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Canadian satellites vulnerable to cyberattack, Defence note warns

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Satellites vital to Canadian military operations are vulnerable to cyberattack or even a direct missile strike — just one example of why the country’s defence policy must extend fully into the burgeoning space frontier, an internal Defence Department note warns.

The Canadian military already heavily depends on space-based assets for basic tasks such as navigation, positioning, intelligence-gathering, surveillance and communications. Canada is also working on the next generation of satellites to assist with search-and-rescue and round-the-clock surveillance of maritime approaches to the country, including the Arctic.

But those important roles could be endangered as technological advances and lower costs allow more countries, including adversaries, to cause trouble in orbit. Powers such as China and Russia are developing the ability to wage technological attacks in space, the note points out.

“Easier access could also open the door to non-state actors or to failed states with nothing to lose from disrupting space.”

Simulated data shows what Vancouver would look like using the Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites. The accessibility of high-resolution images of the Earth captured by space satellites ‘will present immense challenges’ to privacy and public safety, an internal Defence Department report says. (MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd./Canadian Space Agency)

Canada’s new defence policy underscores the importance of space, creating a need for “innovative investment” to ensure National Defence has the tools and know-how to fend off threats, the internal document adds.

A copy of the note, Space Technology Trends: Threats and Opportunities, was recently obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act. Several sensitive passages were stripped from the note, prepared last November for the deputy minister of National Defence.

In a statement, the department called the intention to protect and defend military space technology a “very important change” in the new policy.

“What ‘defending and protecting’ these assets means in practice will evolve, as technology and international discussions mature.”

Despite public perception, the militarization of space actually happened decades ago, said Dave Perry, vice-president and senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“Militaries the world over depend on an extraordinary amount of infrastructure that’s space-based, even if there are no physical weapons in space,” he said in an interview. “Space is well-emerged, but we keep calling it emerging.”

Even so, the internal note points out space is becoming ever more congested due to the advent of commercial space companies and the dawn of space tourism. “In addition, more and more nations are becoming space-capable and will expect their share of access to space.”

Satellite attack capabilities

The most direct threat to Canada’s space capabilities comes from adversaries with the ability to attack satellites, the note bluntly states. China, for example, has demonstrated the ability to destroy one of its aging low-orbit weather satellites with a ballistic missile, creating plenty of space debris.

Other possible tactics include a directed energy attack, electronic jamming or a cyberattack, which can temporarily or permanently disable a satellite, the note adds.

Electronic jamming or a cyberattack could temporarily or permanently disable a satellite, the report says. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

It says Canada is working with the U.S. and other allies on the idea of being able to quickly dispatch replacements for critical space assets that are damaged or destroyed.

As artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent in operating space technology, such as a robotic arm, it will be easier for a hostile player to sabotage it, Perry said.

“If you can figure out a way to affect the software, then that’s a potential vulnerability. Whereas before you would have (needed to fly) someone there, and actually put them on the piece of equipment, to be able to do something.”

High-resolution images of the Earth captured by space satellites, once exclusive to the military, have become increasingly available to other government agencies, companies, the public and hostile players — essentially “whomever is willing to pay,” the note says.

The accessibility of this data and the ability to link it with other sources, such as social media, “will present immense challenges” to privacy and public safety.

As space-based sensing and communication technologies rapidly improve, they become capable of scooping up more information, creating another headache for the military, the note says.

“The challenge of collecting, handling, storing, processing and accessing this data will become more and more severe as the data volume, velocity and variety continues to increase.”

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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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