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Solemn, spectacular ritual precedes David Saint-Jacques’s Soyuz launch

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Under cold, clear skies in central Kazakhstan, the Russian Soyuz rocket that will take Canadian David Saint-Jacques into orbit was carefully manoeuvred out of its hanger and brought by train to its final position before Monday’s blast off.

The so-called “rollout” is one of the most important rituals in the pre-launch routine for the mission that will take Saint-Jacques and two other astronauts to the International Space Station.

The event, which is steeped in tradition, drew hundreds of spectators on a bitterly cold morning to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, set in the flat, desolate landscape of Central Asia.

The Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft for the next International Space Station (ISS) crew, comprised of David Saint-Jacques of Canada, Oleg Kononenko of Russia and Anne McClain of the U.S., is ready to be brought to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Tamara Alteresco/Radio-Canada)

The pre-dawn procession began with the spacecraft being eased from the hangar where it was assembled, with its four giant engines coming out first. When the slow-moving train arrived at the launch station almost two hours later, the rocket was eased into a vertical position with the help of a giant hydraulic arm.

‘Wonderful’ rollout

“It was wonderful,” said Canadian Josh Kutryk, who was selected as one of Canada’s two new astronaut candidates in 2017.

He’s part of a large delegation sent by the Canadian Space Agency to witness the launch.

“To be fortunate enough to see the rocket roll out and go down the railway tracks, and to see it get fuelled and finally passengers put aboard, it’s fascinating to think we are doing this.”

By tradition, the cosmonauts and astronauts do not take part in the rollout. Earlier this week, Saint-Jacques and his two colleagues, American Anne McClain and Russian Oleg Kononenko visited the rocket and tested the capsule’s equipment for the last time.

A police officer stands guard early Saturday as the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft is ready to be transported from a hangar to the launch pad ahead of Monday’s upcoming launch in Kazakhstan. (Shamil Zhumato/Reuters)

Saint-Jacques is expected to hold a final news conference in Baikonur Sunday, but in previous interviews he has expressed confidence in the technology and said he’s eager to get his journey started.

A Russian Orthodox priest will officially bless the rocket Sunday and the crew will get a separate blessing just hours before liftoff, which is set for 6:31 ET Monday.

‘I feel proud and happy for David,” said Kutryk.

  • Watch our LIVE interactive special featuring Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield starting Monday at 6 a.m. ET on CBCNews.ca and CBC News Network. 

Launch pad tourists

Saint-Jacques’s wife, Vé​ronique, and two of their three young children were in the crowd and cheered as the Soyuz was lifted into its final liftoff position.

Among those waving Canadian flags were Michael, Joe and Patricia Olson from Williams Lake, B.C.

Among those who gathered at the launch site on Saturday were, from the left, Michael, Joe and Patricia Olson from Williams Lake, B.C. (Chris Brown/CBC)

Michael Olson says they were so inspired by meeting with Saint-Jacques two years ago they decided to fly all the way to Central Asia to send him off.

“I’ve always had an interest in space travel,” he said.

“[When] we met David we told him we were going to see his launch, so we are fulfilling a promise.”

Tourists brave the cold at sunrise in the desert steppe of Baikonur for a chance to see the Soyuz rocket that will blast off Monday morning, local time. (Alexey Sergeev/Radio-Canada)

His mother, Patricia, says she never expected she’d end up in the middle of Central Asia watching a rocket blast into space.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “He’s taking us to places we never thought we would.”

Several tour agencies offer visits to Soyuz launches, with prices usually in the range of $5,000 Cdn per person.

Rare launch for a Canadian

Ever since the retirement of the last space shuttle, Russia’s Soyuz program has been the only way to bring astronauts up to the ISS.     

NASA pays roughly $80 million US a seat per astronaut and divides them up between nations that financially support the ISS project.

Saint-Jacques attends his final training in Star City outside Moscow on Nov. 14. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada’s contribution led to Chris Hadfield’s memorable mission as the ISS commander ​five years ago, but Saint-Jacques’s trip is the only one currently scheduled for a Canadian astronaut.

The only other active astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, Jeremy Hansen, may have to wait several more years before he gets slotted in.

The Baikonur facility was built in the early 1960s during the heyday of the Soviet Union’s space program.

Although Russia has since built a new cosmodrome in the country’s far east, the Vostochny facility only handles cargo launches, and launches in Kazakhstan are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Saint-Jacques’s launch was initially scheduled for later in December but it was moved up after the last manned Soyuz launch in October failed to reach orbit.

The two crew members escaped unhurt after a risky high atmosphere ballistic descent back to Earth.

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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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