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So what would a U.S. ‘Space Force’ even cost?

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Imagine what it takes in dollars and cents to operate the U.S. Coast Guard in a year. Now swap out those maritime duties for a mission focused on outer-space warfare.

That, according to number-crunching by a top Washington defence think-tank, should provide a rough budget for the cheapest way for U.S. President Donald Trump to boost American space combat options by 2020, as he promised.

Trump would like to see “Space Force” become the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, dedicated to ensuring Americans have military capabilities to fight wars way above Earth’s surface.

The Pentagon has not yet released a budget estimate for such an enterprise.

But the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) projected this week that the five-year cost would amount to an extra $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion on top of the Department of Defense’s current spending.

The price tag depends on whether the government chooses to incorporate a Space Corps division into the Air Force, creates a separate but lean Space Force “lite” or establishes a more expansive Space Force “heavy.”

In all three scenarios, the costs seem feasible to Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at CSIS.

NASA administrator James Bridenstine delivers remarks at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in August 2018. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

While the personnel size of any standalone Space Force would be comparable to the Coast Guard, its budget would double the maritime service’s, according to the CSIS paper. A Space Corps department — kept within the Air Force in much the way the Marine Corps currently exists within the Navy — would require about 1,700 new staff for a total workforce of 27,300. This additional department would cost $11.3 billion a year in fiscal year 2019.

“If you’re comparing the different Space Corps or Space Force options, the closest military service we have just in terms of size budget is going to be the Coast Guard,” Harrison said during a phone briefing.

Even so, a space combat unit within the Air Force likely won’t cut it for this president. Trump wants an entirely new branch of the Armed Services that Harrison says would have an annual budget of up to $21.5 billion. Of that amount, only an estimated $550 million a year would be new funding, all of which still sounds manageable to Harrison, who publicly backs the Space Force idea.

The additional funding would be as much as “a handful of F-35” fighter jets, Harrison said. (The unit price of an F-35 in fiscal 2020 is about $80 million.) Extra costs involve line items like changing emblems, creating a new flag for the service, designing uniforms and administrative tasks including updating regulations.

A dedicated Space Force building wouldn’t necessarily need to be constructed either, if existing facilities are used instead.

Cost comparison of U.S. military services

ARMY NAVY MARINE CORPS AIR FORCE COAST GUARD SPACE CORPS SPACE FORCE (LITE) SPACE FORCE (HEAVY)
Discretionary budget authority (fiscal year 2019) $182.1B $164.9B $29.2B $156.3B $11.7B $11.3B $13.4B $21.5B
Active military 487,500 335,400 186,100 329,100 41,382 12,100 16,700 18,300
Guard/reserve 543,000 59,100 38,500 177,100  ——— 1,600 1,900 2,800
Civilian 194,803 190,642 21,553 175,771 8,759 13,600* 17,200* 27,400*
Total workforce (fiscal year 2019) 1,225,303 585,142 246,153 681,971 50,141 27,300 35,800 48,500

*Includes headquarters/secretariat staff and civilian personnel

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said in August that Trump will call on Congress to allocate $8 billion over five years to create a Space Force.

Harrison doesn’t think cost “should be that big of a factor” in decisions to create the service. “I think a bigger factor is whether or not people think it’s needed, quite frankly.”

National security consultant Dan Hill agrees that getting public buy-in is more important than wrangling over budgets.

“When you start talking about a few billion versus $8 billion, the public doesn’t distinguish between those that much,” said Hill, who runs the D.C. branding firm Hill Impact. “In Washington parlance, a billion is a rounding error. But to most people, a billion is a lot.”

Hill doubts the Trump administration has effectively sold the idea.

“We’ve had a lot of broad statements about the importance of having a consolidated effort, as it pertains to space. But what is NASA’s role? What is the Department of Defense doing today, and not doing today that a Space Force would address?” he asked.

“Is it simply just giving it equal footing to the other services? Is it really just a symbolic gesture to say, ‘This is important, we’ll put it under one umbrella?'”

Hill expects a major challenge will be convincing Americans a Space Force is necessary right now, while reassuring them the government hasn’t neglected to protect them thus far.

“You want to be able to say, ‘We’ve got this, we’re already doing this. But this will make it even better or address a future issue,'” Hill said.

Hill isn’t convinced those questions have been answered. The Trump administration’s rationale is that a Space Force will defend the nation’s satellite systems from foreign adversaries. Skeptics point out that the U.S already has an Air Force Space Command, based in Colorado.

‘Not a crazy idea’

Senior Pentagon officials have bristled at the Space Force idea, too. Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told CNBC in July that in her conversations with Pentagon brass, “none of them are in favour of a Space Force.”

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk endorsed the concept, noting that the formation of the Air Force was once “wildly panned as a ridiculous thing” because the Army managed aircraft during the Second World War. Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also remarked that a Space Force is “not a crazy idea.”

But how much a Space Force might cost to launch, what its full scope might be and who might staff its headquarters has yet to have been decided. The Trump administration is expected to put forward a budget request in February.

By Harrison’s accounting, an expansive “heavy” option for an independent Space Force would cost taxpayers about $21.5 billion a year, and include the transfer of about 18,300 active duty, 2,800 guard and reserve and 24,300 civilian personnel from other military services such as the Air Force, Army and Navy.

More than 96 per cent of that funding would come from existing Department of Defense budgets, he noted.

“We already have space forces. This would just be a reorganization of them,” Harrison said. “It’s much less cool than it sounds at first.”

CSIS’s budget analysis aligns with Deputy Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan’s estimate that the costs would be in the “single digit” billions. It also looks like a bargain compared to numbers leaked in September for the Air Force’s $13-billion estimate for the first five years to run a standalone Space Force.

A Trump campaign email from Aug. 9, 2018, from which this screen grab is taken, asked subscribers to vote for their favourite logo for Space Force. (Trump campaign)

One explanation for the disparity is that CSIS’s new budget analysis excludes intelligence operations such as the secretive National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees the country’s most important spy satellites.

Budget data is too classified to offer an accurate accounting for certain services, Harrison said, so he didn’t count them.

Beyond convincing Americans of the necessity of a Space Force, a Democrat-dominated House of Representatives presents a problem for Trump. There will be a natural tendency to “push back” on the administration, Hill said, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle may resist adding to military spending if it negatively impacts jobs in their home district.

Harrison conceded that the new Congress could blow up the Space Force idea altogether.

“At this point,” he said, “it may be a coin toss whether or not this makes it through.”

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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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