by Brian OrlottiTwo more life-saving space technologies with a Canadian genesis will soon be inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame.The Cospas-Sarsat global satellite system, which grew out of a 1979 agr…
In its first two years, the Toronto Space Apps Challenge, held this year at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, ON from April 11th – 13th and part of the larger NASA International Space Apps Challenge, has established itself as a crucible for the commercialization of applications leveraging NASA’s extensive collection of spacecraft and science data.
|The great hall of the Ontario Science Centre (OSC), home of the 2014 Toronto Space Apps Challenge. Photo c/o Brian Orlotti.|
According to NASA open innovation program manager Beth Beck, who attended the Toronto event as a judge, the 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 (later extended to other US agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency), to make US government data available to the public for use. This released data, when promoted through mechanisms like the Space Apps Challenge, would encourage the development of a global community to drive innovation and create new uses for NASA derived data. Beck and her bosses at NASA anticipate that this “solver” community would give rise to new companies and industries, but could also be incorporated back into NASA’s own programs.
|Beth Beck with author Brian Orlotti at the OSC on April 13th.|
In an interview during the Toronto event, Beck said that since the contest’s global success has proven the effectiveness of the open innovation program model, she wants to add layers of complexity to the event in order to achieve more.
She also spoke about a related initiative. Called LAUNCH, it’s a partnership between NASA, the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Nike. LAUNCH’s purpose is to serve as a global incubator for ideas, technologies and programs that make tangible impacts on society by connecting innovators with investors. “Innovator Speed dating,” is what Beck called it.
Drawing on her PhD studies in the ‘practice of collaboration,’ Beck provided perhaps the best insight into the Space App Challenge’s success.
We are messy people…creativity is messy. Order doesn’t always get you where you want to go.
Chaotic creativity and orderly execution. The International Space Apps Challenge is artistry and engineering both.
Russia’s recent annexation of the Crimea region of the Ukraine has caused repercussions in at least two Canadian space and aerospace firms.
|As outlined in the April 24th, 2013 Broadband TV News article, “Satellite Viewing Grows in the Ukraine,” the use of satellite downloads is now the most popular way to access television signals in the Ukraine. Until recently, the region has been considered a high growth area for international firms focused on supplying satellite technology.|
As reported in the April 1st, 2014 Canadian Press article “MDA suspends ground work in Ukraine satellite program,” BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) has invoked the “force majeure” clause in a contract for ground infrastructure facilities for the Ukrainian communication satellite program because of the country’s political instability.
|Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo c/o Wikipedia.|
associated with the stoppage are “yet to be determined.”
But MDA isn’t the only Canadian company dealing with the challenges of the latest crisis. According to the March 21st, 2014 Canadian Press article, “Bombardier Russian venture at risk over Crimea crisis,” the current situation could also hamper the attempt at Dorval based Bombardier Aerospace to finalize a joint venture with Russian state-owned defense firm ROSTEC (formerly Rostekhnologii) to build Q400 turboprop aircraft in Russia.
|Pierre Beaudion. Photo c/o CBC.|
In August 2013, Bombardier signed a letter of intent to sell up to 100 Q400 turboprops valued at about $3.4Bln USD ($3.74Bln CDN). The company had also reached a tentative deal to setup a turboprop assembly line in Russia and was expecting to sign final agreements this year. Bombardier has also been courting various Russian airlines, moving into what it sees as a huge untapped market. In 2013, Russian aircraft leasing company Ilyushin Finance Co. agreed to purchase at least 32 Bombardier flagship CSeries jets in a deal valued at about $2.56 billion USD.
For Bombardier, Russia is not that big today, but it’s a very large potential country. Like many international companies we are going to follow this very closely.
Bombardier expects the CSeries to contribute $5-8 billion USD a year in new revenue later this decade, as Beaudoin told analysts and investors in New York on March 20th.
But Beaudoin was also unable to say how long these deals could reasonably be delayed, citing uncertainty over whether the situation in Crimea will escalate.
Of course, other Canadian firms have continued working with Russia with little or no disruption. Despite the trepidation and uncertainty, some are even saying the effects of the Crimean situation are mostly symbolic and won’t cause long-term damage.
|Scott Pace testifies during a Senate appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on March 5th, 2014. The hearing dealt with national security space launch programs. Photo c/o Pete Marovich/Bloomberg.|
The April 3rd, 2014 Guardian article “NASA cuts ties with Russia over Ukraine crisis, except for space station,” went further when it quoted Scott Pace,director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, as saying that it was noteworthy that co-operation relating to the ISS remained intact.
Pace also said that there would likely be disruptions for NASA scientists who exchange data or work on experiments with Russian researchers, but while the communications ban applies to direct communication between NASA and Roscosmos, it does not include meetings attended by Russia and other countries.
The article also quoted retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who said that space agencies must often work together through disputes, small and large:
It would be great if everybody was always together on everything, but we surely aren’t. This isn’t the only area of dispute between nations. Canada and the U.S. have areas that we dispute all the time, and yet we co-operate on most things.
Hadfield’s words doubtless reflect the desire of many to see space continue to be a force for bringing people and nations together through commerce and science rather than the ideological battleground of the past.
Let’s sit back for awhile and see where that takes us…
|Robots at the ready! Photo c/o FRC.|
This month, hundreds of high school students are coming together to participate in the annual FIRST Robotics Waterloo Regional Competition, which will be held from March 21st – 23rd at the University of Waterloo.
Over 30 competition teams will design and build robots to compete for their schools and for a chance at a berth at the FRC World Championship, which will be held from April 23rd – 26th in St. Louis, MO.
As outlined on the FRC website, every January some 2,500 teams across the world join together to watch the unveiling of the new season’s robotic challenge, which will be attempted by high school teams across the world and culminate in the FRC World Championship.
Back when I participated with my high school team, “the Pace Invaders,” the competitions allowed us to create and construct robots that do anything from climb, throw balls, to hang inflatable shapes in particular orders and locations.
Normally broadcast on NASA TV, this year’s challenge, called “Aerial Assist,” merges some old challenges with many new. Two teams, of three robots each, will be competing on a 25’ x 54’ foot field. On either side there are a set of goals, high and low, with a point system depending on the height of the goal, as well as the number of passes between robots to score the goal.
As usual, there is a 10 second autonomous period prior to the match, where robots are pre-programmed to score on their own. Bonus points are given throughout the match for passing and scoring goals across a truss in the center of the field. In general, this year’s challenge is meant to push teamwork between the robots and drivers, where higher bonus points are scored when more than one team has interacted with the ball prior to scoring.
The events are organized through the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), which was founded in New Hampshire in a high school gym and now spans across 13 countries worldwide.
|The playing field. Graphic c/o FRC.|
Established in 2001, FIRST Robotics Canada is a registered charity that strives to inspire students to be open and excited about science, technology, and engineering. With many high end sponsors, and $3 million from the government of Ontario in 2004 to spread across the province, they now have close to 10,000 participating students, from over 100 teams across the country.
According to Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, the object of the organization is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”
FIRST also has an elementary Lego League, allowing the engagement of younger students in a safe and effective way. Much like the Robotic Competition, the Lego League has thousands of students and mentors across the nation, engaging more and more youth every year.
Participating in the FIRST Robotics Competitions several years ago taught me countless, unforgettable lessons, from teamwork to the advanced technology of modern day robotics. I can thank my love of technology, in part, to some of these wonderfully ran science outreach organizations, FIRST being high up on the list.
Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.
by Chuck Black
A Canadian company which developed a modular lunar rover chassis with the help of a 2008 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) grant is planning to corner the worldwide terrestrial market for extraterrestrial rovers, but the original plan to send one to the rovers to the Moon is currently on hold due to a lack of funding.
The Argo J5 Mobility platform being demonstrated at the UTIAS MarsDome on February 20th. Directly behind the orange J5 is a grey JUNO mobility platform (J1) and a J4 Rover, which is currently the basis of the Artemis Jr., the chassis of choice for the proposed NASA Resolve mission. To the left is a second ARGO J5 rover equipped with ODG’s lunar wheel prototype, optimized for harsh conditions. Both the JUNO and Artemis Jr. Rovers were developed under a series of CSA contracts, beginning in 2008.
|An interior shot of the ARGO J5, showing available space along with the standardized bolt holes and attachment points. The J5 measures 1.52 metres x 1.38 metres x .83 metres (H) and weighs 250kg. It’s amphibious, maintenance free once deployed and can carry 250 kg at a top speed of 20km/h on land and 4km/h on water.|
|ARGO ATV. Photo c/o ODG.|
But of course, since the J5 rover derived from earlier development work on Moon rovers, it’s only natural that Visscher doesn’t just want to see ODG rovers marketed to meet terrestrial demands.
|Artemis Jr. rover. Photo c/o CSA.|
The Artemis Jr. rover currently favored by NASA for the mission is the product of a group of Canadian companies including Ottawa based COM DEV International and Neptec Design Group, Sudbury based Deltion Innovations and Sherbrooke based NGC Aerospace. But the chassis is designed and built by the same ODG team which went on to build the J5 rover.
Of course, as outlined in the February 5th, 2014 post “Canadian Government Funds Proposed Lunar Drill” the NASA mission is currently unfunded and would require a “landing vehicle,” which the US would first need to design, fund and then construct. NASA doesn’t even have the money to pay for the rover and has asked the CSA to fund further development.