Top Canadian Blogs and News Sites

Posts Tagged ‘nasa’


The Canadian Space Agency Gave Out Almost $5Mln CDN in Grants and Contributions Last Quarter!

Posted October 22, 2016 by Chuck Black
          By Henry Stewart

CSA Disclosure of Grants and Contributions Awards Page. Screenshot c/o CSA.

It’s worth noting that recent stories and press releases focused around individual Canadian Space Agency (CSA) initiatives are really only a partial representation of the funds provided through the CSA at any one time.

These include stories such as the October 21st, 2016 CNW Telebec post, “Une nouvelle technologie médicale de pointe sera mise à l’essai dans l’espace – Cette technologie de surveillance peut être utilisée sur Terre pour les soins de santé,” focused around the astroskin smartshirt and the upcoming health experiments planned for the International Space Station (ISS) as discussed in the October 18th, 2016 Globe and Mail post, “Canadian Space Agency to conduct health experiment on space station.”
To get a true sense of what’s happening, you need to visit the CSA disclosure of grants and contributions awards page, a quarterly compilation of CSA grants and contributions to third parties. of over $25,000 CDN.
InSAR images created using the homogeneous distributed scatterers (HDS) technique, showing deformation from multiple surface types including asphalt. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2015 Earth Imaging Journal post, “Learn the Ground Rules: InSAR Enables Proactive Urban Infrastructure Monitoring,”  provides multiple examples of InSAR data being used in a variety of ways. In Q2 2016, nine of the fourteen CSA grants awarded focused on new uses for InSAR data. Images c/o MDA Geospatial Services.
CSA first quarter totals for 2016/17 (from April – June 2016, the last period for which data is available) include fourteen grants to eleven organizations for a variety of research and experiments. They include:
Two grants to the University of Waterloo covering:

Two grants to the University of Western Ontario covering:

 Two grants to York University covering:

  • A second grant, this one for substantially more money (although the amount allocated would be expected to cover more than one fiscal year) to cover an experiment on the perception of self-motion (POSM) in space. According to the description, the project will investigate the “amplitude of motion evoked by a given pattern of optic flow by measuring how far a participant needs to “travel” in a simulated environment to reach a previously viewed target.” ($786K CDN)
A 2013 Environment Canada (EC) poster outlining the development of Canada’s carbon assimilation system. In Q2 2016, the University of Toronto received a CSA grant to integrate new data derived from satellite measurements, into the program. Graphic c/o EC.

Individual grants were also awarded to the following universities: 

As outlined in many previous articles, including this February 23th, 2014 post on “Canadian Firm Plans to Corner the Worldwide Rover Chassis Market,” the CSA has previously attempted to develop rovers it can resell to other space programs. Its most recent attempt is its $1.2Mln CDN grant to Canadensys Aerospace Corporation in Q2 2016. Screen shot c/o Commercial Space Media. 

Of course the obvious big beneficiaries of CSA largess in the first quarter of 2016 were three privately held corporations, which together received $2.7Mln CDN of the almost $5Mln CDN disbursed in total. They include:

It’s also worth noting that nine of the fourteen grants presented by the CSA during this quarter went to various universities in order to develop new uses for InSAR derived data.

At present, the primary Canadian supplier of InSAR data is Richmond, British Columbia based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), which collects it as part of its RADARSAT-2 responsibilities.

That might change over the next little while. As outlined in the October 18th, 2016 post, “A Quick Update to ‘Iconic Macdonald Dettwiler is now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company,'” MDA seems more focused on growing its US business than on maintaining what were once its core Canadian assets.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Full Story »


Sixteen Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers

Posted October 3, 2016 by Chuck Black
          By Chuck Black

In a blaze of publicity, both Blue Origin and SpaceX have announced programs to build large rockets capable of competing with the NASA Space Launch System (SLS).

The hot fire test of a small-sat launcher engine in the Nevada desert in August 2014. The engine was a component of the Spaceborne Payloads Assist Rocket Kauai (SPARK) which was, as outlined in the August 18th, 2014 Via Satellite post, “Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes Final Hot-Fire Test for LEONIDAS SmallSat Launcher Engine,” undergoing testing at that time. Photo c/o Via Satellite.

What’s less well known is that 35+ smaller launchers are currently under development from a multitude of start-ups, legacy space companies and national space agencies. These new launchers, utilizing a variety of cutting edge and/or proven technologies, are targeting the small-sat market, a segment considered at present, to be under served by the existing providers.

Most will end up failing, but some won’t. Contenders include:

  • The ARCA Space Corporation Haas 2C Rocket – This US based company (with Romanian origins) makes hover-boards (the ArcaBoard, which makes you, “Feel Like a Superhero!” and the ArcaMini, “inspired by planetary exploration rovers!“), but also advertises the manned, single-stage, liquid fueled suborbital Haas 2B rocket and the two stage. liquid fueled Haas 2C launcher, which is supposedly capable of launching 400kg into low Earth orbit. Doesn’t seem to pass the sniff test until you realize that the company has a pedigree which includes drones, stratospheric rocket launches, large scale stratospheric balloons, two governmental contracts with the Romanian government and one contract with the European Space Agency (ESA). As outlined in the September 2nd, 2015 Via Satellite post, “Spaceport America Gains New Customer ARCA Space Corporation,” the firm recently relocated to Space Port America in New Mexico. 
  • Argentina’s Tronador II Rocket – The latest in a series of Argentinian rockets is a 2 1/2 stage Argentinean small, liquid fueled satellite launcher capable of launching a payload of 200 kg into low earth orbit. According to the Tronador II listing on Gunthers Space Page, the maiden orbital launch is planned for 2019 from the Base Naval Puerto Belgrano.
  • The Bagaveev Corporation‘s so far unnamed microsat launcher – According to Crunchbase, the Bagaveev Corporation “is a startup backed by Adam Draper’s Boost accelerator and advised by Tim Draper (from DFJ Venture)” which is “designing, building and testing 3D printed aerospike rocket engines that will power both lower and upper stages of a 3-ton, 35 foot rocket, designed to deliver 10-12 kg nanosatellites to low Earth and Sun-synchronous orbit.” Two rounds of seed funding (one “undisclosed” and one for $120K USD) plus one round of debt financing (for $535K USD) in 2014-15 won’t provide enough money to build the rocket, although it will go a long way towards identifying those half dozen “non-trivial” engineering problems likely to bedevil new rocket builders. As outlined in the January 16th, 2016 Business Insider post, “SpaceX success launches space startups to new heights,” Bagaveev expects to raise a further $16Mln USD ($21Mln CDN) before launching its first rocket.
  • The Copenhagen Suborbitals Spica Rocket – The company is a non-profit, open project,  amateur based space endeavor, funded entirely by private sponsors and donors attempting to build suborbital space vehicles on a micro size budget, using lightly regulated technology in their projects. The Spica rocket, with its 100 kN liquid bi-propellant engine running on liquid oxygen and ethanol, is a logical follow-on to the earlier, unsuccessful Nexø I rocket and the upcoming Nexø II.
  • The CubeCab Cab-3A Launcher – Another air launch to orbit approach. As outlined in the August 30th, 2016 3D post, “CubeCab Plans to Put Lots of CubeSats into Orbit with a Small 3D Printed Rocket and a Retired Fighter Jet,” the company is exploring a partnership with Starfighters Aerospace in Florida to re-purpose the “world’s only flight-ready fleet of F-104 jets,” for use as a 60,000 foot high, Mach 2.2 movable platform to launch micro-sats into orbit with its so far not publicly demonstrated, 3D printed Cab-3A launcher.  According to CubeCab, their idea could cut the cost of launching a load of CubeSats to about $250,000, significantly cheaper than other methods of deployment and allow for launch on demand.

  • The Firefly Space Systems Alpha Rocket – A two stage, liquid fueled rocket intended to launch 400 kg to low Earth orbit orbit with a large, capable team, a $5.5Mln USD ($7.2Mln CDN) NASA venture class launch services (VCLS) contract and a just completed $19Mln USD ($25Mln CDN) funding round. However, while the company is perceived to have a high likelihood of actually achieving commercial launches upon the successful conclusion of testing, the program is currently “under legal pressure from Virgin Galactic regarding allegedly stolen intellectual property,” over the aero-spike engine Firefly has said it intends to use in the Alpha rocket. As outlined in the September 30th, 2016 Spaceflight Insider post, “Firefly Space Systems Burns Out,” Virgin recently moved forward with an intellectual property (IP) legal action against Firefly, which puts Firefly’s project plan and funding in jeopardy. As outlined in the September 18th, 2016 post, “Rocket Companies, But Not SpaceX, Are Collecting Rocket Patents,” a lot of rocket companies, not just Firefly and Virgin, are currently taking steps to protect their intellectual property.
  • The Interorbital Systems Neptune Series of Launch Vehicles – A strange “beast” of a company with no visible funding, but substantial marketing and numerous online announcements proclaiming its extensive capabilities and ongoing participation (but not always a successful conclusion) in a variety of public competitions. The proposed Nepture series of rockets is designed around liquid and solid fueled, common propulsion modular systems for manned, unmanned, orbital and suborbital uses, which seems to cover most every possible use and seems perhaps, overly ambitious for such a small firm. As outlined in the September 28th, 2016 Space News post, “Launch contract deadline looms for lunar lander teams,” Interorbital Systems is currently engaged in building a launch vehicle for the Google Lunar X Prize. The company also competed unsuccessfully for the Ansari X Prize and America’s Space Prize.
  • The Lin Industrial Taymyr Microsat Launch Vehicle – Not all start-ups are based in Western countries. As outlined in the September 16th, 2014 SK Skolkovo post, “Lin Industrial: A slingshot into space,” the Skolkovo (near Moscow), the Russia based Lin Industrial corporation Aldan rocket (since renamed the Taymyr micro-sat launch vehicle),  is expected to shuttle 10 – 180 kg micro-satellites to low-earth orbit “for a fraction of the current costs,” but needed to raise ” 500 million rubles” or around $10.5Mln CDN in order to move forward. Over the next two years, the company must have been at least partially successful since, as outlined in the June 17th, 2016 Lin press release, “Flights of the supersonic rocket started,” flight testing and development is taking place. 
  • The Orbital ATK Stargazer Aircraft and Pegasus Rocket – This air launch to orbit approach is operational, having launched satellites into orbit 42 times (with 37 successes) between 1994 and 2015, according to the April 19th, 2015 SpaceFlight Now post, “New Orbital ATK paint job for Pegasus carrier jet.” It’s also expensive, and most of the other companies listed here are focused on lower cost alternatives. A recent proposal to upgrade the Stargazer aircraft (a modified Lockheed L-1011 TriStar aircraft originally built for Air Canada in 1974) under the NASA Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program, was not funded, but the program has not officially been shelved.
  • The PLD Space European Smallsat Launcher Program (ARION2) – A “a microlauncher designed to offer flights to low-Earth orbit (LEO) for micro-satellites and cube-sats, to cater to the current lack of launch opportunities for small payloads,” according to the European Commission ARION2 | European small sat launcher webpage. PLD Aerospace has been developing a family of launchers (including the ARION1 and ARION2) since 2013, using a series of privately funded offering eventually expected to total approximately €25Mln Euros ($37Mln CDN). The ARION2 is advertised on the PLD website as being an “ITAR FREE” three stage, liquid fueled and reusable rocket capable of launching 150 kg into low Earth orbit and 5 kg to the Moon.

US small-sat launch providers are especially concerned over potential new competition from abroad, at least as outlined in the July 20th, 2016 Aviation Week and Space Technology post, “Dearth Of Dedicated Smallsat Launchers Challenges Fledgling Industry.”

And they have good reason to feel this way. The sixteen organizations listed above are less than half of the companies uncovered after a cursory search.

For the list of sixteen “other” organizations currently developing small-sat launchers, tune in next week.

Chuck Black.


Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Full Story »


A Short History of SpaceX

Posted September 26, 2016 by Chuck Black
          By Brian Orlotti

As the world prepares for Elon Musk’s much-anticipated Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 speech at the 2016 International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2016), where he will outline his plan to settle Mars, a look back at SpaceX’s history is in order.

An inventory of the company’s wins and losses can provide some perspective on the ambitious goals ahead:
  • June 1st, 2002 – Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX is founded by Elon Musk in El Segundo, California. The company is later relocated to Hawthorne, California.
  • March 1st, 2006 – CEO Musk invests $100Mln US ($132Mln CDN) of his own money into SpaceX.
  • June 4th, 2010 – The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes its maiden flight after launch from Kwajelin Atoll,  part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
  • December 8th, 2010 – A SpaceX Dragon capsuleorbits Earth then safely crashes into Pacific Ocean making it the first commercial spacecraft to do so.
  • May 25th, 2012 – The SpaceX Dragon capsule becomes the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).
  • October 8th, 2012 – SpaceX completes its first resupply mission (CRS-1) to the ISS using its Dragon spacecraft. It’s the first private spacecraft to do so and delivers 1,000 pounds of cargo.
  • December 17th, 2012 – SpaceX completes a successful 12-story test flight of its Grasshopper rocket. The Grasshopper is a reusable rocket whose first stage is designed to fly back to Earth, refuel and fly again.
  • March 9th, 2013 – SpaceX completes a successful 24-story test flight of the Grasshopper.
  • October 7th, 2013 – SpaceX completes its 8th and final test flight of the Grasshopper. It reaches 2441 feet and lands successfully. The vehicle is then retired but the knowledge collected from the flights, and the soft landings, are integrated into the Falcon-9 design.
  • April 14th, 2014  SpaceX sues the US Air Force for the right to compete for national security payload launches, then a monopoly of UnitedLaunch Alliance (ULA).
  • September 16th, 2014  SpaceX signs an agreement with NASA to be first US commercial company (along with Boeing) to launch astronauts to ISS.
  • January 16th, 2015 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship during the fifth cargo resupply mission (CRS-5) mission to the ISS fails. The failure is traced to a loss of hydraulic fluid just before touchdown.
  • January 23rd, 2015 – The US Air Force agrees to certify SpaceX rockets for national security launches and SpaceX drops its April 14th, 2014 lawsuit. SpaceX is certified for national security launches on May 26th, 2015 and ULA’s monopoly on launching national security payloads is broken.
  • April 24th, 2015 – SpaceX’s second Falcon 9  1st stage landing attempt on a drone ship during CRS-6 mission to ISS fails. The rocket tipped over on landing due to excess lateral velocity.
  • June 28th, 2015 – A Falcon 9 rocket explodes during the seventh SpaceX cargo resupply mission (CRS-7) launch to the ISS and the Dragon spacecraft is lost. The cause was traced to the failure of a strut which secured a high-pressure helium bottle inside the second stage’s liquid oxygen tank, causing it to over pressurize and burst.
  •  December 21st, 2015 – A Falcon 9 rocket makes a historic landing on land at Cape Canaveral after it delivers eleven satellites into orbit. “I do think it’s a revolutionary moment. No one has ever brought an orbital class booster back intact,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a teleconference after the launch and landing success.
  • January 17th, 2016 – The third Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship fails. The landing legs didn’t lock and the rocket simply fell over after landing.
  • March 4th, 2016 – A fourth Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship fails. The rocket landed hard, fell over and exploded.
  •  April 8th, 2016 – The fifth Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt on a drone ship finally succeeds.
  •  April 26th, 2016   SpaceX announces they will relaunch a recovered Falcon 9 rocket later in the year and its first crewed mission to ISS in 2017 or early 2018.
  • April 28th, 2016 – SpaceX tweets they will send a non-crewed Red Dragon to Mars as early as 2018 in preparation for human landings.
  •  April 28th, 2016 – SpaceX is awarded its first national security launch contract to launch the USAF’s GPS-3 satellite. But SpaceX won competition by default as ULA declined to bid.
  • September 1st, 2016 – A Falcon 9 rocket explodes on the pad at Cape Canaveral. The rocket was due to launch the Israel built Amos 6 communications satellite for Facebook.
  • September 23rd, 2016 – SpaceX releases the initial results of its investigation, which reveal that it believes a breach in the helium system in the Falcon 9’s liquid oxygen system caused the explosion. The investigation continues as SpaceX says it wants to resume launches in November 2016.
It’s worth noting that, while many of the points listed above came originally from the April 26th, 2016 Techcrunch post, “A Brief History of SpaceX,” the future of the company is still very much to be written by Musk, and by others.
Here’s wishing them the best.
Brian Orlotti.


Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Full Story »


"Impossible" Cannae Drive Will Sink or Swim on Proposed Demonstration Flight

Posted September 6, 2016 by Chuck Black
          By Brian Orlotti

The inventor of a controversial propellant-less spacecraft engine has announced that he is forming a company and raising funds to launch a demonstrator into Earth orbit. A success would force a rethink of known physics and serve as vindication in the face of harsh criticism from the scientific community.

The proposed mechanism for the Cannae drive, an updated Emdrive. As outlined in the August 4th, 2014 Nerdist post, “How Possible is that “Impossible” Space Drive,” NASA tested a version of this engine developed by American inventor Fetta in 2013 and found that it could produce “thrust without any fuel.” Of course,the Cannae and EM drives are both closed systems which seem to develop thrust out of thin air and violate the law of conservation of momentum, which states that “the total momentum of a closed system does not change.” Independent validation that the drive functions as advertised would certainly upend our current understanding of physics. Graphic c/o Nerdist.

As outlined in the August 17th, 2016 press release under the mostly generic title, “Press Release from Cannae,”Guido Fetta, an American chemical engineer and CEO of Cannae Inc., has solicited commercial partners, including aerospace component manufacturer LAI International of Tempe, AZ and spacecraft engineering firm SpaceQuest Ltd. of Fairfax, VA to help design and launch an orbital cubesat, to test the engine.

This engine, dubbed the Cannae Drive, was invented in 2006 by Fetta. It consists of a conical chamber into which a magnetron emits microwaves. The microwaves cause the chamber to resonate and, so Fetta claims, produce thrust. Fetta’s device shares a lineage with another propellant-less engine, the EmDrive, first demonstrated by British engineer Roger Shawyer in 2003.

A propellant-less drive would revolutionize spaceflight. Satellites’ useful lifetimes would no longer be limited by their amount of on-board fuel and flight times through the solar system could be greatly reduced. The technology’s tantalizing prospects have helped spur enthusiasm for research, despite unknown physics and vocal opposition.

Shawyer’s EmDrive was initially ridiculed and ignored in the West. Scientists dismissed the idea of a propellant-less drive on the grounds that it violated the law of conservation of momentum i.e. that a spacecraft cannot accelerate forward without some form of exhaust ejected backwards.

Shawyer and Fetta have offered their own explanations for their results. Shawyer claims that relativistic effects produce different radiation pressures at the two ends of the drive, leading to a net force. Fetta has put forth a similar idea involving Lorentz (electromagnetic) forces.

In 2008, a Chinese research team at Xi’an Northwestern Polytechnic began investigating the EmDrive. The team conducted experiments and published a series of papers. In 2012, the team claimed to have built a device capable of producing a few ounces of thrust for a few kilowatts of input, comparable to standard ion thrusters.

In 2014, propellant-less drives gained wide exposure as NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories team at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas tested several devices, including two built by Cannae Inc. When the Eagleworks team reported positive results, they encountered intense disbelief and open hostility from the scientific community.

Orthodox scientists’ reactions ranged from shrieking outrage over NASA’s supposed waste of taxpayer funds to open accusations of incompetence/fraud against Guido Fetta and the NASA Eagleworks team. Eagleworks researchers have suggested that the drives are actually pushing against “quantum vacuum virtual plasma“— virtual particles that shift in and out of existence. The team’s work continues and is currently undergoing peer review.

Editors Note: As outlined in the August, 30th, 2016 International Business Times article, “EmDrive: Nasa Eagleworks’ paper has finally passed peer review, says scientist in the know,” an “independent scientist” has “confirmed that the paper by scientists at the Nasa Eagleworks Laboratories on achieving thrust using highly controversial space propulsion technology EmDrive has passed peer review, and will soon be published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).” 

For reaction to the announcement, check out the September 6th, 2016 Universe Today post, “NASA’S EM Drive Passes Peer Review, But Don’t Get Your Hopes Up.”

In 2015, Martin Tajmar, a physicist at the Dresden University of Technology, investigated the EmDrive. Previously, Tajmar had highlighted various errors in Fetta’s experimental setups that had likely skewed their results. Despite this, when Tajmar built his own EmDrive, he found that it truly did appear to generate thrust. Tajmar has worked to rule out some sources of error in his experiments such as air currents, leaking microwaves, ionization, photon thrust—though not enough to satisfy skeptics.

Having endured intense skepticism and ridicule over the years, it appears that Guido Fetta has now decided to “go for broke.

Roughly the size of a shoebox, one quarter of the cubesat will be taken up by a small Cannae drive. Fetta intends for the satellite to remain in orbit for at least six months. Doubtless, Fetta’s logic is that the longer the satellite remains in orbit, the more evident propellant-less thrust will be.

No launch date has been announced as yet.

In its derision of Fetta and Shawyer, the scientific community has dismissed their work as flawed and even fraudulent. A visceral demonstration of propellant-less propulsion will either prove the skeptics right or allow the technology to move forward and fulfill its potential.

Either way, progress continues.

Brian Orlotti.


Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Full Story »