Monday, June 29, 2015

Tri-Alpha Energy Attempting to Create "Tri-Alpha" Particles via Fusion Reactions

          By Brian Orlotti

Tri-Alpha Energy Inc (TAE), a secretive and enigmatic Foothill Ranch, California based firm working to develop non-traditional fusion power, has published two papers that shed light on its latest progress.

Artists conception of the TAE colliding beam reactor and support equipment. As outlined in the October 9th, 2013 Alternative Energy Now post on "Tri Alpha Energy; Secretive Clean Fusion Power," the design uses boron-11 and protons from hydrogen nuclei to cause fusion to carbon-12, thence breaking up to three helium-4 nuclei (the three "tri-alpha particles") while producing little to no neutrons and therefore little to no significant radioactive products. Graphic c/o Alternative Energy Action Now.

As outlined in the June 2nd, 2015 article, "Mystery company blazes a trail in fusion energy," the papers revealed that its device, dubbed the colliding beam fusion reactor, has shown a "10-fold improvement in its ability to contain the hot particles needed for fusion over earlier devices at U.S. universities and national labs."

TAE was founded in 1998 by plasma physicists Norman Rostoker (an 86 year old Ontario born physics professor at the University of California, Irvine) and Hendrik J. Monkhorst (of the University of Florida) as a spin-off of their scientific work. TAE, in contrast to other alternative fusion power startups like Burnaby, BC based General Fusion (last profiled in the May 25th, 2015 post "Three Small Fusion Companies Approaching a Critical Funding Mass") and Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, has kept a very low profile.

The company has no website and had published little until last month. However, as of 2014, TAE is reported to have over 150 employees and has raised over $140 million USD in capital. The company's investors include Goldman Sachs and venture capital firms like Vulcan Inc (founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Venrock (founded by Laurance S. Rockefeller), and Richard Kramlich's New Enterprise Associates.

Notably, TAE is also funded by Rusnano, a Russian Government-owned company focused on the development and commercialization of nanotechnology. Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais sits on the TAE board of directors.

TAE's device, called the colliding beam fusion reactor (CBFR), relies on a phenomenon called a field-reversed configuration (FRC) (essentially a smoke ring of plasma). The CBFR is a 23m long tube with numerous ring-shaped magnets and other devices along its length. It creates an FRC at both ends and fires them toward the middle at 250 kilometers per second. At the center they merge into a large vortex, converting their kinetic energy into heat to produce a high-temperature FRC. Because this FRC is made of swirling charged particles (i.e. electrons and nuclei), it creates a magnetic field that acts to hold the FRC together long enough to trigger nuclear fusion.

In May, TAE shed more light on their process when they published two papers in the science journals "Physics of Plasmas" and "Nature Communications," which revealed that the CBFR gained a factor-of-10 improvement (5ms) in the stability of the FRC by firing ion beams into the plasma. The ion beams both harden the plasma against instability and suppress turbulence that allows heat to escape.

To achieve a net energy gain, i.e. getting more energy out of a fusion reaction than being put into it, researchers will have to make FRCs last for at least one second. To this end, TAE researchers are already working on an upgraded reactor, with more powerful ion beams in a different orientation.

Brian Orlotti.
And the fruits of these efforts are likely years away.

With TAE racing with other firms to commercialize fusion power, the pressure to innovate has never been greater. Such pressure will bring this world changing technology to market faster, ultimately providing the greatest benefit to the public and the planet. 

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.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Canadian Space Industry Could Be In for a Bumpy Night

          By Glen Strom

According to political observers, the upcoming federal election in October will be one of the closest in years. Any of the three major parties could win. Add to that the possibility of a minority government, or even a Liberal/NDP coalition, and we’re facing what could be a long period of political instability.

Political cartoon c/o Graham Mackay/ Hamilton Spectator.

Uncertainty isn’t good for business, unless it’s the antacid business. For better or for worse, Canada needs the government of the day to take the lead in developing and implementing a comprehensive space policy. If any party can win, then each party’s space policy is of equal importance.

So what are the politicians saying about space?

Not much beyond the usual vague comments politicians make before an election. Despite the government’s recent scattering of the blossoms (money) through the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP), space isn’t at the top of their agenda—or any party’s agenda. It’s not a big vote-getter.

The Liberals have people with a passion for science and space, like Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau. So does the NDP. But passion doesn’t equal policy. If either of these two parties wins, they’ll have items on their agenda that are more important to them than the space industry.

And the current government? A Conservative win doesn’t guarantee that they’d continue with their space plans now that Industry Minister James Moore is leaving federal politics. His departure is outlined in the June 19th, 2015 edition of the Globe and Mail, “Tory Cabinet Minister James Moore Won’t Run for Re-election.”

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, politician David Emerson and Industry Minister James Moore. It's worth noting that, of the three most effective personalities involved with the Canadian space program over the last few years, only one came from a traditional science or engineering background. Photo's c/o Wikipedia.

Could the CSA take the lead? Probably not. Sylvain Laporte, this year’s CSA president (and keep in mind, the year is still young), was nowhere to be seen when the government was handing out money these past few weeks.

If the CSA was meant to lead, former president Steve MacLean’s plan would be in place but, of course, we all know how that turned turned out. And no offence meant to Mr. Laporte, but the CSA president wouldn’t be a career bureaucrat.

For those who don't know what happened to Dr. MacLean, check out the January 19th, 2013 post on "Praising Steve MacLean."

How might this situation shake out for industry players? The big players in Canadian space will do fine. They’ve been branching out beyond Canada for a while.

Up-and-comers like Vancouver-based UrtheCast will do fine, too. Their recent spate of announcements, as outlined in the June 22nd, 2015 blog post, “Is UrtheCast Becoming Canada's ‘Other’ Space Program?,” shows that Canadian companies can get it done without government involvement.

But our space industry is more than just a handful of big players and savvy newcomers. Smaller companies and private organizations play an important role as subcontractors and service providers. Start-ups bring new ideas and a fresh perspective.

A national space policy is important in building the infrastructure that brings all of these pieces together. Political uncertainty will hurt the industry as a whole.

Glen Strom.
Consider a line from a classic 1950 movie called “All About Eve.” In the movie Bette Davis, a great actress from the golden era of Hollywood, says, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.

The Canadian space industry may need to buckle up to weather its own bumpy night.
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, June 22, 2015

Is UrtheCast Becoming Canada's "Other" Space Program?

          By Chuck Black

Three announcements, each made by Vancouver based UrtheCast within the last week, are obvious reminders that even moderately sized Canadian corporations are quite capable of funding substantial space based activities by raising money on the commercial market.

As outlined in the June 17th, 2015 UrtheCast press release, "London, Boston, Barcelona: The World’s First Full-Color HD Videos Of Earth From Space," this 34 second video of Westminster Pier and Parliament Square in London, England, along with two other videos, were taken using equipment installed by UrtheCast on the ISS in January 2014. The three videos ranged in length from 34 to 47 seconds, and covered areas of up to 1.19 x 0.67 miles (1.92 x 1.08 kms). Image c/o UrtheCast.

Last Wednesday, UrtheCast released a series of full-color HD videos of various locations on Earth, filmed from the International Space Station (ISS) at roughly one-meter resolution.

As outlined in the June 17th, 2015 Space News article, "UrtheCast Releases High-Definition Video From Space Station Camera," the videos were released to demonstrate that the company’s high-resolution camera has overcome technical problems and is ready to enter commercial service.

The videos are an obvious coup for the plucky start-up which, as last outlined in the January 28th 2014 post, "UrtheCast Cameras Reinstalled on ISS," started out without Canadian Space Agency (CSA) or Industry Canada funding and needed to overcome substantial challenges to get to where it is today.

But the company was just getting started.

As outlined in the October 12th, 2012 Earth Imaging Journal article, "Discover the Benefits of Radar Imaging," the last two decades have witnessed unprecedented growth in the satellite-based Earth observation industry. Although the market is still "strongly biased toward electro-optically derived imagery, a rising tide of acceptance and usage of satellite-derived synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data has occurred during the last few years." Graphic c/o EI Journal.

Only two days later, as announced in the June 19th, 2015 press release, "UrtheCast Announces World’s First Commercial SAR And Optical 16-Satellite Constellation," the company announced an audacious plan to "build, launch and operate the world’s first fully-integrated, multispectral optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) commercial constellation of Earth observation satellites."

According to the press release:
The constellation is expected to comprise a minimum of 16 satellites (8 optical and 8 SAR) flying in two orbital planes, with each plane consisting of four satellite pairs, equally-spaced around the orbit plane.  Each pair of satellites will consist of a dual-mode, high-resolution optical satellite (video and pushbroom) and a dual-band high-resolution SAR satellite (X-band and L-band) flying in tandem.
Even better, the project seemed to be at least partially funded:
UrtheCast has entered into Memoranda of Understanding (“MOU’s”) with multiple customers and partners, including an MOU from a confidential customer, to provide US$195 million of funding for the constellation during the build phase of the program (expected to be 2016-2020).
The press release also listed partnerships with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), an independent British company within the Airbus Defence & Space group and the privately held but Spanish based ElecnorDeimos, which operates the Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 Earth imaging satellites.

All of which leads logically to the third announcement.

Spanish promotional literature for the Deimos-1 Earth imaging satellite. As outlined on Gunther's Space Page, the satellite was constructed by SSTL, based on the SSTL-100 satellite bus. Graphic c/o ASD

As outlined in the most recent UrtheCast press release, this one dated June 22nd, 2015 and titled, "UrtheCast To Acquire Deimos Satellites And Earth Imaging Operations," the company will now be acquiring the Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 Earth imaging satellites along with the Deimos global archive of Earth imagery ElecnorDeimos.

The Spanish company is no longer really a partner, since it's essentially been swallowed whole to provide UrtheCast with a doubling of its Earth imaging capacity. According to the June 22nd, 2015 Bloomburg article, "UrtheCast Acquires Deimos to Double its Space-Imaging Capability," UrtheCast has agreed to pay 74.2Mln euros ($103.13Mln CDN) to close the deal.

According to this newest announcement:
The combination of UrtheCast and Deimos is expected to allow UrtheCast to accelerate its own strategy — achieved through the use of Deimos’ imagery archive on UrtheCast’s web platform, distributing fresh imagery through UrtheCast’s established distribution channels, customers and web platform, leveraging each company’s established relationships and building upon each other’s infrastructure.
What this really means is that UrtheCast has entered a large market with huge growth potential and commercial funders are lining up for the chance to make a killing. All without the assistance of the traditional Canadian go to people for space projects.

UrtheCast began in 2010 with five employees, growing to 65 in both Canada and the US. After an initial investment of $500,000 CDN, the company went on to raise over $77 million in funding after going public via a reverse takeover of publicly-traded Longford Energy Inc in June 2013. As outlined in the April 12th, 2015 post, "2015 is Shaping Up to be a Good Year for UrtheCast," the company has even reported its first quarterly profit.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next year. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Canadian Space Advocates, Activists and Groups

          By Chuck Black

There are a lot of space advocates in Canada.

Some of them are wrapped around academic institutions. Others are wrapped around ideas such as "open source" or "working in space" and a few are even wrapped around activities like launching rockets or space tourism.

Below is a representative sampling of some of the more interesting.

The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) - A non-profit organization run out of the University of Toronto with a mandate to educate, excite, and inspire students, professionals, and the general public about astronomy and space. Best known for its annual January astronomy symposium.

The AstroNuts Kids Space Club - A space focused educational group for elementary school students created in May 2010 by the father/ son team of Ray and Brett Bielecki. The various "missions" of spaceship "Mercury One" and its successor "Mercury Two" have been profiled on CBC, CTV, CITY-TV, A-Channel, the Daily Planet (for the Discovery Channel) and Rogers TV.

The Calgary Space Workers Society - Local advocacy group focused on how "to live and work in space." The group hosted the 2007 "Canadian Space Summit."

The Canadian Association of Rocketry listing of affiliated organizations - Who says that Canadians don't build rockets? Certainly not these self-supporting, non-profit organizations whose sole purpose is to promote the development of amateur rocketry as a recognized sport and worthwhile activity.

The Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) - A nonprofit technical organization for aeronautics, space and remote sensing. Host for a variety of annual events including the recently concluded 65th International Astronautics Congress (IAC), which was held in Toronto from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014 and the 2015 CASI AERO Conference, which was held from May 19th - 21st, 2015 in Montreal, PQ.

The Canadian Association of Science Centres - An organization promoting and encouraging public involvement with Canadian public science centres and the organizations needed to support them.

The Canadian Astronomical Society – Founded in 1971 and incorporated in 1983 as a society of professional astronomers devoted to the promotion and advancement of knowledge of the universe through research and education. Membership is open to persons with a professional involvement with these goals in astronomy and the related sciences.

The Canadian Foundation for the International Space University (CFISU) – The charitable organization promoting the International Space University (ISU) in Canada.
The Canadian Remote Sensing Society (CRSS-SCT) - Focused on the Canadian activities relating to geomatics (the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information), this scientific association organizes conferences and helps publish the Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing (CJRS).

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge - A privately funded, biannual event focused on teams of Canadian university students (undergraduate and graduate) who design and build an operational small-satellite, based on commercially-available, "off-the-shelf" components. The current challenge, with eight participating teams, began in September 2014.

The Canadian Science Policy Centre - Passionate professionals from industry, academia and government who organize the yearly Canadian Science Policy Conference.

The Canadian Space Society (CSS) – A non-profit corporation promoting Canadian space activities. Organizes the annual Canadian Space Summit, which will be held this year from November 19th - 20th, in Vancouver, BC, along with a variety of other local, regional and national events.

The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy - Not Canadian, but this Virginia based think tank does focus on the legal and policy issues associated with geo-spatial data and technology, which is of some use to the Canadians who are ranked as leaders within this growing field.

Engineers Canada - The national organization of the 13 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the profession of engineering in Canada and license the country's more than 260,000 members of the engineering profession. The organization issues national position statements on key issues relating to the public interest, including infrastructure, labour mobility and regulating the profession.

Friends of NASA - An independent non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to building international support for peaceful space exploration, commerce, scientific discovery and STEM education organized by Montreal, PQ based Dwayne Lawrence in 2008. The organization claims over 10,000 professional members worldwide from over 50 countries plus 180,000+ public followers on social media: Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

The Geological Association of Canada - A national geo-science society, publisher and distributor of geo-science books and journals. Also holds a variety of conferences, meetings and exhibitions for the discussion of geological problems and the exchange of views in matters related to geology. Geologists often use Earth imaging and geo-spatial satellite technology derived from our space program to inventory natural resources.

Hacklab.TO - One of a number of small Canadian organizations like the Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, the Kwartzlab Makerspace, the Makerkids non-profit workshop space for kids, Think|Haus, the Site 3 coLaboratory, UnLab and others who focus on the technologies associated with open source additive manufacturing/ 3-D printing. These techniques show great promise for a variety of low cost space manufacturing technologies.

The Mars Society Canada - Although this semi-active Canadian subsidiary of the US based Mars Society advocacy group has a past history of strong activism and support for research projects like the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island, the current website is down. The one remaining active Canadian chapter of the society is in Winnipeg, MB.

The North York Astronomy Association (NYAA) - This Ontario based club is the organizer of the annual StarFest star party, recognized as one of the world's top 10 gatherings of amateur astronomers for the purpose of observing the sky.

The OpenLuna Foundation - A privately funded public outreach program (officially a US based 501(c) 3) to encourage the use of open-source tools and methodologies (open design) for space focused activities. The founding member and project manager/ director of the organization is Paul Graham, who lives in London, Ontario.

The Planetary Society Canada - A subgroup of the larger US based Planetary Society. a non-government, nonprofit organization involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach, and political advocacy founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman. The current CEO is Bill Nye.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - 4,000 members, including about 500 "unattached" members from remote parts of Canada and around the world and strong chapters in Vancouver and 28 other centres across the country.

Science Rendezvous - Grassroots not-for-profit organization and public platform to promote science awareness and increase science literacy in Canada. Holds the yearly spring Science Rendezvous at the University of Toronto, St. George campus.

Space Canada – A not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of solar energy from space. Organized the 2009 Symposium on Solar Energy from Space. Space Canada president and CEO George Dietrich has a long history of supporting US and Canadian NewSpace activities.

The Space Society of London (SSoL) - Aims to unite members of the University of Western Ontario who have a common interest in space.

The Space Tourism Society Canadian Chapter - A Canadian chapter of the US based Space Tourism Society (STS) which intends to promote space tourism and the acquisition of "financial, political and public support to make space tourism available to the general population in the near future."

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) Canadian chapter - Part of an international group of student-run organizations dedicated to promoting public interest in space. Countries with active SEDS groups include the US, the UK and India.

The Toronto International Space Apps Challenge - An annual "hackathon" organized each spring as part of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

The Toronto Students for the Advancement of Aerospace (TSAA) - A relatively new group focused on building an annual conference series focused around promoting aerospace. Planning an "aerospace hackathon" for 2015.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Space; The Final Frontier for Porn

          By Brian Orlotti

As outlined in the June 11th, Washington Post article, "PornHub crowdfunds for sex tape filmed in space," one of the internet's top adult content websites has launched a crowdfunding campaign for the first XXX adult film to be produced in space.

Sex in space is certainly not a new concept. The scene above shows actress Jane Fonda being tortured with an excessive machine by the villainous Dr. Durand Durand (played by actor Milo O'Shea) in Barbarella, a 1968 French-Italian science fiction film based on Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella comics. The machine eventually overloads and is destroyed, while Barbarella survives and feels rather well for the experience. Photograph c/o Rex/Everett Collection.

Though the effort might seem frivolous and distasteful to some, it is backed by an industry possessing both considerable financial resources and a track record of influencing the adoption of new technologies.

As outlined on the Indiegogo website under the title, "Pornhub Space Program - SEXPLORATION," the campaign's pitch video reveals that two top adult film stars, Eva Lovia and Johnny Sins, have signed on for the project. As of June 15th, the campaign has raised $20,021 USD ($24,664.87 CDN) of its $3.4Mn USD ($4.19Mln CDN) goal. 

The campaign ends July 27th. 

In response to an email question from The Washington Post, Pornhub vice president Corey Price explained the rationale behind the project: 
Honestly, we’re always looking for new and creative ways to push boundaries and use the theme of adult entertainment to do things no one would normally expect us to. This is an extension of that thought process, and it’ll let us sort of nudge that envelope into a place that we’ve never been before. It’s exciting stuff!

Unsurprisingly, Corey also told The Washington Post that Pornhub is negotiating with several commercial space firms as opposed to NASA. Corey declined to name specific companies, not wishing to give them bad press. 

Doubtless, NASA's cleancut, "Goshdarnit, Gee-willickers!" culture wouldn't mate well (so to speak) with that of the freewheeling adult entertainment industry. Historically, both space agencies and astronauts have been reluctant to discuss sex in space. NASA denies that sexual liaisons have ever occurred in space, though at least one married astronaut couple has been in space together and astronaut lore does describe flirting and frequent solo sexual activity. 

Mary Roach's book, "Packing for Mars," even quotes Cosmonaut AlexandrLaveikin as stating:
It's up to yourself how you will deal with it. But everybody is doing it, everybody understands. It's nothing. My friends ask me, 'How are you making sex in space?' I say, 'By hand!'
The porn industry has a history of influencing the development of various technologies, both in the pre-internet age and beyond.

During the videotape format wars of the 1970's, the adult film industry backed the VHS format both due to its ability to hold more video than Sony's Betamax as well as Sony's moralistic anti-porn stance. By the late 1970's, adult films comprised over half of all US videotape sales, permanently tipping the scales in VHS' favour. 

During the mid-2000's high-definition optical disc war between Sony's Blu-Ray and Toshiba's HD-DVD formats, history repeated itself, though in reverse. This time, heeding the lessons of history, Sony's product triumphed due to its adoption by the porn industry, who favoured the format's higher storage capacity.

This influence continued into the Internet Age. As outlined in the April 4th, 2012 Extreme Tech article, "Just how big are porn sites?" adult video websites like XvideosYouPorn and Pornhub boast data storage and bandwidth usage that dwarf all but the biggest internet players such as GoogleFacebook, Netflix, and Hulu. 

During peak periods, Xvideos' traffic can burst to 1 terabit per second (1,000 gigabits per second) or more. YouPorn claims it hosts “over 100 Terabytes of porn,” with bandwidth usage of 35-40 Petabytes (1 Petabyte = 1,000 Gigabytes) a month.

Brian Orlotti.
Sex in space is a murky and complex topic. Though long taboo in space circles, it will gain greater focus as space settlement enters the realm of possibility.

Whether Pornhub's crowdfunding succeeds or not, the topic will not simply go away.

Perhaps the noted social commentators Beavis and Butthead put it best when they said simply "Hehehe, Hehehe, Hehehe. Cool!"

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, June 14, 2015

Jobu Won’t Save Your Space Start-up: Do it Yourself

          By Glen Strom

The May 31st post “Mother’s Milk is Drying Up for Space Companies” outlined how governments are cutting back on funding for the space industry. Companies can no longer expect to succeed with government contracts alone.

Pedro Cerrano’s fictional voodoo god, Jobu, from the movie “Major League.” Any resemblance between Jobu and a federal government minister, past or present, is entirely coincidental. Photo c/o The Orange County Register

That story was about existing companies. What about start-ups? How are they affected?

The short answer is this: don’t factor government funding into your business plan. As Pedro Cerrano would tell you, don’t worship at the alter of Jobu. You can’t rely on him.

You probably need an explanation about who Cerrano is. We’ll have to take a side trip into the world of voodoo for that.

A comedy movie from 1989 called “Major League” tells the story of a major league baseball team that was built to lose so the owner could move the team out of Cleveland. The team surprises everyone, though, by tying for first place with their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees. A one-game playoff will decide their fate. They need a big game from Pedro Cerrano, the team’s power hitter.

Cerrano is a great fastball hitter but he can’t hit a curveball to save his life. He believes that a voodoo god named Jobu (pronounced Joe-BOO) can help him hit curveballs. Over the course of the season Cerrano appealed to Jobu for help, with little success.

It’s late in the game and Cleveland is behind. Cerrano comes up to bat. The Yankee pitcher gets two quick strikes on him with curveballs. Feeling abandoned by his unhelpful voodoo god, Cerrano curses and declares that he’s done with Jobu—he’ll do it himself. On the next pitch, another curveball, Cerrano hits it out of the park.

Cerrano learns not to count on an unreliable saviour. Neither should you.

Have you based any part of your start-up plan on government funding? You’re putting your faith in Jobu. Governments blow with the wind. They can pull the plug on you at any time.

That’s assuming your start-up can get any money at all. Recent events suggest you probably can’t.

The Canadian government announced on May 29th that they would give $13.1Mln CDN in funding through the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP) to 21 technology companies. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

You’ve probably heard the expression the devil is in the details. Substitute Jobu for devil.

If you look at the list of companies in the announcement's backgrounder, you’ll see that the government’s investment is limited in any one project to a maximum of 75%. The companies must provide a minimum of 25% of the money.

You might also notice that many of the projects are for enhancing existing technologies. And most of the companies that are creating new applications seem to be beyond the initial development process.

According to the 2014 edition of "The Space Economy at a Glance," the "total Canadian space sector revenues amounted in 2012 to CAD 3.3 billion (USD 3.3 billion)" in 2012. The CSA budget during that same period is listed as being slightly over $300Mln CDN or approximately one tenth the total amount. Source and graphic The Space Economy at a Glance 2014.

The June 11th, 2015 post “Small Canadian Firm Uses Tiny Materials to Big Effect,” is a striking example.

Integran Technologies of Mississauga, ON received $200,000 CDN from STDP to “test and optimize a novel nano-material that has equivalent or better performance than aluminum in mechanical strength and stiffness.”

Integran has financial backing from Ontario Power Generation, the crown corporation for electricity generation in Ontario, and Babcock and Wilcox, a big energy products and services company. Integran also has a developed product and licensees in Canada, the United States, Mexico and China.

The message for brand-spanking-new companies with nothing more than a concept seems to be this: Let us know when you can make some money and maybe we’ll give you a few bucks. Until then, we’ll concentrate on the sure things.

That doesn’t mean don’t take any government money. If you can get it, sure, take it. In fact the May 28th, 2015 post “Government Organizations of Interest to the Space Industry,” even offers up a list of agencies which may be able to help you find funding. Connect with them.

Just don’t count on government subsidies. The Jekyll and Hyde personality of government is nothing to bank on.

Glen Strom.
If your plan depends on government funding for your company to succeed, you have a bad plan.

Yes, that’s harsh. So is bankruptcy.

Listen to Cerrano. Don’t depend on Jobu. Do it yourself.

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.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Small Canadian Firm Uses Tiny Materials to Big Effect

          By Chuck Black

A $200,000 CDN award made under the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP) on May 28th, 2015 to “test and optimize a novel nano-material that has equivalent or better performance than aluminum in mechanical strength and stiffness” has highlighted the expertise of a small firm focused on the electroplating and electroforming of nanocrystalline metals.

CEO Gino Palumbo relaxing at the Integran offices. The COLT carbon fibre hockey stick he’s holding is coated with a Nanovate™ nickel cobalt (NiCo) application, which makes the stick 50% stronger than a regular hockey stick and guards against micro-fractures or catastrophic failure during use. The coating also provides 21% more load and release potential (POP) for the equivalent power, which makes slap shots both harder and faster. The stick, built and sold independently using licensed Integran intellectual property, has been promoted in Dragon’s Den, Money Sense and on TSN. Photo c/o author

All of which sounds pretty boring until you meet Gino Palumbo, the president and CEO of Integran Technologies and he slips into his story telling mode. 

We started out in the 1990’s as the research group of what was then Ontario Hydro Technologies. Our job was to develop a way to remotely repair localized corrosion in steam generator (SG) tubing at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station,” he said, during an interview at the Integran offices in May 2015. 

The solution came through the use of electroplating to produce high strength nanocrystalline materials and eventually became the Electrosleeve™ process for nuclear steam generator repairs.

Shortly afterwards, Integran was spun out as a separate entity with its major shareholder being Ontario Power Generation and Babcock and Wilcox, which had been involved in the commercialization of the technology. In 2004, the company was restructured as part of a management employee buyout.

A paper focused on the “Electrosleeve Process for in-situ nuclear steam generator repair,” outlined the process which was used to perform repairs at the Ontario Hydro Pickering Nuclear Generating Station from 1992 - 1994. The full paper is available on the International Atomic Energy Association website at

According to Palumbo, the real secret of what is now called the Nanovate™ process is that it doesn’t just repair objects; it can also make them stronger and lighter when compared to more conventional materials.

The current technology uses nanocrystalline alloys of nickel, iron, cobalt and copper to coat parts made of plastic and carbon fiber in order to create high performance components which are lighter, stronger, harder and cheaper than aluminum; waterproof; corrosion and wear resistant; shielded against low frequency magnetic interference and even able to efficiently absorb energy and noise.

The company is also open to technology licensing for appropriate mass production opportunities and has already licensed to manufacturing partners in Canada, the United States, Mexico and China.

Integran COO Andrew Wang, R&D unit manager Brandon Bouwhuis, VP R&D Dr. Jon McCrea and CEO Palumbo in front of a variety of parts created using the Nanovate™ process.  As outlined in the May 29th, government of Canada backgrounder on the May 28th, 2015 CSA STDP awards, the purpose of the award is to "test and optimize," but not reinvent the current process, which makes it typical of the recent CSA awards under the STDP program. The award was also bolstered by a $77,993 CDN Integran contribution for a total project cost of $277,993 CDN. Photo c/o author.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Airbus Unveils its Response to the Falcon 9 Reusable

          By Brian Orlotti

Munich-based Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus) has unveiled a reusable version of its Ariane rocket in an attempt to compete with California-based SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable.

But despite claims to a superior product, Airbus statements regarding their new design study simply affirm SpaceX's status as the current trailblazer of the space industry.

ADELINE launch system. Graphic c/o Leo Delauncey/ Mail Online.

As outlined in the June 5th, 2015 Space News article, "Meet Adeline, Airbus’ Answer To SpaceX Reusability," the new Airbus launcher concept, called the Advanced Expendable Launcher with INnovative engine Economy (ADELINE) differs significantly from SpaceX's vehicle in that it combines elements  of both rocketry and aircraft.

An ADELINE would launch into orbit, then detach its upper stages to deploy a payload like a traditional rocket. The lower stage (containing the rocket's engine) would then fly back to base using twin turboprop engines mounted in a pair of wings and land on a runway like an airplane. This contrasts with SpaceX's method of relying solely on the rocket's engine to power the return flight and then landing vertically on a water or land-based site.

Words of wisdom applicable to a wide variety of situations and circumstances. Photo and caption, c/o One Tusk.

Airbus' key goal is to recover the first stage which contains the engine, avionics and propulsion bay, and which together comprise 80 percent of the rocket's total value, enabling significant cost savings. Airbus estimates that ADELINE can achieve savings of 20-30% on recurring launch costs. Airbus also says that ADELINE's turboprop engines will enable it to return to Earth with half the fuel needed by (and with less of a performance hit than) SpaceX's vehicle. ADELINE project manager Benoit Isaac stated:
This is our way of showing that it’s not just America that knows how to innovate. We can innovate here in Europe as well and we want our 140,000 colleagues in the rest of Airbus to know about it.
For all of Airbus's spirited rhetoric, ADELINE's challenge to SpaceX comes up short. Airbus has allotted ADELINE a total budget of just €5Mln EUR ($7CDN CDN) and no hardware (aside from a small powered prototype of the first stage) has been built.

Francois Auque, head of Airbus’s Space Systems division has stated that the firm's focus is on producing its new Ariane 6 rocket, an expendable launcher set to debut in 2020 at a cost of €90Mln EUR ($125.5Mln CDN) per launch.

Ariane 6 is our absolute top priority,” Auque said. “Adeline comes afterwards.” While marching forward with its left foot, Airbus' right remains stuck in the past.

Airbus promotional video showing the flight profile of the ADELINE reusable launcher.

Airbus' unveiling of ADELINE, far from causing trouble for SpaceX, has instead marked its ascendance. While SpaceX's innovations have spurred its rivals to adapt, those same rivals are shackled by shareholders, existing supply chains, legacy hardware and conflicting agendas. SpaceX's vertical integration and single leader pursuing a singular vision give the company a unique freedom.

Brian Orlotti.
SpaceX's road ahead lays wide open.

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, June 07, 2015

M3MSat Now Scheduled for Launch in 2016

          By Henry Stewart

An ambitious name for a simple listing of upcoming CSA projects. Graphic c/o IC.
Hidden in plain sight within the two Industry Canada (IC) announcements about the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), on Friday, May 29th by Gary Goodyear, the Federal minister of state responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), and on Monday, June 2nd, from Industry Minister James Moore, are two terribly obvious points.

The first is that at least one CSA space project has been pushed out, again. The second, perhaps more important item, is that new CSA president Sylvain Laporte wasn't listed as being involved in either announcement.

As outlined in the June 2nd, 2015 IC document "Canada's Future in Space," at least one CSA project, the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite (M3MSat) has been rescheduled, from 2014 to 2016.

As outlined in the April 28th, 2014 post, "M3MSat and the Politics of Dancing in the Crimea," the Federal government "decided not to proceed" with the planned June 2014 launch of the M3MSat technology from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in order to protest Russian activities in the Ukraine. 

As outlined in the June 23rd, 2014 post, "COM DEV Wants Compensation after Sanctions Ground M3MSat," the delay was initially the object of a lawsuit, but things seem to have eventually settled down.

The satellite was then scheduled for a 2015 launch aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) belonging to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) on the south-east coast of India, but it looks the the current CSA expectation is that it won't launch before 2016.

But at least there is a time frame for the launch of M3MSat. There is certainly no indication of when, or even if, CSA president Laporte will ever come out to show his face and answer public questions regarding CSA activities.

Perhaps that's the biggest take-away from last weekends CSA announcements. Maybe the CSA, after the Emerson Aerospace review, is mostly irrelevant, especially after the Emerson recommendations as outlined in the December 12, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says."

Welcome to the future. Kate, at IC wants to help you organize, grow and compete, even if you're in the space  industry. Screen shot c/o IC.

Once, as outlined in the February 15th, 2010 post, "Ottawa Citizen: Where did that Long Term Space Plan Go?" it was suggested that the CSA risked becoming "irrelevant to the debate" on future space activities.

Evidently, that premonition has come to pass. Perhaps Industry Canada, which seems so keen on taking the lead now, will do a better job.

Here's hoping...

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