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Space jam: Skyrocketing number of launches creating congestion in skies

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Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • This has been the busiest space year on record, with 107 launches to date, and it’s causing concern about gridlock as rockets and airliners share the skies.
  • An extraordinary reunion in Windsor, Ont., as a Syrian refugee family welcomes their parents to Canada.
  • More and more Canadian seniors are turning to “co-housing” arrangements, and they’re discovering some big benefits.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Crowded space

Wednesday is shaping up as a busy day in space.

India’s Space Research Organisation successfully launched a communications satellite in the early hours, North American time — the country’s third rocket flight in just 35 days.

Arianespace, a private French firm, launched a military spy satellite from French Guiana shortly after 11:30 EST this morning.  

And another space company, United Launch Alliance, is scheduled to blast a U.S. spy satellite into orbit from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 8:44 p.m. EST tonight, weather permitting.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug. 12. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

If all goes according to plan, this will be the second three-launch day this year, following the lift-offs of one Russian and two Chinese rockets on July 9.

For a while, it looked like today might even set a new record, with five launches. But technical issues have scrubbed scheduled SpaceX and Blue Origin rockets for the second straight day.

(There’s some return traffic coming as well: A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three members of the International Space Station crew is scheduled to touch down in Kazakhstan just after midnight EST.)

So far this month, there have been nine successful rocket launches worldwide, and it’s possible that we’ll see eight more before the New Year.

A long-exposure photo of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying an Air Force AEHF-4 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Oct. 17. (Malcolm Denemark/Associated Press)

All of which has contributed to making 2018 the busiest space year on record, with 107 launches to date.

And it’s only the beginning.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has launched 19 times so far in 2018, wants to head into orbit at least 20 times next year.

Rocket Lab, a New Zealand-based firm that completed its first NASA launch earlier this week, has plans for 16 space flights in 2019 and is working towards a goal of one launch a week by 2020.

The Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin wants to make 100 flights a year.

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos in a New Shepard Crew Capsule mockup in Colorado Springs, Colo., in April 2017. The company’s goal is 100 launches a year. (Isaiah J. Downing/Reuters)

Another American space start-up, Vector, hopes to launch a dozen flights in 2019, working towards a similar goal.

And British billionaire Richard Branson, who saw his Virgin Galactic make its first successful near-space flight last week, plans to have three ships ferrying tourists to the upper edge of the atmosphere by the summer.

In Florida, where NASA’s Space Shuttle used to take off four or five times a year, authorities are now anticipating up to 200 launches annually in the near future.

China, which is investing heavily in a national space program (including manned moon missions) and now has a number of its own private launch firms, will probably beat that. So far in 2018, 36 rockets have lifted off Chinese soil, compared to 30 in the U.S.

But the rapid growth in space flight — yearly launches have almost doubled over the past two decades — is creating fears of “gridlock” in the skies.

The Dragon crew capsule sits in the SpaceX hangar at Launch Complex 39-A at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Tuesday. The space ship and Falcon 9 booster rocket are being prepared for a January 2019 launch. (Steve Nesius/Reuters)

As the Washington Post illustrated with this very cool graphics package and article, a single SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch last February saw U.S. air traffic controllers close off a 2,100 kilometre-long stretch of the Atlantic Ocean to planes for three hours, diverting dozens of commercial flight paths, to accommodate a 90-second rocket flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working on an automated rocket tracking system that should shorten those airspace closures to just 15 minutes, but it won’t be ready until at least 2021.

Space launches are still a relatively minor problem for aviation. As the Post notes, 1,400 U.S. flights were diverted around rockets this year, compared to seven million flights that experienced problems with weather or clogged airspace.

But that number is sure to grow as space launches spread and multiply, affecting more of the world’s almost 105,000 commercial flights a day.

Providing a final frontier of dissatisfaction for delayed, atmosphere-bound  airline passengers.


A poignant reunion

Reporter Susan Ormiston witnessed an extraordinary reunion in Windsor, Ont., as a Syrian refugee family welcomed their parents to Canada.

It’s rare for a journalist to be able to follow a story over the course of several years. The Tonbari family is an exception.

We first met three years ago in Lebanon in an abandoned, half-built cement building near Tripoli. Ibrahim Tonbari, his wife Zeinab Al-Omar and their children were packing to leave as part of a group of 25,000 Syrians promised refuge in Canada under the new Trudeau government.

The family of six had to leave their elderly parents behind in a wrenching, painful farewell at the Beirut airport. Grandmother Aida and her husband Mohammad had never been outside Syria and Lebanon, and she wept as she kissed her grandchildren, not knowing when she would see them again.

Last week, her prayers were answered.

Zeinab Al-Omar, who immigrated to Windsor, Ont., from Syria with her husband and children three years ago, anxiously waits at the airport for the arrival of her in-laws. A private sponsorship group in Windsor helped to reunite the family split by the Syrian war. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

After seeing our story about the Tonbaris coming to Windsor, Ont., back in November 2015, a group of lawyers in that city decided to privately sponsor the grandparents and an orphaned nephew.

The application took two years, but all three have finally arrived to a tearful reunion at Windsor’s airport.

“I’m so happy, I can’t believe it’s happening,” said Zeinab Al-Omar.

In the past three years, Canadians have privately sponsored more than 24,000 Syrian refugees. But once here, few are able to bring over family members — on average, about 240 per year — making the Windsor reunion a relatively rare event.

Aida Abed Al Karim, centre, holds a granddaughter as she speaks to Susan Ormiston in her son’s living room in Windsor, Ont. Aida and her husband Mohammad Tonbari arrived this month to join their children in Canada. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

“I really feel that it’s important that the government — before they can say they did the job, so to speak — that they put something in place for family reunification,” said Anneke Smit, a lawyer who is part of the Windsor sponsorship group.

“In some cases we’ve left the more vulnerable people behind. So even if we do nothing else, I think there’s really a moral obligation on us,” she says.

– Susan Ormiston

  • WATCH: The story about the Tonbari family reunion tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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Seniors seeking roommates

More and more Canadian seniors are turning to “co-housing” arrangements, reporter Kas Roussy writes, and they’re discovering some big benefits.

What happens when three long-time friends — all baby boomers, either widowed or divorced, all empty nesters — decide that living life alone is no longer an option?

Easy.

They sell their individual houses, do some serious purging of appliances and furniture, pool their finances, and buy another house where all of them can live.

The motivation?

Phyllis Brady, 66, says that her decision to share a house in London, Ont., with her friends came down to economy, safety, and companionship.

Empty-nest seniors Barb Coughlin, left, Phyllis Brady and Mary Townley sold their homes, pooled their resources and bought a single place in London, Ont., where all three could live. Coughlin says sharing a place to save money and for companionship feels like going back to university. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

That last one is really important.

Loneliness among older adults is a rising epidemic in Canada. Statistics Canada reports more than one million seniors say they are lonely.

Being alone can be a health hazard, and not just because of the chance of suffering a fall or illness without anyone there to help. Research shows loneliness increases the risk of a whole range of health issues, from heart attacks and stroke, to dementia and serious depression.

Mary Townley, 71, who knows her way around a curling rink and is pretty handy with basic tools for quick repairs, didn’t mind living alone some of the time, she told us on a recent visit to her new home. “But then there are those other times when you think, ‘Oh, I wish I had someone to talk to, not over the phone. It’s much nicer face-to-face with a glass of wine.'”

Co-housing arrangements among seniors is a growing trend in Canada, whether it’s people sharing one house or a larger apartment complex.

It’s a no brainer, says Adriana Shnall, an aging expert at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences.

It’s cheaper to live with somebody else, but it’s also better for our physical health and for our mental health.– Adriana  Shnall , Baycrest  Health Sciences

“It’s cheaper to live with somebody else, but it’s also better for our physical health and for our mental health,” she says.

The three women we visited in London each have their own bedroom and bathroom, and because Phyllis is the youngest at 66, she gets the so-called “teenager’s room” in the finished basement.

They share kitchen duties, split the bills, and basically laugh a lot.

Phyllis says she has lost a bit of weight, because she’s eating less junk food. The other women notice there’s less stress in their lives.

It feels like going back to university, says 71-year-old Barb Coughlin.

“Except now, we’re neater,” adds Phyllis.

Cue the laughter.

– Kas Roussy

  • WATCH: The story about seniors living in co-housing tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on … 

An act of Christmas kindness.


Quote of the moment

“Mr. Speaker, I did not use the words ‘stupid woman’ about the prime minister or anyone else and am completely opposed to the use of sexist or misogynistic language in absolutely any form at all.”

 U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responds after television cameras in the House of Commons appeared to capture his frustration during a Brexit debate with Prime Minister Theresa May.

In this House of Commons TV handout video, backdropped by Labour MPs, Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn makes a statement Wednesday in the House of Commons on his return after being accused of mouthing ‘stupid woman’ at Prime Minister Theresa May during Prime Minister’s Questions. (House of Commons/via AP)


What The National is reading

  • Toronto police arrest 7th St. Michael’s College student (CBC)
  • Hacked European cables reveal world of anxiety about Trump, Russia, Iran (NY Times)
  • Grace Mugabe faces South African arrest warrant (BBC)
  • Unholy row as Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches split (Asia Times)
  • Timmins woman charged with witchcraft just 2 days before offence comes off books (CBC)
  • Elon Musk unveils underground highway prototype (CBC)
  • Blind creature that buries head in sand named after Donald Trump (Guardian)
  • Hunter thought he was firing at Bigfoot, ‘victim’ tells police (Fox News)

Today in history

Dec. 19, 2000: Nordic combined skiing, a struggling sport in Canada  

If you build it, they still won’t come. That’s the lesson that Canada was grappling with a dozen years after the Calgary Olympics. Despite having a world class ski jump, the country was still struggling to produce successful Nordic combined skiers. The male-only event — the last remaining one in the Winter Games — sends athletes off the big and small jumps, then finishes with a staggered-start 10 kilometre cross country race. Almost two decades later, Canada is still looking for a champion, with the country’s best-ever finish remaining a 10th place at the 1932 Lake Placid Games.

In 2000, Canada can barely field individual nordic combined athletes, let alone an Olympic team. 4:09

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Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​



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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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