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Canada’s key satellite system hit with another launch delay

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Canada’s showpiece satellite project has been hit with another launch delay, five years after the first of three spacecraft was scheduled for orbit.

The RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) is now set to be launched from a California air force base sometime between Feb. 18 and Feb. 24, 2019. It’s the fifth such delay since the $1 billion project was hit with technical troubles and other problems.

The mission follows RADARSAT-1 (1995-2012) and RADARSAT-2 (2007-present), pioneering Canadian satellite projects that use synthetic aperture radar to observe the Earth’s surface in fine detail, even through cloud cover and bad weather.

Technicians put the final touches on the second of three Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites at the MDA facility Thursday, June 21, 2018 in Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The RCM, a project first proposed to the federal cabinet in 2004, will use three identical satellites in polar orbits to provide coverage of 90 per cent of the planet, with the ability to show objects as small as one metre across. Their images will help safeguard the sovereignty of Canadian coastlines and the North, among other benefits.

But getting the project off the ground — literally — has been a challenge.

It was finally green-lit by cabinet in 2008, with a $600 million budget. The price tag quickly escalated and the initial launch date of 2014 for the first of the three satellites was pushed back.

A fixed-price $706 million contract was signed in 2013 with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (now MDA, a unit of U.S.-based Maxar Technologies) to build, assemble, launch and operate the trio of satellites for the first year.

Owned by government

The contract, drawing on MDA’s success with the first two RADARSATs, specified a launch date of July 17, 2018. MDA owns and operates RADARSAT-2, but the new RCM will be owned by the government of Canada, feeding surveillance data to the Canadian Forces and a dozen other government departments.

New costs are being picked up by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), adding another $300 million to the package, which has pushed the total cost to more than a billion dollars.

The current plan has the three identical satellites being launched together on a Falcon 9 rocket, built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, with a Swedish-built “dispenser” inserting them into orbits that will have the satellites circling the Earth roughly once every 90 minutes.

But thermal-vacuum testing in Montreal of the three MDA-delivered satellites late in 2017 showed a problem with No. 2.

“Such testing of the RCM satellite at the CSA’s laboratory identified a problem with components – in one of the satellites – which send the data acquired by the satellite to the ground,” says an internal document, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

“The failed components were removed from the satellite and returned to MDA’s supplier in Germany in early December.”

Launch failure ‘would results in major schedule delays (years) and a cost of $600 million or more’– Internal Canadian Space Agency report on the delayed RADARSAT Constellation Mission

Space Agency spokesperson Audrey Barbier said the faulty component was fixed, tested and reinstalled, and a new launch date at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was set for sometime between Oct. 30 and Nov. 29, 2018.

But SpaceX saw one of its Falcon 9 rockets explode after launch in June 2015, triggering a delay and a growing backlog for launches since then. The corporation now says a Falcon 9 won’t be able to get the RCM into orbit until sometime between Feb. 18 and Feb. 24, 2019.

The mission will then require another three to six months to make the satellites operational.

The delay, according to an internal government document, means the Canadian Space Agency will need to rely on less-comprehensive RADARSAT-2 data from MDA for much longer than expected, pushing the budget for that data to over $500 million, up from the original $446 million.

The design lifespan of RADARSAT-2 was seven years, and the spacecraft now is almost four years beyond its life expectancy, although it’s still functional.

Another disaster with a Falcon 9 rocket, or a failure of the system that inserts the satellites into their 600-kilometre-high orbits, would be costly for the Canadian government.

No insurance

Ottawa has only once taken out insurance on a launch of Canadian space hardware — $80 million for RADARSAT-1 — and will have to eat any losses if the RCM project fails after liftoff.

The agency pegs the risk of failure at 5.5 per cent, given SpaceX’s record to date, but the consequences would be severe for the project.

“Would result in major schedule delays (years) and a cost of $600 millions or more to build and launch three replacement spacecraft and/or acquire substitute data, if such data would be available,” says a March 2018 briefing package on the risks, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

“Rebuilding would require at least 3 more, likely 4 years.”

An illustration of the Radarsat-2 satellite orbiting the Earth. The satellite was designed to last seven years but is approaching its 11th year in space. Its imaging will be needed to fill in the gap caused by the delayed launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission.

Barbier confirmed those numbers are still valid, adding that the “knowledge and expertise gained while building the constellation would most certainly alleviate the process, and the infrastructure built to support the RCM would already be in place.”

She added that the agency so far does not expect its costs — including the costs of its 50 RCM personnel — to rise because of the recent delays.

The new satellites are each designed to have a service life of seven years.

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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