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Canada rejects visas of Russian delegates to attend space conference

Posted September 30, 2014 by The Canadian Press

Top Russian astronaut Sergei Krikalev among those denied entry to International Astronautical Congress

The post Canada rejects visas of Russian delegates to attend space conference appeared first on Macleans.ca.

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One giant peek into mankind: What’s inside an astronaut?

Posted September 30, 2014 by Kate Lunau

A groundbreaking genetic study of twin NASA astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly may teach us as much about the human body as about space

The post One giant peek into mankind: What’s inside an astronaut? appeared first on Macleans.ca.

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Space Agency Heads Congregating in Toronto on September 29th

Posted September 22, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Chuck Black

Berndt Feuerbacher.

It wouldn’t be an International Astronautical Congress without public pronouncements from the heads of the largest government space agencies and the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014), which will be held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th – October 3rd, will certainly be following in this tradition.

Expected to join moderator and past International Astronautical Federation (IAF) president Berndt Feuerbacher on Monday, September 29th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) for the traditional IAC Heads of Agencies plenary are the following government space agency representatives:

Charles Bolden.

Charles Bolden, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Given that each representative will be expected to provide an introductory presentation on the latest developments from their respective agency and then take at least a few questions from the audience, it is assumed that Bolden will talk about why Boeing received so much more money than SpaceX ($4.2Bln USD for Boeing, as compared to $2.6Bln for SpaceX), for a contract to do pretty much the same thing last week, as part of the latest round of the NASA commercial crew program.

Xu Dazhe.

Xu Dazhe, the administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Coming off the successful International Planetary Congress, another major space conference, which was held Sept 10th to 15th in Beijing, China for the first time, the Chinese leader is likely to be focused on questions of international co-operation and recognition for China’s new role as a major space power. 

Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA). He’s held the position since 2003, which makes him perhaps a little more experienced than his colleagues at the other space agencies. Dordain will likely face questions over the ESA next generation Ariane 6 launcher and the competition it faces from the US based SpaceX.

Denis Lyskov.

Denis Lyskov, the government secretary and deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS). With ROSCOSMOS head Oleg Ostapenko unable to attend (no doubt for political reasons), the far duller Lyskov, who is considered unlikely to discuss “trampolines” or “space gecko’s,” is expected to focus on the future expansion plans the agency has been dutifully running up the flagpole over the last year to see if anyone salutes.

Walt Natynczyk.

Walter Natynczyk, the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Natynczyk, seemingly one of the shyest and most reticent CSA presidents in a long time, will likely keep his comments focused on longstanding Canadian government concerns over “international co-operation” and “collaboration” with the other space agency heads. 

Naoki Okumura.

Naoki Okumura, the president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Well into the second year of the five-year implementation phase of Japan’s updated basic plan on space policy, the JAXA head will likely want to talk the JAXA “application-focused approach” to space system development and the new JAXA small satellite platform, which Japan hopes to sell to other countries.

K. Radhakrishnan.

K. Radhakrishnan, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Expect Radhakrishnan to focus his comments on the ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which should to enter orbit around Mars this week.

The plenary will be held on Monday, September 29th from 1:30pm – 3:00pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) in Hall F on level 800.

It looks like a good show, well worth attending.

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Hadfield in China for International Planetary Congress; PM to Follow in November

Posted September 14, 2014 by Chuck Black
          by Brian Orlotti

Chris Hadfield. Photo c/o Paul Chiasson/ Canadian Press.

Several events over the past few weeks have highlighted China’s growing influence both in space affairs and the world at large.

For example, the International Planetary Congress, a major space conference, is being held Sept 10th to 15th in Beijing, China for the first time. The event is organized by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) in co-operation with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), a group which represents some 400 astronauts/cosmonauts from 35 nations.

The Congress’ theme is “Cooperation: To Realize Humanity’s Space Dream Together.” Chinese astronauts (called Taikonauts) will present reports from their previous spaceflights and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, will present an invitation to the international community to join China in building its upcoming space station.

Last summer, Chinese officials stated that China’s 60-ton multi-module manned station is being fast tracked, with the first module to be launched in 2018 (two years earlier than previously announced). Additional modules are to be launched in 2020 and 2022.

As stated in the September 10th, 2014 Canadian Press article “Chris Hadfield to attend international space conference in China,” retired astronaut Chris Hadfield will be attending as Canada’s sole representative and will participate in a discussion panel with Chinese taikonauts on common space mission experiences.

According to the article, Hadfield, a former ASA president, said that he hopes that the Congress will spur a new round of international cooperation in space and, while China’s long term goals would include a manned Lunar base, the best model for that might be the existing international partnerships which helped to build the International Space Station (ISS).

Although Hadfield tiptoed around the International Planetary Congress’ political significance, the desire to work with the Chinese at either the governmental or private level was apparent when he stated:

Even if they (the Chinese) don’t make a direct overture, it is still 100 people who are quite influential in the space business having a chance — without a specific political agenda — to get together and talk about opportunities and build further relationships.

Hadfield’s remarks come on the heels of his July 2014 visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as outlined in the August 11th, 2014 post “Hadfield in Emirates, Russia in Lather & UrtheCast in Orbit,” when he publicly stating his interest in  helping the UAE to set up its own space agency and launch a Mars probe in 2021.

Also attending the conference are some 30 space travelers from the US, including active NASA astronauts. The Americans  are attending as private citizens and ASE members, however, and not as official NASA representatives. NASA is prohibited  by US law from space cooperation with China.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the 5th Canada China Business Forum, which was held in Beijing, China in February 2012. As outlined  in the September 12th, 2014 Canadian Press article “Canada-China investment treaty to come into force Oct. 1,” the Canadian PM will revisit China in November 2014. Photo c/o Canadian Press

Stronger ties with China in space could very well flow from Canada’s now-stronger economic links with China. As outlined in the September 12th, 2014 National Post article “Ottawa ratifies foreign investment deal with China despite tensions,” the Canadian government last week recently ratified the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), a controversial 31-year foreign investment agreement with China.

Critics of FIPA say that the agreement will grant China control of Canada’s national resources while blocking Canadian businesses access to protected Chinese industries. FIPA advocates claim that the agreement will allow Chinese capital to flow into Canadian industry, spurring job creation and growth in a time of economic difficulty.

Brian Orlotti.
History has shown again and again that leadership vacuums are inevitably filled. Should the space programs of the US, Europe and Russia continue to remain in stasis, others are ready to step in and fill the void.
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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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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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