Sunday, June 26, 2016

Smiles all around as 2 Canadian satellites launch, but are some smiles forced?

A couple of Canadian satellites are now in orbit and everyone involved is smiling. Some of those smiles may be a little forced, though. Nobody said they were relieved but some of the participants probably are.

The Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat), and GHGSat's CLAIRE launched on an Indian rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on June 21, 2016.

M3MSat will monitor marine traffic and test new satellite technologies. (You can read more about M3MSat at the CSA’s web site.) CLAIRE will test a new way to monitor greenhouse gas emissions. (You can see a short video at Vimeo about what CLAIRE will do.)

Although the press release from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) didn’t say as much, the CSA and their project partners, Defence Research and Development Canada, must be pleased, if not down right relieved, that they finally got M3MSat into space.

The satellite was supposed to launch in June 2014 on a Russian rocket, but the Harper government wanted no truck or trade with the “Red Menace” and cancelled the flight.

Honeywell Canada (formerly COM DEV International) of Cambridge, Ontario, built the satellite. They didn’t issue a press release, but they must be happy. After all, if you build a satellite you want to see it fly, not collect dust in storage.

The University of Waterloo must be happy because their advanced Automatic Identification System (AIS) antenna is getting its first test in space. It’s a small antenna that can receive signals from any direction and will still work even if part of the antenna fails. (You can read more about the antenna at the CSA’s web site.)

exactEarth of Cambridge, Ontario, is happy—at least on the surface. In their June 22, 2016, press release, Peter Mabson, President of exactEarth said, "We are pleased to extend our congratulations to Defence Research and Development Canada and to the Canadian Space Agency on this significant achievement."

exactEarth might be pleased about the launch because the government gave the company an exclusive license to sell the data from M3MSat, as noted in the press release.

But perhaps mollified is a better word than pleased. That exclusive contract might help take the sting out of the lousy deal the government gave exactEarth for a maritime surveillance contract in May. As reported by SpaceNews, exactEarth bests Orbcomm for Canadian contract that shrank to a pittance, that deal was expected to be like the previous one, which came in at CAN$19 million. The new deal turned out to be worth CAN$116,000. Ouch.

The launch of the other satellite, CLAIRE, is the first flight into space for builders GHGSat of Montreal. How could you not be happy about your first satellite in space?

The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory (UTIAS-SFL) built CLAIRE. They also helped build M3MSat, so they have 2 reasons to be pleased. And they are. They issued a press release saying they were “...pleased and excited over the successful launch and first contact with GHGSat-D.”

See? Pleased and excited.

So everyone is all smiles about the launch. Some participants might have added “relieved” or “mollified” to their press releases, but that would have been too blunt and, well, just not very Canadian.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Innovation Agenda could be a boon to Canadian space...if we speak up

Last week the federal government made 3 big space announcements. You may not have heard about the most important one because it didn’t mention space.

First, the 2 obvious space announcements:
Now, the announcement that probably slipped under your radar. The Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) issued a press release, Building an inclusive and innovative Canada.

(Note: You can also read the backgrounder, Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda, for more details about the strategy.)

That last news release didn’t mention space, but it’s more important to the long-term health of Canada’s space industry than the other 2 announcements combined.

ISED Minister Navdeep Bains, along with Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, and Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, want to make Canada a “global centre of innovation.”

As stated in the press release, the government is focusing on the following 6 areas:
  • promoting an entrepreneurial and creative society
  • supporting global science excellence
  • building world-leading clusters and partnerships
  • growing companies and accelerating clean growth
  • competing in a digital world
  • improving ease of doing business
Over the summer they want feedback from stakeholders through a website and through round-table discussions. That feedback will lead to an action plan.

Does space fit into this plan?

It sure does according to Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Speaking at a recent Vancouver Board of Trade event, Mr. Laporte said the CSA’s focus is on innovation, especially within commercial space.

That’s likely no coincidence, seeing as how Mr. Laporte’s boss is Minister Bains. This focus acknowledges the role space can play in the Innovation Agenda.

We’ve seen plenty of government initiatives launched before. Won’t this one lead to the usual end result, a report collecting dust on a shelf?

According to Minister Bains it won’t. He said this in the press release:
We don't need another report on what our challenges are. We need fresh ideas and a joint action plan that will make innovation a national priority and put Canada on a firm path to long-term economic growth.
It’s easy to be cynical about government promises, but the stakes for Canadian space are too high for us to give in to cynicism.

The government is asking for input from stakeholders in all areas. If the space community doesn’t make itself heard, we’ll have only ourselves to blame if space gets left out.

That input can’t come from just the advocacy and industry groups as it has in the past. It also has to come from you, the space industry worker.

When that website goes live, speak up. Tell the government what the space industry can do if we have the support and resources. Tell the government what we need from them and how support for our industry will benefit Canada. And tell your co-workers about the site. We need everyone to participate. not get another chance any time soon.

June 22 Update: The Innovation Agenda website is now live. Start talking.