SpaceX: Vision v. the Market 9 772162 940005
Digital edition $5.95
Commercial Crew to the Rescue? Lunar Economic Development The Future of On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Jeff Greason: The Accidental CEO & Policy Guru
2 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Celebrating the Space Transportation System 1981â€“2011 The first space shuttle Columbia leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building for the launch pad in late December, 1980. Credit: NASA
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 3
Volume 1, Number 1
Page 36: Companies are building spacecraft in the United States to take astronauts to low Earth orbit and beyond. SpaceX has plans to land Dragon spacecraft on the planet Mars.
Our First Issue
Social Media Tweetups Proving Popular
By Marc Boucher
By Randy Attwood
Commercial Space Travel
Commercial Space: Moon
Spaceport America: Build It and They Will Come?
The Philosophy of Lunar Commercialization and Economic Development
By Leonard David
By Dennis Wingo
Commercial Crew Development Program Status
SpaceX — Vision vs the Market By Marc Boucher
By Randy Attwood
SpaceX Dragon Rider
The Accidental CEO
By Ken Kremer
Eva-Jane Lark speaks with Jeff Greason, CEO of XCOR Aerospace
Boeing CST-100 Crew Capsule Progressing Swiftly
Africa and Space
By Ken Kremer
By Jim Volp
CCDev2 Provides Rare Insight Into Blue Origin Development
Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser — What’s Old is New Again By Marc Boucher
By Paul Kallender-Umezu
The Future of On-Orbit Satellite Servicing
The First Soyuz Launch from Kourou, French Guiana By Chris Gainor
Japan’s Space Program After the Disaster
By Ken Kremer
By Marc Boucher
In the Next Issue
4 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Volume 1, Number 1
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Marc Boucher firstname.lastname@example.org Senior Editor Keith Cowing email@example.com Managing Editor Randy Attwood firstname.lastname@example.org Design Director Richard Winchell email@example.com Contributing Writers Elizabeth Howell James Fergusson Eva-Jane Lark Dennis Wingo Ken Kremer Leonard David Chris Gainor Jim Volp Paul Kallender-Umezu
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September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 5
Our First Issue By Marc Boucher Sic Itur Ad Astra
WELCOME TO SPACE QUARTERLY. IT WAS OVER TWO
as this gives us and our writers enough time to research and
years ago that I decided I wanted to create a new publication,
offer well thought analysis. The issue you are reading now will
but at the time I had no idea it would become Space Quarterly.
hopefully be our smallest. We want to cover as much as we can
I sketched ideas out for some time but didn’t actively pursue
in each issue.
the project until January of this year. It was then I decided it
But aren’t magazines dying? The short answer is no.
was time to move forward. But even then it took awhile for the
The print world is changing. We realize that. That’s why
ideas to take shape that would eventually lead to what you are
this magazine is available in both print and digital formats.
seeing and reading now.
What’s more, we want to engage you in the important topics
For almost 12 years now my business partner, Keith
this magazine addresses. To that end we’re also launching the
Cowing, and I have been diligently updating our websites
SpaceRef Forum where these articles will be available so that
including SpaceRef with the daily happenings in the space
the conversation we start here can continue there. The Forum
sector. However, there is so much news that it’s hard to cover
will be the home not only for articles found in Space Quarterly
everything in great depth. And besides, our websites have been
but for many other related topics.
more about the news now, as it happens. But that’s changing. And this magazine is part of that change. This magazine is meant to offer greater depth, analysis and context about the topics we consider important. We’re going to focus on commercial space, space policy, military space and other timely topics. We’re going to publish quarterly for now
We’ve started to assemble a highly qualified group of writers, some who are dedicated journalists, while others are industry experts. Our goal is that with each subsequent issue we increase the quality of our magazine. I hope that together, we can help grow this industry which can be so beneficial to humanity.
6 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
4th China Society of Astronautics & IAA Conference on Advanced Space Technology September 5–8, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qz
62nd International Astronautical Congress October 3–7, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qq
First Annual Canadian Aerospace Summit November 2–3, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qh
International Symposium for Private and Commercial Spaceflight October 20–23, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qu
Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group November 7–9, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qt
Planetary Science Short Course, UWO September 6–11, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qr Commercial Suborbital Vehicles Workshop September 7, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qk Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week September 12–16, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qy Canadian Space Agency Workshop on the Utilization of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA’s) In Canadian Space Missions September 27–28, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qg AIAA Space 2011 Conference September 27–29, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qv Space Generation Congress 2011 September 29–October 1, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Ql 100 Year Starship Study Public Symposium September 30–October 2, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qo
Wernher Von Braun Symposium October 25–27, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qw
MILCOM 2011 November 7–10, 2011 http://srs.gs/16R1 First hackerSPACE Workshop November 11–12, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qp American Astronautical Society National Conference November 15–16, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qx 3rd Canadian Science Policy Conference November 16–18, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qi 2011 Canadian Space Society November 23–25, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qj 29th AIAA International Communications Satellite Systems Conference November 28–December 1, 2011 http://srs.gs/16R0 13th Annual Global MilSatCom Conference Novermber 29–December 1, 2011 http://srs.gs/16Qs
To get your event listed in the next edition of Space Quarterly, please contact our sales team at sqadsales@ spaceref.com, or in the U.S. at 703-652-0973, or in Canada at 416-619-9203.
8 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Commercial Space Travel
SPACEPORT AMERICA: Build It and They Will Come? By Leonard David
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 9
Spaceport America Lobby Credit: Spaceport America
NEW MEXICO’S SPACEPORT AMERICA is kicking up lots of desert dust as it reaches its billing as the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. As the crow flies – not yet the traffic of outgoing and incoming spaceships -- this rambling facility is taking shape some 30 miles (48 km) east of Truth or Consequences and 45 miles (72 km) north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. A critical centerpiece of the spread out complex that is Spaceport America is a runway to space. It measures 10,000 feet long by 200 feet wide, an elongated stretch of tarmac specially built to handle horizontal launch to space and air operations at the spaceport. For those advocates of Spaceport America over the years, its construction has slowly moved from hard hat blueprints to a readyfor-prime-time tomorrowland. Still, there are challenges ahead in prepping Spaceport America, not the least of which is just who will show up to make the enterprise a growing concern. Full-speed ahead Clearly bullish on the promise of Spaceport America is Christine Anderson, Executive Director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority in Las Cruces. Anderson is no stranger to space. Before retiring from 30 years in civilian positions with the U.S. Air Force, she was the founding Director of the Space Vehicles Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Anderson also served as the Director of the Space Technology Directorate at the Air Force Phillips Laboratory at Kirtland. As the Director of the Military Satellite Communications Joint Program Office at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles she directed the development, acquisition and execution of a $50 billion portfolio. Escaping from a short-lived retirement, and slipping into the Spaceport America post, she was immediately thrust into a whirlpool of New Mexico politics and construction bedlam: A state funding cut to the spaceport office budget equaled $1.1 million. Then there A frequent visitor to Spaceport America, Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is a winner of this year’s National Space Club Press Award and has been a contributor to SPACE.com since 1999.
were prime contractor complaints of late payments. Undaunted, it has been full-speed ahead for Anderson while tackling problems. “I’m a person that likes unprecedented things…and the first commercial purposebuilt spaceport in the world, that’s kind of unique,” Anderson said. “Many of the things that I did in my career, there was no job manual that said come in here and this is how you do it. I’m learning lots of things on the job and using a lot of what I used in 30 years with the U.S. Air Force.” The overall Spaceport America development comes with a price tag of $209 million. Now dotting the 18,000 acre site is a futuristic-looking terminal hangar, the spaceport operations center, fuel storage facilities, water treatment infrastructure, along with vertical launch pads and that lengthy spaceway to handle horizontal operations of such companies like Virgin Galactic, the spaceport’s anchor tenant. Beyond Virgin Galactic, the state-ofthe-art launch facility is working closely with entrepreneurial space start-ups like UP Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, along with established aerospace firms, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Moog-FTS – all for the purpose of developing commercial spaceflight at the new facility. For example, UP Aerospace has conducted nine suborbital launches from Spaceport America since 2006. Another entrepreneurial rocket firm, Armadillo Aerospace, began flight testing multiple vehicles on-site earlier this year. Lockheed Martin has also found a home at Spaceport America, testing a prototype reusable launch system by flying a sub-scale flight demonstrator. Yet another user of the spaceport is the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC). Making use of the UP Aerospaceprovided SpaceLoft rocket, the NMSGC’s mission is to promote space programs and education to New Mexico students and educators. Hurled to the edge of space, experiments designed and created by New Mexico students are providing hands-on experience with the design and implementation of scientific payloads. Still, more users of the spaceport are clearly needed to shore up the viability and vitality of the complex. But Anderson blanches at any gloomy forecast that Spaceport America could be an expensive white elephant of a project—a space bridge to nowhere. She is quick to say that nobody could have predicted the busy hubs
of air travel today that dot the globe, airports that handle millions of flyers daily Whiff of optimism Any visitor to the site can’t help but get a slight whiff of optimism about the future of public space travel. After all, anchor tenant Virgin Galactic and its WhiteKnightTwo/ SpaceShipTwo system is being readied for pay-per-view space tourists – not at Spaceport America, but at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The promise: On a commercial cruise, SpaceShipTwo would be hauled to about 16 kilometers or 52,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo mothership. At that point, the SpaceShipTwo vessel would disengage, ignite its hybrid motor, and continue to over 100 kilometers, some 62 miles straight up, to the Kármán line—a common definition of where “space” starts. Along with freefall, a spectacular view of Earth, each patron would earn astronaut wings. Once entered into commercial flight operations, SpaceShipTwo would fling two pilots and six paying customers to the edge of space. The cash on the barrel head fee for each rocketeer is a per-seat price of $200,000. “Book your place in space now and join around 430 Virgin Galactic astronauts who will venture into space,” claims the company’s website. Bankrolled by British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system has already undergone a step-by-step campaign of piloted glide tests, including mid-air evaluation of the passenger craft’s unique reentry technology. SpaceShipTwo was rolled out into the public limelight in December 2009. Since then, the craft has chalked up15 free flights. Following high-altitude release by its flying launch pad, the WhiteKnightTwo, the SpaceShipTwo has been piloted through a check list series of test objectives. Laws of physics Indeed, over that period of testing, there’s been quick turnaround of the rocket plane and WhiteKnightTwo, showcasing an ability to rapidly whisk ticket-in-hand tourists into space in the future. Test hops also included mid-air appraisal of the craft’s distinctive “feathered” reentry technology. Likened to the flight of a shuttlecock in badminton, SpaceShipTwo’s fall to Earth from the suborbital heights relies on aerodynamics
10 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
VSS Enterprise flies over Runway Dedication at Spaceport America, New Mexico Credit: Spaceport America / Mark Greenberg
level of medical examination or history. Many companies also require the spaceflight participant to purchase personal insurance. Finding insurance to cover this risky venture will require a specialized broker to obtain the policy, usually at a substantial premium. “The purchase of a spaceflight ticket involves many more legal issues than buying a plane ticket. The participant should plan to consult with an attorney, a physician, and an insurance broker for guidance,” Yates concluded.
and the laws of physics to manage speed and altitude. Once SpaceShipTwo rockets itself out of the atmosphere, the entire tail structure of the spaceship can be rotated upward to about 65 degrees. In this feathered configuration, automatic control of attitude with the fuselage parallel to the horizon is achieved. This creates very high drag as the spacecraft descends through the upper regions of the atmosphere. The combination of high drag and low weight -- due to the very light materials used to construct SpaceShipTwo -- means that the vehicle’s skin temperature during the plunge to Earth stays very low in comparison to previous human-carrying spacecraft. That said, thermal protection systems such as heat shields or tiles are not required. On a commercial suborbital flight, following re-entry at around 70,000 feet, SpaceShipTwo’s feathered tail drops back to its original configuration and the spaceship becomes a glider for the trek back to the runway. Legal beagle talk While the technology to institute suborbital space tourism for astronaut wannabes may be attained by Virgin Galactic, a number of thorny legal issues are in the offing. “Space tourists, or spaceflight participants as they are known in legal jargon, must first be aware of their right to information,” explained Rachel Yates, a space lawyer of note with Holland & Hart LLP in Greenwood Village, Colorado. “By federal law, the spaceflight company will need to provide a written disclosure in advance of the flight to insure that the participant understands the risks of spaceflight and remains willing to travel,” she advised Space Quarterly.
Yates said that the prospective traveler will want to read the disclosure closely because it reports on the risks of launch and reentry, including the safety record of the vehicle. Following the disclosure, the participant will be asked to sign an informed consent acknowledging that the participant understands the risks and that his or her presence on board the vehicle is voluntary. By signing, the spaceflight participant limits his or her legal remedies if any problems later arise, she noted. “Waive” goodbye to rights? “The U.S. government has not certified the launch vehicles as safe for carrying humans, and it requires that participants waive any rights to sue the government. The spaceflight company also will likely require a signed waiver,” Yates said. The scope and enforceability of these company waivers, she pointed out, can vary from state to state, so the participant will want to have all of the contracts, disclosures, and waivers reviewed beforehand by legal counsel. Similarly, if the trip is cancelled, the spaceflight participant might be limited in what she can recoup, unless the contract spells out those rights clearly. “The FAA requires a space flight participant to be trained to respond to emergency situations and to avoid jeopardizing the safety of the flight crew or the public. For many, the company-required training is almost as rigorous as the actual flight, so the participant should be ready to incur substantial time and cost to prepare for the flight,” Yates observed. Although the riders are not required by law to undergo medical examinations, her view is that companies may prudently insist on some
Next up Legal issues aside, a wide array of SpaceShipTwo test goals appear to have been met – according to the builder of the system, Scaled Composites of Mojave, California. The glide test agenda reached a summer hiatus in 2011, with technicians weighing the data gathered by the numerous WhiteKnightTwo/ SpaceShipTwo flights. But ahead is a crucial chapter of testing. That next phase of qualification flying will make first use of a hybrid motor mounted within SpaceShipTwo, an engine provided by the Sierra Nevada Corporation and built to shove SpaceShipTwo and its customers on a suborbital space voyage. Given a successful test program, SpaceShipTwo flights filled to the portholes with rubbernecking adventurers could begin in late 2012 or in first quarter of 2013. “We have been working steadily with Spaceport America for several years now. It is a major commitment for both Virgin and the State of New Mexico,” explained Virgin Galactic CEO, George Whitesides. “We are very serious and the State is as well about making Spaceport America the largest success possible,” he told Space Quarterly. Whitesides said that both his company and New Mexico have made significant progress – evidenced by the WhiteKnightTwo/ SpaceShipTwo vehicles now in test-flight and Spaceport America, which is getting closer to completion every day. “The task at hand is to stay focused on our respective work as we progress through the final phases of development and construction,” Whitesides added. “I am convinced that the State’s investment will pay off significantly in real economic growth, inspiration for local children, and global attention to the high-tech future of New Mexico.”
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 11
Commercial Crew Development Program Status By Randy Attwood
WITH THE COMPLETION OF THE LAST SPACE shuttle flight last July, the only two countries with crew access to Low Earth Orbit today are Russia and China. All astronauts traveling to the International Space Station must get there on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, launching from and returning to Kazakhstan. This fact is not lost on American politicians and members of the public. Shutting down the space shuttle was a blow to the American ego. Not having a replacement launch system and spacecraft made the whole thing worse. The problem was in part money – there isn’t enough in the annual NASA budget to fund flying the shuttle as well as developing its replacement. A new program called Constellation was announced in 2004 by the Bush administration to build a replacement spacecraft and booster to take astronauts not only to Low Earth Orbit, but to the Moon and beyond. Beset by technical problems and budget shortfalls from the start, the program was officially terminated earlier this year. In its place, NASA turned to the commercial market for access to space. The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program would provide funding for companies to help them develop spacecraft to launch crew to the International Space Station. The CCDev program would be run in phases. The first phase—CCDev1—provided financing to five companies. The first installment was a total of $49.8 million distributed to the following companies: » Blue Origin received $3.7 million » The Boeing Company received $18 million » Paragon Space Development Corporation received $1.4 million » Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville received $20 million » United Launch Alliance received $6.7 million
CCDev2 funding was announced last April. The second installment of $269.3 million was awarded to the following companies: » Blue Origin received $22 million » The Boeing Company received $92.3 million » SpaceX received $75 million » Sierra Nevada Corporation received $80 million Blue Origin is developing the New Sheppard spacecraft. Boeing is building its CST-100 – an Apollo inspired type capsule. Sierra Nevada is working on its Dream Chaser winged spacecraft. All will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas V to launch their spacecraft. SpaceX has already orbited and recovered its Dragon spacecraft, launched on its Falcon 9 booster last December and currently leads the program in its development efforts. In the next four articles, Space Quarterly takes a look at each company and the status of each of its programs. It should be noted that while this program is currently funded and a third round of funding is expected this fall, it is not guaranteed that the program will go forward. Congress can be very fickle and with budget shortfalls and partisan politics dominating in Washington, nothing is certain. Should there not be a third round of funding then at least two of the current participants would stop work on their efforts. This includes Boeing and Sierra Nevada. Blue Origin and SpaceX would continue on, but the pace of progress of both would be slowed as they fund further development themselves.
12 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Panels being added to a Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 13
SpaceX Dragon Rider By Ken Kremer
SPACEX, THE UPSTART NEW SPACE company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2002, is blazing a private sector trek to space where no company has gone before. The firm’s Dragon capsule is a strong entrant into NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program – known as CCDev – which seeks to stimulate the private sector into developing a new and lost cost means of commercially transporting astronauts to Earth orbit and the International Space Station. “In April 2011, NASA awarded SpaceX $75 million to develop a revolutionary launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts as part of the agency’s CCDev initiative to help private companies mature concepts and technologies for human spaceflight,” Kirstin Grantham, SpaceX Communications Director told Space Quarterly. NASA distributed $270 million amongst four firms to continue forward into the second round of the commercial initiative— known as CCDev2. The other competitors are Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. Unlike the other companies, SpaceX is simultaneously developing an unmanned variant of the Dragon capsule and the necessary launch vehicle—known as the Falcon 9—under the existing NASA COTS contract to deliver cargo to the ISS. This Dr. Ken Kremer is a freelance science journalist, research scientist and speaker whose articles, space exploration images and Mars photomosaics have been widely published in magazines, books and websites..
affords SpaceX an unparalleled base of experience with their spaceflight vehicles. At one point, rival Boeing was considering the Falcon 9 as the launch vehicle for its competing CST-100 crew capsule but has now chosen the ULA Atlas V. Last December, SpaceX successfully flew the inaugural operational Dragon cargo spacecraft atop the second flight of a Falcon 9 booster. In so doing, SpaceX became the first commercial company to fly a spacecraft to orbit and achieve a successful reentry, landing and recovery back on Earth. “The Falcon 9 and Dragon represent the safest and fastest path to American crew transportation capability,” stated Grantham. “With the December 8th, 2010 flight, many Falcon 9 and Dragon components that are needed to transport humans to low-Earth orbit have already been demonstrated in flight and both vehicles were designed from the outset to fly people.” SpaceX is aiming for a giant leap in the capabilities of the Dragon cargo version by combining the COTS II and COTS III cargo demonstration flights into one, which would allow Dragon to berth soon with the ISS This capability is translatable and essential to the human rated Dragon. “We are taking all of the necessary steps to combine those two missions, but NASA hasn’t given us formal approval yet. We are working with NASA towards a November 30th launch target that would have us berth with the International Space Station nine days later,” said Grantham. Since this interview, SpaceX formally confirmed the November 30 launch date.
With the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, NASA is now totally dependent on Russia’s Soyuz capsule to ferry US astronauts to the ISS and back. The resulting gap in US human launch capability will endure for a minimum of three to five years and has created a Russian monopoly in crewed access to the ISS. The Russians have responded to the monopoly by increasing the price of the limited number of Soyuz seats—tripling the cost to $63 million per seat from roughly $20 million ten years ago. SpaceX claims they can offer a far better deal to the American taxpayer—$20 million per seat aboard their human rated Dragon capsule—also dubbed the Dragon Rider. “SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014. But it all depends on how many tests are required by NASA, finalization of the human rating requirements and funding,” said Garrett Reisman, CCDev2 Project Manager and former NASA astronaut at the SpaceX launch control center in Cape Canaveral, Florida Reisman recently joined SpaceX and said safety is a top priority. “I’m an engineer and am happy with what I see at SpaceX, and I won’t have our guys design a vehicle that I would not feel comfortable flying in.” “The Dragon Rider is designed to carry seven astronauts and stay at the station for 210 days. For the initial flight it’s not yet decided if the crew will be NASA astronauts or a SpaceX crew,” Reisman said in a recent interview. “Our design goal is to have minimal differences between the Dragon Rider and
14 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Falcon 9 launch from Space launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX/Chris Thompson
the cargo Dragon. The Falcon 9 launcher will be identical. So, every time we fly a Falcon 9 we accumulate flight history and have a test flight. Our top priority right now is getting Dragon up to the ISS,” explains Reisman. At NASA’s direction, SpaceX is focusing their CCDEV2 efforts on the Launch Abort System, or LAS, which is an emergency escape system that would save astronauts lives in the event of an in-flight catastrophe by pulling the crew cabin away from the launcher in a split second. “During CCDEV2, we will be designing, testing and developing the engines, tanks and related components for the LAS and doing all the risk assessments and safety mission assurance work that needs to be done,” says Reisman. “The integrated escape system will be superior to traditional solid rocket tractor escape towers used by other vehicles in the past,” said Brantham. “Due to their extreme weight, tractor systems must be jettisoned
within minutes of liftoff, but the SpaceX innovative design builds the escape engines into the side walls of Dragon, eliminating the danger of releasing a heavy solid rocket escape tower after launch.” “The SpaceX design also provides the crew with emergency escape capability throughout the entire flight, whereas the Space Shuttle had no escape system. The result is that astronauts flying on Dragon will be considerably safer.” “Dragon will have escape capability all the way to orbit. Even Apollo did not have that,” says CEO Elon Musk. Since the escape system returns with the spacecraft, it can be reused along with the capsule and results in even more significant reductions in the cost of space transport. According to the CCDEV2 award, “SpaceX will modify Dragon to accommodate a crew, with specific hardware milestones that will provide NASA with regular, demonstrated progress,” explained Brantham.
“These milestones include static fire testing of the launch escape system engines, initial design of abort engine and crew accommodations and prototype evaluations by NASA crew for seats, control panels and cabin.” “SpaceX only gets paid by NASA when we meet those milestones. And we are also investing our own money,” said Reisman. “So that gives us a lot of incentive to be cost effective.” At a CCDev2 Kickoff meeting with NASA in May 2011, “SpaceX reviewed NASA certification requirements, and the company presented to NASA officials the design status of all systems along with risks and potential mitigations”, Brantham elaborated. “The next SpaceX milestone is the LAS Propulsion Conceptual Design Review, planned for July, where SpaceX will present design data, documentation, risk assessments, and schedule data along with analysis and
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 15
The Dragon spacecraft recovered after its maiden flight. Credit: SpaceX/Roger Carlson
verification plans to show that their concept is technically sound and accommodates human factors requirements.” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told Space Quarterly that the LAS review was successful and the next milestone, the Preliminary Design Review is scheduled for September. SpaceX currently employs over 1500 people at major facilities in Hawthorne, CA; McGregor Texas; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Vandenberg Air Force Base and offices in Washington, DC., and continues to grow,” Branthan told Space Quarterly. In addition to the two former NASA astronauts already working at SpaceX – Ken Bowersox of SpaceX Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Office, and Garrett Reisman—they expect to hire even more and are looking for exceptional talent as the firm continues to sign new launch contracts.
When asked how well is Dragon aligned with NASA’s draft human rating requirements, Brantham replied, “Falcon 9 and Dragon were designed from the start to be capable of carrying astronauts. We are confident we will be able to meet NASA’s final requirements.” “CCDEV2 is all about taking what we have and putting astronauts inside. Since no other competitor has flown their vehicle and we bring our own rocket to the table, we are pretty confident with where we stand,” Reisman agreed. “I think that if we do our job well in the commercial arena than we are on the cusp of a golden age in spaceflight, where you will see a tremendous amount of innovation unlocked,” concluded Reisman. “We have many competitors coming up with different designs. That’s very exciting from an engineering perspective, just like the Golden Age in Aviation.”
16 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Shown here is an artist’s concept of Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft approaching the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 17
Boeing CST-100 Crew Capsule Progressing Swiftly By Ken Kremer
AEROSPACE GIANT BOEING IS MAKING rapid progress on the CST-100 capsule, which it hopes will one day take American astronauts into space. This is the company’s entry into NASA’s Commercial Crew program that is aimed at stimulating private sector development of a new and low cost human rated vehicle for journeys to low Earth Orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) and designed to replace NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle fleet as soon as possible. With the retirement of the shuttles from active flight duty status, NASA faces a manned launch gap of at least three to five years with no means to loft astronauts to orbit from American soil. In the interim, all ISS astronauts will travel on the Russian Soyuz rocket. That’s why NASA’s commercial crew initiative is so critical to reestablishing American access to human spaceflight capability. “Boeing is focused on making the capsule safe, simple and affordable so that we can make it available soon to close the gap between shuttle and the next spacecraft,” said John Elbon, Boeing Vice President and program manager for commercial crew transportation in an interview with Space Quarterly at the Kennedy Space Center. “The CST-100 could be ready as early as 2015. Our design philosophy is to use proven
technologies wherever we can to minimize risk in the development.” The CST-100 Crew Space Transportation Vehicle is a capsule-shaped spacecraft that consists of a crew module and service module and can also carry some very limited cargo depending on the configuration. “The capsule is reusable up to 10 times. It’s the same aerodynamic shape as Apollo but can carry up to seven crew members. I liken it to seven people sitting in a minivan,” said Elbon. Under the NASA CCDev2 contract, which Boeing received $92.3 million, Boeing has a 14 month time span in the space act agreement to continue development of the CST-100 crew capsule, continuing on the work started in the first round and initiating work on integrating the capsule with a launch vehicle and reach a Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The PDR is an essential step that ensures the system design meets all requirements. On August 3, Boeing announced that it had chosen the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to launch the CST-100 from Cape Canaveral. The first crewed mission could be launched as early as 2015. Selecting a launch vehicle provider is important according to Elbon because “we need to down select to a specific vehicle to work out the specifics for the normal launch
and abort scenarios. We need to integrate the CST-100 avionics systems with those of the launch vehicle to verify they can work together and carry out an abort if necessary.” The CST-100 is specifically designed to quickly reach the ISS and the planned Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex. “Our mission model includes a first day rendezvous after about 8 to 9 hours,” said Elbon. “There is no potty or galley. CST-100 is just intended as a transportation to low Earth orbit system. And that makes it much more affordable to operate compared to a system designed for long duration missions. It’s designed for 48 hours of nominal powered flight, with a possibility of increasing to 60 hours to better align with NASA requirements. After docking with the ISS or Bigelow space stations we would plug into their power source and could stay for up to 7 months.” “During the first round of CCDEV, Boeing received $18 million from NASA and added a similar amount of our own money. We’ve taken it through the SDR or System Design Review milestone.” With those funds, Boeing built a full scale pressure test article, completed several risk reduction objectives and settled on a baseline design. “Using very cost weld free effective manufacturing techniques and just seven engineers, we constructed the test article in only 9 months,”
18 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
An aluminum pressure-test article on display at the Kennedy Space Center Credit: Ken Kremer
said Elbon. “We fired our abort engine and did drop tests with the landing air bags.” “Boeing also built a mock up so that we could have the crew sit in it and help out with the layout of control panels. And we fabricated our heat shield using a new lightweight material that Boeing developed— called Boeing Lightweight Ablator. We also tested rendezvous and docking software. All that work was completed by October 2010 for just $18 million in 9 months which is pretty amazing.” Boeing is now in the midst of accomplishing their CCDEV2 objectives and is supplementing the NASA funding with about $5 to 10 Million of their own. “As part of CCDEV 2 we are making a light weight version of our abort engine—which only fires for 3 seconds. It’s a pusher system. So if we don’t use the fuel for an abort then we have
it available for on orbit maneuvering. So it’s a good idea. The abort system and the three foot long fuel tanks are in the service module below the crew module. So we will also be test firing the rockets to verify they work and testing the propellant tanks to make sure they can expel all the fuel in those 3 seconds.” During a normal flight, the abort engines will play another role and carry out the deorbit burn and are jettisoned before the landing. “Boeing is also building a 12 inch wind tunnel model to verify all the aerodynamic data and forces on the capsule,” Elbon stated. “The CST-100 will be at the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) stage by February 2012.” The full scale mockup and pressure test article were on display in a special Boeing pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site during the launch countdown of the final shuttle flight in July. The mockups gave an excellent feeling as to the volume and
workspace that would be available to future astronaut crews. Two months into CCDEV2, Boeing officials reviewed the progress to date with NASA. “We met with NASA and compared our design to NASA’s draft set of human rating requirements and were synched up with the vast majority of them,’ said Elbon. “There are a handful of simple things that we are still working—like the mission duration and how many hours of free flight are available in case of contingencies. In our baseline the crew doesn’t wear pressure suits. But NASA would prefer that the crew wear pressure suits. And there were a couple of places were the levels of redundancy didn’t quite match. So we are working through those relatively simple things.” “We are maturing the design and we went through a Phase 0 safety review with NASA and went through each of our subsystems.”
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 19
A mockup of the CST-100 on display at the Kennedy Space Center Credit: Ken Kremer
A busy schedule of aggressive parachute tests lie ahead. “The next upcoming milestones over the summer and beyond include drop tests from a rig using the landing airbags. This will also test horizontal velocity movement since we’ll be using parachutes and there will be wind. Next March 2012, we’ll drop a new mockup with a parachute deploy off a helicopter and test the air bag deploy.” The landing engines are located on the side of the capsule. “CST will land on land and in the ocean only in a contingency. The primary landing sites are Edwards AFB and White Sands.” As Boeing works through the design in the coming months, there will also be an Interim Design Review with many design and analysis cycles. “We are optimistic that we’ll continue in CCDEV 3. It’s a competition. We have a good design and we are making
good progress. So I’m hopeful that NASA will select us to continue in the next phase.” “Of course that next phase has to happen and needs to be funded.” Given the dire budget outlook in Washington, funding is by no means assured. “Realistically we could launch an initial crewed test flight in 2015 with two Boeing test pilots under our baseline scenario—since this is being developed as a commercial venture.” “By the end of 2015, the CST-100 would be operational. Leading up to this would be a pad abort test in 2014, an uncrewed multiday test flight later in late 2014 and an ascent abort test in early 2015.” The flight schedule has already been somewhat delayed due to NASA funding shortfalls. Boeing must be counted as a strong contender given the firm’s 50 year experience building spacecraft like Apollo and the Space Shuttle as well as their current responsibility
as overall prime contractor for the ISS. “A lot of the people working on and designing CST-100 worked on the Space Shuttle via our heritage company Rockwell International,” said Paul Diggins, Boeings CST-100 Manufacturing Director. “Those folks were trained by Rockwell engineers in our space exploration division who earlier built the Apollo Command Module.” “But the CST-100 is a new design compared to Apollo and with about twice the habitable volume.” “We have to compete on cost with our competitors. It’s a very competitive environment. If we don’t achieve our cost targets then we won’t survive and be there at the finish line,” concluded Diggins.
20 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
CCDev2 Provides Rare Insight Into Blue Origin Development By Ken Kremer
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 21
Artist’s rendering of Blue Origin’s space vehicle Credit: Blue Origin
BLUE ORIGIN IS A PRIVATE AEROSPACE company founded in 2000, funded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, headquartered in Kent, WA and one of four firms competing in the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew program—known as CCDev2. NASA’s goal is to stimulate the private sector into developing a safe and low cost ‘space taxi’ to loft US astronauts to Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) now that the Space Shuttle is retired. Until then, astronauts flying to the ISS must depend on the Russian Soyuz. In April 2011, NASA awarded Blue Origin $22 million in CCDev2 funding. This was the smallest slice of the $270 million in total that was distributed amongst the remaining competitors; Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX. “If we have enough funding—as we work through the political realm—we want to keep the competition going as long as we can and get services to the International Space Station by the middle of the decade,” says Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. According to the NASA Space Act Agreement, Blue Origin is working to mature the design of their biconic spacecraft, develop an abort system and test engine components. Details about Blue Origin’s highly secretive space projects are hard to obtain and Blue Origin representatives are not granting interviews at this time. The biconic vehicle would be capable of carrying seven astronauts and cargo to and from the ISS, serve as an emergency lifeboat and stay docked for up to 210 days. The vehicle would accomplish a ground landing on return to Earth. In a rare public presentation, Rob Meyerson, President of Blue Origin, gave a short overview of the company’s CCDev plans at a recent briefing for reporters at the Kennedy Space Center. “Blue Origin is developing a Crew Transportation System (CTS) that is comprised of an ‘Orbital Space Vehicle’ and a ‘Reusable Booster System’ that will take humans safely and affordably to and from low Earth orbit (LEO),” said Meyerson
“Our incremental development program approach uses suborbital tests to retire development risks. That’s how we intend to step our way toward human spaceflight. Our Kent site is about 250,000 square feet in size and where we have the facilities, teams and tools to take on this endeavor. We have our own rocket engine test facilities at Kent. We also have our own privately developed launch test site in West Texas, 33 square miles in size, where we’ve flown the first iteration of our suborbital vehicles.” “Under CCDev1, we successfully accomplished both of our milestones. We assembled a composite pressure vessel for our suborbital vehicle. Then we proof pressure tested it and drop tested it to demonstrate a hard landing and verified all our loads and design parameters. We also developed our in-house pusher escape system. We tested that using a solid rocket motor developed by Aerojet and conducted two ground tests.” Blue Origin has chosen the Atlas V—built by United Launch Alliance (ULA)—as the initial launcher of choice due to its proven track record. Simultaneously the firm plans to build their own ‘Reusable Booster System’ (RBS) to further reduce costs at some undefined future date. ULA and NASA just signed a new Space Act Agreement on July 18 to speed up studies on determining exactly what would be required to human rate the Atlas V—which three of the four CCDev2 awardees have selected as their launch vehicle. Blue Origin is working on three projects in CCDev2; maturing the orbital space vehicle design development for their biconic spacecraft, further development of the pusher abort system and engine component testing. “First, we are maturing the design of our Orbital Space Vehicle. Several items in that task are completing key system trades; working on our Thermal Protection System with NASA Ames Research Center; defining the biconic shape which provides lower entry g loads than a capsule – we’ll refine that with aerodynamic analyses and wind tunnel testing; developing the interface requirements between the Orbital Space Vehicle and the Atlas V rocket by working hand in hand with United Launch Alliance; and we’ll be completing two program reviews—the Mission Concept Review (MCR) and the
System Requirements Review (SRR) which are the first reviews in the design process” said Meyerson. “Our second project is to continue the design work we started under CCDev1 on our pusher escape system which will culminate with a pad escape test of our suborbital crew capsule. The third project is accelerating our booster engine development. We are developing our own LOX/LH2 booster engine and will be testing that thrust chamber at one of the existing stands at NASA Stennis. That engine is designed to do deep throttling to support our vertical takeoff and vertical landing technology,” Meyerson elaborated. Blue Origin’s suborbital ‘New Shepard’ development program will be used to prove out technologies in an incremental fashion before the firm commits to orbital spaceflight, Meyerson explained. “The CCDEV2 projects were proposed because they help us accelerate orbital capability. We are committed to developing safe and affordable commercial human spaceflight.” Asked about whether there is a market for commercial human spaceflight beyond NASA, Meyerson told Space Quarterly, “I absolutely do believe there is a market beyond NASA for multiple suppliers to launch people to orbit—as long as the price is competitive.” Of the four companies selected for the second phase of the CCDev program Blue Origin faces the toughest obstacles moving forward. It is not considered a front-runner in the program, but the fact that it made it this far suggests NASA has some faith in them and that they should be taken seriously. SpaceX leads the way, followed by Boeing and Sierra Nevada, with Blue Origin a distant fourth. With NASA’s funding in a precarious position going forward it would appear unlikely that more than three companies would receive funding in the next round. This would suggest that Blue Origin may be out of luck for CCDev3 funding. But even so, its billionaire owner does have the resources to keep the company afloat for years to come. However, eventually this 11-year-old very secretive company will have to emerge from the shadows and show what it’s made of.
22 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Artist Rendering of the Dream Chaser Docked to the International Space Station Credit: Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser — What’s Old is New Again By Marc Boucher
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 23
Dream Chaser Structure Current Status Credit: Sierra Nevada
SIERRA NEVADA CORPORATION’S (SNC) Dream Chaser is a reusable spacecraft similar to the shuttle: it is designed for vertical launch and horizontal landing. Within about four years we may see the Dream Catcher perched on top an Atlas V at the Kennedy Space Center waiting for launch. The Dream Chaser Space System (DCSS) has resulted from research in the early 1990s at the Langley Research Center on NASA’s HL-20. The “HL” stands for horizontal lander. The HL-20 itself resulted from years of research in the 1960s and 1970s on other lifting-body concepts, such as NASA’s M2-F1 and M2-F2, the HL-10, and the Air Force’s X-24A and X-24B. The HL-20 was dubbed the “personnel launch system.” Unlike the shuttle, the HL-20 was designed to be small, carry astronauts on suborbital and orbital flights, but carry little cargo. The smaller and simpler spacecraft allows for lower-cost operations and improved flight safety. It is with this legacy that Sierra Nevada proceeded to enter NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program with the Dream Chaser. The DCSS has very little in common with the original HL-20 design other than the outer mould line and centre of gravity. SNC kept the outer mould line and centre of gravity because years of tests have demonstrated that the outline works. SNC is using a new composite structure with modern materials and construction techniques along with their own hybrid rocket motor design, which has already been used on Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne. The DCSS will always use a “human-in-the-loop,” meaning a pilot, during launch. Landings, however, can be automated or piloted. In the first round of CCDev funding, SNC received $20 million of the available $50 million, the largest share. To reach the first round of funding, SNC had to reach four milestones: a Program Implementation Plan, a Manufacturing Readiness Review of Aeroshell Tooling, Space Vehicle Propulsion Marc Boucher is a space policy and commercial space analyst, co-founder of SpaceRef and Editor-in-Chief of Space Quarterly. He has a background in software development and has started up several technology businesses.
Module Test Firings, and Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article (ETA) Preliminary Structure Proof Testing. SNC reached all four. Once these milestones were met, SNC competed for the second round of funding in the CCDev program. This time, there were 22 proposals submitted to NASA, four of which were selected. SNC was selected in April 2011. One of the reasons SNC was selected for the second round of funding was because NASA wanted diversity in the program. The final selection was made by Philip R. McAlister, who said in the selection statement, “There are significant technical challenges associated with lifting bodies that are not present in capsules; however, lifting bodies offer significant operational capability including cross range performance, ability to land on multiple runways, lower entry g-forces, and quick crew access and egress post landing. At this early stage in the development, I felt it was important to have both lifting bodies and capsules represented in the portfolio.” SNC was not alone in proposing a liftingbody spacecraft for the second round. Orbital Sciences Corporation was also competing, and its design was also based on the HL-20 legacy. Both proposals were good, but SNC’s proposal had a few more benefits to it: the proposal demonstrated a strong commitment to public–private partnerships associated with the program, it reached a Preliminary Design Review by the end of CCDev round 2 compared to a System Design Review for Orbital, and it offered flexibility in optimizing crew and cargo up-mass and downmass. SNC’s proposal allowed for a crew configuration of two to seven astronauts and the ability to trade out crew for cargo. Orbital Science Corporation’s proposal was set at a crew configuration of four. Of the $270 million NASA allocated to the four selected CCDev2 proposals, SNC was awarded $80 million, bringing its total contribution from NASA to $100 million. SNC is a private company, and it will not disclose how much money it has invested in the development of DCSS. When contacted by Space Quarterly, Mark Sirangelo, Executive VP and Chairman, commented that their investment is in the tens of millions. Another source said the investment was equal to what NASA had invested. Sirangelo also stated that to finish development of the DCSS would
require less than $1 billion, including the NASA money it has already received and being contingent on the continuation of the CCDev program. On July 7, SNC signed a commercial space agreement with the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for ground operations support, something KSC has plenty of experience with after processing the shuttle for 30 years. By signing the agreement with KSC, SNC confirmed its plan to launch from KSC and has stated it plans on using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V is a reliable launcher, with 26 successful launches and one partial success. However, before it can launch any crew, it must go through stringent human rating certification. That is not expected to take very long, however. The DCSS is a much less complex spacecraft than the shuttle and has no need for hazardous post-landing ground support. So, SNC hopes that the DCSS can be turned around much faster for the next launch than the shuttles were. For CCDev round 2, SNC has one year to reach 9 milestones and can optionally complete an additional 10 milestones if it so chooses. The milestones are as follows: 1. System Requirements Review (completed) 2. Canted airfoil section (completed) 3. Cockpit-Based Flight Simulator (completed) 4. Vehicle Avionics Integration Laboratory (September 2011) 5. System Definition Review (October 2011) 6. Flight Control Integration Laboratory (November 2011) 7. ETA Structure Delivery (December 2011)
24 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Artist Rendering of the Dream Chaser Launching on an Atlas V Credit: Sierra Nevada
8. Separation System Test (February 2012) 9. Preliminary Design Review (May 2012) Completing these milestones on time is important because the third round of CCDev funding is expected to be announced this fall, with contracts awarded in the spring of 2012. SNC needs to win money in the next round if it hopes to complete the DCSS program. So it would be helpful to SNC to reach some of the optional milestones before the end of May. However, reaching all 10 does seem to make for a very aggressive schedule. SNC plans on conducting an atmospheric drop test, the last of the optional milestones, in 2012. It had been previously reported in the media that the drop test would occur sometime between April and the end of June, however Sirangelo told Space Quarterly that it would be sometime in 2012 bringing into question the previous report.
The other optional milestones include; Perform materials testing, captive carry interface and ETA landing gear drop tests, ETA captive carry flight test, wind tunnel testing, Dream Chaser handling qualities evaluation, Main RCS test, two hybrid rocket motor test firings, thrust vector control test and an ETA active carry flight test readiness review. Interestingly, the atmospheric drop test would be conducted using The Spaceship Company’s (TSC) WhiteKnightTwo aircraft. TCS is a jointly owned company of Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group and started by their respective founders, Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson. Rutan is popularly known for designing the White Knight aircraft and SpaceShipOne which helped Scaled Composites win the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. With SNC using the TSC aircraft for it’s drop test, we’re seeing the
ongoing maturation of the commercial space sector which can only bode well for the rest of the industry as it slowly takes root and grows. SNC also announced in July that it had recently expanded its already impressive team by adding former astronaut Steve Lindsey, who recently commanded STS-133, as their new Director of Flight Operations. Lindsey joins former astronaut Jim Voss who recently became SNC’s Vice President of Space Exploration Systems along with another half-dozen former NASA employees, mostly from the defunct Constellation program. Should SNC receive CCDev round 3 funding then they plan on doing an orbital test in late 2014 or early 2015.
26 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Final testing of the Soyuz launch site at Europeâ€™s Spaceport in French Guiana last April Credit: ESA/S. Corvaja
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 27
Credit: ESA/S. Corvaja
The First Soyuz Launch from Kourou, French Guiana By Chris Gainor
THE WORLD’S UNDISPUTED workhorse space launch vehicle, the Soyuz rocket, enters a new era this fall when it launches for the first time from the Guiana Space Centre near the equator in South America. The Soyuz launch vehicle is the direct descendant of the R-7 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that put Sputnik into orbit in 1957. Starting with the rocket that launched Yuri Gagarin in 1961, rockets in this family have launched every Soviet and Russian spacecraft carrying human passengers, along with many other satellites and space probes. Up to now, all of the Soyuz rocket’s more than 1,760 launches have taken place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkhstan or the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The European Space Agency and Arianespace began construction of the French Guiana launch facility for Soyuz in 2004 after reaching agreement with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Soyuz rockets began arriving at the Guiana Space Centre in 2009. After the new Soyuz launch pad systems were tested in a simulated launch campaign that ended with a “virtual mission” on May 5, preparations began for the first Soyuz launch from Guiana, which is scheduled for October 20 at 7:34 a.m. local time. The rocket is due to orbit a pair of satellites from Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system. Launching a rocket from a site closer to the equator allows you to take advantage of the Earth’s eastern rotation. The rotation speed at the equator is greater than that at the northern latitudes of Baikonur and Plesetsk. Because French Guiana is close to the equator, the rocket is already moving 1700 km/h towards the east while sitting on the pad. Launching Soyuz from Kourou with this extra boost makes Soyuz capable of launching larger payloads to geostationary transfer orbit. “With a launch location close to the equator, Soyuz will have improved performance and be able to carry up to three tones into geostationary transfer orbit, compared to the 1.7 tonnes that can be launched from Baikonur,” ESA spokesman Roberto Lo Verde told Space Quarterly. The Soyuz launch complex is 12 km northwest up the French Guiana coastline from the existing Ariane 5 launch complex. Lo Verde Chris Gainor is an author and historian specializing in space flight and aeronautics. He has written four books, including Arrows to the Moon: Avro’s Engineers and the Space Race, and To a Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers, and articles in various academic and other publications.
said the Soyuz complex is actually closer to the town of Sinnamary than to the town of Kourou. Many of the features of the new launch complex are similar to the Soyuz launch pads at Baikonur and Plesetsk. The launch vehicle is assembled horizontally in an integration building and then moved by rail 600m to the launch pad, where it is erected and supported on the pad by the tyulpan (tulip) launch system that falls away as the rocket rises at liftoff. Like the older Soyuz launch pads, the Guiana launch pad stands atop a gigantic flame trench. The Guiana launch complex differs from other Soyuz launch pads in that it also has an eight-level, 53m tall mobile launch service tower that can surround the rocket on the pad and permit vertical integration of the upper stage and payload for each rocket. The Soyuz rocket is one of the few launch vehicles rated to launch human passengers, and while no such launches are planned at the moment, the Guiana launch facility can be easily modified to permit launching of human passengers. The Soyuz rocket launched from Guiana typically stands 46.2 m tall and has four stages, including the four booster rockets and the central core stage that constitute the first two stages, a third stage and the Fregat fourth stage that is designed to function in orbit with restartable engines. This rocket differs from previous versions of the Soyuz rocket with an enlarged payload fairing, a new flight control system, and upgraded engines in the third stage. The addition of Soyuz to the stable of launchers in Guiana gives Arianespace an intermediate-size rocket between its large Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which has been in service for 15 years, and the new Vega rocket, which is soon coming into service for smaller satellite payloads going to low Earth orbit. The October 20 launch will carry the first two operational satellites in the Galileo satellite navigation system, which is slated to consist of 27 satellites and three spares on orbit, all at an inclination of 56 degrees. Experimental versions of the Galileo satellites were launched in 2005 and 2008. This launch is attracting so much interest that the Guiana Space Centre is expecting a large number of spectators, Lo Verde said. “There is already such a huge interest that there are no hotel rooms anymore left in Guiana, and all viewing sites are completely full.”
28 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Social Media Tweetups Proving Popular By Randy Attwood
OVER 19 YEARS AGO, AS PEOPLE BEGAN TO discover the World Wide Web, NASA jumped in and set up web sites for all of its centers and activities. Today, they are following that tradition by making extensive use of Twitter, a fast growing popular social media service that allows its users to send short messages of 140 characters or less to people who follow them. They can access these messages, called tweets, using a variety of software programs and on their mobile phones. It is not uncommon for people who follow Twitter to receive tweets from astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). A recent tweet from astronaut Ron Garan was accompanied by a photo he had taken of Atlantic Canada. All four astronauts on the STS-135 mission, Atlantisâ€™ recent last flight of the space shuttle program, had Twitter accounts. Although some tweeted more than others, there were few tweets during the busy mission. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield regularly sends tweets from Russia as he trains for his 2012 ISS mission. A few years ago NASA started to organize and run Tweetups. Tweetups are gatherings of people who tweet an event. NASA invited people from all over the world to register to attend the launch of a space shuttle. Although there is room for only 150, thousands apply. The lucky few chosen are given access to the Launch Complex 39 Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center and enjoy two days of presentations and tours, culminating with a view of the launch from only five kilometers away.
Randy Attwood has been following the space program for over 40 years. He has appeared on television and radio for over 30 years as a commentator. He is a Senior Editor at SpaceRef Interactive Inc. and Managing Editor of Space Quarterly. A
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 29
A: Canadian Space Agency astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen at the July 8 CSA Tweetup in St Hubert, Quebec Credit: Katrina Ince-Lum
B: 150 Tweeters participate in the NASA Tweetup the morning of the launch of STS 135 at the LC39 Press Site, KSC Credit: Randy Attwood
A large tent is set up for the Tweeters near the countdown clock. Tables are provided with power and most important, wi-fi for Internet access. NASA astronauts and representatives as well as a Hollywood celebrity or two give presentations while the tweeters can type away, tweeting what they are hearing. The Tweeters also are taken on tours of the NASA facilities and even get a close up look at the shuttle on the pad. The Tweetup provides NASA with a social media base to get its message out to the public. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) held a Tweetup for the last shuttle launch. Next to the NASA Tweetup tent, the CSA set up a tent for broadcasting a webcast back to St. Hubert, Quebec where 20 tweeters had been selected and gathered to learn more about the mission, the program and to tweet out to their followers. Astronauts Chris Hadfield, Robert Thirsk, Julie Payette and David Williams were in Florida. Astronauts David St Jacques and Jeremy Hansen were at the CSA headquarters for the #CSATweetup. Other NASA centers have hosted Tweetups include: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Johnson Space Center and NASA Headquarters. Tweetups are now being held to mark launches of unmanned missions. NASA organized Tweetups for the recent launch of Juno to Jupiter and the upcoming launch of Grail to the Moon. Tweetups are in fashion now and look to be a growing phenomenon.
SpaceRef has many Twitter accounts. @SpaceQuarterly @SpaceRef @NASAWatch @CanadaInSpace @OnOrbit @SpaceWeather @SpaceCommerce @ShuttleStation @SpaceEd @Space_Calendar @EuropeanSpace @ChinaInSpace @AsiaInSpace @India_InSpace @AfricaInSpace @MercuryToday @VenusToday @EarthToday @MoonToday @MarsToday @JupiterToday @SaturnToday @PlutoToday @NASAHackSpace @HubbleScience @SpaceMeme @SpaceElevator @Astrobiology Here are some of our editorsâ€™ accounts: @00mb (Marc Boucher) @KeithCowing @RandyAttwood Here are the primary NASA and Canadian Space Agency Twitter accounts: @NASA @CSA_ASC @ASC_CSA
30 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Taken by Lunar Orbiter 2 in 1966 and restored by by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP), this view looks into the giant crater Copernicus at an angle that no human— or robotic eye—had ever seen before. The mountains rising from the floor of Copernicus allowed people see the Moon in a new way—as a world waiting to be explored. Credit: NASA/LOIRP
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 31
Commercial Space: Moon
The Philosophy of Lunar Commercialization and Economic Development By Dennis Wingo
Providing Context and Connection to the World Today When a technologist or scientist is asked to write about the commercialization of the Moon, the almost overwhelming desire is to jump right in and exposit on the how of commercialization as it is the most fun. Engineers like to design things, scientists like to discover things, and entrepreneurs like to figure out how to make money on things. However, before any of this can truly move forward, the why of lunar commercialization must be clearly understood before the forces can be marshaled that actually allow you to execute on the how. Today we live in a world in a slow motion crisis. Just look around at the global political landscape of 2011 and this is evident. The financial melt down that began in 2008 and continues today is calling into question the very foundation of our western civilization that was basically put into place in the post WWII period. Robert Samuelson has written a piece* on July 25th of this year about the crisis of the old order. His conclusion is that the old answers forged in that era no longer
* http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/ 2011/07/25/the_crisis_of_the_old_order.html Dennis Wingo is a 33 year veteran of the computer and space industries. Dennis is currently the CEO of Skycorp Incorporated, a small commercial space company located at the NASA Ames Research Park at Moffett Field California. Dennis has two patents for space applications and a book on the economic development of space called “Moonrush”.
work and that we have yet to embrace new ideas that could take us into the future. He is right on this but the limitation of his work is that he does not address any form of the new order in the underpinnings and the new responsibilities of the state and people in what is now a planetary civilization. The dominant discussion in the political sphere today regarding a new order or societal underpinning surrounds dealing with the problems brought about by the fact that within 39 years, we will have a planetary population of 9 billion plus humans. The problems of resource depletion, climate change, and the economic rise of China, India, and the rest of what used to be called the third world and their demands on resources dominates the discussion. The national and global debate is how to allocate global resources in a manner that keeps the whole system from falling apart while being fair to the aspirations of the emerging nations. Central to the meat of the discussion from standpoint of many in the elite is that in order for there to be enough resources for all, there must be a dialing back of the appetite for resources in the west to allow the nations of the east to rise to some undefined plateau while pulling the west down to a similar level. This is at the heart of the redistribution schemes embodied in most of the political efforts regarding global climate change as a means to provide a moral foundation to the effort. This argument is reported on daily, yet the context of it, and the underpinnings of that argument have never been subject to scrutiny.
The foundation of the global redistribution argument is that we live in a finite world and since this is a fundamental fact (unchallenged), all arguments that follow must then be about how to fairly distribute the resources so that a global civilization of the 21st century is sustainable. At its heart, this is what the argument about sustainable development is about. An immense amount of political capital is being expended regarding this reorganization of the global economic order but what if the foundation of the argument is flawed? I wrote a chapter in a book that is yet to be published by the National Defense University Press entitled “Solar System Economic Development as a Core Value of a New Spacepower Theory”. The issue of the current world status and the linkage of that to spacepower theory (as Clauswitz is to landpower theory and Martin is Seapower theory) was developed. A central tenant of the spacepower theory chapter is that past and current thinking has been bound to what I termed the “geocentric” mindset. This mindset is defined as…. “geocentric” is defined as a mindset that sees spacepower and its application as focused primarily on actions, actors, and influences on earthly powers, the earth itself, and its nearby orbital environs. The geocentric mindset also underpins the foundation of the global redistribution argument as well, and thus the entire new order argument that springs from that well
32 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Just a few kilometers from the Apollo 17 Taurus Littrow landing site, a lunar mining facility harvests oxygen from the resource-rich volcanic soil of the eastern Mare Serenitatis. 1995. Credit: NASA/SAIC/Pat Rawlings
is based upon a flawed premise that brings us to the commercialization and economic development of the Moon. The premise that underpins the commercialization and economic development of the Moon and beyond is that we live in a solar system rich with resources that can be used to not only be fair to the rest of the world, but will enable a global civilization that makes today’s world as quaintly obsolete as we view the world of the year 1700. Lunar Commercialization and Economic Development as the Black Swan of Our Time For those who are unfamiliar with the Black Swan Theory, this has been defined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book regarding the role of small probability events and their large impact on the world (read the reasons for the financial meltdown of 2008), it is stated as a metaphor that encapsulates the concept that… The event is a surprise (to the observer) and has a major impact. After the fact, the event is rationalized by hindsight.
To those of us who have spent our lives working to bring about or to support the economic development of space and the Moon, it is hardly a Black Swan event. However, our little world is invisible today in the larger context of the political development of a new social order to replace the one that is crumbling today. The economic development of the Moon is only a potential black swan event in the same context that silicon valley was a potential black swan event of the early 1970’s. No one at the time predicted the rise of silicon valley and its impact on our world today in 1972. None of those who wrote books like “Limits to Growth” had any idea of the technological revolution that was on our doorstep at the time nor did the political world understand how much we would change as a society as a result. The people of silicon valley and other tech centers did. People like Gordon Moore of Intel, then a small company did, the people at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and others understood. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates understood. Lore Harp, Adam Osborne, Gary Kildall, Vint Cerf and all the other names that now define
technological genius understood and they all worked and brought forth a future that is our present. The commercialization and economic development of the Moon is our black swan event as it cannot be predicted by those mired in the geocentric mindset nor is it considered to be a probable outcome for the future by those who have invested their political efforts toward the sustainable one world model. In addition, all commercial and government space efforts today are focused on the Earth. Remote sensing, communications, geolocation, all of these are space applications are geocentric in application. It is with good reason as the Earth is where the money is to pay for these services. The question becomes, how do those of us who do understand the impact of the commercialization and economic development of the Moon move the ball forward? In the 1970’s after the demise of the Apollo program Dr. Wherner Von Braun and others started the National Space Institute as a platform to educate a new generation about the value of space. The L5 society was a grass roots organization dedicated
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 33
This artist’s concept of lunar mining operations illustrates the production of liquid oxygen. March 1983. Credit: NASA/Eagle Engineering/Pat Rawlings
to the actual development of space. Other groups such as the Space Studies Institute, started by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neil was founded to build the practical foundation for the commercialization and development of space for its potential role for solving the 70’s era energy crisis and human expansion into space. The Space Frontier Foundation was founded by O’Neil acolytes to encourage people to form businesses in commercial space. Most of us who are today involved in commercial space development have, at one time or another, been associated with such groups. All of these groups have provided real value in keeping the flames of our hopes alive, but more is required and the time is now, the opportunity is now, for space. No Bucks, No Buck Rogers, or Calling All Visionary Capitalists There is one crucial difference between the Silicon Valley black swan event and the commercialization and economic development of the Moon, which is capital. The no bucks, no Buck Rogers quote is from the book “The Right Stuff ”, about the early Apollo era government program but it is equally apt for the commercial and economic development of the Moon. In the early days of Silicon Valley, a company like Apple could start in a Cupertino garage. In the days of the Internet boom, a guy or gal with a laptop and some software development expertise could start a billion dollar company. The commercialization and economic development of the Moon is a capital intensive activity that cannot be bootstrapped in the same manner, as much a we would wish otherwise. It is simply not tenable today for a start up company who wants to commercialize or economically develop the Moon to start with a business plan, present it to the Venture Capital
One of several concept illustrations created as the result of the Lunar Base Systems Study. April 1988. Credit: NASA/Eagle Engineering/Eric Christianson
community and garner the money off the bat to do such an enterprise. However, there is a class of investor, that we in our field call the visionary capitalist, one who understands and shares our goals and vision for the future, that can bridge this gap between business plan and reality. Elon Musk is one example of this type of capitalist, who, after cashing out of a dot com company at an early age, placed his bet and his capital toward building a commercial space company molded on the foundation that made silicon valley the envy of the world. With his company SpaceX, Elon has been successful in leveraging his investment based upon the new business model to begin to supplant the major government contractors. Instead of focusing on how to best run up costs to gain that increment of fee from the government, SpaceX uses the technological foundation and business ethics of silicon valley to best figure out how to maximally leverage his private investment and the capture of government and commercial business to build a thriving business. It is this structure that can be emulated by other companies that will help to create the corporate infrastructure for the commercial and economic development of the Moon. The Moon All of this leads up now to the why of lunar commercialization. In the 1970’s the resources of the Moon were barely understood. Today, with the advent of several advanced remote sensing missions by several nations, we have a vastly more detailed knowledge of the Moon and its potential. That knowledge is still underpinned by those six Apollo missions and their rocks, returned at such a great price. We now know that there are billions of tons of water on the Moon, that can be used for fuel and to support human life. We now know
vastly more about how much aluminum, iron, thorium, and other valuable metals that may be there to displace having to carry these resources from our deep gravity well on the Earth. With the advances in computer technology and automated manufacturing that we have had on the Earth in the last 20 years, a completely new and far lower cost self-sustaining infrastructure can be developed. What we have had in the past decade are advances that have not yet been considered for their application for the commercialization and economic development of the Moon. What these advances are doing is to narrow the gap between the implementation of lunar development and the capital required to do so. This is the crucial element in that we are now to the point where there is little doubt by us in our community that this is viable, the key is show how to do it with those visionary capitalists who share our goals. To further reduce this gap, we as technologists and developers must show interim steps that further lower the capital required for this investment that are themselves profitable enterprises. This sets up the virtuous cycle that brings in more investments and reaches that economic tipping point to where our black swan becomes the new paradigm and the new order of the twenty first century.
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SpaceX â€” Vision vs the Market
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 35
Another Dragon lands on Mars. Credit: SpaceX
In an era fraught with so many uncertainties comes a company that could change the world, in time. By Marc Boucher
SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGIES, MORE COMMONLY known as SpaceX, is unlike any other rocket and spacecraft company that exists today. In it’s nine years of existence, it has only launched a total of seven rockets and yet its competitors, including China, fear them. But it wasn’t always that way, and its future success is far from certain. SpaceX is a New Generation rocket and spacecraft company, one of a very few in a market whose heritage is not born of the defense program. In fact, “SpaceX was founded with the long-term goal of enabling humanity to become a space-faring civilization” according to their mission statement. It is this goal and the vision that its driven founder, Elon Musk has, which separates it from its competitors and which could propel it into a force that changes the world. Musk and SpaceX are not the first to startup with such a grandiose goal, but they are the first to successfully fly a rocket, the Falcon, and
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SpaceX’s Mission Control Center located at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX
their own spacecraft, Dragon, and to do it cheaper than anyone in the market. This is not a result to take lightly. The market globally has noticed. The road to its current, but limited success, has not been easy. But it has been smoother than other rocket programs that preceded it. SpaceX is built “on the shoulders of giants”, said Musk after its last launch on December 8th of 2010. On that day, a Falcon 9 rocket lofted the Dragon spacecraft to safely orbit the Earth twice before a successful water landing and recovery. Built on giants indeed. When Musk decided in mid-2002 to start SpaceX, he did so after spending a year doing research. Modern rocket history goes back 80 odd years before Musk started his venture, and in those years, many countries had tested tens of rocket variants. Most were built primarily for their defense programs. For Musk, this was a great legacy upon which to base his ideas. Musk was not trained as a rocket scientist. In fact, his professional career revolved around software and Internet technologies. This proved to be an asset, as at the time Musk had been working in the high pressure, fast paced changing Internet world in Silicon Valley. To truly succeed in that world, which was booming in the late 1990’s, you needed not only to create a viable business model and execute it, you had to constantly innovate. It’s that notion of innovation, along with
his obvious other skills, that Musk brought with him when he founded SpaceX. Part of Musk’s research included a trip to Russia to learn more about the Russian space program and to learn what they would charge to launch a payload to Mars. His experience in Russia proved to be an eye opener and was ultimately the catalyst that led him to start SpaceX. Once the idea of SpaceX came to maturation, he decided he would seek out the best talent in the industry. And in an industry that eats cash quickly and is slow to deliver profits, he would need a lot of cash to get him through the first few years. Fortunately for Musk, after selling his first two companies for a combined $1.5 billion, he was in a position to bankroll the start of SpaceX. So Musk invested $100 million of his own money into the company during the early years. Along the way he also received approximately $80 million from venture capitalists and at one point, took out a $30 million loan. With the funds available, it was time to hire the right mix of talent that would build SpaceX from the ground up. Inevitably, some of the first hires didn’t quite see eye to eye with Musk’s leadership style and quietly left. While Musk listens to the people he’s hired, ultimately he makes the big decisions. Some of those who’ve been there since the beginning, or were hired within the first year and now hold executive level positions include Gwynne Shotwell, now President, Tim Buzza, Hans Koenigsmann, Tom Mueller, Robert Reagan, Branden Spikes ,
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A Falcon 9 in the hangar. Credit: SpaceX/Mike Sheehan
and Chris Thompson to name a few. Most of these people were veterans of the industry coming from companies such as Boeing, TRW, The Aerospace Corporation, McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing). They had worked on programs such as the Delta II, III, IV, Titan IV, the International Space Station and the list goes on. So while Musk gets much of the media attention, it’s this core of highly skilled people that has been there almost from day one, that works well together and that has helped put SpaceX on the map. Now, if your mission statement is to enable humanity to become a space-faring civilization, then you’re thinking BIG PICTURE. But to make this vision happen, you need to start small. And this is exactly what Musk did. But he did it in a way that opened up the market to SpaceX before a single rocket had been built. It turns out marketing is one of Musk’s and SpaceX’s great strengths. For SpaceX to succeed in this market, which was, and still is, dependant on government support and contracts, it would need to do something to not only compete, but to get people’s attention. From the beginning, Musk said one of his objectives was to cut the cost of a launch by 1/10th of current standards. This was not only ambitious, it garnered a few snickers from many industry insiders and still does. Musk’s first rocket, initially known as the Falcon and then later the Falcon 1, was a small rocket to which Musk said he would charge $6 million per flight to orbit. This was 1/3rd the price of competitors in
the same class. While this made news in 2003, just 9 months after SpaceX had been founded, it still wasn’t being taken seriously within the industry. The only way SpaceX was going to be taken seriously was to actually build a rocket, successfully fly it and do it cheaper than anyone else. After all, that was the promise, to do it cheaper. Unfortunately, there would be the inevitable delays and setbacks which ultimately pushed back the first Falcon 1 launch to March of 2006, nearly four years after the company had started. And that launch was a failure. History is littered with failures of new rockets, so although it was disappointing that the first Falcon 1 launch failed, it was not wholly unexpected and certainly would not deter Musk or SpaceX. Although SpaceX claimed a partial success in their next attempt a year later, within the industry it was still considered a failure. But for SpaceX, patience was supreme and with each launch came new knowledge and lessons learned. More than a year would pass before the next launch attempt and once again it was a failure. By now, the summer of 2008, six years after its founding, SpaceX still hadn’t delivered on its promise. Whispers could be heard of people losing faith.
38 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
An artist’s concept of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy during launch. Credit: SpaceX
But the reality was SpaceX was learning, adopting, innovating after each failure. Less than two months after its latest failure SpaceX was ready to try again. This time, success! The fourth flight of Falcon 1, Flight 4 was the turning point. The date was September 28th, 2008. Within the next two years SpaceX would launch another Falcon 1 and it’s newer, larger variant, the Falcon 9, both successfully. While success was sweet on that early fall day, previous failures had come at a price. Early on in its development, SpaceX had wanted to base its launches out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California not too far north from it’s headquarters in Los Angeles. It had signed an agreement with the Air Force to develop and use Space Launch Complex 3 West (SLC-3W). One of the first launches scheduled there was for the Air Force experimental satellite TacSat-1. Scheduled to launch in 2004, TacSat-1 never flew. After continual delays, the Air Force abandoned the launch as it had met its needs with the launch of TacSat-2 in December 2006 by SpaceX competitor Orbital Sciences. To make matters worse, it turned out that the adjacent pad, Space Launch Complex 3 East (SLC-3E) was going to be used frequently by United Launch Alliance (ULA), another SpaceX competitor, for Atlas V launches of military payloads. Due to a launch restriction, SpaceX found itself abandoning SLC-3W and Vandenberg altogether. The restriction that scuttled SpaceX’s original Vandenberg launch site was that while a launch vehicle was sitting on the pad at SLC-3E waiting for launch, no launch could happen at SLC-3W. And since a launch vehicle could sit for months on the pad at a time it made no sense for SpaceX to continue using SLC-3E. With Vandenberg out the picture for the time being, SpaceX moved its launches to the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific where eventually all Falcon 1 launches took place. Launching out of Kwajalein wasn’t ideal, but with years of delays SpaceX’s options were limited for launch sites. Even before the first Falcon 1 had launched, SpaceX had plans for a larger variant, the Falcon 5. That variant was quickly shelved for the next variant, the Falcon 9, a more capable vehicle with 9 Merlin engines on its first stage. And in November 2007 SpaceX broke ground on Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station adjacent to the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the Falcon 9 would be launched. Less than a year after the second Falcon 1 successfully launched and two and half years after ground breaking, the first Falcon 9 launched in June of 2010 and was successful. In December of 2010, the next launch of the Falcon 9 successfully carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. The frustrations of the first six years were long gone now. In two and half years SpaceX had gone from its third Falcon 1 failure in a row to having four successful launches in a row for two different rockets and one new spacecraft. If the market hadn’t been paying attention before, they certainly were now.
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History has lessons to teach, and it seems Musk took those to heart. It may have taken SpaceX six years to successfully launch a rocket but it learned from its mistakes. Not only did it learn from its mistakes but it had learned from all those who had preceded it. And being unencumbered by too much government red tape as a private company, Musk could basically build the company the way he wanted to as long as the funds were there. Being a private company is the only way SpaceX could have achieved what it has in the time it did. The company needed focus, leadership and a vision. All of which it’s proven it has in abundance. In its nine years of existence, SpaceX has spent $800 million through the end of 2010 in developing Falcon 1, Falcon 9 the Dragon spacecraft and all of their facilities, which is substantial. It has designed and built all the hardware and software itself. It has flown seven rockets of which the last four have been successful. It has orbited a spacecraft designed for cargo and human spaceflight. In comparison to another private startup, Blue Origin, founded in 2000 by Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, two years before SpaceX, has yet to fly a rocket or spacecraft to orbit. Blue Origin is a very secretive company but with little to show publicly, it’s safe to say it is years behind SpaceX. Another comparison worth making is with NASA’s now defunct Constellation Program. The program was born from the Vision for Space Exploration released by President Bush in February 2004. The program was to see the development of Orion, a crew capsule to carry astronauts, Altair a lunar lander and the Ares launcher. The program was estimated to cost $97 billion if it had continued through 2020. The first products of the program were to have been Orion and Ares. In fact, considerable work was done in both programs and NASA did launch a test vehicle, the Ares-1X on a 2 minute test flight in October of 2009. The test however came a month after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had released a report titled “Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case Is Established”. In the report, the GAO said that development of Ares 1 and Orion represented $49 billion of the $97 billion estimated for the program through 2020 and that NASA was already obligated to spend $10 billion in contracts. In February 2010, President Obama effectively killed the program by not funding it in the next budget. In June of this year, NASA officially terminated the program. While Constellation is dead, the Orion capsule was reborn as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. As for the launcher Ares, congress has directed NASA to build something bigger, much bigger, a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle under the new program name Space Launch System. To date, NASA has not released how it will proceed with this Congress mandated program. NASA spent over $10 billion over seven years to develop what was the Constellation Program. Other than one short rocket test, it had no hardware ready to fly, whether it’s a capsule or rocket at the time of the programs termination. It should be noted that NASA did invest in an alternate launch system and crew capsule. Through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program, NASA invested in several commercial companies to help fund development of their efforts to provide cargo services to NASA for the International Space Station (ISS). As well, NASA funded the Commercial Crew Development program. This program is to help commercial companies in their development of commercial crew access to the ISS. Ironically enough, NASA has granted $300 million from those programs to SpaceX.
So of the $800 million SpaceX has spent through 2010, $300 million came from NASA. I’d say NASA has spent that money wisely, considering the progress SpaceX has made. Although I only offered two comparisons, the point is that at this stage in its development, SpaceX is a well run, successful organization accomplishing tasks others with money have not been capable of doing. And in comparison to NASA, doing it real cheap. SpaceX couldn’t afford to spend the kind of money NASA did. The comparison to NASA does make me wonder what SpaceX could accomplish if it had been given the resources NASA had for the Constellation Program. The future for SpaceX looks good but it is far from certain. While it’s launch manifest is growing, and is considerable at over 40 pending launches, it still has competitors to deal with. And unlike the early days when SpaceX wasn’t taken seriously, now they most certainly are. Their competitors are learning and adopting, albeit slowly. If their competitors don’t adopt, they’ll be left behind, consigned to the history books. With the good times comes good news. Earlier this year, SpaceX announced it would be returning to Vandenberg, this time it would use Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) and wouldn’t have to worry about the previous restriction that plagued SLC-3W. SpaceX broke ground on the new complex in July and is expected to launch its first vehicle from there in early 2013. Instead of launching Falcon 1 from Vandenberg, SpaceX will now be launching its new entry into the heavy lift launch market, the Falcon Heavy. And what a beast it is. The Falcon Heavy will be able to launch 53 metric tons to Low Earth Orbit, more than twice the payload of its’ nearest competitor. And this for an advertised price of between $80 and $125 million, which is cheaper than anyone else. Pricing is the foundation of SpaceX’s future success. If they can continue to reduce the cost per launch, then not only will they dominate the market but they will open up access to space to more government and commercial ventures. Of course, that’s the whole point. SpaceX doesn’t exist as a government jobs program. Nor does it exist to make its owners rich. SpaceX exists to help humanity and to make it a space-faring civilization. That’s the vision. That’s what competitors have to deal with. The question is, can it dominate the market? SpaceX is a growing company. It has more than 1500 employees now. Can the innovations that got it to this point continue as it grows? Musk thinks so. He said “SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved. We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.” Vehicle reusability is one of those innovations SpaceX has yet to conquer and which it feels it must to bring down launch costs by a factor of ten as once promised. The quote was part of a statement Musk made in May of this year in response to Chinese officials who said that China could not compete with SpaceX’s low prices. Another issue for SpaceX to deal with is going public. SpaceX will have to go public once it reaches the 500 shareholder mark. It would have done so already but with the market the way it’s been the last few years, this has been put on hold. Musk told Space Quarterly that should the market stabilize and be “in decent shape”, then in late 2012 the company might be ready to go public. SpaceX has to go public at some point because all employees receive stock options. Going public has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it means an influx of cash to help the company grow even further. On the minus side comes
40 SPACE QUARTERLY September 2011
Elon Musk Credit: SpaceX
pressure to deliver results sooner, the added overhead of filings and more complicated tax preparation but more importantly the focus of the company, the singular vision can be slowly eroded through public influence. However it’s hard to see Musk relinquishing control of SpaceX or having the vision change. One way to go public and keep voting control, thus controlling the direction of the company, is if SpaceX offers dual-class shares. With dual-class shares there is one class for anyone who wants to buy shares and another with super voting rights. Another potential problem for SpaceX going forward is patents. The patent system in the U.S. is broken and is badly in need of repair, but that doesn’t appear to be something the government plans on fixing anytime soon. Musk told Space Quarterly that if he had his way, SpaceX wouldn’t file patent applications. The reason is simple, it would provide a blueprint of some of SpaceX’s innovations that could be copied by foreign competitors who ignore the patent laws. Having said that, Musk did say SpaceX has filed a few patent applications and would file more in the future in response to another commercial space company who is filing patent applications for “obvious things”, thus taking advantage of a broken patent system. SpaceX has leveraged every little advantage it could along the way. Getting NASA funding to help further development of its program
has helped. The third round of funding for the Commercial Crew Development program is expected to be announced in the fall. No doubt SpaceX will be one the applicants. However with massive budget deficits, and a Congress that can’t seem to get anything done, there is no guarantee the program will go forward. And of course there is no guarantee SpaceX will win funding should the next round go forward. If it doesn’t it, might slow down development of SpaceX’s Dragon program but it will go forward with it nonetheless. Currently SpaceX has eight Dragons under development and NASA has agreed to combine its second and third demo flights into one resulting in an expected November 30th launch of Falcon 9 with a Dragon spacecraft onboard and a rendezvous with the ISS in early December. It’s also considering expanding its launch locations to include a strictly commercial launch facility, though no location has been selected yet. SpaceX has grown from an idea in 2002 to a company that must be reckoned with and one which could dominate the sector. That’s quite an accomplishment for a nine year old company in a tough business. And while its vision and its business acumen have gotten it this far, SpaceX has a long way to go before it reaches its ultimate goal: making humanity a space-faring civilization. The market is there. Can it grow it, hold it, enable it further?
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XCOR test fires its Lynx 5K18 engine with lightweight aluminum nozzle; United Launch Alliance (ULA) and XCOR to apply the nozzle and XCORâ€™s liquid hydrogen (LH2) pump technology to new LH2 engine development. Credit: XCOR/ Mike Massee
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 43
THE ACCIDENTAL CEO Eva-Jane Lark speaks with Jeff Greason, CEO of XCOR Aerospace EVA-JANE LARK: XCOR Aerospace, at 11 years old, is one of the first NewSpace companies and perhaps one of the longest survivors in this very challenging, emerging industry. How has your vision of the future and XCOR’s role in it changed since you started the company?
JEFF GREASON: Much less than I would have expected. I figured that if our business plan survived contact with 3 years of reality, we were going to be doing pretty good. Instead, I have to say that things have developed very much along the lines that I expected but of course it’s taken longer—both for XCOR and for the industry as a whole to get through
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Eva-Jane Lark is a Vice-President and Investment Advisor at one of Canada’s largest full-service investment firms and is a passionate observer and advocate of space development, especially commercial space development. She is frequently invited as a speaker, panelist and judge to offer her keen insights into emerging new space industries and their financing, as well as business case and policy issues facing SBSP and space resource development. She is the creator and author of EVA Interviews: The Business of the New Space Age™.
the steps that I was anticipating, largely because of the difficulty of getting capital investment in the industry. The few surprises I didn’t expect—I didn’t expect COTS, I thought NASA would defer any substantial participation in the commercial market until it was too late to do them any good. That’s a positive surprise. The other thing I didn’t expect was the traditional aerospace players to reach out to the emerging players quite as early in the process as has been happening. My only really negative surprise is that of raising capital—I knew was going to be hard—but it has been even harder than I’d thought and that’s slowed things down. But the large players are joining in a constructive way in what’s going on, earlier than I had expected. Your Lynx vehicle and the (suborbital) Space Tourism market are what XCOR is best known for, but that is not your only product and market, is it? No, the suborbital market right from the beginning to us has been segmented into People, Payloads and Upper Stages and not one of those markets has ever dominated our thinking. From time to time, the popular
media will rediscover one of those markets and for a short time, all the articles will be about that market. So it’s interesting watching the tides of fashion come and go. But all three of those have always been an important part of our business model and we have plenty of customer interest in all of these market segments. Even among the market that is people, tourism is by no means the only or even necessarily the dominant component of that market. Researchers—people who are being paid to fly into space because they are going to do some value-added activity—are a substantial portion of the market for people. They’re not paying their own way. And that’s one of the advantages of a one on one vehicle as opposed to a multi-passenger vehicle… Oh definitely. The experimenters all have customer requirements of one kind or another. They often need the vehicle trajectory to be designed for their mission or they need the vehicle windows to point in a given direction and that would obviously be much more difficult if you were trying to balance the needs
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 45
of many different customers on one short flight. Can you tell us more about what is currently the largest contributor to your earnings? Also where you’ve had the most recent successes? There really is no one single thing that has dominated our net revenues over the company’s history anymore. Certainly, we’ve done a number of rocket engine or rocket propulsion system developments for various customers. We’ve done some work with NASA. We’ve done some work with DARPA. We’ve done some work with ATK. We’ve done some work with ULA that’s currently ongoing. All of those have been revenue generating activities for us. Generally speaking, we have a technology roadmap of the technologies we need for our own future vision. Once we’ve done some of the initial research and development on those, there’s often a bigger investment that’s required to mature the technology to the point where it is flight read . we’ve had some success in finding other customers who are interested in the technology that we’ve developed. Instead of having to develop the technology to the fully flight ready status on our own dime, we get paid to do it. We do have some advance sales revenue for the services of the Lynx and we have some revenue from advanced sales or advanced wet lease payments on vehicles to our two external customers—Space Experiences Curaçao which is a Dutch company that is going to operate on the former Dutch possession of Curaçao and Yecheon Astro Space Center which is located in South Korea. And we’ve done some design service work for vehicles that people are designing where they want us to integrate the propulsion systems for them. We sometimes find ourselves doing a fair amount of design support, on a paid basis, on how to integrate that propulsion system. Which product or market has the largest growth potential for you? Suborbital flights services. That’s where our heart is and it’s in the near term. The key on that one is to get the vehicle flying. Any time frame? We’re working as fast as we can and the money situation continues to improve so right now I’m hoping to get flight tests going in the fall of next year—barring surprise and there are many sources of surprise.
As you’ve predicted, NASA budgets will be dropping. How are you and XCOR dealing with that? Do you think this provides any unexpected opportunities to you or the commercial space sector as a whole? Or just problems? NASA’s budget dropping is not an opportunity, it is a problem. It’s not so much a problem for us because NASA is not an important part of our business model. Certainly there are others companies that have viewed NASA as an
I think non-defense discretionary spending is going to be declining across the board, and if NASA just manages to decline at the same rate as the budget as a whole, I think they are going to be doing well. In the past, you have mentioned the challenges you have with getting parts and supplies. SpaceX has also chosen to make most of their own components from scratch due to these same
Yeah! Everyone likes the part that makes the fire.
important part of their business model and for them, it can be a definite negative. Certainly, whatever damage it does to the United States, it is a much more serious problem for people who aren’t in the commercial space sector than for people who are. For people who are in the commercial sector, by definition, we have markets that aren’t government, otherwise we wouldn’t be commercial. For that portion of the aerospace industry that depends on government contracts for their entire livelihood, and for the entire population of the United States which depends on the continued access to space services, satellites, GPS and things like that; the health of that industrial base ought to be a matter of great concern. So it’s a bad thing for the commercial space industry but it’s a much worse thing for the nation as a whole. The reason I predicted it, is simply because the pressures on the entire budget are going to grow. NASA has enormous potential to be of tremendous service to the country; even more so than it has been. But for various reasons that potential has by no means been fully realized. I think people can legitimately question whether NASA is as valuable a use of taxpayer’s money as some other uses and that makes them vulnerable at a time when the budgets are going to be constrained up and down the federal government.
challenges with quality, availability and timely delivery. Most people, when they think of commercial opportunities in the NewSpace sector, focus only on the perceived excitement and glamour of the rocket companies. Yeah! Everyone likes the part that makes the fire. It strikes me that there are opportunities for skilled technicians and entrepreneurs to create businesses providing parts and components to the larger NewSpace companies, and even to the traditional aerospace companies. Is that happening? Where do you see the greatest need for innovative solutions? It’s not happening to a very great extent yet. There are cases. But yes, that’s where the opportunity is. When this industry becomes successful, it will go through a transition from vertically integrated companies to horizontally integrated companies. Much like the transition that happened in the electronics industry, when we went from computing that was being done by companies like IBM or DEC. IBM used to boast that they started with the sand and ended with the complete system. We eventually went through a transition where now there are companies that specialize in disc drives, companies that specialize in central
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processing units, companies specializing in memory, companies that make mother boards etc. That made a much better product available at a much lower price with much greater capabilities. That’s going to happen in this industry, but it’s not happening yet. The reason for that is, as you mentioned, the supply chain of components is very thin right now—valves, pumps, tanks. There are companies that do aero structures and that’s very valuable. We’re using that. Engines, reaction control thrusters,
do the end-to-end systems to come in to do pieces of the value chain and start companies.
will flourish, so there will be a rising tide that we can be a part of.
That’s my perception. It seems to be an area that is rarely focused on. It will be very difficult to make a go of it in that kind of a supply-chain business until there are a few more companies who are cash flow positive and profitable to be your customers.
I think of you as having become the “accidental space policy guru”… Well I’m already the accidental CEO. The core of XCOR’s business is to develop space transportation capabilities that are truly independent from anything other than commercial market forces, so that we don’t rely on the winds of government agencies to be able to sustain our business. Having said that though, transportation technologies of all types, throughout what history we have, have usually had a relationship with the government. The reason for that is very simple. The nature of a transportation sector is that they enable sectors of the economy so it’s always very important to the development of the economy that you have transportation. Many, many more dollars of the GDP depend on the existence of transportation than ever flow into the transportation sector. So it’s always an arena that’s correctly seen as an important sector for our government policy. And there is always a connection between transportation technologies and military readiness. There’s a relationship between automobiles and tanks, there’s a relationship between commerce shipping and the navy, there’s a relationship between having a civil and a military aircraft sector. So for all those reasons, the government isn’t going away and they will have a presence in the space transportation arena as they do in other transportation. Therefore it would be enormously helpful if that were an influence that fostered the development of space transportation technologies rather than being either indifferent or obstructive.
Or in a similar terrestrial niche
I figured that if our business plan survived contact with 3 years of reality, we were going to be doing pretty good.
life support systems (that has one or two venders), suits—we had to facilitate a company standing up to do suits because we couldn’t find the suits that we wanted. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into an aerospace vehicle and right now, companies are finding themselves, ourselves included, making a lot of those pieces. Which is what makes it tough. In the short term, there’s opportunity there because part of what interests our customers in XCOR is they will discover that we are successfully making some piece, and they will come to us to see if we will make that kind of piece for them. Then they discover we make, not just pieces but whole systems and they often end up transitioning to a whole propulsion system coming from us. But there is only so much one company can focus on without losing its focus. We are constantly making new valves. I would love to see valves spin out as a line of business. But I haven’t had the bandwidth to figure out how to make that into a business of its own right without losing my focus. If there were a suitable company out there who wanted to be in the valve business—we should talk! Because maybe we can license some of our designs to them for a fee and then we don’t have to worry about doing next generation designs for all the valves. And that’s just one of many, many examples. There are lots more opportunities for people who don’t want to or aren’t able to
possibly… Yes I think that’s definitely how I would do it— is come up with how can I have two sides of the same product line, one of which that serves the aerospace industry and one that serves terrestrial markets. You’ve discussed propellant depots and the importance of ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) in various venues. Is XCOR itself pursuing any technologies in these areas and do you feel this concept is gaining enough acceptance to become a focus for space programs or is the big huge rocket mentality still in charge? The big huge rocket mentality won’t win but that doesn’t mean any of the alternatives will either. By which I mean the proponents of the great big rocket may choose to go down with the ship. And stay clinging to the figurehead of that past glory until the whole enterprise flounders—which wouldn’t be a bad thing. We aren’t pursuing any technologies in that area directly. It’s a little weird for me as I have two roles that I play right now in the industry. One of them, of course, and the one that’s most important to me, is to head my company but one of them is also to try and help shape the policy direction so that the industry as a whole
The days in which the government was an obstructive influence to the development of space transportation are gone. That was true for a while but it’s not now. So now the only frustrating aspect is that we have this one sector of government involvement in space transportation called NASA and NASA spends on the order of $3B a year procuring space transportation services. And that’s a lot—in comparison to scale of the commercial market in space transportation. So if they choose to spend that money on things that are quite different than commercial customers want, so that it doesn’t come from the same industrial base, then that taxpayers’ money is spent in a way that doesn’t procure us any new space transportation. It just serves NASA’s needs, it doesn’t have any implications for the larger
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XCOR CEO Jeff Greason performs a suit fit check in an engineering mockup of the Lynx pressure cabin. Credit: XCOR
Jeff Greason is the founder, President and CEO of XCOR Aerospace. XCOR Aerospace is focused on the research, development and production of safe, reliable, reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), rocket engines and rocket propulsion systems. Jeff Greason is a recognized leader in the commercial space flight arena and one of the foremost authorities on NewSpace regulatory policies and rules. In 2009, Jeff served on the President’s Human Space Flight Review Committee (Augustine Committee) which conducted an independent review of U.S. human spaceflight plans. He holds 18 patents.
national capability to do space transportation. If they choose to purchase things that can come from the national industrial base that also serves military and commercial needs, then it would make a big difference for the good. Propellant transfer is a tactic. It is not in and of itself a goal. The real driver, which I’m always beating on, is why doesn’t NASA participate in the nation’s aerospace enterprise instead of having its own parallel aerospace industrial base? We’re seeing now the implications of that. If NASA were to purchase launch services from the industrial base that serves the other two sectors then if their budget went up, they could buy more and if it went down they could buy less. But we wouldn’t be facing this problem that if they buy a little less, the entire enterprise flounders because they can no longer sustain large sectors of their own supply chain. The importance of propellant depots is simply that it had often been argued that they have
no choice but to maintain their own industrial base because the things they want to do, the human exploration missions they want to do, can’t be done any other way. The importance of propellant transfer technology, (you don’t even necessarily even need the depot, just being able to move the propellant from one vehicle that you’ve launched into another), is that as soon as you have that capability demonstrated, it is clearly, demonstrably not true that you must have this unique capability that is totally unsupplyable from any other source, in order to do exploration missions. And once we have that capability, you can start planning how to do moon missions with Delta IV heavies tomorrow. Or you can start planning how to do Mars missions with 20 ton vehicles that you can get from ULA or SpaceX and that they would produce on the same production line that they would produce smaller rockets that serve other customers. You’d still share the same industrial base even
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though the rocket might have a different name plate on it. It’s just that there is an attachment to, not just doing human missions, which I understand and totally support, there’s an attachment to doing them the same way we did Apollo—which really you can only explain as an appeal to magic. The believe that somehow if we just do something that looks enough like Apollo the happy days will come again and NASA’s budget will miraculously climb to Apollo levels. That doesn’t work. We had a Saturn 5 before and we cancelled it. Because the budget wouldn’t support it! And the ideas for how to do Saturn 5 class boosters today are no cheaper. Working with the FAA, do you find them positive and enabling or are they a challenge for you? All of the above. We have to have them. So they are enabling. And they do many things that are positive in assisting the industry to develop. At times, they require a lot of dialogue and a lot of work to move things to the right conclusion and at times that can be a challenge. And I suspect they’d say the exact same things about us. But we have a good relationship with FAA/AST. I’ve been working with them now longer than most of the people have been at the agency. We have a good legislative foundation for the regulation of commercial spaceflight in the United States and that regulatory foundation really is the envy of the world in the space regulatory arena right now. A lot of other countries that would like to operate these kinds of vehicles are looking at what the United States has done and almost the first thing I hear almost every time I talk to an operator in another country is that we don’t have any laws like that yet. So we’re in a good position, we’ve done a lot of smart things; we just have to not screw it up. As the “accidental space policy guru”, you’ve become an eloquent voice in space policy discussions with your recent speeches and your participation in the Augustine Committee. In your recent ISDC speech*, you addressed the unspoken goal of “settlement” that NASA and politicians skirt around rarely using that term. What foundations do you think are crucial, that are not yet in place or have been insufficiently focused on by governments and the commercial sector? Opening space as a real frontier, as a place for settlement as a supplier of resources, as a generator of wealth for terrestrial society,
is a long term historical movement. We tend to look back at the opening of the West or the opening of the Americas and we look at particular events—the Louisiana Purchase or the expeditions of Columbus and we think that because those were turning points on the road, they were milestones that were reached, that somehow that’s all the mattered. But lots of other things were going on, so these things do have a movement aspect to them. I mentioned earlier in another context that sometimes
Assuming XCOR is successful with Lynx and the suborbital markets, what is your next big goal? Absolutely, Lynx is just one more step on our technology roadmap. XCOR has always planned for a fully reusable two stage orbital system. In fact Lynx is what we got when we said we need a simpler, earlier vehicle that will demonstrate and mature the technology that we need for the orbital system. Because we’re a for-profit company, that predecessor vehicle
Why doesn’t NASA participate in the nation’s aerospace enterprise instead of having its own parallel aerospace industrial base?
people have a tendency to think of these things with magical thinking, that if I just create the symptoms that somehow I will create the cause too. That doesn’t work. A lot of smart people, a lot of very passionate people have put a lot of effort since the Apollo era into trying to trying to make space happen by getting a critical mass of people to care about how important it is. I’m not against that, I’m all for it. But the reason why transportation, I think correctly receives a lot of focus right now is that because people believe it can actually happen in some reasonably near time frame. And if we don’t solve the transportation problem, it won’t. But that doesn’t mean the other aspects aren’t important but I’m not the right kind of guy to tackle that problem. I don’t think about how to do it.
* 2011 International Space Development Conference http://youtube.com/watch?v=Wy2kIPLsUn0
can’t just be an experiment, it has to be revenue generating in its own right and that’s how the Lynx came to be. You’ve shown what someone with a keen interest in space can do by deciding to take action. XCOR is the result. Do you have any recommendations for likeminded individuals? Hmmm. Yeah. I could be wrong but I don’t think so. I think that, it’s tough to predict the time frame, but within a time horizon that makes sense to think about, I think we are going to solve the Earth to orbit transportation problem. I think we’re going to get space transportation that’s in a cost range where there are a lot of other markets that open up for doing things in space. What we really need are those markets. We don’t need another trucking service right
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now. What we need are things in trucks. The challenge of the space transportation business is that unless the government chooses to stimulate the market by participating in it as a customer, then the markets for advanced space transportation are speculative. Everybody believes that they’re there but it’s hard to borrow money on that basis. So the time is upon us to start the next FedEx or the next Flowers.com or the next people who figure out that you can ship fresh fish from Alaska. You know, in the same way that there are many, many more companies that make money by using air transportation than there are Boeings. It’s time for people to start thinking about the business plans for—what if we DO have a way to get things up and down to space for, say, $500 a pound? People have been
talking for 30 years about all the businesses we could start. Well, let’s start some. Frequently research has been done and it’s paid off. It’s simply that nobody could figure out how to commercialize it at the kind of price points that the transportation was at. There was a set of studies done back in the 1990s called the Commercial Space Transportation Study and every couple of pages in that have different business ideas. If transportation got down to this, or that kind of price range, then this or that kind of business would become interesting. Really the bottom line message is that if people want to get involved but they’re not rocket scientists, we don’t need more rocket scientists,
we need more businesses to use rockets. There are a lot of studies that have been done, a lot of ideas out there. One of the interesting things about the space business is that unlike most other businesses, because it’s been fallow for so long, you don’t have to invent a great idea, you can go and look one up! Thank you so much, Jeff for a very enlightening discussion!
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are those of the author and her guest and may not reflect those of Space Quarterly or BMO Nesbitt Burns.
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Most of Africa and portions of Europe and Asia can be seen in this spectacular photograph taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during its trans-lunar coast toward the moon. July 17, 1969. Credit: NASA
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 51
Africa and Space By Jim Volp
MANY PROBLEMS HAVE PLAGUED AND continue to plague the continent of Africa, from inherent poverty to natural disasters, to repeated battles with famine, and to tribal wars. The current drought in the horn of Africa illustrates this all too clearly. The realization of its predicament has urged various African governments to embark on capacity building to help reduce high levels of illiteracy and bring about development. Space applications have proved to be of great value to humanity, both as a means of resource utilization and as a catalyst for the growth and development of other industries. In many space-advanced countries, development in the space industry has resulted in innovation and has stimulated research to use various spinoffs from the space industry. These countries have continued to expand upon their application of space technology far beyond the initial aims of reaching above Earth for communication, environmental monitoring, management, and, more recently, navigation. The advantages of these developments in the space industry are well known through workshops and seminars as well as through websites that provide information on the laudable achievements based upon space technology
Jim Volpâ€™s interest for Space in Africa started after visiting Nigeria as part of a UNESCO Space Education team in 2005. Ever since it has been his goal to help facilitate the development of African space activities, one way or the other. Jim is a consultant for the UAEbased Arab Youth Venture Foundation.
Thus, many countries want to take part in the space industry. It is not surprising that within some of the least-developed countries there also exists a body of well-educated, highly informed, scientifically and technically sophisticated individuals who are recognized for their efforts to introduce space science and technology to benefit national development. The African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment alone has over one thousand registered members with various degrees of experience and zeal to work toward the improvement of the environment. Although African countries are joining the space race 50 years after the Sputnik launch, for African countries it is not so much about space exploration as it about a race against poverty, food insecurity, natural disasters, and environmental degradation. The Space Industry in Africa African countries have used various applications of space technology for some time, with South Africa, Algeria, and Egypt having the oldest history of space activity on the continent. South Africa space activities arose through interests in astronomy in 1820, and has been active in space observations and satellite tracking since the beginning of the space age. The Algerian space program started in 1947 during the colonial period, when France established a constellation of launch complexes and test sites at the Special Weapons Test Centre. The Egyptian space program was established in 1960, although it was discontinued after only seven years. For a long time, African countries continued to use space resources without venturing as major space players due
mostly to the lack of funding and basic infrastructure. This has changed in recent years, though, with a number of African countries creating space agencies, developing space policies with long-term plans, and launching satellites into space. The African countries that have space agencies are Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa. Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Mauritius have remote sensing centres. There are ten African remote sensing and communication satellites in space. Algeria and Nigeria are also strong partners of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation consortium. The first African in space was South African Mark Shuttleworth* who in 2002 paid to fly on a Russian Soyuz as a space participant to the International Space Station.. That flight almost a decade old has inspired youth in and beyond the African continent to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. Cooperation African countries have talked more and more about improving the utilization of space resources to promote continental development. The Abuja Treaty of 1991 explicitly commits the African Union to establish a satellite-based system of communication. Apart from Africans leading the growth of the space sector in Africa, other space agencies, such as ESA, NASA, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the Brazilian Space Agency, have over time shown interest in partnering with Africa to promote the space sector. For example, the
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NASRDA engineer with NigeriaSat-X and NigeriaSat-2 during thermal vacuum testing at Rutherford Appleton Laboratories. Credit: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
former President of India, A.P.J. Abul Kalam proposed Indo-African space cooperation and extended a line of credit that supported space applications such as tele-medicine, e-commerce, and e-governance. ESA is in support of commitments made by the EU supporting Africa in countering the effects of climate change, combating desertification, and environmental degradation. A very successful ESA project is the TIGER initiative, which addresses the problem of water management in Africa. The United Nations has established two regional centres for space science and technology education, one in Morocco for French-speaking countries and the other in Nigeria for English-speaking countries. And the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction promotes disaster information management in Africa. The development of an African space agency has been proposed to coordinate and link the various isolated scientists around the continent. The idea is still in its infancy but if modelled after the ESA, it could go a long way to championing space activities in Africa. It’s Time for Africa The focus on Africa is rising, remarkably so this year. In early October 2011, the International Astronautical Conference (IAC)
will take place in Cape Town. During the week prior to the conference, there will be a special program called “Space Serving Development in Africa.” Several organizations helped build momentum leading up to the IAC: In September 2010, a high-level conference called “Space for the African Citizen” was organized in Brussels. The proceedings of this conference were on the agenda of the joint meeting of the EU and ESA Ministerial Council and the 3rd Africa-EU Summit of Heads of States. The European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) and Eurisy have embarked on a 2-year project called “Fostering a European-African Partnership for Sustainable Development in Africa through Satellite Applications.” Last but not least, the International Academy of Astronautics is creating a lot of positive waves with events organized in Tunis, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The Challenge Many projects that involve the use of space are ongoing in Africa. However, what is clearly lacking is a comprehensive overview of what is going on in a central information portal. As an example in 2005, NOAA conducted a global remote-sensing survey. The survey indicated a steady growth in the use of remote-sensing technology in Africa. However, the African market is still poorly
analyzed. What activities are going on? Who are the major players in the space industry in each country? How are space-related activities carried out? How does one get to the key actors? The answers to these questions are not readily available. Review of Information Sources A number of studies and reports exist about the applications of space technology in Africa. Some are available online, and others are can only be accessed in hard copy. Here are some key information sources: Athena Global Earth Observation Guide: This guide contains information about how Earth observation satellite technology is used globally. It summarizes Earth observation infrastructure and applications in 43 countries including countries in Africa. It lists names of agencies involved in Earth observation within each country and gives insight into the opportunities and hurdles. The guide sees possibilities of partnerships between African capacity nodes and other satellite operators and acknowledges a willingness by the international community to assist Africa in times of disaster. It is limited in content, however, because it covers only six African countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt. Although these
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countries are active in space applications, they are not representative of the capacity available in the continent. See http://www. athenaglobal.com/en/AGEOguide.html ESPI Report: This European Space Policy Institute report contains a comprehensive mapping of European-African Actors and Activities. See http://www.espi.or.at/index. php?option=com_content&id=21 Jane’s Space Systems and Industry Directory: This directory contains names, addresses, and summaries of a few space organizations in Africa. It also lists space systems and industries and provides information about South Africa, Zimbabwe, Côte-d’Ivoire, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, and Gabon. The information seems to be concentrated on potential war zones and weapon manufacturers. The information provided is quite good but covers only a few countries. In addition, it is not as updated as one would expect from this great information bank. See http://jsd.janes.com/
National Academies Press Book: This book contains information about geographic information activities in Africa with a focus on areas targeted by the U.S. program called GSID. It covers many countries and subdivides Africa into three regions: the upper Niger basin in West Africa, the Limpopo-Zambesi region of South-Eastern Africa, and the African Great lakes/Kenyan-Tanzania coastal zone in East Africa. It also includes ongoing international projects in Africa. See http:// www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_ id=10455 * The First African in Space Project: In April 2002, a citizen of an African country launched into space and journeyed to the International Space Station. The website is your guide to the mission, to the science experiments that South African scientists designed for, to the diary of a cosmonaut-intraining, to the personal stories of the team members who made it all a success. Check our galleries of project images, read the logs of our
team members and follow the rollout of spacerelated educational materials in South Africa. http://www.africaninspace.com Index of Objects Launched into Space: http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/ showSearch.do Space in Africa LinkedIn Group: A LinkedIn group was started to unite efforts and share news and information. See http:// www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2534090 Conclusion Clearly Africa is entering a new phase in space activities, momentum is building and more resources are being made available. Space activities globally are on the rise and Africa will not be left behind. Africa in space, once considered a distant proposition, is no longer. Africa in space is happening right now.
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ALOS satellite view of Sendai in the Tohoku region showing the extensive flooding of the airport and vicinity. Credit: JAXA
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 55
Japan’s Space Program After the Disaster By Paul Kallender-Umezu
A graduate of Columbia J-School where he won the Horgan Prize for Excellence in Science Writing, Kallender-Umezu is Tokyo Correspondent for Space News and Defense News and coauthor of In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy (Stanford University Press, 2010).
FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2011 14:46. WITHIN seconds of the swaying beginning, it was apparent that the tremor ripping through Tokyo was no ordinary quake. It takes a force of nature to make a building as substantial as the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, feel like it is “swimming”. The whole building felt like it had bounced off its foundations and was floating, like a cup and saucer back and forth over a table on a ship plowing through a major storm. At one minute, when even strong quakes usually begin to subside, the author did something he’s never done in 20 years living and working in Japan—he joined the Ministry staff in huddling in disbelief under the nearest desk as flat panel displays lurched drunkenly, files shot off tables, and chairs rolled leisurely across aisles. The surges that started rippling through the substantial 17-story bunker of concrete and masonry that houses the Ministry just kept coming. Sometime during the third minute, the swaying, accompanied by the odd scream, had subsided. Emerging, we stood in shock as data started pouring out of the NHK news bulletin showing a “kyodai jishin” (megaquake) initially registering magnitude 8.8, soon upgraded to 8.9 (and subsequently 9.0), occurred hundreds of miles away off the shore of the north eastern Tohoku
seaboard. They showed a map which was lit up crimson flashing with tsunami warnings. An hour later, the shock turned to horror as we watched a Self Defense Force (SDF) helicopter’s live video of a titanic black tsunami rolling through fields and villages, smashing houses and tossing and engulfing cars like little toys in its wake. It is a sight I will never forget. The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake shifted Japan’s main island Honshu 2.4 meters nearer China and managed to jolt the Earth on its axis by something between 10 and 25 cm, according to estimates. But as devastating and dreadful as it was to the Tohoku region, killing over 20,000 people and destroying or damaging over 125,000 buildings across 18 Japanese prefectures, the good news is that this monster quake didn’t do any substantial damage to Japan’s space infrastructure. The factories, space centers and parts suppliers are all located far from the devastated region. The bad news is that while Japan’s limited space recourses and extensive disaster management and observation agreements did a grand, however limited job in providing critical support and information to central and local government and responders, the costs of reconstruction and recovery to Japan as a nation are likely to deal a crippling to long laid out hopes to double Japan’s
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space budget to provide a national disaster monitoring infrastructure as envisioned. The immediate impact of the March megaquake on Japan’s space program was, it seems, relatively minimal. Some damage occurred at the 530,000 square-meter Tsukuba Space Center complex, where the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) runs the country’s International Space Station project, said Midori Nishiura, Executive for Public Affairs at JAXA, causing repairs at the Tsukuba visitors center, for example. More serious for Tsukuba, which is situated about midway between Tokyo and Tohoku, was a collapsed roof that caused an 11-day shutdown of a control room for mission operations for the Japanese Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, repairs have had to be conducted at the Tsukuba’s 13-meter diameter space chamber, said Professor Kozo Fujii, Deputy Director General at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, but the delays are not enough to disturb JAXA’s mission schedules. “Yes, there was some damage, and I am not allowed to say how much, but we usually have about six months buffer and the delays are easily absorbable,” he told Space Quarterly in an interview. The private sector emerged unscathed, according to public relations officials contacted for this article. Both Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO) and NEC Corp., which have their main satellite factories based in Kamakura and Keihin, sandwiched between Tokyo and Yokohama, reported no damage and no interruptions in production. MELCO quickly sought to reassure its customers that the ST-2 telecom satellite being built for SingTel and Taiwan’s
Chunghwa Telecom would be shipped on time. (The satellite, based on MELCO’s DS2000 frame, was subsequently launched in late May.) Similarly Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ complex near Nagoya, where the H-2A medium launch vehicle and H-2B/HTV ISS launch/resupply vehicles are built, is even further away, as is Japan’s launch complex in far off Kagoshima, southern Japan. However in terms of the broader picture, if there is one thing that the Great East Japan Earthquake proved, it was the utility of space assets to provide detailed and useful disaster monitoring information, survey data and emergency communications that proved invaluable assets to central and local government, police and the Self Defense Force, said Futoshi Takiguchi, Manager, Disaster Management Support Systems office at JAXA’s Satellite Applications and Promotion Center. While JAXA is a research and development organization, it was still able to put its on-orbit resources in the form of the cartographical and ground monitoring ALOS (Daichi), the WINDS (Kizuna) gigabit Internet, and ETS-8 geostationary-to-mobile satellites to good use, Takiguchi said in a July 25 interview with Space Quarterly at Tsukuba. Just as importantly, JAXA was able to lever its deep and broad connections with the SENTINAL system, a pan-Asian cooperative emergency disaster monitoring network framework, he said. First off, Daichi swung into operation almost immediately and by the evening of March 11 was already providing disaster mapping of the Tohoku region to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. “Daichi was able to make extensive mapping of the inland flooding and damage that was not
achievable by other assets. We were able to confirm and measure extent and scale of flooding in Minami-Soma that proved invaluable to gauging what rescue resources should be assigned to such areas, helped with search patterns and priorities. We were able to speed the search for victims and help decision makers with reconstruction priorities,” Takiguchi said. ETS-8 and Kizuna were able to offer more limited, but still useful help. For example, Kizuna provided a range of high definition video conferencing systems for particularly hard-hit cities with central government and responders. “Kizuna played a vital role in promoting face-to-face teleconferencing, helping local government coordinate their response,” Takaguchi said. More impressive was how the resources of SENTINAL Asia swung into action, he said, with data provided by FORMOSAT-2, THEOS and CARTOSAT all providing images of the coastline. Further, JAXA was able to utilize its longstanding partnership with the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters to provide data from a slew of resources including SPOT-5, RADARSAT, Terrasar-X, Rapideye, IKONOS, Geoeye and Worldview 1 and 2, among others. But the main concern is what might have been, said Takiguchi. Daichi, already operating beyond its mission life when the tsunami rolled in, ceased functioning on April 22. With only three domestically built R&D satellites available, and each of them tasked with its own international and domestic missions, JAXA’s efforts were arguably impressive. However budget concerns mean that future missions may face delays—just when a major disaster to the Japanese
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Tsukuba Space Center Credit: JAXA
homeland proved how vital development of such assets is, said Takiguchi. For example, while Daichi’s replacement satellite ALOS-2 is due for launch in 2015, ALOS-3 remains in research phase with only a project team in place, and there are fears that a preferred launch for 2017 will be jeopardized, he said. “Ideally we would like to launch ALOS-3 in 2016; we would like to bring this forward, as the services of such a mission are strongly asked for by the disaster monitoring community,” he said. “We are saying that budget should be found, and we are opposing cuts, but all this is being negotiated,” he said. That’s because next year’s budget is facing some critical issues, according to insiders in Japan’s space establishment, following the June 30 recommendations of a powerful subcommittee at the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy, Takaaki Iwasa told Space Quarterly. Iwasa is the Director of the Office for Space Utilization Promotion at the Ministry of Education Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. According to the June 30 recommendations, obtained by the author, next year’s budget request will focus mainly on investing in building Japan’s sevensatellite Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, the regional global positioning system being built by MELCO, and a few choice projects including the 500 kg, 50-cm optical, and 1-meter resolution radar Advanced Satellites with New system Architecture (ASNARO) earth observation satellites being built for the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry by NEC. While other programs are going to be allowed to continue to run, Japan’s commitment to operating Kibo after 2015
remains, as does development of the Epsilon solid rocket. ALOS-3 and the Global Change Observation Mission-Climate (GCOM-C) global environmental monitoring satellites are slated to be delayed, according to the report. Such delays can be for a year, or for several years. Meanwhile, the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy was, as this article was being written, in the last stages of three years of on-off negotiations with the Ministry of Education Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry about finalizing the new government administrative structure in the shape of a new space agency. A final report due August 8 has been delayed until the end of the month as haggling continues over whether MEXT will cede about 30% of its budget to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office for the new (as yet) unnamed agency, according to Takafumi Matsui, author of the proposal, who is also Emeritus Professor of the University of Tokyo and head of Japan’s Planetary Research Center in an interview with the author. MEXT controls about 60% of Japan’s 300 billion yen annual government space budget and is reluctant to cede budget or programmatic control, Matsui told Space Quarterly on August 9. MEXT for its part is strongly fighting to have funding maintained to stop significant delays for the ALOS-3 and GCOM-C satellites, Iwasa said in an August 1 interview. “Both ALOS-2 and ALOS-3 are regarded as very important by the international observer and research community, particularly ALOS-3, with its ability to observe and map undersea volcanoes, for example. We are being told that it will be
extremely expensive to map and observe such dangers without ALOS-3,” he said. But Satoshi Tsuzukibashi, Director of the Industrial Technology Bureau at Keidanren, Japan’s most powerful industrial lobby, who also has an advisory role in the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy, is pessimistic about the ability of the Japanese government to raise the budget significantly, since any wiggle room for space activities budget, like many other technology areas, has been crushed out by the prospect of huge rebuilding recovery costs. With the Japanese government facing unprecedented debt and an estimated $300 billion in recovery costs from the earthquake and disaster, including cleanup costs for the Fukushima Dai-chi Nuclear Power Plant, the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy has no choice but to focus few core critical projects, he said. The decision is doubly hurtful as it was only three years ago, with the passing of the Basic Space Law passed by the Japanese Diet, that the strengthening of Japan’s disaster monitoring missions was mandated including strategic objectives such as the use of space for defensive military purposes and industrialization of Japan’s space development. A subsequent implementation strategy drawn up by Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy called Japan’s Basic Plan for Space Policy the following June called for a near doubling of the national space budget to be achieved through 2020 and the launch of up to 34 satellites in the same timeframe. In post 2/11 Japan, in an era of reduced expectations, Keidanren’s basic policy is now to push forward for the development of (the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System) as one of the most important space infrastructure development projects.
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The Future of On-Orbit Satellite Servicing By Marc Boucher
THE SERVICING OF SATELLITES ONorbit is not a new idea, but it appears to entering a renaissance period. It was inevitable that once we started to launch satellites, spacecraft and space stations into space, that these marvels of human ingenuity would need servicing. As an example, in 1973, NASA launched Skylab and soon found out there were some serious technical problems that unless fixed, would not permit astronauts to use the lab as it was intended. NASA’s solution was to equip astronauts with the hardware necessary to make the repairs during several Extravehicular Activities (EVA’s). It worked, and the servicing of Skylab saved it. Of course, the servicing of Skylab required humans. The future of servicing satellites could be performed by humans but the cost of such an endeavor on a larger scale just wasn’t and isn’t cost effective. To truly service a large number of satellites, new ideas would be needed. To that end, NASA organized four Satellite Services Workshop’s in the 1980’s with the first being held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in June of 1982 and the last in June 1989, once again at JSC. While the 1980’s proved to a prolific time for satellite servicing research, it led to little action in the 1990’s, other than some technology demonstrations. And it wasn’t until Congress mandated NASA in 2009 to conduct a new study that efforts in the U.S. began to ramp up. There had been several more technology demonstrations in the years before 2009, most noticeably the Japanese Engineering Test Satellite VII (ETS-VII) conducted by
NASDA (now JAXA) in 1997. This was the first spacecraft to demonstrate autonomous rendezvous and docking. As well, the Air Force launched two spacecraft as part of the Experimental Spacecraft System, XSS-10 and XSS-11, in 2003 and 2005 respectively, demonstrating autonomous operations including autonomous proximity operations. More recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted the Orbital Express mission in 2007. The mission consisted of two spacecraft; the Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operation (ASTRO) spacecraft and the NEXT-Generation Serviceable Satellite (NEXTSat). During its four-month mission, ASTRO and NEXTSat worked together meeting their mission objectives and confirmed the viability of technologies needed for satellite servicing. Also in 2007, the NASA Advisory Council Astrophysics Subcommittee recommended NASA perform studies for “in-space operations potential assembly, servicing, and deployment.” Then in 2008, Congress started to take notice of the need for on-orbit servicing by mandating in the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 that NASA “shall take all necessary steps to ensure that provision is made in the design and construction of all future observatoryclass scientific spacecraft intended to be deployed in Earth orbit or at a Lagrangian point in space for robotic or human servicing and repair to the extent practicable and appropriate.” This was followed up in NASA’s fiscal year 2009 and 2010 appropriation bills with further guidance from Congress.
Ultimately, this led to the On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Study conducted by the Goddard Space Flight Center which was released in 2010 and which incorporated the results from 1) an industry-wide Request For Information, 2) an International Workshop on On-Orbit Satellite Servicing held in March 2010, 3) examination of notional missions for possible servicing customers, 4) examination of near-term in-space hardware demonstrations and 5) the need to develop and validate ground simulator and test bed capabilities. The study’s conclusion was unequivocal: “Viable plans can be put into place to develop a meaningful on-orbit satellite servicing capability, allowing us to achieve our key ambitions in space using today’s technology and with current and projected launch systems.” Several important themes recurred during the study: 1. In examining the range of tasks required for servicing, the tasks themselves (and the hardware to support them) do not appear to be the limiting factors. 2. Legacy satellites can be successfully serviced 3. Modular, reconfigurable robotic architectures that are mobile around large structures are important to provide a cost-effective and upgradeable servicing infrastructure 4. Launch mass and orbit modification capacity drive servicing mission design 5. Astrodynamics is a major factor in mission design, especially when there is human presence
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On July 12, 2011, spacewalking astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan successfully transferred the Robotic Refueling Mission module from the Atlantis shuttle cargo bay to an temporary platform on the International Space Station’s Dextre robot. Credit: NASA
6. Satellite servicing is critical to our national interests Lastly, the study said that unless the U.S. plays a leadership role in satellite servicing and other countries develop the capacity and the U.S. does not, the consequences would be dire. So why is it critical that the U.S. take a leadership role? Why is it that satellite servicing is important? This latest study and the many that preceded it provide us with those answers. Satellite servicing includes: 1. Servicing failures, whether from incorrect orbits, repairs of failed components, deployment assistance, consumables resupply and removal. 2. Spacecraft lifetime extension and includes relocation of the satellite, consumables resupply, component replacement and removal. 3. Other services such as inspection, assembly and scavenging. From a technological perspective, we are now at the point where satellite servicing is readily possible. There are still some
challenges, but none of which are a detriment to moving forward. From a needs perspective, one only has to look at the growing number of objects placed between Low Earth Orbit and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) in the last 25 years. This includes a growing and dangerous category of object—orbital debris. There are over 19,000 objects in orbit that are larger than 10 centimeters in size. Smaller debris numbers are in the tens of millions. There are however over 1500 objects considered to be debris that weigh over 100 kilograms each and which account for the 98% of the over 1900 tons of debris in orbit. Aside from orbital debris, we’ve seen the number of GEO satellites increase from 50 to 398 active satellites in the last 25 years. GEO satellite slots are finite and valuable. Dealing with the removal of, or servicing of satellites in these slots is a critical issue going forward. Our continuing and increasing dependence on satellites for communication, global positioning, defense, disaster mitigation etc. only underscores the need for a solution in dealing with the growing number of debris in orbit and maintenance
and replacement of satellites. And satellites, like cars, need maintenance—otherwise, they can and will eventually fail. One maintenance example, which has a direct bearing on the economic viability of satellite servicing, is refueling. Satellite technology has evolved and lifespans have been exceeding expectations. This leads to a fuel problem. Satellites, which can still be useful, are running out of fuel before they fail. And without fuel, they cannot perform the necessary maneuvers to stay in their orbital slots. Given that the majority of costs involved in getting a GEO satellite in orbit occur up front, it makes sense for the satellite owners to want to keep the satellite functioning as long as possible. Most older satellites weren’t designed to be refueled but some newer ones are. However, with the technology available today it is now possible to consider refueling satellites. A current demonstration that NASA considers critical in fostering satellite servicing is a technology demonstration on the International Space Station (ISS). Led by the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at the Goddard Space Flight Center
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Engineers test an Robotic Refueling Mission tool. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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Artist concept of servicing client satellite for MDA’s Space Infrastructure Servicing initiative. Credit: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.
and Project Manager Frank Cepollina is the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) and Dextre Pointing Package (DPP). The RRM test platform was flown on the last shuttle mission and installed by the crew of Atlantis on the ISS. The demonstration is set to begin in November and will be used to demonstrate and test tools, technologies, and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space. The DPP will demonstrate the algorithms and control mechanisms to locate and point at a specific location on Earth or a celestial object, as well as track and perform relative state estimation of vehicles visiting the ISS. NASA will make the data available from these demonstrations to any entity in the U.S. with the hope that the commercial sector uses it to kickstart their own venture into satellite servicing. At present, no U.S. company has stepped forward publicly with specific plans to enter this new emerging market. And while NASA is pushing for satellite servicing to become a reality in the commercial sector, foreign organizations are not sitting by idly. This includes the German Space Agency (DLR) which is working on the Deutsche Orbitale Servicing Mission (DEOS) as well as the commercial Orbital Life Extension Vehicle (OLEV). DEOS is a technology demonstrator designed to capture a tumbling client satellite with a servicing spacecraft to de-orbit the coupled spacecraft within a predefined orbit corridor at the end of mission. OLEV is managed by European consortium for which the DLR is one participant. OLEV will operate as an orbital spacecraft supplying the propulsion, navigation and guidance to keep a satellite in its proper orbital slot. DEOS is currently in a phase B study while OLEV has finished its phase B study. China has also developed an interest in satellite servicing. The National Nature Science Foundation of China and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities funded the study “A universal on-orbit servicing system used in the geostationary orbit” and was carried out by Wenfu Xu at the Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzhen. The study was published in Advances in Space Research Volume 48, Issue 1. While only a paper study, there are plans to further the develop the system. While there have been many technology demonstrations over the years, moving beyond purely technical demonstrations into the commercial realm is the next step. But is it economically viable? The answer appears to
be yes. NASA’s On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Study was unequivocal in that determination. But it’s not the only supporting study to reach this conclusion. Brook Sullivan completed his PhD at the University of Maryland on this very topic in 2005. His dissertation was titled Technical and Economic Feasibility of Telerobotic On-Orbit Satellite Servicing. He concluded that “The overall expected value market assessment and evaluation of a proposed small servicer for geosynchronous
Its business plan apparently included the need to service U.S. government satellites as well. But being a Canadian company, the question is whether it would be allowed to compete for U.S. government contracts in this area. MDA does have a U.S. subsidiary company, MDA Information Systems Inc., which has been operating in the U.S. since 1969. It’s with this subsidiary company MDA hopes to able to bid on government contracts. At this time, MDA is currently conducting
retirement operations clearly demonstrate the economic feasibility of telerobotic on-orbit satellite servicing.” Bur what about the commercial sector itself? Is anyone actually planning to startup operations? And in particular in the U.S.? After all, this is clearly one of the hoped for outcomes of NASA’s RMM and DPP technology demonstrations. The answer is both yes and no. MDA Corporation of Canada in 2010 announced plans to move forward with an on-orbit solution it calls the Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS). The SIS spacecraft is an on-orbit servicing spacecraft that would initially carry up to 2,000 kilograms of fuel and a suite of robotic tools to service satellites. It seemed the venture was going nowhere as MDA was initially unable to sign on an anchor tenant needed to make the venture viable. But on March 15th of this year, MDA announced it had finally signed up its anchor tenant, and a large one at that—Intelsat. MDA was so confident in the venture, and being flush with cash, it decided to take a gamble and fund the initial development itself. It would invest $200 million over the next four years. While the deal with Intelsat was what it had been hoping for, it concerned only a portion of the commercial satellite market.
an extended definition phase of its SIS initiative. The definition phase is scheduled to be completed by early November. If MDA concludes that there is enough of a market, it will move forward with the project. However, the question of whether it can compete for potential U.S. government contracts remains open and it is unclear if MDA would proceed if it could not access the government market. What’s important to understand with the MDA initiative is that Intelsat, a major satellite service provider, has shown faith in MDA’s plan to service its satellites. This is a first. This points to the fact that a potentially lucrative new revenue stream in the space systems sector is about to open up. Regardless of MDA’s future in the on-orbit satellite servicing market, there now appears to be momentum building for a viable commercial solution to the much needed on-orbit satellite servicing market. The future of on-orbit satellite servicing, it seems, starts now.
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In the Next Issue
Where is U.S. Space Policy Headed? The Space Coast after the Shuttle NASA and Congress Battle over the Space Launch System China Rising and moreâ€Ś
September 2011 SPACE QUARTERLY 63
Celebrating the Space Transportation System 1981–2011 The space shuttle Atlantis moves to Launch Pad 39A during rollout at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 31, 2011. Credit: NASA Photo/Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Pool