Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The 2009 Proposal for a Canadian Microsat Launcher & the Rocket Lab Electron Rocket

          By Chuck Black

According to Arny Sokoloff, the president of Toronto, ON based Contimuum Aerospace, "Continuum Aerospace applauds Rocket Lab's success but bemoans that we had developed a functionally comparable design for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 2009. It's a shame that we were unable to secure Canadian funding to realize the plan to develop an all-Canadian small satellite launch vehicle. Rocket  Lab, faced with a similar problem, reincorporated in the United States and were able to fulfill their plan."


Sokoloff was interviewed earlier this week after Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand. The rocket successfully achieved earth orbit and deployed three micro-satellites.

Back in 2009, both Rocket Lab (then based solely in New Zealand) and Continuum were soliciting funds for the development of a micro-sat rocket launcher.

As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 post, "The Rocket Lab Electron Rocket Has Placed Three Satellites in Orbit," Rocket Lab succeeded in its quest. However, and as outlined in the April 22nd, 2016 post, "2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said "Yes!" But CSA Didn't Move Forward," the 2009 Canadian plan remains on the shelf.

The Canadian plan focused on creating an environment free of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulations. ITAR is a United States regulatory regime which restricts and controls the export of defense and military related technologies, according to the "U.S. State Department – Policy – Directorate of Defense Trade Control.

According to the 2009 Continuum proposal:
...it should be recognized that external political risk (adverse exposure to policies
of other countries) in fact provides a major motivation for an indigenous launch vehicle program in the first place. As discussed in Section 1.2, chief among these is the ability of foreign government organizations to limit the availability of launch opportunities and scrutinize the technology embodied in satellite payloads.
 
With respect to components for a Canadian launch program, all potential foreign suppliers have limitations on their technology transfer. The most natural supplier for Canada, being the US, also has the most stringent controls (ITAR) which adds substantial and indeterminate delays in obtaining components and requires sign-off on every shipment. Controls like these suggest that Canada creating a launch vehicle program with key technologies being foreign sourced is pointless, at least from the point of view of assuring non-interference by foreign agencies. 
To mitigate this risk, we have proposed a launch system where all the major components are either Canadian-produced or else COTS (commercial-off the-shelf). With this approach, there is no external point of control where Canada's satellite program can be obstructed (other than government-to-government pressure, for which no technical solution exists). 
Note that the apparent financial penalty of developing local supply for all non-COTS components is mostly illusory; those components tend to be expensive to import precisely because they are non-COTS products and are typically closely guarded as national and industrial secrets. These non-COTS products are also very customized to the design specifics of a particular launch vehicle — they require custom development anyway; it is our contention that such large expenditures would better be invested in Canada where they can enhance Canadian technological and industrial competitiveness.

So while the US is more than welcome to pass any law which it considers to be in its self interest, other countries are also entitled to do the same.

Canada would be well served by taking this page from the US playbook. If New Zealand and US based companies can build orbital capable rockets, so can Canada.

We could even build one without needing to move to America.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Rocket Lab Electron Rocket Has Placed Three Satellites in Orbit

          By Brian Orlotti

Huntington CA and New Zealand based Rocket Lab has launched an Electron rocket from its private spaceport in New Zealand, successfully achieving earth orbit and deploying three commercial satellites. The launch is another critical milestone for the commercial space industry; the entry of a second commercial space launch provider.


As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 Associated Press post, "Rocket launched from New Zealand successfully deploys satellites," this was the company's second attempt. The Electron rocket had made its first flight in May 2017 but, despite reaching space, it failed to achieve Earth orbit.

The latest flight, which took place on January 20th, 2018, saw the Electron rocket deploy a Dove Pioneer Earth-imaging cube-sat for San Francisco, CA based Planet and two Lemur-2 cube-sats for San Francisco, CA based Spire, a weather and ship-tracking firm.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's current CEO and CTO. In 2009, Rocket Lab launched the Ātea-1 sounding rocket. In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a contract from the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nano-satellites into orbit.

The company’s investors include venture capital firms Data Collective (DCVC), Promus Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1 Investments as well as US aerospace behemoth Lockheed Martin and the Government of New Zealand.

Rocket Lab’s Series D funding round increased the company’s total level of investment to $148Mln USD ($200Mln CDN). The company is now valued at over $1Bln USD ($1.35Bln CDN).


Rocket Lab is at the vanguard of a group of firms, which include Long Beach, CA based Virgin Orbit and Tucson, AZ based Vector Space Systems, aiming to launch this year. These firms seek to service the growing market for on-demand launch of small commercial and government satellites.

The Electron is a 17m tall two-stage launcher designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg into a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit. The 3D printed carbon-composite rocket is powered a cluster of 9 in-house built Rutherford engines (after the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford) that use liquid oxygen and kerosene. The Rutherford engine incorporates new innovations to minimize weight and cost, including battery-powered fuel pumps and (mostly) 3D-printed components. The Electron’s projected cost is less than $5Mln USD ($6.7Mln CDN) per launch.

Rocket Lab currently has five Electrons in production, with the next launch expected to take place in early 2018. At full production, the company expects a launch rate of over 50 times a year.

In addition to customers like NASA, Spire, Planet Labs and Spaceflight, Rocket Lab is preparing a Moon launch for Mountain View, CA based Moon Express (ME). Co-founded by Canadian space entrepreneur Bob Richards, ME seeks to offer commercial lunar robotic transportation and data services with a long-term goal of mining lunar resources.

ME was last discussed in depth in the June 5th, 2017 post, "Only Seven Years after Bob Richards Left Canada, His Rover is Going to the Moon."


And where does Canada stand in all of this? Apparently, quite content with our dependence on other nations for launching our satellites, as shown by last week’s launch of Toronto-based Kepler Communications 3U cubesat on a Chinese Long March 11 rocket.

As outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 More Commercial Space News post, "Kepler’s first Ku-band satellite is in orbit - Kepler Communications," their first satellite launch is part of a larger plan to eventually deploy a 140 satellite constellation operating in the Ku-band, "a highly sought-after frequency band for satellite communications - especially amongst many of the planned mega constellations," which is expected to be rolled out over the next few years.

For more on the variety of satellite constellations being planned, it's worth checking out the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table."

With the Trump Administration’s termination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) looking increasingly likely and Canada about to be cast adrift, fostering a Rocket Lab of our own might be in order.

Our country certainly doesn’t lack the talent or resources for it.
Brian Orlotti.
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Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Private Investors Poured $3.9Bln into Commercial Space Companies Last Year

          By Henry Stewart

According to the New York, NY based Space Angels, a privately held financial services group of angel investors focused exclusively on the aerospace industry, private investors poured $3.9Bln US ($4.85Bln CDN) into commercial space companies last year.

The Q4 2017 Space Investment Quarterly, a listing of private sector venture capital investment in the space industry compiled quarterly by the Space Angels, which served as the source for the CNBC post. According to the listing, "2017 was a record year for the Space industry on multiple fronts including amount of investment, number of venture capital investors, and number of new privately-funded companies." The complete document is available for download on request from the Space Angels website. Images c/o Space Angels.

As outlined in the January 18th, 2018 CNBC post, "Space companies received $3.9 billion in private investment during 'the year of commercial launch': Report," a record 120 private firms made investments in space in 2017, well over the previous peak of 89 in 2015.

According to the article:
... the vast majority of private space investment has come as the government has reeled in its spending in recent years. Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted in October that the space industry would reach at least $2.7 trillion in the next three decades, up from about $350Bln US ($435Bln CDN) today.
The post quoted Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson who called 2017 "2017 the year of commercial launch... The amount of capital put in was the key turning point."

In essence, and as outlined in the article, "the entrepreneurial space age is well underway."

An fiscal overview of 2017 space activities. According to the Space Angels, the firm completed "a record number of investments from our angel fund and closed our first investment from our venture fund. The team continues to see high quality investment opportunities across all market segments and we plan to increase both the number of deals and size of our investments in the year ahead. Strong fundamentals have us extremely optimistic about the continued growth of the industry being driven by the rise of commercial manned space flight, scaling of small launch vehicles and the demonstration of in-space manufacturing." Graphic c/o Space Angels.

The last eight years have also seen around $25Bln US ($31Bln CDN) in exits, as acquisitions and public offerings help to build out the fiscal ecosystem needed to support private sector venture capital investments at all levels.

The Space Angels investment portfolio includes cube-sat deployer Nanoracks, rocket builder Vector Space Systems, asteroid miner Planetary Resources and satellite start-ups Iceye and Planet.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

MDA Issues a Recruitment RFI for New Canadarm Technology

          By Chuck Black

BC based MDA Corporation, generally considered (even by its current owners) to be "a business unit" of the larger San Franscisco, CA based Maxar Technologies, has taken the unusual step of issuing a January 15th, 2018 request for information (RFI) under the title, "Canadian Capabilities to Support a Future Canadian Robotic Manipulator System."


No doubt the move has absolutely nothing to do with the fast growing Federal government perception, bolstered by recent articles such as December 28th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "How Canada lost its foremost space company," that the current MDA is no longer quite the same company as it was when it was known as "MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates" and served as the one stop private sector prime contractor for Canadian space "capacity building."

And, no doubt, MDA's move has nothing whatsoever to do with the growing understanding that robotics tools very similar to Canada's current space born manipulators are at the core of several other potentially highly profitable initiatives related to satellite servicing.

The latest of these to surface, as outlined in the January 17th, 2018 2018 Space News post, "Effective Space signs first contract for satellite life extension services," is UK based Effective Space Solutions, which recently signed its first contract with a “major regional satellite operator,” covering the launch of two of its satellite life extension vehicles to dock with existing satellites to provide station-keeping and attitude control capabilities.

According to the Space News article, the multi-year contract has a total value of more than $100Mln US ($124Mln CDN).

Join Up Now! According to the January 15th, 2018 MDA RFI, "the international space exploration community is pursuing the long-term goal of permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit. A manned station in lunar orbit, called the Deep Space Gateway, is in the planning stages and will be a proving ground for technologies that will take us to the Moon’s surface, Mars and beyond." To ensure "uninterrupted expansion" of the human presence into the solar system, "the time for action is now." The wording in the RFI is broadly evocative of the recruitment videos in the 1997 Paul Verhoeven directed movie, Starship Troopers and its sequels. So are you doing your part? Graphics c/o MDA & Touchstone Pictures/ Jon Davison Productions.

As outlined in the MDA RFI:
The Canadian capabilities of interest for this RFI are applicable to the Robotics and Automation Division of MDA for commercial and civil applications. 
Responses to this RFI will help identify potential Canadian companies, capabilities and services that could be engaged in to develop a robotic manipulator system that could be used in future commercial opportunities or international collaborations. 
The Robotics and Automation website for space based robotics listed at http://mdacorporation.com/isg/robotics-automation/space-based-robotics-solutions ...
It also attempts to be inspiring:
Canada is considering a robotics contribution as part of this international collaborative project. This builds on Canada’s current robotic leadership position and expertise used extensively for decades on NASA’s Space Shuttle Program and the International Space Station. Canada’s robotics contributions helped construct the ISS itself and are used on an on-going basis for its maintenance and logistical operations. 
This technology is so iconic that it is depicted on our $5 bill and is a globally recognized symbol of Canadian innovation.
The RFI was issued a little over a week after the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) issued a related NPP for a "dexterous interface and tool for planetary and deep space."

That NPP was discussed in the January 8th, 2018 post, "New "Canadarms" Will Now Compete Against Maxar/ DARPA & Orbital ATK/ NASA Satellite Servicing Technologies."

It's worth noting that MDA expects to win any contracts deriving from the recent CSA NPP. They still consider themselves to be the one stop private sector prime contractor for Canadian space "capacity building."
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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