Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Moon Express & Rocket Lab Partner on Google Lunar X-Prize

          By Brian Orlotti

On October 1st, Moon Express, a California-based firm competing for the $30Mln USD ($39.3Mln CDN) Google Lunar X-Prize, announced that it has signed a contract with startup Rocket Lab Inc. for five launches on its innovative new Electron rocket, with the first launch scheduled for 2017.

December 2013 Moon Express info-graphic showing the various missions of the MX-1.  As outlined in the DEcember 8th, 2013 Gizmag article, "Moon Express reveals design for its MX-1 lunar lander," three-quarters of the (600 kg /1,320 lb) launch mass of the MX-1 will be fuel for its main rocket engine, in order to propel the spacecraft toward the Moon, and then soft land on the lunar surface. Graphic c/o Moon Express.

The deal is a milestone for the NewSpace industry, bringing together the pieces needed for its first venture beyond Earth orbit.

The Electron rockets will carry Moon Express' MX-1 landers to the Moon on a series of missions, which will entail evaluation of the lander's systems, fulfillment of the Google Lunar X-prize goals (which include capturing high-definition video/images as well maneuvering a rover on the lunar surface) and, ultimately, acquiring lunar soil and rock samples and returning them to Earth.

XM-1 and Bob Richards. Photo c/o Gizmag.
Moon Express was co-founded in 2010 by Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, a Canadian entrepreneur with an extensive resume in the space sector, including a stint as director of the space division at Optech Incorporated (a Toronto, Ontario based firm specializing in laser-based imaging i.e. LIDAR) and is co-founder of the International Space University (ISU), Singularity University and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

The company's business plan is centred around providing robotic transportation to the Moon's surface as well the sale of lunar data. Moon Express' long term goal is the extraction of lunar resources, such as rare-earth elements (like niobium, yttrium and dysprosium) as well as water (for making rocket fuel).  To achieve these goals, the company has developed the MX-1 spacecraft.

The MX-1 robotic spacecraft platform is a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) design powered by solar cells and having an engine that uses both hydrogen peroxide and kerosene fuels. Moon Express envisions the MX-1 as a flexible, multi-role spacecraft platform that can perform a variety of tasks (the “iPhone of space,” according to the company's website) cheaply and cost-effectively.

In addition to lunar exploration, the company foresees the MX-1 platform fulfilling roles in earth observation, space debris cleanup, satellite refueling, cube-sat deployment and as a space tug.

Info-graphic showing the features and functionality of the innovative design. As outlined in the September 19th, 2015 Nanalyze article, "Rocket Lab: Carbon Fiber Rockets Powered by 3D Printing," Rocket Lab’s competitive advantage over other rocket launch systems is their rocket itself which is "91% cheaper to launch than current methods." Acoding to the article, "the company expects their first commercial launch this year with the first 30 rocket payloads being fully booked. Online bookings extend out over the next four years and some launches as far out as 2019 are already fully booked." Graphic c/o Rocket Labs.

The MX-1 landers will travel into space aboard Electron rockets manufactured by Rocket Lab Ltd, a New Zealand-based firm founded in 2007 by engineer Peter Beck and backed by investors that include venture capital firms Khosla Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners (backers of such firms as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Skype, Verisign and Yelp) as well as US aerospace leviathan Lockheed Martin.

Rocket Lab's Electron rockets are 1.2m wide, two-stage, liquid-fuelled vehicles designed to deliver a 150 kg payload to a sun-synchronous orbit 500 kilometres above Earth. Though not yet in service, the Electron will make use of several innovations that, if successful, promise to both lower the cost and increase the reliability of launch.

Rutherford engines on Electron rocket next to Peter Beck  Photo c/o Rocket Lab.
Firstly, 3D printing is used extensively in the manufacture of the Electron. The rocket's structure is made of 3D-printed carbon composites, which both harnesses carbon fibre's immense strength and low weight and dramatically lowers manufacturing time and cost. Secondly, the Electron utilizes a unique engine named the Rutherford (in honour of New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford).

The Rutherford Engine is a liquid oxygen/kerosene engine that, in contrast to traditional rockets, uses electrical turbo-pumps. The Rutherford engine also utilizes 3D-printing for its main components, including the thrust chamber, fuel injector, pumps and main valves. These innovations combine to give the Electron rocket an extremely competitive price of just $4.9Mln USD ($6.4Mln CDN). For comparison, the price of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is $61.2Mln USD ($80.2Mln CDN).

Moon Express and Rocket Labs share impressive pedigrees. But with an unproven rocket and competition from other Lunar X-Prize teams, (such as Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology Inc, which plans to deploy its own lunar lander in 2016 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket), victory remains far from certain.
Editors note: As per the October 7th 2015 Space.com article, "Private Moon Race Heats Up with 1st Verified Launch Deal," Israeli based SpaceIL has also announced a launch deal agreement with Spaceflight Industries, an American space company which recently purchased a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher. The company will manifest SpaceIL’s spacecraft as a co-lead spot, which will sit in a designated capsule inside the launcher, among a cluster of secondary payloads.
Brian Orlotti.
Whichever team succeeds, a return to the Moon will signal the next logical step in the evolution of both humanity and the NewSpace industry.   

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.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

NDP Candidate Peggy Nash Talks About Aerospace and Space Policy

          By Chuck Black

Peggy Nash in 2014.  Photo c/o Dean Goodwin.
Talk to anyone in the NDP about how federal government policies affect the aerospace and space industries and you'll eventually be referred to Peggy Nash

The official opposition shadow cabinet industry critic and incumbent NDP candidate for Parkdale-High Park talked to this blog about the 2012 Emerson Aerospace review, the current election campaign, and how a lack of "leadership" under previous liberal and conservative governments has crippled our domestic space sector.

Nash has a long history tracking the space industry. In 2008, as a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU), her participation helped to block the sale of Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler's (MDA) space assets to US based Alliant Techsystems (ATK).

At the time, MDA was looking for access to the lucrative US military and civilian satellite marketplace to replace the shrinking Canadian markets anticipated as part of the wind-down of the Canadarm and RADARSAT-2 programs. As outlined in the April 10th, 2008 CBC News post, "Federal government blocks sale of MDA space division," the final decision was considered unprecedented.

But Nash feels vindicated by the eventual outcome. MDA's June 2012 purchase of California based Space Systems Loral (SSL) yielded the US based satellite manufacturing capability necessary to comply with US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and it began winning US government and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracts shortly afterwards.

"MDA remains a Canadian company," Nash said. "The assets developed in Canada for the Canadarm and RADARSAT programs have remained available for future Canadian space activities."

NDP leader Tom Mulcair, seen above campaigning in Montreal on September 7th, has also paid attention to the aerospace industry during the current election campaign. As outlined in the September 8th, 2015 CBC News article, "Tom Mulcair unveils NDP plan to boost aerospace jobs," Mulcair's campaign promises have included the creation of a $160Mln CDN fund to spur innovation and manufacturing and he has calling aerospace a "key sector" which the Conservatives are neglecting. He has also noted that no government minister attended the recent Paris air show to represent Canada. Photo c/o Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press.

More recently, Nash asserts that the 2012 Emerson Aerospace Review, an arm's length, federal government mandated review of Canada's aerospace and space sectors, has "provided some very interesting recommendations."

But Nash doesn't feel that the second volume of Emerson, which was focused around the removal of most procurement functions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the creation of two new CSA oversight committees, the first dealing with procurement and the second tasked with liaison between CSA and other government departments, is the solution needed to begin moving the space industry forward.

"The real problem is that the CSA has essentially been ignored by successive Conservative and Liberal governments," and Nash feels that the only long-term solution is to restore a measure of autonomy to the agency. "The solution to our current situation certainly includes a procurement component. But the real need is to restore core CSA funding to the point where CSA can initiate programs and not just respond to other government departments or commercial concerns."

A chart from the federal policy document on titled "Canada's Space Policy Framework," which was released to mixed reviews by Industry Minister James Moore on January 7th, 2014. Criticized for its brevity (only thirteen pages in PDF format) and lack of transparency after the much larger and far more public success of the comprehensive Emerson Aerospace review, the space policy framework called for putting "Canadian interests first," which was generally conceded to be a statement focused around "political" interests being put first and "positioning the private sector at the forefront of space activities," which was generally taken to mean that the CSA would no longer be able to act as a public advocate for its own projects. Graphic c/o CSA.

"If we want Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques to go to space anytime soon, we need to contribute to their costs and maintain the required infrastructure," Nash continued. "And the CSA also needs a proper president, who can lead the agency and advocate for its goals."

According to Nash, the NDP sees aerospace as a "key sector," and leading indicator of the Canadian economy. Nash believes:
The Conservative party is mostly focused around commodities such as oil and natural resources.
But there is no more innovative sector than the space sector, and innovation is where our next great industries are going to incubate and grow. 
The aerospace sector is a leading indicator, providing high value added jobs to Canadians -- the key to a successful economy. 
Chuck Black
Over the next three weeks, Canadian voters will get to judge the validity of these, and other statements.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Rocket Spaceflight Accurately Described by Scottish-Canadian Scientist in 1861

          By Henry Stewart

William Leitch (ca. 1861). Image c/o The Space Library.
Author and space historian Robert Godwin has released a paper claiming primacy for Ontario in the historical space race.

His research credits the fifth principal of Queens University in Ontario, Presbyterian minister William Leitch (1814-1864), with being the first trained scientist to have applied scientific principles to accurately describe the rocket as the best device for travelling in space.

As outlined in Godwin's paper, "The First Scientific Concept of Rockets for Space Travel," which is available online for subscribers of the Space Library, Leitch first published his description of the principles of rocketry in an Edinburgh journal in 1861 and also included it in his 1862 book "God's Glory in the Heavens."

Previous histories of spaceflight have maintained that the first scientific concept for rocket-powered space travel was envisioned at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard, who both claimed Jules Verne as their inspiration.

But Godwin says William Leitch made his suggestion to use rockets four years before even Jules Verne’s famous “space gun.” 

According to Godwin:
There is no doubt in my mind that Leitch deserves a place of honour in the history of spaceflight. 
The fact that he was a scientist is the key to this story. He wasn't just making a wild guess. Not only did he understand Newton's law of action and reaction, he almost dismissively understood that a rocket would work more efficiently in the vacuum of space; a fact that still caused Goddard and others to be subjected to ridicule almost six decades later. 
And whereas Goddard and Tsiolkovsky got their first inspiration from the science fiction of Wells and Verne, Leitch seems to have been inspired by the advances in powerful telescopes, and the newly spin-stabilised military projectiles being manufactured in London, and Isaac Newton...
The first observatory at Queens, which William Leitch established in 1862. The current Queen's Observatory houses a 14-inch reflecting telescope in a dome on the roof of Ellis Hall and is used primarily for student training and public demonstrations. Photo c/o The Space Library.

But Leitch's proposals slipped through the cracks of history because he died at a young age and the copyright to his writings fell victim to the bankruptcy of his publisher in 1878. According to Godwin:
His suggestion to use rockets in space remained in print for over forty years, but his name had been stripped away from the work. The problem was compounded by the title of his book being changed at the last minute to remove all references to astronomy, which led to it languishing for 150 years in the theology section of libraries. 
But it was still in print when Goddard and Tsiolkovsky made their mark on the field. 
Leitch comprehended everything from the catastrophic implications of cometary impacts to the special relationship between light and time. He was a genius...
Leitch studied at the University of Glasgow in the same classroom as William Thomson, the legendary Lord Kelvin, and even assisted Kelvin in an experiment on electricity. In 1859 Leitch was appointed to the post of Principal of Queen's University in Kingston Ontario. He died in Canada in 1864 and is buried near Canada’s first Prime Minister, whom he evidently knew.

According to Godwin, "he was buried on October 4th of that year: a date which has a certain resonance for space historians,” The first Sputnik was launched in 1957, exactly ninety three years after Leitch's burial.

I also wonder what he would have thought of Elon Musk being a graduate of Queens,” Godwin continued, referring to the CEO of SpaceX, the United States’ leading space company.

A monument to Leitch at the Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, Ontario. He is buried near Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's first prime minister. Photo c/o The Space Library.

Having preached in a parish near St Andrews in Scotland, Leitch’s children became early golf enthusiasts. Leitch’s granddaughter was the legendary golfing champion Cecilia Leitch.“William Leitch was an expert on ballistics and the effect of gravity on trajectories. It must have been in the DNA,” Godwin joked.

Critiques and comments on Godwin's paper have been generally favorable. 

Frank Winter. Photo c/o Frank Winter.
In a four page review available online for subscribers of The Space Library, Frank Winter, the former curator of rocketry of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC., stated:
We can no longer take it for granted that the consistently cited trio of founders of space flight theory---Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, and Oberth---were the only individuals who seriously thought and wrote about the rocket as the most viable means of achieving space flight...
William Leitch is less well known than the first three, but he should now be included in the overall picture, especially since he pre-dated them."
David Baker. Photo BIS.
On studying Godwin's findings David Baker, the editor of the British Interplanetary Society's (BIS) Spaceflight Magazine said:
Rob Godwin has conducted a valuable piece of outstanding research, revealing for the first time how an intellectual mind from the 19th century anticipated the Space Age and explained how rockets could lift mankind to the stars, long before anyone else had defined it, in simple, lucid and scientifically accurate terms.
This work is a landmark addition to the history of rocketry and Godwin is to be complimented for having himself made another important contribution to the genre.
Michael Ciancone. Photo c/o LinkedIn.
In Houston Texas, Michael L. Ciancone, the chair of the American Astronautical Society (AAS) history committee, commented:
This paper by Robert Godwin puts flesh to the bone of William Leitch, a 19th century scientist and theologian who published some thoughts on rocketry that represent one of the earliest known references to the use of rockets for spaceflight. 
These perspectives are valuable because the history of spaceflight is a tapestry of experiences that contains more than the threads representing the big names in rocketry.
Dave Williams. Photo c/o McGill.
And in Toronto, Ontario, Dafydd "Dave" Williams, the retired Canadian astronaut (STS-90 and STS-118), former director of the space and life sciences directorate at the Johnson Space Center and current president and CEO of the Southlake Regional Health Centre called it:
A very impressive piece of research…& very exciting to learn that these principles of spaceflight were postulated & articulated so far before aerodynamic flight, let alone spaceflight."
Godwin's paper is being presented October 8th, 2015 in North Bay, Ontario as part of the annual World Space Week celebrations and is available online for subscribers of The Space Library.

For further information on the Space Library, William Leitch or to download a copy of Robert Godwin's paper about "The First Scientific Concept of Rockets for Space Travel," please contact Hugh Black at HMB Communications.

Please Consider Subscribing to The Space Library.

For only $5 dollars a month, you get access to 30,000+ pages of space information and papers, including "The First Scientific Concept of Rockets for Space Travel" by Robert Godwin and hundreds of hours of audio and video.

Your contributions help to support new research and the maintenance of the existing repository.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ASTROSAT Launches from Satish Dhawan Space Centre

          By Brian Orlotti

On September 28th, ASTROSAT, India's first orbiting space observatory, was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. Canada is a key participant in the mission, with Canadian-developed sensors on ASTROSAT itself as well as a Canadian nano-satellite hitching a ride on the rocket as a secondary payload.

The Astrosat launch on September 28th. Video c/o DD News

A project of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the 1,550kg ASTROSAT is the world's first satellite capable of studying the universe in multiple wavelengths of light (x-ray, ultraviolet, and visible) simultaneously.

Canada's contribution to ASTROSAT consists of the UltraViolet Imaging Telescope (UVIT), a group of three imagers (2 ultraviolet and one visible light). UVIT will play a key role in ASTROSAT's work since ultraviolet light (along with x-ray light) is the primary wavelength in which exotic astronomical objects such as black holes, neutron stars and quasars can be observed.

The contribution will entitle Canadian scientists to observation time on the satellite, allowing Canadian astronomers to conduct unique research. The UVIT is funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with in-kind support from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

UVIT was developed as a collaboration between the CSA and astronomer Dr. John Hutchings of the NRC. UVIT's prime contractor is Cambridge, Ontario based COM DEV International.

A video overview of the ASTROSAT mission. Screenshot an video c/o ISRO.

The second Canadian connection is the exactView-9 (Ev9), a nano-satellite that was carried onboard the same rocket as ASTROSAT as a secondary payload. Ev9 is a sea vessel monitoring nano-satellite operated by Cambridge, Ontario based exactEarth Ltd. and built by the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), in Toronto, Ontario.

Ev9 is the newest member of the company's exactView global ship monitoring constellation, which currently consists of 7 polar-orbiting and one equatorial orbiting satellite (Ev9). Ev9 orbits around the equator every 97 minutes providing expanded and detailed coverage to the busy tropical shipping regions of the world.

Brian Orlotti.
The launch of ASTROSAT highlights Canada's continuing skill at building the tools that help humans understand both our universe and our own planet. 

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.