If anyone thought MDA was leaving Canada, they better think again. The announcement on Monday that they had acquired Ottawa based Neptec Design Group is an example of how the company is consolidating its hold on key technologies.
A weakened space sector
The acquisition is a reflection of a weakened civil space sector where no significant government projects are in the offing.
Faced with a diminished civil space sector and an ever increasing competitive market, Neptec found itself hard pressed to maintain its current level of operations, let alone grow.
For MDA, acquiring Neptec at this time was fortuitous as the price wasn’t steep, and importantly, it also satisfies MDA’s parent company Maxar Technologies desire to acquire assets based in the United Kingdom (U.K.). Neptec has a U.K. division. Adding Harwell based Neptec U.K. to MDA’s portfolio was an important piece and could prove beneficial. Call it a double win for MDA and Maxar.
It’s no secret that while the Canadian government vocally supports industry, it isn’t putting any new significant money into the civil space program. Meanwhile countries like the U.K. are aggressively moving forward with plans to capture a greater share of the global space marketplace. To do that they are investing in space infrastructure including spaceports, and are setting the stage for decades of potential growth.
Australia is an interesting example as well. On July 1st the Australian Space Agency was reborn. Yes, you read that correctly. Twenty years ago successive apathetic Australian governments shut down the agency, citing economic reasons. Today, the new Australian Space Agency has bipartisan support and was born again for economic reasons*.
As with other markets the space sector needs a balance of government support to go along with natural market forces. Currently in Canada, the balance isn’t there and this deal is a reflection of that.
MDA and Neptec technologies aligned
As outlined in the press release, adding Neptec’s suite of technologies to MDA aligns well with its plans for on-orbit servicing, space mining and space manufacturing. Critically, and depending on your perspective, it limits and makes the government choice of who to select for several contracts related to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway program rather easy. That is, should Canada commit to the U.S. led program.
Not everyone is pleased with the acquisition. Several sources have told SpaceQ over the years that MDA is already too big and it’s hard to compete for contracts. This deal won’t help that perception.
MDA is paying C$42 million to acquire Neptec with only C$8 million being in cash and the balance in Maxar common shares. With Maxar’s outstanding share listed at 56.4 million as of May 2, per MDA filings, they’ll need less than 489,000 to satisfy the deal based on yesterdays closing price.
In his statement, Paul Nephin, Neptec CEO, clearly sees how leveraging MDA and Maxar could help grow Neptec’s business. “In our nearly 30-year history, Neptec has contributed critical systems to some of the most demanding space exploration missions, and we’ve built a reputation for making things work in challenging environments. Combining our capabilities with MDA creates a tremendous opportunity to win new business and continue to expand our footprint in Canada, the United Kingdom and globally.”
Mike Greenley, MDA’s Group President concurred with Nephin saying “today’s announcement provides a tremendous opportunity to advance and grow MDA and Neptec internationally, develop powerful new technologies and drive future economies. The Neptec team is well-established in the industry, and this investment represents an important strategic opportunity to offer broader solutions for the growing space exploration market.”
The need to grow
In North America the commercial space sector has in recent years seen consolidation of several large companies. MDA acquired SSL then DigitalGlobe/Radiant Solutions to create Maxar Technologies. Honeywell acquired COM DEV. Orbital and ATK merged and then they were swallowed up by Northrop Grumman.
It’s clear by the moves that Maxar is making that it wants to get bigger. There could be more acquisitions on the horizon, though it’s hard to see any more in Canada at this time. Neptec was the prize.
It’s important to note that since the Maxar merger was completed, CEO Howard Lance has also been making the rounds to get institutional investors to increase Maxar’s shares in their portfolios. Related to this, with ETF’s booming, the two largest Aerospace ETF’s, iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense ETF and SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF, don’t include Maxar. There’s no question Maxar would like to be included in these ETF portfolios.
Maxar has also been much more visible at conferences and in sponsoring events such as the recent Politico chat with new NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
And as the news of the Neptec acquisition was being made public, Mike Greenley and others at MDA were concluding their day at Farnborough having met with key Cabinet ministers.
* Tune in tomorrow for the SpaceQ podcast where I speak with Australian industry veterans about the new Australian Space Agency and what it means for the country and how industry opened up the governments eyes to what was happening in their country.
The RFI was born from the Space Policy Framework which seeks to better position the private sector. It is a policy the previous Conservative government put into place and which the Liberals are continuing.
In this case, the CSA is looking to identify what it calls “effective business models.” I’ll add that I would read that to mean in part, cost-effective.
The RFI only covers missions and assets operated by the CSA. Currently those missions include SCISAT, NEOSSat and M3MSat. The CSA contributes to RADARSAT-2 operations which is under MDA ‘s control. Future mission operations under control by the CSA include the RADARSAT Constellation Mission after it launches and becomes operational later this year. And of course the CSA is planning on being involved in the U.S. led Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.
So what’s in for industry other than a possible public-private partneship? The possibility, with no guarantee, that a company could use government satellite operations capacity for their commercial use. It depends if there is any excess capacity.
Companies interested need to understand what the CSA Satellite Operations Centre does and does not do. According to the CSA “facilities comprise a Satellite Operations Centre (CSA-SOC) located at the CSA headquarters in Longueuil, QC, with the ground systems related to functions such as (but not limited to) mission planning, data production, spacecraft and payload control, spacecraft health and safety, and satellite sensor calibration. Through international arrangements, interdepartmental agreements, and commercial contracts, the CSA-SOC also has access to data downlink and Telemetry, Tracking, and Control (TT&C) infrastructure deployed elsewhere in Canada and abroad.”
The RFI is not limited to interest from a single company. It can include interest from consortiums. A consortium might also include a university.
The CSA also has provided two scenarios for industry to consider.
Scenario A: Managed Operations Services for Satellite Missions. This scenario would rely on a Prime Contractor to fulfill operational functions of a specific satellite mission or a group of missions under GC authority. The Prime Contractor would form an industrial team/consortium to perform groups of related operational functions set out in section 2.5 required for specific mission or a group of missions.
Scenario B: Managed Operation Services for Operational Functions. This scenario relies on a number of contractors to fulfill a specific operational function or a group of functions set out in section 2.5 across all the satellite missions under GC authority. Contractors can in turn subcontract certain functions to complete their portfolio.
It’s not the first time that Catapult has partnered with a Canadian company. In January Catapult partnered with exactEarth so that UK companies could use exactEarth’s satellite Automatic Identification System (AIS) data.
To discuss Catapult’s and Kepler’s new partnership, SpaceQ spoke with Jeffrey Osborne, Co-founder & Vice President of Business Development at Toronto based Kepler Communications.
Kepler is developing next-generation satellite communication technologies for the Machine to Machine and Internet of Things satellite market with the goal of launching a constellation of 140 satellites for that developing marketplace. To date they’ve launched one of three demonstration satellites. Another will launch this summer followed now by another in mid-2019.
We also discussed their application with the US FCC to get a spectrum license for their satellites as well as a recent contract with the Canadian Space Agency and their experience launching with China.
Ahead of recording this weeks SpaceQ podcast, I asked Jeffry some preliminary questions.
Is there any particular reason you are choosing to work in the UK rather than partner with a Canadian company or developing a supply chain in Canada?
I would never use the term “rather than” when talking suppliers in Canada vs. UK vs. anywhere else. I think “in addition to” is more appropriate. We do recognize that we need to take advantage of the unique characteristics of multiple locals in order to be competitive globally. Canada is a great location for a lot of reasons, and I can’t see those reasons changing in the near future. For instance, we rely on a lot of fantastic suppliers here in Canada for much of our payload development. In addition to the great supply chain and partners here in Canada, we see the IOD (In-Orbit Demonstration Mission) as an opportunity to augment those with international partners.
Was you decision influenced in part by the apparent lack of Canadian government support for the space sector?
Definitely not. For instance we were just awarded an STDP (Space Technology Development Program) (contract) by the CSA (Canadian Space Agency), and that is made possible by some of the great people at the CSA who believe in entrepreneurship and believe in supporting small businesses. I believe that the Canadian Government punches above its weight class when it comes to support for the industry.
Does this mean that future satellites for your constellation will be built in the UK?
Nothing is set yet in terms of where our future satellites will be built. We have a good opportunity here to really compare different places and figure out what makes sense.
Listen in as Jeffrey and I continue the discussion in our podcast.
Episode 53: Jeffrey Osborne of Kepler Communications on Their Satellite Constellation - SoundCloud (1120 secs long, 134 plays)Play in SoundCloud
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Although it started with an objection, the 61st meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) reaffirmed the role of the Committee as a unique venue where member States and Observers may inform, learn, express appreciation, voice concern and simply come together to discuss particular issues and raise aspirational bars regarding the exploration and use of space.
Following the cooperative spirit and pageantry of UNISPACE+50, it was rather ironic that an entire morning was given to debating whether North Korea should be officially permitted to observe the COPUOS session. Those opposed argued that it would contradict the fundamental purpose of the Committee – to promote the peaceful use of outer space – to allow a nation whose space program is carried out in violation of many UN Security Resolutions to participate in the Committee’s work. Those in favor pointed out that there exists no precedent to deny the right of any state that is a member of the United Nations to participate in COPUOS.
As the debate raged on, it brought to mind Douglas Adams’ wry introduction to our Earth.
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy,” Adams wrote in the masterwork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
And indeed, as we contemplate the vastness of space and the baby-steps we have taken to explore its mysteries, a meeting in Vienna of diplomatic representatives from 87 member States which commenced this year with predictable, if not formulaic debate felt dated, futile and yes, even primitive.
But beyond this ultimately procedural disagreement, the discussion fostered by the 61st session was far from primitive. It was, instead focused on the very real, very concrete and very modern effort to harness space exploration to address global challenges and promote the development of a sustainable space economy.
What is clear, and clearly understood is that as the roster of space actors – both private and governmental – grows, the need for a system to govern space activities becomes increasingly essential. After all, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, colloquially known as the Outer Space Treaty, or OST, is just that – an agreement on general principles. Certainly, the OST enshrines two foundational principles: 1) the common interest in the exploration and use of outer space; and 2) the freedom of that exploration. To that end, it makes clear that neither the Moon nor any other celestial bodies shall be “subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.” However, it does not create rights, provide regulation or establish an enforcement mechanism. The OST is inspirational, aspirational and offers guidance, but it falls far short of organizing a governing regime for outer space.
Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the COPUOS is not a legislative, executive, governing or even regulatory body. The Committee cannot make law, nor can it enforce laws that currently exist. Decisions are made by consensus, not vote, so any one nation may prevent the Committee from making even unenforceable recommendations.
Recognizing the new challenges we face in space today, outgoing Chair, Canada’s David Kendall, commended the Committee for its work and expressed his belief that the Committee’s greatest strength lays in its need for compromise. Mr. Kendall offered three recommendations to guide the Committee: first, he urged the COPUOS to give greater voice to its two subcommittees which meet separately, in February to focus on Science and Technology and in April to focus on Legal matters; second, he advised that the COPUOS must learn to act more swiftly; and finally, he encouraged the Committee to engage and listen not just to fellow member States, but also to industry and academia.
For her part, incoming Chair, Rosa Maria Ramirez de Arellano y Haro of Mexico, made clear that she would embrace the Committee’s mandate to focus on international cooperation and work to develop consensus to steer global space governance. The new Chair highlighted the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement as “a hopeful and positive sign that nations may collectively come together to achieve consensus on complex issues that challenge the safety, security and sustainability of outer space activities for all space actors.” She used the 55th anniversary of the space mission of Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova – the first woman in space – to announce the Chair’s commitment to “promote gender equality and the empowerment of women . . . not only in space exploration, but through all sectors and areas of space economy, space society, space accessibility and space diplomacy.”
Throughout the week, the Chair guided discussion of agenda items ranging from “Ways and Means of Maintaining Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes” to “Space and Climate Change” to the “Use of Space Technology in the United Nations System” to, importantly, the “Future Role of the Committee.” The most edifying statements were made during the “General Exchange of Views” wherein States and Observers have the opportunity to share with the Committee their own space activities. And some of the most interesting information was produced to illustrate the “spin-off benefits of space technology” which includes, among many others, the fact that the Oscar trophy uses the same gold that helps telescopes view distant galaxies and the development of an organic compound which turns toxic waste into harmless byproducts.
Of particular note is the consensus reached on Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines after eight years of discussion and negotiation. The LTS Guidelines are recommendations regarding best practices to help promote the “ability to maintain the conduct of space activities indefinitely into the future in a manner that realizes the objectives of equitable access to the benefits of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, in order to meet the needs of the present generations while preserving the outer space environment for future generations.” While voluntary, they offer a hopeful roadmap for international cooperation in respect of space activities.
The Committee also tasked itself to establish a working group that would prepare a Space 2030 Agenda that would support sustainable development.
Not surprisingly, the official report of the Committee is replete with paragraphs that begin “some delegations expressed the view” or “the view was expressed that.” These “views” cover every issue from orbital debris to the application of international law to small-satellite activities to potential legal models for activities in exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources. The report, which is available online, capture the views, aspirations and concerns of a life-form not obsessed with digital watches, but entranced with the endless possibility and opportunity that space offers humanity – and intent on harnessing that possibility and opportunity to better the experience of all humankind.
For the record, no consensus was reached with respect to North Korea’s request to observe the COPUOS session and so it was not addressed in the final report. Despite the lack of formal recognition, representatives of the country were not barred from attending the meetings. One can only hope that the spirit of collaboration – and the intensity with which the COPUOS promotes peace will create a lasting impression on these individuals, and their nation.
There have been several attempts in the past to start a commercial spaceport from scratch in Canada, but none have reached the milestone of completing and submitting an environmental assessment for review by the jurisdiction in which they want to launch. And while Maritime Launch Services has reached this milestone, there’s still the hurdle of funding to surmount.
The last rocket to launch from Canada was on April 28, 1998. It was a suborbital Black Brant 9B rocket built by then Bristol Aerospace, now Magellan Aerospace, and it carried the ACTIVE Ionosphere payload for the Canadian Space Agency. The launch was the first and only commercial launch by Akjuit Aerospace who had leased the Churchill Rocket Research Range from the government.
Historically, while Akjuit Aerospace can claim to have been the first to launch a rocket in Canada from a commercial spaceport, it was not an orbital launch and they did have the benefit of leasing a facility that had been in use intermittently since the 60’s.
What Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is attempting to do is much more difficult, building a modern day spaceport capable of launching a variety of rockets.
There also seems to be some misunderstanding of what type of company MLS is. It is not a rocket company, and it is not building an orbital launch vehicle. Rather, MLS is a service provider. That service is meant to be a ready made spaceport that is launcher agnostic.
MLS is planning on signing a contract with the Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office to supply MLS with their Cyclone M4 rocket. As well, MLS said in April that they had signed a Letter of Intent with another launch company other than Yuzhnoye Design Office.
There also seems to be some confusion, deliberate or simply mistaken, that MLS is a front for the Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye and naysayers pointing to the government of Ukraine’s and Yuzhnoye’s attempt to build a spaceport in Brazil that failed as a reason why this project shouldn’t go forward.
Artist rendering of a rocket launch. Credit: MLS.
That project was a government to government program that failed for a variety of reasons, none of which are relevant here. In this instance, MLS is a Canadian private commercial venture led by Americans. The Canadian government has no stake in MLS, nor have they offered any funds. It is also clear that successive Canadian governments don’t see the need for a government sponsored spaceport in Canada. So don’t expect to see the government funding MLS. However, in the mindset of “build it and they will come”, various government departments could potentially become customers and some of have expressed interest, including the Department of Defence.
Likewise, the Ukrainian government and Yuzhnoye do not have a stake in MLS. The relationship between Yuzhnoye and MLS is that of supplier to customer.
Make no mistake about it though, while MLS’s spaceport is launcher agnostic, its business plan relies on Yuzhnoye, as a supplier, being able to provide a rocket and Yuzhnoye has a history of providing reliable rockets. MLS seems confident that Yuzhnoye will fulfill their end of an agreement when it is signed. Should investors agree with MLS’s analysis, then the project could move forward.
The environmental assessment
The official title of the document MLS submitted to the government of Nova Scotia is the Environmental Assessment Registration Document for the Canso Spaceport Project and the assessment was conducted by Strum Consulting and registered on July 4th. As part of the review process, the public can provide input until August 3rd.
The government will provide a decision on or before August 23rd. Their decision could be a simple yes or no, or a request for more information.
The extensive document, including supporting appendices runs over 350 pages and includes;
The primary document
Appendix A – MLS Certificate of Incorporation
Appendix B – Environmental Protection Plan – Table of Contents
Appendix C – Launch Noise Study by Blue Ridge Research and Consulting
Appendix D – Vegetation Study
Appendix E – Wetland Survey
Appendix F – Bird Survey
Appendix G – Archeological Screening and Reconnaissance by Boreas Heritage Consulting Inc.
Appendix H – Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge Study by Membertou Geomatic Solutions
Appendix I – Public Consultation
Appendix J – Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources Letter of Authority
The executive summary states that “a number of environmental components were evaluated for this assessment. Based on field data and associated research, mitigation strategies and best management practices were identified to avoid or mitigate potential effects of the Project for the majority of the components.”
After the preliminary assessment was completed they identified several ecosystem components that warranted further assessment. These included; Atmospheric Environment, Acoustic Environment, Geologic Environment, Freshwater Environment, Terrestrial Habitat, Avifauna Local Demographics, Recreation and Tourism, Cultural and Heritage Resources, Aboriginal Resources and Cumulative Effects.
They then concluded that “the results of this assessment indicate that there are no significant environmental concerns or impacts that may result from the Project that cannot be effectively mitigated.”
In other words, Strum Consulting’s concluded that there are no show stoppers from an environmental perspective for MLS to proceed. Now the government will perform its due diligence on the assessment.
Some interesting details
We now have more details on MLS’s interactions with various government departments.
Transport Canada is responsible for rocket launch activity in Canada. Under current regulation, MLS would need a Special Flight Operating Certificate every time it has a planned launch. MLS first met Transport Canada on November 3, 2016 at their regional office in Moncton. Following that meeting MLS provided Transport Canada with a comprehensive project description on December 13, 2016. This coincided with MLS initiating a Nova Scotia Crown land lease application on the same date. The land lease area is outlined in yellow below.
MLS map of spaceport area. Credit: MLS.
MLS has also consulted with NAV Canada and the Canadian Space Agency on an ongoing basis. The Canadian Space Agency provided technical assistance to MLS on the layout of the proposed launch site. MLS also had some informal input from the US FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation on their layout.
MLS provided NAV Canada their launch and ground safety proposals which the latter has used to start a formal Aeronautical Study. The study is an important step so that the airspace use can be changed to accommodate the launch proposal and so that a “formalized Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) can be implemented.”
MLS is continuing its collaboration with Transport Canada to ensure that it eventually receives approval to launch.
MLS has also been working with Global Affairs Canada. Any satellite launched by MLS will have to comply with Canada’s Remote Sensing Space Systems Act. This includes foreign customers. Foreign customers will also have to comply with their own countries export restrictions.
MLS will also needed approval form Public Services and Procurement Canada for the “domestic possession, examination, and transfer of controlled goods and technologies in Canada.”
MLS is also having the Department of Defence review their proposal.
Provincially, MLS is consulting and in need of getting approvals from seven agencies for a variety licenses.
Public consultation and meetings
MLS has held at least 16 public consultations and meetings that they’ve listed in their documentation.
Their last publicly disclosed meeting was held May 16 and was with the Community Liaison Committee (CLC). Some interesting details were discussed.
MLS CEO Steve Matier said that Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her staff are supportive of the project. As well, local MP Roger Cuzner was to visit the site the following day.
Matier had earlier in the month met with MP Cuzner and New Brunswick MP Alaina Lockhart in Ottawa. Lockhart’s riding is Fundy Royal which straddles Saint John and Moncton. On that same trip Matier went to Toronto to visit Jacobs Capital Management, the company they’ve hired to help them raise funds. That meeting included discussions with unnamed potential investors.
Matier also said he had a meeting with maritimes stalwart IMP Aerospace and Defence about potentially working together. A member of the CLC suggested MLS also reach out to Airbus and Stelia Aerospace.
Local employment was raised and Matier said they planned on offering programs that fit the local labour force. MLS is anticipating 120 full-time construction employees in 2019 and 2020. This would be followed by 30 full-time MLS employees and contractors working on-site in 2021 and ramped up to 130 during launch campaigns in 2021. As MLS ramps up its launch cadence, the number of full-time staff would increase to 150 by 2028 and 250 during launch campaigns in 2028.
There was a discussion about how the rockets would reach the launch site. Matier said the components would be shipped to Mulgrave and then barged to Canso. He said there’s also the possibility of having a roro (Roll-on/roll-off) vessel deliver sections to Canso and trucked up to the site. Two rockets will be shipped from the Ukraine at a time.
MLS is still targeting 2021 for its first launch. Ground breaking could happen no earlier than September but is contingent on getting the environmental assessment approved, the land surveyed, the land lease lease issued and funding secured. MLS hopes to start construction this winter.
Canada has a vibrant astronomy community involved in ground-based and space-based astronomy programs and missions. According to my guest, Rob Thacker, we’re doing ok with ground-based astronomy programs but are failing when it comes to space-based astronomy missions.
When he isn’t teaching or doing research, he co-hosts the CBC Nova Scotia radio show, the Sound of Science, is also a guest on News 1310’s Ottawa Today, and appears on the Science Ship on Rogers TV.
Our topic this week is Canadian astronomy missions and a recent independent report that offered mix results on the Canadian Space Agency’s space astronomy and planetary missions programs. The lack of funding was one of the issues the report mentioned.
Also to note, the Canadian Space Agency’s Departmental Plan for 2018-19, basically the agency’s blueprint of what it will do in this current fiscal year, has no funding for any new astronomy missions.
Episode 52: Astrophysicists Rob Thacker on Canadian Astronomy Missions - SoundCloud (2921 secs long, 191 plays)Play in SoundCloud
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While originally designed to last only two years, SCISAT is set to celebrate its fifteenth birthday this August. The concept for the mission came about over 20 years ago and some of the data being collected is still unique. There’s no other satellite like it, and plans to replace it are in a bureaucratic holding pattern.
The small Canadian satellite launched on August 12, 2003 monitors changes in greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, and pollutants in Earth’s atmosphere. The data obtained by this satellite are used within academia, space and government agencies, and other scientific organizations worldwide.
SCISAT simultaneously makes measurements of 66 trace gases in the atmosphere. “This is the most measured simultaneously from space and it’s done by Canadian instruments on a Canadian platform,” says Dr. Kaley Walker, SCISAT Deputy Mission Scientist and an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto.
University of Toronto: SCISAT 10th Year Anniversary - YouTube
On the 10th Anniversary of the mission Dr. Kaley Walker explains the relevance of the SCISAT mission and how the satellite functions. Credit: University of Toronto/CSA.
The primary goal for SCISAT was to measure ozone depletion with a focus on Canada and the Arctic. Ozone is made up of three oxygen atoms and prevents most of Sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface. Ozone is constantly created and destroyed through natural processes in the atmosphere and its amount changes depending on the how fast it gets created and destroyed.
One of its primary instruments is the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE-FTS), a high spectral resolution infrared Fourier Transform Spectrometer. “You would find this instrument in chemistry laboratories. The one on the spacecraft is compact, but powerful. It looks at the Sun as the Sun rises or sets through the atmosphere,” says Mr. Thomas Piekutowski, the Sun-Earth System Sciences Program Manager at the Canadian Space Agency.
Most of these measurements by ACE are done through the solar occultation method, which takes measurements using the Sun’s rays as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere at sunrise and sunset. Since this satellite orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, it allows for approximately 6061 solar occultation measurements each year.
SCISAT sunset occultation diagram. Credit: Ray Nassar.
SCISAT spectra are done through limb-sounding, using a limb viewing geometry. “Limb-sounding is when you look at the atmosphere sideways, not straight down or up. It allows us to have very good vertical information, to see gases and aerosols at precise altitudes through the atmosphere,” says Mr. Piekutowski. Further to that, “half of the molecules measured by SCISAT aren’t measured with this vertical resolution by anyone else. There may be a total column measurement by looking down, which may only have sensitivity close to the ground or in the troposphere, but the vertical information that’s provided by SCISAT for the wide range of molecules is one of its strengths and what makes it unique. There’s nothing else in the pipeline at the moment,” says Dr. Walker.
The unique geometry of instruments on board SCISAT, the use of the Sun as a light source, and use of high spectral resolution allow the observation of a tremendous suite of species, unachievable by any other initiative.
A main factor contributing to the further destruction of ozone is industrial activities on Earth. In addition to observing the ozone content in the atmosphere, SCISAT looks at clouds and small particles, such as aerosols, to help scientists understand their effect on Earth’s climate. “The mission was very focused looking at ozone over Canada and in the Arctic. There was an eye towards the Montreal Protocol, but that came on stronger later. We got more into monitoring pollution and climate change and now we’re monitoring all of Montreal Protocol,” says Dr. Peter Bernath, research scientist at the University of Waterloo and SCISAT Mission Scientist who wrote the original proposal in 1998.
The Canadian SCISAT spacecraft during testing at the Canadian Space Agency David Florida Laboratory (DFL) in Kanata, Ontario in November 2002. SCISAT’s mission is to measure and study the chemical processes that control the distribution of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: Communications Research Center Canada (CRC).
The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty to phase out the production of substances that contribute to the depletion of the Ozone layer. One of the biggest outcomes of this treaty has been the slow recovery of the ozone hole in Antarctica. “We are able to contribute to understanding the bigger questions relating to the Montreal Protocol in terms of looking at changes in chlorofluorocarbons, their breakdown products and reservoirs in the atmosphere. For example being able to verify yes, the amount of chlorine that causes human-caused ozone depletion is going down,” Dr. Walker told SpaceQ in an interview.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are anthropogenic, human-made substances released to the atmosphere that destroy the ozone layer. Examples of where CFCs were used include: refrigerators, air-conditioners, aerosol cans, and insulating materials. CFCs were eventually phased out; their temporary replacements, Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), are now also phased out in developed countries but still being produced in developing countries. HCFCs will soon be completely phased out. “HCFCs will be replaced by other compounds because they have big climate effects. They want to phase them all out and we are monitoring about twenty or so of those molecules. We are literally monitoring the success of the Montreal Protocol,” Dr. Bernath told SpaceQ.
Water vapour is one of the main greenhouse gases that has a big effect on the climate. Data from SCISAT has shown that a previously observed increase in the stratosphere’s water vapour has stopped. Before SCISAT, the conventional wisdom was that Nitrous oxide (another main greenhouse gas) was primarily formed by micro-organisms on the surface. Nitrous oxide has a very long lifetime and makes its way to the stratosphere, making nitrogen dioxide in the end which destroys the ozone layer. “We discovered Nitrous oxide was also made by solar wind high in the atmosphere. In the winter when it gets cold and the air sinks over the poles, it can get down to the stratosphere and destroy some ozone,” says Dr. Bernath.
Understanding and studying Ozone depletion and climate change trends requires long-term, continuous datasets that can be analyzed. One of the most unique aspects of SCISAT is the longevity of the mission that has allowed for these trend analysis.
Infographic showing statistics on SCISAT, a small Canadian satellite that monitors ozone in the stratosphere and helps scientists improve their understanding of ozone depletion. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.
Other than shedding light on Ozone depletion and climate change factors, SCISAT has big implications for exoplanets. The Atmospheric Atlas produced from SCISAT data consists of some integrated Earth spectra. The occultation geometry of SCISAT used in its data collection is the same geometry used in transit spectroscopy. “Transit spectroscopy is where they look at the dip of the light when a planet transits in front of a star. Our atlas of the Earth, recorded in this occultation geometry, is exactly what an Earth-like planet would look like,” says Dr. Bernath.
The vast simultaneous measurement of molecules and their full long-term profiles are what make SCISAT unique. They not only allow scientists to observe what is happening in the atmosphere in a given time, but also helps in finding the cause of those changes.
Operations of SCISAT have been extended until March 2021. At that time, the health of the instruments and the quality of data will be examined in granting it another extension. When SpaceQ inquired on the original name of this mission, SCISAT-1, and whether there were plans for a SCISAT-2, Mr. Piekutowski said there are currently no plans for a follow-on mission.
“At the moment, there have been a number of missions that have been studies over the last 10+ years. The Chemical and Aerosol Sounding Satellite combines the strengths of ACE on SCISAT with some strengths of OSIRIS on ODIN mission. Unfortunately, we have gone through phase zero, but things have not gone further. There are lots of missions that seem to be in that position,” Dr. Walker told SpaceQ when inquiring about other follow-on missions.
“SCISAT cost about $64 million Canadian dollars at the time of launch. NASA gave CSA a free launch for SCISAT in return for all of Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station and the Shuttle program before that. Since launch, it has been costing around a couple of million dollars a year to run it, and we have been running it for about 15 years,” said Dr. Bernath. “For a small science mission that cost about $100 million in total we are competing against billion dollar European, American, and Japanese instruments; and there is still nothing like it out there.”
Archived video: In 2003 the Canadian SCISAT satellite was launched by Orbital using a Pegasus rocket. Credit AP.
Canadian ozone monitoring satellite launched from plane - YouTube
Just before the Canada Day long weekend, Governor General Julie Payette announced 105 new appointments to the Order of Canada including three people from the space community; Astronaut Roberta Bondar, cosmologist Neil Turok and former Canadian Space Agency President (acting) Virendra K. Jha.
According to the office of the Governor General, the Order of Canada was created in 1967 and is one of the country’s highest civilian honours which “recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation”. The motto of the Order is Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam, meaning “They desire a better country”. The Appointments are made by the Governor General based on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada.
Astronaut and doctor Roberta Bondar will join the Companions of the Order of Canada for “her contributions to our awareness of environmental sustainability as an educator, patron and internationally recognized photographer, and for her pioneering work in space medicine research.” Dr. Bondar was previously an Officer of the Order of Canada. This is a promotion within the Order.
Receiving an honorary appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada is cosmologist Neil G. Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Dr. Turok is not a Canadian citizen which is why is appointment is honorary.
In receiving the honour, Dr. Turtok said in a press release “I am both incredibly surprised and very honoured to be named to the Order of Canada, even though I am not yet a citizen. This never could have happened without the teamwork and support of many people. We are pursuing a powerful ideal together – to discover new truths about nature, to enable brilliant young scientists to blossom, and to share with everyone the wonder and hope that science brings.” Dr. Turok recently submitted his application for full citizenship.
Dr. Turok was appointed “for his substantial contributions as a scientist in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology, and for providing new models that test fundamental theories of the universe.”
The third space pioneer who becomes a Member of the Order of Canada is Virendra K. Jha. His appointment is “for his contributions to the Canadian space industry in both the public and private sectors, as an engineer and senior administrator.”
Dr. Jha has had a distinguished career in the space sector working over 40 years at various organizations. His biography, courtesy the International Astronautical Federation, is extensive and it starts in 1972 when he joined the Aerospace group of RCA Limited Montreal, which later became Spar Aerospace Limited. In 1988, he became the Director of Engineering at Spar Aerospace Limited. In 1991 Dr. Jha joined the Canadian Space Agency as Director of the Space Mechanics Group. In 1996 he was promoted to the position of Director General, Space Technologies Branch of the CSA. From 2003 till 2008 he was the Vice-President responsible for Science, Technology and Programs at the Canadian Space Agency. As Vice President, Dr. Jha provided strategic direction, vision and leadership to all core technical sectors of the Agency. From November 2005 until February 2006, Dr. Jha also served as the Acting President of the Canadian Space Agency. He was Chief Engineering Adviser at the Canadian Space Agency until his retirement in 2014.
Governor General Julie Payette spoke for about 12 minutes at the Canada Day festivities in Ottawa including a brief call with dual-citizen astronaut Drew Feustel onboard the International Space Station. The video below is queued to where the Governor General begins talking about space. If you want to watch her whole speech then go back to the 1:59:20 mark of the video.
A Latching End Effector (LEE) ground spare, or as it’s sometimes referred to, the “robotic hand”, and which sits at each end of the Canadarm2, is being launched to the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow onboard a SpaceX cargo resupply mission.
Today NASA a held a press conference to detail what’s being shipped to the ISS. The portion of the video below that deals with the LEE has been preset for you. To learn about all the cargo going up including new science experiments start the video at the 02:50 mark.
View of the end effector of the Canadarm2 / Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) taken by a STS-108 crewmember through an aft flight deck window during the docking approach of the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.
The CSA had Ken Podwalski, the CSA’s ISS Program Manager, on-hand to discuss the LEE as well as providing a Canadian science update and also detailed some of the food going up for David Saint-Jacques’ mission schedule to start in late December.
The international space community gathered from 18-21 June in Vienna, Austria to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first global Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE).
Under the auspices of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the UNISPACE+50 conference emphasized seven thematic priorities related to promoting enhanced international collaboration in outer space, the mobilization of space technology and applications for socioeconomic development, and more effective space governance. Intended as a blueprint for a Space 2030 Agenda on how to better utilize space assets to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, this global summit was clearly focused on Earth’s inextricable link to space and how those links can help to preserve life on our planet.
Those of us who work in fields related to outer space look to the world beyond Earth with imagination, hope, and ambition. UNISPACE+50 forced us to refocus on Earth, by showing the many ways in which the future of all life on Earth in the next decade is inextricably connected to human activities in outer space. As former American astronaut and current UN Ambassador for Space Scott Kelly asserted, “if we’re going to survive” as a species, “we need to survive on Earth.” Despite Earth’s many challenges, he stated, it’s far easier to take care of this planet than to build a new one.
UNISPACE+50, a celebration of international space cooperation - YouTube
The meeting was both a celebration of our achievements in space and a call to action.
There is much to celebrate. The sheer amount of activity and investment in outer space is striking. While 2017 marked the largest number of objects launched into space and registered with the UN – 453 – this figure hardly captures the scope and diversity of activity in space science. More than 60 national statements by countries as diverse as Ghana, Cyprus, and Thailand, in addition to accounts by regional and political organization, make clear that space is a global endeavour.
An original theme of these conferences was to extend access to space and its benefits to emerging spacefaring states. Now, as space ventures become more global and more inclusive, the long-ignored talents of women, youth, minorities, and civil society are being better employed. And, of course, the leadership of the private sector must be applauded.
But challenges must also be confronted. Two stand out: 1) mobilizing resources and data for sustainable development and 2) enhancing space governance.
The astronomical rise in private sector investment and activities in outer space is not automatically or naturally linked with sustainable development on Earth. Several commercial actors—such as Planet—are attempting to forge new ties, by reducing the cost of space-generated Earth observation data and working with international organizations such as Amnesty International, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER).
Opening of the UNISPACE+50 Symposium, Vienna International Centre, Austria. Canada’s David Kendal, Chair of the UN COPUOS is at the far left on the panel. Credit: UNIS Vienna (The United Nations in Vienna).
To meet sustainable development goals, space-based data must be available for more than emergencies and become integrated with everyday life and activities around the world. Time is not on our side if we are to achieve the sustainable development goal’s by 2030. Neither is money. How can we generate the funds necessary for both innovation in space capabilities and global accessibility to space data? Clearly, new and inspirational leadership from both the private sector and governments is required.
Ongoing leadership on space governance is another necessity. Canada has brought expertise and leadership to COPUOS, both through the two-year chairmanship by David Kendall and in contributions to the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities under the Chairmanship of Peter Martinez. Today COPUOS is one of the most productive, relevant, and quickly growing bodies of the UN.
Now there are growing demands to govern new space activities, such as the commercial exploitation of mineral resources in space, and to continue progress on requirements for long-term sustainability. And yet fissures run deep. Some states and organizations prefer rules of responsible behaviour rather than new legal mechanisms, and there are tensions between private investment and universal benefit, and unleashing innovation while maintaining needed constraints.
COPOUS is not a disarmament body; it is tasked strictly with the peaceful uses of outer space. While it does its best to isolate its work from non-peaceful uses, the two are inherently linked. For example, many states want to bar the DPRK (North Korea) from attending regular proceedings of COPUOS as an observer in the context of UN Resolutions against its ballistic weapons program. Non-peaceful uses could also derail the momentum of the UNISPACE agenda.
The rising potential of warfare in outer space clouds all discussions of outer space. Although beyond the scope of UNISPACE+50 and the mandate of COPUOS, this concern was in the background of many national statements. It was further highlighted by U.S. President Trump’s coinciding announcement aiming to create a military Space Force.
Scott Kelly reminded us of how thin and fragile the atmosphere is—the only true global border, separating us from the vast expanse of space. Leadership on global space governance is urgently needed, both at COPUOS, at the national policy level, and within the private sector. Only with such leadership can we ensure the future safety, security, and sustainability of outer space—and of Earth.
UNISPACE+50 marks a new beginning to a process: a call to action to preserve and serve all humanity. It’s up to us to follow.