“Liftoff” ; True Life Astounding Stories

"Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX" by Eric Berger
“Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX” by Eric Berger

Elon Musk can be a very polarizing figure. There are legions of fanboys online on various platforms who obsessively follow him and his companies ; Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, Boring Company, OpenAI, Neuralink. Then there are the haters, of which there are also legions, who find his brash style arrogant and some claim he is a snake oil salesman. His tweets can, and have, moved markets (stock, crypto etc), more than once.

It is hard to argue with success though, and by all measures, SpaceX is successful. In April of this year SpaceX raise $1.16B of equity funding at a valuation of $74 Billion ! Since its founding in 2002, it has had a series of astonishing accomplishments; the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, several rocket engines, Dragon cargo, crew spacecraft and the Starlink LEO satellite constellation. Along the way it has “democratized space” by dramatically lowering space transportation costs not just for governments and militaries but for a burgeoning commercial sector. We would not have a NewSpace renaissance without SpaceX.

That is why this book by Eric Berger is so important. It chronicles the early days and history of the company and the people who built it. It goes through the trials and tribulations and the many, many obstacles that were overcome and how perilously close they came to going bankrupt and failing. It is also an incredible story, reading more like a novel at times, a page turner, than a non-fiction business book.

Many aspects attracted me to this book and it making my birthday wish list last month. As a kid growing up I was a science fiction and space nerd too, just like the billionaires Musk and Bezos who are now racing to space. I was 9 years old when I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing on our old black and white TV. Through my early teens I used to tinker considerably, taking apart old TV’s and radios and building my own electronics. Becoming an engineer and then eventually starting my own companies was my path and is a huge part of my identity. This story resonated deeply.

It covers Elon’s recruitment of key talent like Hans Koeniggsmann, Tom Mueller, Gwynne Shotwell and many more. The company’s growth and evolution from Hawthorne CA to McGregor, TX and from Vandenburg AFB to Omelek, an island in the Kwajalein Atoll in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Elon had funded SpaceX with half the proceeds from the sale of PayPal (the other half funded Tesla). No half measures, no retirement plan, no safety cushion.

Some key things stood out for me. No one thought SpaceX would succeed in the beginning other than the team themselves. The competition was huge heritage aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing that were defence contractors with tens of thousands of employees, billions of dollars in revenue and inside political contacts in the US government, NASA and the Pentagon. Every other challenger that had tried to build a low cost rocket prior to SpaceX had gone bankrupt. It reminded me of trying to compete against Big Telco with their huge resources and lobbying capability.

SpaceX brought a new process to the game from Silicon Valley. Agile methodology calls for an iterative approach to design; constant prototyping, testing, analyzing and refining the product or process. It takes a willingness to embrace failure, and especially hard is to be able to embrace failure in public, something that was anathema to the space industry. Living in Waterloo, a high tech town, this approach is quite familiar to me. It is frustrating to watch Big Telco still struggling with digital transformation, the legacy companies fighting against modern methods.

The drama escalated in 2008, when after three unsuccessful attempts to to launch the Falcon 1 rocket to reach orbit, came the “fly or die” moment. It was middle of the global financial crisis, there was no VC or PE money to be had and Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX were all burning cash and out of funds. Elon Musk was in the middle of his divorce and personally out of funds, he had sunk everything into his ventures. He had budgeted for only three rocket launches and had seen them all fail. “I thought that if we couldn’t get this thing to orbit in three failures, we deserved to die,” Musk said.

Man, can I relate to that.

That is what the haters will never understand. The true skin-in-the-game moments of an entrepreneur like Musk where he risks it all, trusting his own judgement and self-belief.

The scramble to prepare a fourth flight in six weeks, including an incredible C-17 Globemaster ride to get the rocket to Kwaj was pivotal. The pulling together in the face of impossible odds to success was a key takeaway for me. This is what defined SpaceX and continues to define them. It is the root of their company culture, their DNA, and why I would never bet against them. Those early years and how they overcame so many obstacles to successfully launch a private rocket and also a whole new industry is key to understanding SpaceX , its mission and its belief.

At a recent LEO satellite digital forum in April of this year, Gwynne Shotwell was quoted as saying “I just always smile when people make projections about what can and can’t be done with technology,” she said. “I don’t think we have any idea how technology can evolve.”

I highly recommend this book. And I look forward to watching Elon Musk and SpaceX making humanity an interplanetary species and reaching Mars with Starship. I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.

Space; the final telco frontier

Reach out, reach out and touch someone

Everyday there is a news story about SpaceX, Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic. We are fascinated by the hubris of billionaires Bezos, Musk and Branson to expand humanity off of Earth and out into space. The more I delve into the NewSpace industry , the more I am astounded by how much it reminds me of my industry, telecom. Let me explain.

The late 1980’s and the 1990’s were a time of disruption and change in telecommunications around the world . Deregulation and liberalization were in vogue as competition was introduced into previous monopoly markets. It started with upstart competitors like MCI and Sprint trying to break into AT&T’s long distance monopoly in the USA. Then the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in the US creating a whole new batch of mini-Bells.

The UK similarly saw the privatization of government owned British Telecom in 1984 and its monopoly was challenged by Mercury, a subsidiary of Cable and Wireless communications . Other countries , Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands followed suit. It spread globally.

Governments worldwide embraced privatization of their former telco monopolies (PTT’s or Postal Telegraph & Telephone) to become publicly listed commercial entities and introduced competition into these markets.

Simultaneously we saw the rise of the worldwide Web and consumers were introduced to the Internet. Dial-up modems provided access at first, but were quickly replaced by broadband connections. To feed the growing demand for bandwidth for competitive telecom and the Internet there was a flood of new fiber optic cables laid. According to KMR Research about 80 million miles of optical fiber was installed between 1996 and 2001 in the USA alone. New submarine fiber cable routes between continents were planned and laid. The forecasts were that Internet traffic would double, every year, so we needed MORE.

Telecom was the new Wild West, the new Klondike gold rush. Capital markets paid attention and newly minted companies that had telecom, broadband or Internet in the name got funded to operate in this new environment of explosive growth. The stock markets in Canada, the USA and Europe were filled with telecom and broadband backbone providers, submarine cable companies , hardware vendors. It was as big if not bigger than the dot com boom.

My own career has been imbued by this zeitgeist . After engineering school at Waterloo I started at CNCP, which was owned by CP and CN the two giant Canadian railways. It operated the Telex network across Canada and provided the main competition to the incumbent provincial telephone monopolies. When long distance was finally deregulated in Canada I was part of the management team of ACC TeleEnterprises which we grew and took public on the Toronto and Montreal exchanges. At ACC we also had the worlds first trans-Atlantic private line that hooked up to the public phone network connecting London, UK with switches in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. After ACC, I started AurorA, which provided international telecom services, both voice termination and bandwidth to the competitive industry in Canada, the USA and telcos around the world.

So why do I write today about this ancient history ? Because the nascent NewSpace industry reminds me very much of those days in telecom. The parallels are tremendous.

Access to space used to be limited to governments, specifically those of the United States, Russia and China. The “Space Race” in the 1960’s between the Soviet Union and the Americans during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs could only be funded by national governments . Government contractors built the rockets and other equipment and they were typically subsidiaries of the defence industry. Those contracts were for cost-plus and programs were large, expensive, bureaucratic and slow.

About the time of the go-go telecom years we saw the beginnings of a commercial space sector.. The race to the moon had given way to government cutbacks to NASA; the focus in the ’90s became the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station (ISS). Telecom dreamers wanted to put up broadband in space, a way to “connect the unconnected”. This led to ideas like Iridium, Teledesic and GlobalStar that were able to access the public markets during the telecom boom to fund their dreams. There were also startups backed by legacy aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed and Alcatel. They all sadly failed and went bankrupt. (I wrote a review on a great book on the history if Iridium here).

Then came SpaceX. Through the vision of Elon Musk, his newly minted fortune from PayPal and the incredible fortitude of a young team of talented engineers, SpaceX was able to challenge and disrupt the Space industry in the early 2000’s. They were able to provide a new way to build rockets, using the agile, iterative approach of Silicon Valley. Their unlikely success revitalized a commercial space sector by dramatically lowering the cost of launch.

Thus was born the NewSpace industry. There have probably been about 1000 start-up space companies in the last 6 to 8 years. It was hard for them to get funding initially as many are very capital intensive and there really were no space focussed Venture capital firms until the last few years. Running a space company meant always looking for funding to keep the company alive.

Then came SPACs. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic needed more funding and he was able to get it in 2019 by going public via a SPAC deal with Social Capital Hedosophia run by Chamath Palihapitiya (who among other things is a UWaterloo engineer also !) to become the world’s first publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company.

Other space companies have since taken the opportunity to go public also via the SPAC route such as AST Science, Momentus, RocketLab, Astra, Spire Global, BlackSky, Redwire and Arqit Ltd. SPAC funding typically provides a space company with enough capital to fully fund their business plan so they can focus on execution. Today the space sector is worth about $400B but Morgan Stanley predicts it will be trillion dollar industry by 2030. That is probably conservative given the pace of change.

This is why I get excited about the NewSpace industry. What started off as a government monopoly became a competitive commercial industry fueled by the public stock market. Disrupted by new ideas, new processes and new technology. The new mantra is “You can’t spell space without SPAC” !

My final observation, is that even though launching satellites, hardware and humans into space does take a rocket scientist, in the end much of the applications really boil down to this being a telco in space. Whether it is providing broadband internet like Starlink or OneWeb (there is that same “connect the unconnected” dream), or Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities like Swarm or Kepler, Cellular or 5G from space like AST, Lynk or OmniSpace or any of the Earth Observation platforms (visual, SAR, RF or thermal) that connect their data stream to hyper provider clouds like AWS, Azure or GCP it all comes down to moving bits around, just like a telco. We’re just extending the tower up a little higher.

Ad Astra (Latin for “To the Stars”)

Elon and Jeff are brilliant ! Surely THEY can solve our broadband issues.

Two dishes got married; the ceremony was meh but the reception was incredible.

Much has happened since we last visited the wacky world of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations and their use in providing improved broadband service to Canada’s rural and remote users. This past Tuesday, July 21, all of Iqaluit, the capital of the Territory of Nunavut was without communication services ; no Internet, no landline, no cell service, no cable TV – simply because it was raining ! In a first world country like Canada this is unacceptable. We need better broadband service in Canada’s North NOW.

There is a rash of breathless newspaper stories in the mainstream media touting LEO service as arriving soon to resolve our remote and rural broadband issues. I wrote about it before here, that Elon Musk is not coming to save us any time soon. I also wrote about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the early leader to provide LEO service to the Arctic, OneWeb, here. So where do we stand now on July 27, 2020 ?

Well on July 10, the US bankruptcy court of the Southern District of New York (SDNY) approved a joint $1 billion bid for OneWeb by Britain and Bharti Airtel. The UK government and Bharti Global, an arm of Bharti Enterprises, which part owns India’s Airtel, will each have roughly 45 per cent of OneWeb. The existing secured creditors, including SoftBank of Japan, OneWeb’s former biggest shareholder, will own the balance.

But the landscape has changed from before OneWeb’s descent into Chapter 11 in the spring. OneWeb’s original mission was to “connect the unconnected “ ; ie it wanted to provide broadband service to the millions of people around the world that do not have access to the Internet. The UK has invested $500M into OneWeb for other strategic reasons, mainly to mitigate the effects of Brexit on British industry. I sure hope they realize that it is going to cost them more, much more and that $500M was just the table stakes to play in the LEO game.

After Brexit, the UK would have been locked out of the EU’s Galileo mission. Its aerospace industry would have lost work and technology to the EU and the USA and it would have fallen behind. Investing in OneWeb, and taking the “golden share” that lets it decide who gets access to the network will let it be a cornerstone of new industrial policy for Britain. Jolly good show.

But a $1 billion investment is just the starting point, OneWeb will need to raise at least $1B if not more to fully fund the company’s plans. So to mitigate, the mission will be changed from targeting unserved consumers to one targeting governments and commercial sectors to generate revenue quickly. These use cases are more in sync with what Telesat is proposing to do in selling wholesale connectivity to telcos and ISPs, starting with the Arctic. The UK also wants to develop other use cases such as a new navigation offering different from GPS or Galileo that it could then sell to its Five Eyes partners as an adjunct to GPS. That requires adapting and redesigning the satellites to the new missions.

The UK also wants to use this transaction bring more aerospace manufacturing back to Britain. The current OneWeb satellites were made in Florida in a joint venture with Airbus. Some or all of this manufacturing is expected to move to the UK.

The transaction to close the deal to buy OneWeb from Chapter 11 is expected to close in Q4 2020. Thus the former timeline of providing service in the Arctic by late 2020 is out of reach, 2021 will be too aggressive and 2022 is more realistic. All of the changes wrought by the new ownership and new mandates have created issues and decisions that need to be navigated; technical, financial as well as political which all bring delays to actually launching services.

Meanwhile, the other proposed LEO constellations have not been idle.

Amazon’s Project Kuiper has won the backing of Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC who is backing approval of the venture.

SpaceX’s StarLink venture has just begun to raise more funding to continue launching service. CNBC has reported that it is in talks to raise $500M to $1B funding at a valuation of $44B (July 23) . SpaceX has also been not so quietly signing up beta customers in Canada and the USA to test trial service of its direct-to-consumer internet service late this year.

That leaves Canada’s Telesat. Telesat was also a bidder for OneWeb during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That bid came out of the blue, and we still don’t know what motivated Telesat to launch the bid, nor who financed the deposit. Telesat has yet to choose a manufacturer for its satellites with apparently an announcement due any moment, perhaps at their Q2 results conference call on July 30. The biggest question mark remains around the financing of the project.

In July 2019, Telesat received $85M CDN from the Federal Government’s Strategic Innovation Fund. Once the constellation is in service, they have a commitment from the Feds to purchase $600M CDN in services over 10 years. That still leaves a huge question of how Telesat plans to finance the enormous capex to launch the LEO constellation before it sees any revenue. As we saw with OneWeb, there are not many investors around that are willing to sign the large cheques needed to finance such risky ventures. Even Softbank (funders of Uber and WeWork) balked at additional funding for OneWeb while they were the largest shareholder and creditor. Such investors need to be able to keep signing large cheques to keep funding capex. (are you paying attention Boris?)

Telesat’s current shareholders are Loral Space & Communications, a NY based holding company and Canada’s Public Sector Pension investment Boards (PSP). I am not sure either are up to the task of financing such a risky venture. Loral recently paid a special dividend of $5.50/share on May 28, 2020 distributing to shareholders funds it had received from Telesat. Not the kind of action you would expect to see from a party planning to underwrite billions of capex expenditures. The PSP is a pension fund that historically prefers ventures that provide stable cash flows at predictable rates, which is what Telesat’s legacy business provided. LEO constellations are highly speculative and very risky, the exact opposite of what the pension plan for Canada’s public sector workers want to see done with their retirement funds.

From my personal perspective (ie I am guessing) I can see a strategic buyer taking control of Telesat from its current owners and funding the LEO constellation. That buyer would be Amazon and its Project Kuiper.

Amazon’s strengths are its financial muscle and long term vision. Amazon can raise funds cheaper than most nation states. Amazon may covet some of Telesat’s strategic assets such as its protected spectrum rights from the ITU and its substantial base of satellite technology and experience. Both of those would give them a significant advantage over Starlink. Telesat and Amazon have a relationship already as Telesat signed a launch contract with Blue Origin, another of Jeff Bezos’s companies for multiple launch missions in January, 2019.

Amazon could also introduce another use case for the LEO sats that no other strategic buyer could. They could use the service internally to connect their global network of AWS data centres. In essence, it could be a part of the connectivity portion of their AWS cloud. Potentially at a lower latency than some sub-sea fiber cables. That use case may be appealing on its own.

It would give Loral and PSP gracious exits and Jeff Bezos a competitive advantage against OneWeb who will be be busy sorting out their new ownership and new mandates over the next two quarters and let Project Kuiper keep pace with Elon Musk’s Starlink as it beta trials consumer service this winter.

Never underestimate the power of bragging rights between billionaires.

We shall continue to watch this sector closely. My core message remains, do not expect LEO satellite constellations to be the saviour of Canada’s remote and rural broadband issues any time soon. We must continue to expand our network of fiber optic cables, including Arctic sub-sea cables.

Elon is not coming to rescue Canada’s remote broadband

Elon Musk and StarLink
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and the StarLink constellation

The telecom press in Canada has been gushing over the news that Elon Musk and his company SpaceX has visions of coming to Canada to provide super-fast Internet service to rural and remote Canadians via their StarLink LEO (low Earth orbit) satellite constellation.

Please take a step back. Pause. Take a deep breath. Just stop it.

This is not imminent, it may never happen. In fact it probably will never happen.

First off, SpaceX only applied for a BITS licence. BITS is Basic International Telecom Service. AurorA has a BITS licence (in fact I believe AurorA had the first BITS licence provided to a non-facilities based carrier). This does not provide StarLink the spectrum required to operate in Canada. OneWeb had licensed Canadian spectrum (through 1021823 B.C. Ltd.) and so does Telesat for their proposed LEO constellation. SpaceX hasn’t yet applied for a Canadian spectrum licence (as far as I know).

The model of “connecting the unconnected”, providing broadband Internet service to the 3.5 billion people in the world that don’t have it has been around for decades. I remember the old Teledesic and Skybridge proposals, ICO, Iridium and GlobalStar who all went bankrupt. Iridium emerged from Chapter 11 eventually after a huge amount of drama (see my review of a great book on Iridium). More recently OneWeb who had already launched 74 satellites went bankrupt in March (read here) and before that LEOSat last November. As an aside, even Intelsat went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.

Elon’s SpaceX has 362 satellites in orbit, but to actually provide service their plans call for 4,000 satellites just in the first phase deployment. To do this takes money; SpaceX need billions, and soon, to satisfy its high cash burn rate. It’s not making near enough revenue launching satellites (and astronauts) from others to cover the costs of it unpaid Starlink launches. This is also why they are desperately trying to be included in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction to get a piece of up to $16B in funding, even though they cant demonstrate that they can actually provide service (and may be fudging the latency numbers, hard to prove since you cant actually test it) !

There are very few investors that can write the cheques big enough to fund an LEO sat constellation. Even large investors like Softbank balked at committing additional risk capital to a single investment like OneWeb. The history of bankrupt constellations would bear that out. COVID-19 has made raising money for risky ventures even harder. Building the business case is difficult; it costs too much money to make money, even for a SpaceX that has re-invented rockets and dropped the price of launching satellites.

LEO satellite constellations, especially using small nano satellites can provide great services for many use cases; Earth observation, low data rate iOT or M2M, remote asset tracking, weather data and even imaging. GEO sats can provide great high throughput required for TV and telecommunications, but they provide poor connectivity at Northern latitudes like Canada’s Arctic. The use case of providing broadband Internet for the unconnected is just not suited for LEO.

To connect those 3.5 billion people to the Internet requires not only the huge investment in satellites and ground infrastructure (plus legal/regulatory, and non-trivial insurance costs) but also an inexpensive antenna/receiver for the consumer to be able to plug in themselves to access the service. Given that the terminals will be in remote areas they will need to be low power usage. By definition those places are off the grid. Since the LEO sats move quickly across the sky, the tracking antenna must be sophisticated, like a electronic phased array. No one has yet to produce such a low-cost, low power terminal device.

When the constellation is finally setup, the satellites would cover the entirety of the Earth’s surface. Ninety percent of the time this would be over open water, frozen tundra, wilderness and deserts devoid of people. So a business case dependent on a use case like consumer broadband would not generate revenue 90% of the time ! In areas like Africa or the Amazon, the surface is covered by jungle. The signal won’t penetrate through thick vegetation, limiting its usefulness. Finally, how much would people actually pay to use the service ? Has Elon gone out and talked to the people in emerging markets and asked them what they need and what they can afford ? What about when that area finally gets served via a cable or fixed wireless that can provide service for an order of magnitude less ? Eventually even Nunavut will get service by one or more sub-sea fiber optic cables.

So where exactly are the customers going to come from to justify the immense capital cost of building the constellation ?

The other problem that LEO sat constellations have to solve before we actually see this service launched is the one that they create themselves by launching thousands of satellites to do so. Space debris. Low Earth orbit is already crowded with dysfunctional satellites and space debris. What happens if, no when, a StarLink satellite malfunctions or becomes derelict or collides with other satellites or space debris. The attraction of low cost sats is that they are made with commercial off-the shelf components for a fraction of what traditional GEO sats cost. But given their disposability we are going to have a huge increase in space junk.

Without strict regulatory oversight (and who would be responsible for this in space ?) and the non-zero chance of failures and malfunctions, we could see a runaway feedback loop creating tons of space debris, called the Kessler syndrome. These concerns and liabilities have still not been fully addressed for the large volume LEO constellations.

Until StarLink (or any other LEO Sat constellation) actually builds and operates a constellation without going bankrupt, solves the physics of providing low cost-low power consumer terminal equipment and can guarantee they won’t destroy low Earth orbit with space debris for succeeding generations don’t hold your breath for cheap sat based broadband service in Canada’s rural and remote areas.

Instead of waiting for Elon, Canadians should take control of their own future and build more Arctic fiber optic cables.

Sat Firm OneWeb Files for Bankruptcy

Relax, this is not the Corona Virus – Rather it is OneWeb’s satellite constellation

OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in New York on March 27. OneWeb is one of the biggest names in the Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite business, planning to provide high speed internet to the world by 2021. The news came just days after they successfully launched another 34 satellites into their constellation, bringing the total number up to 74. Now, the future of the constellation is uncertain.


In its news release, OneWeb said it intends to use the bankruptcy proceedings to pursue a sale in order to maximize the value of the company. The company said that it had recently been engaged in “advanced negotiations” to fund the company through the deployment and commercial launch of its constellation, but these negotiations fell through because of the financial and market impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The main investors are Softbank Group with 37.41 % equity, followed by Qualcomm with 15.93 %. Other investors include Grupo Salinas and the Government of Rwanda. Softbank is also the major creditor to OneWeb so it has access to all the assets as the senior lender. Perhaps after Chapter 11 OneWeb may be gone but a new “SoftbankWeb” may emerge. Or potential buyers like Amazon or Facebook could emerge. Aside from the satellites and earth stations, OneWeb owns the right to valuable spectrum which could speed up competitors plans. Space Norway and Telesat have LEO plans and thus may be interested buyers.


In the LEO space OneWeb was competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink venture and Jeff Bezos’s Project Kuiper. A previous LEO competitor LEOSat failed in Nov, 2019. Does the bankruptcy of OneWeb mean that these LEO constellation dreams are also doomed ? Billionaires like Musk and Bezos have a lot of money and resources but they still need to raise financing. This combined with the pressure of the COVID19 pandemic on markets could dry up VC and debt financing, especially for something as speculative as LEO constellations. This may be the death knell for all these LEO plans.


I remember when earlier global LEO dreams also failed like Teledesic , Celestri and Globalstar. OneWeb, and the constellations like it, are built similar to a model called Skybridge proposed around the same time as the Iridium constellation was launched over twenty years ago (see my book review here). The idea is to be able to connect the 3.5 billion of people on Earth that aren’t currently online. LEO still have not solved the issue of making low-cost ground terminals that could work in harsh environments like the Arctic and rain-forest jungles with low power requirements that can track moving satellites. IT is doubtful that there is enough revenue in those business models to support the projects. Targeted High throughput GEO satellites can target high population density areas that can provide revenue for satellite Internet much cheaper than LEO’s and use existing relatively inexpensive ground terminal equipment. Serving remote locations has tough economics, even for satellites.


Already there were concerns about the volumes of proposed satellites and their potential for collisions and increases in space debris. Without strict regulatory oversight (and who would be responsible for this in space ?) and the non-zero chance of failures and malfunctions, we could see a runaway feedback loop creating tons of space debris, called the Kessler syndrome. These concerns and liabilities have still not been fully addressed for the large volume LEO constellations.

OneWeb satellite


What does this mean for the Canadian market, specifically broadband service in remote ares and the Arctic ?


OneWeb had been planning to roll out Arctic service first, later this year. They had Canadian spectrum licenses from ISED. Telesat hasn’t even begun construction of their proposed satellites yet, although they have received approval of their spectrum and have the support of the Federal government ($85M from the Strategic Innovation Fund). SpaceX has launched 300 Starlink satellites and is expected to launch another 600 this year. They claim to need 800 satellites in orbit to be able to begin offering broadband Internet. It is unknown whether SpaceX has licensed spectrum from ISED to offer service in Canada. Starlink’s mission is also different from OneWeb one and they may be looking at serving the USA first and concentrating on revenue from there. So nothing imminent.


It is a market segment that I will keep a close eye on. Sadly, I don’t think that LEO satellite provision of broadband Internet to the Arctic and remote Canadian regions is going to happen anytime soon demonstrated by this recent bankruptcy. Fingers crossed that I am wrong.

Exploring Canada’s North


I apologize for the lack of posts recently. Summer vacation and back to school and other events took my focus away from blogging. Now I am ready to dive back into it with renewed vim and vigour !

This year for our family vacation we decided to go North, really North. To the Spectacular Northwest Territories.

So in late August we packed our carry-ons and hopped on an early morning plane from Pearson (we were originally booked on a flight from Waterloo Airport but it was cancelled by WestJet) to Calgary and from there to Yellowknife. One note, at Calgary when we changed planes, on the tarmac you could smell the smoke and see the haze on the horizon from the forest fires. I hope those are all extinguished now. Very sobering to see.

Yellowknife was delightful. As soon as you enter the cosy airport you know you are in the North as you are greeted by a huge statue of a polar bear on the ice, chasing some seals. There are furs and antler prominantly displayed. And very down home, friendly people.

We stayed at an AirBNB condo right on Great Slave Lake that was maybe a seven minute drive from the airport. It was in Old Town, where some of the orginal cabins and shacks are still standing. A lot of things were in easy walking distance; great food at places like the Dancing Moose Cafe, Bullock’s Bistro, The Wildcat Cafe and the North’s only brewpub, the Woodyard Brewhouse where we also got a growler to bring back to our condo. A few streets away was the famous Ragged Ass Road; you can buy replicas of the street sign so please dont steal the real ones !

One of the highlights of that area is the Bush Pilots Monument. It is a local monument honouring the bush pilots of today and yesterday, who helped open up the North to the rest of Canada.The monument sits on top of “The Rock”, a six story rock hill in the centre of Old Town. Once you climb up the hundreds of steps, the view from there is fabulous. And you will usually see a float plane or two or three taking off or landing on Great Slave Lake.

We ventured into downtown a few times (including great meals at Coyote’s Bistro on Franklin, thanks again to the owner Ed But and his staff for taking great care of us) to get groceries and supplies for the room and also to explore. We were able to find the school that my wife attended as well as the house they lived in when they were stationed there. It struck me that there were only six traffic lights in total in the town, and at night they all just flashed yellow !

My youngest daughter is a geophysicist working exploration in the North so she flew in from Whitehosre to spend a day with us and show us around too. Her crew bunkhouse was only a few minutes walk from where we were staying. She brought us to Weaver and Devore,a trading post cum outfitters that has been there since 1936 where you can get true outdoor clothing and gear for working in the North. It was great to see the places she had told us about previously including the colourful houses and the houseboats on the lake.

We also did a lot of outdoor adventuring including some kayaking on the lake (trying to avoid a bush plane !) and drove out about 45 km on the Ingraham Trail to Hidden Lake Territorial Park. There we took about a half-hour hike to Cameron Falls (see the picture at the top of this post). We spent a lot of time exploring the falls, and then crossing over a foot-bridge upstream to the other side to explore there too. A lot of the scenery reminded me of Northern Ontario where I grew up. The old rocks of the Canadian Shield and the bush. The trees up in Yellowknife were much smaller though.

A week in Yellowknife is good for the soul. The pace is slower, the air is cleaner. There is no visual pollution from billboards. The locals are laid back and friendly. Late August was a little early to see the aurora borealis (I LOVE that name !) but if you went later in the fall, or definitely during the winter, the light show would be awe inspiring. I highly recommend making the trip North, especially if you are a fan of the outdoors.

Lastly, I promised I would review telecom. I had no problem getting a strong cellphone signal everywhere I went, including out on the Ingraham Trail. It wasnt always LTE, but the 3G was fine. Our AirBNB had satellite TV and great high speed WiFi internet. We did not stream any movies or Netflix (I brought some downloaded movies on my computer for family entertainment at night) rather than abuse my hosts data plan.

Finally, a big thanks to Curtis Shaw, the President of Northwestel, who I met at this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit who gave me some great tips and restaurant recommendations !