Monday, June 20, 2016

ISRO Preparing to Launch 20 Satellites Including Canadian M3MSat & GHGSat-D Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Satellite

          By Chuck Black

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has begun the final forty-eight hour countdown for its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) flight C-34.

A panoramic view of the fully integrated PSLV C-34 rocket with its 20 satellite payload being moved from its vehicle assembly building to the second launch pad (SLP) of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, earlier this month. Photo c/o ISRO.

The launcher, carrying the Indian Cartosat-2C Earth observation satellite, the Canadian Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat) & the Greenhouse Gas Satellite - Demonstrator (GHGSat-D, also nicknamed "Claire"), plus 17 others satellites from a variety of nations, is scheduled to launch into a 505 km polar sun synchronous orbit (SSO) on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 at 09.26hr IST (Tuesday, June 21st, 2016 at 11:56 pm EDT).

As outlined in the June 20th, 2016 Indian Express post, "ISRO clears 48-hour countdown for launching of PSLV-C34," the ISRO Mission Readiness Review committee and Launch Authorisation Board "have cleared the 48-hour countdown starting at 09.26 hr IST on Monday, June 20, 2016 and the launch of PSLV-C34/Cartosat-2 Series Satellite Mission for Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 09.26hr IST."

M3MSat schematics. As outlined in the EO Portal Directory M3MSat page, the "M3Msat mission was approved in 2006-2007 by the Department of National Defence (DND) and CSA (the Canadian Space Agency) as a joint microsatellite mission for maritime monitoring and messaging." As outlined in the April 28th, 2014 post, "M3MSat and the Politics of Dancing in the Crimea," the Canadian Federal government "decided not to proceed" with the planned June 2014 launch of M3MSat from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in order to protest Russian activities in the Ukraine.  Eventually the satellite ended up on the PSLV Flight C-34 Indian rocket. But only time will tell if M3MSat remains a useful addition to Canadian capabilities after all these years. Graphic c/o EO Portal.

For more information on the GHGSat-D greenhouse gas monitoring satellite, check out the November 30th, 2015 Commercial Space Special Report, "All Systems Go! GHGSat Completes Testing and is Ready for Launch."

To learn more about M3MSat, check out the June 7th, 2015 post "M3MSat Now Scheduled for Launch in 2016" and the June 19th, 2016 National Post article, "All systems go for Canadian surveillance satellite two years after launch scuttled by Russian sanctions."
Chuck Black.
EDITOR'S NOTE: As outlined in the June 21st, 2016 NASA Spaceflight Now post, "India’s PSLV-XL launches with Cartosat-2C and 19 satellites," the PSLV C-34 has successfully launched and deployed its 20 satellites.  

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Our Space Agency Needs More Astronauts & MacDonald Dettwiler Might Just Have Received $50Mln CDN for an RCM Data App

          By Henry Stewart 

Two Federal ministers made Friday announcements relating to Canadian space activities. The first announcement, made early in the day by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, was a welcome call by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) for two new astronauts.

Innovation minister Bains announcing an open call for two new astronauts at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum on Friday, June 17th. As outlined in the June 17th, 2016 Canadian Press article, "Canadian Space Agency seeks polite astronauts to join space program,"  applications for two new astronaut openings are being accepted until Aug. 15th, and "the more stereotypically Canadian the astronaut-hopefuls are, the better." For a more formal perspective on the application process, check out the CSA web page on astronaut recruitment. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press.

But the second announcement, made near the end of the day by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, was for $48.5Mln CDN to fund a simple upgrade of the the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Polar Epsilon program, to allow for the use of data derived from the upcoming RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), and seemed a little on the pricey side.

Especially given that the last RCM contract, signed in 2012 was supposed to be a "fixed price contract," which covered final construction, launch costs and operational costs for the first year. The Polar Epsilon program currently utilizes RADARSAT-2 data to provide enhanced all-weather day and night surveillance capabilities.

The new contract, as outlined in the June 17th, 2016 Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) press release, "MDA to deliver a broad-area maritime surveillance system using the RADARSAT Constellation Mission," would add "ground segment systems with the capability to receive and exploit information from the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites, currently being built by MDA for the Canadian Space Agency."

As outlined in the Department of National Defence (DND) website on Polar Epsilon, the original program already included the construction of ground stations at Masstown, Nova Scotia and  Aldergrove, British Columbia. According to the June 17th, 2016 post, "National Defence Awards MDA Polar Epsilon 2 Contract," the latest award included "ground receiving stations on the east and west coasts which will be designed to use data from the RADARSAT Constellation Mission satellites to detect ships. The contract also includes an option to implement infrastructure to manage data, which if exercised, could increase the total contract value to approximately $63.1 million."

Defence minister Sajjan at MDA HQ in BC on June 17th, to announce the latest MDA contract. Photo c/o MDA.

Absent further clarification relating to the physical construction requirements related to this contract, the possibility exists that MDA has been provided with a great deal of money for creating a simple data "app," the sort of thing that contestants in the NASA Space Apps Challenge creates by the dozens, over a weekend each April, for free.

And, as outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post "A $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the last contract for RCM was pitched as being a "fixed price which covers the completion of "phase D" or final construction, plus launch costs, operational costs for the first year" plus a contractual requirement to "launch the (three) satellites in 2018."

This latest RCM/ Polar Epsilon contract seems to not have been included in the 2013 fixed pricing agreement. It would be a shame if it turns out to be only the first of many new requirements relating to RCM which weren't covered in the original contract.

For more information on the NASA Space Apps Challenge, it's worth checking out the April 26th, 2016 post on "A Weekend at the 2016 NASA Space Apps Challenge."
EDITORS NOTE: MDA director of public affairs Leslie Swartman checked in via e-mail shortly after the above article was send out in our Tuesday subscriber e-mail. She said:
I’ve attached the backgrounder on PE2. Did you try to reach anyone at MDA or DND to discuss what PE2 (Polar Epsilon 2) is before writing your blog? You must be aware that the RCM Phase D fixed price contract is something entirely different than the ground receiving stations for what is a brand new satellite constellation.
I think you need to update your story with information from the attached backgrounder.
Thanks, Leslie.
For the record, we did call into MDA last week after the Friday afternoon announcement was made and also reached out to several ex-MDA employees, but were unable to find anyone who would go on record as saying that the Polar Epsilon upgrades were not included as part of the 2012 fixed price contract covering RCM.
But now that we've connected with the appropriate person, we've also requested some background into why the Polar Epsilon upgrades weren't included in the 2012 "fixed price" contract. After all, Polar Epsilon could certainly be considered as a requirement for the ongoing operation of RCM in the first year.
We will update this post as new information becomes available.  
The MDA backgrounder on Polar Epsilon 2 has been posted online here, for those who'd like to learn more. 
UPDATE: Ottawa based Department of National Defence (DND) and CSA contractor Randy Shelly has weighed in on the issue of why Polar Epsilon upgrades weren't included in the 2012 RCM contract. According to Shelly: 
The RCM contract is for the satellites and the ground system to operate those satellites. The RCM ground system is located at CSA in St. Hubert, and in Gatineau, and uses the existing Radarsat 2 equipment. 
Polar Epsilon is DNDs ground system, which is separately funded.
In essence, according to Mr. Shelly, the new funding covers the Canadian military requirements for RCM utilization, which are funded separately and not covered as part of the 2012 "fixed price" RCM agreement. 

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Audacious Visions of Elon Musk's Plan for the Red Planet

          By Brian Orlotti

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has revealed some broad details about his plan for the human settlement of Mars. The reveal serves as a "teaser" of sorts for Musk's formal unveiling this fall at the 2016 International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.

A representation of the proposed 2018 SpaceX Mars sample return mission, a "Red Dragon" on Mars. Graphic c/o SpaceX.

As outlined in the June 10th, 2016 Washington Post article, "Elon Musk provides new details on his ‘mind blowing’ mission to Mars," SpaceX will begin by launching an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2018. The Red Dragon flights will continue every two years, with launch windows set for when Earth and Mars are at their closest. These spacecraft will carry scientific experiments and robotic rovers to the red planet. If all goes well, these flights will build toward the first human landing on Mars in 2025.

Graphic c/o
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will travel to Mars on the company's upcoming rocket, the Falcon Heavy. With its first flight scheduled for later this year, the Falcon Heavy is set to become the “most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two,” according to the SpaceX website.

The Falcon Heavy's 27 first-stage engines will have more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, about the equivalent of 18 Boeing 747 airliners. During the 2020 launch window, Musk said that SpaceX will aim to fly at least two Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft laden with experiments.

By that time there will be quite a few organizations … that are interested in running experiments on Mars,” he said.

In addition to scientific knowledge and income for SpaceX, these first flights will let the company hone its skills in interplanetary navigation, test mission hardware and practice landing safely on the surface of Mars. Such practice will be crucial to building public and investor confidence in Musk's enterprise.

In 2024, with the first phase complete, Musk hopes to launch the long-speculated Mars Colonial Transporter, the ship that will carry the first humans to Mars.

NASA, for its part, has pledged “technical support” for SpaceX's endeavour, but no more. The space agency, soon to be subjected to another US election cycle and enslaved to the ever-shifting whims of its political masters, seems unable to do much else.

The task ahead is huge, and Musk has no illusions about the risks and complexities involved. Musk stated, “the first mission wouldn’t have a huge number of people on it, because if something goes wrong, we want to risk the fewest number of lives as possible.”

Musk also admitted that hitting a crewed flight launch window in late 2024 with a landing in 2025 will require luck as well as no major issues.

Musk went on to say:
But I do want to emphasize this is not about sending a few people to Mars. It’s about having an architecture that would enable the creation of a self-sustaining city on Mars with the objective of being a multi-planet species and a true space-faring civilization and one day being out there among the stars. 
It’s dangerous and probably people will die—and they’ll know that. And then they’ll pave the way, and ultimately it will be very safe to go to Mars, and it will very comfortable. 
But that will be many years in the future.
Brian Orlotti.
Vision and audacity; the twin pillars of Elon Musk's plans for the Red planet.

Fortune favours the bold.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.