Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Seventh Birthday MOST!

My oh my, how time flies when Canadians have fun with Microsatellites!

Yes, it was seven (yup, 7) years ago today (June 30, 2003) that MSCI (formerly Dynacon) made history by completing and launching "Canada's Humble Space Telescope" known as MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of Stars) on a Russian Rockot launcher:
The MOST Microsatellite (designed by MSCI) was the first instantiation of MSCI's Multi-Mission Microsatellite Bus (MMMB), which has now been chosen by the Canadian Space Agency as the standard Canadian Microsatellite Bus for future microsatellite missions.  MSCI is currently building the next instantiation of the MMMB, this time in the form of the NEOSSat spacecraft.

To this day, the MOST microsatellite continues to provide valuable science data to astronomers around the world.  Congrats to the MOST team and to MSCI, as the prime contractor of the MOST microsatellite!!

By the way, if you were thinking that 7 years is a long time, you would be right!  MOST's design life requirement was only 1 year (with a goal of 2 years).  The fact that MOST is as strong today as it has ever been is a testament to the true viability of microsatellites, especially in the Canadian market.  The flight history that MOST has accrued over the past 7 years on the various MMMB components is proving to be invaluable to future missions using the MSCI MMMB (like NEOSSat, for example).

Even outside of the space context, 7 years is a tremendous amount of time.  Just think of all the things that can happen in 7 years:

  1. It takes 7 years for an infant to grow into a second grader!
  2. When you are a politician and you cause riots in India, you have to go to jail for 7 years.
  3. The enormous life-cycle of a cicada (2 to 5 years) is STILL not even as long as MOST has been operating on orbit (in case you've forgotten, that's 7 years).
  4. It took a very long 7 years for Canada to be annexed by Great Britain (amongst other territorial changes) in the Seven Years' War.
  5. In 7 years, you could see 93 full moons!  Wow!!!  That's a lot of howling!
Seven years is a very long time and so today, we celebrate MOST.  And, since it is strawberry season in Ontario, why not with a strawberry cake?


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Little Spacecraft That Could

They did it!!!

Over the weekend, JAXA's Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned to Earth, landing in the Australian outback, after a long and harrowing trip to an asteroid.  Hopefully, the capsule will contain particles from asteroid Itokawa it briefly touched down on in September, 2005.  Here is a photo of the capsule streaking across the night sky:

While nobody would ever classify Hayabusa as a microsatellite, or even a small satellite (however, the $100M price tag for the mission is not as large as many JPL missions), I think the success of this mission speaks volumes to the ingenuity of the JAXA satellite engineers (from Japan) to troubleshoot problems and find creative ways around them.  On several occasions throughout its 7-year mission, the Hayabusa team faced what many felt was a certain demise of the spacecraft and the asteroid sample-return mission -- not the least of which involved a major fuel leak.

With satellite missions getting more and more ambitious, it's only natural that microsatellite missions will follow suit.  We might even see microsatellites leave Earth's orbit in the coming years.  Who knows!  If and when small satellites start thinking "outside the orbit", it will be problem solving like this (exhibited by the JAXA engineers) that makes it possible.

So, to the Japanese Hayabusa engineers, hats off to you!

Omedetou!  (Congratulations in Japanese)

Friday, June 11, 2010


Dear Cyberspace,

Well, I guess this is it - my first blog post.  It was only a matter of time.  My wife, Ally Ferguson of I Heart That Dance (and recently of MSCI too) has been insisting for years that blogging is NOT THAT HARD.  I believe there was something said at some point along the lines of, "Phil, for Pete's Sake!  It's not ROCKET SCIENCE!".  I feel like that joke is a little over-used on us *actual* rocket scientists out there.  But, I must admit, this is considerably easier than I thought (and for the record ... MUCH easier than rocket science).

But I digress ...

For the past ten or so years, I have been following various space blogs like NASAWatchSpaceflightNow and Spaceref Canada.  There are usually lots of interesting articles on these daily blogs, but not always relevant to small space in Canada.  Don't get me wrong -- I like to hear the latest news on astronauts trying to settle scores with ex-lovers just as much as the next guy, but is it really relevant to how the Canadian microsatellite business is doing these days?  I think not.

So, enter "Microspace in Canada - The Blog".  Here, I hope to maintain a collection of commentaries, links to news items, press releases and just general interest surrounding the small space industry in Canada.  At MSCI, I am fortunate enough to get exposed to many small space projects, technologies and initiatives.  Being a rather opinionated guy, I usually have something to say about them.  So, rather than just spouting off at my wife, kids and whoever else happens to be nearby at the time, I decided to let the internet know.

So, here we go.