Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Una Mano Lava L’altra: One Hand Washes the Other

          By Brian Orlotti

The European Space Agency (ESA), despite rising costs and the recent loss of the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), has approved additional funding for a variety of programs, including the second phase of Europe’s ExoMars program, currently scheduled for launch in 2020.

Nice room. European Union and ESA bureaucrats, PR flacks and scientists gather for the 2016 Ministerial Council, which was held in Lucerne, Switzerland on December 1st - 2nd. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2016 ESA press release, "ESA Ministers Ready ESA for a United States in Europe in the Era of Space 4.0," the increased funding allocated by ESA members during the meeting, "demonstrates once more that ESA’s Member States consider space as a strategic and attractive investment with a particularly high socio-economic value." For more on the ESA's vision, check out the undated ESA web page on "What is Space 4.0." Photo c/o ESA & C. Diener.

At a December 2nd, 2016 ESA Council meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, ESA member states agreed to cough up an additional €440Mln EUR ($626Mln CDN) to fund the launch of the ExoMars Rover.

ESA DG Wörner. Photo c/o DLR.
As outlined in the December 2nd, 2016 New Scientist post "ESA approves 2020 ExoMars rover despite crash earlier this year," this rover, the second stage of the €1.3Bln EUR ($1.85Bln CDN) ExoMars program is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in 2021 and drill into the Martian soil to search for traces of microbial life.

Despite the approved increase, ESA’s Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner emphasized that the ExoMars program is not receiving a ‘blank cheque’ from its members. ExoMars will consume a 1% increase in ESA’s science budget, also agreed to at the meeting.

ESA’s science budget increase dovetails with other funding increases announced at the same meeting:
  • ESA’s 22 member states approved €960 million EUR ($1.367Bln CDN) to extend European participation in the International Space Station (ISS) to 2024. 
Nice building. ESA HQ in Paris, France. Established in 1975 and currently with 22 member states (Canada is an associate member) the ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,000 and an annual budget of about €5.25Bln Euros ($7.48Bln CDN). Photo c/o Jan Woener's blog.

The recent ESA Council meeting also highlights the ‘tit-for-tat’ nature of government space funding.

In this case, ESA member nations have agreed to prop up the ExoMars program with the expectation that they will receive national contracts in kind for future ESA projects (such as in the ARTES program), in amounts roughly equivalent to the money they've committed.

This is a well understood policy which has served as the core of ESA procurement since its formation in 1975. As outlined on the September 26th, 2007 ESA webpage on "ESA Industry Portal on Industrial Policy and Geographical Distribution," the ESA plan is as follows:
From the outset, the ESA (and its preceding organisations) applied a principle of 'fair return' which has been constantly evolving. 
The main rule adopted by the Agency since its Council at Ministerial level in March 1997 is that the ratio between the share of a country in the weighted value of contracts, and its share in the contribution paid to the Agency, must be of X per cent (e.g 0,98%) by the end of a given period. 
That ratio is called the industrial return coefficient.
The recent Schiaparelli fiasco, if nothing else, proves the old Italian proverb: ‘One hand washes the other.’
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Another Call for Federal Assistance in Space, plus Kepler, Clyde Space, ULA & Mars One, Which Can Now Sell Stock

          By Henry Stewart

This publication has always felt that bankers, businessmen and bureaucrats were more important to our conquest of space than scientists or engineers.

With that in mind, here are a few of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

Canada isn't the only country with ongoing discussions and differences of opinion over "space policy." Shown above is a May 24th, 2015 recording of Dr. Scott Pace, a professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, speaking on "U'S Space Policy Choices." Canadian policy discussions are usually more limited on scope (reflecting our smaller capabilities) and more circumspect. Canadian space activities are more likely to depend on government funding and subcontract work to larger, international firms and no subcontractor or collaborating university wants to come out in public opposition to a well paying client. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.
  • Another person has come out in favor of using Federal government resources to assist at least the government supported components of our Canadian space industry.
The December 5th, 2016 SpaceRef.ca post, "Op Ed - The Government Should Support Canada Becoming a Small Satellite Manufacturing Hub," begins with a partial list of privately owned companies (including two Canadian) which have recently made requests to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch large constellations of satellites into a variety of Earth orbits for a variety of reasons.
The article suggests that, since this satellite market is growing and seems to be bypassing Canada, the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has "an opportunity in the small satellite sector to make an impact that will foster innovation, create more high tech jobs, keep them in Canada, and it should act now" by offering up "more support" to organizations like the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge, a competition for teams of Canadian university students to design and build small "cube-sats."
Not that there's anything wrong with that.  
It's just that organizing student run contests to build small, custom satellites for scientific use is a far cry from funding, building and delivering the large numbers of standardized, commercial satellite constellations expected to go into orbit within the next few years. 
For the complete list of FCC applications, and some business context as to why this is happening, check out the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table."
An October 2016 discussion on "The Resurgence of Constellations – Small & Large," from the Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Council (APSCC) 2016 Satellite Conference and Exhibition, which was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from October 4th - 6th, 2016.  Screenshot c/o You-Tube.
It's also worth noting that the author of the piece, SpaceRef CEO Marc Boucher has also been active in the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), where he helped craft the March 7th, 2016 CSCA press release, "2016 Canadian Budget Needs to Recognize Canada’s Space Program as a National Priority" and the August 4th, 2015 CSCA press release, "The Canadian Space Commerce Association Calls on all Federal Parties to Commit to a Long-Term Space Plan."
Of course, Boucher isn't the only individual or organization advocating for assistance to Canadian space activities. As outlined in the November 28th, 2016 post, "An ESA Event, SEDS Objects, the CSA Budget Shrinks, the JWST & the Downsview Aerospace Hub," the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Canada (SEDS-Canada) have also recently released an editorial critical of Liberal government performance in this area.
But, as outlined in the November 25th, 2016 post, "Another Op'nin Another Show... Next CDN Space Policy June 2017," the Federal government has at least offered up the promise to unveil an updated Canadian space policy document in June 2017. 
They've also promised a "chief science advisor." As outlined in the December 5th, 2016 iPolitics post, "Liberals may protect chief science advisor with legislation: Duncan," at least that search seems to be moving forward. 
So while its unlikely that the Trudeau government will offer up the billions of dollars currently available on the international market needed to fund and support domestic satellite construction, here's hoping that they'll come up with enough of something to placate their increasingly strident critics.
The reason why Clyde Space is an award winning space business and an effective competitor in international markets has more to do with marketing savvy than space science or government support. The company has a standardized listing of several dozen common parts and modular components able to fit together into satellites able to perform a wide variety of missions. Clyde Space first gained fame in 2014, when the 3U cubesat bus was used in Ukube-1, the UK Space Agency's first national spacecraft. Photo c/o Clyde Space.
  • Toronto based Kepler Communications has selected Glasgow, UK based Clyde Space to supply two 3U spacecraft, which will launch Kepler’s novel software defined radio (SDR) and antenna array in 2017.
As outlined in the November 30th, 2016 Kepler press release, "Kepler Communications selects Clyde Space as Spacecraft Manufacturer," the microsat "will support Kepler in deploying its in-space telecommunications network, which will use nanosatellites to relay data in real-time for devices deployed in terrestrial, remote operations and satellites deployed in low Earth orbit."
The spacecraft will be built and tested by Clyde Space in Glasgow for delivery next autumn. 
Currently, Clyde Space produces "produces an average of six satellites each month for a range of customers world-wide and is pursuing an expansion in the United States." 
Kepler has applied to the FCC to deploy up to 140 satellites, including spares, in a non-geostationary (NGSO) low-earth polar orbit with seven orbital planes between 2017 and 2022 in order to build a wireless pipeline to facilitate machine to machine communications.
Come on down to the ULA website, where "value is more than a price tag," many options are available and prices start at $109Mln US ($145Mln CDN). Photo c/o ULA.
  • Speaking of marketing initiatives, United Launch Alliance (ULA), in an effort to demonstrate that they provide value with their rocket launch prices, have unveiled an interactive website which offers potential customers the ability to get price estimates for Atlas V launches.
As outlined in the November 30th, 2016 Space News post, "ULA debuts online pricing tool for Atlas launches," the new ULA "RocketBuilder" website is "designed to let users select variables about their launch, including their desired orbit, payload mass, fairing size and desired launch date. The site then calculates the estimated price of the Atlas 5 rocket for that mission."
The article also quotes ULA chief executive Tory Bruno as saying, "it will be easier to buy a ride in space than to get a plane ticket home for the holidays.” 
According to Bruno, “all of that guesswork and all of that murkiness that an operator has to go through to figure out launch services, how that balances against the choices they make on their spacecraft, that is a thing of the past.” 
Of course, like any sales promotional material. the site also estimates the “added value” that ULA argues an Atlas 5 launch provides. 
According to the article, that value supposedly "comes in the form of insurance savings because of the vehicle’s high reliability, elimination of costs from launch delays and increased revenue the satellite can generate from an extended lifetime enabled by the Atlas’ accuracy in placing the satellite in the desired orbit." 
Let the buyer beware.
Graphic c/o Daily Dot.
  • Speaking of business, its worth noting that one of the craziest business pivots of the year is the reverse merger of Netherlands-based Mars One with Switzerland based Innovative Finance AG (InFin). 
As outlined in the December 2nd, 2016 Mars One press release, "Mars One Takeover Approved by InFin Shareholders," the takeover of the failed mobile payment company will provide "a solid path to funding the next steps of Mars One’s mission to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars."
At the very least, they'll be able to sell stock on the Frankfurt stock exchange, where InFin is already available and publicly traded. 
The press release quoted Moritz Hunzinger, the CEO of InFin, as stating "the board of InFin has received a strong mandate from its shareholders for the Mars One Ventures takeover. We're looking forward to the exciting new steps that lay ahead."
Also quoted was Mars One CEO and co-founder Bas Lansdorp, who stated, "the Mars One board will approve the acquisition as soon as possible. Once this deal is completed, we’ll be in a much stronger financial position as we begin the next phase of our mission. Very exciting times!"
The reverse takeover has been on the table since November. As outlined in the November 7th, 2016 Ars Technica post, "Mars One merges with failed mobile payment company so it can sell stock," it's not currently clear what resources InFin brings to the deal beyond the access to the Frankfurt stock exchange.
Nor is it clear if Mars One has the technical capacity to actually develop a plan to land people on Mars. Recent attempts to counter that impression, such as the one outlined in the September 15th, 2015 Business Insider post, "Two MIT students lay out the facts about why the Mars One mission is bogus," have typically met with failure.
But privately held, BC based UrtheCast raised over $77Mln CDN selling stock after going public via a reverse takeover of publicly-traded Longford Energy Inc in June 2013. 
There is no reason why a publicly traded Mars One could not end up doing the same, or more.
For more, check out upcoming editions of the Commercial Space blog.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

ISS Russian Supply Ship Fails to Reach Orbit; Is "Long Slow" Russian Decline to Blame?

          By Chuck Black

A Russian Progress supply ship transporting cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) has burned up in the atmosphere and been lost.

The rocket carrying the 7,290-kilogram Progress MS-04 (also identified by NASA as the Progress 65 or 65P mission) lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 1st, 2016, at 17:51:52 Moscow Time (9:51 a.m. EDT). A third stage failure of the Suyuz-U rocket carrying the Progress supply ship, which occurred six minutes into the flight, is currently considered the leading cause of the accident, although the investigation is ongoing.

December 1st, 2016 IGN news reports covering the launch failure. As outlined on the December 1st, 2016 Roscosmos Russian state space agency post. "Progress MS-04 Situation," the loss "took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva." with most of the spacecraft fragments burning up in the dense atmosphere. To view the IGN video, simply click on the screenshot. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.  

TASS, the Russian state news agency, has cited space industry sources as saying the combustion chambers in the third stage engine may have burnt out, possibly due to defective assembly.

As outlined in the December 1st, 2016 The Verge post, "Russian supply ship headed for the Space Station burns up in the atmosphere," this is the second time in the last two years (and the third time since 2011) that Russia’s space agency has had trouble with an ISS resupply mission:
In April of 2015, Roscosmos lost control of its cargo spacecraft during the Progress 59 mission. That ship spun wildly out of control and eventually burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. 
Roscosmos lost a Progress resupply much in similar fashion to today’s mishap back in 2011, when the third stage burn of the same type Soyuz rocket failed. That Progress ship was also lost in the atmosphere.
According to the December 1st, 2016 Russian Space Web post, "Progress MS-04 fails to reach orbit," the supply ship was launched on the "last Soyuz-U rocket before the switch to a new-generation Soyuz-2 family, which did not depend on avionics produced in Ukraine."

But the Soyuz-2's have also been having troubles. As outlined in the article:
The switch to the new variant (from Soyuz-U to Soyuz-2) acquired the new political significance after the Kremlin's confrontation with Kiev in 2014.
However, inside the Russian space industry, this move became controversial after the loss of the Progress M-27M spacecraft (known by NASA as either Progress 59 or 59P) on April 28, 2015, which was blamed on design features specific to the third stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket.
Although the Soyuz-2 was officially declared fully operational in March 2016, there was a lingering concern over this variant's reliability in the long term, stressing the need for a potential backup. 
The rocket issue had remained open, as the Progress MS-04 launch campaign got underway.
Design variations showing overlaps and similarities between the third stage of the Soyuz-U/FG, and the Soyuz-2-1a and 2-1b rockets. As outlined in a undated Russian Space web post on the "Soyuz-2 rocket series," the Russians have been slowly consolidating, relocating and upgrading their Soyuz subcontractor network inside the Russian Federation since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Soyuz-U production finally stopped in April 2015 as part of the transition process to Soyuz-2. Graphic c/o Starsem.

Of course, the Soyuz isn't the only Russian rocket to have recently failed. The December 2nd, 2016 Planetary Society post, "What's the matter with Russia's rockets?," lists fifteen Russian launch failures within the last six years.

Historian and space journalist Jim Oberg wrote about a Russian space program "Stuck in Decline" for the September 2015 issue of Aerospace America.

The article placed the blame for the Russian failures on shrinking finances, an aging demographics, growing quality control difficulties and "the long, slow decline of the country’s space industry after the breakup of the Soviet Union."

That decline, might just be starting to accelerate. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2016 Space Daily post, "Russia seeks answers on ISS cargo ship crash," the Russian investigation could delay the launch of the next Progress cargo ship, which is currently scheduled for February 2nd, 2017.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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