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Industry Minister Allocates $6.7Mln to Develop Space Apps

Posted August 9, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Chuck Black
Minister Moore on Thursday. Photo c/o CBC.
Spending almost $7Mln CDN to develop a series of applications (“apps“) for satellite derived data seems a little expensive in a country chock full of software developers offering up their services for free at events like the annual International Space Apps Challenge.

Of course, that’s not the impression intended to be conveyed by the August 7th, 2014 Industry Canada press release, “Industry Minister Moore announces support for new space technologies that will provide crucial information about the Earth.”

The announcement that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) would be awarding contracts worth a total of $6.7Mln CDN to develop new applications for satellite derived Earth imaging data was intended to bolster Canadian claims of competitiveness in the fast growing but crowded commercial marketplace. 

But while space has always been difficult to get to and operate in, the development of applications intended to utilize the data collected from space has always followed pretty much the same processes and methodologies as any other software development project.

This is why NASA, Google, Yahoo, HP, the World Bank and others banded together to create the International Space Apps Challenge in 2012.

As outlined in the May 19th, 2014 post “CDN “SkyWatch” wins “Best Use of Data” at Int’l Space Apps Challenge,” a Canadian team even won the 2014 Challenge by designing and building (over a single weekend) an application which takes worldwide observatory data and combines it in an easy to understand, twitter-like set up to plot the data on on Google Sky.

Of course, in the absence of any real innovation and as outlined in the August 7th, 2014 Government of Canada list of organizations scheduled to receive a contract, the CSA funding will be provided to 3vGeomatics, AECOM, Array Systems Computing, ASL Environmental Sciences, C-CORE, Effigis Géo-Solutions, GHGSat, the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Kepler Space Inc., MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and PCI Geomatics as per the standard CSA operating procedures.

The individual awards are each around $500,000 CDN and most of the applications being developed will use commercially available RADARSAT 2 derived synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data.

But will the CSA awards preserve Canadian competitiveness in the growing Earth imaging applications industry?

Yeah, Right….

UPDATE:

As per the the August 18th, 2014 Government of Canada press release, “The Government of Canada announces investment in innovative mapping system for first-ever global surface water survey,” the Federal government has allocated an additional $3.3Mln CDN to Georgetown-based manufacturer, Communications and Power Industries Canada Inc. (CPI Canada), to develop the extended interaction klystron (EIK), a satellite radar component that will:

generate pulses used to gather surface information. This investment will support local high-technology jobs and economic growth while the resulting information could help Canada more efficiently manage water resources, prepare for potential flooding, and help avoid costly damage from flooding or drought. 

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will survey 90 percent of the globe, studying the Earth’s lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans. SWOT data could lead to improvements in many water-related services in Canada, including operations at sea and water management systems, and will provide measurements for lakes and rivers in Northern Canada for which none currently exist.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, and as outlined in the August 18th, 2014 Waterloo Journal article, “Waterloo makes public most complete Antarctic map for climate research,” the University of Waterloo:
has unveiled a new satellite image of Antarctica, and the imagery will help scientists all over the world gain new insight into the effects of climate change.

Thanks to a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), the prime contractor for the RADARSAT-2 program, and the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network (CCIN) at UWaterloo, the mosaic is free and fully accessible to the academic world and the public…

Only time will tell if the open source development model has staying power, but this looks like a good start.

Canada can create useful instruments to place in space with funding from the Federal government while the data derived from those programs is provided for free to the public which paid for the data. 

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Space Activities at the University of Waterloo

Posted July 23, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Michael Kuntz

The recent June 27th, 2014 post “Canadian Universities in Space,” was an excellent summary of the amazing breadth of space activities taking place at academic institutions across the country. Universities play key roles in providing high-risk innovations and preparing the next generation of highly qualified personnel.

The early history of the University of Waterloo. The plaque is located just inside the entrance to the university on University Avenue West across from Seagram Drive.  Photo c/o Alan L. Brown.

Since its founding in 1956 (the year before Sputnik), the University of Waterloo has been a Canadian leader in both of these roles, and today our faculty continues to contribute to a variety of space focused projects.

HIFI pocket guide c/o ESA.

For example, Dr. Michel Fich of the Department of Physics and Astronomy was the Canadian principal investigator for the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel, active from 2009 – 2013 and the largest infrared space telescope ever launched, was one of the cornerstone missions of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Cdr. Chris and Dr. Richard. Photo c/o CSA.

As well, Dr. Richard Hughson of the Department of Kinesiology was the principal investigator for the VASCULAR and BP-Reg medical experiments that were conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by multiple astronauts including Robert Thirsk and Chris Hadfield (who is now a member of the faculty at Waterloo). The experiments were funded by the CSA and supported by NASA.

With ESA sponsorship, Dr. Claude Duguay of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management has been using satellite radar imagery to study the impact of climate change on the thickness of lake and ground ice. An example of some of the work being done in this area is outlined in the video below.

As a final example, for the past four years, Dr. Thomas Jennewein of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) has been leading a proposed Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) micro-satellite mission that would demonstrate long-distance quantum key distribution from space. Since October 2013, Dr. Jennewein and IQC have been leading a CSA funded project with industrial partners to develop a prototype quantum key distribution receiver (OKDR) that would be suitable for QEYSSat. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2014 IQC post “Quantum satellite one step closer to space flight,” Dr. Jennewein’s team was recently awarded a CSA Flights for the Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) grant to adapt the QKDR for an airborne demonstration.

In the current environment of fiscal restraint, there can and should be an increased role for universities to drive Canadian innovation in a cost-effective manner. Amongst our international partners, it is common for universities and research institutions to be the project prime for space science instruments and even entire space missions. For the moment, it is not within the means of most Canadian universities to lead a space mission, however, a strong foundation of technical and managerial capabilities exist at the University of Waterloo and other institutions that would enable academia to lead space instrumentation projects within the next couple of years.

The University of Waterloo looks forward to a continued partnership with government and industry to support the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.
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Michael Kuntzis the director of research partnerships at the University of Waterloo.

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Federal Government Hypes OSIRIS-REx Mission

Posted July 21, 2014 by Chuck Black

          by Brian Orlotti

On July 17th, Federal cabinet minister Tony Clement excitedly announced Canada’s latest contribution to an upcoming NASA asteroid mission. But while the Stephen Harper government appears to be hoping that the public will allow it to bask in the reflected glare of this latest Canadian space adventure, the actual state of Canada’s space budget might just put a lie to the fancy words.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement announcing the Canadian contribution to the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission during a press conference at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario on July 17, 2014. Photo c/o Globe and Mail.

At the press conference, Clement announced that Canada would be beginning the build phase of its contribution to the upcoming Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) NASA spacecraft.

Developed by the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, OSIRIS-REx’s mission will be to rendezvous with the asteroid 101955 Bennu, obtain samples from its surface and return them to Earth for analysis.

These samples will enable scientists to learn more about the formation and evolution of our Solar System, the initial stages of planet formation, and perhaps provide the chance to study organic compounds thought to have led to the beginnings of life. OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled for launch in September 2015, reaching 101955 Bennu in November 2018 and returning to Earth in 2023.

Canada’s contribution will be the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a LiDAR (a combination of “light” and “radar“) instrument that will scan the surface of 101955 Bennu to generate high resolution topographic maps. These maps will allow planetary scientists to select sample sites, provide ranging info for other on-board instruments, and allow analysis of the asteroid’s gravity as well as aid navigation. The announcement included an $8.4Mln CDN funding package (on top of the $15.8Mln CDN previously allocated in February, 2013 by the Federal government for the initial design work) with a further promise of $61Mln CDN in total funding over the life of the mission.

In return, the CSA will receive 4% of the returned samples for hands-on analysis.

Page one of a two page fact sheet available online from the NASA website. As outlined in a post on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission website, the Canadian OLA team includes principal investigator Alan R. Hildebrand from the University of Calgary, deputy principal investigator and instrument scientist Michael Daly from York University, Catherine L. Johnson, representing both the University of British Columbia and the Tucson, AZ based Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Rebecca Ghent from the University of Toronto/ PSI and Edward Cloutis from the University of Manitoba.

As outlined in the February 27th, 2013 MDA press release, “MDA to help map an asteroid,” the original OLA contract, a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiller (MDA), and researchers from the universities of Calgary, British Columbia, Toronto and Manitoba was announced in February 2013.

Of course, that didn’t stop Clement from tweeting, just prior to the July 17th announcement, “Just T minus 11 hours before my announcement with the Canadian Space Agency that is bigger than Michael Bay’s blockbusters!”

This obvious hyperbole continues the federal government’s pattern of publicly embracing, sometimes to excess, our Canadian space successes.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, left, presents Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz with the $5 bill he took into space at a ceremony to officially issue the new polymer note, which features the robotic Canadarm2, DEXTRE and a Canadian astronaut on Nov. 7th, 2013, in Longueuil, Que. According to the March 29th, 2014 CBC News article “Mark Carney wanted orbiting Chris Hadfield at $5 polymer note unveiling,” the “decision to beam Hadfield in came from the very top of the Bank of Canada chain of command.” Photo c/o Canadian Press

The pattern began with astronaut Chris Hadfield‘s 2013 stint as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station (ISS). The Canadian government basked in the global popularity fueled by Hadfield’s photos, tweets, skype chats and a now-iconic rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.

In April of the same year, the Bank of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled a new space-themed five-dollar bill with images of the Canadian built Canadarm2, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM or DEXTRE) and an astronaut. For added flair, Hadfield joined the event via webcam to stir up the crowd and later made a formal in-person presentation. In June of 2014, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper even made a point of taking a photo-op with Hadfield during the thick of the Senate scandal.

Astronaut Hadfield, on the right, shaking hands with PM Harper and wife Laureen at a breakfast photo-op on June 9th, 2014. Photo c/o PMHARPER/FLICKR

Of course, the Federal government’s tweeting, press conferences and photo-ops are in stark contrast to its actual space policy. For example, the Federal government cut the CSA’s budget by 10% in 2013, resulting in the cancellation of the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) space telescope, one of Canada’s greatest scientific success stories.

And following the high-water mark of Chris Hadfield’s mission, the CSA has used up its remaining ISS “credits” and won’t be able to send astronauts to the station until at least 2019.

Brian Orlotti.

So while it’s good that the Federal government has finally discovered that space is a popular cause to champion, the disconnect between the government’s words and its deeds does little to clarify Canada’s future in space.

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

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Preparing for the 65th International Astronautical Congress; September 29th – October 3rd in Toronto, ON

Posted July 13, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Chuck Black

It’s close to being the greatest show on Earth for space scientists, engineers and policy advocates, second perhaps only to the roar of a manned rocket launch.

Preparations and plans are coming together to make the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2014), which is being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th – October 3rd, into the best edition yet of what is generally considered to be the “world’s premier space event.

The reasons for these perceptions are simple enough to discern. For example, speakers for the Heads of Agencies Plenary of the 2013 International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2013), which was held last September in Beijing, China included Chen Qiufa, the head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA); NASA administrator Charles Bolden: Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director General of the European Space Agency (CSA); Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) deputy director Sergei Saveliev; Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Walter Natynczyk; Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman Radha Krishna and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) president Naoki Okumura.

A similar line-up of heavy hitters is expected for IAC 2014.

But while many of the accolades are reserved for the annual gathering of space agency heads, the event is also a technical congress which brings together thousands of scientists, advocates and business executives from around the world to discuss issues of importance to the space community and build the connections needed to encourage and expand outer both space activities and international co-operation.

We expect to see many bilateral and multilateral meetings and exchanges of information among space agencies, military representatives, the private sector and even space advocacy groups which would be difficult to organize without the cover of an IAC,” said local organizing committee (LOC) chair Ron Holdway during a phone interview last week.

Holdway is currently putting in long nights preparing for the event, which so far boasts over 100 exhibitors and sponsors, about 80% of the available capacity, since he spends his days as the ‎vice-president of government relations for Cambridge, Ontario based COM DEV International.

Of course, he’s still expecting to corral a few others over the next two months.

We need to tie down a few more agencies. We’ve currently got NASA, ROSCOSMOS, the Israeli Space Agency, the Chinese Space Agency and the UK Space Agency but I know we’ll be tying down a few more over the next little while,” he said.

IAC 2014 logo superimposed over the MTCC. According to the IAC website, the event “is the one place and time of the year where all global space actors come together.” The event attracts more than 3,000 participants each year. Graphic c/o IAC

Current sponsors include ABB, the Aerospace Corporation, Airbus, Boeing Defense, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), Space Systems Loral (SSL) and quite a few others. As well, Lockheed Martin will be acting as the “industry anchor sponsor” and financial support has been provided by Tourism Toronto and the Government of Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation plus the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

According to Holdway, the Canadian organizers are working hard to get the CSA and Canadian expertise front and centre for the event. “No space agency, with the exception of the UK Space Agency, is in expansion mode. We all benefit from comparing our experiences to those of our peers.”

The event is hosted by the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) and organized by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) with the participation of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). 

The first IAC was held in Paris, France in 1950 and was an initiative set up by space expert, author and enthusiast Alexandre Ananoff (who also advised fellow author Hergé on his Tintin books “Destination Moon” and “Explorers on the Moon“). Graphic c/o IAC1950 history page.

As outlined by CASI executive director Geoffrey Languedoc, there are even a few openings for those wishing to volunteer for the event if they contact the volunteer coordinator at IAC-Staff@mci-group.com.
All in all, while IAC2014 might not quite provide the roar of a manned rocket launch, the event certainly has enough buzz to fill a room full of opportunities to meet and interact with the people who build and launch them. 
Be there or be square. 

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Seven Government Agencies Needed to Build a Space Company

Posted July 3, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Chuck Black

It’s well known that commercial space activities are often a collaboration between academics, business and government organizations.

With that in mind, here’s a preliminary list of government agencies you need to know, especially if you plan on staying in Canada to make a few bucks as you build your own private space company.

Enjoy…
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The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) – Established in 1946, the CCC is a federal Crown corporation mandated to promote and facilitate international trade on behalf of Canadian industry (particularly within government markets), which is quite useful since the typical space company will sell approximately half its products and services on the international market. The CCC’s two business lines are structured to support Canadian companies contracting into the defense sector (primarily in the United States) and into emerging and developing international markets.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) -  Set up by the Federal government in 1997 to build Canada’s capacity to undertake world-class research and technology development. CFI funds a variety of state-of-the-art equipment, laboratories, databases, specimens, scientific collections, computer facilities and organizations which support innovative research.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) – The federal government agency responsible for Canada’s civilian space program. The CSA was established in March 1989 under the Canadian Space Agency Act and works with the Department of National Defense (DND) on military space focused activities and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) on activities related to international cooperation and technology transfer. As per the 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or “Emerson Report“), the CSA acts “as a technical supervisor” to support specific committees, to the Minister of Public Works in order to help negotiate “co-operative agreements with other countries’ space agencies,” co-manages space technology development (along with the National Research Council), conducts its own research, operates its existing satellite inventory and maintains the Canadian astronaut program. The current chief executive officer of the agency is president Walt Natynczyk, who reports directly to the Minister of Industry.

Industry Canada (IC) – The CSA is governed by IC policies on Canadian science and technology (S&T) such as the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage report (May 2007) and the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Progress Report (June 2009). IC also manages the National Research Council (NRC) and various other organizations relating to science and technology. Portions of the IC mandate were reviewed by the 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or “Emerson Report,” presented to then Industry Minister Christian Paradis in November 2012)  and the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development (or “Jenkins panel,” presented to then Minister of State Gary Goodyear in October 2011).

The National Research Council (NRC) – The primary Canadian government resource for science and technology (S&T) funding. The NRC works with the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and the Networks of Centres of Excellence. The NRC reports to Industry Canada (IC), which tends to focus Canadian spending in this area around questions of commercialization, rather than basic research.

The Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) - A collaborative network of organizations across Ontario designed to help entrepreneurs, businesses and researchers commercialize their ideas. One of the better provincial government offerings in this area although other provincial governments offer many of the same services with greater or lesser degrees of success. Collaborative organizations include the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), the Centre for Commercialization of Research (CCR), OMERS Ventures, the Ontario Aerospace Council (OAC), the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) and quite a few others. Many Canadian space companies (and even a few academic institutions) receive funding through the OCE or through organizations affiliated with it.

The United States Office of Space Commercialization – Only in Canada would it be possible to suggest that one of the best places to find information on government space policies and initiatives would be a foreign government website. But in an age focused on the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and its Canadian equivalent, the Controlled Goods Program (CGP), this site provides great background material from the US Department of Commerce relating to commercial space activities, general policy information affecting all areas of commercial space activities and documents related to the US National Space Policy. Highly recommended for space geeks looking to sell into, but not necessarily live in, the US market.

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