Satellites are Canada’s (and Macfab’s) strong suit in a growing global industry
Joining the Canadian Space Commerce Association opens the door for new national and international opportunities, says president Chris Macmorine
Space is becoming “the next Internet”
Although the number of players in the space industry might be small, the future prospects are compelling. The industry is attracting the attention of business startups as well as private and institutional investors. In Canada, which has a long history in the space sector, the federal government is committed to supporting the industry as part of its Innovation Agenda. And Canada’s national trade association for space industry businesses and stakeholders. the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), plays a key role in connecting all of the stakeholders, large and small, at home and abroad.
“Space is really becoming known as the next Internet,” says the CSCA’s CEO, Michelle Mendes. “You have organizations like OneWeb who are investing heavily in providing satellite-based internet around the world – and that’s all done by small sats. These aren’t the traditional, larger satellites (>500kg); they’re done by satellites that are about the size of a breadbox, and they’re all linked together. So small sats are critical– and Canada specializes in this area.”
This represents an excellent fit for Macfab’s small satellite components, sub-assemblies and related value-added services. The company has expertise and experience developed largely over its decade-long relationship with the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), which is also a CSCA member. Macfab manufactures a range of components and sub-assemblies for the Space Flight Lab’s microsatellites and nanosatellites, which are used by space flight organizations around the world. (For more on Macfab’s work with UTIAS, click here.)
2-foot square aluminum mounting panel delivered to the Space Flight Laboratory for a 2017 mission
CSCA network will expand Macfab’s presence in global space industry
As part of its business development efforts in the space sector, the company will leverage its recently-announced membership in the CSCA to forge new relationships, gain industry insights and intelligence, and explore new markets.
Says Michelle Mendes, “At the risk of sounding slightly biased, joining the CSCA is a smart move for Macfab. The space industry worldwide is a small, tightly-knit family; everybody knows everybody, but not everyone has the ability to connect and establish strategic partnerships. What we provide is that network, both within Canada and internationally.”
Integrated clean room assembly and QA support
Notably, Macfab also provides UTIAS with “one-stop shopping,” from prototype development to manufacturing, cleaning and assembly, and quality control. This capability, says Macfab president Chris Macmorine, gives the company an extra competitive edge in the space sector, where specialized services such as these are hard to come by. “It’s really our whole model. We go after challenging projects. Typically, it’s low-volume production, with high complexity, high quality requirements, together with the full range of value-added services we provide.”
This capability is especially attractive to the space industry’s newer companies, Michelle adds. “This is where companies like Macfab can provide demonstrated experience to startup entrepreneurs or smaller companies. Instead of those companies investing in new facilities or infrastructure to build components and sub-systems, they can outsource those things, so they can focus on their customers.”
Furthermore, the emergence of startups and adventurous entrepreneurs and investors is one of the industry’s most dramatic trends. In fact, the major players themselves, including Google and even the US government, are looking to these startups and entrepreneurs to develop the technological innovations that will drive the industry. Michelle Mendes: “The US, which is one of the frontrunners of space in the world, is aggressively moving towards a commercial space program. The US government is moving away from being the primary funder of space and empowering commercial organizations to build a growing US space economy.”
Proudly, and reliably, Canadian
Macfab’s track record overall could be its greatest advantage. This, too, mirrors Canada’s reputation in general, Michelle says. “Canada is highly regarded for its small sat technology. For example, the president of the Canadian Space Agency, Sylvain Laporte, travels around the world; wherever he goes, people commend Canada on the quality of the product, the price of the product and that Canadian manufacturers actually deliver on time. So whenever they can work with a Canadian company, they will.”
The Bigger Picture
Chris Macmorine takes a long term view of Macfab’s future in the space industry. The big returns won’t come overnight, he acknowledges, yet he can look to Macfab’s own history with UTIAS to see how and where its growth will come about. “There are research projects that go through U of T that sometimes turn into businesses. And scientists and engineers that come out of that program start businesses based on their research, one example of which is Sinclair Interplanetary.”
Soon after its launch, Sinclair Interplanetary became a customer as well, and since then has introduced Macfab to other contacts. “One of their product lines took off last year,” Chris explains, “to the point where the owner of Sinclair was not interested in manufacturing it in-house, because it was more production rather than R&D. He then introduced us to other companies he works with.” One of these is a private space flight company in Seattle, Washington; the other is a global technology company headquartered in Argentina. Both firms are now Macfab customers, too.
This is the kind of networking that Macfab is looking for by way of its CSCA membership. And this, of course, says Michelle Mendes, is one of the CSCA’s primary functions. “Because the space industry by nature is so innovative, there are new ways that organizations can work together. We provide the network for that, both within Canada and internationally. Another key benefit is our dissemination of information. As you can imagine, the space industry is changing on a day-to-day basis, so we alert our members to those critical changes.”
These are exciting prospects, says Chris Macmorine, and Macfab is poised to respond both to the industry’s needs and its challenges. “We’re optimistic about getting our name out there. We’re confident that companies similar to the ones we’re already dealing with will give us the opportunity to do work for them.”