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Split-Personality Pulsar Switches From Radio To Gamma-Rays

Posted July 23, 2014 by Anonymous

Another snapshot of our strange universe: astronomers recently caught a pulsar — a particular kind of dense star — switch off its radio beacon while powerful gamma rays brightened fivefold.

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Creationism

Jesus Wasn’t a “GodKlingon”; The Problem with Biblical Literalists

Posted July 22, 2014 by Hollis Phelps

This past weekend creationist Ken Ham, best known to most for his…

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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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MakerBots on Mars!!!

Posted June 8, 2014 by Chuck Black

          by Brian OrlottiGraphic c/o Thingiverse.NASA and 3D printing pioneer Makerbot Industries have sponsored an online competition to harness the talents of the maker community to design a future Mars base.The contest…

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Low Cost Nuclear Reactor Turns to Crowd-Sourcing for Funding

Posted May 26, 2014 by Chuck Black

          by Brian Orlotti

A private team of researchers has turned to crowd-funding to help build a proof-of-concept for a new kind of nuclear fusion reactor. If successful, the technology will have far-reaching effects both on Earth and in space.

Overview of the theories and methodologies surrounding the LLP approach to building what is technically known as an aneutronic fusion reactor. It’s generally conceded by scientists that a successful aneutronic fusion reactor would greatly reduce problems associated with neutron radiation such as ionizing damage, neutron activation, and requirements for biological shielding, remote handling, and safety. Graphic c/o the Focus Fusion Society.

As outlined in the May 18th, 2014 Gizmag article. “Can crowdfunding give us safe fusion power by 2020?,” New Jersey-based LawrenceVille Plasma Physics (LPP) began a campaign on crowd-funding website Indiegogo on May 6th, 2014 under the title “Focus Fusion: emPOWERtheWORLD” with the objective of raising $200,000 USD for the purchase components for a new type of nuclear fusion reactor which utilizes a technology called “focus fusion.”

The Gizmag article quoted LPP president and independent plasma Eric Lerner as saying that his team can obtain a berylium electrode for $200,000 USD, demonstrate net power gain (when a fusion reaction produces more energy than it needed to start) with $1Mln USD and deliver a working fusion reactor with $50Mln USD in funding. Assuming their funding efforts succeed, The LPP team says their reactor would cost $500,000 USD (far less than nuclear fission reactors), be safe and small enough to fit in a garage or shipping container, have an output of 5 MW, and produce electricity for as little as 0.06 cents per kWh. The LPP team aims to build a commercial-ready reactor by 2016.

LPP president and independent plasma researcher Eric Lerner. His current work derived from earlier NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory funded studies in 1994 and 2001 to explore whether the dense plasma focus could be an effective ion thruster to propel spacecraft. Lerner is also a popular science writer who stirred up much controversy with his 1991 book “The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe,” which rejected mainstream “Big Bang” cosmology in favor of non-standard plasma cosmology theories originally proposed by Hannes Alfvén in the 1960s. Photo c/o CrowdFund Insider

LPP’s effort contrasts greatly with government-funded fusion research programs, most notably the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), now being constructed in southern France. ITER, a joint effort of seven nations, has been marred by over a decade of delays as well as doubts  over its long-term economic viability. ITER’s cost is expected to exceed the $13.7Bln USD mark and won’t begin operations until as least 2027.

The traditional technical approach to developing nuclear fusion is centered around the idea of containing super-hot gas (called plasma) and stabilizing it, which is both technically challenging and expensive. The focus fusion approach is not to fight a plasma’s instabilities, but instead harness them to concentrate the plasma in a very small area.

Focus fusion relies on a device called a plasma focus. The heart of the fusion reactor, it can be as small as a few inches in diameter. A plasma focus consists of a central hollow cylinder made of copper, the anode, surrounded by an insulator, and an outer electrode, the cathode, a circle of copper rods. The device is enclosed in a vacuum chamber filled with the fusion fuel (hydrogen and boron gas) and attached to a bank of capacitors.

In a microsecond, the capacitor bank pulses a current of over a million amps from the cathode to the anode. This ionizes the gas, turning it into a plasma. At this point, parallel currents run along each other inside the plasma, generating a magnetic field that forces dense plasma filaments to attract and twist around each other, concentrating the plasma over a small area.

A plasma focus device from the 1970′s. Invented in the early 1960s by J.W. Mather and also independently by N.V. Filippov in 1954, they fell out of favor in the 1970′s and have only recently been rediscovered for research into fusion power.

The magnetic fields focus the plasma filaments into a donut-shape plasmoid that is only millimeters across and quickly compressing. When the plasmoid gets dense enough, radiation from the center of the plasmoid starts to escape, and that causes a sudden fall in the magnetic field, accelerating a beam of electrons on one end and a beam of ions on the other end. As they leave, the electrons in the beam interact with the electrons in the plasmoid and heat up the area to over 1.8 billion degrees Celsius, which triggers fusion reactions.

Unlike other fusion methods, the hydrogen-boron reaction generates little or no neutrons, so no dangerous radioactive waste is produced. In fact, the end products have a half-life of just over 20 minutes, so the reactor’s interior would be radiation-free in only nine hours.

On Earth, focus fusion technology could potentially offer cheap, clean energy free from control by any single nation or group of nations. Viable fusion power would not only enrich the developed world, but help lift the undeveloped world out of poverty. In space, fusion power would enable far faster spacecraft propulsion than chemical rockets, enabling easy access to any planet in our solar system. Fusion power could allow travel times to Mars measured in days instead of weeks.

Brian Orlotti.
Should LPP’s crowdfunding initiative succeed, it will be a powerful statement of what the public and  skillful small business can achieve together. Focus Fusion’s success will give the phrase ‘people power’ a whole new meaning.
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Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and the treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

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