BUSINESS

Canadian space cameras delayed to make way for Olympic torch visit to space station

07/20/2013 07:00 EDT | Updated 09/19/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - A trip by the Olympic torch to the International Space Station has forced a Vancouver-based company to delay its plans to install two cameras on the orbiting space lab.

Scott Larson, the CEO of UrtheCast Corp. (TSX:UR), originally planned to send the cameras — one that shoots photos and the other video — to the station on a Russian spacecraft in mid-October.

"We've been working on this for the last two and a half years," he said in a recent interview.

"The basic agreement we have with the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) is that we provide the cameras and then they provide the launch, installation, power and maintenance."

But the launch of the cameras has been delayed until late November to accommodate a visit by the Olympic torch.

The first-of-its-kind space voyage by the Olympic icon has also caused a number of other launches to be rescheduled.

As part of the four-month relay, the torch — with a simulated flame — will be taken into outer space in early November during a space walk by two Russian cosmonauts.

Originally, a manned Soyuz capsule was meant to go the space station on Nov. 25 but that flight was moved to Nov. 7 to accommodate the torch.

Serguei Bedziouk, UrtheCast's vice-president in charge of Russian relations, said the torch will be taken outside on Nov. 9, two days after the Soyuz arrives.

In an email from St. Petersburg, he also added that the torch will return to Earth on Nov. 11 with another group of returning space station astronauts.

Bedziouk was involved in the Russian space program from 1977 to 1989 and moved to Canada in 1996.

The torch relay will begin in Moscow on Oct. 7, pass through 83 Russian cities and arrive in Sochi for the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics next Feb. 7. It will also travel by car, train, plane and reindeer.

The two UrtheCast cameras will now be delivered to the space station on an unmanned Russian supply vessel that will launch from Kazakhstan on Nov. 21.

Bedziouk said the cameras will be installed on the space station during a space walk planned for Dec. 8.

Cosmonauts recently practised installing mock-ups of the UrtheCast cameras at an underwater replica of the Russian segment of the space station in Star City near Moscow.

Larson added that, once installed, the cameras will go through a few weeks of testing and focusing and he expects to have pictures and images flowing "in the first quarter of the next year."

He said the Russians will collect images related to their own country, while UrtheCast will handle the data pertaining to the rest of the world.

The high-resolution video imagery will be used for education, environmental study, water management, mapping, forestry and pipeline monitoring.

"We sell it and we distribute it into the Earth observation market," Larson said "The second thing we do is we take it, process it and stream it in as near real-time as we can.

There will be about a one-hour delay before the images taken by the space station cameras show up on UrtheCast's website.

The cameras will be able to show flash mobs, outdoor events, stadiums, boats and planes, but images like people's faces and licence plates will be too small to be visible.

Larson said the space cameras cost about $25 million combined — a sum he said is a fraction of what it costs to attach cameras to satellites, which require large solar panels to generate electricity.

"Other competitors spend in the neighbourhood of $500-$800 million building satellites," he added.

UrtheCast went public June 27 through a reverse takeover of Longford Energy Inc., a $30-million shell company that was originally set up as a resource business.

UrtheCast says on its website it was one of four Canadian high-tech companies — two of the others being in Ontario and the other in Saskatchewan — to go public on the TSX in recent weeks.