Tuesday, July 26, 2016

University CubeSats, the FCC, OneWeb, COM DEV, Honeywell, MacDonald Dettwiler and Space Mining

          By Chuck Black

Here are a few of the stories currently being tracked for the Commercial Space blog:

Software lead Brendan Bruner works on the code for the Experimental Albertan #1 Satellite (Ex-Alta 1) at the University of Alberta's Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering in Edmonton. Photo c/o Codie McLachlan/ Globe and Mail.

  • Cube-sats from York University in Toronto, Ontario and the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta will be travelling to space as part of the upcoming QB50 Cubesat Constellation mission, which is expected to fly on board an unmanned Orbital Sciences capsule when it ferries supplies to the space station in late December 2016. As outlined in the July 24th, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "Tiny satellites signal new era in Canadian spaceflight," the mission, "will be loaded into a mechanical deployer that will pump them out from the space station, one after another, so that they can begin circling the globe on their own separate trajectories." The 40 satellites which comprise the total CB50 mission will each carry one of three standard instruments so that the data they gather in orbit can be combined and compared.
Graphic c/o EU Research.
  • The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that the sharing of 5G mobile spectrum between terrestrial phone companies and satellite networks will be subject to review as 5G technology develops. As outlined in the July 22nd, 2016 Space News post, "Satellite sector mulls how to live with FCC’s 5G decision," satellite companies are expected to build out large constellations of communications satellites of the next few years are worried that 5G interference issues could prevent investment in future satellite broadband systems. This could could directly impact the plans of satellite companies like OneWeb which, as outlined in the May 3rd, 2016 post, "OneWeb Goes to Gatineau," has promted plans to move into under-served rural and consumer telecom markets worldwide.
An overview of the Honeywell Q2 2016 earnings call. Graphic c/o Honeywell.
  • Of course, Honeywell isn't the only publicly traded aerospace company with a Canadian footprint. MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) will host its Q2 2016 conference call on Thursday July 28th, 2016. It will be the first quarterly earnings call hosted by the incoming and US based CEO Howard Lance and it will be interesting to see how the new boss compares to the old boss, outgoing CEO Daniel E. Friedmann, a colorful, successful and oft quoted predecessor. As outlined in the July 14th, 2016 MDA press release, "MDA 's second quarter 2016 results conference call alert," longtime MDA CFO Anil Wirasekara will co-host the call. 
Chuck Black.
For updates and assessments on these items and others, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Space Angels Venture Capitalists Bullish on the Space Suit Market

          By Brian Orlotti

The Space Angels Network (SAN), a venture capital group which funds various space companies, has released a report predicting increased demand for spacesuits over the coming decades.

What the trendy hipster space explorer might be wearing in twenty years. As outlined in the December 23rd. 2015 Universe Today post, "Why Can't We Design the Perfect Spacesuit?," this particular model, called the MIT BioSuit, is a "a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass compared to modern gas-pressurized spacesuits." Photo c/o MIT.

As outlined in the July 19th, 2016 SAN post, "Under Pressure: Past, Present, and Future Spacesuit Market," a total of 50 spacesuits were sold globally in 2015, with a total value of roughly $100Mln USD ($132Mln CDN). Spacesuits, currently a high margin, low volume business, are poised for a renaissance as government space activity declines and the private sector takes a leading role.

This new generation of spacesuits will need to have new capabilities as well as be more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing than products currently available.

Among the report's findings:
  • There are resounding similarities between the current spacesuit industry and the legacy launch and satellite industries, i.e. expertise in proven technologies, a reputation for safety, and strong government relationships. These incumbents solely serve national space agencies and operate on long design cycles and product lifetimes (exacerbated by 'cost plus' contracts).
  • The profound economic shift in the space sector over the past decade has seen the entry of new players and a strong focus on cost. Greater space accessibility will enable more manned spaceflight activity, which will in turn spur demand for space and pressure suits.

Elon Musk is looking for new spacesuits, at least according to the May 9th, 2016 Nature World News article, "Elon Musk Hires Superhero Costume Designer to Create "Badass" Spacesuits for SpaceX Mars Mission."  This particular model, as outlined in the Sagan Sense Tumblr page on the Future Deep Space Suit, represents one of a series of possible design directions, which could be optimized for different roles in different environments. Graphic c/o Sagan*Sense.

  • While most commercial launch will be centered around destinations in near-space and low Earth orbit, governments, and a select few commercial companies, will explore planetary bodies and conduct maintenance, requiring highly utilitarian spacesuits. 
  • Commercial space companies will want to differentiate between themselves by positioning their products based on aesthetics, capabilities or comfort.
  • Diversified customers and increased competition between spacesuit manufacturers will shorten design cycles and product lifetimes. Innovation will be further spurred by recent advancements in materials science and computer simulations.
  • Successful companies will need to overcome a traditional low tolerance for risk, which has historically inhibited innovation. 
The SAN report outlines multiple developmental paths for the spacesuit industry. Well-capitalized incumbents that identify successful new technologies may strategically acquire them to mitigate development risk. In this scenario, the production of spacesuits remains as consolidated as it is today, with the balance of power shifting to the manufacturers.

Our parents spacesuit. The 21 layer space suit used during the Apollo program. Graphic c/o pics about space.

Another scenario is that launch providers (i.e. SpaceX and Blue Origin) deem spacesuits to be of high operational risk, and so pursue vertical integration. In this scenario, the remaining spacesuit makers that lack innovative designs will not generate sustainable cash flow.

A third possible outcome is to have one company with superior technology attaining total dominance over the marketplace, the spacesuit market being relatively small.

Brian Orlotti.
The SAN report offers thoughtful views on the future of the spacesuit industry. Space aficionados will eagerly observe the evolution of these spaceflight staples through the 21st century.

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Arctic Satellites Should Serve Northerners According to Nunatsiaq Online

          By Henry Stewart

Not everyone likes the idea that the Polar Communications and Weather mission (PCW), the long awaited but never funded Canadian Space Agency (CSA) project to provide continuous 24/7 broadband communications services and monitor weather and climate change conditions in the Canadian arctic, is about to be replaced by a Canadian military based program without any weather component or assured civilian access to communications.

Areas of interest in the high arctic for the meteorological and communications components of PCW. As outlined by Brigadier General Rick Pitre, the then Director General for Space in the 2013 Frontline Defence article, "Director General talks about 'Space'," the Canadian military was, even in 2013,"very interested in PCW." Graphic c/o FrontLine Defence.

As outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Nunatsiaq Online post, "Arctic satellites should serve northerners," the latest plans are that the two satellites expected to built will be equipped for communications purposes only, and used primarily by the military. According to the article, "the military will likely operate the satellites in conjunction with a private company, which could perhaps market any unused bandwidth to northern residents and businesses."

But unlike PCW, any "public access (to the replacement satellite constellation) would not be assured," because of the military nature of the program. According to the article;
Under the new plan, the satellites will not be equipped to support weather forecasting, climate change science, or the monitoring of solar flares. 
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
These reductions in capabilities could limit northern economic development, the safety of northern residents and visitors, research on climate change, and Canada’s ability to fulfill its marine weather forecasting commitment.  
The reductions are due to a recent decision by Environment Canada to withhold its portion of the funding for the Polar Communications and Weather Project, which amounted to about $10 million per year over the 15-year projected lifespan of the satellites.  
It was this decision that killed the multi-departmental project and forced the Department of National Defence to move forward on its own.
As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," the 2012 Emerson Aerospace Review recommended that the Federal government narrow the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government." Nor would it embark on any new large satellite programs.

Instead, individual government departments (such as DND) would manage their own space projects just so long as they also funded them. This is why DND felt justified in radically revamping the PCW program after the Federal ministry of the Environment and Climate Change withdrew its funding.

The total cost of PCW was estimated to be around $4.5Bln CDN over the life of the project. Environment Canada's amounted to 3% of the 15-year budget.

Of course, all the money is supposedly coming from the same Federal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can essentially reallocate funding between departments at any time.

For more on the cancellation of PCW, check out the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money."

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