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
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.