firm) as part of the larger NASA International Space Apps Challenge, promises to once again serve as a catalyst for innovative solutions to the challenges of space.

The Toronto based Skywatch team won the 2014 NASA International Space Apps Challenge in the "best use of data" category by creating a visual representation of data collected from observatories around the world. As outlined in the SkyWatch website, the developers were then accepted into the Google for Entrepreneurs program at Communitech in Waterloo, Ontario. Graphic c/o SkyWatch. 

Since 2012, the International Space Apps Challenge has brought together coders, makers and entrepreneurs from around the world to foster innovation and make space exploration more engaging by solving various 'challenges' devised by NASA. Over two days, participants work in teams to solve these challenges by creating software and hardware solutions utilizing science data from NASA assets, including satellites and space probes. In 2014, over 8,000 people in 95 events around the world took part.

Challenges to be tackled this year by Toronto teams include:
  • 3-2-1 LIFTOFF - In this challenge, the team must develop an application that portrays all the variables involved with making a rocket launch decision. Teams are to create a way to analyse data from a rocket, weather conditions, range safety, etc. The application should enable the user to decide when to fuel a rocket, when to clear the launch range and its airspace, and how to detect weather that could affect a launch.
  • Open-source Air Traffic Tracking -  In this challenge, the team must build an open-source air traffic tracking tool that allows users to select a particular flight and see out-the-window or other views of the aircraft and airspace. Using current and/or historical data from sources like radio traffic, weather reports, air traffic control and flight plans, such a tool could allow air crash investigators to replay accidents from any angle or let researchers replay a test flight from any angle.
  • 3D AstroMed Devices - In this challenge, the team must utilize 3D modelling software and 3D printers to reimagine medical devices and equipment for use on long-duration space missions far from Earth.

BNOTIONS partner Mark Reale at his offices on March 31st. "This is the third year my company has been involved in the planning and organizing of this event. We're looking forward to exposing a new crop of contestants to an extraordinary roster of mentors." Mentors for the event include past and present astronauts, aerospace engineers, and software designers. Sponsors and community supporters for the event include Phuse, SkyWatch, #DevTO, MLH, CleverHost and Pebble. Photo c/o Chuck Black.

The International Space Apps Challenge was created by former NASA Open Innovation Program members Nicholas Skytland, Ali Llewellyn, and Sean Herron to fulfill a White House mandate to make US government science data available to the public. NASA, by distributing this data via mechanisms like the Space Apps Challenge, seeks to create a global community of problem-solvers.  In turn, this community would not only give rise to new companies and industries, but also provide new innovations that could be incorporated back into NASA’s own programs.

Brian Orlotti.
If previous years are any indication, the 2015 Toronto Space Apps Challenge promises to be an engaging showcase of Canadians' creativity and skill.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Part 1: Canadian Space Agency Resources for Education, Business, Science and Media

          By Glen Strom

The Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) website isn't just for kids’ school projects or the casual space fan. Educators, space business people, scientists, engineers, and members of the media will find resources that are useful to their work.

The main English language page for the CSA as it looked on March 28th, 2015.  As outlined in the March 26th, 2015 Industry Canada press release, "Increasing Canada's International Role in Space Exploration," Industry Minister James Moore had recently announced that the federal government was investing an additional $2.6Mln CDN towards the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The total Canadian contribution to the project currently stands at just under $150Mln CDN. Graphic c/o CSA.

On the CSA home page, you’ll see a menu bar at the top of the page with these headings: Audiences, Activities Sectors, Resources, Useful Links, and Multimedia. Go through Audiences to access these subheadings: Educators; Industry; Scientific Community; Media; and Museums, Science Centres and Cities.

Relevant information under other category headings are listed below.

CSA Educators page. Graphic c/o CSA. 
The Educators section has resources for classroom use. You’ll find documents, videos, audio files, turnkey projects, and hands-on projects.

The main page features three modules:
  • The Canada from Space giant floor map. The map, made from RADARSAT-2 images, teaches students about the effects of pollution and natural disasters, why arctic ice is important, and what causes the northern lights. Teachers can get the map on loan for three weeks through the Canadian Geographic Education website.
  • The Tomatosphere project. Tomatosphere teaches kids about science, space, and food. Students plant two batches of tomato seeds. One batch has been exposed to the space environment or a space-simulated environment on Earth, and the other batch are normal seeds. Students watch how the seeds grow and compare the two batches.
The Canada from Space Giant Floor Map at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa during its unveiling in June, 2014. As outlined in the June 9th, 2014 Industry Canada press release, "Industry Minister James Moore joins Canadian Astronaut to unveil the Canada from Space Giant Floor Map for Canadian Classrooms," the ceremony included Industry Minister Moore, CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques and students from the John Young Elementary School in Ottawa. Photo c/o Industry Canada.

Links on the right side of the page take you to other resources:
  • Educational modules. Fact sheets, turnkey learning packages, articles, and activities are available for download or by ordering them. Subjects covered include math, astronomy, tethers, and spacesuits.
CSA educational modules. Images c/o CSA
  • Space Project 2000. This hands-on project teaches kids about science, space, and our solar system.
  • Podcasts for Grades 6-11. The podcasts are available as downloads in audio and video formats. Subjects include space, astronomy, science, and math. Some of the modules are presented by Canadian astronauts.
  • A searchable image gallery. The gallery has a variety of pictures showing Canada’s contributions to space exploration.
  • The Larkin Kerwin Library. The library houses a collection of scientific and technical documents, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and audio-visual materials. Most materials can be borrowed through public, educational, or institutional libraries.
  • The Activities Sector section has material that could also be of interest to educators. The section features information about our astronauts and how they live in space, Canadarm, the CSA’s fleet of rovers, the space missions our astronauts have been on, the Canadian satellites that have been in or are currently in space, science research and missions, and the International Space Station.

CSA industry page. Graphic c/o CSA
The Industry section provides information for businesses, organizations, and educational institutions involved with space activities.

These include:
  • Space science projects looking for contractors, which are listed under Announcements of Opportunity. These projects may be funded or unfunded.
  • The Canadian Space Directory, a searchable database of companies involved in the Canadian space industry, which can be searched by organization name, or by a combination of organization type, province, sector of activity, category of activity, and capabilities.
Inside the David Florida Laboratory. Photo c/o CSA
  • The David Florida Laboratory (DFL), a spacecraft assembly, integration, and testing centre located in Ottawa, Ontario. Operated by the CSA, the DFL is registered as an ISO 9001:2008 facility for testing space and terrestrial hardware and is available to Canadian and foreign companies for qualifying hardware on a fee-for-service basis.
The colour composite of a RADARSAT-2 polarimetric radar image data acquired over the Netherlands on April 4th, 2009 as part of the lead-up to the Sentinel-1 European Radar Observatory program. The different colours reflect the type and condition of the land cover. Field boundaries are clearly visible in this area, which is mostly agricultural. The dark areas correspond to water surrounding this area of reclaimed land, the very bright areas to urban settlements and the pink/blue area to middle-left is a nature reserve. The RADARSAT images were taken to familiarize European Space Agency (ESA) researchers  with synthetic aperture radar (SAR).  Photo c/o Geospatial Data Services Centre & MDA.

If you’re looking to bid on a CSA project, you’ll find them at BuyandSell.gc.ca. You can use the quick search icons to browse or search the listings. Instructions for use are in the navigation panel on the left side of the page. You can also get the listings through an RSS or Atom reader.

MERX, which is a private company, has an electronic database of government projects. The basic free subscription lets you view abstracts. Full access to the site costs CDN$18.95 a month, CDN$209.95 a year, or CDN$49.95 per order.

Glen Strom
Next week, we'll take a look at CSA resources relating to the scientific community, media resources, and museums, science centres and cities which host CSA exhibits.

Glen Strom is a freelance writer and editor with a background in business and technical writing. He's also the editor of The Gazette Weekly, the newsletter of the Canadian Space Society.

Monday, March 23, 2015

$5Mln Allocated for Digital Manufacturing Hub in Winnipeg

          By Brian Orlotti

Western Economic Diversification Canada (WEDC), a department of the federal government, has announced that it will establish an advanced digital manufacturing hub (ADMH) in Winnipeg, MB.

3D printing is not just for creating pretty little plastic blocks. As outlined in the March 18th, 2015 3D Print.com article, "Volvo Trucks Cuts Production Time By 94% & Costs with Stratasys 3D Printing Systems," the technology has substantive, money saving applications in the manufacturing, aerospace and automotive sectors.  Graphic c/o 3D Print.com.

The ADMH will develop additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) technologies for use in the aerospace and medical industries. As outlined in the March 13th, 2015 WEDC press release, "Harper Government Supports Innovation in Western Canada," the hub will be developed in partnership with several companies including local satellite component manufacturer Magellan Aerospace

The move comes on the heels of WEDC's March 4th unveiling of a new satellite manufacturing facility in Winnipeg. As outlined in the March 9th, 2015 post, "Magellan & U of Manitoba Open New Satellite Manufacturing Facility," both initiatives are part of the Canadian government's efforts to shape Western Canada into a tech nexus.

The ADMH (to be called Precision ADM) will operate as a division of the Orthopaedic Innovation Centre (OIC), a non-profit corporation focused on orthopaedic technology development located in Winnipeg's Concordia Hospital. WEDC will contribute $5Mln CDN of the ADMH's projected $20Mln CDN cost over the next five years.

As Canada's first dedicated additive manufacturing facility, the ADMH has acquired several high-profile industry partners including:
  • Stratasys, a leading US-based manufacturer of industrial and consumer 3D printers.
  • EOS of North America, a subsidiary of a German firm specializing in selective laser sintering (SLS) technology.
Although not a traditional expert in the area, Magellan's interest in 3D printing is rooted in the technology's potential to dramatically reduce both the cost and weight of spacecraft and satellites.

In addition, recent moves in the space industry indicate increasing demand for high-volume, low-cost space systems. Over the past year, several  large firms, including Google, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and the Virgin Group have announced plans to deploy huge constellations of small, low-cost satellites to provide internet access. Magellan's participation in the ADMH can be seen as a first step in building a new industrial base to service this emerging market.

But, as outlined in the March 10th, 2015 Space News article, "Com Dev Gears Up for Mega-constellaton Opportunity," another Canadian space firm, Cambridge, Ontario based COM DEV International, is also looking to drive business in this area.

According to COM DEV CEO Mike Pley, his company has been preparing for bids on mega-constellation projects since mid-2014, and one project, the proposed 650-satellite OneWeb system is moving forward faster than the others. The OneWeb company is expected to create a joint venture this year with the builder of its constellation and could be operational as early as 2019.

With such opportunities on the horizon, COM DEV participation in the ADMH is not inconceivable.

The creation of the ADMH, combined with Magellan's and Com Dev's ramp up in capabilities in the wake of MacDonald Dettwiler's (MDA) slow exit from the Canadian space sector, as outlined in the March 2nd, 2015 post, "Will the Last MDA Employee Leaving the Country, Please Turn out the Lights," can be seen as a changing of the old guard to the new.

As stated by Michael Corleone in one of the more memorable lines of the 1990 film, 'The Godfather Part III':

Brian Orlotti.
               Your enemies always get strong on what you leave behind.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Time for Mars One

          By Chuck Black

While not officially a Canadian story, recent comments from a variety of domestic space pundits suggest that Netherlands based Mars One, a non-profit organization which advocates a series of one way colonizing trips to the red planet beginning sometime in the late 2020's, has slowly slipped into the public conscious of space activists, although not in a good way.

Opening screenshot from "The Mars 100 - Mars One Astronaut Selection Round Three Trailer," a promotional video released  on February 15th, 2015 by Mars One to celebrate the third round selection of 100 potential semifinalists in the running to take part in what the organization calls an ambitious, multi-billion dollar private mission to colonize the red planet. As outlined in the February 17th, 2015 MacLean's article, "Newsmakers of the day: Canada’s Mars One semi-finalists," six Canadians still remain in the race to become one of the 24 astronaut colonists who believe they could just possibly be sent one day on a one way trip into the history books. They include "Toronto’s Reginald Foulds, a former military pilot and self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades; TV journalist and teacher Karen Cumming of Burlington, Ont.; Toronto’s Andreea Radulescu, a Romanian-Canadian IT analyst; English teacher Joanna Hindle from Whistler, B.C.; Vancouver scout leader Sue Higashio Weinreich; and University of Waterloo Ph.D. candidate Ben Criger. " Graphic c/o Mars One

The current spike in interest seems to have mostly derived from the March 16th, 2015 Medium article, "Mars One Finalist Explains Exactly How It‘s Ripping Off Supporters," As outlined in the article, the Mars One organization possesses "no plan, no process" and no real ability to accomplish anything even approaching the scale of the $6Bln USD ($7.53Bln CDN) fund raising campaign required to organize the effort, much less send anything real to the red planet.

The article extensively quoted Dr. Joseph Roche, an assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin School of Education, who made the shortlist of 100 candidates willing to undertake the theoretical journey. According to Roche, the successful Mars One candidates were mostly the ones who had contributed the most money to the program.

The article left readers with the strong impression that application fees for the mission were the current and primary source of revenue for the Mars One team and also alleged that Mars One has received only 2701 applications in total, rather than 200,000+ applicants it publicly promotes on its website and sales literature.

For his part, Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp released a video just three days later attempting to respond to the statements made in the March 16th Medium article. According to Lasdorp:
The recent bad press about Mars One was largely caused by an article on medium.com, which contains a lot of things that are not true. 
Bas Lansdorp. Photo c/o Mars One.
For example, the suggestion was made that our candidates were selected on the basis on how much money they donate to Mars One. That is simply not true and this is very easy to find that on our website. There are a lot of current Round Three candidates that did not make any donations to Mars One and there are also lot of people that did not make it to the third round that contributed a lot to Mars One. The two things are not related at all and to say that they are is simply a lie. 
The article also states that there were only 2,700 applications for Mars One which is not true. We offered the reporter, the first journalist ever, access to our list of 200,000 applications but she was not interested in that. It seems that she is more interested in writing a sensational article about Mars One than in the truth...
Of course this isn't the first time Lansdorp has been on the hot-seat. As outlined in the  January 4th, 2014 article, "Mars One co-founder called out for “treachery, deceit and fraud” on Reddit," the self proclaimed "born entrepreneur" who has "never been one to let bold ventures intimidate him," often gets questions related to the feasibility of the Mars One plan of action.

Chris Hadfield. Image c/o CTV News.
Even normally reticent Canadians are getting into the spirit of criticizing Mars One.

As outlined in the November 9th, 2014 Medium article, "All Dressed up For Mars and No Place to Go," Canada's favorite ex-astronaut Chris Hadfield called Mars One "a failure from even the most basic starting point of any manned space mission." According to Hadfield:
I really counsel every single one of the people who is interested in Mars One, whenever they ask me about it, to start asking the hard questions now. I want to see the technical specifications of the vehicle that is orbiting Earth. I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? 
None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.
Julie Payette. Photo c/o Matt Stroshane/Getty
And, as part of her key-note speech to the 2015 AeroSPACE Symposium, organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which was held from March 18th - 20th in Montreal, PQ, former Canadian astronaut Julie Payette said “We don’t have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don’t think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection is sending anybody anywhere.

As outlined in the March 18th, 2015 Canadian Press article, "Ex-Canadian astronaut Julie Payette says Mars One, the one-way mission to the red planet, is going nowhere," the current chief operating officer for the Montreal Science Centre and director of the National Bank of Canada also felt that,“if you meet any of those people (who've signed up with Mars One), don’t tell them they’re courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website.”

Payette may have a more nuanced opinion of the Mars One effort than most others because she's one of the few who've grasped the essential truth of the effort. It's essentially very little more than a website with a marketing plan which expects to work out the details of the actual activity at some future date, after the money begins to flow in.

The  Producers. Graphic c/o Amazon.
The March 17th, 2015 NPR news story, "Are Humans Really Headed To Mars Anytime Soon?" even quoted Mars One CEO Lansdorp as believing that the voyage "will likely pay for itself because it will be a media spectacle. Everyone in the world will want to watch the whole adventure."

To take advantage of the opportunity "Mars One is planning a reality TV show with sponsorships and advertising," according to Lansdorp. "We expect it's worth up to 10 Olympic Games' [worth] of media revenue, which is $45 billion."

Of course, this sort of public statement puts Mars One squarely in the category of grandiose claims so far untainted by any semblance of reality, if only because it would seem to be exceedingly difficult to generate an order of magnitude more revenue than an event like the Olympic Games with an order of magnitude less resources and only a couple of employees.

At this point, the overall picture seems quite similar to the 1967 Mel Brooks movie "The Producers," which focused on down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (played by Zero Mostel), who teamed up with a timid accountant (Gene Wilder) in a get-rich-quick scheme to put on the world's worst show and make off with the production funds.

Mars One essentially smells the same at this point.

Of course, in the movie the get rich quick scheme is undone when the production becomes a smash hit and the perpetrators are sent to jail for oversubscribing the production.

Will the Mars One team end up in a similar position? If they do, then perhaps that's entertainment!

Dick Shawn auditions for the role of Hitler in the 1967 movie, The Producers.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Growth of Space-based STEM for Kids in Canada

          By Glen Strom

Affordable and available. Nothing is widely adopted without meeting those two requirements. Affordability and availability also matter in promoting space-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Here are a few examples of recent initiatives in that area, an overview of current Canadian concerns related to STEM education plus a list of public and private resources available for those looking to learn more.

STEM programs have been around for decades; astronomy, rocketry, and other space-related activities have been part of it. Getting a student project into space, though, was never easy due to the expense and the limited number of launches available.

But with the introduction of inexpensive micro-satellites, a growing commercial launch market, interest in space-based STEM from tech companies, and crowd-funding campaigns, even elementary school students can get their projects into low Earth orbit.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield displays the seeds he will return to Earth as his contribution to the Tomatosphere™ program in 2012.  As outlined on the program website, "over the past 13 years, Tomatosphere™ has evolved into a regular component of the science curriculum engaging well over 3 million students across Canada and the United States. In 2014, over 17,800 classes participated in the award-winning program." Under the program, students investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of food. Photo c/o CSA. 

For example, as outlined in the January 5th, 2015 Globe and Mail article “B.C. students’ space project set for liftoff once more,” four boys from McGowan Park Elementary School in Kamloops, BC recently won a NASA-supported contest to have their experiment flown to the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment was to see how a zero-gravity environment affected the growth of crystals.

The boys ran into some trouble along the way. As outlined in the October 28th, 2014 "NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Mishap," the Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket that carried their experiment exploded during its launch from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. But they got another chance to launch, this time successfully, on a SpaceX flight to the ISS on January 10, 2015. They've also learned—the hard way—why people say space is hard.

A second example was described in the September 22nd, 2012 Winnipeg Free Press article “From Interlake to space for winning science project,” which discussed a group of grade five and six students from five schools, located about 25 km north of Winnipeg and their participation in a context to design an experiment to perform on-board the ISS. As outlined in the November 8th, 2013 CBC News article, "Interlake students' cancer experiment blasts into outer space," it was the first time NASA had accepted an elementary school level experiment from Canada.

A third example, as outlined in the March 10th, 2015 Canadian Space Society post "University of Toronto Schools Accepted into SSEP," was the recent acceptance of the University of Toronto Schools (UTS) into the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). The program is “A model U.S. national STEM education initiative for Grades 5-16 to inspire the next generation of America’s scientists and engineers.” The Grade 9 students from UTS will have a microgravity experiment flown to the ISS.

What makes this story different is the students had to raise $11,500 on their own. They ran a Kickstarter campaign and raised the entire amount, guaranteeing their participation in the project.

Bloomfield Elementary School teacher Jeff Wilson carefully preparing one of the 90 rockets made by his students. As outlined in the June 11th, 2014 PEI Canada.com article, "Bloomfield Elementary School teacher inspires successful Space Academy program," approximately 87 students from kindergarten to grade eight built and launched their own small rockets as part of NASA's Beginning Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) program last spring. The BEST program teaches kids about rocketry, robotics, computer programming, and the engineering design process. Photo c/o PEI Canada.com.

Two more points worth noting—more companies are supporting student space-based STEM projects, and some projects are international.

A February 26, 2015, posting at Canadensys Aerospace’s website called “Canadian School Joins World’s First Elementary School Space Mission,” talked about Bolton, Ontario based Canadensys Aerospace teaming up with St. John Paul II Catholic School, also in Bolton, for an international space project.

The school will provide a remote mission operations center (RMOC) for a satellite built by an elementary school in the United States. The entire student body at the Bolton, Ontario, school will participate in the project.

Here's a second example. As outlined in the January 16th, 2015 Stockhouse post, "Union Gas Supports FIRST Robotics Canada with $50,000 Grant, " Chatham, Ontario based Union Gas Ltd. will will help fund eight Ontario school teams competing in the annual FIRST Robotics Competition, an event where high school students team up with technology companies to build robots in high-intensity "robo-sports" competitions with the help of volunteer professional mentors.

This is the third year in which Union Gas has contributed to the competition.

The real reason why a STEM education is important. A substantial minority of the existing supply of engineers and STEM professionals are nearing retirement age and will eventually need to be replaced. This is particularly true of people in the space industry. As outlined in the February 12th, 2013 Engineering.com article, "Dean Kamen: Society Needs More Engineers," the average age of the engineers in the Apollo program in the 1960’s was in their 20’s but now "the average age of aerospace engineers is in their 50’s. These people will soon retire, taking with them an enormous brain trust that has been a foundation of American industrial success." Graphic c/o September 12th, 2014 Fortune article on "The Most In-Demand (And Aging) Engineering Jobs."

The Problems Facing STEM Education in Canada

As inspiring as these stories might be, there are too few of them. According to a July 26th, 2013, Canada.com article, “Weird science: STEM fields face image problem in K-to-12 schools,” STEM education in general is lagging in Canada.

Data from a 2011 National Household Survey at the Statistics Canada website shows that STEM graduates make up only 18.6% of post-secondary graduates.

The Conference Board of Canada’s website shows that Canada ranks 12th out of 16th in a 2011 study of peer countries that produce STEM graduates in science, math, computer science, and engineering.

Canada also needs to do more to achieve gender balance in STEM. The December 18th, 2013 Statistics Canada document “Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university,” concluded that more work is needed to achieve a better gender balance in STEM careers.
Over the past few decades, women have made significant advances in university participation, including program areas that had previously been more populated by men. One area, however, remains male-dominated: science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) degrees. And among women who choose to pursue a degree in STEM, most do so in biology or science programs, resulting in even fewer women in engineering, computer science and mathematics programs. These choices have consequences, as fields of study such as engineering and computer science lead, on average, to better outcomes in the labour market in terms of employment, job match and earnings. 
For some, aptitude for a particular subject is a factor in university program choice. Although mathematical ability plays a role, it does not explain gender differences in STEM choices. Young women with a high level of mathematical ability are significantly less likely to enter STEM fields than young men, even young men with a lower level of mathematical ability. This suggests that the gender gap in STEM-related programs is due to other factors. Other possible explanations might include differences in labour market expectations including family and work balance, differences in motivation and interest, and other influences.
As space resources become more affordable and available, the number of children who benefit from space-based STEM projects will likely multiply.

Another reason why a STEM education is important. The demand for expertise in this area is growing faster than the demand for other job skills. Graphic c/o US Department of  Education

But as the statistics show for STEM in general, Canada still has a way to go before we can confidently say that the next generation will be ready to meet the challenges of the future.

National Organizations and Government Resources in Canada aimed at STEM Education for Younger Children

Actua - Actua’s beginnings go back to 1988 with a student-run science and engineering camp at Queen’s University. The idea spread to other universities, and Actua was formed in 1993 with funding from Industry Canada. Funding now comes from public and private organizations.

Actua specializes in programs at day camps, workshops, clubs, and community outreach programs for aboriginal children, girls, and underprivileged children.

They do this in one of two ways, through a membership of 32 Canadian universities and colleges, and with their own team of outreach instructors who travel to different parts of Canada, including remote areas. According to the statistics on their website, they connect with 225,000 kids from ages 6 to 16 in 450 to 500 communities across Canada each year.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) - The CSA has an educators resource page featuring astronomy and space-based information and projects for elementary and secondary students.

The Federal Department of Science and Technology (Federal S&T) - The government of Canada has links to STEM resources for kindergarten and elementary schools on their science.gc.ca web page.

These resources come from other government agencies like Environment Canada, the Canadian Space Agency, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Agriculture Museum, and more.

Let’s Talk Science - Founded in 1993 by Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, Let’s Talk Science is a national, charitable organization headquartered in London, Ontario. They focus on training volunteers to teach science to kids in an entertaining, effective way.

According to the programs page on their website, Let’s Talk Science offers “...a full suite of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs for Kindergarten to Grade 12 educators, including hands-on STEM classroom outreach, online chat forums, program planning resources, action projects and professional learning opportunities.”

Let’s Talk Science partners with 41 colleges and universities across Canada. The colleges and universities act as the contact points for the organization’s main program, Let’s Talk Science Outreach. They help train and place volunteers, as well as set up the program for elementary schools, high schools, libraries, and community organizations.

The organization has also done 20 research studies on science education. Funding comes from public and private organizations, and through individual donations.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) - NSERC has 2 programs.

The NSERC Promo Science Program grants up to $2.75Mln CDN in funding each year to organizations that provide a hands-on learning experience for kids in STEM education.

Glen Strom
The NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering Program (CWSE) aims to get more women currently in science and engineering to act as role models for women who are either active in a STEM career or are considering a career in a STEM field. The 5 Chairs represent regions in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairie provinces, and British Columbia/Yukon.

Glen Strom is a freelance writer and editor with a background in business and technical writing. He's also the editor of The Gazette Weekly, the newsletter of the Canadian Space Society.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Space Agency Offers $15Mln for Twenty-Three "Priority Technologies"

          By Chuck Black

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued a notice of proposed procurement for twenty-three identified "priority technologies," as part of its Space Technology Development Program (STDP) with a total procurement allocation of up to almost $15Mln CDN.

A schematic included as part of  the CSA "notice of proposed procurement" for embedded visual odometry, for which the CSA has offered up to $650,000 CDN to develop as part of its Space Technologies Development (9F063-140572/A) program. Graphic c/o  CSA and Buyandsell.gc.ca.

As outlined on the Public Works and Government Services Canada Buyandsell.gc.ca website, the various items are part of the Space Technologies Development (9F063-140572/A) program, designed to develop technologies which "are in line with the CSA's priorities and mission roadmaps."

As outlined in the program, which is defined as a notice of proposed procurement, any intellectual property derived from the program, will "vest with the contractor."

NASA TRL chart. Graphic c/o NASA.
These technologies are derived from a wide range of areas related to the Canadian rover program (up to $500,000 CDN for "soil hazard detection for planetary rovers"), the Canadian astronaut program (up to $700,000 CDN for "a wireless micro sensor system for crew biometric monitoring"), the fabrication of objects to be used in space (up to $350,000 CDN for a "space qualifiable bonded joints between carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) and aluminum") and other areas. 

The amounts offered for up for the development of the twenty-three technologies range from up to $250,000 CDN (for the development of a "composite enclosure for use at cryogenic temperature") to from up to $1Mln CDN (for the development of a "light-weight high performance water color imaging spectrometer").

The total disbursement under the program, as outlined in the second of two program solicitation documents, could likely end up being just under $15Mln CDN, although final disbursements could vary widely. The public documents list only the maximum amount which could be received under the program. 

The development contract periods for the program vary from between 15 to 24 months, depending on a variety of assessments. These include a calculation of the technology readiness level (TRL), a measurement of technology maturity often used by governments during the acquisition process. 

The closing date for the procurement is April 22nd.

Editors Note: As per the March 24th solicitation document ABES.PROD.PW_MTB.B575.E13154.EBSU002.PDF, the deadline for applications under the Space Technologies Development (9F063-140572/A) program has been extended until May 6th, 2015.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Magellan & U of Manitoba Open New Satellite Manufacturing Facility

          By Brian Orlotti

On March 4th, Mississauga, Ontario based Magellan Aerospace and the University of Manitoba (UofM) unveiled a new joint venture: the Advanced Satellite Integration Facility (ASIF) in Winnipeg, MB. The new facility will support research, development, construction and testing of satellites and their components.

The Member of Parliament for Elmwood—Transcona Lawrence Toet, with UofM Engineering Dean Jonathan Beddoes, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification Michelle Rempel, Magellan Aerospace VP and general manager Don Boitson and UofM vice-chancellor David Barnard. The five came together on May 20th, 2014  in Winnipeg, MB. for the initial announcement that the ASIF was funded and would be built. Photo c/o WEDC.

The move comes in the wake of another major satellite builder's effective exit from Canada and could be seen as filling a power vacuum. As outlined in the March 2nd, 2015 post, "Will the Last MDA Employee Leaving the Country, Please Turn out the Lights," Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) is benefiting from a "surging" international demand for Earth observation satellites and data, but none of that business is coming from Canada and the company is currently transferring resources out of the country to follow the market.

Oddly enough, the genesis of the ASIF goes back to a previous satellite contract from MDA.

As outlined in the September 20th, 2013 post, "Was the Magellan Contract for RADARSAT Constellation a "National Policy," the Canadian government seemed to have gone to great lengths to insure that a $110Mln CDN contract from MDA to build the three satellite buses required for the RADARSAT Constellation mission (RCM) would be built in a Canadian based manufacturing facility.

The the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) CAscade, SmallSat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite. which uses a Magellan MAC-200 satellite bus, similar to the design expected to be used on RCM. The existing design will be upgraded to accommodate the large, deployable C band surface aperture radar (SAR) and increased power subsystem capacity as required by RCM, plus new GPS and propulsion subsystems to support the precision orbit maintenance requirements and improved avionics to support the seven year mission lifetime. Image c/o CSA.

The ASIF was built within an existing 6,000-sq.ft Magellan facility in Winnipeg and is large enough to accommodate up to three satellites in various stages of assembly. The facility is an ISO Class 8 clean room facility built to satisfy the requirements of any expected current and future satellite programs likely to be initiated by the  Canadian government.

ASIF's construction was funded by an investment of $2.4Mln CDN from Western Economic Diversification Canada (a Federal department focused on business and economic development in Western Canada) and $1.5Mln CDN from Magellan. Of Magellan's contribution, $625,000 has been earmarked for the creation of an Industrial Research Chair in the Faculty of Engineering at UofM, with the remainder being used for the construction of the ASIF, a multi-year R&D program and educational funding.

Comparisons can be made between ASIF and the Microsatellite Science and Technology Center (MSTC) at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL). Like the ASIF, The MSTC is a new (opened in 2012) satellite integration facility funded by both the public and private sector with the stated goals of advancing satellite research and increasing manufacturing capacity.

The construction of ASIF is doubtless predicated on the notion that the Canadian government will continue, or even increase, the tempo of its space projects.

Brian Orlotti.
Perhaps Magellan Aerospace's move can be seen as a "passing of the torch"--- a sign that Canada's space industry is in transition rather than decline. Much will depend on how the Federal government chooses to proceed. Greater clarity will likely come after the next federal election.

And the saga continues.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

ULA vs SpaceX: An Empire Strikes Back!

          By Glen Strom

The book of conventional wisdom says that a large, established company can’t be as nimble as a small company. The big guy just can’t change direction fast enough to ward off the brash upstart. 

The Atlas family of rockets, which were originally designed in the late 1950's by the Convair Division of General Dynamics, for use as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). From 1962 to 1963, Atlas boosters also launched the first four American astronauts to orbit the Earth. The Atlas V is still in service with ULA, as part of the USAF EELV program. Graphic c/o FAA.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is out to prove that some books should be left on the shelf to collect dust. The joint venture, set up by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company in 2006, has used Delta IV and Atlas V rockets to successfully launch dozens of US Air Force (USAF) payloads as part of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Since its creation  in the 1990s, the EELV program has become the primary program for launching high-value and highly profitable US military satellites.

Elon Musk. Picture by Dan Taylor / Heisenberg Media
Enter the aggressive startup. 

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, CA, wanted some of that lucrative USAF business. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk saw his chance during the March 5th, 2014, meeting of the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to launch an attack at what he saw as ULA’s big weakness.


As outlined in a March 5, 2014 NASASpaceFlight.com article, “SpaceX and ULA go toe-to-toe over EELV contracts,” Musk claimed that the USAF paid ULA more than $380Mln USD per launch ($472.19Mln CDN). SpaceX, he said, could do the same launches for under $90Mln USD ($112Mln CDN). 

Musk also pointed out that ULA’s Atlas V rocket uses a Russian RD-180 engine, an old, but still physically reliable engine, surrounded by potential political problems due to the current tensions over Ukraine.

Now, back to the point about those slow-to-respond established mammoths of industry. Some big companies would have shrugged off the attack from the upstart and carried on as before.

That seemed to be the case with ULA. As mentioned in the NASASpaceFlight article, ULA’s CEO at the time, Michael Gass, said little more than ULA had a great track record and Musk’s numbers were categorically wrong.

The Delta rocket family. Rolled out in 1960, two variants, the Delta II and the Delta IV, are still being manufactured by ULA as part of the EEVL program. As outlined in the March 3rd, 2015 Space News article, "ULA Targets 2018 for Delta 4 Phase-out, Seeks Relaxation of RD-180 Ban," ULA is slowly phasing out the Delta, due to its high cost.  Graphic c/o  USAF.

ULA’s plans for change must have been in the works—rocket development has a long lead time—but for whatever reason, the board decided that Gass wasn’t the right guy to lead that change. He was replaced by Salvatore “Tory” Bruno, the president of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, on August 12, 2014.

PR-speak often veils true meaning in the corporate world, but it’s easy to read between the lines in a statement Gass made that’s quoted in “United Launch Alliance Taps a Lockheed Executive To Replace CEO Gass,” an August 12, 2014, article at SpaceNews.
Mike Gass. Photo c/o NASA.
... Gass said he had planned to retire ‘in the near term’ but with ‘the changing industry landscape over the next several years, the Board of Directors and I have agreed that the immediate appointment of my successor to begin the leadership transition is in the best interest of the company...
The new guy didn't waste any time making it clear to SpaceX that they were in for a fight. In an October 16, 2014, Denver Business Journal article, “ULA plans new rocket, restructuring to cut launch costs in half,” Bruno addressed the cost factor directly.
We’re cutting [ launch cost] in half again, we’re getting in to the commercial [launch] marketplace. We will also adjust design our teams and our organization to be the most effective at delivering that.
Bruno again outlined his plans in a February 17, 2015, article in Aviation Week, “New Rocket, White Tails In ULA’s Long-Term Strategy.”

Two projects are under way: a new upper stage to replace the existing RL-10 upper stage, and a new booster called the Next-Generation Launch System (NGLS).

The new booster/upper stage combination will replace both the Atlas V and the Delta IV rockets. A new methane/LOX engine from Blue Origin, the company owned by Amazon.com tycoon Jeff Bezos, will provide the power.

Flight testing for the NGLS is scheduled for 2019.

ULA will also reduce the number of launch pads it maintains from 5 to 2. The one on the east coast will support the last launches of the Atlas V and Delta IV, as well as the NGLS.

Further evidence shows that ULA is thinking more like a competitive commercial company. They’re ordering hardware further in advance than they used to for white tail rockets (vehicles that haven’t been sold yet) for an expected increase in business. The old, conservative ULA was loath to order parts without a committed customer.

Where’s that increased business coming from? NASA commercial launches and non-governmental commercial launches of communications satellites. Bruno said in the Aviation Week article, “We intend to go aggressively now after NASA commercial activities—cargo and crew—as well as pursuing [the] commercial market place which is largely comsats in the GEO orbit.”

Bruno’s moves aren't just behind the scenes. His public profile is noticeably higher than the previous CEO’s. An article from January 21, 2015, at Adweek, “Meet the Most Interesting Space CEO You’re Not Following on Twitter,” covers Bruno’s entry into social media. He has a lot to say in his Twitter account, @torybruno, about his company, the industry, and his main competitor. He even jokes around with someone who created a fake Tory Bruno Twitter account.

Glen Strom
Some big companies falter when they’re pushed by a new, innovative competitor. Some, like ULA, fight back. In the end, commercial space should benefit from the innovation that comes from the competition between these two nimble companies.

Glen Strom is a freelance writer and editor with a background in business and technical writing. He's also the editor of The Gazette Weekly, the newsletter of the Canadian Space Society.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Will the Last MDA Employee Leaving the Country, Please Turn out the Lights

          By Brian Orlotti

MDA CEO Dan Friedmann. Photo c/o MDA.
While Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) is benefiting from a "surging" international demand for Earth observation satellites and data, none of that business is coming from Canada and the company is currently transferring resources out of the country to follow the market.

At least that's the story coming out of the February 25th, 2015 fourth quarter conference call, a transcript of which is available online as part of the February 26th, 2016 Seeking Alpha article, "MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates' (MDDWF) CEO Dan Friedmann on Q4 2014 Results - Earnings Call Transcript."

As outlined in the transcript, with the Canadian government's lack of interest in new space related-projects, it seems obvious that Canada’s leading space firm, one of the "Three Kings" of the Canadian space industry, has in effect lost its home market.

A large source of the increased demand for earth observation data, according to MDA CEO Daniel E. Friedmann, is the US government. After a period of reduced spending in 2014 due to US budget sequestration, 2015 has seen renewed US government spending in intelligence-related earth observation.

Overview of MDA SS/L facilities in Palo Alto, CA. Power point slide from the June 27th, 2012 MDA conference call on the acquisition.

As outlined in the June 27th, 2012 post, "MacDonald Dettwiler buys Space Systems Loral for $875M," MDA was initially able to become a supplier for US satellite contracts through its 2012 purchase of Palo Alto, CA based Space Systems Loral (SSL), which provided the firm with a US based manufacturing facility, as required under US law.

Subsequent US purchases have followed, the most recent being the October 2014 $40Mln US ($50.15Mln CDN) cash purchase of General Dynamics Advanced Systems, as outlined in the October 5th, 2014 IHS Janes 360 article, "MDA completes purchase of Advanced Systems business from General Dynamics."

Beyond the US, MDA is pursuing a strategy of joint ventures rather than acquisitions. Currently in the works are joint ventures in Brazil, India and Turkey. In Brazil, MDA is preparing to bid on a coastal-surveillance project. In parallel with its Indian joint venture, MDA is also preparing to bid on a contract for an Indian geostationary orbit telecom satellite. In Turkey, MDA has  won a joint contract with Aselsan Electronics Industries to provide a Ku-band payload for the Turksat 6A telecom satellite.

The Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (DEXTRE), a two-armed robot manufactured by MDA for use with the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm in Brampton, Ontario in 2007. As outlined in the March 7th, 2013 Bloomberg article, " MacDonald Dettwiler Launches to Orbit on Satellite Boom," the SSL purchase was always considered "critical" to MDA’s growth. Photographer: Norm Betts/Bloomberg.

Friedmann also stated that MDA believes that contracts for several massive low-Earth-orbit commsats will soon be within reach. SpaceX and Google, OneWeb, the Virgin Group and others have laid out plans for constellations of hundreds, even thousands, of satellites.

All of this contrasts with MDA's shrinking Canadian business, which once totaled over $200Mln CDN per year, but now stands at only half that.

Most telling of all was Friedmann's comment on Canada’s traditional power base of space robotics and satellites:
This is in the process of disappearing...Basically, we have lost our indigenous customer.
Brian Orlotti.
Only time will tell whether other firms can step in and find their own place, independent of government support, in Canada's space sector.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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