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David Saint-Jacques waits patiently for launch to space station after Soyuz setback

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A recent mishap aboard a Soyuz capsule en route to the International Space Station has done nothing to unnerve Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques about his own upcoming mission.

“It’s a dangerous job. We expect that there’s a risk. We expect that not every launch is going to be perfect,” Saint-Jacques told The Canadian Press in an interview from Ottawa.

“What matters is to have trust that there is a way out, that there is an escape system that works well, that search-and-rescue efforts are on the ball.”

Saint-Jacques, 48, said those contingencies were on display Oct. 11 when a rocket failure forced a Soyuz capsule with two astronauts on board to abort and make an emergency landing.

In this photo provided by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, the Soyuz MS-10 space capsule lays in a field after an emergency landing near Dzhezkazgan, about 450 kilometers northeast of Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service photo via Associated Press)

Russia has suspended all manned space launches pending an investigation, the results of which will give Saint-Jacques a better idea of when his own launch will take place.

The Canadian was slated to fly to the International Space Station Dec. 20 on a six-month mission — his first space voyage.

But the exact date is now uncertain and likely to change.

“Once they finish their work, we’ll know whether the launch will happen on time, later or maybe even ahead of time,” Saint-Jacques said. “We don’t know. We’re getting ready for every option, (and) I’ll be ready whatever happens.”

Close call

Saint-Jacques was part of the backup crew for the failed Oct. 11 space flight and was on site in Kazakhstan when fellow astronauts aboard the craft — NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin of Roscosmos — plummeted 50 kilometres to Earth.

Parachutes deployed, and neither man was injured, but Hague told the Associated Press it was the closest call of his career.

“The first thing going through my mind was are my friends OK?,” said Saint-Jacques, who was following the launch from the ground. “Are Nick and Alexei safe? We very quickly realized that, yes, they were.”

Expedition 57 Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Nick Hague of NASA embrace their families after the Soyuz emergency landing. (NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout via Reuters)

He has since dined with the pair, and he describe them as disappointed but in good spirits and ready to fly again.

Saint-Jacques said the key now is figuring out the source of the problem and fixing it.

It was the first aborted launch for the Russians in 35 years and their third ever. Like each one before, the rocket’s safety system kept the crew alive.

“We need to make sure we maintain confidence in the Soyuz system, which we do,” Saint-Jacques said.

On next launch

As for Saint-Jacques, he has wrapped up NASA training in Texas and was briefly in Canada this week before returning to Russia to complete his Soyuz training.

The current situation could hamper his planned medical research if there is a reduced crew aboard the space station.

“The main impact going from a standard crew of six to a standard crew of three for a long time, we can’t afford to do as many science experiments as we would like to,” Saint-Jacques said, adding that maintenance and repairs to keep the station functional would be the priority.

Gilles Leclerc, director-general of space exploration at the Canadian Space Agency, said in a recent interview the agency should have a better idea about the timing of Saint-Jacques’ trip by the end of the week.

One thing is certain: Saint-Jacques will fly on the next Soyuz that is ruled safe for flight to the space station.

Leclerc noted that Saint-Jacques is a medical doctor who is fully certified for robotics and spacewalks. “So the good story there is that you could have a Canadian helping to maintain and save the space station,” he said.

— with files from Peter Rakobowchuk and The Associated Press

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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