Science & Technology
Attended KCSS • 1965–1970
Back in the fall of ’65, high above the blackboard of my grade 9 science/home-room hung an inspirational poster depicting a parka clad climber planting a flag atop a mountain peak that read: “Set your goal higher than you can reach, then reach it”. Over the years, the memory of that poster has motivated me to keep advancing towards my personal goal of contributing to science and space exploration, if only in some minor capacity. Though the path was hardly a straight line from that distant classroom at KCSS to my career as spacecraft systems engineer, it was a path that rarely strayed far from that original goal.
Beginning as an unremarkable, average public-school student with a passionate love for science and technology (who stank up his grade 13 chemistry lab with homemade solid rocket fuel derived from a swimming pool chlorine pill), I had the good fortune to be accepted by the University of Toronto’s faculty of Arts and Science on KCSS graduation to study Astronomy and Physics. After graduation, I chose to travel and dabble in this and that, eventually settling in Vancouver. Inspired by my KCSS electronics shop courses and my technologist father, I entered the Electrical Engineering program at UBC, received a degree with Honours and then stayed for a Master’s degree, researching machine vision under Dr. Michael Beddoes, while also investigating spacecraft dynamics under Dr. V.J. Modi who quickly became my mentor in satellite dynamics and control, and with whom I published a number of my first papers.
With two new degrees in hand and a new wife by my side I accepted a position as a data communications software designer for Develcon Electronics in Saskatoon. While there, I contributed to the switched data network purchased by the Kennedy Space Center. That presented me the opportunity to briefly work in the Space Center, which, in turn, reminded me once again of that ultimate goal, that I had always wanted to reach. Come 1987, Canadian Astronautics Ltd. (CAL), a small, Ottawa spacecraft communications and instrumentation firm, was advertising for engineers to staff their International Space Station contract. I jumped at the opportunity, was accepted as the Canadian data systems architect, and the rest, as they say, is history. The CAL spacecraft systems division is now a part of COM DEV Canada. In time, my space station efforts shifted to lead the design and build of the Space Station Buffer Amplifier data repeater, essential for Canadarm2 and Dextre.
As a space communications company, CAL also had a keen interest in the emerging field of space laser communication. This presented me the opportunity to explore the design challenges of this field, and eventually design a unique, made in Canada, optical terminal. However, the most enduring outcome of this effort was the successful award of a patent for an optical signal tracking algorithm originally intended to permit tracking of laser signals across the vast distances of space. It was also adapted to our CALTRAC Star Tracker products, used on NASA’s Genesis solar wind probe. Currently, that algorithm is being implemented as the primary pointing control method for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, due for launch in 2013.
Next year, the Canadian Space Agency intends to launch the CASSIOPE spacecraft containing the ePOP Radio Receiver Instrument, developed under my leadership, to study electric field waves in the ionosphere. Looking ahead, my current career direction involves the development of instruments to study the space environment.
It’s been a long climb since that grade 9 homeroom, and the climb continues: onward and upward. I encourage all of you to set your goal high, and then reach for it.