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Governor General to attend space launch for Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques

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When Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques blasts into orbit next week atop a Russian rocket, his family back on Earth will be getting help from the highest level of the Canadian government.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, a former astronaut who last travelled into orbit on the space shuttle Endeavour in 2009, plans to visit the Russian launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan for Saint-Jacques’s liftoff on Dec. 3.

Canadian officials familiar with the visit say in addition to representing Canada as head of state, Payette will also have a formal role as Saint-Jacques’s Casualty Assistance Calls Officer. The role typically involves liaising between the astronaut’s family and different governments in the event of any problems on launch day.

Saint-Jacques, 48, is married with three children.

The Prime Minister’s Office is expected to release more details about Payette’s trip on Monday.

Payette was appointed governor general in July 2017, but her role helping the family pre-dates the appointment, according to one Canadian official.

Saint-Jacques’s launch to the International Space Station — his first space voyage — is set for 6:30 a.m. ET on Dec. 3. 

He will serve as the Soyuz co-pilot for the three-person mission alongside Russian mission commander Oleg Kononenko and American astronaut Anne McClain. He will also serve as the crew’s doctor on board the ISS during a six-and-a-half-month stay.

From the left, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and the Canadian Space Agency’s David Saint-Jacques will blast off in the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-and-a-half month mission on the International Space Station. (NASA)

Russia leases a Soviet-era facility in central Kazakhstan to launch its manned missions to the International Space Station.

Since the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, Russian spacecraft have been the only way to get to the ISS and dozens of astronauts of different nationalities, including Canadian Chris Hadfield, have made the trip.

Payette’s attendance at the launch is unusual in several aspects.

Tense relations with Russia

Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing military involvement in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine have sent Canadian relations with Russia into a deep freeze.

Official contact between senior members of Canada’s government and Russia have been practically non-existent in recent years.

Canada has sanctioned many senior members of Vladimir Putin’s regime, including Dmitry Rogozin, the current head of Russia’s Space Agency Roscosmos. 

One of the Canadian officials told CBC News that no direct talks between Payette and any Russian representatives are planned in Baikonur, although there will be an official two-day visit to Kazakhstan following the launch.

Julie Payette became Canada’s 29th governor general in October 2017. She was selected to be an astronaut by the Canadian Space Agency in 1992 and first boarded the ISS in 1999 to take part in an assembly mission. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Payette’s status as a former astronaut and a member of a very small group of Canadians to fly in space is also significant. The hope is that her presence can help focus public attention on Canada’s role in space, said the official.

Saint-Jacques will be the 10th Canadian to travel to space.

While Russia’s vintage Soyuz program has proven reliable and safe for those flying to the ISS, the last mission on Oct. 11 ended in failure, forcing NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin to make an emergency landing. The pair were shaken but unharmed.

Saint-Jacques, Kononenko and McClain had originally been scheduled to blast off on Dec. 20, but the mission was moved up following the failed launch.

Investigators with NASA and Roscosmos have spent the last two months trying to solve the problem and ensure this launch is uneventful.

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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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