Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Washington "All Fired Up" Over Russian Rocket Engines

          By Henry Stewart

John McCain. Photo c/o Brietbart.com
There's no finer example of the money to be made from building rockets than the current battle in Washington between US Senator John McCain and United Launch Alliance (ULA) over the purchase of Russian built rocket engines to power ULA built rockets. 

As outlined in the January 27th, 2016 Verge article, "John McCain is trying to stop the military from using Russian rocket engines again," ULA CEO Tory Bruno doesn't so much need the Russian engines to provide ongoing access to orbit for US military payloads as he needs them to compete with SpaceX and its Falcon family of multi-use rockets for lucrative US military contracts. 

The US Congress had initially banned the use of Russian rocket engines for US national security launches under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2015 in reaction to Russia’s 2014 incursion into neighboring Ukraine. But the ban exempted five Russian RD-180 rocket engines that were already on order and were needed for ULA to comply with existing contracts. Exceptions covering four additional RD-180 engines were included in the 2016 US Defence Authorization bill, for much the same reasons and after much debate.

But the 2016 exemptions, as championed by McCain in his role as chair of the House Armed Services Committee, limited ULA to "far fewer Russian-made engines than the company says it needs to stay viable in its core national security market," at least according to the September 30th, 2015 Space News post, "Defense Bill Curbs ULA Use of Russian Engines but Draws Veto Threat."

The bill was also expected to end the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program covering Atlas-5 and Delta-4 launch services not covered under their standard contracts. 

ULA critics have long argued that that these additional contracted funds, which are officially intended to assure access to space for Department of Defense and other United States government payloads, are only ever paid to ULA and are therefore simply an additional subsidy for ULA launch operations.

The RD-180 rocket engine, derived from the Russian RD-170 rocket engine used on the side boosters of the Soviet era Energia launch vehicle, is built by the Russian company NPO Energomash and sold to ULA under contract. As outlined in the July 17th, 2014 SpaceFlight Insider article, "With continued turmoil over RD-180, ULA mulls new rocket engine," ULA has been exploring options for alternatives to the RD-180 since almost the beginning of the crisis in the Ukraine. Under RD Amross, a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney (P&W) and NPO Energomash, P&W is licensed to produce the RD-180 in the United States, although this has never occurred. Photo c/o NASA.

Given that, and as outlined in the October 2nd, 2015 Space News post, "Bruno Says ULA Can’t Bid on GPS 3 Launch," ULA began to refuse to bid on new launch contracts, citing it's inability to compete for contracts against Space-X without the Russian rocket engine.

And, although McCain initially succeeded in getting a limit of nine Russian engines included in the FY16 DoD authorization bill, an additional provision added to the bill last week seems to have voided that limit.

Tory Bruno, looking hungry. Photo c/o SpaceNews/Tom Kimmell.
So now ULA can buy as many Russian rocket engines as it wants, maybe.

In response, and as outlined in the January 27th, 2016 Space News article, "US Air Force evaluating early end for ULA’s $800 million in yearly support," the US Air Force is now renewing efforts for the early termination of the estimate $800Mln USD annual EELV launch capability contract after ULA refused to bid on the service’s first competitive launch contract in over a decade.

The article also quoted McCain as stating that he would introduce legislation to reinstate a ban on  the US military’s use of Russian rocket engines, a move that would again limit  ULA to nine RD-180 engines for upcoming competitions for Air Force launch contracts.

The article also quoted ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye that it is “critical that ULA is able to continue to provide the reliable, affordable launch services our customers depend on while the new, American engine is being developed.” 

ULA is working with Blue Origin on the methane-fueled BE-4 engine that would power the main stage of Vulcan, ULA’s proposed Atlas 5 successor. They just don't want to give up on the revenue they'd lose on the lead up to the roll-out of the new rocket. 

Perhaps the US government will end up throwing them a new bone. 

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

Monday, February 01, 2016

A New, Smart Manufacturing Hub for Kitchener/ Waterloo

          By Chuck Black

It's common knowledge that SpaceX houses its office space, mission control, and vehicle factory in a single, three story facility in Hawthorne, California. Canadian companies will soon have the option of locating in a very similar sort of "all in one" manufacturing facility at the centre of Canada's technology triangle.

The current ex-Kumpfort Zone warehouse will become the Catalyst 137 IoT manufacturing facility sometime in 2017. Current plans include a managed innovation space for smaller companies (with suites as small as 2,000 square feet available for rent) and a variety of "maker spaces" for on-site rapid prototyping, 3D printing, RF testing/ certification lab plus an indoor test environment for drones and other physical objects, plus government, legal, import-export, venture capital, retail and health facilities. Photo and graphic c/o Myvisuallistings.com and catalyst137.com

At least that's the plan behind the Catalyst 137 smart manufacturing campus, currently scheduled to open in Kitchener, Waterloo, in early 2017. The 475,000 square foot facility will be the largest of the"smart" manufacturing, Internet of Things (IoT) and "maker space" operations in North America.

"I think it's going to become the place to be in Canada for the development of hardware," according to Michael Bierstock, the president of Pierpoint Developments, and one of the people responsible for moving the project forward.

Bierstock considers the current generation of manufacturing "ill served" by cubicle farms where people have traditionally developed software applications. "With the current generation of tech being embedded into machinery, cell phones and even sneakers, we need to develop facilities from a manufacturing perspective, with physical storage and places to tinker and test real objects."

In essence, the new facilities are necessary in order to support the revolution in manufacturing just now getting underway.

Michael Bierstock, at Communitech, a Kitchener/ Waterloo industry-led innovation centre which supports nearly 1,000 local tech companies,where he spoke as part of the Catalyst137 Launch Party on January 29th, 2016. According to Bierstock, 137 isn't just the address on Glasgow Street in Kitchener where the facility is located. It's also a mystical and scientific number. As outlined on the Richard Feynman tribute website "Friends of Tuva," the "mysterious number 137," it was even once suggested that electrons captured by the as yet undiscovered "element #137" would move at the speed of light. According to Bierstock, "we hope to grow our companies at about that same speed." Photo c/o Chuck Black.

As outlined in the January 27th, 2016 The Record article, "Catalyst 137 smart manufacturing campus to open in 2017," the new facility should have room for thirty-five or more companies, with space ranging from 2,000 to 50,000 square feet for each tenant.

According to Miovision CEO and co-founder, Kurtis McBride, "the vision with Catalyst is basically to kind of give the hardware cluster a home or a brand it can attach to.” McBride feels that it's also important to try to bring on-site the sort of infrastructure that help firms to get their products to the market faster.

Miovision, a local Kitchener/ Waterloo success story founded in 2005 by three classmates from the University of Waterloo Systems Design engineering program, will serve as the anchor tenant for the campus.

The third partner in the Catalyst 137 project is Voisin Capital CEO Frank Voison. Voison began his real estate investment company in 2010 and it has since grown to include holdings across southwestern Ontario. His firm specializes in adaptive reuse projects, when an old site or building is re-purposed for a use other than which it was originally built or designed for.

The concept of a "new manufacturing economy," enabled by digital technologies and wrapped around a highly trained and knowledgeable workforce, has always been the "pot of gold" for city councils looking to improve upon the low paying service industry and contract jobs which so many of their current voters are saddled with.

Chuck Black.
Here's hoping the Kitchener/ Waterloo area a great success with Catalyst 137.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tony Lacavera Has a New $100Mln Venture Capital Fund

          By Chuck Black

Tony Lacavera. Photo c/o Linked-In.
Anthony ("Tony") Lacavera, the entrepreneur who created Wind Mobile (Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier), once acted as chairman of the board for NewSpace company UrtheCast and currently serves as chairman of Globalive Holdings (a privately held Canadian communications and investment company), is raising money for a new venture capital fund.

As outlined in the January 21st, 2016 Financial Post article, "Wind Mobile founder Tony Lacavera returns to tech investing with $100M venture capital fund," Lacavera made five local investments in the last year into companies such as Kira Talent (an online video talent screening platform), Revlo (a "fan engagement platform" for Twitch users) and ChargeSpot (a wireless charging solution for cellphones and small electronics).

The new fund, being raised through Globalive, is expected to close in 2016 and would be used for follow-on investments to bolster existing stakes, but would also plug a strategic hole in the Canadian start-up landscape, by providing mid-level funding rounds of between $5 - $25Mln CDN.

According to Lacavera, Canada has plenty of support for entrepreneurs just starting out, and once they make it big, U.S. venture firms or investors like Toronto-based OMERS Ventures are there to write checks in the tens of millions of dollars. Between those stages there’s a funding desert, which his new fund intends to exploit.

One of Lacavera's recent investments includes the ChargeSpot wireless power charger for cellphones and small electronics. It uses electromagnetic induction principals originally discovered by Michael Faraday and tested by Nicola Tesla, in order to charge cell phones and other electronic instruments without a physical connection to the power source. Graphic c/o ChargeSpot.

From 2012 - 2103, Lacavera was also the chairman of the board of Vancouver BC based UrtheCast.

Chuck Black.
As outlined in the June 10th, 2013 post "UrtheCast Proceeds with Takeover and Funding for ISS Camera's," he resigned as part of the firms reverse-takeover (RTO) of publicly traded Longford Energy Inc., in 2013.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.