Onwards and Upwards, by Nicholas Kellett https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/ Programmer. Traveler. Blogger. Space Cadet. Sun, 17 Nov 2019 16:37:44 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.1 Adventures in Coffee Making https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2019/11/17/adventures-in-coffee-making/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2019/11/17/adventures-in-coffee-making/#respond Sun, 17 Nov 2019 15:17:56 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=3037 Coffee is the most important liquid in the entire universe, and we met some of the Colombian farmers who produce it by hand.

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Coffee is by far the most important liquid in the entire universe, and we met some of the farmers who dedicate their lives to the backbreaking work of producing it by hand.

My wife and I were traveling in Colombia recently and took this very memorable and unique day-trip from the capital Bogotá with Andes EcoTours. It was low season and we booked last minute, so we ended up alone with our driver Hector and Chantelle, our expert guide.

The tour is a result of years of collaboration between Andes EcoTours and a community of coffee farmers living in the hills near Silvania, a coffee distribution town south-east of the capital. There is no way we would have been able to arrange such a trip ourselves, or even get there, since the Colombian roads are mountainous, rough, and hard to navigate. The 90-km route also took over two hours each way, mostly because Bogotá is a traffic nightmare.

So it was best to lean back and let the professionals handle things!

The Artisanal Coffee Making Process

There are two types of coffee bean: Robusto and Arabica. Colombian coffee is almost exclusively Arabica, which most people prefer because it’s a smoother taste. That type of coffee bush prefers partial shade, lots of humidity, warmth, and tons of nutrients, and elevations of between 1200 and 1800 meters above sea level. The conditions on the jungle-covered volcanic mountain slopes are perfect for them.

View from the top – at a coffee farm near Tibacuy

We visited two different farms which had slightly different techniques and equipment. I have no idea how a factory would produce coffee, but what we saw instead was the whole manual process from picking beans to roasting them. The steps are:

  1. Harvest the beans
  2. Peel them
  3. Dry them
  4. Roast them and grind them
  5. Make amazingly smooth Colombian coffee!

Harvest the Beans

First you need to pick the coffee beans from the bushes and then sort the good beans from the bad (containing insects or disease).

Picking the beans is easy enough – simply walk around in the jungle from bush to bush, try not to slip down the slopes and don’t get tangled up in vines and branches. Find a coffee bush with red berries on it – those are ready for picking. Pull the berries off and put them in the little basket hanging at the front of your waist. Job done!

Red means go into the basket!

Once the basket is full, the farmers go home and start sorting them. The farmers have to discard berries that look diseased or with little holes in them – when peeled back there might be little grubs inside.

Peel the Beans

Next step is peeling. This involves a grinder of some kind. There are machines that are built for peeling but might cost more money than the family normally has, so if these are available it is usually because of a government grant or some kind of loan.

Watch your fingers!

But either way the principle is to put the berries through a grinder which peels them and deposits the two halves of the coffee bean in a container. The peeled coffee bean halves look like little peanuts and taste sweet when you eat them.

Dry the Beans

The farmer then sets the beans aside to fully dry out. This step can take up to 15 days, varying based on the weather – the damper it is, the longer it takes.

On the two farms there were a couple of ways to dry the beans. One involves a set of “drying nets” which dries them out more quickly. Every day the farmer, Miguel Ubaque, rakes the beans to ensure uniform drying. He also hand-sorts them to remove any bad beans and separate the highest quality (which is exported internationally) from the lower quality (which is consumed domestically).

Drying nets and sorting boxes, under a protective tarp.

Another farmer just leaves the beans unattended in his hot attic for a couple of weeks. This is a simpler and less labour-intensive approach (but also with less quality control).

If the farmer doesn’t have fancy equipment to float the seed husks and fragments away, there is another step – put the peeled seeds in a bowl, swirl them around and blog on the side of the bowl. The light husks and fragments blow away leaving only the seeds themselves.

Blowing away seed husks

Roast Them and Grind Them

Now the beans need to be roasted (that’s where they get their dark black or brown colour and enhanced flavour. All that is needed is an open flame, and some patience!

Skillet-roasted coffee beans, mmmm!

And…now grind the beans, boil the coffee grinds, and drink the most deliciously smooth coffee in the world! The Colombians like to add a slice of citrus.

Great coffee, great view!

Coffee Distribution and Export

As mentioned before, there are two markets for the coffee. Depending on what kind of equipment the farmers have, and what kind of trouble they want to go to, they can take the dry but unroasted beans to a coffee distribution warehouse.

There beans are indiscriminately combined with those from other farms in the region, and left in a pile until ready to bag and ship to their processing destinations (usually domestic markets).

Regional beans in a pile

We visited such a warehouse in Silvania, the nearby coffee town. While there we watched as a farmer came in, dropped off his beans, and got his money in just a couple of minutes.

There is also the option to export the beans. This brings more money but also requires much more work and quality control. The beans are graded and marked by government experts and cannot be exported unless they achieve at least 80 out of 100 points.

A bag of delicious coffee, ready for export.

One of the farmers we visited, Miguel, exports his beans. He is justifiably proud of his 85 score (which makes truly delicious coffee)!

Miguel’s export certificate – we found out why his beans earned such a high score!

Overall this was an amazingly informative tour, and one we could not have enjoyed without the arrangements by Andes EcoTours and their long collaboration with the coffee farming families of Tibacuy. It was a high point of our trip to Colombia and gave me a real appreciation for the hard work that goes into every cup of coffee I drink.

Salud!

To your health!

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Space Apps Ottawa 2019: Mission Accomplished https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2019/10/21/space-apps-ottawa-2019-mission-accomplished/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2019/10/21/space-apps-ottawa-2019-mission-accomplished/#respond Tue, 22 Oct 2019 00:40:23 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=3026 Along with over 200 cities around the world, Ottawa teams worked all weekend to solve NASA- and CSA-designed challenges that leverage spacecraft, celestial & science data.

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After almost 8 months of organizing, we held our 3rd annual Space Apps Ottawa weekend hackathon. This is the NASA International Space Apps Hackathon, with a Canadian twist.

For those who don’t know, the hackathon is an intense 48-hour global weekend coding event for developers, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, astronomers and enthusiasts. Along with over 200 cities around the world, Ottawa teams worked all weekend to solve NASA- and CSA-designed challenges that leverage spacecraft, celestial & science data.

Hosted at Carleton University’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program, we had the support of so many organizers, volunteers, mentors, judges, and organizations.

Some of our participants who made it through the weekend. We even had some remote participants in Vancouver!

Checkout the video one of our organizing team took. We obviously had a blast!

You can learn more about our event on our website. There will be a Space Apps Ottawa 2020!

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O Brave New World: Canadian Space Society Annual Summit 2018 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2018/12/05/o-brave-new-world-canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2018/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2018/12/05/o-brave-new-world-canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2018/#respond Wed, 05 Dec 2018 16:20:36 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2983 Another year, another Canadian Space Society Annual Summit! It's a whole new world in space.

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Another year, another Canadian Space Society Annual Summit!

This event was the original inspiration for my blog, and the start of my personal journey into the world of space exploration.

The promise on the CSS website was this year’s three-day summit, held November 27 to 29, would be “bigger and better than ever” and it was a promise kept. It was held at the posh Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, seemed to boast bigger attendance, and was in fact multiple events in one: co-hosted with the new Satellite Canada Innovation Network, it featured the regular annual CSS summit, a Canadian Space Policy Symposium, and a SatCom Canada workshop to

focus on the massive disruption in satellite communications coming from LEO constellations and the Internet of Things

Congratulations to Minh On, Ryan Anderson, and all the volunteers and sponsors for another entertaining and informative event.

CSS Annual Summit Organizers Minh Onh and Ryan Anderson

CSS Annual Summit Organizers Minh On and Ryan Anderson

May You Live In Interesting Times

I’m not in the space industry, and when I first started attending in 2013 I didn’t know anyone or anything. Last year I felt on more familiar ground, and this year the connections were really clicking in my head. I’m starting to know about the technologies, missions, people and players, thanks to these events and the daily SpaceQ newsletters.

Having said that, it’s pretty clear that the ground is changing abruptly under everyone’s feet.

There’s an equal amount of certainty and uncertainty.

What is certain: The cadence of satellite launches and the growth of the space industry is dramatically increasing.

So far this week there has been a Soyuz launch with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, and SpaceX launched sixty-four satellites on a booster that has been reused 3 times! And that makes 19 launches by them this year, a pace that is a world record.

Many of the summit presentations began with a bar chart showing the page of satellite launches, and projecting future trends. The current space economy (largely based around satellites) is valued at $330B this year (Space Foundation). By the 2040’s, Goldman Sachs thinks it will be worth $1 Trillion, Morgan Stanley says $1.1 Trillion, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicts a value of $2.7 Trillion. Not all of that will involve rocket launches or satellite missions, but those will underpin this projected value.

What is uncertain: What the near future looks like in terms of Canada’s participation in the space industry.

At the summit there was a palpable sense of urgency and and a mix of unease and excitement. The space industry is in upheaval, and Canada is losing ground relative to other countries. Many presentations demonstrated a year-over-year decline in Canada’s contribution to the space economy.

That drop explains the prominent “#Don’tLetGoCanada” campaign launched by industry, which hopes to lobby the Canadian government into continued / expanded spending on space activities, as well as the launch of a new #SpaceMatters campaign on Twitter, which wants to educate and inform Canadian citizens and inspire our youth to study science, engineering, technology and math.

#DontLetGoCanada Sponsors

#DontLetGoCanada Sponsors

O Brave New World

These trends in the space industry haven’t happened overnight. The trends have been heavily influenced by market and technology pressures from the NewSpace companies, not least SpaceX, Blue Origin, and NanoRacks, which are helping to commoditize rocket and satellite launches. Over the years I’ve recorded many of their activities in this blog, and there is definitely much more going on than ever.

In attendance at the summit were many NewSpace companies hoping to land deals, figure out the market opportunities, and showcase their brands and technologies.

They included Planet which offers on-demand Earth surveillance and OneWeb which wants to provide high speed connectivity from a Low-Earth Orbit constellation which will be launching shortly. Homegrown companies included Sinclair Interplanetary which engineers satellite components, GHGSat which provides satellite-based global emissions monitoring services for industry and governments, Mission Control Space Services which wants to deliver low-cost, innovative solutions to problems in space and on earth through technology development and industry consulting, and Skywatch which consolidates Earth Observation data from various providers and makes it easy to include in downstream software applications.

Holographic exploration of maps

Holographic exploration of maps

We’re Rapidly Heading Downstream

In the space industry there is the concept of the “downstream” – the applications (usually telecommunications providers or software applications) that make use of the satellite data or services.

What I found noteworthy was that with one or two exceptions, I was probably the only modern/web software developer in attendance. If the launch and investment predictions are correct, who will be building software applications downstream? I repeatedly asked panelists and attendees what this summit would look like in 5 or 10 years. Will the scientists, engineers, and policy-makers who attend it currently be outnumbered by business-people and software developers looking to integrate a new commodity, EO data, into their systems?

If so, what needs to be done to encourage their participation?

I am one of the organizers of Space Apps Ottawa, the local version of the NASA Space Apps Hackathon. In a 48-hour period, participants address challenges using publicly-available space-based data (and the resulting solution is often working software). I believe strong grassroots efforts are needed to encourage our students and software developers to build software applications using space-based data. These initiatives will build an important bridge to the future downstream industry.

Panel on student initiatives in Canada

Panel on student initiatives in Canada

Canada Space Agency and our Natural Resources Canada department provided a great deal of support to our event this year. This included posing some interesting challenges, and providing us not only with some of their satellite data sets but with sustained technical support and subject matter expertise. Perhaps this is an area where Canada can reassert itself in the space industry.

The level of Canadian government participation this year is a very positive sign, because currently downstream users need that to navigate some very complicated waters.

Rocks Ahoy

Although I don’t work in the space industry, I’ve started writing experimental web software using some of the Canadian satellite data sets. Right now that is a complicated and frustrating process. I’ve had to spend a lot of time asking around the space industry to even determine what’s available, and then perform various unsupported software experiments to learn the “art of the possible”.

Currently there isn’t one specific place to access Canadian government satellite data, and the policies and timings around making it available to Canadians seem to be in flux. In order to improve that, the Canadian government could:

  1. Centralize the hosting of its Earth Observation and satellite telemetry data
  2. Provide samples of proprietary datasets in formats that software developers can use. This will allow businesses tp experiment with non-public datasets quickly and cheaply, before deciding whether to purchase
  3. Provide reduced licensing fees for students, not-for-profits, and startups
  4. Wherever possible, make satellite data available under the permissive Open Government license. Make this a fast and transparent process.
  5. Whether the data is open or not, allow automated system-level access via an industry standard (RESTful API) so software of all types can quickly download it without human intervention
  6. Provide a service desk that can assist with technical and business support, 24×7. This would range from user self-service (after hours) to incident responses according to some service level agreements. Businesses needing critical support would be able to pay for that level of service, while less-critical support levels would be inexpensive or even free
  7. Provide a developer portal for government space data, including sandboxes, API keys, and a metered amount of calls per month, with comprehensive documentation and examples
  8. Provide a software development kit in multiple popular software development languages, including python, .NET and Java
  9. Provide source control access to the code utilities and data via Github or similar.
  10. Provide a curated software app marketplace so consultants, independent software vendors, and satcom providers can publish their algorithms, software products, and value-added services easily and widely, just like on a Shopify site (heck, hire Shopify to do it!)
  11. Publish a roadmap of feature, data-set, and service availability, to help businesses plan ahead.

These are some of the steps that will smooth out the rough downstream waters, and unlock the vast potential of this downstream software development market, which will directly affect Canadian citizens in the coming years.

There’s a famous saying: “Software is eating the world”. Well, software is going to eat the universe too!

Let’s at least make space data easy to digest.

#DontLetGoCanada

Space needs YOU!

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Was Canadian Whisky Smuggled to Al Capone From Our Beach in l’Anse-au-Griffon? https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2018/03/17/was-whisky-smuggled-to-al-capone-from-our-beach-anse-au-griffon/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2018/03/17/was-whisky-smuggled-to-al-capone-from-our-beach-anse-au-griffon/#respond Sat, 17 Mar 2018 13:21:34 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2963 Was Canadian whisky smuggled to Al Capone from our beach in l'Anse-au-Griffon? Local legend might be historical fact.

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Was bootleg Canadian whisky once smuggled from a secluded beach in l’Anse-au-Griffon to Al Capone’s crime empire in the U.S.?

Camping Griffon's waterfall and beach

Camping Griffon’s waterfall and beach

Smuggler’s Run

My wife heard a very interesting local legend from a neighbour. He told her that during the United State’s Prohibition period from 1919 to 1933, Canadian whisky was picked up from the beach which runs below what is now our house and Camping Griffon, her family’s campground. The campground is located on the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and back in the 1920s and 30s the contraband would have been picked up by fishing boats from Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which are French-owned islands located elsewhere in the Gulf.

On the map below is a possible smuggling route: (1) starting from what is now our beach (below modern-day Camping Griffon), (2) to the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and then (3) to the New England ports in the United States.

Possible smuggling route during Prohibition?

Possible smuggling route during Prohibition?

The French Connection

Saint Pierre and Miquelon became major smuggling ports after the Volstead Act introduced prohibition in the United States in 1919. The islands are rife with rumours of frequent visits from Al Capone and other crime lords. They turned the islands into an important smuggling den because of their strategic location, on French territory near Canada and the United States.

During Prohibition, Canada could no longer directly export alcohol to the U.S., but it could legally ship alcohol to France. The French-owned islands were perfect legal staging grounds for alcohol including Canadian whisky, Caribbean rum, and European wines and spirits. These were all stored in warehouses on the island. Then they would be loaded aboard smuggling ships bound for U.S. ports and flood into the New England cities and towns, where they would fuel crime and violence.

Opening scene from HBO's Prohibition-era crime drama, "Boardwalk Empire"

Opening scene from HBO’s Prohibition-era crime drama, “Boardwalk Empire”

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, there was no more demand for black market booze and this smuggling economy collapsed.

Locally Sourced

Some of the booze (allegedly) smuggled from our beach would have been distilled locally. We often hear stories about enterprising families in nearby Douglastown (near the town of Gaspé) who distilled and sold liquour to American bootleggers. Rumours say these families even sold liquour in bulk to the Kennedy clan – purchased by President John F. Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy!

In order to get their supplies to the U.S. markets, the local distillers would have found it safer and easier to ship by sea from the nearby coves and beaches, than to drive it overland or ship by train and risk interception.

Why would smugglers pick this beach to anchor at?

Actually, it would have made an ideal smuggling spot.

First, on the land above the beach there is a creek which cascades over the cliff in a large waterfall. This is an excellent landmark – visible far out to sea during the day and during nights when there is any moonlight. Even on a pitch-dark or foggy night the falling water could possibly be heard by a boat carefully navigating close to shore. The bootleggers arriving from land could follow the creek to the waterfall and not miss their rendezvous in the dark.

Waterfall and stairs to Camping Griffon's beach

Waterfall and stairs to Camping Griffon’s beach

As well, the beach would have been a safe landing spot day or night. There is no risk of dangerous reefs, rocks, or currents. Offshore, there is a shelf and the depth drops off quickly, allowing a boat to come in and anchor close to shore.

Camping Griffon's pebble beach

View of the pebble beach in l’Anse-au-Griffon, from the foot of the stairs at Camping Griffon. Our house is located near the middle of the cliff.

Finally (and most importantly for smugglers), in the 1920s and 30s our waterfall and pebble beach would have been remote from prying eyes or coast guard vessels (these days a coast guard vessel is berthed in the next village and sails by regularly).

Fact or Fiction?

It’s a local legend, and we’ll never know for sure. But the historical details seem to check out.

If you ever visit us or stay at Camping Griffon, we encourage you to take some time during your stay and walk to the waterfall. Stand on the stairs leading from the creek down to the beach and look down at the waterfall which runs beside them, and then at the beach below.

Now imagine it’s 1929 or 1930 – do you think whisky smugglers could have used this route? Would they have driven trucks or used carts to bring the liquour to the cliff-side? Would they have used ropes and tackles to lower the carefully-packed whisky crates or barrels down the cliff, to the beach below? Where would their lookouts have been posted?

What do YOU think – is the local legend true?

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More Street Art: Murals of Isla Mujeres https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2018/01/27/more-street-art-murals-isla-mujeres/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2018/01/27/more-street-art-murals-isla-mujeres/#respond Sun, 28 Jan 2018 02:41:11 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2918 The inventive and talented street artists of Isla Mujeres have been busy. Check out some more stunningly beautiful murals including new 3d effects and other tricks!

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I’m back on the island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico. It’s been about eight months since I last visited and the talented and creative street artists have been busy!

This time they have outdone themselves with a couple of inspired illusions.

First, the municipal government has commissioned a neat mural of the island of Isla Mujeres itself, next to its iconic sign which is on the Malecon by the water. Not only is the painting beautiful, but there is a neat visual trick where it appears that we are looking down through a break in the hexagonal bricks, onto the island and surrounding ocean.

Isla Mujeres island map mural

It’s very cool!

They even mark the spot where you should take a photo:

Nearby is another new piece, inside an archway.

And this one beside the backpacker’s hostel.

This one is a group effort – lining the wall of a school in Las Colonias.

Near Isla 33 is a building that seems to be somewhat abandoned – but is made beautiful by the vibrant green forest and stag.

On the walkway nearby is a hammerhead shark – looking past it we can see the ocean where a live version is no doubt swimming at this moment.

This veterinary clinic has a lovely picture of a mangrove swamp complete with birds (fishers?) and a snake slithering through the branches. Right next to it is a mosaic of animal photos. For a small fee you can have a portrait of your pet commissioned, and hung on the wall. It’s a clever idea and visually appealing.

The long wall along Lopez Mateo street is transformed by vibrant colours of towns and tropical landscapes:

But I’ve saved my favourite new mural for last.

This one is not only stunningly beautiful, but it works across 3-dimensions and multiple layers of masonry, encourages environmental awareness and social responsibility, and hides unsightly garbage, all at once!

Yes, those are actual stacks of garbage waiting to be collected – and somehow they end up looking great.

Let’s zoom in and see the quality of art:

Absolutely brilliant.

Which one is your favourite?

 

 

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Canadian Space Society Annual Summit 2017 – Day 2 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/11/29/canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2017-day-2/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/11/29/canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2017-day-2/#comments Wed, 29 Nov 2017 19:11:45 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2647 Day 2 recap of the Canadian Space Society's Annual Summit 2017.

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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, as well as my Day 1 notes here.

Keynote Speaker – Sylvain Laporte, Canadian Space Agency

  • Sylvain Laporte is the President of the Canadian Space Agency
  • He spoke about CSA achievements and priorities, including deep space exploration
    • Cislunar space: Why the moon? Things still to learn about the moon, the Earth, and living in space.
    • Canada is getting ready: Rovers, robotics, innovative ideas
  • An upcoming medical conference will look at how Canada could contribute some medical capabilities to future missions to Moon and Mars.
  • STEM Outreach – to encourage young people to go into STEM fields, using our Astronauts. “You should see young eyes light up when an astronaut in a flight suit walks into a gym”. Big positive feelings and some learning to make big impacts on children that will hopefully lead them to choose career in STEM field. He said 100 activities in last year reached about 20,000 people.
  • He says CSA used hiring of new astronauts to showcase to the public how talented Canadians are. CSA knew exceptional individuals would apply. When down to 70 applicants, their bios were posted on their website. CSA wanted to instill a sense of pride in Canadians, and heard that these candidates were role models to young people. Led to lots of media coverage and social media contacts. So without paying for any publicity – all through 100% social media, they achieved 22M impressions on social media.
  • Space is evolving: Faster, cheaper, easier.
  • CSA has adapted too. They have put together 5 communities in various fields with objective of making sure CSA is understanding of what is out there, through eyes and ears of specialists in those fields. Regular meetings to make sure CSA is open, engaged, and receptive to new ideas. Also looking at modernizing processes.
  • STDP Modernization – R&D program where companies and universities can get funding to do Space Technology Development Program. Now collaborating with industry to form 6 or 7 working groups on a number of subjects to modernize R&D program. Some improvements: subject matter experts say it is hard to compete with large companies, so they wanted access to their own funding pool. Now some non-space companies are starting to apply which is ground-breaking.
  • Developing skills: For last 2 years, CSA has run national conferences and competitions to eventually present a paper at the IAC conferences. Helps hone their skills and networking abilities. Then try to do match-making exercise to help them get employment opportunity at the CSA (summer job, co-op).
  • Cubesat program – with university, goal is to fly a nanosat from each province and territory (13 of them). Plan to launch each nano-sat in 2019. The students will see something they built fly into space. Binding emotional attachment with knowledge. There for life.
  • CSA contributing to state of the art missions: James Webb space telescope (the 2 most critical components – fine guidance system) and OSIRIS-Rex (laser altimeter).
  • Future is closer than we think. Next Canadian in space is David St-Jacques.
  • RADARSAT constellation mission launches in 2018.
  • Continually modernizing agency, outreach to universities. Dynamic, exciting, at the leading edge of science. CSA is both a developer and a consumer of disruptive technologies.
  • Q: In next budget request, will you be asking for dedicated outreach budget request. A: CSA has found the funds, and will continue to dedicate funds from our current budget.
  • Q: With so many creative ideas being submitted, will those be published? A: Clearly those ideas we want to pursue will be fully public as part of a RFP process. Otherwise, for those ideas not chosen, he is not sure if there are privacy elements restricting publication – he will check up on that. In terms of time frame, right now they are in the middle of a selection process, but likely mid-2018 as purely a guess.
  • Q: About CSA public outreach – will there be opportunities for universities to participate. A: Yes, public outreach won’t just be from CSA. Quite a lot of collaborative efforts with not-for-profits, and universities.

Carleton University students with their rover "Sparky"

Carleton University students with their rover “Sparky” (named after a minor electrical incident)

Plenary Speaker – Dr Gordon Osinski, University of Western Ontario

  • Dr Gordon Osinski, a geology teacher from the University of Western Ontario, spoke about the Benefits of investing in Canadian Space Exploration
  • Why space exploration vs Earth observation?
  • Canadian university grads are leaving the country – Brain Drain.
  • Why we explore:
    • Because it is there
    • international collaboration
    • new technology
    • answer the big questions
    • inspiration, the economy
    • perspective
    • long-term survival
    • protecting and understanding our world.
  • Proposal for Canada to contribute to an ice sounding radar to the NeMO missing to scan MARS upper surface of regolith to pinpoint water-ice deposits.
  • Canada $1.6 B in 2016 of mineral exploration investments. Canada major mining and resource extraction nation.
  • But significant expenses for Arctic exploration:
    • Length travel times
    • Difficult logistics
    • Short summer for operations.
  • Dr. Oz is on Canada’s Space Advisory Board: “What we heard” during consultations.
    • Strengthen world-class Canadian capabilities
    • Outreach and education programs for Canadians
  • Possible routes for outreach: Yuri’s Nights, Scientist in Residence, Western Worlds podcast, International Observe the Moon Night, World Space Week. Summer Space Camp.
  • He ended by saying: Let’s tell the story of Canada in space!

Missions and Programs Session

UrtheCast presentation at Missions and Programs

UrtheCast presentation at Missions and Programs

  • Presenters were Dave McCabe, Senior Customer Business Manager, Space Systems, Honeywell Aerospace; Larry Reeves, President, Canadian Satellite Design Challenge Management Society, also with UrtheCast; and Vibooshon Sriskanda, Aerospace Student, CubeSat Team of Carleton University.
  • The panel started with a Honeywell presentation on Canada’s technological achievements since the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Larry Reeves from UrtheCast then talked about how UrtheCast went into Earth Observation role which is rapidly evolving and growing
  • UrtheCast has 250 people, 100 are with Deimos Imaging (from Spain).
  • Planned future satellite constellations:
    • UrtheDaily: 6 satellites all optimized for daily 360-km swathe in sun-synchronous orbit collecting consistent, reliable, and daily coverage of Earth’s landmasses (minus Antartica and Greenland)
  • Unfortunately I was only able to catch part of the session.

That’s it for my Day 2 notes, which are more episodic than on Day 1, since I had to leave at noon.

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Canadian Space Society Annual Summit 2017 – Day 1 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/11/29/canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2017-day-1/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/11/29/canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2017-day-1/#comments Wed, 29 Nov 2017 19:07:49 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2438 Day 1 recap of the Canadian Space Society's Annual Summit 2017.

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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.

Hakuto "White Rabbit" rover rear view Hakuto "White Rabbit" rover side view

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 (www.nasa.gov/winit)
    • 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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Canadian Space Society Annual Summit 2017 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/11/29/canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2017/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/11/29/canadian-space-society-annual-summit-2017/#comments Wed, 29 Nov 2017 19:06:54 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2614 The Canadian Space Society's Annual Summit 2017 focused on Canada’s future in space and spotlights up-and-coming leaders of our space sector.

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I began this blog four years ago with a series of posts about the Canadian Space Society’s Annual Summit (which you can read here, here, here, and here).

So much has changed since then.

The tempo of space exploration and missions has dramatically increased, driven in part by New Space companies (non-traditional, non-government space participants) which have made amazing advancements (some of which you can see celebrated right here). It’s now a given that private companies can be key participants in even the most complicated space missions.

With that in mind, the Canadian Space Society dedicated the theme of this year’s summit, held in Ottawa on Nov 21 and 22, to “Canada’s Next Space Generation”, which:

“…will speak to Canada’s future in space and provide a spotlight on the up-and-coming leaders of Canada’s space sector. By highlighting the next generation of industry leaders, space engineers, scientists, and astronauts, the CSS Summit will explore the changing nature of the global space industry and the evolving nature of how we incorporate space into our daily lives.

In Canada (and especially in Ottawa), we have a long-established and powerful traditional space industry, mainly geared toward satellites, robotics, and telecommunications. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a source of national pride and economic strength – but it leaves Canada a bit light when it comes to these new trends, since a lot of time and money is focused on the established Canadian players.

We did hear from a few New Space companies such as Ottawa’s Mission Control Space Services and Vancouver’s UrtheCast (which I’ve blogged about here and here). It will be important in future years to hear directly from students, NASA space apps hackathon participants, and perhaps a virtual panel can be arranged with New Space startups from around the world so we can get some “outsider” perspectives.

On a personal level, I have become much more familiar with the space industry in Canada, and the people in it. At this year’s summit I saw many familiar faces, including organizers Minh On, and Ryan Anderson (who I worked with on Ottawa’s inaugural NASA Space Apps Hackathon this year).

I was pretty keen to attend – Ryan informed me I was registrant # 001 🙂 Unfortunately, although I had tried to free up my schedule, various client meetings and work engagements kept pulling me away from the two-day event, which was held at Ottawa University’s Tabaret Hall. However, I’ve posted some rough notes from Day 1 and Day 2. You can read more about the summit, and the CSS, here.

My overall impressions were very positive – I very much enjoyed the event, as I expected to. There were plenty of presenters, it was informative, a great source of networking, and the space community is small but enthusiastic. The main takeaway from everyone was how radically things are changing in the space industry.

Exciting times!

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Queen of the Stone Age https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/07/20/queen-of-the-stone-age/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/07/20/queen-of-the-stone-age/#comments Thu, 20 Jul 2017 23:28:05 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2559 In the stygian darkness of her stone tomb, Maebh slumbers in state. On her head is a crown, in her hands a sword, and at her feet, her war chariot. In Ireland, a country awash with history and legend, there is always more to discover.

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This is part of a series on a 3-week, 3050-km road trip across Wales and Republic of Ireland that my parents, my aunt and I took to retrace some family roots.

In the stygian darkness of her stone tomb, Maebh slumbers in state.

On her head is a crown, in her hands a sword, and at her feet, a war chariot. She is buried upright, facing the distant lands of her Ulster enemies, in eternal vigilance.

Or so we must imagine, because her 40-foot burial cairn, at Knocknarea near Sligo, has never been excavated. It’s possible Ireland’s famous warrior queen is not even there!

Carrowmore Megalithic Tombs

Ireland has a number of impressive stone monuments which in Neolithic times formed a “ritualistic landscape”, meaning a focal point of major religious, political, and social importance.

When we visited the town of Sligo, we explored Carrowmore, which is less than 10 minutes drive from the centre of town. Carrowmore contains at least 30 known monuments and appears to be one of the largest of these ritual landscapes. Many of its structures date back to at least 3750 BC.

The monuments themselves are called “passage tombs” but they may not always have contained bodies – instead holding cremated remains, as well as ritual offerings of food, tools, and ceremonial goods. The basic structure of a tomb has an outer wall of boulders that protects and holds in place five large standing stones which in turn surround a small inner burial chamber. The chamber is capped or covered with stone slabs or a large dolmen.

A large, partially-excavated barrow at the site demonstrates how the larger passage tombs are organized.

Excavated interior of a large barrow

Excavated interior of a large barrow

Over time, many of these outer monuments have collapsed or been turned over by farmers, leaving a tumble of rocks and bare traces of what existed before. In other cases, the inner circle is intact and remains capped. Fragments of mussels, oysters, quartz fragments and other grave goods are often discovered in the ground near these stone cairns.

Unexcavated barrow

Unexcavated but largely-collapsed barrow

It’s not fully clear why these megalithic structures were built. They are found all over Europe and were used for thousands of years. Often they form visible parts of the landscape and would have made dramatic markers for travelers. In other cases they appear to have been on low-lying flat ground, surrounded by forests, and would only have been visible to people nearby.

Many of the structures at these sites demonstrate a sophisticated awareness of architecture, art, and the natural world, such as at New Grange where once a year the light of the Winter Solstice shines right up the passage tomb and illuminates the central chamber. Customs and religious practices may have varied from site to site, or shared similarities. Over thousands of years, local variances would have crept in. Archaeological evidence shows that sometimes sites went dormant, then were re-occupied by later generations.

Since we have no contemporary records of their exact purpose(s), we can only speculate.

The Life and Legend of Queen Maebh

From Carrowmore, we could see Maebh’s burial mound, towering over the countryside.

Carrowmore Megalithic Tomb

Carrowmore Megalithic Tomb with Maebh’s burial mound on the hill in the background

As we watched, groups of tourists toiled their way up the hillside to the outside of the mound.

Knocknarea Hill Mound

Knocknarea Hill with Maebh’s burial mound

Maebh is a compelling figure in Irish myth – married to many famous and powerful kings, she refused to take second place to any of them. She took many lovers over the course of her life, and she made at least one husband promise to be without fear, meanness, or jealousy. She started the Cattle Raid of Cooley because her husband had one more stud bull than she did – so in order to attain equal wealth and status, she raided Ulster to steal their king’s prize bull. A legendary battle between her army and the hero Cuchulainn then ensued.
Maebh was finally slain by the son of a rival she had murdered. The son hit her with a slingshot while she bathed.

Her story is amazing. Netflix and the Irish Film Board should start filming – I would watch that series!  But, it’s not clear if Maebh ever really existed. Many of the legends around her are clearly tall tales.

However, the Táin Bó Cúalnge (the story of the Cattle Raid of Cooley) was analyzed by Padraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna, using a mathematical approach to examine the social networks in The Iliad, Beowulf, and Táin Bó Cúalnge. Tantalisingly, they found that:

in the Irish myth, the top six characters [including Maebh] are all unrealistically well connected, giving it both fictional and real characteristics. But when we remove the weakest links between [398 other characters] and the Top 6, the narrative becomes…realistic…from a social-network view. Perhaps these characters are amalgams of a number of entities that were fused as the narrative was passed down orally.

Preserving the Past

At the Carrowmore visitor centre, run by the Office of Public Works, we asked a guide why Queen Maebh’s barrow hadn’t been excavated yet. He explained to us that Ireland is awash with history and ancient artifacts, and there is relatively little money available to explore and preserve them all.

In fact, they have such an abundance of ancient structures and artifacts that the general public may not see an urgent need to protect them all. He feels that more public education is needed on the importance of preserving this heritage. He illustrated this with a joke:

An Irish farmer is visiting a museum of antiquities when he knocks over an old vase, shattering it to pieces.  The museum curator rushes over, and turns ghostly pale when he sees the irreparable damage.

“I’m very sorry, let me pay to replace it,” the farmer says.

“It’s 2000 years old!”, the curator replies indignantly.

“Ah, thank God,” says the farmer. “I was afraid it was brand new.”

The preservation of Carrowmore itself set an important legal precedent in 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled against a proposed municipal landfill that would have been placed only yards from the historic site. That judgement marked the first explicit legal protection in Ireland for the landscape surrounding a national historic monument. (“Carrowmore”; Wikipedia).

That’s good progress – because in a country awash with history and legend, there is always more to discover and protect.

Meanwhile, Warrior Queen Maebh waits in her hilltop tomb.

Or not.

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Street Art: Murals of Isla Mujeres https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/05/16/street-art-murals-of-isla-mujeres-mexico/ https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/2017/05/16/street-art-murals-of-isla-mujeres-mexico/#comments Tue, 16 May 2017 12:30:20 +0000 https://blog.nicholaskellett.com/?p=2528 One of Isla Mujeres island's many charms is that many of its buildings are covered by beautiful murals, and each street corner reveals new artistic vistas.

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We spend a lot of time on Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast near Cancún Mexico.

One of the island’s many charms is that many of its buildings are covered with beautiful murals by many different artists, and each street corner seems to reveal new artistic vistas.

A useful blog would include information on these murals. It should, for instance, note the artist’s name, the date the mural was painted, identify where it’s located (ideally on a map!). Most especially, it should attempt to describe what the art symbolizes.

I can provide exactly none of that information, but hopefully the photos speak for themselves 🙂

Enjoy!

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