Students Play Important Part in Neptec Team

Students Play Important Part in Neptec Team

We regularly welcome University students to Neptec to gain work experience and complete their co-op placements at our Ottawa office. Our co-op students are integral members of our team and work side by side with our more experienced engineers learning about the industry, our technology and helping to solve tough, mission-critical problems. We take pride in the learning opportunities we provide and are thrilled to see many students return to Neptec after graduation to start their careers. Last week, we said goodbye to some fantastic students – here is what one of them had to say about his experience interning at Neptec.

My name is Bryce Dudley, and I have spent the last year as a mechanical engineering intern at Neptec.  In September, I will be returning to Western as a 4th year mechatronic systems engineering student.  I decided to go back to school, and I chose mechatronics as my discipline because I was hoping for a career in the space industry.

My internship has been a fantastic opportunity to further my education and, hopefully, to begin my career in spaceflight.  I’ve had the opportunity to participate in environmental testing of flight hardware.  The tests I’ve been involved in have been functional testing (does it work), vibration and shock testing (can it survive launch) and thermal-vacuum (simulating the space environment).  I’ve also had the opportunity to design a procedure to calibrate flight hardware, and to participate in the design of ground support and flight hardware.

One of the great things about the mechatronics program at Western is that it provides a solid background in both mechanical and electrical engineering.  This prepared me really well for an internship on Neptec’s mechanical team.  The mechanical team works closely with electrical and software engineers to make sure our products will deliver on mission critical roles in space.  Having a solid background in electrical engineering fundamentals allowed me to get up to work quickly and efficiently in a very multidisciplinary environment.

Canada is Bringing Hollywood Technology to Life

Canada is Bringing Hollywood Technology to Life

Theatrical release poster

McGill University and Neptec are working together to develop an operational concept called the Advanced Crew Medical System (ACMS). Commonly referred to among Neptec employees as “Doc in a Box,” this technology is similar to technology seen in the movie Passengers, which was released in December.

In the movie, (spoiler alert – skip to the next paragraph now if you don’t want to know how the movie ends!) the spacecraft Avalon is transporting colonists to the planet Homestead II. The journey to Homestead II takes 120 years; consequently the passengers and crew are travelling in futuristic hibernation pods which allow them to hibernate until just a few months before their arrival. Unfortunately, one of the pods malfunctions and the main character, Jim Preston is awoken 90 years earlier than planned. Jim spends a year alone on the ship with only a robot bartender to talk to. Lonely and suicidal at the thought of living out the rest of his life alone on the spacecraft Jim awakens another passenger, Aurora. Aurora believes her pod also malfunctioned and after some time she and Jim fall in love. A year later, the robot bartender reveals that Jim woke Aurora up, naturally, she’s incredibly angry at Jim and they live separately on the ship for quite some time. During this time, many of the spacecraft’s features malfunction and it becomes apparent something is terribly wrong. Another pod failure awakens the Chief Deck Officer, Gus. Gus is visibly sick and uses the Autodoc, an automated medical diagnostics and treatment pod to conduct medical tests which show that he is dying and has just a few hours to live. As the story progresses, Jim and Aurora discover why the pods are failing and work together to fix the issue. Jim is critically injured in the process, but Aurora is able to revive the seemingly deceased Jim using the Autodoc.

While the movie is fictitious and we won’t be starting colonies on far-away planets any time soon, elements of the plot ring true. Future human spaceflight missions will extend considerably beyond Low Earth Orbit (the International Space Station is an example of a spacecraft in low earth orbit). This will mean reduced, if not zero, opportunity for the quick return of a sick or injured crewmember back home for medical treatment. The missions will also face considerably increased communications delays between the Crew Medical Officer (CMO) and the ground based Flight Surgeon (FS) and therefore ground-based medical support will be at times impossible. This isolation will require a change in medical support capabilities, from dependence on home base to that of medical autonomy.

The Advanced Crew Medical System (ACMS) being developed by McGill University and Neptec will solve this problem. The ACMS concept is centered on the implementation of an on-spacecraft computer (the box in ‘doctor in a box’) providing the functions of an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and a clinical Decision Support System (DSS). Continuous monitoring of physiological parameters and activity detectors is provided by a suite of on-astronaut sensors that integrate to the computer through a wireless network and data acquisition front-end.  Supplemental health data will be provided by embedded activity detectors, a diagnostic laboratory and a medical imaging facility.  These elements combine to provide exploration-class mission astronauts with a fourth ‘virtual’ crew member (the Doctor in a box) tasked with maintaining their health, mission effectiveness and wellbeing.

The ACMS consists of:

1. A “Doctor in a box”, the box being a computer and the Doctor being the system architecture and software referred to as the Decision Support System (DSS). The two main elements of the DSS are,

a) Clinical Knowledge Base which represents the medical knowledge residing in a doctor’s head as a result of his extensive education and experience;
b) Decision Engine which represents the logical processes a doctor applies to the mapping of patient data onto his knowledge base in order to develop diagnoses of the illness and the decisions regarding treatment(s).

2. The infrastructure used to create the Clinical Knowledge Base and to update it as required.

3. The sensor suite on the Astronaut (including wireless connections into a mesh network) and the lab facilities in the space vehicle.

Similar to Avalon’s Autodoc, the ACMS will use a suite of integrated medical technologies to keep the crew on long duration exploration class missions healthy including:

  1. Behaviour and performance measurement tools to assess the mental status of the crew as a whole as well as each individual crewmember and their ability to perform critical and complex tasks in extreme, remote and isolated environments;
  2. Remote patient monitoring capabilities including non-invasive, wireless, wearable sensors and data management technologies that provide the CMO as well as medical ground support personnel with vital signs data, situational awareness and the ability to remotely monitor and manage a sick or injured crew member;
  3. In situ laboratory capabilities that would allow for point of care, near real time bio assays of biological tissues and fluids analysis for diagnostic purposes;
  4. Electronic Medical Record;
  5. Intelligent diagnostic system including computer based clinical decision support to establish a diagnosis and prescribe treatment;
  6. Health State and Health Trajectory models to assist in the prediction or early detection of medical events in order to better tailor individual care plans;
  7. Medical training and simulation technologies to aid in the remote acquisition and maintenance of CMO medical skills during a mission;
  8. Diagnostic imaging technologies.

While, space colonization isn’t a reality yet, the future of exploration missions beyond Low Earth Orbit depends on the development of this kind of technology. If you are interested in learning more about the ACMS and other technologies Neptec is currently developing, visit our website

In-Situ Resource Extraction

In-Situ Resource Extraction

Mankind is beginning to explore beyond Low Earth Orbit (the International Space Station is an example of a spacecraft in low earth orbit).  Until now, we have always had to include all of the resources, such as water and fuel that will be needed on a mission in the spacecraft when we launch from Earth. When a mission is launched from the Earth, the majority of energy is expended just breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere and the heavier the vehicle, the more energy consumed. It is very expensive to launch each ounce of resources needed. To use a very simple analogy, ‎consider the value of 1 litre of water on Earth. That same 1 litre on the International Space Station (ISS) is worth approximately $25,000 when the cost of transport is factored in. On the Moon – $250,000. On Mars – much, much more.  As we explore further and further from earth, it will become even more important that we find ways to extract the resources we need at our destination and not rely on carrying everything from earth.

For resources like water; we are in luck. Ice has been detected on both poles of the Moon, and on Mars. People ask “Why do you need water in space?” The answer is threefold. One, water supports life as a

drinking source. Two, by breaking it down, it supplies oxygen to breathe. Lastly, by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, you can create the most powerful propellant known to man.

NASA has had a mission – Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) – on its mission list since 2000. They recognize that in-situ resource extraction is critical for space exploration.  Because Canada has a rich heritage and considerable expertise in mining and because Canadian companies, including Neptec and Sudbury’s Deltion, have developed technology that could be used to extract resources on the moon or Mars, NASA has invited Canada (through the Canadian Space Agency) to participate in the mission by providing a drilling system. Canada has not yet decided whether it will participate.

With the provision of drill technology, Canada can continue to enjoy its position as the preeminent mining jurisdiction on Earth, while securing a leadership role in space mining for the future.

For more information on NASA’s Resource Prospector mission, click here.

Proba-3 Mission

Proba-3 Mission

Fascinated by innovative space technology? Click here to have a look at the European Space Agency’s interesting article on Proba-3.

According to the ESA’s website, “Proba-3 is the world’s first precision formation flying mission. A pair of satellites will fly together maintaining a fixed configuration as a ‘large rigid structure’ in space to prove formation flying technologies.”

Neptec is developing the sensors that allow precise alignment of the two spacecraft , this technology builds on innovative techniques Neptec developed for the Canadian Space Agency’s contribution to the JAXA Astro-H mission. Neptec’s HAMS (Hi-Accuracy Measurement System for precise formation flying) is responsible for measuring the relative position of the two satellites to micrometer accuracy so that they are effectively flying joined to each other, even though there is no physical connection.

It is expected that this technology will allow smaller satellites to be launched from earth independently and then joined in space to form larger structures or platforms such as large telescopes. We also expect to exploit potential terrestrial applications for this technology.

Canadian Women Have the Right Stuff

Canadian Women Have the Right Stuff

Most Canadians watched the 2016 Rio Olympics with swelling pride in the accomplishments of Canadian athletes. The number of medals won by our women athletes was particularly impressive. Penny Oleksiak’s four medals in the pool, Rosie MacLennan’s gold medal in trampoline, Erica Wiebe’s dominating gold medal performance in wrestling, Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee’s silver medals in rowing, the bronze medals won by the women’s 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle relay swim teams, the bronze medals won by our women’s sevens rugby team, Catharine Pendrel’s incredible bronze medal effort in the cross country mountain biking event, Meghan Benfeito’s two bronze medals earned in 10 meter diving events, Roseline Filion’s 10 meter synchronized diving bronze medal and the determined bronze medal performance of our women’s soccer team demonstrated the strength, determination, skill and courage of our Canadian women.

How did our women athletes reach this level of world-class performance? Of course they’ve put in many, many hours honing their skills and developing strength and endurance; they’ve had excellent coaching and they have been able to train in the best facilities available. But accomplished athletes from earlier days have also inspired them to achieve success. Through their accomplishments in Rio our women athletes will in turn be role models to younger girls showing them that with hard work and dedication they can also be successful.

If we can do this in sport why can’t we do it in science, technology, engineering and mathematics? Participation by women in these pursuits lags behind that of men. Without question Canada has some of the best schools and educators in the world so we have the ability to provide the training. What is lacking is the inspiration of young girls to make them believe this is something they can and should pursue. Sally Ride, the first female American Astronaut, said:

I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.

Canada has already sent two women- Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette – into space, and many other extremely accomplished women work in the space industry, most of them in lower profile, but no less important, roles than astronauts. A recent BBC World Service documentary “Women with the Right Stuff, pays tribute to the female pioneers of space travel and presents some of the women currently involved in space programs. It includes the stories of Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova, the first women to fly in space, Helen Sharman, the first British woman to work in space (aboard the Mir space station), Eileen Collins, the first female pilot and female commander of a Space Shuttle, mission control flight director Mary Lawrence and flight surgeon Shannon Moynihan. These very accomplished and inspirational women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are excellent role models.

The closing date for Canada’s current astronaut recruitment campaign fell, coincidently, at the half-way mark of the Olympic Games. The Canadian Space Agency is looking to hire two people to train as astronauts. They will join Canada’s existing astronauts, David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen. Even though (or because) only 23% of the applicants were women let’s choose two accomplished women to be Canada’s next astronauts. Opportunities to create high-profile female role models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for our young girls come around only once a decade or so. Let’s take full advantage of this opportunity. After all, it’s 2016