This Week in Space for Canada

MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) promises to either buy a space company with US roots or else return to shareholders the $793 million CDN acquired from the January sale of it’s property-information business. Maybe they should talk with executives at Telesat, who declined again to discuss efforts to sell their company during the quarterly Telesat conference call on Thursday. Meanwhile, back in academia, researchers at the University of Guelph rediscover an old Russian secret to dealing with human waste in space. All that, with nothing thrown out the airlock, this week in space for Canada.

Our first story comes to us via the May 4th, 2011 Space News article “MDA Corp. Sets Internal Deadline for Reaching Acquisition Decision” which quotes MDA CEO Daniel Freedmann as stating that his company will either “decide on a large acquisition of a U.S. satellite hardware or space-services company by July or return to shareholders the cash it is now retaining for such a deal
The comments came during the quarterly investor conference call on May 3rd, 2011. According to the article:

… Friedmann made clear the company is searching for a large target, and not a strap-on acquisition. Key characteristics of the target company would be a solid entry into the U.S. government market, and a presence in markets where MDA has expertise that could be transferred to a U.S. operation for access to government business.

Consistent readers of this column know that MDA has been repositioning itself in the past couple of years into a full service satellite contractor plus developing a totally new business wrapped around on-orbit refueling and commercial satellite repairs. The company also has contracts to act as prime contractors for various upcoming telecommunication satellites and Canada’s next-generation Radarsat Constellation (RCM) Earth observation system but has also recently objected to Canadian Space Agency (CSA) efforts to parcel out RCM contract awards in small slices covering only short periods by arguing that it lengthens lead times and drives up total costs.
MDA executives might just have a point regarding their CSA issues although that point and two and a half bucks is likely only really useful for a cup of coffee, at least until some decisions start getting made at the political level (hello twelve to eighteen month “aerospace review“).
And speaking of areas where no final decision has been made yet, according to the May 6th, 2011 Space News article “Telesat Reports Higher Sales, Profit” Telesat executives declined in a conference call with investors to discuss the effort by its owners (the Canadian pension fund PSP Investments and Loral Space and Communications) to either sell the company or else prepare an initial stock offering.
The rumor mill has been working overtime in this area with recent stories in the Ottawa Citizen (the April 26th, 2011 article “Working Capital: Rumours rise over Telesat price dispute“), posts on online blogs (such as this April 30th, 2011 post titled “Rumors rise over Telesat price dispute“) and other sources each attempting in their own way to put some sort of a logical spin on the story.
Look for something to shake loose soon. The Canadian election is over (the conservatives won) and the next quarter Telesat investor conference call is about as far off as it’s ever going to get.
Which brings us to our final story.
According to this May 6th, 2011 post on the MaRS Discovery District Blog titled “Manning Innovation Awards: Trends in Canadian Innovation” a Canadian company EcoSpace Engineering Ltd. has used their CEO’s interest in various 1960’s Soviet space studies to create a viable technology to deal with human waste.
Inventor Ivan Milan, working from his laboratory at the University of Guelph has developed a methodology utilizing insect larvae to process organic waste into “nutrient rich organic fertilizer and protein rich animal feed in just a few days without the use of chemical additives and absolutely no residue or pollutants” according to the firms website.
Applications for this new tool include not only long duration space missions but also the more mundane processing of terrestrial animal wastes in current, large scale meat packing facilities.
For his invention, Milan’s firm has been recognized as a 2011 nominee for the prestigious Manning Innovation Awards, which will be presented on May 25th. His team is currently building a large plant in Guelph to test a variation of this technology capable of turning animal waste into fertilizer via fly larvae in as little as four days.
Anyway, that’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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