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Ottawa In Space: Councillor Maria McRae

City of Ottawa Councillor Maria McRae (@CouncillorMcRae), an avowed “Space Geek” who led the city of Ottawa in expressing its appreciation of Astronaut Chris Hadfield and the Expedition 34/35 crew),  gave a very engaging presentation during the Canadian Space Summit 2013, on the benefits of building space businesses in Ottawa. Being an Ottawa native myself I found myself nodding in happy agreement 🙂

Ottawa In Space

Why Ottawa?

Ottawa is Canada’s National Capital and has a world class quality of life and educated population. #1 Global City according to Martin Prosperity Index. It is less than a two-hour flight to Montreal, Toronto, Boston, NYC, Washington, Detroit, and Chicago – in other words to markets of 200 million people. It is linked to many industries including engineering, Aeronautical, IT, DND, communications, intelligence solutions, aviation, and defense. 64% of the population has post-secondary education. There are 130 national embassies located here. Over $4.7 B of investment capital in Ottawa technology companies has been made in the last decade.

Knowledge Capital

There are over 1900 knowledge-based companies. 44 research labs are here. It is the #1 most affordable city in the world according to Mercer, the #3 most sustainable city in World, and the #1 best city to live according to Money Magazine.

Ottawa has one of the highest concentrations of scientists and engineers. University of Ottawa and Carleton University produce over 2500 graduates per year specialized in aerospace and security. 12,800 persons enrolled currently in programs that feed into that sector, 450+ faculty. Major academic institutions include University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and La Cite Collegiale, Algonquin College, and University of Quebec in Outaouais. OCIMAE is the Ottawa-Carleton Institute for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

There is also significant institutional infrastructure, such as the Canadian Space Agency’s David Florida Laboratory. The Federal Government (headquartered in Ottawa-Gatineau) has committed $155M over the next five years for digital infrastructure investments.

Private sector overview

Over 70 companies are directly involved in civil aircraft and space technologies in Ottawa. Examples include ComDev, Gladstone Aerospace, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. There are 14000+ employees at companies engaged in aviation.

The Ottawa Advantage

  • Proximity to Fed government departments and labs.
  • Within a 2 hour flight to 200M+ consumers.
  • High concentration of scientists and engineers
  • 2500 grads a year
  • 300 business / 14,000 employees = $46 B GDP.
  • Big city amenities, small city feel. Clean safe and friendly. Outdoor playground. Many cultural attactions and festivals.
  • #1 Best City to Live In (Money Sense, 2012)

Canadian Space Summit 2013 – Space Commerce Track Day 1 (Notes)

I didn’t attend the technical track since I don’t really know math, physics, or science. Instead I attended the General Track, which was chaired by Arny Sokoloff, the Canadian Space Commerce Association President.

Disclaimer: I jotted down what I understood but I am likely to get names, comments, and some information wrong. Please contact me if you feel I have misquoted you or otherwise mistated some of the conversations, and I will be happy to set the record straight. Here are my notes:

Patrick Whyte on “Space Entrepreneurship in a Time of Change”

Patrick Whyte – President, Aerospace Services Canada Ltd. which provides expert guidance for Canadian aerospace companies. He provided an update on the current situation in the space industry as he saw it: A few larger players who seem to be doing well (MDA, Com Dev, Netpec, Magellan). The 10 largest firms account for almost 90% of total revenues. However, there are relatively few mid-size companies. There are over 200 smaller enterprises (SMEs). These companies tend to depend on government contracts but the current economic environment is forcing them to look internationally.

Sometimes domestic suppliers are favoured due to security concerns. These days there may be less opportunity for firms to validate their technology in space as part of a gov’t funded space-based activity; Patrick says that validation is an important part of attracting international business.

Overall macro trends: There is rapidly expanding activities for civil purposes in space. There is consistent growth in private sector space activity. The tendency is toward international co-operation, as well as a trend toward lower cost, smaller satellites. New Space: a new model where commercial space companies develop space-related products and use them to sell to private and public sector. This implies the rise of not only new technologies, but entirely new markets, new funding avenues, start-ups. He mentioned a new market providing services to (currently) non-spacefaring nations.

A role for government could be “a concerted and focused technology development strategy that leverages future space investment to reward commercial success, export performance and best-in-class technology”. He took a straw poll of Canadian space industry experts: They feel that government has been working behind the scenes on the David Emerson Aerospace Review report findings and lots is happening under the surface.

However, there is a feeling that we are at the bottom of the cycle and it’s going to take a couple of budget cycles for the Canadian space industry to pick up (2+ years). Once things improve, we can expect business ramp-up, more opportunities to contract out to new and emerging SMEs, and a more positive innovation atmosphere.

So what must entrepreneurs have to do to make it to the good times? The usual:
•    A good business plan
•    A technology strategy that derives from business strategy.
•    A marketing plan that follows from the market analysis in the business plan.
•    Good Financing, and risk management.
•    Being the custodian of the business vision, and building and leading the team (execution).
•    Building a personal brand is also important to make it to the good times.

  • Question about NRC-IRAP – what is unique about the space industry? Patrick says there is a higher emphasis on technology and technology demonstration than in other industries.
  • Question about “maker groups” such as “garage inventors” – how can they fit in to this industry. Patrick says these are an example of disruptive technologies, and they can’t be predicted by definition – all you can do as a business is adapt as quickly as possible to suddenly disruptive technologies. He is not big on developing a business based primarily on altruism – he suggests business can only grow by making money as a primary consideration since this focuses all actors in the business (clients, partners, and staff). I agree with him.

Thomas DeWolf on “Canada Commercial Corporation: Supporting key industrial capabilities through government to government contracts”

Thomas DeWolf – Director, US Government Relations Defence Procurement Branch spoke about the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC). This is a Crown Corporation – it reports to the Minister for International Trade but is an arms-length body. The role of the CCC, founded just after World War II,  is the promotion of Canada’s trade and economic interests. If Export Development Canada is the financing agency, then Canadian Commercial Corporation is the contracting agency. They negotiate and sign Government-to-Government contracts.

The usual questions apply: Who is your buyer, when do they want it, do they have money, etc. NASA is the biggest space contracting organization CCC works with. There was a 1960 agreement that CCC would guarantee the Terms and Conditions of contracts for smaller Canadian companies dealing with NASA.

Under this agreement, CCC becomes the prime contractor and provides a sovereign guarantee for contractual T&Cs. All CCC services are provided at no cost to the client company. This is a good option to lower contract procurement time – Government to Government.  It can help smooth out contracts when there are regulatory regimes in place. He mentioned to keep an eye on ITAR – it is an example of a regulatory regime that may not be controlled in the future.

Chuck Black on “Does Canada Support the Creation of Small Aerospace Companies?”

Chuck Black is a Director of the Canadian Space Commerce Association. He writes about the mining industry, New Space, and global space trends. He also hosts the Commercial Space Blog and Space Conference News. He is tracking the top 400 space companies. Does Canada support creation of small aerospace companies? In 2009 he would have said the answer was no.  Have things improved since then? Not really.

In 2012 Emerson volume 2 suggested that a global rebalancing was occurring in the space industry. But it didn’t find any Canadian government programs that specifically targeted small Canadian aerospace firms. It did make some specific recommendations to help small business, including stabilization of government funding to support more reliable forecasting, and creating a new program for support of industrial space technologies.

He feels the funding recommendations from the Emerson review for smaller firms and New Space start-ups have simply not been implemented (as far as we know). This is to Canada’s detriment.

Adam Keith on “Evolution and Transition in the Space Industry: The Effect on Canada’s Space Economy”

This talk was given by Adam Keith – Director of Space & Earth Observation, working at EuroConsult Management. They provide consulting services including market analysis. In 1990 civil budgets for space globally began to stagnate, because the Cold War had ended. Then an expansion phase began in 2004+.

However now we are in a transition phase due to the recent economic crisis which caused government budget funding problems. They anticipate a new growth cycle won’t start for a few years but should be booming by the 2020 period. By 2020 they expect over 40 countries to launch satellites for Earth Observation (EO) purposes.

EO offers an affordable ticket to space entry when compared to geostationary capabilities such as communications satellites. Technology transfer is becoming key component of dealing with emerging countries.

SATCOM: 30 countries investing now, whereas there were only about a dozen a decade ago. The high cost of acquisition, requires a large return on investment through extensive domestic use and data commercialization. There is now a growing commercial market for EO, and increased opportunities for competition. Governments are in budget crisis and have to demonstrate cost benefits.

Supporting local industries is leading to a growing interest in commercial markets. In turn this is leading to a loosening of regulatory markets (ex ITAR). This is resulting in new players and increasing competition.

  • Q: Which areas of EO are most commercially successful? A: Defense is most successful area commercially. However services for engineering and infrastructure are growing more popular (20% of the market). Providing location-based services and business intelligence services is also growing more viable.

Ana Luisa Alfaro – “Providing space-based monitoring and specialized analysis solutions for the safe, efficient, and environmentally sound management of goods and resources on a global scale”.

Ana Luisa Alfaro is Global Spatial Technology Solutions’ Chief Scientist. GSTS provides intelligent data monitoring for industry and governments in transportation. Ana Luisa explained that Canada has need for vast network systems. There are prospects for wireless sensor networks in arctic drilling, oil spills, mining impacts, trends and diseases. This technology is inexpensive and easy to deploy, and can collect data from anywhere in the world. Data can be provided in standalone packages or merged into other value added offerings.

She mentioned Big Data analytics – which is a big deal in the IT world – and pointed out that our ability collect information outpaces ability to make sense of that information. Use of Big Data is not yet a mainstream practice in any industry. She mentioned the Institute for Big Data Analytics at Dalhousie University. She feels we should combine the capabilities we have to provide practical, cost effective, customer driven solutions in the rapidly developing field of Intelligent Data Monitoring and Analysis.

Alex Ellery on “Manna From Heaven – The Virtues of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)”

This was an interesting talk by Carleton University professon Alex Ellery, with the Space Exploration Engineering Group. He talked about a way to exploit extra-terrestrial resources. Canada contributes to US-led mission called LRP (formerly RESOLVE) to demonstrate extraction of water ice, oxygen. We contribute the rover platform, drill, and members of the science team. (assistance from Neptec, Deltion, Carleton). In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is usually used as support for humans, rather than enabling technology like robotics. It is vulnerable to funding cuts.

The Professor’s interest is in construction of a (tele)robotic ISRU facility to help future human missions to space. He uses a type of 3D Printing called RepRap. RepRap could provide a generalized manufacturing capability that may be applicable to extra-terrestrial resource processing. 3D Printing’s primary limitation is its serial nature (it slow to produce items).

The solution is to do 3D Printing in parallel to overcome serial bottleneck. Carleton University have acquired a Rep(licating) Rap(id) prototype 3D printer. This is the open source brainchild of Adrian Bowyer at University of Bath. RepRap constructs any complex geometry as well as its own plastic parts. In effect it is a self-replicating machine like the one posited by John von Neumann.
Professor Ellery says that biological cellular replication follows this same self-replication logic.

The core of the self-replicator was the universal constructor. The universal constructor can construct anything including a copy of itself. A self-replicating entity can construct a vast number of copies of itself. Consider launch costs of $20,000 kg to LEO. Assume 100x cost to $2M/kg to the moon. To launch a 1000 kg seed factory to the Moon would cost $2B. For 1000 copies, the cost per kg drops to $2000/kb to the moon. For 100,000 copies, the cost drops to $20/kg. This dwarfs any possible launch cost savings we could invent. This is a “matter multiplier”.

This makes geoengineering from space possible It also might help solve the global energy problem. I asked whether companies such as Planetary Resources are exploring this sort of technique. He mentions that as far as he knows Planetary Resources aren’t focusing on this yet.

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty on “Development of an African Space Policy”

Timiebi, from Euro Consult, provided a discussion on a possible unified African Space Policy. She discussed a narrative ranging from what she called “Afro Pessimism to Africa Rising”. She feels the rationale for African countries investing in space is similar to other emerging programs. This includes: desire for increased political standing, national development, and/or optimization of a natural resource.

African national investments for 2012 were over $167M. African countries are pooling together their resources and speeding towards a common space agenda. Right now the African Space Agency policy is undergoing internal and public consultations to be approved by ministers. The challenge is defining the policy. They want to build capacity, commercialize technology, and develop space infrastructure. There is room for improvement currently, however an increased number of African countries are investing in space, a political will exists for a contintental solution, and possibly the creation of a unified African Space Agency.

She feels a regional program will bring awareness of space to Africa and may enlarge the global market.

Major Kenn Rodzinyak on “DND Space Program”

Major Rodzinyak is the Canadian Department of National Defence Liaison to the Canadian Space Agency. He says a lot of the challenges that Canada presents itself due to vast geography can be solved by space capabilities. He cited the example of URSA – unclassified remote sensing situation awareness tools. These are deployable, mobile ground systems. Because they are Unclassified, they are shareable in near real-time. This is very useful for disaster relief and floods etc. He also talked about the Maritime and Global Domain Awareness capabilities of DND – which have wide-area, daily look-down capability. This helps Satellite Based Search and Rescue, be reducing response times.

Dr. Dale Armstrong – “Outerspace Cannot be a Space Sanctuary”

Dr Dale Armstrong talked about the philosophy of space as sanctuary. The topic seemed well researched and reasoned, however due to my lack of background in this area it was the topic I understood the least, and I cannot do proper justice to describing his presentation.

Dr. Armstrong mentioned the history of Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space…Space as a sanctuary means space as a zone free of war. He posits that “space as a sanctuary” notion was crucial to the USA during the Cold War since USSR was a closed society – the USA needed reconnaissance satellites to figure out what the Soviets were up to. The Soviets could always place spies in open societies, or just listen to the TV and radio.

So the USA promoted space as a demilitarized zone. They pushed for committee on peaceful uses of space. However technological advances starting in 1976 invited countermeasures. Space was never a sanctuary since then – technology means it can’t be

Panel Discussion

Stephen Staples from the Rideau Institute joined a panel discussion with Dr. Armstrong and Major Rodzinyak. He talked about how the RADARSAT2 sale blocked because space was a strategic asset. He gave an example of a green publishing brochure for RADARSAT talking about environmental benefits, while there was a corresponding black one about military targeting and capabilities. So this same satellite was being marketed to two completely different audiences. His point was these capabilities are dual-use: they can save or destroy the world.

He also raised a concern about the CSA mandate – which is about peaceful use. CSA space strategy has not been revealed publicly and a discussion ensued about whether the appointment of the new CSA President Natyznczyk indicated some sort of trending towards a more “military” mandate. Major Rodzinyak spoke ably about the appointment indicating the CSA was receiving a proven leader who could help guide CA in a challenging political climate (CSA is currently undergoing significant cut-backs). It was an interesting conversation, the panelists all making cogent arguments.

Canadian Space Summit 2013 – CSA President Natynczyk Speech

I attended the Canadian Space Summit 2013 in Ottawa Canada this week. The following posts are my rough notes. Disclaimer: I jotted down what I understood but I am likely to get names, comments, and some information wrong. Please contact me if you feel I have misquoted you or otherwise mistated some of the conversations, and I will be happy to set the record straight.

Keynote from Canadian Space Agency President Natynczyk

Canada’s former top soldier, General (Ret) Walter Natynczyk, gave his first public speech after becoming President of the Canadian Space Agency. In a parade-ground voice, he gave a hilarious speech that was long on charm and short on specifics.

He said: My mission is to enable Canada’s space success. CSA is a center of excellence to enable other people’s success in space. He approached this new position as a layman – he has no science background. How would somebody at Tim Horton’s understand space?

Space is the most challenging industry – but it is vital to Canadian quality of life. His new mission is to ensure Canadians understand just how vital space is to them. For instance, we can find our way to any Tim Horton’s because of GPS maps, using a cell phone network. Canada has contributed so much to space output – in some key technologies we are world leaders. But we can’t take it for granted. Space is about competition.

The CSA St Hubert facility operates Dextre robot and other technologies because Canadians are trusted for competence. There are 640 people at CSA – with satellite sites at Washington, Paris, and Kennedy Space Center. The CSA doesn’t do R&D, which is better located in the domain of universities and businesses. Instead, CSA tries to find extraordinary ideas and ensure ideas get “flight heritage”.

When it comes to space, people think about the astronaut program. We are definitely pushing the envelope of human endurance and knowledge in space. However people think of extraordinary Canadians because it is personal. But behind all that, is critical infrastructure for Canada and the world – in terms of safety, security and sovereignty, environment and climate change, natural resources and agriculture, and the Arctic.

Canada is united by space technologies just as much as it is by our national railroad. There is $3.5 B revenue in space industry across Canada, with 8,000 sector employment in over 200 organizations.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Chris Hadfield for inspiring students. Space is cool again – we need to energize generations of young Canadians. If we do not do that we will lose our competitive edge. Space is a watershed science – benefits flow down and spin off.

Questions and Answers

  • Q: What kind of response would there be for international cooperation on global protection (such as protecting against asteroid strikes)? A: We are partnering with international organizations, that is being done every day.
  • Q: This is the anniversary of President Kennedy’s death; what is the inspiring goal for the next 10 years? A: We are working on that right now, following the recommendations in the David Emerson report. The CSA has a longer term plan.
  • Q from Chuck Black , Canadian Space Commerce Association Director:  Following the Emerson Report, are there any small business recommendations for Small and Medium Enteprises?  The response from the CSA President: We are definitely interested in following the recommendations in the Emerson report and one of those was for stable funding, and right now we are working on a 10 year plan.

My understanding from reading the news is that the appointment of a former military man to the civilian space agency had caused surprise. There were certainly a number of discussions during the rest of the summit about what the public strategy of CSA would be and what (if anything) the appointment of General (Ret.) Natynczyk meant to political direction of the CSA. As an outsider to this industry, I have no particular opinion on the matter at this time.

Interview with Jeremy Roshick of the Space Tourism Society Canada

Jeremy Roshick is the Founder of Space Tourism Society Canada, the Canadian chapter of the California based organization. I met him at the Canadian Space Summit in Ottawa this past week. 

According to the Society: “Our mission is to unite enthusiasts on a local, national and global level and to inspire innovation and creativity in providing space experiences for all. STS Canada strives to acquire financial, political and public support to make space tourism available to the general population in the near future.”

Thanks for your time Jeremy. When did you first get interested in Space exploration?

When I was teenager – I lived in Winnipeg Beach, which has a population of approximately 1000 people. We lived in the country, and so I always looked up at stars. The Ansari X-Prize in 1996 was what really got me interested. I went to college and took Electronics. I wanted to head into the field of Aerospace, so I went to Carleton University’s Aerospace Engineering program. I currently work at Boeing in Winnipeg, and previously worked at Bombardier in Montreal.

What’s your current involvement in the field?

I learned about the Space Tourism Society and emailed [founder] John Spencer in California. I was surprised to hear there was no Canadian chapter [in 2009]. So I started one. For a few years it was small, meeting monthly…we didn’t get established until this year when some ISU [International Space University] alumni came on board, and we setup a board of directors, advisors, and events.

Do you think Canadians in general are interested in space exploration?

Definitely. A lot of people are interested, but to what level? It depends on how you present it to them. For example The Planetary Society has a very polished and organized presentation and has lots of members. You have to find something that grabs their interest, for example Chris Hadfield’s social media use.

What more do you think can be done by your organization such as yours to educate and interest the public?

A lot of people think [space is] out of bounds – but examples like Chris Hadfield’s bring it back to earth. A lot of people don’t realize how close we are to [public] space travel. The safety aspect is the big aspect. That’s why it takes so long – for example the Ansari XPrize was only won in 2004.

Did you see the movie Gravity?

I liked it. There could have been more action! Also, when she is running out of oxygen – why does she keep talking? [Laughter] It will help popularize space,  it’s a prime example. People think space is for nerds – [movies like Gravity] help to translate it to laymans terms.

What are your thoughts on the New Space concept – businesses such as Virgin Galactic or Xcor? 

Within 5 years the first flights will occur, provided everything is safe. It will lead to increased interest. In 2001, I was at the 10th anniversary celebration dinner in California for Dennis Tito’s space flight. I met two people from XCOR- they were very passionate about what they do. That’s what draws you in.

How do they change space tourism?

If it is not comfortable, if is not very cheap, it has to be a special experience – the view that you are paying for might be very quick [less than an hour for some flights, including 10 minutes for weightlessness]. Having destinations [in space] would help – for example space stations or hotels.

Do you think social media can help interest the public?

Any way to get the word out. Chris Hadfield almost managed to demystify space using social media.

Does space tourism require government involvement and if so how?

I think government involvement is required for making safety regulations. In regards to funding, the prime example is the XPrize, which had no involvement from government. I think the Space tourism sector can be self-sufficient.

Thanks for your insights, Jeremy.

Canadian Space Summit 2013 – Day 1 Keynote

I attended the Canadian Space Summit 2013 in Ottawa Canada this week. The following posts are my rough notes. Disclaimer: I jotted down what I understood but I am likely to get names, comments, and some information wrong. Please contact me if you feel I have misquoted you or otherwise mistated some of the conversations, and I will be happy to set the record straight.

Conference Theme: Canada’s Space Economy

Wayne Ellis, the Canadian Space Society President spoke first, providing an introduction and thanks. He set the Conference Theme: Canada’s Space Economy.

He feels we are at a crossroads for space activities in Canada. RadarSAT 1 ceased operations this year, although it operated well beyond its designed lifetime. It represented a key Canadian satellite capability – an excellent example of Canada’s contribution to global economy. He mentioned the tragedy in the Philippines – the space technologies provided weather awareness early on – and now can help save lives, and direct rescue efforts. Space systems and technologies are supporting analysis of climate change.

The flip side of this kind of space economy is more debris in space, “high priced real estate” in space. Right now, budgets are contracting due to weak economies. We have to to recognize that reality when advocating where to place effort for space initiatives. Last year the Canadian [David Emerson] Aerospace review was released. The outcomes of those recommendations will direct future investments.

Wayne mentioned the Gravity movie – a great communication device to show some of the key elements of how things happen in space. He also mentioned the Hadfield Effect – what Colonel Hadfield was doing, was using social media to make space more real for people on Earth. It was a very effective way to make space real. Maybe it got people to think of going into space (such as a summit sponsor that offers Lynx space flights).

Keynote Speaker – NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaeir

The keynote speaker was Bill Gerstenmaier – the Associate Administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Directorate for NASA. From his bio:

“In this position, Gerstenmaier provides strategic direction for all aspects of NASA’s human exploration of space and cross-agency space support functions of space communications and space launch vehicles. He provides programmatic direction for the continued operation and utilization of the International Space Station, development of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, and is providing strategic guidance and direction for the commercial crew and cargo programs that will provide logistics and crew transportation for the International Space Station.”

His themes were Innovation and Collaboration. He said, clearly budgets are shrinking – we need a motivation / stimuli for innovation. He once gave a talk “Inspiration by Desperation” – people do really good work in the space industry when bad situations require genius innovation – ex Apollo 13. Another example he gave was of a hail storm peppering foam tanks of shuttle, causing 6000 impacts…His team said they could repair it. They had a software program to monitor 32,000 tiles on the bottom of the shuttle – and they modified it to take care of 6000 tank dings in a short time. They did all this without management, no process or formal agreement. It was the ultimate innovation of a team that had to make it work perfectly. The message to the room is – turn these tough problems into an opportunity to rise above adversity.

He also mentioned when they shut down the shuttle program – as a result of that adversity they chose to go out to private industry and get cargo contracts and invested $3B of taxpayer money and achieved success. Now the International Space Station is a platform to allow the space economy to emerge – corporations can use it perhaps, such as biomedical technologies, which use the space environment to get a different look on phenomena we see onEarth. How can we use Station to be an incubator for new creative endeavours? Bill challenged us to think about how to use what is in orbit right now.

He switched to his theme of Collaboration. It is extremely important that countries will work together internationally – to see all the countries that are working in space, all are facing same crossroads, as space is becoming something people take for granted. He thinks the general public see space as a canvas to portray the emotions and stories of people, rather than as a destination as the space industry thinks of it. Therefore, the space industry needs to reach out beyond their own community, and communicate in language the public understands.

Robotics are playing a key role to replace space walks. The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is an example of a high level framework of International Collaboration. It is exciting seeing the next generation of students getting interested in space. He talked about NASA’s proposed asteroid redirect mission – an interesting challenge to position an asteroid around the moon; a forward-looking opportunity. We could potentially have a habitat and position in a retrograde, reusable orbit. This would help to understand vehicle design issues – and look at future capabilities.

Questions and Answers

At this point it was time for questions. I asked Bill about 3D printing, and how it would change NASA missions. He said it was a game changer, and likened 3D printing to a Star Trek teleporter. He says now NASA can create laser schedules for changing material strength. They are shipping a 3D printer into space. It will allow them to make their own tools up there.

Another question from the room: Are there things Canada should be doing to position ourselves for NASA’s proposed Asteroid mission? Bill mentioned Canada’s advanced knowledge of sensor technology, robotics, and help perhaps creating an inflatable bag to capture the asteroid – those could be interesting candidates for Canadian contributions to such a mission.

Another question was about whether NASA should be focusing more money on science, exploration, cutting edge technologies, while NASA contracts out cargo and transportation. His answer: Eventually there will be a private space station – but there is not a big market for heavy lift capability. Therefore NASA might still be in that market – if it’s unique. Where there’s a market NASA would try to use it. The Space Station is another example of something private companies wouldn’t have done by themselves. So there’s a likely period between 2020 and 2028 where private industries can explore private space.

A follow-up comment asked about private companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic moving into space – how does NASA remain relevant in that universe. Answer: We [NASA and private companies] need each other – suborbital flight is likely to be totally indendent of government involvement soon. However he doesn’t think private sector will be the only player in the deep space market – he thinks Government will still need to be involved in that. In fact to my understanding there is no private exploration of deep space so his point is well made.

Then there was a question about computer simulations playing a role in building space ships in the future. He clearly think computers play a role. But he is still an experimentalist – he wants to see the material coming out of the workshop.While 3D printing might change the equation, right now there is still a gap between what computers say can be done and the practical outcomes (for example, the time it takes to retool factories).

Overall it was a great keynote and very insightful presentation from a NASA insider. And the conference was off to a great start!

Hello World

“Hello World” are the traditional characters of a programmer’s first computer program, or a blogger’s first post. Since both meanings apply here, I will add a third significance to the phrase. I’m sitting in the conference room for the Canadian Space Society’s Annual Summit 2013, in Ottawa. I have always been interested in space travel but know so little about it. Therefore, this is the first step in my personal journey to space, a journey that I expect will lead me to a different understanding of our beautiful little world, and its place in the universe. Much more to follow.

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