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Canadian Space Society Annual Summit 2017 – Day 1

White Rabbit Google Moon XPrize

I attended the Canadian Space Summit 2017 in Ottawa Canada on November 21 and 22. 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 misstated some of the conversations, and I will be happy to set the record straight. You can read my overall impression of the summit here, and my Day 2 notes here.

Co-Chair’s Welcome

CSA Summit 2017 Kickoff

CSA Summit 2017 ready for kickoff

  • Co-chairs Minh On and Ryan Anderson kick things off explaining the summit’s theme: “Canada’s Next Space Generation”.
  • The theme is obviously forward looking. What does the next 50 years look like?
  • The key message is “Canadians are ready to push the limits of space” – what does that look like, in terms of building new technologies, leading science missions, creating start-ups or innovative applications?

Platinum Sponsor Keynote – Mike Gold, MDA

  • Mike Gold is the Vice President of Washington Operations and Business Development, Space Systems Loral (SSL)
  • Mike says we are in an era of change. He talks about commercialization of space, the speed of change that has never occurred before (even in Apollo days?).
  • Feels turning point to Commercial Space was NASA’s COTS/CRS program (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services = commercial purchases of ISS resupply launches of cargo, and eventually crew). First time when gov’t went back and said “we will do this [space launch development] differently”. Procurement methodology before was cost+ (meaning cost of service plus guaranteed profit percenage) which incentivizes you to spend more money, as opposed to fixed price which encourages vendor innovation and cost savings. $106M USD investment brought back commercial space flight to America – Mike feels it is the best investment NASA ever made. Elon Musk said without this program there wouldn’t be a SpaceX today.
  • Commercial Crew – now extending mission from just flying cargo, to flying crew.
  • Mike talks about MDA work on Satellite Assembly project which will build satellite once it hits orbit – such as for radio reflectors, gigantic structures. But still sponsored by the gov’t as a catalyst and then transitioned to private sector.
  • Also mentions DARPA public-private partnership with MDA to do Satellite Servicing. This will change fundamental nature of satellites cost and capabilities. NASA’s RESTORE-L = provide satellite repairs and upgrades in-orbit, even if satellite wasn’t built to be serviced. Should fix deployment failures, which are common. Can also inspect satellite, and can replace technology, providing some future-proofing. Since technology changes so fast – it can do upgrades. This changes very nature of what satellites are, and how we can use them.
  • One of the great things about commercialization of space, is that it promotes international cooperation
  • Discuss new Deep Space Gateway strategy, which is concept of having a portal orbiting the Moon, way stations, robotics missions.
  • His question: What should Canada do? Since the moon is the target (for now), both private and public sectors should figure out where we fit in to lunar architecture. Mike feels robotics is a real opportunity given Canada’s historical contributions in that area.
  • Obviously feels gov’t has continued key role to play in driving commercial innovation.
  • Q: about ITAR reform impact. He feels reform makes it better for satellite operators.
  • Q from me about other technologies – most of the conversation in Canada seems to be about satellites, robots, rovers. What about Canada encouraging development of 3d printing, internet of things, big data and machine learning, biomedical, and other applications? He says we need to leverage downstream applications (usually meaning data products, back on Earth). Feels this can be catalyst for other applications of space technology. He says a lot of 3d printing is being developed for the space program. He talks about Maxar organization which is the parent of MDA, doing various things. They have to look at tech transfer – providing economic and technological spin-off benefits to people who aren’t familiar with space industry. Feels private sector won’t necessarily do that itself.
  • Q about In-Situ Resource Utilization and how important that is. Mike says wherever humans go – there will have to be robots first, to prepare the ground, and prove the technologies. Again emphasized role of public-private partnerships.

Keynote Speaker – Dr. Kazuya Yoshida, ispace inc.

White Rabbit Presentation Canadian Space Society Summit 2017

White Rabbit Presentation Canadian Space Society Summit 2017

  • Dr. Yoshida is Chief Technology Officer of ispace inc., in Japan.
  • His presentation is called “Space Exploration: Challenge to the Moon and Beyond.”
  • He works at Space Robotics Lab. Dept of Aerospace Engineering. Tohoku University, Japan. Director of Center of Robotics for Extreme and Uncertain Environments
  • CTO of ispace
    • Worked on Free-Flying Space Robot demonstration mission ETS-VII in 1997-1999
    • Worked on Hayabusa (asteroid sample return probe 2003-2010)
    • Also lunar/planetary rovers prototypes and their sensing and navigation algorithms.
  • Satellite types
    • Microsatellites (50kg) for scientific missions
    • Small satellite: 100-500 kg in wet mass.
    • Micro: 10-100 Kg in wet mass
    • Nano: 1 – 10 kg
    • Pico: less than 1 kg.
    • Cubesats might take 6 months to build, can stay in orbit easily 2 years or more.
    • Small satellites can do very high-resolution images of the earth.
  • Lunar/planetary robotics
    • Rover test beds in Tohoku Uniersity.
    • Design, test, and build their designs.
    • Videos of 2-wheel, 4-wheel, 6-wheel and track designs
    • Suspension system – “rocker-bogie” showing good performance for rough terrain mobility
    • Problem of slip and skid of wheels while exploring: A surface covered with soft soils, means wheel slippages/skids are unavoidable. This can cause critical situations (immobility due to wheel spin, side slide, or tip over) which must be avoided.
    • Need to maximize the traction performance and power efficiency.
    • Two modeling approaches for study of soil behaviours under a wheel:
      • Discrete element method
      • Continuum modeling
    • Demonstrated videos of slip-based traction control experiment, with and without slip control.
    • Sensing and Navigation
      • Laser 3d range sensor
      • Tele-operation (interactive tele-driving)
      • Demonstrate remote operation via satellite communication network.
      • Autonomous navigation with path planning and execution.
      • Omni-directional camera. Useful for taking selfies of rover (allows observation of its health and status)
      • Hazard detection and avoidance
    • Google Lunar X Prize
      • $30M USD cash prize (biggest ever)
      • Private activities must travel 500m travel on the moon, with HDT video transmission
      • Must launch, go to moon, land on it, travel 500 metres or more, take pictures.
      • Dr Yoshida decided to start his own company to compete.
      • Only 5 active teams remain due to difficulties.
      • Their entry is called Hakuto – “White rabbit”, which is an official GLXP team and the only team from Japan, with technical support from Tohoku U.
      • Started in 2010. Created a rover test bed for ground testing.
      • Design is compact body and as simple as possible. Omnicam camera, 4 wheels, no steering wheels, but by changing velocities on wheels, can change direction. Have tested in volcanic places and beeches.
      • Manufactured by themselves, using their micro satellite practices.
      • Testing: Vibration testing for launches, thermal/vac testing. Field testing (showed videos).
      • Trying to partner with one of the teams to handle landing – working with Team Indus. Hakuto + Indus +  PSLV (ISRO)
    • Beyond the Lunar X Prize
      • Scientific discoveries (volatiles and caves)
      • Cold trap on the moon –
      • Resourcing prospecting – scanning by multi-robots.
      • ISRU – In-situ Resource Utilization
      • Moon village
      • Lava tunnels – potential location for human village (explore using parent rover, tether, and child rovers). Parent stays in sunshine. Child rover descends, with mechanical tether for power and information exchange.
      • Also interested in “cliff hanger, rock climber” robot (bio-mimetic inspiration): useful for asteroid exploration. Video of robot rock climbing using gripping hands.

Start-ups Panel

    • This was the panel I most wanted to attend, but I missed the start of the panel due to a conflicting client engagement.
    • The panel was chaired by Eva-Jane Lark, and included Ewan Reid, President and CEO of Mission Control Space Services, Stephane Germain, President and CEO of GHGSat Inc., and Nathan De Ruiter, Managing Director of Euroconsult Canada
    • Nathan De Ruiter, the Euroconsult speaker, talked about differences between New Space and Traditional Space:
      New Space Traditional Space
      Low cost model High cost, high quality
      Software driven Hardware driven
      Application oriented Techno push
      Standardization Customization
  • A New Space ecosystem forming, around:
    • Access to space
    • Resource exploitation/exploration
  • Stephane Germain spoke  about the need for the following three things in a New Space startup: Technical Solution, Business model, Financing. Feels Canada does pre-commercial stuff very well, but does not do aggressive growth or public offering / investment capital activities so well. As an example, he says for his company, financing for next round coming entirely from America. Feels that in the USA, it is understood the gov’t can only do so much whereas in Canada we rely heavily on government involvement.
  • As a result, he spends much of his time in California – where the satellite venture capital is.  He calls that the “Gravitational Pull” for New Space startups.
  • As a result, the challenge with new space startups is the early phase of growth.
  • Nathan De Ruiter, speaking about incubators: UK had nothing about 5 years ago, now they have created a community for space startups. Provided example of Luxembourg to develop new offering to support New Space players.
  • Eva-Jane Lark asked the panel about accelerator programs: She noted that Mission Control Space Services has been involved in Carleton U accelerator (and Ewan said that support was provided without any equity sacrifice – an extremely significant benefit to any startup).
  • Ewan spoke about the important of SRED and IRAP programs.
  • Evan-Jane asked: What kind of advice would you give to a startup? Ewen says IRAP is amazing, money appears quickly. SRED is the opposite. Cash flow is the big consideration for a startup. CSA “gets” space, other investors may not, so de-risking their investment decision is important. He said to address challenges with cash flow and prepare for a great deal of paper work for some of the programs.
  • Stephane Germain says space should be considered a national strategic resource in Canada, as it is in the USA. And the space industry and government must be able to explain to tax payers whey their dollars should go to space. He spoke about risk: his company GHGSat wouldn’t be in business without CSA and SDTC (a Canadian agency) who took big risks on them.
  • Stephane feels government should buy space “services” – rather than purchase or develop its own assets.
  • Nathan De Ruiter says when his company analysts look at New Space business plans on behalf of investors, they want to know what the key clients are and how secure are the revenues. Having gov’t is an ideal client since there is no “risk” – so that’s a major plus for any business models.
  • Eva-Jane Lark: credibility for something that has gone into space is huge – therefore there is a chicken-and-egg problem. There are flight opportunities available such as in NanoRacks missions (and SpaceX). It would be good to have more opportunities for these space companies to demonstrate their technologies in the real world.
  • Eva-Jane then asked Nathan about the due diligence process they follow when analyzing New Space startups on behalf of investors. Nathan feels it’s a very technology-driven industry, and many investors are not educated about that, so it takes time to educate them. Sometimes mistakes are made where startups follow a “if we built it, and demand will follow” approach, which is a common space-industry approach, but not always a good one. He feels you need secured revenues to seduce investor community to participate and cover the risk.
  • The panel noted that the satellite industry never really talks about itself as being in the “space industry”, but instead talks about telecommunication, or satellites, or media services. They also noted that it is common in Canada to do debt-financing rather than equity investments.
  • Stephane says he feels there more openness to debt financing in Canada, in part because of government investment guarantees (such as Investisement Quebec, Export Development Canada, etc). This takes some pressure off the company owners. But if Canada wants to be a serious player in the space industry, it needs to establish a better investment market for the space industry.
  • I asked a question about whether it would be beneficial to create a New Space incubator in Canada. Someone on the panel suggested that it might be good to not be “space-specific” and noted that there are lots of existing incubator programs. However someone else noted that many of those are local or industry-specific, and it might be useful to have a lot more focus on incubating New Space companies than simply as part of other broader industries.
  • Q: How do you find people? Ewan Reid suggested that space is “Sexy”, and lots of technical people apply to them, as a result. However his company still has to compete with Silicon Valley salaries. Nathan De Ruiter mentioned that Eurosoft (a French company) explicitly expanded into Canada in part due to our space talent pool.
  • Nathan mentioned UK and Luxembourg startup nurturing. Ewan mentioned Mission Control’s use of the Carleton University accelerator. Stephane discussed how they attract venture capital.

Innovation Plenary

  • Participants were Dr. Kazuya Oshida from ispace inc, Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber from George Washington University, Larry Reeves President of Canadian Satellite Design Challenge Management Society and from UrtheCast, and Monsi Roman the Centennial Challenges Program Manager for NASA.
  • Monsi Roman began by discussing historical prize challenges (Orteig Prize, Ansari XPRIZE)
  • She then explained the NASA Centennial Challenges (
    • Their prizes can be long-term, $100k to $1M divided into phases. No particular date limit.
    • NASA wanted to put together a commemoration program for Wright Brothers flight.
    • Why Centennial Challenges works: Pays only for success. Allows for multiple solution paths. Encourages innovation. Involves the public.
    • Current challenges:
      1. 3-d printing a habitat for Mars.
      2. Robot workers.
      3. Bio-medicine.
      4. Making a long-distance call from Earth to a destination in space.
  • Dr Yoshida:
    • Discusses White Rabbit project which is part of Google Lunar XPRIZE.
    • Nobody has returned to the moon since Dec 14, 1972!
    • Suzuki is providing technical support to the team.
    • The team made videos to convince people that this challenge was worthwhile – needed corporate sponsorship.
    •  Early 2018 the hope to land on the moon (in late December they are going to India to prepare for launch).
  • Larry Reeves President, Canadian Satellite Design Challenge Management Society
    • How to inspire the next generation
    • Given them a challenge, and opportunity
    • Support / guidance / mentorship
    • Design and launch a cubesat.
    • CSDC has given students a valuable and marketable educational experience
  • Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber, Professor of EMSE and Space Policy, George Washington University
    • Open Innovation (OI) broadly describes situations where YOU the seeker leverage external contributions from solvers to solve your problem.
    • Mechanism 1: Ex post selection from the right tail. If you let enough people throw darts, somebody will eventually hit the bullseye. You can pick the right solution after-the-fact.
    • Mechanism 2: Distant experts who see problems in new ways.
    • Three types of suitable problems:
      • Distant expert search. Problem: expertise matters. You need a Solver, who is “freakishly good” – meaning outside of the norm. Process: identify solver ex post.
      • Variability reduction. Problem: High uncertainty in solution. Solver: Joe or Jane Average. Process: Pick solution ex post.
      • Force multiplier. Problem: Low skill threshold, high workload (algorithms not good enough). Solver: Joe or Jane Average. Process: Use all inputs above threshold.
    • How complexity impacts mechanisms.
      • Mechanism 1: Ex post selection. As the target moves farther away, less of the random shots have a chance. Only professionals will get close.
      • Distant experts:
    • Our strategy:
      • Decompose: Fit with existing org, lots of simpler pieces. Lower capability threshold.
      • De-contextualize: ie. Move from aerospace problem to more general material science problem. Increase solver pool.
      • Re-contextualize: Material science problem goes to more specific solar cell problem. Reach particular experts.

Space Exploration Panel

  • Participants were Dan King, Director Business Development Robotics & Automation, MDA; Dr. Al Scott, Scientist at Honeywell, and Dr. Nadeem Ghafoor, VP Space Exploration at Canadensys
  • Dan King discussed how Canadarm was such as success Story. $100M CDN initial federal government investment resulted in $1.2B CDN of exports
  • Canada at the forefront of on-orbit servicing
  • Canadarm was a ticket to explore for Canadian astronauts
  • Canada built rover lidar for Mars mission
  • Also doing test phase for ExoMars (2020) controller software for rover.
  • Dr. Al Scott talked about some terrestrial spin-offs of space technology:
    • IGAR Breast Biopsy system (medical)
    • neuroArm (Medical)
    • BrightMatter Drive (Medical)
    • CANDU Inspection & Refurb (Nuclear)
    • Remotely Operated Vehicles (Security)
  • Dr. Ghafoor asked, what is space about today?
    • Technology miniaturization is being driven by a commercial approach.
    • Sustainability.
    • Lowering entry barrier for new players. Space becoming more accessible.
    • Increasing # of new countries and commercial enterprises that are now participating.
    • Application Driven: Make money on the applications rather than on the space hardware itself.
    • New business models.
  • What is space about in the future?
    • Modern lunar exploration.
    • Small missions: 1st gen lunar nano orbiters. 2nd gen: nano surface systems.
  • Dr. Ghafoor discussed how physics becomes a problem for small systems – high power, energy storage, dust, vision, comms, range, payload, thermal control.
  • Commercial collaborations: lunar observatory, cislunar infrastructure, small affordable missions, resource characterization and extraction, gov’t and commercial exploration
  • The panel says they are eager to hear more in the future about software, embedded systems, robotics & mechatronics, AI and machine learning, Micro and nanosatellites, STEM education, women in engineering, entrepreneurship.
  • Panel emphasize important of downstream applications and public/private partnership. This was an ongoing theme throughout the summit.

Keynote Speaker – Michel Forest, Telesat

  • Michel Forest, Director of Engineering at Telesat, presented “Transforming Satellite Communications”
  • Telesat is getting lots of satellite internet demand from cruise ships, and airlines which want onboard wifi
  • Enterprises want secure internet from remote areas. Cloud application access is key.
  • So Telesat trying to do fibre-like connectivity from satellites, by reducing latency.
  • Their planned LEO satellite constellation will be 5x faster than MEO and 20x faster than GEO satellite constellations.
  • LEO systems provide fibre-like responsiveness.
  • Want to have 291 satellites in polar and inclined orbits, which will provide the coverage and capacity needed. Hybrid configuration allows to address both global coverage, and flexible distribution of capacity, without having too much excess capacity.
  • However, polar and inclined orbits do not communicate with each other due to complexity.
  • Global gateways distributed across the globe – located to serve different markets. Global Network Operations Center (NOC) is based in Ottawa.
  • With LEO satellites it is possible to have fast, secure connectivity to enterprise and cloud systems.
  • Target users: Rural & remote connectivity. Satellite backhaul. Fiber complement. Aviation connectivity. Maritime connectivity.
  • Question about de-orbit plan with so many satellites – Telesat has one but details were not provided.

Plenary Speaker, Ryan Anderson from Satellite Canada

  • Ryan, one of the Summit co-organizers, also represents a new space interest and advocacy group called Satellite Canada.
  • He mentioned that an article written back in 2000 spoke about Canada being at a crossroads in space.
  • He feels we are past the crossroads, but now hanging on the edge of a cliff. He feels ISED (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada = a Canadian Federal government department) understands the importance of innovation. Changes are afoot at the Canadian Space Agency. He mentioned the creation of the Canadian Space Advisory Board. Also innovations at other government or space advocacy groups such as SEDS Canada, CSDC, etc. Still, he feels that there is a danger of innovation that is going to hit a wall of indecision and confusion in terms of Canadian government space policy, and not have any firm directions in which to go.
  • His response was to work with Andrej Litvinjenko to help organize the SatCan Innovation Network, which was the result of a percolating set of ideas revolving around superclusters initiative.
  • Ryan and Andrej decided to propose a Satellite-focused super cluster of companies and apply to the Canadian government’s Super Cluster proposal.
  • Unfortunately, ISED didn’t accept the super cluster proposal. But Ryan and Andrej are continuing on with a focus on core themes:
    • Technology leadership.
    • Partnerships for scale.
    • Diverse and skilled pools.
    • Access to innovation.
    • Global advantage.
  • He further notes that up to 80% of the staff of Canadian satellite companies are eligible for retirement in next 10 years.
  • Canada is a small market, so we have to look hard at what to commercialize.
  • There are lots of incubators but nothing to help with CSA proposals, and legal and administrative assistance.
  • So he and Andrej intend Satellite Canada to be a neutral convenor of stakeholders, and between up and downstream technologies.
  • To that end, they
    • Want to help develop skills. They are working with universities to develop programs that are related to satellites.
    • Form investment attractors like the Harwell supercluster in UK.
    • Provide specialized equipment access.
  • Ultimately he says he sees Satellite Canada as 3 things:
    • Economy-wide investment
    • Urgent response to industry challenges
    • Proven model for space success

That’s it for my Day 1 notes, since I had to leave and skip the Gala Dinner. My summit notes continue on Day 2.

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