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“Making Space Happen”: The Ansari X PRIZE

"Some good old-fashioned competition": It's been 11 years since the Ansari X PRIZE was awarded. Has it succeeded in its goal?

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Cenote Diving in the Yucatan

Cenotes are water-filled limestone caves that hold a special place in Mayan folklore - and are great fun to explore. I'm lucky to be on vacation in Mexico and jumped at the chance to see them above and below the water line.

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“Making Space Happen”: Is Space Tourism Happening?

In the book "Making Space Happen" it is suggested that Humanity will only truly expand into space when the ordinary public can live and work, and take vacations, in space. But is space tourism really happening?

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Is “Making Space Happen” Really Happening?

I first read Paula Berinstein's wonderful book, "Making Space Happen", about the private space industry, in 2002. Flash forward 11 years: Is Space REALLY Happening?

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UrtheCast Pioneering a new IT Trend: Space-as-a-Service?

Is Canadian company UrtheCast pioneering a new IT trend, Space-as-a-Service?

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Canadian Space Summit 2013 – Space Commerce Track Day 2 (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. Here are my notes:

Colonel Andre Dupuis – What Canada’s Department of National Defence Does For Space

Colonel Dupuis spoke on the topic of what space brings to Canada’s Department of National Defence. He says that DND are actively developing and delivering capabilities to assist Canada’s Armed Forces.  Today all senior officers are aware of what space assets there are and what they bring to the program. There is a “Canada First” strategy. Everything done in space is done to support missions such as Afghanistan, or the (disaster assistance) DART team in Philippines. A modern military could not do what it does without access to space technology. Colonel Dupuis was first posted back in the 1980s … now he says space is a congested, competitive, and contested environment, especially in the last five years. People are jockeying for position, understanding how to manage space, or deny benefits during a conflict. Denial includes activities such as ComSat jamming, or cyber operations against ground sites. The Colonel has a couple of jobs – delivering capability, and advocacy. He says he does a lot of internal advocacy.

What [DND] delivers: a focus on delivering capabilities to war fighters that they need to get the job done.  This includes EO, Comsat, search and rescue. Canada has a true international lead in space based aperture radar for surveillance and reconnaissance, in RADARSAT2. A lot of this expertise is tied to our vast geography.

Thanks to the RADARSAT Constellation of 3 satellites – Canada will be able to retain awareness of all marine approaches to Canada in near-real time. Resources that are expensive to operate – manned or unmanned – can be queued to traffic that is incoming. If you don’t understand your maritime environment then you are reactive. If you understand it you can be proactive – ex launching Auroras. This information is provided unclassified – a huge advantage. Allies are interested. Unclass is good because DND can share information quickly with government departments and allies, or even less trusted partners. This is a unique ability and in fact this information would be less useful if classified, because it couldn’t be shared.

Satellite communications are needed to command and control troops. Wide-band (move big amounts of information into theatre) – also helps with morale and welfare to allow home communications. Military signal focus is used for anti-jam, low probability to detect, key to Command and Control, smart investment. Narrow band communications allow communication between units, UHF. Most com satellites are in geostationary orbit, most of Canadian Artic is hard to target; they are looking into options now.

GPS are needed in modern armies including precision guided munitions and transportation. You have to understand how to use and interdict adversary GPS. This is called Navigation Warfare.

The Colonel is helping to build a small but capable cadre of military space experts that can explain to military commanders how to provide space capabilities to the battle field: “You have that operational problem and this type of space capability can fix it”. It is at very early stages, in about 2 years this kind of cadre will be fully integrated into most Canadian forces operations (where required).

Paul Bush – Senior Vice President at Telesat. Telesat Overview

Telesat is the fourth largest fixed satellite service (FSS) operator in the world. It has a 14 satellite fleet. Its HQ is in Ottawa and it has 450 employees worldwide. It provides reliable and secure satellite communications services to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers. In 2012 revenue was C$846M, with contracted revenue for future services of C$5.1 B.

Recent developments include launching about a satellite a year over 12 years. Anik G1 launched in April 2013. The mission payload on it included capabilities to help Shaw Direct, and double South American capacity (fastest growing market in the world). Satellites now are multi-mission, multi-capacity. They target broadcasting, enterprise services (gov’t, telcos, internet services), consulting, and supporting Government operations. Telesat provided many recommendations to the Emerson Aerospace Review. It suggested Canadian commercial space services should be used to the greatest practical extent to meet government requirements. It also believes the government should encourage use of Canadian commercial space activities in international cooperative arrangements and promote their export. They should ensure the Canadian regulatory environment is at least as favourable as those of principal foreign competitors. Canada should introduce a dedicated Space R&D program focused on commercial space products and services.

Maria McRae – City of Ottawa Councillor. Ottawa in Space

See the Councillor Maria McRae: Ottawa In Space blog post at https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2013/11/30/ottawa-in-space-councillor-maria-mcrae/

Social Media – Impact on Canadian Space Sector

This was a panel discussion with Melanie Coulson (@mel_coulson), Senior Editor at Ottawa Citizen, Councillor Maria McRae (@CouncillorMcRae), and Peter Darke (from the Canada Space Society).

Organizations are coming to terms with social media. Challenges – it is time consuming. What’s shared becomes public record. Messages can make or break initiatives. Chris Hadfield built millions of twitter followers, and caused a 77% increase in CSA website hits. Elon Musk has 450,000 followers. Curiosity Rover has 1.4 M. Obama has 40 M followers. Katy Perry has 47 M.

Companies use it for branding and public awareness, and to extend influence. Social signals provide a more personal approach to user. You have the ability to collect information. Q for panel: What is the role of social media for your organization and space? Melanie Coulson: The Ottawa Citizen uses it to broadcast stories information and news, and to communicate with people. Chris Hadfield has a great social voice – which he adjusts to his audience. The Ottawa Citizen tries to answer people’s questions and provide instant information – ex breaking news stories, or traffic info such as a bus broke down. Chris Hadfield took people on a tour of space and the Earth, with his tweets and photos. He gave people access to space. Councillor McCrae – politicans are interested on twitter to get message out. City of Ottawa uses social media every day (ex Flu shot campaign). I have always been keen about space. I am in awe that we can lift all that payload – we can launch humans into space. I would like to see young women and kids go into science. Why is this so cool? The sad thing about twitter, is that you can also have disinformation. Always represent your brand with the most dignity and honour. What you say doesn’t go away. Peter Darke: With the shuttle program winding down, crews used twitter.

Q: Are mission successes now considered based on number of tweets? Melanie Coulson: Certainly – lots of good press from Chris Hadfield, compared to other astronauts – who didn’t use as many tweets, instead the Press attended news conferences, saw videos, and didn’t really cover the missions as much. Social media is crucial in building public support and coverage, and possibly funding. You should judge a mission by how many photos, tweets, and followers you have. CSA has YouTube channel with millions of people. 9.7M views of Chris Hadfield wringing out his washcloth in space. Young people are interested in that – and feel connected to the International Space Station. Tweeting boring technical details wouldn’t have made the connection. 5 videos on senses in space, were fascinating for people. Councillor McRae: NASA and CSA have provided amazing access. Hadfield shortened the chasm between Earth and ISS. I would certainly measure success of missions – as taxpayers we want to know what people are doing. Marc Garneau was the first Canadian to do EVA, imagine doing that on Twitter. Kids get interested. Peter Darke: Looking at the generation of young people who are going to get us off the planet – they need to be interested, and missions are driven by money. Quote from the Right Stuff: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”.

Q: I asked about how much support there is in their organizations for Social Media strategy. Responses: Ottawa Citizen staff know what stories work on Pinterest, they know what works on Facebook. On Twitter people want breaking news. They do have a Social Media policy – journalist ethics extend to professionals. This is your brand. Councillor McRae – the City of Ottawa is progressive – they have a full time person in communications department that does social media. Operational staff use it – example Fire Department tweets. No differentiation between who you are private world and public world. Peter Darke: NASA has a Twitter class they provide to astronauts before they let them go on Social Media. @Astro_ their name. Chris Hadfield had a different, personal account. At time he was bound by civil service code of ethics. CSA has social media training.

Chuck Black: Comment – a lot of NewSpace companies have started approaching local governments. See the beginnings of that kind of engagement – as an example of Councillor McRae being present at the summit.

Bryan Versteeg – Conceptual Design Artist for Space Exploration

Bryan is an artist, first inspired by seeing the Canadian flag on Canadarm in space. He used to live in the Arctic, and experienced message delays that are similar to Mars. He worked on 40 projects over 2 years, mostly self-directed. Right now he is focusing on 2 commercially based projects. One is a company called Deep Space Industries. He read the book “Mining the Sky” – by John Lewis. He says the accessibility of these space in-situ resources is an incredible evolutionary step in space exploration. He is really interested in asteroid mining. He started creating images to show his friends. The images became really useful for him. He is able to talk to lots of people on his spacehabs website. A lot of people want to communicate the same concepts as him. He feels obligated to help people to advocate for space. Deep Space Industries was formed in January of this year. Space settlement needs resources. Resources in space are most useful in space, because it is not efficient to mine on earth and then ship them there. He gave an example of how this might work. Start with a Firefly operation – a small vehicle to explore, find and identify asteroids. Then move into Dragonfly class = pick small rocks off bigger rocks, and learn practical issues such as understanding and dealing with rotation rates. Then create a Harvester class, and bring bigger rocks into a place to process them.

His other project is Mars One – an organization with the goal of humans on Mars by 2023. They would land 1 lander at a time, 2 habitat modules, 2 cargo modules etc. Most would be setup already but not fully connected until humans arrive. Human explorers need to know there is a safe place for them to get to. The habitats would be large inflatables, twelve to fifteen feet wide.

Bryan’s attitude is that you can make a home wherever you go. Just because you are in space doesn’t mean you can’t do things with quality of life. Build larger modules – and provide space for growing bamboo, citrus, hemp. There would be better quality of life than most people would expect- LEDs on the roof to project views from cameras, so what’s above you doesn’t look solid. Provide hydroponics for people. As you add population, you add people to certain disciplines. Eventually you have a chef – quality and diversity of food adds to quality of life.

Journalism Panel: What is the role of journalism in the Space Economy?

This panel included journalists Globe and Mail science reporter Ivan Semeniuk, Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black and space/ business journalist Elizabeth Howell, and was chaired by CSS President Wayne Ellis. Sarah Manea has a synopsis here.

Ivan: The textbook approach is for journalism to reflect to its readers which are in the interest of the public (not in the interest of an industry). We need to have an open society in order to make informed decisions. If decisions are based on science and technology then you need a scientifically educated public. What does the press need? You work with a certain kind of language and assumptions. Reporters work with stories. Stories involve actors and actions, nouns and verbs. The key question being answered is “who did what”. Why are we hearing about this now? Stories are constructed in a certain way because humans exchange instructions in certain ways. We are wired to receive information in a certain format – which helps retain it.

So in order to get stories into the media you have to ask: what are the visual tools, what are the nouns, what are the verbs. Chris Hadfield is a compelling character with a strong character arc. His stories were a smashing success, which captured Canadian as well as world attention. But after all of this success – what does anyone know about Canadian space sector? As a journalist it is frustrating to get other information about other successes. The other activities are hidden from the public. That isn’t good.

We write 3 types of stories- inspirational, tend to end up on front page.  2nd type of story is a science story. Audience for that story appears in trade publications, and is a narrow audience. 3rd type is a new type = space business stories. What are the business issues surrounding space. Somebody needs to fund those stories, and they have a different audience.  Elizabeth Howell – a few years ago, social media wasn’t in use as much. Formal News Media used to be the main channel of information. Now there are lots of ways to get message out. We journalists have to think about Canadian news that it interesting internationally. It is not the role of journalism to promote the space industry – but space journalists do have to make the case to their editors why this is important news to people locally or internationally.

There was a comment about MarsOne – scientists and engineers aren’t great at communicating in a cinematic way. However their genuine passion comes through, they have genuine excitement. There is high level of public interest in space exploration. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the sci-fi way the public looks at it, and what people in the industry are actually trying to achieve. Business journalism can be tricky – startups can’t really say anything, in some cases they can’t portray what support there is for competitive reasons. So media doesn’t have access, and it makes it hard to understand what is real and what is not viable within the industry.

I asked, if you haven’t been to space, does it affect your journalism? Responses: Going to space isn’t necessary to write about it. There is a Space fandom audience – with an assumption that space exploration and all things related to space are good. It can be helpful to interview astronauts, and study their biographies. It helps to understand a little bit about them. They tend to be focused on their work. Outreach can be hard for them.

Q: How to get the word out – difficult for somebody who is not in the game not knowing where to find it. Response from Chuck Black: There is a problem in Canadian science sector which is there are almost no third party voices like in the US; third party voices that have a vested interest in the whole sector. Therefore there is a need for more internal organizations so they have different voices. Chuck Black: a short time ago US had this issue too, with no long-form journalism. Now there is Space.com, other aggregate sites. In Canada over time the same thing will happen naturally. Anybody who jumps in now will have a good chance of being that trusted news source. Hope that space industry has distributed news environment so that different types of viewpoints can be raised. He would hate to have only one monolithic source of information that we all have to listen to. Elizabeth Howell: US organizations are already branching out into Canada: ex Planetary Society was present at the Summit. President Wayne Ellis; yesterday had the space leaders round table summit – and one of their goals is they want to improve connectivity between interest groups in Canada.

Q about Federal Government scientific access: Ivan Semeniuk: in Washington where you would think message control is the top concern, you get more public access to space information from the government.  It is shocking to come back to Canada and see scientists can’t talk to the press. In the US they have some obligations to tell you within limits what they are up to. In Canada it takes too long to get info and it’s less than you want. What are the solutions? When in doubt – don’t say anything – that is the Canadian culture. What is most worrying in the last few years here is strategic message control – in the long term there are no stories, therefore dampened enthusiasm. To the extent that it is possible, federal employees should try to be as open as possible (but in some cases they are taking risks with their jobs). If you are in a position to communicate with the press, try to make media more aware.

Chuck Black: The best way to interview Chris Hadfield back in the day [when he worked for CSA] was to call NASA. Every year it gets more difficult and hard to manage – more and more centralized within the PMO [This is actually the cause of a major political scandal in Canada right now – Nick]. One way around this is to use the internet. Don’t go to government for this information. Go online. Government has to show up eventually since stories are being told without them. Ivan: Next time a political candidate comes to your door – ask them what their position is on a different scientific integrity policy.Elizabeth Howell mentioned the “Falling snow patterns story”   – a report on patterns over Canada – Environment Canada and the National Research Council couldn’t provide the details without heavy censorship, while NASA ended up providing the details.

Q: How effective is media attention at bringing more information out – if there was more coverage on space would that advance the agenda? Elizabeth Howell – space.com didn’t have a lot of Canadian coverage but once she joined they were able to cover a lot more Canadian stories. It’s her belief that if you shine enough light on a sector there is more interest. People follow the stories.  Chuck Black: MDA’s failed acquisition led to Steve Maclean being put in at CSA, the creation of a long term space plan, which was proceeding slowly, however the coverage was a contributing factor to [the new CSA President] coming to the Summit yesterday, and the Emerson report coming out…so media does have effect. More people need to know about UrtheCast – it raised $50M in an industry in a new industry – enterpreneurs need to know where to move forward. Companies that are able to sell parts to Bigelow, software to NASA – those are absolutely important stories to the Canadian space industry.

Jean-Yves Fiset – Small Businesses and space

Jean-Yves Fiset is CEO of Shumac which specializes in user interfaces – such as plane cockpits or subway cars for the Montreal Subway. In 2009 CSA wanted to determine if people were fit for service, they needed to validate their fitness. Shumac created the Human Reliability Assessment model (used for aerospace, trains)….So their prototype grade software worked. However their challenge was how to make commercial product. This required time, contacts, funds, while keeping business running. Also commercializing in space applications is tough. However Jean-Yves felt they could transfer some knowledge to the space industry from elsewhere. Their current path is to do small careful evolutions of modules based on proven market needs. This is slow, at times difficult, but is low -risk. However they have not given up on space applications. Lesson learned: credibility working with the CSA that was earned because of this project is invaluable. So in conclusion – state of the art solution to a significant problem. We see potential in several non-space application areas, however further work required. CSA work gave huge credibility. This was a good example of how advanced technology in space can be used elsewhere.

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