The Government Invests $26.7M in 33 Organizations for the Space Technology Development Program

Minister Bains, astronaut Jeremy Hansen, Canadian Space Agency president Sylvain Laporte, MDA president Mike Greenley and representatives from some of the organizations that received funding through the Space Technology Development Program. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Everyone was smiling at MDA’s Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue facility, not only because the government had just announced an investment of $26.7 million through the Space Technology Development Program (STDP), but also because the participants we’re about to see the three RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) satellites before they get shipped for launch this fall. All told, there were 49 projects funded through the STDP from two announcements of opportunities.

Thinking outside the box

Of note, and which is detailed below in AO 4.2, the funds allocated in this round of the STDP included $3.4 million for space research and development by small businesses. This new type of STDP funding was aimed at small companies with up to 50 employees and allowed for proposals in just about any technology area related to space. In previous STDP funding rounds, small companies complained that medium to large companies had an unfair advantage in competing for funding. Also, in past STDP funding rounds the CSA would limit what technologies companies could propose.

Ontario and Quebec dominate

Not surprisingly the vast majority of the contracts went to organizations based in Ontario (22) and Quebec (20). The remaining contracts went to Alberta (2 – same organization), Nova Scotia (1), Newfoundland and Labrador (1), Manitoba (1), Saskatchewan (1) and British Columbia (1).

It’s disappointing that B.C. and Alberta only each had one company garner a contract. It seems that at least for this round of funding that not much innovation is coming from these provinces.

Six organizations received multiple contracts. For the most part, their names won’t surprise you.

  • MDA – 5 contracts worth $5.85 million
  • COM DEV (Honeywell) – 5 contracts worth $4.8 million
  • Neptec – 5 contracts worth $3.97 million
  • ITRES Research Limited – 2 contracts worth 1.5 million
  • ABB – 2 contracts worth $1.13 million
  • Mission Control Space Services Inc. – 2 contracts worth $400K

Note that there three organizations that received single contracts were in excess of $1.5 million; Canadensys Aerospace Corporation ($2M), Teledyne Optech Inc. ($1.57M) and Aethera Technologies Ltd. ($1.51M).

Priority technologies

Development of Enabling Space Technologies infographic
Development of Enabling Space Technologies infographic. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

On April 19, 2017 the Canadian Space Agency announced the Development of Enabling Space Technologies RFP. That RFP was targeted at 15 priority technologies with up to $10 million in funds available. The CSA ended up selecting 14 proposals funded at $9.6 million.

Here are the organizations and the technologies that received contracts;

ABB Inc. – Elegant Breadboard of an Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer for Climate Observations ($999,955)

Instruments like the imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer are essential science tools for studying the structure and composition of the atmosphere. They provide data that are used for weather forecasts and climate observations. This project, which involves participation by the University of Toronto, will build and test an Elegant Breadboard of a nadir viewing imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer (iFTS) for near-term capacity demonstration. This will de-risk the technology for future Canadian missions such as AQ/GHG, while simultaneously advancing the technology for a potential contribution to a future geosynchronous platform.

COM DEV Ltd. – Elegant Breadboard of the Spectral and Polarization Selection Subsystem for the Aerosol Limb Imager (ALI) ($400,000)

This technology development is aligned with a potential Canadian mission to study the effect of atmospheric aerosols on climate change. Aerosol is currently the greatest unknown in the radiative forcing of our climate, and understanding its impact on climate change and global warming is essential to substantiating climate models. This contract aims to develop the ALI instrument to enhance Canadian capability and readiness for a future space demonstration mission.

COM DEV Ltd. – Focal Plane Array for Coastal & Inland Water Colour Hyperspectral Imager ($1,334,719)

Current operational ocean colour imagers do not provide accurate information in the last few kilometers next to the shore of medium- to small-size water bodies. The proposed hyperspectral imager will result in an advanced sensor chip that will optimize focal plane array, allowing water colour retrieval along coastlines of medium to small bodies of water and enabling the sensing of over 10 million additional water bodies worldwide. The technology will feature a narrower sampling interval and reduced integration time in order to maximize image quality. The technology is being developed as part of a future Canadian water colour satellite or ocean colour mission.

COM DEV Ltd. – Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) Breadboarding, Integration and Characterization ($700,000)

Space weather can have a huge economic impact, as it interferes with essential infrastructure that powers the world. This contract will support the development of an ultraviolet imaging system to capture data that will improve our understanding of the physical processes that drive space weather.

DPL Science Inc. – Total Ionizing Dose Test System using Sr90 Beta Source (Irradiation Chamber Prototype) – $200,000

Electronics must be thoroughly tested to ensure they can withstand the harsh radiation in space. The capability to test the radiation tolerance of electronics is important to the space industry; developing a faster, cheaper and better testing method is highly desired. This proposal seeks to design and build a tabletop irradiation chamber prototype that can better respond to the needs of the space industry and improve radiation testing performed on space electronics.

INO – Experimental Multispectral Imaging Radiometer (EMIR) for Remote Assessment of Fire Characteristics ($499,959)

Space offers a unique vantage point from which to monitor activities on Earth. With this investment, INO will design and build an imager with enhanced sensor technology to support the measurement and remote monitoring of forest fires.

ITRES Research Limited – Coastal & Inland Water Colour Imaging Spectrometer ($1,299,846)

Canada has one of the largest networks of coastlines and inland waters. Unfortunately, modifications to our climate are negatively affecting these bodies of water. Understanding and quantifying the processes that occur within our natural waters are critical components of water resources management, such as protecting and monitoring water quality, security and oil spoil/pollution event response. However, current ocean colour satellites cannot provide accurate information in the last few kilometers next to the shore and for the large number of medium- to small-size water bodies. The proposed Dual Imaging Spectrometer COCI Experiment (DICE) system design uses two spectrometers and fore-optics run as one unit, allowing both wide-angle and narrow-angle views. The design will reduce light reflection directly into focal plane arrays. Future Earth Observation and planetary missions, as well as rover payloads, will benefit from this technology.

MDA Corporation – Antenna Technologies for Mars Subsurface Radar ($500,000)

Future exploration missions to Mars could use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), a microwave remote-sensing technology to conduct surveys beneath its surface. This contract will develop an Engineering Development Unit, a P-band feed antenna that could be used in a P-Band SAR to assist in mapping water and ice in potential future Mars missions, in order to understand the Mars hydrologic system and how it has changed over time.

MDA Corporation – Dexterous Interface and Tool for Planetary and Deep Space ($1,700,000)

There is an international need to develop technologies capable of supporting deep space and planetary missions that maximize flexibility and adaptability. MDA will develop a dexterous robotic interface and tool technology that is lunar dust-tolerant and includes high-speed data transfer and mechanisms capable of lunar surface operational and launch loads. This technology will maintain Canada’s competitive edge in building space robotic manipulators.

Neptec Design Group Ltd. – System Mounted Compact Active Sensor Technology (CAST) ($974,993)

Rover navigation is a rapidly evolving technology. While autonomous rover navigation has been successfully demonstrated, this proposal seeks to develop a miniature, light-independent, 3-D imaging sensor that would further improve rover operations and autonomous navigation either on Earth or on future planetary missions.

Neptec Design Group Ltd. – Environmental Monitoring System for an Automated Cell Culture Facility ($80,000)

Space flights are known to represent a health risk for astronauts. This project is linked to the study of the effect of microgravity on the human body, particularly on bone, muscle and vascular cells. Under this contract, Neptec will help develop a new automated cell culture facility to simplify and greatly improve the quality and quantity of information generated by cell studies conducted on the International Space Station or in remote areas on Earth.

Neptec Design Group Ltd. – Optical Ground Receiver ($720,000)

There is a current trend, on Earth and in space, toward transmitting an increased amount of information at a faster speed. Neptec, along with partners Thales Alenia Space Switzerland and the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), will advance Optical Ground Receiver equipment by fully integrating an optical telescope with an optical terminal in orbit. The proposal builds on previous demonstrations of optical communications, but will elevate the technology from proof-of-concept to full-time operational status. The design will be optimized for the Canadian climate, and the process will conclude with a full downlink demonstration from a satellite.Future Canadian radar sensing, hyperspectral, weather and communication satellites are potential users of this strategic technology.

Sensoreal Inc. – Nucleic Acid Detection System ($90,000)

Current tests for nucleic acid identification and quantification can only be performed in a laboratory environment. This contract, which involves participation by the National Research Council Canada, will help develop the next generation of gene regulation testing in the form of a portable, handheld system. This new technology will have applications not only in assessing astronaut immune system function and health during space travel, but also in remote or disaster situations on Earth. Nucleic acid testing can probe for genetic variations linked to cancer, neurological disorders, and development abnormalities.

University of Saskatchewan – Magnetic Resonance Imaging Instrument for Ankles ($100,000)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is an essential component of Canadian health care, and a tool used in a variety of scientific disciplines. Under this contract, the University of Saskatchewan will help develop a miniature portable MRI scanner to monitor bones and muscles in astronauts’ ankles, an area that is particularly affected by microgravity during long-term spaceflights. A new portable MRI is a tool that will be beneficial for both research and health monitoring.

Space Technology Development Program AO 4

It was a year and day from when the STDP AO 4 was announced that these new contracts were announced. It should be noted that almost all of the contracts announced were awarded early this year.

Infographic highlighting the benefits of contribution agreements awarded through the Canadian Space Agency's Space Technology Development Program
Infographic highlighting the benefits of contribution agreements awarded through the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Space Research and Development (AO 4.1)

The CSA said “the companies listed below were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $2 million for space research and development projects that are expected to produce economic benefits in the next 2 to 5 years.”

ABB Inc. – Advanced Blackbody Technologies Development ($130,807)

Directing intelligent efforts in the fight against climate change demands more and more accurate climate critical data. Calibration blackbodies in infrared Earth observation instruments help ensure the accuracy of radiometric measurements, which can be used to reveal changes over time in our atmosphere and landscape. This project will evaluate and validate two new technologies that could greatly improve the radiometric accuracy of calibration blackbodies.

Aethera Technologies Ltd. – Development of Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®) Radio Frequency Power Processing Units ($1,513,404)

Future exploration of our solar system will require continuous innovation and improvements to in-space propulsion. Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Aethera Technologies is developing critical technology for advanced in-space electric propulsion. Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®) technology has extremely low fuel consumption and much higher performance when compared with conventional chemical propulsion or other electric rockets. The technology offers economic and operational advantages in space commerce, including satellite deployment, re-boost services, refurbishment, and end-of-life disposal. This technology advances humanity’s evolution beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and significantly contributes to the world’s technology base for the exploration of space. Leveraging Aethera’s expertise in the field of High-Power Radio Frequency systems, the project focuses on the development of Radio Frequency Power Processing Units with extremely high electrical energy conversion efficiencies and mass density.

Advantech Wireless Inc. – L band to Ka Band High Power Block Up Converter with Enhanced Linearity ($555,000)

Advances in satellite transmission technology mean that customers transmit over a much broader spectrum of frequencies than they did 30 years ago. Current amplifiers, designed for a smaller range, struggle with deteriorating signals which affects service for customers. Advantech Wireless will address that problem through a method of signal correction and a power amplifier module. This design has transferrable applications and could provide an alternative to technologies in other markets that are currently insulated from competition.

Canadensys Aerospace Corporation – Nano-class Structural, Thermal, Mechanical (STM) Robotic Core for Deep-Space Robotic Exploration ($1,999,604)

Micro and nano-class missions are expected to play an increasingly important role in future space exploration as they offer quick and inexpensive ways to supplement and augment larger international and commercial missions. Despite their small size and budget, they must still be able to provide meaningful exploration capabilities in terms of payload capacity, mobility, survivability, communications with Earth, etc. Canadensys aims to develop nano-class multi-mission platform technology in support of future lunar and planetary surface exploration, with a small mobile system as a driving case. Structural, thermal and mechatronics elements of a small rover that can deliver meaningful surface capabilities in a nano-class package, while supporting a range of different functions and payloads over the course of multiple lunar or Martian day/night cycles, are the focus of this development.

COM DEV Ltd. – Optical Pointing and Tracking Relay Assembly for Communication (OPTRAC) ($1,058,694)

LEO satellite constellations currently under development will require the use of high-speed optical inter-satellite links to move vast amounts of data within the satellite mesh. To achieve this, satellite optical terminals will need to have precision acquisition and tracking capability to establish and maintain the tightly focused optical communications links. COM DEV will develop the OPTRAC system to provide the necessary fine pointing, tracking, point-ahead and optical fibre coupling to receive and transmit communication signals between optical terminals.

COM DEV Ltd. – Next-Generation Ka Band Compact Output Network ($1,310,760)

Mass and size have always been design drivers for space applications. Launch costs and a continuous drive towards increased on-orbit capability mean that a significant premium is placed on any reduction in mass and/or volume of a product. COM DEV will develop a new output network targeting a 30% reduction in mass and size. The output network is a collection of hardware utilized for recombining high-power amplified signals into a uniform beam for broadcast back to Earth. This proposed miniaturized output network will introduce novel designs, new materials and processes, and streamlined manufacturability for schedule and cost.

MDA Corporation – Three Axis Deployable Stationary Plasma Thruster Module (TSM) ($1,750,000)

The use of electric orbit raising, instead of chemical propulsion, after launch and separation of the satellite from the launcher to reach the geostationary orbit allows reducing propellant mass, and therefore increasing the maximum allowable spacecraft dry mass. However, today’s existing electric propulsion pointing systems are limited in their degrees of freedom and are available at a high price. MDA will develop the TSM, allowing an intensive and efficient use of electric propulsion on telecommunications satellites, both for the orbit-raising phase and the station-keeping manoeuvres. The TSM is a very versatile system, able to re-point thrusters continuously during multiple years of in-orbit life, and benefits from past developments of actuators qualified for constellation missions’ antennas.

MDA Corporation – Command & Data Handling (C&DH) Unit ($1,795,657)

The C&DH unit is a satellite’s control centre, providing the spacecraft platform with control and monitoring of all subsystems. With the increase in demand for smaller platforms and constellations, more compact and capable C&DH units are required. As a result, a significant amount of innovation is needed to combine all of the necessary functions into a smaller, more compact unit. MDA will develop new portions of the C&DH unit, while creating innovative methods to reduce mass, power, cost, and resource utilization, and maximizing performance, reliability and flexibility.

MPB Communications Inc. – Complete Family of Optical Amplifiers at 1.5 µm for Space Applications ($733,865)

At present, communication satellites rely on radio frequencies to relay data, which transmit at a much slower speed than terrestrial optical fibre links. Areas of Earth where optical fibre connectivity is prohibitively expensive or impractical rely on communications satellites to connect to the Internet, putting them at a disadvantage compared to urban areas. MPB Communications will design and qualify a family of innovative optical amplifiers for space-borne laser communication terminals (LCTs). Advances in LCTs will enable remote regions to enjoy the same Internet connectivity as metropolitan areas. This will enable improved monitoring and protection of these regions, especially in the areas of environmental observation, weather forecasting, and climate change surveillance.

Neptec Design Group Ltd. – Next-Generation Mini Lidar ($1,999,252)

A light detection and ranging (lidar) 3D imaging sensor uses lasers to produce representations of an environment or object. Lidar is crucial for robotic navigation technologies. A small, low-cost, lighting-immune 3D sensor is highly desired for potential future planetary rover missions. Neptec is proposing the development of a next-generation miniaturized lidar platform which addresses customer needs and future trends in both terrestrial and space markets. This will be accomplished through the manufacture and testing of two mini lidar prototypes, one focusing on performance and readiness for flight, and the other prioritizing miniaturization over performance. These projects will leverage Neptec’s experience and expertise in developing lidar systems for space, using the successful TriDAR as a foundation for the proposed architecture.

Square Peg Communications Inc. – Development of General-purpose Processors (GPP)-Based Wideband Signal Processing Technology ($584,775)

Computer processors have increased in power dramatically over the last several years. This means that processing functions that used to require dedicated hardware can now be handled by much simpler hardware, such as the Central Processing Unit (CPU) found in a typical general-purpose computer. Square Peg Communications will adapt signal processing operations fundamental to satellite communications so that they no longer require specialized hardware. This approach will allow for a less costly and complex system, greatly increase system capacity, and avoid obsolescence for the foreseeable future.

Teledyne Optech Inc. – Compact Lidar System ($1,567,775)

Light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors are essential tools used for a variety of tasks such as terrestrial topographic mapping, navigation and docking in space, and landings on planets or asteroids. – Teledyne has proposed to develop a compact array sensor. The improved lidar system will reduce the size and weight of the equipment, while increasing the range, coverage rate, and resolution of mapping technologies.

Space Research and Development for Small Businesses (AO 4.2)

The CSA said “the small businesses listed below were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $200,000 for space research and development projects. These projects are expected to produce economic benefits in the next 5 to 10 years.”

Averro Robotics and Technology Inc. – Development of Simultaneously Controllable, Dual Manipulation Arms Incorporating Haptic Feedback and Virtual Reality Systems ($182,010)

Recent advancements in actuators, sensor technology, and virtual reality (VR) systems are allowing researchers to make significant strides to improve the dexterity and speed of robotic manipulators. Despite this, substantial opportunity remains to improve control interfaces and manipulators that are slow, unintuitive, and significantly less dextrous than the human body. Averro Robotics and Technology will develop an intuitive, easy-to-wear control interface for manipulating dual robotic arms. The control interface will provide haptic feedback to the operator and allow for the robot’s “vision” to be experienced using VR, providing an unparalleled sense of immersion and depth perception for the operator. This technology will significantly improve operator safety in several environments including space exploration, spacecraft repair, explosive ordinance disposal, military operations, offshore and underwater environments, confined spaces, and other hazardous locations. This revolutionary, immersive technology is expected to allow remote tasks to be accomplished faster, more safely, and with less user training than other systems.

Bubble Technology Industries Inc. – Assessment of Silicon Photomultipliers for Miniaturized Radiation Spectrometers for Space Applications ($151,382)

Radiation prediction, monitoring, and protection technologies are a key part of all space missions. The construction of radiation detectors for long-duration exploration missions presents particular challenges because of stringent size, weight and power requirements. The proposed work aims to assess silicon photomultipliers as an enabling technology for miniaturized radiation spectrometers. These silicon devices have the potential to replace traditional, bulky photomultiplier tubes, significantly reducing the size and power consumption of radiation-detection instrumentation with little or no loss of performance when compared to traditional photomultiplier tubes. Potential applications of this technology include exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, stratospheric balloon flights, and small satellite missions, as well as use in terrestrial fields such as homeland security, law enforcement and health physics.

Continuum Aerospace Inc. – Additively Manufactured High-Impulse Cooled Chemical Thruster for CubeSats and Microsats ($200,000)

With advances in miniaturization of electronics, new materials and new manufacturing methods, significant space missions that were once the exclusive domain of large spacecraft can now be performed using spacecraft that are one-tenth the size. One factor still limits the types of missions that these new small and nimbler spacecraft can perform: the lack of significant propulsion that is safe, affordable and easy to integrate. Continuum Aerospace, with partners Canadore College and the University of Waterloo, are leveraging expertise in new rocket propulsion technologies, direct metal laser sintering 3D printing, and enhanced computational modelling to develop a new thruster system using non-toxic, easy-to-handle propellants which is small enough to fit these smaller spacecraft designs. This thruster system will be the first of its kind in Canada, and will provide Canadian spacecraft designers and mission planners with the ability to undertake new types of missions at a lower cost with enhanced thrust.

DPL Science – Radiation Monitor + Dielectric Deep Charge Monitor Using Power Module Technology ($94,612)

Earth’s magnetosphere contains ionized particles that can cause damage to electrical systems in spacecraft. DPL Science has developed the Dielectric Deep Charge Monitor (DDCM) to warn of possible deep charging in spacecraft. This project aims to develop multiple sample measurement capabilities in the DDCM and to allow the DDCM to be incorporated into radiation monitoring suites. This project will also work to upgrade DPL Science’s Spacecraft Power Module to withstand radiation encountered between 2,000 km and 35,786 km from Earth’s equator, which will greatly increase potential applications for the module.

Exonetik Inc. – Development of a Magnetorheological Robotic Device for Space ($200,000)

Actuators transform electrical energy into mechanical energy to move and control mobile devices. Magnetorheological (MR) actuation is a unique technology with exceptional dynamic performance thanks to the MR fluid’s viscosity that increases when exposed to a magnetic field, almost to the point of becoming solid. Actuators using MR fluids present characteristics making them very interesting for use in space compared to other types of actuators: increased performance, lower mass and more safety when used for applications involving human-robot interactions. Exonetik proposes to study the feasibility of using MR actuators in inhabited space environments for future space missions. More specifically, the work will consist in assessing the most critical risks of using MR actuators in space environments: launch vibrations, in-use outgassing, and safety of use. The biggest technological unknown lies around outgassing. Conventional off-the-shelf MR fluids use hydrocarbon-based oils and are known to outgas significantly in some operating conditions. The working hypothesis is that a custom formulation designed specifically for low outgassing, and involving perfluoropolyether (PFPE), would perform well in a space environment.

Gedex Systems Inc. – Space Inertial Navigation (SPIN) Technology Development ($200,000)

Inertial navigation is a technology that allows vehicles to determine how their position has changed over time, without needing to use outside resources (such as GPS). Currently, spacecraft operators must rely on external references such as radio tracking for navigation, but a method of autonomous navigation is highly desired for situations where ground-based communications are not possible. However, all current inertial navigation instruments suffer from an unavoidable drifting bias, causing a position error in the navigation solution which grows rapidly with time. The inaccuracy grows after a few hours to a level that is unacceptable for most space flight applications, especially for long-term exploration-class missions to other planets. Recently, Gedex developed a method using a pair of gimballed accelerometers that completely eliminates the drifting bias, slowing down the degradation of the navigation solution to the point where it can be useable for weeks or months. This revolutionary capability has immediate applications for asteroid exploration and long-duration, low-thrust space flight to other planets, and eventual applications for planetary rover exploration.

GHGSat Inc. – Darkstar-Q8 Demonstration ($197,962)

Companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint often struggle to accurately measure their emissions. GHGSat developed a technology that measures gas emissions from industrial facilities from space. In 2016, GHGSat successfully launched its first nanosatellite and is now looking to expand and launch two more nanosatellites. GHGSat will partner with Sinclair Interplanetary and Xiphos System Corporation to demonstrate the Darkstar-Q8 optical downlink system, which is expected to improve the downlink capacity of GHGSat’s satellites, thus enabling monitoring capacity up to 10 times more than its current system, providing more greenhouse gas measurement opportunities for industrial facilities around the world, and reducing GHGSat’s cost per measurement.

GlobVision Inc. – Advanced TLE Trend Analytics Using Machine Learning and Time Series Analysis ($200,000) 

The Space Surveillance Network (SSN) measures the movement of space objects over time, producing time-series data sets called Two-Line Elements (TLEs). The proposed project is to design, develop and integrate advanced machine learning and data analytics methodologies to automatically examine TLE data and detect novel or anomalous trends. These advanced methodologies will also be capable of identifying the root cause of any anomalies as due to either erroneous satellite tracking data or out-of-character space object behaviour. This technology will enhance the know-how and capabilities of satellite operators and designers, as well as lead to new concepts advancing space situational awareness and satellite monitoring.

ITRES Research Limited – Design of a Next-Generation CMOS Sensor with Readout System for Space and Airborne Visible Near-infrared (VNIR) Hyperspectral Imaging Systems ($200,000)

Hyperspectral imaging, which processes the electromagnetic properties of each pixel in the frame of an image, can be used to identify the materials that make up a scanned object or environment. Air and space-borne hyperspectral instruments, which often use Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) sensor arrays, are fundamental to Earth observation processes. ITRES Research proposes to design a high-performance CMOS sensor array with 3,000 across-track pixels, twice the size of current state-of-the-art CMOS focal plane arrays (FPAs). Earth observation payload designs currently require two CMOS FPAs to achieve the required across-track swath. This project initiates the development of a CMOS FPA that can meet the same performance criteria as current FPAs, while also meeting the spatial swath needs of Canada’s Earth observation community.

Kepler Communications Inc. – Nanosatellite-enabled Connectivity for the Global “Internet of Things” ($200,000)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the intersection of sensors, connectivity, and powerful data analytics used to collect and exchange data for various purposes, including business decisions. For industries with global operations – such as shipping and logistics, natural resource exploration, or transportation – the high cost of satellite connectivity prevents IoT solutions from being deployed and providing economic and business improvements. Kepler will develop low-cost antenna technology for satellite communications. This technology will enable mobile communications with a low-cost satellite network, and facilitate connectivity for millions of IoT devices.

Laboratoire Reaction Dynamics – Flight Demonstration Vehicle for an Advanced Hybrid Rocket Propulsion Technology ($196,700)

Launching satellites is an expensive and unreliable process, yet demand for microsat launch services increases year after year. Reaction Dynamics is pioneering a revolutionary, inherently safe type of propulsion system. This technology demonstration aims to develop the competencies necessary to use hybrid rocket engines in launch vehicles, and build and operate launch vehicles reliably. Additionally, other systems for supporting space launch operations, such as ground infrastructure, supply chains, avionics and communication systems, will be developed. Within this proposal, Reaction Dynamics hopes to launch the flight demonstration vehicle to an altitude of at least 100 km by early to mid-2020. Starting as early as 2023, the company aims to jump-start an orbital satellite launch service in Canada, targeting the emerging market of CubeSats, microsats as well as Earth observation missions.

Lunar Medical Inc. – Development of an Artificial Cognitive System to Support Medical Diagnostics in Long-Duration Space Flight and Related Terrestrial Applications ($200,000)

This project will develop a prototype synthetic cognitive decision support system for medical diagnostics during space flight, and will involve an initial validation of that system. The proposed Synthetic Intelligence for Medical Assessment and Treatment (SIMAT) will simulate human cognitive diagnosis through the application of decision algorithms, statistical analysis, pattern recognition, and machine learning. Once fully developed, it will assist Crew Medical Officers in analyzing an ailing crewmember’s medical symptoms and forming diagnoses. This technology will be critical for future long-duration, exploration-class missions where communication with Earth is delayed due to the vast distances involved. It will also support medical operations when communication with Mission Control is interrupted, or in circumstances where a medically trained astronaut is unavailable or unable to respond.

Mission Control Space Services Inc. – Autonomous Soil Assessment System 2.0 ($200,000)

In 2003, NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, began exploring the surface of the red planet. While both rovers performed for longer than expected, Spirit’s mission ended in 2009 when the rover became stuck in a soft patch of soil. Rovers can autonomously detect and avoid rocks and other obstacles with ease, but detecting soft soil hazards remains a challenge for rover operators. While Opportunity is still operating, it has lost mission time while stuck in soft soil patches. The Autonomous Soil Assessment System 2.0 (ASAS), building upon previous work by Mission Control Space Services, will improve rovers’ ability to navigate through unknown environments by detecting a much broader variety of terrains and hazard types through the use of artificial intelligence, and specifically deep learning techniques. ASAS can be employed to improve mission safety and efficiency in two ways: by running on ground station computers to help rover operators plan safe routes, or by operating in real time as a software payload onboard the rover to increase its autonomy by allowing it to handle hazard detection automatically.

Mission Control Space Services Inc. – Intelligent Path Planner (IPP) ($199,848)

Current path planning systems for NASA’s Mars rovers require extensive human input that can lead to wasted mission operations, due to communication delays and time-consuming manual analysis of data gathered from orbit and the rover. The IPP allows for heterogeneous data sets to be aggregated in real time, enabling rovers to learn as they drive. The IPP uses the information it has gathered to influence the path it plans, while also adapting the path based on the terrain encountered. Machine learning teaches the IPP to associate different terrains with performance levels. The IPP is targeted as a software upgrade to improve the efficiency, safety and scientific return of rover missions without the need for specialized sensors.

Neptec Design Group Ltd. – Optical Communications – Pointing, Acquisition and Tracking Subsystem ($199,845)

Space-based laser communication technologies offer significant reductions in size, mass and power compared to other space-based telecommunications technology, while increasing the capacity for high-speed, data-rich transmissions. This means that incredibly data-intensive payloads can be flown on even smaller spacecraft. Neptec will develop a prototype of a low-Earth-orbit-to-ground optical communication pointing and tracking subsystem. The prototype will provide critical insight into technical unknowns required to develop future designs for the spacecraft needing an optical communications system (called a space optical terminal) and for future Canadian Space Agency science satellite projects.

Nüvü Caméras Inc. – Ultra-Sensitive Wide-Field EMCCD ($200,000)

Electron-Multiplying Charge-coupled Devices (EMCCD) are good for capturing high-resolution images in very dark environments. Nüvü Caméras aims to develop a wide-field EMCCD camera that is capable of capturing larger images than standard EMCCD cameras. This technology will allow for EMCCD imaging to be used for a greater number of applications that require wide-field imaging, such as the detection of space debris that threatens satellites orbiting Earth.

Orbital Research Ltd. – TT&C Receiver for Tethers ($200,000)

Tracking, Telemetry and Control (TT&C) systems monitor satellite functionality, determine the satellite’s location and control the satellite’s behaviour. It is a required technology on all satellites, regardless of their application. As the market for communications satellites grows, regulators of the operating frequency bands have encountered challenges regarding the range of the usable band spectrum for navigation, communication, and Earth observation payloads. Orbital Research will develop a TT&C receiver for partner Tethers Unlimited, to be integrated into that company’s TT&C system. The receiver will operate in a new frequency band, outside the commercially available range. In addition to the new band, the Orbital Research receiver will be much smaller than comparable receivers and hardened for use in space, making the receiver ideal for small satellites.

Space Codesign Systems – Modelling a New Generation of Heterogeneous Computing Platforms for Space Applications ($199,500)

Aerospace designers often use software that simulates complex electronic systems to evaluate the performance of different architectures and to refine software and hardware early in the development stage. Heterogeneous computing systems (systems using more than one type of processor) offer advantages over homogenous systems in terms of speed and agility in processing, but aerospace simulation software has not yet been designed for computing systems with more than one processor. Space Codesign Systems proposes to develop a heterogeneous computing platform which will allow aerospace designers to more easily and efficiently design models of complex electronic systems, including those with embedded systems.

Feasibility Studies related to Space Research and Development (AO 4.3)

The CSA said “the companies listed below were awarded non-repayable contributions of up to $100,000 for feasibility studies related to space projects and technologies with strong commercial potential. The research and development projects in this category are expected to produce economic benefits in the next 5 to 10 years.”

Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation – Development of an Autonomous Medical Robot for Long Space Flights ($100,000)

The Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation developed an Image-Guided Automated Robot (IGAR) designed to carry out automated, preplanned, imaging-technology-guided surgical procedures. IGAR’s medical procedures have proven to be equivalent in precision, comfort, and time with less pain and better cosmetic outcomes than the standard manual procedure. This feasibility study proposes to merge IGAR with the IBM Watson Cognitive Computing System, allowing Watson to plan and control the execution of IGAR’s surgical tasks. This will be the first demonstration of a fully autonomous medical robotic system in the world. This technology would be vitally important to the future of human space exploration and colonization, as well as improve quality and access to health care on Earth.

MDA Corporation – Active Debris Removal of Satellite Constellations ($100,000)

The OneWeb satellite constellation will bring affordable broadband Internet access to the world. The satellites are expected to spend five years in operation before deorbiting using internal propulsion systems. MDA will collaborate with OneWeb to conduct a feasibility study identifying a cost-effective design for an Active Debris Removal (ADR) system using flight-proven, robotic capture technology. This capacity will be an important development for the safety of satellite operations and the reduction of debris orbiting Earth.

Magellan Aerospace – Resident Space Object Detection using Commercial-off-the-Shelf Star Trackers ($91,845)

There are around 20,000 human-made Resident Space Objects (RSOs) in orbit around Earth. This includes functioning satellites, as well as non-functional pieces of debris, and these numbers are continuing to rise. It is important to track the location of RSOs in order to prevent potential collisions and damage to functioning satellites. Currently, only small portions of the sky can be monitored by space-based RSO detectors, and Earth-based detectors are limited by cloud cover and daylight cycles. Magellan Aerospace proposes to adapt commercial star trackers, a type of sensor used for high-accuracy pointing in satellites, to detect and track RSOs. Using star trackers is an attractive solution, since almost every satellite in orbit could contribute to the RSO database using existing onboard hardware with no interruption to the satellite’s main mission. This technology would greatly enrich the RSO monitoring database and can lead to reduced incidence of RSO collisions through improved monitoring and early warnings.

Maya Heat Transfer Technologies Ltd. – Optimization of Reduced Thermal Models through Machine Learning ($90,605)

Ensuring that all parts of a spacecraft remain within acceptable temperature limits is one of the keys to a successful space mission. This involves comprehensive thermal analysis of each unit and the overall system. However, it is impractical to include detailed models of every unit in a system model, so engineers must often supply a reduced thermal model for system-level analysis. This project plans to use machine-learning methods to create reduced models. A computer will be used to analyze various options and select the most appropriate reduced model for the component and environment. A machine-accurate, reduced thermal model will allow for rapid operational decisions to be made with greater confidence. This would be especially beneficial for a rover on the surface of the Moon or Mars, where the environmental threats are continually evolving.

Thales Canada Inc. – A Wearable Physiological Monitoring Platform used in Varying Pressure Environments ($98,058)

Understanding how physiological signals behave in extreme conditions could lead to monitoring systems that would improve the health and safety of astronauts during future long-duration exploration-class missions. A wearable monitoring system would serve as a constant diagnostic tool that could detect meaningful physiological changes and inform the user. The objective of this project is to investigate the feasibility of developing a wearable monitoring platform for extreme environments and to collect a physiological data set to form a baseline for a broad array of contexts. The development of such monitoring technologies would not only change how the space domain deals with the health and safety of astronauts, but could also transform sectors on Earth such as medical care, defence and aviation.

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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