Thursday, January 18, 2018

Private Investors Poured $3.9Bln into Commercial Space Companies Last Year

          By Henry Stewart

According to the New York, NY based Space Angels, a privately held financial services group of angel investors focused exclusively on the aerospace industry, private investors poured $3.9Bln US ($4.85Bln CDN) into commercial space companies last year.

The Q4 2017 Space Investment Quarterly, a listing of private sector venture capital investment in the space industry compiled quarterly by the Space Angels, which served as the source for the CNBC post. According to the listing, "2017 was a record year for the Space industry on multiple fronts including amount of investment, number of venture capital investors, and number of new privately-funded companies." The complete document is available for download on request from the Space Angels website. Images c/o Space Angels.

As outlined in the January 18th, 2018 CNBC post, "Space companies received $3.9 billion in private investment during 'the year of commercial launch': Report," a record 120 private firms made investments in space in 2017, well over the previous peak of 89 in 2015.

According to the article:
... the vast majority of private space investment has come as the government has reeled in its spending in recent years. Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted in October that the space industry would reach at least $2.7 trillion in the next three decades, up from about $350Bln US ($435Bln CDN) today.
The post quoted Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson who called 2017 "2017 the year of commercial launch... The amount of capital put in was the key turning point."

In essence, and as outlined in the article, "the entrepreneurial space age is well underway."

An fiscal overview of 2017 space activities. According to the Space Angels, the firm completed "a record number of investments from our angel fund and closed our first investment from our venture fund. The team continues to see high quality investment opportunities across all market segments and we plan to increase both the number of deals and size of our investments in the year ahead. Strong fundamentals have us extremely optimistic about the continued growth of the industry being driven by the rise of commercial manned space flight, scaling of small launch vehicles and the demonstration of in-space manufacturing." Graphic c/o Space Angels.

The last eight years have also seen around $25Bln US ($31Bln CDN) in exits, as acquisitions and public offerings help to build out the fiscal ecosystem needed to support private sector venture capital investments at all levels.

The Space Angels investment portfolio includes cube-sat deployer Nanoracks, rocket builder Vector Space Systems, asteroid miner Planetary Resources and satellite start-ups Iceye and Planet.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

MDA Issues a Recruitment RFI for New Canadarm Technology

          By Chuck Black

BC based MDA Corporation, generally considered (even by its current owners) to be "a business unit" of the larger San Franscisco, CA based Maxar Technologies, has taken the unusual step of issuing a January 15th, 2018 request for information (RFI) under the title, "Canadian Capabilities to Support a Future Canadian Robotic Manipulator System."


No doubt the move has absolutely nothing to do with the fast growing Federal government perception, bolstered by recent articles such as December 28th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "How Canada lost its foremost space company," that the current MDA is no longer quite the same company as it was when it was known as "MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates" and served as the one stop private sector prime contractor for Canadian space "capacity building."

And, no doubt, MDA's move has nothing whatsoever to do with the growing understanding that robotics tools very similar to Canada's current space born manipulators are at the core of several other potentially highly profitable initiatives related to satellite servicing.

The latest of these to surface, as outlined in the January 17th, 2018 2018 Space News post, "Effective Space signs first contract for satellite life extension services," is UK based Effective Space Solutions, which recently signed its first contract with a “major regional satellite operator,” covering the launch of two of its satellite life extension vehicles to dock with existing satellites to provide station-keeping and attitude control capabilities.

According to the Space News article, the multi-year contract has a total value of more than $100Mln US ($124Mln CDN).

Join Up Now! According to the January 15th, 2018 MDA RFI, "the international space exploration community is pursuing the long-term goal of permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit. A manned station in lunar orbit, called the Deep Space Gateway, is in the planning stages and will be a proving ground for technologies that will take us to the Moon’s surface, Mars and beyond." To ensure "uninterrupted expansion" of the human presence into the solar system, "the time for action is now." The wording in the RFI is broadly evocative of the recruitment videos in the 1997 Paul Verhoeven directed movie, Starship Troopers and its sequels. So are you doing your part? Graphics c/o MDA & Touchstone Pictures/ Jon Davison Productions.

As outlined in the MDA RFI:
The Canadian capabilities of interest for this RFI are applicable to the Robotics and Automation Division of MDA for commercial and civil applications. 
Responses to this RFI will help identify potential Canadian companies, capabilities and services that could be engaged in to develop a robotic manipulator system that could be used in future commercial opportunities or international collaborations. 
The Robotics and Automation website for space based robotics listed at http://mdacorporation.com/isg/robotics-automation/space-based-robotics-solutions ...
It also attempts to be inspiring:
Canada is considering a robotics contribution as part of this international collaborative project. This builds on Canada’s current robotic leadership position and expertise used extensively for decades on NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and the International Space Station. Canada’s robotics contributions helped construct the ISS itself and are used on an on-going basis for its maintenance and logistical operations. 
This technology is so iconic that it is depicted on our $5 bill and is a globally recognized symbol of Canadian innovation.
The RFI was issued a little over a week after the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) issued a related NPP for a "dexterous interface and tool for planetary and deep space."

That NPP was discussed in the January 8th, 2018 post, "New "Canadarms" Will Now Compete Against Maxar/ DARPA & Orbital ATK/ NASA Satellite Servicing Technologies."

It's worth noting that MDA expects to win any contracts deriving from the recent CSA NPP. They still consider themselves to be the one stop private sector prime contractor for Canadian space "capacity building."
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, January 15, 2018

GLXP May Bite the Dust Before Reaching the Finish Line

          By Brian Orlotti

The decade-old Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) will officially end on March 31st, 2018 very likely without a winner due to multiple teams dropping out of the race from financial/technical issues or facing launch vehicle delays. Extracting lessons to be learned would be useful in order to create more successful prizes in the future.


Announced in 2007, the GLXP offered $20Mln USD ($24.85Mln CDN) for the first private team to land a vehicle on the moon, travel 500 meters across it, and send back high-definition video by the end of 2012. A $5Mln US ($6.2Mln CDN) prize was made available for the second team to accomplish that goal.

The global financial meltdown of 2008 and its aftershocks greatly limited access to funds for the 32 teams that had initially registered for the competition, slowing their progress. The deadline was extended several times as competitors dropped out. As of 2018, only two teams remain.

According to the January 9th, 2018 The Ken post, "TeamIndus and Isro call off their GLXP launch contract," a launch contract signed in 2016 between Bangalore, India-based GLXP team Team Indus and Antrix Corporation {the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)} has been cancelled.

That contract’s cancellation will also effectively eliminate another GLXP team, Japan-based Team Hakuto, which was to send its lunar rover on the same flight. The cost of chartering the launch of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is upwards of $20Mln USD ($24.87Mln CDN), with the development costs of a rover adding several million more.


But three other GLXP teams remained; Florida-based Moon Express, Israel-based SpaceIL and San Francisco-based Team Synergy Moon. All three have met the GLXP’s requirement of signing launch contracts by the end of 2016 in order to remain in the competition.

However, SpaceIL dropped out in Nov 2017 due to a lack of funds. The chance of the remaining two teams actually meeting the March 31st contest deadline seems unlikely.

Moon Express had been viewed by many space aficionados as a strong contender to win the race. Recently however, founder (and Canadian space pioneer) Bob Richards and Vice President Alain Berinstain (formerly of the Canadian Space Agency) have indicated that Moon Express would not be able to launch in time to win the prize.

The company had entered into a contract with New Zealand-based Rocket Lab to launch their GLXP spacecraft on the new Electron rocket. However, technical issues have resulted in repeated delays of the Electron’s test flights, in turn pushing back Moon Express’ timetable.

Moon Express has downplayed the GLXP’s importance to its business plan and is willing to wait for the Electron rockets’ testing to be completed.


In term of lessons to be learned, building a lunar rover did not seem be the most difficult aspect of the GLXP. Rather, it was securing funds for a launch vehicle without significant government support.

According to Ryan Anderson, the president and CEO of the Satellite Canada Innovation Network, perhaps a better model would be to have each team build a rover and then rigorously test them in an Earth-based lunar analog environment, awarding the prize to the best performer. The prize could consist of either a fixed cash payment to be used by the winner towards their launch, or perhaps even a negotiated group rate for several finalists on a commercial launcher.

A group deal would have the benefits of lowering costs, increasing odds of success and preserving the ‘space race’ atmosphere of the contest.


Google is to be commended for their vision in creating the GLXP and seeing it through to its end, even if unsuccessful. The lessons learned from it will ensure that future competitions will bear more fruit.

It's worth noting that the January 10th - 12th, 2018 "Lunar Science for Landed Missions Workshop, included two commercial landing opportunities panels that included representatives from numerous past and present GLXP competitors and others.

So the quest continues. Someday soon, another one will bite the (lunar) dust.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

ABB Canada Supplies Key Instrument for Joint Polar Satellite System-1

          By Chuck Black

An interferometer built by Montreal, PQ based ABB Canada is at the heart of the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1), an Earth observation satellite launched by NASA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) built Delta II rocket on November 18th, 2017.

The JPSS 1, a 14.8-foot (4.5 meters), 5,060-lb. (2,295 kilograms) spacecraft with five instruments which will let it observe Earth and its climate over the long term while also pinpointing immediate weather changes. As outlined in the November 18th, 2017 Space.com post, "First-of-Its-Kind Satellite Launches to Track Earth's Weather Like Never Before," the satellite's full mission cost, including development and operational lifecycle, is $1.6Bln US ($2Bln CDN). Graphic c/o Ball Aerospace.

As outlined in the January 15th, 2018 ABB Canada press release, "ABB satellite-based technologies help improve weather forecasts and save lives," the JPSS-1 satellite:
...is joining the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting satellite in the same orbit to provide meteorologists with data on atmospheric temperature and moisture, clouds, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash, and fire detection.  
The data will improve weather forecasting, such as predicting a hurricane's track, and will help agencies involved with post-storm recovery by visualizing storm damage and the geographic extent of power outages. 
The interferometer, built under contract for Melbourne, FL based Harris Corporation. as a critical element to the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), one of the instruments that make up the next generation of US polar-orbiting meteorological satellites.

The CrIS is a Fourier transform spectrometer with 1305 spectral channels, designed to produce high-resolution, three-dimensional temperature, pressure, and moisture profiles, which can be used to enhance weather forecasting models asnd facilitate both short- and long-term weather forecasting. 

The instrument is expected to help improve the timeliness and accuracy of weather forecasts from three to seven days out. Over longer timescales, the instrument will help improve the understanding of climate phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña.

The CrIS, one of the instruments that make up the next generation of US polar-orbiting meteorological satellites. As outlined on the undated NASA Joint Polar Satellite System Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) webpage, the instrument takes "soundings of the atmosphere with 1305 spectral channels, over 3 wavelength ranges: LWIR (9.14 - 15.38um); MWIR (5.71 - 8.26um); and SWIR (3.92 - 4.64 um)." Graphic c/o ABB.

According to Marc Corriveau, the general manager of the local business unit for industrial automation measurement & analytics for Canada:
ABB Canada, through its facilities in Quebec City, built the heart of the atmospheric sounder for the JPSS-1 satellite, a very critical element to this mission. Our team has also built a similar system for the predecessor of JPSS-1, the Suomi-NPP satellite, in orbit since 2011.
ABB Measurement & Analytics Business Unit is also under contract with Harris Corporation to build the next 3 units (JPSS-2, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4). 
In addition to the local economic benefits generated by this project, ABB is once again putting forward its experience and rich technological legacy in the space industry.
JPSS satellites circle the Earth from pole-to-pole, crossing the equator 14 times daily, to provide full global coverage twice a day. Polar satellites are considered the backbone of the global observing system. JPSS is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA and presents significant technological and scientific advancements in observations used for severe weather prediction and environmental monitoring.

ABB has a strong history in Canada, and the company continues to expand and localize its offerings for customers. With its Canadian corporate headquarters in Montreal, ABB operates close to 50 facilities and employs approximately 4,000 people across Canada.

The ABB Measurement & Analytics Business Unit facility in Quebec City, Canada has had more than 200 employees working on the CrIS program.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Another of Canada’s Nine Supercluster Finalists Includes a Space Company

          By Chuck Black

Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, a British Columbia based consortium wrapped around Vancouver BC based Telus Corporation, Vancouver BC based Urthecast, Redmond WA based Microsoft Corporation, Burnaby BC based D-Wave Systems, Port Coquitlam BC based Finger Food Studios plus others, has expanding its Canadian footprint to bolster a bid for funding under Canada's Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

UrtheCast CEO Wade Larson with a satellite video shot with his company's cameras. His firm is part of the BC based consortium vying for Ottawa's $950Mln Canadian super-cluster program. Photo c/o Chung Chow.

As outlined in the January 9th, 2018 Business in Vancouver post, "More players join BC’s supercluster bid as Ottawa draws closer to final decision," other early partners in the BC consortium included the BC Tech Association, the Business Council of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC based Wavefront Wireless and Lifesciences BC plus the Research University's Council of BC (RUCBC).

The West Coast consortium announced Tuesday that Vancouver, BC based Canfor Corporation, San Ramon, CA based GE Digital, the Vancouver, BC based Terry Fox Research Institute and Toronto, ON based Shoppers Drug Mart, among others, have joined the bid since the BC group was shortlisted last fall.

As outlined in the article:
... the goal of BC’s bid is to create a supercluster focused on digital technologies capable of transforming traditional industries such as natural resources, transportation and manufacturing, as well as advancing innovations in health technologies, telecommunications, and the creative and digital economy.
In an executive summary released in November, the group estimated that its participants could invest $1.4Bln CDN to fund 100 collaborations involving 1,000 organizations over a 10-year period.


Both Urthecast and D-Wave have been previous topics for posts in this blog, most recently in the August 22nd, 2017 post, "Note to Canadian Space Industry: Find More Larson Brothers!," and the January 16th, 2017 post, "Quantum Computing Is Real; A Canadian Company Now Offers Open-Source Tools & the Chinese are Building Spacecraft."

The BC Digital Technology Supercluster consortium is one of nine shortlisted consortia throughout Canada. Their original application featured 60 participants, a total which has since grown to 260.

As outlined in the October 13th, 2017 post, "Short List for the $950Mln CDN Supercluster Initiative," at least one other supercluster proposal involves a space company, an agri-food focused proposal spearheaded by Calgary-based Agrium Inc., which includes Richmond BC based MDA and ABB Canada, through its space operations business unit in Quebec City.

A third supercluster proposal, the Satellite Canada Innovation Network, last discussed in the August 3rd, 2017 post, "Satellite Canada Applies for Innovation SuperCluster Funds," wasn't included among the nine finalists.

The federal government could choose as many as five of the shortlisted supercluster proposals to share nearly $1Bln CDN in Federal funding. A final decision on which proposals to approve is expected before the government’s fiscal year ends in March, 2018.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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