CSA President MacLean Makes the Case for Canada in Space (Part 3)

The International Space Station
Now speaking of importance, let’s look at ISS, the International Space Station. You know this is – perhaps the most important aspect of the ISS is the fact that 18 countries can work together on something that is so amazing. It’s the most complex international project that has ever been conceived of and executed and it involved Canada, Russia, US and Japan and several countries from the European Space Agency.

And of course our contribution is well known. In Canada the Space Agency has two mandates. One is to explore space. The other is to serve government priority in the fashion that I’ve been talking about with MOPITT. And we have Canadarm 1, Canadarm 2, Dextre, all the control systems, the laser systems and the vision systems that go along with that. Without Canadian contribution, the space station doesn’t get assembled. Our robotics – we’re not spending anywhere near as much money as Europe spent, Japan spent or the United States spent on the International Space Station, but we had a key role that made a difference to the speed at which we could assemble the International Space Station.
I’ll just talk about Canadarm 2 for just a second because it can pick up the 200,000 pound shuttle and work with it and the control of that arm is phenomenal, in the sense that – you know the vision systems tells you where you are to a fraction of an inch, but I can actually move the arm a millimeter without it vibrating and it’s a flexible manipulator. You actually – you fly it and you shape out the response and it goes thuck, a millimeter and you can do that across several feet and thuck, just stop it. The control is impressive. The mathematics that we use there has been spun off into neural arm and we have surgeons in Calgary and Toronto that use the same control theory to do laparoscopic surgery robotically. And we’ve actually even done it with a surgeon in Toronto and a patient in Calgary on a simple – we haven’t done it on a complex operation yet, but on a simple operation. So the spinoff is huge. We are driving innovation.
Dextre – it’s the most sophisticated robot that we have. It’s a humanoid if you like. It has two 19-foot arms and the shuttle arm and the station arm can pick up several thousand pounds. Dextre can’t pick up as much in terms of weight, but it can pick up an egg without crushing it. Dextre is involved with all the heavy tasks on orbit, all the maintenance tasks and it’s done in conjunction with the space walkers as well.
So we all have all that contribution from the Canadian Space Agency for the robotics and because of that the Canadian Space Agency has a lead in robotics around the world. It wasn’t just the robotics that we did, it was also training. Every single astronaut that flew the arm came through the Saint-Hubert headquarters for the Canadian Space Agency and trained on the state-of-the art training mechanisms to learn how to operate the arm. Now, in return for that contribution, where we helped to assemble the International Space Station, we get to do very interesting scientific research in this world class laboratory. And I’m just going to talk about a couple and a couple that has spinoffs that you can relate to.
One is an experiment called OSTEO and you know we all have thigh bones and typically your thigh bone replaces every 12 years. So you have osteoclasts on one hand and osteoblasts on the other hand. There’s a dynamic interchange between those two types of cells, one that’s building up the bone and one that’s destroying the bone that actually causes your bone to replace itself in 12 years. When you fly in space, the one type of cell that builds up the bones doesn’t work anymore and the one that is destroying the bone is accelerated. So if you’re in space for an entire year, which if individuals are going to be flying in space that long – Chris Hadfield is flying this November for six months – he’s going to lose six percent of his weight-bearing bone mass. His density will go down by six percent. It turns out that in the elderly – you know Canada is spending 600 million dollars a year on osteoporosis in the elderly – and it turns out that understanding this in microgravity should be able to save us money in this medical field. And the guys that are helping us with the research on orbit from the University of Toronto are the same guys that are the world leaders in osteoporosis in that field.
Now another experiment that we did – and I actually flew with when I did my space walk – is something called EVARM and this is an experiment that measures very accurately the radiation that you experience when you’re on orbit. And in my case I spent about three quarters – I passed through like the three quarter point on the South Atlantic anomaly and when you go through an area like that, it’s actually quite the light show, like if you turn your lights off and close your eyes, you’ll see the scintillation across the back of your retina. If you didn’t realize it was dangerous for you, you would enjoy that show. Anyways the Canadian Space Agency has been involved for 20 years for developing those radiation sensors that are very precise. And now in over 400 cancer clinics around the world, we have these sensors that are actually predicting how much radiation that you’re getting and they’re able to minimize the radiation through the cancer treatments.
So, all of this, the implications that we have here, make the possibility of the world-class laboratory that the space station is, something very large. But I marvel sometimes at the fact that when we look back at Alouette 1 and those early satellites, we think about how small they are and I think it’s possible that as we move into the future, they will be suggesting that our first experience with this International Space Station was actually a very small step and I know that I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I was part a very small step imagining that they’re involved in something bigger in space 50 years from now.
Space Telescopes
However this next step that I’m going to talk about isn’t such a small step. Everyone knows of the Hubble Telescope. In fact if you do a survey in the United States about what is the most important activity that the Americans are doing in space today, it doesn’t come back to the International Space Station, it doesn’t come back to all the earth observation that we all do, they’re just making a difference in society, it comes back as the Hubble Telescope. And there’s a reason for that, is that there are answers out there with respect to the images that we’re getting from the Hubble Telescope, that are going to make a difference here on Earth, and it’s those answers that attract the young to learn about it. And so all the parents in the States are hearing from their kids how great the Hubble Telescope is.
But the Webb Telescope, the James Webb Telescope which is flying next, is much larger than the Hubble Telescope. It’s going to be 6,500 kilos. The primary mirror will be 6.5 instead 1.4 metres. There will be 18 hexagonal segments that are going to put this together and it will be operating at very Canadian conditions, -240 degrees. And of course you saw in the recent budget that Obama just announced that it will be launching in 2018. Very complex, it will be automatically deployed at the libration point and when it reaches its final position, about 1.5 kilometres from the Earth, we’ll be studying objects thousands of times fainter than anything we’ve seen with current telescopes. I think what is interesting here is the Canadian participation. Here you have somewhere between a 6 billion dollar and 8 billion dollar program that is incredibly important to our future, because there’s more energy out there on the head of a pin that can power the surface of the Earth for years to come, that you have something that is incredibly important to do. Canada’s contribution here is a fine guidance sensor that allows it to train on an object within incredibly high precision, higher than a millionth of a degree.
The one thing that I find interesting with those metrics in all those books that I was taking about in the library row is they’re all looking for answers in three to five years. And if you look at everything we’re doing in the space program, it’s a function and a tribute of the leadership in the past where it’s taken 20 years to get to where we are. Why was Canada asked to do the Fine Guidance Sensor? Because we did the Fine Error Sensor on the FUSE, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, where again we were able to train a FUSE Explorer to a very high degree of accuracy. A small component in the FUSE Mission. In fact we had most of the instrument actually in the FUSE Mission, but still a small component relative to the entire bus of the satellite. And then on the James Webb Telescope, we have two of the four instruments in the Fine Guidance Sensor and a Tunable Image Spectrometer and it’s because we’re good at it. So it’s incredibly impressive that we’re able to do that.
Now think about it. The FUSE Experiment, what did it do? It solved the problem of the variation of deuterium around the cosmos and that satellite figured out that deuterium, when you’re in a thick interstellar dust cloud, can attach itself to the dust and disappear and therefore not be detected. And consequently, it discovered that and consequently it started to understand the energy balance on the white dwarfs that were in the front of these interstellar dust clouds. And the energy balance is 20 percent less than they previously predicted. So look what’s happening. We have this innovation at the hardware point of view. We have an academic community that’s studying all of this information that’s coming from this hardware innovation and the next thing you know it builds on itself. You’ve got a framework for innovation going on because we have an expertise academically, the expertise from a hardware point of view, we’re actually looked to for a small key component on the next big step in space exploration.
Now we have to tell in Canada – I know this is an international meeting – but in Canada we have to tell our kids that. Because if our kids understand that we’re making a big difference, it will motivate them to pursue what’s required, the discipline and the hard work that’s required to kind of copy those who are doing that.
So I just kind of discussed three projects that we’re involved with NASA. Three, and we have several, I just picked those three. So over the years NASA has been our most consistent partner. You know that only makes sense given our history. You know the American Revolution, we all know it was really a civil war. There can’t be too many Americans in the room because that kind of fell flat. But anyway, but no, we are very good partners. We share a major interest and there is a way that we approach science that is similar. But we’ve also been forging good relationships with other countries. NASA’s about 70 percent, ESA is about 30 percent of what we do. We also work with China, India and Russia, but on a sort of an ad hoc type way.
I want to talk about our recent participation with ESA on the Herschel Observatory. And the Herschel Observatory is looking for water in distant star factories if you like. And in Canada’s case, we contributed to the development of two of the three instruments that are on that mission. And the first instrument is the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared. We call it HIFI. And how it works for us, we’re very good with klystrons and local oscillators if you like. So the klystron at 96 gigahertz is on CloudSat. That’s Canadian, the heart of the CloudSat instrument which is an American satellite is that klystron. The local oscillator which is the heart of the Herschel HIFI instrument, basically that’s a tuning fork. And so what you do is you match that tuning fork’s signal with the source object signal and put them together and that’s heterodyne spectroscopy and you’re able to get the spectral character of what you’re looking at because you’re doing that. Canada is very good at that. The people in Canada academically that work on that come from the University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge. In fact David Naylor in Lethbridge is one of the amazing individuals in this area and because we do that we have been hunting down the spectral fingerprints of water lurking around newborn stars. Until Herschel we’d never been able to get a detailed picture of what’s going on. And so with HIFI’s help, the scientists are also closer to understanding the role that water plays in the birth of exoplanets and those outside of our solar system.
You know by the way, the Herschel mission didn’t need long to justify its presence in space. It struck gold on its very first target. A protostar in the molecular clouds, some 3,300 light years away in the constellation Cepheus. And so it captured a protostar only a 1,000 years after its birth and it’s the most active intermediate newborn every observed.
So here are some of the examples of what we’re doing. Some of the missions are completed. Some are active, some more in the planning stages, but you can see that we have everything from something tiny at the component levels, something at the instrument level, all the way to the main satellite, always leveraging international cooperation. Another area that we’re really good in is the mathematical processing. If we can’t be involved in a particular mission because CSA doesn’t have the money according to priority, we can still encourage our academic community to get involved and because our relationship with NASA is so good and our relationship with ESA is so good, they welcome the academic community to help in the mathematical processing of software even when we don’t have a hardware piece of a satellite.
Continue to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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