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OMX, Trump, Trudeau, Bombardier’s Bailout, the UK Space Agency, UK Spaceports, CSA Earth Imaging Grants & MAFIC Studios

Posted February 13, 2017 by Chuck Black
          By Henry Stewart

For the week of February 13th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we’re currently tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump met in Washington, DC on February 13th, 2017. For an overview of their public discussion, check out the February 13th, 2017 CBC News post, “Trudeau meets Trump: Watch the full news conference or read the transcript.” Photos c/o CBC News.

  • Toronto, ON based Offset Marketing Exchange (OMX) CEO Nicole Verkindt has an interesting perspective on the February 13th, 2017 meeting between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and new US President Donald Trump. 

As outlined in the February 13th, 2017 Linked-In post, “How America Won the Chicken War and why Trump will Try it Again,” the real secret to understanding the Trump agenda is to understand a West German tariff imposed at the end of World War II to support small, struggling German chicken farmers, and the US measures imposed in retaliation designed to cut off Volkswagen van imports.

As outlined in the post, “Not all wars have a clear winner, but it would seem today that Americans dominate in pickup trucks much more so than Germans do in chickens. The “Chicken Tax” essentially legislated American success in the light truck market, and now President Trump is hoping to recreate this same sort of success in other markets.” 

The article is certainly a more nuanced assessment of Trump, Trudeau and their respective agendas than is typical in these polarized times. Only time will tell if the assessment ends up being more accurate.

OMX was first profiled in the January 23rd, 2013 post, “Buy Canada: New Firm Tracks IRB Offsets.” 

  • Montreal, PQ based Bombardier Inc. has its bailout. But the new funds come with new concerns over Brazil’s latest World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to Bombardier’s Federal and provincial government support.

As outlined in the February 7th, 2017 CBC News post, “Federal government to give $372.5M in loans to Bombardier,” the Justin Trudeau government has said that it will provide $372.5Mln CDN in interest-free loans to Bombardier, “a move that elicited criticism even though it is far less than the transportation giant originally sought more than a year ago.” 

As outlined in the June 30th, 2016 Bombardier press release, “Bombardier closes the Government of Québec’s investment in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership,” the company has also received $1Bln US ($1.31Bln CDN) in recent funding from the Quebec provincial government along with a number of smaller grants and tax breaks. 

But, as outlined in the February 13th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, “Brazil’s WTO challenge over aid to Bombardier is good for the aviation market,” the government of Brazil has requested consultations with the Canadian government regarding “subsidies provided to local manufacturer Bombardier for the development of its new C Series commercial jets.” 

Brazil’s request, supported by the CEO of Brazilian based Embraer SA, the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate generally considered to be Bombardier’s major competition, highlights “subsidies in excess of $4-billion (U.S.) provided by Canada’s national, provincial and local governments.” 

As outlined in the article, “attempts to resolve this matter via diplomatic channels have proved unsuccessful, leaving the Brazilian government with no option but to request WTO consultations, action that Embraer supports.”

Bombardier was last profiled in the November 1st, 2016 post, “Is Bombardier Another Example of a Company Unable to Find Success in Canada?” 

  • The UK Space Agency has launched a £10Mln GBP ($16.35CDN) plan to grow the UK based commercial spaceflight market. 

As outlined in the February 10th, 2017 Room post, “UK Space Agency announces £10 million scheme to develop commercial spaceflight launch capabilities,” the program is designed to help “develop commercial launch capability for spaceflight – a market that is worth an estimated £25 billion over the next 20 years.”

The funding “must be used to develop spaceflight capabilities, such as adapting launch vehicle technology for use in the UK or building spaceport infrastructure.” Businesses expected to bid for a share of the newly allocated funding are likely to be joint enterprises of launch vehicle operators and potential launch sites.

While the contest is being held, the UK government has also committed to “preparing legislation to develop a safe and competitive regulatory environment for spaceflight. This work goes hand-in-hand with government’s work internationally to achieve the technical, trade and policy agreements necessary for UK based launch services and developing interest from launch customers and operators from around the world.”

All in all, it sounds like the sort of plan that any moderately sized country (and many venture capital firms) could reproduce fairly quickly and easily. Here’s hoping the Canadian government takes notice. 

  • The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is funding a variety of programs exploring new uses for Earth observation (EO) satellites on their own, and in conjunction with Earth based observation techniques.

As outlined in the February 9th, 2017 CSA Earth observation application development post, “Innovative EO solutions: exploring the benefits of using satellites and drones together,” the CSA is exploring “the complementary use of drones and satellites to enhance EO applications and provide more comprehensive solutions to end-users,” through its Earth Observation Application Development Program (EOADP).

Seven concept studies are currently being funded up to a maximum of $100,000 CDN. They include: 

  • An application for “Mapping and classifying wetlands,” through Kawartha Lakes, ON based AG-UAV
  • An application for “identifying the presence of pests in agriculture,” through Montreal, PQ based Effigis Geo Solutions
  • Two applications for “monitoring algae blooms” the first, focused around “the use of hyperspectral sensors aboard drones to simulate coarse-resolution data for specific regions,” through Quebec City, PQ based Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) and the second, focused on collecting data “from EO satellites along with hyperspectral and thermal infrared sensors aboard drones,” through Waterloo, ON based H2O Goematics. 
  • An application for “providing land measurements to the mining sector,” through Vancouver, BC based TRE Altamira
  • An application for “detecting land movement caused by industrial activities,” through Victoria, BC based ASL Environmental Sciences
  • An application to “monitor pipelines” through St. John’s, Newfoundland based C-Core.

As outlined in the post, The EOADP program has also provided funding (up to $300,000 CDN) to explore potential uses for EO satellites focused on the management of disasters involving landslides, wildfires, flooding, oil and ice detection, and ice travel. 

The Canadian companies selected to receive funding under this program include 3vGeomatics Inc., AECOM Consultants Inc., Array Systems Computing Inc., AUG Signals Ltd., C-CORE, Hatfield Consultants, MDA Geospatial Services Inc. (a part of Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), PCI Geomatics, PolarView Canada and TRE Altamira.

The Sudbury based graphic design firm, last profiled in the April 17th, 2016 post, “Sudbury Graphics Design Firm Sees the Big Picture,” is still diligently focused on providing realistic and accurate images for the scientific, engineering and aerospace community. 

As outlined by owner Kris Holland, the new reel was constructed completely in-house, with the exception of the music, which was created by 

As outlined by Holland, “I’m always trying to improve the products I offer, so that the technical community can better convey its message, in order to raise both awareness and funds.  This demo shows the breadth of what I have to offer, from stills, animation, and full production of scripted media.

For more information, check out the Mafic studios website at

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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Look Ma! No Canadarms!!! MDA & Orbital ATK Battle for US On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts

Posted February 12, 2017 by Chuck Black

          By Chuck BlackRichmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) has issued a press release announcing that its “US business unit,” the Paulo Alto, CA based Space Systems Loral (SSL), has “entered into an agreement with the…

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Satellite Servicing, Orbital ATK, MDA, "Security Control Agreements," CETA, Minister Duncan’s Science Adviser & Nova Scotia Spaceports

Posted January 31, 2017 by Chuck Black
          By Henry Stewart

NASA is waiting for the incoming Trump administration to notice its space program. Canada is also waiting for Trump, if only to help define our ongoing role in NASA programs.

But Canada’s space industry is also waiting for the Trudeau government to fill all those space focused committees, plans and positions promised over the last year as outlined in the January 16th, 2017 post, “The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency ‘Long-Term Strategy.'”

Given those constraints, and for the week of January 30th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we’re currently tracking in the Commercial Space blog:

An overview of the RSGS program. As outlined in the March 25th, 2016 DARPA post, “Program Aims to Facilitate Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites,” the servicing vehicle “jointly developed with a commercial partner would leverage DARPA’s successes in space robotics and accelerate revolutionary capabilities for working with satellites currently beyond reach.” Or not, depending on who you talk with. Graphic c/o DARPA.

As outlined in the January 26th, 2017 Space News post, “DARPA satellite-servicing project comes under congressional fire,” Four US lawmakers have complained to DARPA and the Pentagon that the DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program “appears to run afoul of a national space policy that discourages the government from developing space systems and services it could otherwise buy from the private sector.”

The disgruntled US policymakers include House representatives Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). 

According to the lawmakers, DARPA should “stop any further action on RSGS” until DARPA completes a review “to ensure its compliance with the 2010 national space policy.” 

At least one US policymaker, representative Hunter, said the RSGS program “essentially duplicates NASA’s Restore-L mission and muddies the business case for commercial companies,” chiefly by “indirectly subsidizing space-related activities that private enterprises are willing and able to carry out on their own.”

According to the article, “this week’s attention to RSGS comes about nine months after Orbital ATK’s Space Logistics subsidiary signed its multimillion-dollar contract with Intelsat to provide life extension services for multiple spacecraft over the course of five years. Orbital ATK inked the Intelsat agreement for services with its Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, last April; DARPA issued its initial solicitation for RSGS the following month.”

The article also singled out two other potential commercial competitors for on-orbit satellite services, Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) which, as noted in the December 12th, 2016 post, “Will the New Space Systems Loral $127Mln NASA Space Robotic Servicing Contract Help Canada?” was the recipient of the NASA Restore-L contract through its Space Systems Loral (SSL) connection, and United Kingdom based Effective Space Solutions, which is currently “building small satellites for life-extension and other services.”

MDA, which as outlined in the January 15th, 2012 post, “MDA Satellite Servicing Agreement with Intelsat Expires,” also once had a satellite servicing partnership with Intelsat, is considered to be the current front runner for the upcoming RSGS contracts, but only if it succeeds in obtaining Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI) compliance for its SSL facility in Palo Alto. 

Orbital ATK has so far declined to bid on the contracts. 

MDA HQ in Richmond, BC. Its future is currently dependent on the ongoing FOCI negotiations needed to obtain facility security clearance for its Space System Loral facility in Palo Alto, CA. Photo c/o T-Net.
  • Meanwhile, Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and its San Francisco, California based subsidiary (or holding company, depending on the MDA press release you favor) SSL MDA Holdings, Inc. has signed a “Security Control Agreement” with the US Department of Defense (DoD).

As outlined in the January 26th, 2017 MDA press release, “MDA signs a Security Control Agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense,” the contract “completes an important step in the process to position the Company to more effectively pursue the U.S. Government space and defense markets.” MDA will “now pursue facility security clearance for its operations in Palo Alto, CA to fully execute the Company’s broader U.S. growth strategy.” 

Under US law, and as outlined on the legal resources website page on “Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI) and US Facility Security Clearances:

… if a product or service provider is to access classified national security information in the performance of its contract, it must obtain a facility security clearance. A major part of the U.S. federal government’s vetting process for granting a facility security clearance involves assessing the organization’s Foreign Ownership, Control or Influence (FOCI).

But the security control agreement (SCA) is only one method of obtaining FOCI compliance and there are obvious limitations on its usefulness. 

“One on One with Howard Lance” back when he was CEO of Harris Corporation, from the January 5th, 2011 SpaceCast Business post, ” One on One with Howard Lance. More recently, the current MDA CEO has seemingly become much more reticent about speaking on the record. Photo c/o SpaceCast Business.

As outlined on the Faculty Clearance Portal (a service set up by Boston, MA based Secure Defense Consulting, for firms seeking a facility security clearance), although “the Security Control Agreement (SCA) is now the instrument least commonly used to mitigate the security risks of Foreign Ownership, Control, or Influence (FOCI), this is not really due to the SCA being undesirable.”

The SCA’s relative unpopularity is more likely due to companies seeking FOCI compliance being owned or controlled by a foreign entity, which the SCA does not mitigate. 

According to the post, other available options to mitigate FOCI requirements include Special Security Agreements (intended to “mitigate the security risks of the foreign ownership or control while allowing the foreign entity to appoint representatives to the company’s board of directors“) and the more restrictive Proxy Agreement or Voting Trust Agreement (which “take away much of the foreign investors’control of the company“). 

It’s certainly unusual for a foreign company such as MDA to first apply for the SCA clearance when one of the more restrictive options are required. The standard process for the company applying for FOCI clearance is to obtain only the level required in order to fulfill business requirements, which the SCA has not provided to MDA in this case.

Which process will MDA now pursue to obtain facility security clearance for Palo Alto? Stay tuned.

Greenpeace also opposed CETA, although perhaps not for reasons the Canadian space industry might understand. As outlined in the October 30th, 2016 Sputnik post, “Greenpeace on Upcoming Signing of CETA Deal: ‘Cat is out of the Bag‘,” the CETA deal could “undermine standards and regulations on environmental protection, health and safety and workers’ rights.” Photo c/o REUTERS/ Agencja Gazeta/Kuba Atys.
  • It was claimed by unnamed “”space industry” sources that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (EU), intended to eliminate 98% of the tariffs between the two, would cause great concern if ever enacted.

However, as outlined in the January 24th, 2017 EU press release, “CETA: Trade Committee MEPs back EU-Canada agreement,” that doesn’t seem to have discouraged plans to move the deal forward. According to the press release, the trade deal, “which aims to boost goods and services trade and investment flows, was approved by the International Trade Committee on Tuesday.” 

And, as outlined in the October 28th, 2016 EUObserver post, “Belgium green lights unchanged CETA,” the last of the 28 EU member states ratified the agreement back in October 2016, after almost a decade of negotiation.

CETA also enjoyed strong bipartisan political support in Canada. The original negotiations were concluded in August 2014 under the Stephen Harper Conservative government and then embraced by the incoming Liberal Justin Trudeau government after it gained power in October 2015. As outlined in the October 28th, 2016 post, “Trudeau Brussels-bound to sign CETA on Sunday,” the current Canadian PM even visited Brussels in October, 2016 to sign-off on the final agreement. 

The Canadian kerfuffle over CETA began with the publication of the December 14th, 2016 (now SpaceQ) post, “Free Trade Deal With Europe a Serious Cause for Concern for Canadian Space Industry,” which referenced unnamed sources who claimed that CETA implementation “could have a significant negative effect on Canada’s domestic space industry.” 

The article also claimed that the CETA agreement allowed European “access to the Canadian civil space tendering process for goods and services,” but provided “little to no reciprocal access for Canadian companies” which might want to bid on European space projects.

Certainly we’ll find out the truth over the next little while. Bidders on Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contracts should possess a robust network of Canadian based employees and subcontractors able to fulfill space agency requirements and contribute to Canadian jobs, no matter where the head office might be located.

Movement in this area publicly languished for almost a full year as the government collected background information on the role, but finally started picking up stream in late 2016 when, as outlined in the December 6th, 2016 CTV News post, “Help wanted: Canada seeks new ‘Chief Science Advisor’,” the government began accepting applications.

Originally, applications were expected to remain open only until January 27th, 2017, but last week, Duncan announced an extension until February 8th, 2017.

The delay indicates a certain confusion at the ministerial level. It’s quite possible that either the mandate for the position has not been defined enough to choose the appropriate candidate or else the appropriate candidate has, so far at least, not applied.

It will be interesting to see what the cause for the delay turns out to be. 

    Screenshot c/o CBC News.
  • And finally, another company has begun making noises about building a Canadian launch facility.

This time, as outlined in the January 31st, 2017 CBC News post, “Why a $100M rocket launch site might be coming to Nova Scotia,” it’s a small Nova Scotia based technology company, with American partners and undefined funding.

It’s also the most recent of numerous plans to create a Canadian spaceport, either on the East coast or somewhere else. 

The most recent previous plan was covered in the  September 11th, 2016 post “Ukranian Based Yuzhnoye Design Office Eyeing a Canadian Spaceport for its Cyclone-4 Rocket.” 

That plan had launchers, flight heritage and a defined business plan. This plan seems to be using the same basic building blocks (Cyclone-4 rockets looking for a North American launch facility) but subcontracted out the front facing PR people to someone outside of the Ukrainian based Yuzhnoye Design Office, which builds the Cyclone-4.

Of course, at some point, someone will need to step in with the estimated “$150Mln US (just under $200Mln CDN) in cash or kind,” which was identified by John Isella, Yuzhnove’s North American business representative, as the minimum investment needed to fund the facility in September 2016.

Given that, here’s wishing them the best. 

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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Elon Musk, Donald Trump, The Globe & Mail, MDA, exactEarth & NASA Admins Bolden & Newman, Who Say Buh Bye

Posted January 24, 2017 by Chuck Black
          By Henry Stewart

For the week of January 23rd, 2017, here are some of the items we’re currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

  • It’s odd to consider SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a guest of US president Donald Trump at the White House on the first day of the new administration. The two are generally perceived  to have diametrically opposed worldviews.  

But, as outlined in the January 23rd, 2017 Business Insider post, “Elon Musk and other executives are at the White House to meet with President Trump,” that’s exactly the situation the two seems to have found themselves in. 

According to the article, Musk is one of “several executives attending President Donald Trump’s meeting on manufacturing Monday morning. Reuters’ reporter Roberta Rampton snapped a shot of Musk in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, along with executives from Lockheed Martin, Whirlpool, Under Armour, and Johnson & Johnson.”

And, “although Musk and Trump have diametrically opposing views when it comes to climate change, the two seem to be aligned when it comes to US manufacturing.”

This is the third meeting between the entrepreneur and the incoming US president over the last few weeks. Trump said on Monday morning that he would cut regulations by 75% to encourage businesses to manufacture their products in the US, though it’s unclear if he was referring to the number of regulations or their cost.

  • Back in Canada, it’s normally a bit unusual for the “paper of record,” to promote publicly traded stocks, but that certainly seems to be the situation with the January 22nd, 2017 Globe and Mail post, “Analysts think now is a good time to buy MDA,” which tracked some of the recent ups and downs at Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA).

Fortunately, the article proper is certainly more ambiguous than the title would suggest. 

It’s primary thesis is that, “investors hoping a new American chief executive officer at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. would help boost the shares of the satellite technology firm may have to be patient this year.”

Reasons given include “a weaker communications satellite market” and delays in receiving the necessary US security clearances, which are needed to allow MDA to bid on larger Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and US military satellite contracts.

The Globe piece also noted that US based CEO Howard Lance, “declined to be interviewed for this article.”

But the article did reference a variety of other analysts, including Raymond James analyst Steven Li, who categorized classified US government business as incremental revenue which “won’t likely contribute meaningfully until 2018 at the earliest.”

I think some of the issues will resolve themselves,” over the next year or so, said BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Thanos Moschopoulos, who has an “outperform” rating on MDA stock, and an $83 CDN target for the next 12 to 18 months.
  • Cambridge, Ontario based exactEarth Ltd. has posted a Q4 loss on lower overall sales. As outlined in the January 19th, 2017 Waterloo Region Record post, “Cambridge-based ExactEarth post $4.1M Q4 loss on lower sales,” the loss was attributed to “a reduction in revenue from a contract with the federal government.” 

That contract was originally outlined in the February 14th, 2016 post, “Newborn exactEarth Faces its First Battle for the Worm,” and revisited in the May 7th, 2016 post, “Orbcomm, Skywave, exactEarth, CSA Rovers, High School Robotics, MDA, Emerson, Magellan, Honeywell & UrtheCast,” 

As outlined in those earlier posts, what had begun in February as a simple renewal of an existing exactEarth Federal government contract worth $19Mln CDN, had shrunk in value to only $116,000 CDN by May 2016. 

Of course, as outlined in the January 19th, 2017 exactEarth press release, “exactEarth Reports Fiscal 2016 Financial Results,” waiting for government contracts hasn’t been the only revenue generating activity the company has engaged in since it was spun off by parent COM DEV International in January 2016. 

2016 operational highlights include the development of partnerships with Chinese based EV Image Inc. (to distribute exactEarth data in China), Ottawa based Larus Technologies (to develop new “Big Data” analytics applications for the maritime market) and Colorado based DigitalGlobe (to combat “illegal and unreported fishing“), plus expanded collaboration in a variety of areas with Louisville, Kentucky based Genscape

The year also included the signing of a new four year contract with the French Navy and a “small-vessel tracking contract” with the Government of Ghana. 

2016 financial highlights include $18.9Mln CDN in new revenue (with 80% being subscription based, a 30% increase over 2015), an increase in order booking to $27.2Mln CDN (up from $10.0Mln CDN in 2015) and an adjusted EBITDA of $0.52Mln CDN with a cash balance of $13.7Mln CDN as of October 31th, 2016.

Outgoing deputy administrator Newman with outgoing administrator Bolden and incoming acting administrator Lightfoot at a NASA “town hall meeting” on January 12th, 2017. Photo c/o NASA/Bill Ingalls.

As outlined in the January 12th, 2017 Space Policy Online post, “Lightfoot to be Acting NASA Administrator, CFO Radzanowski to Stay On – UPDATE,” Bolden and Newman, as political appointees representing the outgoing Barack Obama administration, ended their tenures at noon on January 20th, 2017, when president Obama formally finished out his term and was replaced by incoming US president Donald Trump

The new administration is moving slowly to replace the open NASA positions. 

As outlined in the January 22nd, 2017 Space News Post, “Trump administration assigns first political appointees to NASA,” NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot has taken over as acting NASA administrator, at least for the short term. 

The Trump administration has also appointed Erik Noble, a Trump campaign political data analyst (who also spent seven years at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies) to serve as White House senior adviser and Greg Autry, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California (who is considered a proponent of commercial space activities) as White House liaison.

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

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

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2016: The Year in Space for Canada

Posted December 20, 2016 by Chuck Black
          By Chuck Black

Much like our retired snowbirds, Canada’s space sector spent large portions of the year fantasizing about better times while attempting to relocate to balmier climes and taking photos of family get-togethers.

Unfortunately, while we were busy enjoying those fantasies, any government incentives to help us actually do something have been drying up amid Federal promises to “form committees” which “assess the situation.

But back in the real world, historians have at least uncovered intermittent reminders of our once impressive past accomplishments, and small Canadian businesses with private funding led the way towards a potential future. Maybe it will be enough.

With that in mind, here are some of the high and low points for the Canadian space sector in 2016.

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen (left) seems to be encouraging the cautious, but curious Minister Bains to pull his finger during a presentation at CSA headquarters in St-Hubert, Que. As outlined in the January 7th, 2016 Canadian Press post, “Canada awards contract to build vision system for space station,” both were on hand to announce “that a $1.7-million design contract has been awarded to an Ottawa firm to develop the monitoring system made up of lasers and cutting-edge cameras.” Photo c/o  Paul Chaisson/ Canadian Press.

The year began on a high note, with the announcement by Navdeep Bains, the newly minted Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) had allocated $1.7Mln CDN to Kanata, Ontario based Neptec Design Group for the creation of a new damage detection system for close-up surface inspection on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS).

Unfortunately, as outlined in the January 10th, 2016 post, “Innovation Minister’s Latest Announcement a Rehash of November 2015 Announcement,” that announcement had been made at least once before, in November 2015, and the origins of the contract go back even further, to the previous Stephen Harper conservative government.
Which probably didn’t assist the new liberal government’s intent to create the impression that they care about science and space.
According to Julie Simard, the CSA’s acting manager for strategic communications, the initial November 25th, 2015 announcement that Neptec was awarded the contract was not intended to be an “announcement,” but was intended instead to be a “routine administrative procedure,” which no one was expected to notice.

Out with the old and in with the new. A  screen-shot  of COM DEV’s website on February 8th, 2016 beside a second screen-shot of the same website taken on December 9th, 2016. Screen-shots c/o Honeywell COM DEV. 

In February common shares of Cambridge, Ontario based COM DEV International were de-listed from the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) as the iconic Canadian company finished up its final task of becoming a subsidiary of New Jersey based Honeywell International

To commemorate, this blog commissioned a five part series covering the short history of COM DEV, beginning with the February 8th, 2016 post on “Part 1: John Hansen, Samuel Singer and Michael Valentine O’Donovan,” 
Not all of our fellow journalists were as charitable.

Some even pointed fingers at the newly installed Justin Trudeau government, which decided not to review the sale, even though it may have been legally obligated to do so. For an example of this viewpoint, check out the February 29th, 2016 Space News post, “Why didn’t Canada put up a fight for Com Dev?

In the final analysis, it’s worth noting that the COM DEV sale was, as quoted from our short history of COM DEV cited above, “not not the only recent sale of an iconic and militarily significant Canadian company to the US” nor was it the only Canadian company “built on the back of no small amount of government largesse.”
exactEarth Ltd. (XCT) CEO Peter Mabson (center, at the podium) joined Rob Peterman, the director of global business development for the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and quite a number of others, to open the market on February 11th, 2016. The company was first listed on the TSX only two days earlier, on February 9th. Photo c/o CNW Group/TMX Group Limited.
As outlined in the November 7th, 2015 post, “Should the proposed COM DEV sale to US based Honeywell trigger the Investment Canada Act?,” the COM DEV sale was not, initially at least, considered an unmitigated disaster for Canada. 
COM DEV spun out its exactEarth subsidiary into a separate, Canadian owned public company, in order to keep the total value of the sale under the amount that triggers an automatic Federal government review under the Investment Canada Act (ICA). The spin-off also gave Canada another hi-tech space-focused company to root for.

But almost immediately, and as outlined in the February 14th, 2016 post, “Newborn exactEarth Faces its First Battle for the Worm,” the new firm found itself in direct competition with New Jersey based Orbcomm for the renewal of a “key Canadian satellite-AIS contract.

That contract was originally worth $19Mln CDN when last won by exactEarth, back when it was a subsidiary of COM DEV. However, the dollar amount ended up shrinking substantially by the time the new contract was finally awarded.

As outlined in the May 7th, 2016 post, “Orbcomm, Skywave, exactEarth, CSA Rovers, High School Robotics, MDA, Emerson, Magellan, Honeywell & UrtheCast,” the new contract was now only worth $116,000 CDN in total. For exactEarth, this represented an approximately $600,000 CDN reduction in revenue for each month the contract was in force, which was a big hit to take given that the firm only booked $26.6Mln CDN in total revenue for the twelve month period ending October 31st, 2015. 
At this rate, exactEarth will never get the chance to become one of those iconic space companies “built on the back of no small amount of government largesse,” like its COM DEV parent.

While Federal ministers were attempting to avoid providing any new funding for space, they seemed to have no problem being associated with the photo opportunities which naturally flow from a space program. Top Left: CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques, CSA president Sylvain Laporte and Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) space and robotics manager Peter Visscher discuss Canada’s newest (and, so far at least, missionless) rovers with Innovation Minister Bains at CSA headquarters on May 5th, 2016. Top Right: Innovation Minister Bains at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) with astronaut David Saint-Jacques and surrounded by students from Marc Garneau Elementary School plus the So-What Youth for Science Program on May 16th, 2016, making the announcement that Saint-Jacques would visit the ISS in 2018. Bottom Left: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, announcing a $48.5Mln CDN upgrade of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Polar Epsilon 2 program on June 17th, 2016. As outlined in the July 17th, 2016 post, “That 2013 “Fixed Pricing” Contract for RCM Might Not be Entirely Fixed,” the Polar Epsilon project was an add-on to the original RADARSAT Constellation mission (RCM), which also originated with the previous government. Bottom Right: Minister Bains at CASM again, this time on June 17th, 2016, when he announced an open call for two new Canadian astronauts. Photo’s c/o CSA, Adrian Wyld/ Canadian Press & MDA.

By March, it was becoming apparent that many of the hopes placed in the palms of the new liberal government by Canadian space advocates might just possibly be misplaced.

As outlined in the March 13th, 2016 post, “Waiting for Garneau,” ex-astronaut and veteran liberal MP Marc Garneau, was too busy with the transport portfolio even to begin to focus on the space industry.

And, as outlined in the March 27th, 2016 post, “No Puppies Falling from the Heavens With Space Funding in this Federal Budget,” the March 2016 Federal budget didn’t help much either. 

It instead predicted large deficits over the next five years (beginning with $29.4Bln CDN in the first year), which would be used to finance tax-free monthly child benefits, more money for First Nations, infrastructure spending and extended employment insurance benefits to hard-hit regions.

But not space…

And the “big announcement,” that the government has committed up to $379Mln CDN over eight years (beginning in 2017), to maintain Canada’s commitment to its International Space Station (ISS) partners, is something the government always knew it had to do in order to preserve slots for Canadian astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen to travel to the ISS in 2019 and 2021.

However, those travel commitments were made well before the current government took office, much like that award to Neptec in January 2016, which was discussed earlier in this post.

Science minister Duncan at the at the 8th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC2016) in Ottawa on November 10th, 2016. As outlined in the November 10th, 2016 transcript of her speech under the title, “Minister Duncan Reflections: One Year as Minister of Science,” much work has occurred over the past year “to rebuild the government’s respect for and trust in our scientists,” but much remained to be done. Photo c/o Chuck Black.
By June, as outlined in the June 13th, 2016 post, “Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science,” the Federal government felt uncomfortable enough with its performance to announce a “comprehensive review” of just about all Federal funding for science and academics as part of “Canada’s Innovation Agenda.”
It included the activities of the National Research Council (NRC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), as well as programs like the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the various Canada Research Chairs, Genome Canada and others.

The committee was originally expected to present to Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan before the end of the year. As of December 19th, it hasn’t. Twelve presenting days left till the end of the year!

Later in the year, as outlined in the October 18th, 2016 post, “A Quick Update to ‘Iconic Macdonald Dettwiler is now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company’,” there was a second government announcement that “the Government of Canada is seeking candidates for a Space Advisory Board that is inclusive, forward-thinking and positioned to drive innovation and science in Canada, and that will help identify future opportunities for economic growth that will benefit all Canadians.”

Even more recently, as announced in the December 12th, 2016 post, “exactEarth, Lybid-1, the CSA (which Needs more Committees) and the Upcoming 2017 Earth Observation Summit,” the CSA organized three more committees tasked with providing “independent advice to the CSA on Space Utilization science priorities and (to) provide feedback on CSA programs and initiatives.”

We’re hopeful that, in 2017, at least one of those committees will issue some sort of report, announcing something. Frankly, almost any announcement which doesn’t involve forming another committee would be an improvement over 2016.

CSA international partnerships with other space agencies also seem to have been less successful in 2016 than in the past.

For example, as outlined in the March 28th, 2016 post, “Japanese Hitomi (ASTRO-H) Satellite Suffers Major Malfunction,” noted the failure of the The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hitomi (ASTRO-H) X-ray astronomy satellite, which was launched on February 17th, 2016.

Hitomi carried the Canadian built Astro-H Metrology System (CAMS), a laser alignment system used to measure the distortions in the extendable optical platform which the Hitomi satellite uses for image correction. The CAMS system was built by the Ottawa based Neptec Design Group, in consultation with Canadian researchers.

Also of note was the October 2016 crash of the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with Canadian participation.

As outlined in the October 24th, 2016 post, “Schiaparelli Goes Splat!,” the lander, the first of the two part exobiology on Mars (ExoMars) astrobiology project designed to search for evidence of Martian life, ceased communicating with ESA mission control approximately one minute before its planned touchdown on October 19th.

It wasn’t an altogether disastrous year for the CSA.  Canada’s Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat) was launched successfully by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), from Sriharikota, India, along with another Canadian satellite owned by Montreal based GHGSat Inc. on June 21st, 2016. As outlined in the June 22nd, 2016 CSA press release, “Canada’s M3MSat Successful Launch – Advancing Canada’s capabilities to monitor maritime traffic from space,” the M3MSat mission “will improve ship detection and marine traffic management in Canadian waters.” Photo c/o You-Tube.
In April, this blog focused on the first of two examples of well funded CSA studies which failed to turn into successful programs.

As outlined in the April 22nd, 2016 post, “2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said “Yes!” But CSA Didn’t Move Forward,” the CSA had the option to build and support a small domestic launcher, but chose not to.

And, as outlined in the September 26th, 2016 post, “The REAL Reason Why Canada Won’t Be Participating in the NASA Resolve Mission Anytime Soon, Probably!,” the CSA really, really wanted to contribute a rover to the NASA Resolve mission, but seems to have messed that up as well.

Once the headquarters of Canada’s preeminent space company, MDA HQ in Richmond, BC is now just another regional office for a Canadian subsidiary of a giant US multinational. Photo c/o T-Net.

One Canadian company which seemingly understood better than the rest the need to “get the hell out of Dodge,” was Burnaby, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA).

As outlined in the October 7th, 2016 post, “Iconic MacDonald Dettwiler is Now SSL MDA Holdings, a US Based Company with a Canadian Subsidiary,” only “eight years after the Federal government rejected its sale to US based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) because it was not of “net benefit” to the country, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) has quietly turned into a Delaware holding company, changed its name, added several new US based board members and moved its corporate headquarters to San Francisco.”

Best of all;

… those actions seem to have been undertaken without triggering a formal review under the Investment Canada Act (ICA), the Canadian Federal law governing large, foreign direct investment in Canada, which was used as the legal basis for rejecting the 2008 sale (of MDA to ATK, as outlined in the April 10th, 2008 CBC post, “Federal government blocks sale of MDA space division“)

That perception was reflected in both the October 17th, 2016 National Post article “U.S. firm stages ‘stealth takeover’ of Canada’s largest space tech company,” and the October 18th, 2016 National Post follow-up article, “EDC financing satellite construction in California because of ‘direct benefit’ to Canada.”

Maybe ICA reviews are like the Star Trek prime directive, which seems notable only for being ignored.

Of course, MDA begged to differ. 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,” it claimed, at least as outlined by MDA communications manager Wendy Keyzer, to have never left the country or sold any Canadian technology to the US.

At this point, the real resolution to this difference of opinion appears destined for our “top stories of 2017” coverage.

But perhaps the most important space story of 2016 is how the activities of the space sector are being driven by the private sector, and not the public sector.

As outlined in both the October 3rd, 2016 post, “Sixteen Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers,” and its follow-up October 12th, 2016 post, “Sixteen More Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers,” almost three dozen privately funded rocket companies are currently in operation.

And, as outlined in the November 20th, 2016 post, “SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table,” more satellites are expected to launch into orbit over the next few years than have been launched since our current space age began in 1958. 

Most of those new satellites will be privately funded.

Toronto based Kepler Communications, as last profiled in the August 16th, 2016 post, “Kepler Communications Raises $5Mln in Venture Funding,” is certainly one of the rising stars of the Canadian space industry, but there are others such as Montreal, PQ based GHGSat which, as outlined in the December 9th, 2016 GHGSat press release, “Claire Makes 500th Measurement!,” is slowly turning its small emissions tracking satellite into a major revenue stream.

And maybe that’s the real future of Canada’s space industry, as private sector companies competing for market share and profits rather than as supplicants of a government funded program with no defined goal.

Author Robert Godwin with Colleen Lapp at the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) Toronto branch meeting at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) on November 24th, 2016. Godwin was in town to speak on the topic of “The Empire Strikes Out – The Commonwealth Space Program,” and to promote his latest books. According to Godwin, Phil Lapp “embodied Canadian Space achievement” and even “put the space in CASI.” Among other things, Lapp helped to found the Canadian Astronautical Society (CAS) in 1957, and then helped it merge with the Canadian Aeronautical Institute (CAI) to become the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) in 1962. Photo c/o Chuck Black. Graphic c/o CG Publishing.

It’s also noteworthy that two books focused on Canadian aerospace and space pioneers were published this year.

This blog covered those books in the November 27th, 2016 post, “Apogee Publishes New Book on ‘The Father of Canadian Astronautics’,” and the September 12th, 2016 post on “William Leitch: Presbyterian Scientist & the Concept of Rocket Spaceflight 1854-64.”

So what’s going to happen next year in space for Canada? Find out, when the Commercial Space blog returns with all new stories beginning January 3rd, 2017.

Chuck Black.


Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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