The Canadian Space Agency Awards $15 Million for Technology R&D to 25 Companies

Credit: CSA/SpaceQ.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has awarded just over $15 million in funding to 25 companies for its Space Technology Development Program (STDP).

The announcement today is part of the CSA’s ongoing efforts to fund a variety of technologies at different development stages.

Some of the notable awards include UrtheCast receiving $2 million in two contracts. These contracts are important for the struggling company as it continues its transformation into a leaner company.

Exonetik Inc.of Sherbrooke, Quebec received a $250K contract for its Magnethorheological Robotic Arms for Space proposal. Startup C6, with ambitions to build a small launch vehicle, received a $72K contract for its STARS (Space Transmission and Reception System) Feasibility Study while ARTsensing received $489K contract for its Nanotechnology-Based Radiation Shields proposal.

The STDP contracts were awarded in four segments.

Space Research and Development: High Technology Readiness Level

The CSA describes this segment as: “The companies were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $1 million for space R&D projects that have a high initial technology readiness level (TRL), between TRL 4 and TRL 6. These projects are expected to last up to three years and produce economic benefits in the next two to five years.”

The companies getting contracts are;

Honeywell Aerospace – Cambridge, Ontario (COM DEV Ltd.)
$1,000,000

  • Optical Pointing and Tracking Relay Assembly for Communication (OPTRAC) Advanced Development

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations currently under development will require the use of high-speed optical inter-satellite links to move vast amounts of data from satellite to satellite. To achieve this, satellite optical terminals will need precision acquisition and tracking capabilities to establish and maintain tightly focused optical communications links. This project will develop a system that performs better, can be manufactured faster, and costs less than existing designs. This project will secure a critical new role in space communications and maintain Canada’s dominant position in space-based communications hardware. It will enhance communication abilities and support better monitoring of water systems, greenhouse gas emissions, and fires, improved forestry and farm management, and enhanced sovereignty and security.

Kepler Communications Inc. – Toronto, Ontario
$1,000,000

  • Next generation telecommunications nano satellite

Telecommunications companies are looking to buy fleets of very small satellites, commonly referred to as nanosatellites, but industry’s ability to handle this scale of manufacturing is limited. To meet the growing demand, new manufacturing processes to build low-cost, high performance, nanosatellites are needed. This project will create a new Canadian satellite platform that can rapidly fill large orders of nanosatellites and meet specific cost and performance requirements. The project also includes designing and testing cost-effective, space-ready parts like integrated electronic flight systems, solar panels that track the sun, antennas, sensors, and batteries that will be scaled to fit on nanosatellites. This work will position Canada as a leader in the nanosatellite industry and provide new forms of export revenue, in addition to providing public access to new communication services that will serve the entire country.

MPB Communications Inc. – Pointe-Claire, Quebec
$999,999

  • A Cost-Effective Ultra-High Throughput Space-Based Optical Link

Large amounts of data move around the world through fiber-optic cables. However, in places where running cables is impractical, satellites are used instead. Optical links provide the critical connections that allow data to move between stations on Earth and satellite constellations in space. This project will test different approaches to develop a system that can transfer data at rates that are 10 times faster than what is possible with current technologies. The project will answer important questions about how the optical links will function in space, such as under extreme weather conditions and limited electrical power. As a result, the system will be cost-effective, scalable for different data sizes, and space ready. It will position Canada as an important leader in satellite optical communication systems, increase the industry’s competitive advantage, and develop highly qualified personnel.

UrtheCast Corporation – Vancouver, British Columbia
$1,000,000

  • A Novel Self-Cueing TCPED Cycle for High Resolution Wide Swath SAR Imaging

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites are used to scan vast areas of ocean to reliably detect any ships that are there. These wide area scans produce low-resolution images, but high-resolution images are needed to identify illegal activities like unregulated fishing. A new satellite called SAR-XL has two independent radars—one that takes wide angle, low-resolution images, and another than produces high-resolution ones. This project will develop software and systems to allow both of the satellite’s radars to work together to first detect the presence of objects like ships and sea ice, and then zoom in to identify them. These updates to SAR satellite technology will improve maritime surveillance activities by providing accurate, timely information about everything happening in Canada’s maritime zones. This work supports important activities, such as monitoring the Artic, identifying ships in distress, maintaining Canadian sovereignty in the North, and protecting the border against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and trafficking.

UrtheCast Corporation – Vancouver, British Columbia
$997,342

  • Automated Calibration and Validation of Optical Satellite Constellations

A new set of six Earth-observation satellites will provide a very precise snapshot of most of Earth’s surface on a daily basis so that changes can be tracked over time. The data must be accurately calibrated, which is normally a time-consuming, manual task. This project will provide three system components to cost-effectively automate this process. One system will automatically calibrate the many images produced by the six satellites. A validation system will assess the images as they are transmitted to Earth. An integration system will improve the quality of the images. This project will provide the ability to detect changes on Earth over time that can be used to identify crop damage, improve environmental monitoring, manage irrigation, and increase crop yields. It will also establish a world-class team of Canadian experts in optical systems, space-based imaging, and high-throughput software development.

GHGSat Inc. – Montreal, Quebec
$1,000,000

  • Order-of-Magnitude Performance Improvement for WAF-P Spectrometer

The Wide-Angle Fabry-Perot (WAF-P) imaging spectrometer is the main instrument on satellites that are used to measure greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities around the world. This project will use lessons learned from the current version of the spectrometer to provide major performance improvements that will make it perform ten times better. These improvements will miniaturize the platform, provide the spectrometer with the ability to detect very small concentrations of gases like methane, and allow it to be adapted to measure other trace gases like ammonia. This project will open up a $2 billion greenhouse gas measurement market to Canadian industry. It will also increase the number of Canadian experts in the field over the next three years.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Corporation – Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec
$750,000

  • Mk2 Reflector Enhancement: Engineered Composite Panel and Triaxial Woven Shell

Satellite systems and equipment are designed to work in harsh space environments and extreme launch conditions. This project will build and test advanced composite materials for lightweight, low-cost space antenna parts. Using an existing type of antenna reflector, this project will improve performance, ensure space-readiness, and solve two key design issues. First, it will use a new type of carbon fiber material to make the reflector less sensitive to the stresses of launch. Second, it will improve the design of the panels used for support so that the reflector can be stiffer, while at the same time being lighter. The ability to make light, high-performance, low-cost reflectors will give Canadian industry a competitive advantage and open up new markets. It also positions Canada to offer state-of-art reliable satellite subsystem parts and products, creating employment opportunities for scientists, engineers, and technologists.

ABB Inc. – Quebec City, Quebec
$757,294

  • Compact Fore-Optics for Space 2.0 Applications

Earth observation using constellations of satellites is an emerging market that calls for new products and tools to capture precise images of Earth’s surface. New fore-optics will improve the way satellites handle elements like stray light sources that cause data errors and calibration problems. They include features such as high-quality zoom and wider fields of view. This project will improve three key system features. New telescope technology will better manage light that strays into the camera. An electronic system will improve the field of view across two imaging systems through precise calibration of radiometric and spectral images. And an active secondary mirror will correct any fore-optic alignment or distortion problems caused by conditions in space. The results of this project will position Canada to offer low cost, mass production of compact, telescope fore-optics for Earth observation satellite constellations. They will help to develop new services that can provide better understanding of natural disasters, improve farming, and lead to stronger pollution control.

Burloak Technologies Inc. – Oakville, Ontario
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Corporation – Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec
$744,227

  • Large Scale Additive Manufactured RF Satellite Communication Sub-Systems

The use of 3D printers in additive manufacturing is significantly changing the way satellites are made. It allows more design options and lowers the cost and lead-time needed to make components. It can also result in fewer parts, easier assembly, and lighter, more efficient systems. This project will show how 3D printers can produce low-cost, space ready parts for use in the commercial satellite industry. It will use large-scale 3D printers to create a working radio frequency space antenna model. The model will be tested to ensure it meets defined mechanical and performance goals and inform future 3D printing projects. This work showcases Canada’s continued leadership in new space technologies and provides many opportunities for highly qualified personnel to enhance their knowledge and skills. It also combines expertise from the additive manufacturing and space development sectors to create an all-Canadian supply chain of advanced satellite communication parts and sub-systems.

SED Systems, a division of Calian Ltd. – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
$798,884

  • Bonded Satellite Modem

Satellite operators lease out bandwidth for uses like cellular networks and internet services. The bandwidth provided by a satellite becomes fragmented over time, as leases expire and are replaced by new leases that do not always use exactly the same bandwidth. This results in portions of the bandwidth being unattractive to new users, because it is not sufficient for their needs. This project will explore how to use channel bonding to combine this under-used bandwidth and improve satellite operations. It will design and produce a prototype of a channel bonded modem that gathers under-used bandwidth on satellite modems to produce high output signals to increase communication performance. This project will benefit satellite operators and end users by allowing under-used bandwidth to be sold at preferred rates, which in turn would provide a cost-effective option for remote communities that are reliant on satellite communications. In addition, extra communication security will result from spreading signals across multiple channels and satellites, which makes it harder to intercept sensitive government or defence communications.

Square Peg Communications Inc. – Ottawa, Ontario
$719,935

  • RF Test Technology for LEO Satellite Networks

Canadensys Aerospace Corporation
$499,586

  • Canadian Multi-Purpose Nano-Class Space Imager Performance Characterization

Space Research and Development: Small Businesses

The CSA describes this segment as: “The small businesses (up to a maximum of 50 employees) were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $250,000. These space R&D projects are expected to last up to three years and produce economic benefits in the next five to 10 years.”

The companies getting contracts are;

GHGSat Inc. – Montreal, Quebec
$250,000

  • Spectrometer Concepts for Monitoring of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Individual Sites

Spectrometers can be used on satellites to measure greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities around the world. Smaller, more accurate spectrometers will lower the cost of these missions. This project will explore new design concepts for a miniaturized spectrometer that can detect smaller concentrations of greenhouse gases while collecting high-resolution images that make the system less vulnerable to alignment issues or camera flaws. The miniature platform will be designed to meet the size, weight, and power requirements for commercial use on micro- and nanosatellites. The system will be evaluated to identify performance improvements like better communication with other systems, lower production costs, and streamlined product designs that will have no moving parts. This project will give Canadian industry a competitive edge in the $2 billion greenhouse gas measurement market and provide better alternatives to meet customer needs. It will also increase Canadian expertise in the field of optics, atmospheric sciences, artificial intelligence, and Earth observation.

Xiphos Systems Corporation – Montreal, Quebec
$250,000

  • Qualification of a COTS-Based Payload Computer for Demanding, Long-Duration Constellation Missions

LEO satellites are used for many types of missions that involve science, Earth observation, communication, and more. An important part of a satellite’s data management system is the Payload Control Unit (PCU). Used by commercial, government, and space agency customers, the market for low-cost, high-performance satellite technology is growing. This project will test the ability of a new type of low-cost PCU based on a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product to stand up to the harsh environment of space on long missions in high-LEO (in the exosphere). The result will be a component that can be produced quickly and scaled to meet large customer demands. Producing low-cost, high-performance, space-ready PCUs will allow Canadian industry to meet the needs of new markets and retain experts in small satellite technology. It will also lead to a better understanding of environmental issues and improved security and monitoring of our coastlines and waters.

Nüvü Caméras Inc. – Montreal, Quebec
$249,000

  • Wide Field EMCCD Camera Towards TRL-5

Space debris affects satellite communication systems used for internet and security monitoring and satellites used for tracking the weather. To avoid damage, future satellite constellations will need special imaging technology to detect and track debris against the dark setting of space. The cameras currently used on satellites are limited by the small size of available detectors and an inability to provide low-noise levels. This project will develop and test a large-format camera system designed to meet the needs of future space missions while also considering production costs and lead time. The low-flux, wide-field imaging solution will detect space debris using high-speed measurements of low-light signals and produce high-quality images with low noise levels. This project will lead to the only space-ready camera system capable of detecting damaging debris, regardless of size or speed – making Canada a leader in new commercial space instruments.

Exonetik Inc. – Sherbrooke, Quebec
$249,262

  • Magnethorheological Robotic Arms for Space

Robots are used on space missions to assist astronauts with difficult tasks and give them more time for valuable work. To protect astronauts from accidentally being hit with heavy, fast moving machines, space robots are made of lightweight materials and are designed to move slowly. These safety designs make it difficult for robots to do work around humans that requires fast, precise movements. This project will use robotic arms like the ones used in automotive and medical settings to test how new technology can be used to build higher-performance, lightweight robots that can perform technical tasks safely around people. These improved robots will decrease the time that astronauts spend on maintenance tasks, giving them more time for science. This project will showcase Canadian innovation in space robotics and spin-off technologies for use on Earth and help to establish a robotics cluster in Canada.

Blue Sky Spectroscopy Inc. – Lethbridge, Alberta
$249,560

  • Development of a Data Processing Framework for Space-Based Post-Dispersed Fourier Transform Spectrometers

The SPIRE spectrometer used on the Herschel Space Observatory changed the way we see space, giving us clear views of the far-infrared universe and the first large-scale view of distant galaxies. By using a similar imaging technique and cooling the telescope, the Space Infrared telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics (SPICA) will be 100 times more sensitive than Herschel, able to detect objects 10 times further away, and capable of exploring a greater volume of the universe. This project will develop a data processing framework and software to calibrate the 2,400 sensors that will be used to capture the large amounts of data and high-resolution images. It will also include testing the instruments and calibration systems in new environments. Building on the legacy of Canada’s contributions to Herschel, this work paves the way for an even greater contribution to new far-infrared missions. The project provides training opportunities at all levels and will increase engagement of students in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields across Canada.

NGC Aerospace Ltd. – Sherbrooke, Quebec
$250,000

  • Relative Navigation and Hazard Detection & Avoidance Integration for Commercial Landers

Moon exploration missions are a high priority for governments and commercial organizations. For these missions to be successful, lunar landing systems must provide space vehicles with the ability to land in specific locations and on any kind of terrain. Currently, landing systems that can reach a target site accurately, detect hazards on the Moon’s surface, and avoid them are not commercially available. This project will design and test a cost-effective, lightweight landing system that combines two technologies into a single unit to solve this problem. A highly-accurate navigation system will use two cameras to locate and estimate the condition of a landing site. A hazard detection and avoidance system will use active Lidar sensors to determine the best landing site to use. Addressing this gap in technology will open up an emerging commercial Moon transportation market to Canadian industry. It will also raise awareness of Canada’s expertise in landing technology for space missions.

Bubble Technology Industries Inc. – Chalk River, Ontario
$249,443

  • Investigation of Innovative Scintillators for Miniaturized Space Radiation Spectrometers

Radiation prediction, monitoring, and protection technologies are an important part of reducing the risk to space crews. Building radiation detectors for human space missions, like the exploration of Mars, is challenging because of strict size, weight, and power limits. To solve these problems, this project will explore the use of radiation detectors that are much smaller than current technology. Detectors and materials that can more accurately separate different types of radiation found in space will also be tested. These tiny radiation detectors will be useful on all space missions, as well as for defence, security, aerospace, and health applications. This project showcases Canada’s role as a global leader in radiation research, in both space and Earth, and benefits the country through the creation of high-quality jobs.

Good Vibrations Engineering Ltd. – King City, Ontario
$43,069

  • Force Moment Sensor (FMS) Linear Dynamic Testing of 3rd Prototype

Robotic equipment used on the Lunar Gateway will need to work with heavy payloads and operate in harsh conditions like extreme temperatures. To ensure that this equipment can function reliably, accurate force sensors will be used. However, during long duration space missions, these sensors become less reliable as they are exposed to different levels of force and work. This project will develop and test a new type of force sensor that measures changes that happen during active movement to overcome the challenges of working in space. These force sensors will be able to actively adjust robotic tools during long missions in space to support activities like space mining or on-orbit servicing operations. This project gives Canadian industry a competitive advantage and opens up new markets, creating employment opportunities for engineers and technologists.

Mission Control Space Services Inc. – Ottawa, Ontario
$249,991

  • Mission Control Software: End-to-end Operations and Autonomy Framework for Commercial Lunar Exploration Missions

Space Research and Development: Feasibility Studies

The CSA describes this segment as: “The companies were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $100,000 for feasibility studies related to space projects and technologies with strong commercial potential. These R&D projects are expected to last up to two years and produce economic benefits in the next five to 10 years.”

The companies getting contracts are;

C6 Launch Systems Corporation – Calgary, Alberta
$71,990

  • C6 STARS (Space Transmission and Reception System) Feasibility Study

As the commercial space market grows, new systems and technology are needed to launch small satellites and maintain communication links between launch vehicles and ground stations. Current dish-like antennas need to point directly at their target, and are too large and heavy for use on small satellite launch vehicles, This project will study the potential for a new, low-cost antenna and transceiver that electronically steers radio signals without having to move the antenna. The lightweight, simplified design concept will improve communications from launch pad to LEO, provide higher data rates, and require less power to operate. This innovative project will position Canadian industry as leaders in space launch systems, offering low cost, mass production of small satellite launch vehicles and communication systems for the emerging commercial market.

Maya HTT Ltd. – Montreal, Quebec
$98,920

  • Correlation of Spacecraft In-Flight and Simulated Temperatures through Machine Learning

One challenge of the growing space industry is to make high-quality, low production, complex parts quickly that meet customer needs at a low cost. Automated manufacturing processes can help to meet this demand, but humans are still required to design the best method to get the work done. This project will study ways to train Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do some of the tasks normally done by engineers, like programming computer-controlled machines involved in the process, and finding out the best workflow to produce parts. The results of this project will improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce the high cost associated with one-off parts. This work will showcase Canada’s AI expertise and improve Canada’s standing globally in the area of automated manufacturing.

Space Research and Development: Low Technology Readiness Level

The CSA describes this segment as: “The companies were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $500,000 for space R&D projects that have a low initial TRL, between TRL 1 and TRL 3. These R&D projects are expected to last up to three years and produce economic benefits in the next five to 10 years.”

The companies getting contracts are;

ARTsensing Inc. – Mississauga, Ontario
$489,000

  • Nanotechnology-Based Radiation Shields

Radiation protection is one of the most important considerations in space missions because of its harmful effects on astronauts and electronics. Both shielding and structural materials provide protection from radiation’s effects on equipment and human DNA. However, when radiation interacts with some types of materials, secondary radiation that can cause even more damage may be produced. This project will develop a lightweight, multilayered nanocomposite material that blocks primary radiation and limits the amount of secondary radiation created. The material will also be tested for other important features like its ability to recover from severe radiation and maintain its shielding ability, manage extreme space temperatures, and function during long missions. This material will lead to better protection for astronauts and equipment during space exploration missions, as well as for medical, nuclear, and aerospace workers on Earth.

Honeywell Aerospace – Cambridge, Ontario (COM DEV Ltd.)
$500,000

  • Photonics for Space-Based Communications Networks

LEO satellites use optical links to communicate data. Current optical pointing and tracking systems have large, slow steering mechanisms to direct lasers at their intended targets. This project will develop and test a low-cost, electronic pointing system to replace existing steering mechanisms. The new, lightweight system will use a high-efficiency optical phased array to transmit signals more reliably and be small enough to fit on a single chip. This project will also test the system’s ability to work with other optical components, which will lower costs and position Canada as a leader in satellite optical communication systems. The technology may also be useful in expanding high-speed internet access in Canada’s remote communities.

Teledyne Optect Inc. – Vaughan, Ontario
$498,659

  • 3D Imaging Lidar

LIDAR systems use lasers to measure range and are useful for everything from guiding cars on city streets to surveying asteroids in space. This project will study how to combine smaller, lighter components in a new way to develop a more powerful, compact 3D imaging system for use in future space exploration missions. The smaller, more efficient design will help spacecraft dock with each other, guide autonomous rovers on other planets, help drones create 3D maps, and prevent collisions in marine locks. This project will allow Canadian industry to pursue market opportunities in mobile mapping, security, and automotive markets. This innovation will also provide more accurate environmental data and benefit the mining and forestry industries.

ABB Inc. – Quebec City, Ontario
$499,480

  • Multiplexed Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer (FTS)

Monitoring global greenhouse gas emissions from space is an important part of efforts to control them. Improving the instruments that satellites use to detect these emissions will provide decision makers with better data. One such improvement is increasing the ability to gather data from one point on the ground to thousands of points at the same time. This project will adapt existing commercial technology with the ability to provide this higher-resolution picture so that it can handle the short imaging times available from space. It will also test the system’s ability to handle common problems like magnetic fields and fast orbital speeds to ensure it is reliable and accurate. This work will improve international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and will eventually lead to the ability to detect other gases, like ammonia.

Reaction Dynamics Lab Inc. – St-Laurent, Quebec
$473,936

  • Development of Guidance, Navigation, and Control Technologies for a Hybrid Engine Small Satellite Launch Vehicle

The growing small satellite market calls for reliable, affordable launch services to get spacecraft to orbit quickly and safely, but the current availability of these services is limited. This project will develop and test a new approach to launching small satellites using a new type of rocket engine designed to make it easier and less expensive to get a small vehicle into orbit. The new system will include state-of-the-art guidance, navigation, and control that can stabilize the vehicle, direct the thrust of the engine, and guide its own course to a specific orbit. The project will develop a reliable, low-cost flight computer and software to autonomously control a vehicle during flight, and test the system on the ground. It will also lead to spin off technology applications for the automotive and aerospace industries, creating new business opportunities and jobs.

MDA Systems Ltd. – Richmond, British Columbia
$101,911

  • On-Board Processing with Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Accelerators

Artificial intelligence (AI) running on high-performance computers can be trained to help scientists get the most out of space exploration missions. The technology is used to make decisions about where to go, what information to collect, and what data to share with scientists. This project will design a low-cost hardware platform that provides the processing power needed for AI, is less susceptible to the effects of radiation, and is ready for the harsh environment of space. The small size and low weight components will allow future space missions to conduct independent scientific investigations, adapt to changing situations in space, or determine the best data to send back to Earth. This project will showcase Canadian innovation and open the market for on-board AI in space, allowing a wide range of AI applications to run directly on a spacecraft.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 27 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.