Neptec CEO Iain Christie.

With a core business originally wrapped around the various sensor systems needed to provide real time alignment and positioning cues for International Space Station (ISS) construction components, the employees of Ottawa based Neptec Design Group always understood that the ISS would eventually be finished, the shuttle program would finally wind down and everyone would then need to move on to other projects.

So what’s next for Neptec now that this future has come to pass? Well, according to CEO Iain Christie, Neptec’s future has three parts:

The first is the commercialization of existing intellectual property (IP) developed though 20 years of involvement with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA as part of the Canadarm, space shuttle and ISS programs. As described in the December 5th, 2012 Spar Point Group article “New player in laser scanning hardware, software,” the firm has even set up a second company, Neptec Technologies Corporation, to focus on terrestrial industries dealing with more traditional issues but looking for innovative solutions with an appropriate return on investment. Of course, this is a little different from the typical methodology required by the harsh environment of space, which is to focus on the very best solution regardless of cost, and that’s why the new firm was set up separately from the original. According to the article, the new firms’ first project will be to leverage Neptec’s Obscurant Penetrating Auto-synchronous Lidar (OPAL) technology, for commercial use.

A graphic showing the Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus spacecraft using Neptec TriDAR to dock with the ISS. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2013.

The second component is the ongoing sales of existing Neptec sensor systems to both government space agencies and commercial space firms. Spacecraft and space stations will always need to find each other, according to Christie, and this means that, “there’s still life in our technology beyond the shuttle program.” He cites the 2011 sale of the Neptec designed Triangulation and LIDAR Automated Rendezvous and Docking (TriDAR) application to Orbital Sciences Corporation for use in their Cygnus commercial spacecraft and ongoing discussions with others. The Cygnus spacecraft is expected to begin the first of eight cargo deliveries to the ISS as part of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) space act agreement, sometime in 2013.

Artemis Jr. A four-wheeled, skid-steer design with a two-speed mechanical drive train powered by two brushless DC electric motors, one for each side.

The third is the development of partnerships with organizations like New Hamburg based Ontario Drive & Gear, the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) and others to build rovers and the first generation of tools for in-situ resource utilization on the Moon, the asteroids or other off-Earth locations. As outlined in the December 5th, 2010 post on “Utilizing the Canadian Economic Action Plan” the original funding for this project came about through the 2009 Canadian Economic Action Plan, and Christie thinks this investment will soon bear fruit. He cites the Artemis Jr. lunar rover, built to meet the requirements of NASA’s Regolith & Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) payload which is currently being tested by NASA for a potential mission to the lunar poles in 2017.

Only time will tell if the three items listed above will lead Neptec towards a rosy future. But if nothing else, Christie does possess a solid sense of the past, the importance of the space program and Canada’s role in making space important.

Check out his December 6th, 2012 presentation at the Canadian Aerospace Summit to learn more.