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More on Canada’s "Next Top Astronauts," Canada’s "Failure To Scale" & Is Our Space Agency "Muzzling" its Contractors?

Posted April 24, 2017 by Chuck Black
          By Henry Stewart

There’s nothing new under the sun and pretty much everything happening today is understandable when placed in the context of what’s happened in the past. That’s why this blog is currently running two historical series, by acknowledged Canadian experts, on “A History of the Canadian Space Program – Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets,” and “150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History.”

Given that. and for the week of April 24th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we’re currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

At least they’re mostly not “striking a pose” or wearing heels. We’re down to the “final seventeen,” an important enough milestone to splurge on brown polo’s and organize a group shot with the innovation minister (on the left, with his back facing the camera). A final decision on the two Canadian astronaut openings is expected to be announced sometime this summer. To view the complete April 24th, 2017 press conference, please click on the graphic above. Screenshot c/o CSA.
  • As the hot PR winds continue to blow, Federal minister of innovation Navdeep Bains has announced the “final seventeen” candidates completing for the two open slots in the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut corps. 

As outlined in the April 24th, 2017 Global News post, “Final candidates unveiled as Canada searches for 2 new astronauts,” the finalists now include “twelve men and five women, roughly reflecting the ratio of men to women who applied to the program.” A complete listing of the remaining seventeen candidates are available online on the CSA “Who are the astronaut candidates?,” webpage.

The competition, being run by the CSA, began last year with over 3,700 applications received. 

That field was initially reduced (with much fanfare) to seventy-two, and then reduced again earlier this year to thirty-two candidates. The expectation is that the final two successful applicants will be chosen later on in the year, again with much fanfare.

As part of the presentation surrounding the latest unveiling, Minister Bains noted the $379Mln CDN the Federal government allocated to International Space Station (ISS) activities in 2016 (which covers costs through 2024 and was originally announced by the previous government), the $80Mln CDN the Federal government allocated to new space projects in 2017 and the ongoing activities related to the space working group, which began meeting just two weeks ago to assess potential, future space projects.

As outlined in the 2016-17 Report on Plans and Priorities, published yearly by the CSA, the current CSA base budget (the amount of money required to keep CSA employees on staff and CSA buildings open and functioning even without any activities, exploration or science being undertaken) is $300Mln CDN annually.

The cover page of the April 2017 Impact Brief on “Canadian Tech Tortoises; Is a lack of spending on marketing and sales delaying fundraising?” Graphic c/o Impact Centre.

  • Are Canadian start-ups unable to scale into large corporations? A recent study from The Impact Centre at the University of Toronto seems to think so and might have even suggested a reason why.

As outlined in an April 24th, 2017 e-mail from Charles Plant, a senior fellow with the Impact Centre, “anecdotal evidence suggests that many Canadian technology companies wait until their products are launched before spending funds on crucial functions such as marketing and sales and that this practice is delaying growth and success in fundraising.”

The key component missing from Canadian start-ups seems to be that “Canadian firms have significantly fewer employees in marketing and sales functions than US firms do,” at least according to Plant.

Plant and his colleagues also found that, “even among the best funded firms, Canadian technology firms have 25% fewer marketing and sales employees than US based Unicorns do. This lack of emphasis on marketing and sales may be delaying and impeding rapid growth and our companies’ ability to get funding to scale to world-class status.”

The complete April 2017 report, under the title “Canadian Tech Tortoises; Is a lack of spending on marketing and sales delaying fundraising?” is available online at  

A bipartisan reminder, courtesy of the April 30th, 2012 Ottawa Citizen Post, “Agency’s Long-term plan years overdue,” that the Canadian government space program has been drifting for decades, even as our private space sector activities took off. But at least we’ve been allowed to publicly assess our flaws, right? Well… Maybe not. Graphic c/o PressReader.

  • Has the CSA “muzzled” its contractors? The latest CSA request for proposal (RFP), posted on the Federal government Buy and Sell procurement website, suggests that it has.

As outlined on the April 24th, Buy and Sell posting, “Radio-Frequency (RF) Communication Contribution Concept Study (9F050-16-0974),” the CSA has issued an RFP for a single contract, “for an all-inclusive budget not to exceed $400,000.00 CDN (excluding any applicable taxes)” covering “potential solution for an RF communications contribution.” 

    The attachment to the solicitation document (CSA-DSTRF-SOW-0001) under the title, “Post-ISS Human Spaceflight Contributions – Deep Space Telecommunications (DST) RF Concept Study,” goes into a little more detail on the nature of the work the CSA is contracting. 

    As outlined in the document, the RFP is to help define concepts for “collaborative Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO) Missions” as defined in the NASA global exploration road map, which is being developed by space agencies participating in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG). 

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s good that our space agency is co-operating with others to generate useful plans for activities after the ISS winds down.

    The main page of the ISECG website, a forum set up by 14 space agencies (including Canada’s CSA) to “advance the Global Exploration Strategy through coordination of their mutual efforts in space exploration.” Screenshot c/o ISECG.

    But there sure seems to be some onerous restrictions on how CSA subcontractors can go about discussing their contributions to this program. 

    As outlined on page twenty three of the main solicitation document under the title Communications Activity Coordination Process:

    The contractor must coordinate with the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs all Communication Activities pertaining to the present contract. To this end, the contractor must:

    • As soon as the Contractor intends to organize a Communication Activity, send a Notice to the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs. The Communications Notice must include a complete description of the proposed Communication Activity. The Notice must be in writing in accordance with the clause Notice included in the general conditions applicable to the contract. The Communications Notice must include a copy or example of the proposed Communication Activity. 
    • The contractor must provide to the CSA any and all additional document in any appropriate format, example or information that the CSA deems necessary, at its entire discretion to correctly and efficiently coordinate the proposed Communication Activity. The Contractor agrees to only proceed with the proposed Communication Activity after receiving a written confirmation of coordination of the Communication Activity from the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs.
    • The Contractor must receive beforehand the authorization, approval and written confirmation from the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs before organizing, proceeding or hosting a communication activity. 

    These clauses makes it essentially impossible for CSA subcontractors to talk to the public without either the formal approval of the CSA Directorate of Communications, unless they are willing to run the risk of becoming non-compliant with their CSA contract.

    This is similar to the actions of the previous Stephen Harper conservative government as outlined in the November 6th, 2015 Huffington Post report, “Liberals Unmuzzle Canadian Scientists, Promise They Can Now ‘Speak Freely.‘”

    It’s also an activity the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government had insisted was done away with when they took office in 2015. 

    Newly minted innovation minister Navdeep Bains at a press conference on Parliament Hill on November 6th, 2015 where he fulfilled a Liberal party campaign promise to allow government scientists and experts to comment on their work to the media and the public. Hopefully, he’ll also do the same for our space agency. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld/CP.

    Oddly enough, similar clauses are also included in other recent CSA documents posted on Buy and Sell, such as the April 19th, 2017 “Development of enabling space technologies (9F063-160953/A)” notice of proposed procurement (NPP) and the April 5th, 2017 “Dextre Deployable Vision System (DDVS) – Phases B/C and D (9F052-160487/A)” NPP. 

    This blog has requested clarification on those contract clauses and the reasons for their inclusion in CSA documents and will update this post as new information becomes available. 

    For more, check out our upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.

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

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    Cloak and Dagger Between Space Systems Loral and Orbital ATK

    Posted March 28, 2017 by Chuck Black
              By Brian Orlotti

    Space Systems/Loral (SSL), a US based subsidiary of Richmond, BC based Macdonald Detwiler (MDA), has launched a lawsuit against Virginia based Orbital ATK over an alleged computer breach involving proprietary data relating to on-orbit satellite servicing technology. The incident is a ominous milestone in the evolution of the commercial space industry.

    It’s worth noting that on-orbit satellite servicing concepts have been around for a long long time. Seen above is the first page of a January 11th, 2017 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon presentation on “NASA Satellite Servicing Evolution: 40+ Years of On-Orbit Servicing.” Graphic c/o NASA.

    According to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at least four confidential SSL documents stored on a server at NASA Langley Research Centre were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee. The documents contain information on SSL technologies for in-space robotic satellite assembly, repair and servicing; research and development data; business plans; procurement strategies; and subcontractor/vendor relationships. SSL was informed of the intrusion by NASA in December 2016.

    As outlined in the March 23rd, 2017 Reuters post, “SSL sues rival Orbital ATK over theft of trade secrets: lawsuit,” Orbital ATK acknowledged the unauthorized access of SSL’s data, terminated the employee and notified NASA in November 2016.

    However, Orbital hasn’t responded to SSL’s queries regarding the scope of the breach or of five other Orbital employees whom NASA say may also have read the documents, according to the lawsuit. NASA said it took immediate action to restrict access and is currently conducting its own investigation.

    The SSL lawsuit is the second in six weeks; both filed by companies seeking to kick-start a new in-space satellite repair and servicing industry.

    In February 2017, Orbital ATK filed suit against the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Orbital seeks to prevent DARPA from awarding SSL a contract under the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

    Under RSGS, SSL would provide DARPA with a satellite bus and a robotic arm, possibly utilizing Canadarm techology developed for the Canadian space program although, as outlined in the December 16th, 2016 post, “MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or ‘Any Other” Project,‘” this has been vehemently denied by SSL parent MDA.

    Orbital argues that the RSGS program violates US space policy by funding a technology in competition with the private sector. Orbital is developing its own satellite servicing system, known as the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), to dock with satellites in geosynchronous orbit and maneuver them. The first MEV is scheduled for launch in late 2018.

    The theft of SSL’s robotic servicing data could deal the company a severe blow even as it sets out to create a new in-space satellite servicing industry. Even if SSL should manage to win the case and extract financial damages from Orbital, the already compromised data will give SSL’s competitors in the fledgling satellite servicing industry a massive competitive advantage. Even worse, additional proprietary SSL data may end up being made public over the course of the trial.

    The SSL data heist is a case of stacked ironies. One of SSL parent MDA’s prime motives for developing a US business through the purchase of SSL was lack of business from the Canadian government.

    Both MDA and SSL have declined to comment for this article.

    In a sense, the SSL data heist is a sign of the commercial space sector’s evolution; a fierce jockeying for position in the race for new wealth from a new industry.

    Brian Orlotti.
    Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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    UrtheCast, 3D Printing for Space, AlbertaSat & More on Reusable Rockets

    Posted March 27, 2017 by Chuck Black
              By Henry Stewart

    The week of March 27th, 2017 has certainly a busy week for news in the space industry. Given that, here are some of the stories we’re currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

    A view of East Vancouver, including the Port of Vancouver, as seen from space. Photo c/o Urthecast.

    • Vancouver, BC based Urthecast has scheduled its 2017 year end conference call for 4pm ET on the afternoon of March 28th, 2017. Hopefully, the company will provide some clarification on where it intends to spend the substantial amounts of money its been raising over the last little while. 

    As outlined in the March 22nd, 2017 CNW press release, “UrtheCast Closes C$19.6 Million Offering of Common Shares,” the company has just closed its previously-announced bought deal public offering of 13,033,341 common shares. These shares were issued at a price of $1.50 per share, for aggregate gross proceeds of $19,550,012Mln CDN.

    Those funds are in addition to the $17.6Mln CDN windfall the Federal government provided earlier in March. 

    As outlined in the March 14th, 2017 CBC News post, “Vancouver’s UrtheCast gets $17.6M from feds for Earth observation technology,” the Federal funding, provided under the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI), will be used to develop “patented, cutting-edge technology” to be used in equip “a group of satellites for Earth observation and to make the high-resolution images easier for its customers to use.”

    The 3D printed spacecraft antenna interface bracket. Photo c/o

    As outlined in the March 24th, 2017 post, “Thanks to a Group Effort, 3D Printed Satellite Bracket Will Soon Go to Space,” the bracket, funded by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) under its Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) along with contributions from the Canada Makes’ Metal Additive Manufacturing Demonstration Program, still needs to be tested structurally in order to qualify to fly.

    While Canada is a latecomer to the benefits of 3D printing, the technology has become very popular among international aerospace companies because of the cost savings, durability and quick turn around time. 

    As outlined in the post, “satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral (an MDA subsidiary) kept costs and part mass down by using additive manufacturing to design the JCSAT-110A antenna tower, Poland’s first commercial satellite was created with a 3D printed housing and Boeing recently started to implement additive manufacturing into satellite production.”

    Even NASA has taken note. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2015 post, “Aerojet Rocketdyne completes first 3D printed parts for Orion spacecraft,” 3D printing technology is being used in a number of important NASA spacecraft.

    The ex-Alta 1. Graphic c/o AlbertaSat.
    • There’s no official word on when its going to launch, but when it does (and that could happen as early as Thursday), the University of Alberta (UofA) AlbertaSat 1 (ex-Alta 1), “will be propelling the province into the space industry by launching the first ever made-in-Alberta satellite.”

    As outlined in the March 21st, 2017 Satnews post, “University of Alberta’s Ex-Alta 1 Smallsat to Dig Into Space Weather,” the satellite, “is part of a newer generation of technologies that puts space exploration and research within reach of students and smaller startup companies.”

    Ex-Alta 1 is part of the international QB50 mission of about 50 smallsats built at universities around the world. The Albertan satellite will examine will space weather and attempt to better understand the powerful forces that pose a threat to spacecraft and other satellites as well as vital power and electronic networks on Earth.

    According to the article, a group of senior students involved with the project have created their own spinoff company, Promethean Labs, in order to offer expertise to clients in government and industry to commercialize the lessons learned from the project.

    Landing a rocket properly, ready for refueling and reuse. “as God and John W. Campbell intended.” Photo of the SpaceX’ Falcon-9 historic first landing on an ocean barge on April 8th, 2016. Photo c/o SpaceX.
    • Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aren’t the only ones considering reusable rockets. 

    As outlined in the March 23rd, 2017 Space Daily post, “Russia, China could cooperate on developing reusable rockets,” the South China Morning Post has reported that China “is developing a rocket whose first stage will be designed to be reusable. Such a rocket will be capable of competing with the rocket designed by Elon Musks’s SpaceX.”

    The article quoted Russian military expert Vasily Kashin as stating that, “the development of space carriers with returned stages is now considered as the most important direction for reducing costs of launching spacecraft into the orbit.”

    The article goes on to state that China should co-operate with Russia, which began work on reusable rockets in mid-2016. 

    As outlined in the January 21st, 2016 Space News post, “French government commissions report on rocket reuse, competitiveness,” other countries such as France have also been working to ramp up reusable rocket programs.

    For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

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