Thursday, November 23, 2017

NASA is Looking for In-Situ Resource Utilization Proposals from US and non-US Institutions

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that not all Canadian companies who work with NASA need to work through the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Nor are they required to focus only on the Deep Space Gateway, a crew-tended cislunar space station concept proposed for possible partnership between NASA, Roscosmos and other current International Space Station (ISS) partners as a follow-on project after the expected decommissioning of the ISS in the 2020's.

As outlined in a November 16th, 2017 NASA synopsis/pre-solicitation notice describing the pending release of appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2), NASA is also seeking proposals from both "US and non-US institutions" for the design, fabrication, and testing of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) components and subsystem technology.

Translated into English, it means that NASA is looking for space miners. According to the notice:
NASA will be seeking proposals for research contracts in areas for design, fabrication, and testing of critical components and subsystems for acquisition and processing of extraterrestrial resources into water, oxygen, and fuel, using technologies and processes that leverage and support space or terrestrial commercial activities. 
While mission timeframes for ISRU technology are all in the 2020's and later, development of these technologies needs to begin well before the listed time horizon. 
The requested research ranges from trade studies, to component development, to component and subsystem development. 
NASA anticipates there could be multiple fixed price contracts awarded in the requested areas, depending on the scope of requirements met and resources available for the effort in NASA's portfolio. 
The duration of contracts will vary depending upon the complexity of the studies or development effort. NASA anticipates phased approaches that may extend up to 5 years. NASA intends to require minimum cost sharing thresholds and/or matching for the proposed efforts, which may include prior industry investment. 
NASA anticipates that the ISRU technology broad agency announcement (BAA) solicitation will be issued on or about Dec 1st, 2017 and expects to hold a "virtual industry forum" on December 11th, 2017. Details on the forum will be posted to the NextSTEP website over the next week.

As outlined on the NASA NextSTEP program website, NextSTEP is "a public-private partnership model that seeks commercial development of deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human spaceflight missions in the proving ground around and beyond cislunar space—the space near Earth that extends just beyond the moon."

NASA issued the original NextSTEP broad agency announcement (BAA) to US industry in late 2014, and the second in April 2016. The second NextSTEP BAA is an omnibus announcement with appendices that will solicit proposals in specific research areas, including habitat systems (appendix A), in-space manufacturing (appendix B) multi-material fabrication laboratory power and propulsion element studies (appendix C) and ISRU technologies (appendix D).

The NASA NextSTEP program is open to all categories of US and non-US institutions, including NASA Centers and other Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) government agencies, companies, universities and nonprofit organizations. Eligibility for participation is tailored for each research area.

Additional background about NASA’s ISRU activities is expected to be available over the next week at and anyone looking for more information should contact Mr. Nantel Suzuki, the ISRU program executive at the NASA human exploration and operations mission directorate (HEOMD) advanced exploration systems at
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Lori Garver on Gov't Competing with the Private Sector, NASA, NewSpace, Maxar and the Brooke Owens Fellowship

              by Allison Rae Hannigan

    Taking a long view on investments and their returns, Lori Garver has offered up a vision of space policy which would have been anathema in her time as deputy administrator for NASA. According to Garver, “fundamentally we need to shift how we invest our public dollars,” in the space industry.

    Lori B. Garver, the current general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and the former deputy administrator of NASA. Photo c/o Allison Rae Hannigan.

    Investment in space was the theme of the day at the “Space Summit: A New Space Age,” presented by The Economist Events, which came to the Museum of Flight in Seattle on November 9th, 2017.

    In an interview with me after her panel session, I asked Garver what she thinks the future holds for US space policy. I wanted to know what she wants to see happen, compared to what the current trends predict, and whether any daylight exists between the two views. Her answer was in alignment with most of what we heard during the conference and also provided a more nuanced position.

    Taking the longer view, she said, is important, and overall the future is positive. Once we in the space business get started along a successful direction, it will become reinforcing. Success builds on success, basically.

    Garver quoted a study that has recently been performed by NASA that compares the cost of procurement along classic, "cost-plus" contracting practices with the more recent, "NewSpace" model used to engage SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and other launch services. The savings, which translate into returns on investment, are far greater with the new model.

    Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and commercial resupply services (CRS) historical financial data compared to space shuttle expenses when it comes to getting to moving items into orbit. Measures of cost per kg of cargo shown are for the actual tonnage delivered, not the maximum the spacecraft or carriers are capable of hauling. The measure includes the cost to NASA for launch services where the launch failed, with zero payload delivered. The data is current as of SpaceX CRS-11, which launched June 3rd, 2017. Chart c/o Edgar Zapata/ NASA.

    The study, “An Assessment of Cost Improvements in the NASA COTS/CRS Program and Implications for Future NASA Missions,” by Edgar Zapata of NASA, compares the economics of cost-plus procurement with commissioning a private partnership such as the one undertaken several years ago by NASA with SpaceX. It’s a basic “old space” vs. “NewSpace” comparison.

    Given NASA’s mission to launch crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), a comparison is made between previous costs involved with the Space Shuttle and with the current model of the commercial crew (CCP) and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) programs. A clear benefit is demonstrated with the NewSpace Model.

    For example, NASA invested $140Mln US ($178Mln CDN) in the Falcon 9 under the COTS program, and the calculated return on investment (ROI) is estimated as over $1Bln US ($1.27Bln CDN) from the 20+ launches that would have otherwise gone abroad. Government investment, in other words, resulted in creation of new capabilities that translate into increased tax revenues, economic activities, jobs, etc.

    During her panel, she said that tax payer dollars must never be wasted again on big missions at NASA, and that the government role is to invest in leading edge, enabling technology, so that commercial concerns can optimize the tech and create missions in a less wasteful way. She expressed these opinions in a room full of accepting professionals; however this type of approach was not always considered logical or desired.

    According to Garver, “we just heard that we can’t have any risk. You’ve got to be a hundred percent. In a mature technology that is true. But we should be driving government immature technology and allow companies go see what works, and then that will determine what the applications are.”

    When I asked her about this, she did amend her position to say that we sometimes have other, non-economic reasons for government to “cast further for missions with other Whys.” She gave as an example that when we went to the moon with the Apollo program, the "why" was to beat the Russians.

    In the future, the ‘why’ could be defending against errant asteroids, for example.

    She repeated what she said on the panel, that we’ve “been trying to re-live Apollo, making up a reason,” for the big missions such as going to Mars, and that approach is “hard to sustain.”

    She told the audience, “In other areas of the economy we don’t try to compete with the private sector, but we live in this time when we yearn for the days of Apollo and big missions and the people advocate space work and it was wonderful.”

    She continued, “Leading the Agency was the dream job of my life. But we should be allowing them to do it in ways that benefit us more… that is much more productive and innovative and returns benefits to people on this planet.”

    I asked Garver about leaving the space sector to go to the ALPA, and she was quick to remind me that she never left the space business. She is on the board of San Franscisco, CA based Maxar Technologies, which she joined in 2015 when it was known as Burnaby, BC based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).

    But Garver talks about investment in more than just space economics. She believes in investing in people, too.

    A former colleague, friend, and mentee, Brooke Owens, passed away last year, and the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program has been set up in her name, in large part thanks to Garver’s efforts as co-founder. The fellowship offers “paid internships and executive mentorship for exceptional undergraduate women in aerospace.”

    Garver is quoted on the fellowship website, “My goal in helping establish the Brooke Owens Fellowship is to create opportunities for more young women like Brooke to have careers in aviation and space, while at the same time assuring our community benefits from their involvement.”

    When Garver started talking about Brooke, the Fellowship, its successes, and its future, it was clear that she will be pouring all of her considerable talent and energy into this worthy endeavor in the future.

    Last year, 36 internships were arranged for qualifying participants, and now is the time for new applicants to try for the next class. Garver said she wants the young women to derive the benefit of professional contacts through mentoring. She sees the program as the “Fulbright of the Future.”

    For more on the new space age, check out my November 14th, 2017 post, "The Economist Assesses the Space Industry."
    Allison Rae Hannigan.

    Allison Rae Hannigan is an impassioned space industry professional focused on development opportunities, marketing, and business related to microgravity and earth observation sectors. 

    She is also a free-lance consultant who has created marketing communications campaigns, as well as provided market research, and regulatory expertise to the international space community.

    Monday, November 20, 2017

    Entrepreneurs, Luxembourg, a Canadian Space Agency Secondary Payload Proposal & Maxar Technologies

              By Henry Stewart

    While the rest of the world (especially Luxembourg and the US) race to embrace the new opportunities expected to derive from high risk space mining concepts, corporations move forward with the development of massive Earth imaging and communications micro-satellite constellations and even begin to dip their toes into the waters of Martian colonization proposals, it's worth noting that our government supported Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is satisfied with proposing a variety of dull and mundane "ideas" suitable for "secondary payloads" on someone else's mission.

    Given that, and for the week of November 19th 2017, here are a few of the items we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog.

    As outlined in the article, Luxembourg had projected 200 attendees at the 2017 New Space Europe conference, which took place in Luxembourg City on November 16th - 17th, 2017, was co-sponsored by the Ministry of the Economy of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and calculated in part to showcase the country's rising international profile in an increasingly hot new industry.
    But over 400 people showed up, which was far more than expected. Many of the speakers at the conference were sourced through the Arlington, VA based Space Frontier Foundation, an American space advocacy nonprofit corporation organized to promote the interests of the private sector in space.
    According to Laurent Schummer, a partner at the Luxembourg law firm of Arendt & Medernach, "Luxembourg offers a whole ecosystem and expertise for raising capital and the legal framework operators need, with a government offering the whole infrastructure. All major players know Luxembourg as a secure place. All our clients in startup and on the space scene need money and we can help with that."
    According to the article, it also helps that the Luxembourg government has set aside €200Mln ($339.5 CDN) to invest in companies that want to join the space race in exchange for their presence in one form or another in the Grand Duchy.
    As outlined in the July 14th, 2017 The Register post, "Luxembourg passes first EU space mining law. One can possess the Spice," the tiny country has recently passed a series of domestic laws to make it easier for space focused companies to set up shop.
    And, as outlined in the October 31st, 2016 post, "'Super' Flow Through Tax Shares & Why Space Companies Need Them," Canada had the opportunity to set up a series of very similar industry friendly laws in the past, but has so far declined to do so.
    One of the real reasons for the current CSA focus on small-sats is the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC). Beginning in 2011 this small not-for-profit Canadian organization ran a series of contests where university students built cube-sats with science payloads The third CSDC began early this year but was essentially derailed when, as outlined in the Jun 8th, 2017 CSA post, "Call for Letters of Interest – Canadian CubeSat Project," the Federal government under the CSA began funding university cube-sat proposals as part of the Canadian Cubesat program. Graphic c/o CSDC

    • Speaking of Canada, while our Canadian space agency has at least been trying to do something, it doesn't seem to have been all that successful, at least so far.
    As outlined in the November 20th, 2017 Spaceq post, "The Canadian Space Agency is Looking for Ideas for Secondary Planetary Science Payloads," the CSA initially issued a request for proposals (RFP) looking for concepts for "secondary science payloads" for a future mission with NASA.
    Cancelled November 20th, 2017 CSA NPP. Graphic c/o CSA.
    The SpaceQ post initially referenced a November 20th, 2017 notice of proposed procurement (NPP) on the Space Exploration Concept Studies for Planetary Secondary Payloads and Nanomissions, the structure of the NPP left open a wide variety of options, which would provide the CSA "flexibility in deciding what would work based on future mission decisions by NASA." 
    The original proposal was based on ideas from a 2015 joint CSA-NASA Ames "information session" on low cost space exploration missions.
    But that NPP has been superseded and in record time. As of the evening of November 20th, the original November 20th, 2017 NPP is off the table and listed on the website as being "Archived/ Cancelled." The original closing date, still listed on the available website documentation, was January 8th, 2018.
    A new request for proposals (RFP)  had been posted in its place, in the form of the November 21st, 2017 post, "√Čtudes concept. Charges utiles secondaires & nanomissions (9F050-170072/B)," which also focused on the same area of "concept studies related to secondary payloads or nanomission investigations for planetary exploration."
    Otherwise, the new proposal is much like the old proposal and follows through with most of the concepts discussed in the original, at least at first glance. Interested parties have until January 8th, 2017 to submit their proposals. Up to three proposals will be selected and provided with a maximum of $200K CDN per proposal. A bidders virtual conference will be held on November 30th, 2017.
    Given that the new proposal is also in line with previous proposals under the October 20th, 2017 Canadian Cubesat program CSA webpage, the assumption is that this new funding will attract college and university proposals which would previously have fielded teams for contests like the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC). 
    CSDC is a small, privately run not-for-profit Canadian owned and operated contest "for teams of university students (both undergraduate and graduate) to design and build a “Cubesat” – a small, fully-operational satellite – which will conduct a science mission," and has been in operation since 2011. It doesn't offer up millions of dollars of government money, but it is functional and had a very successful run until the CSA began offering up it's version of academic small-sat development earlier this year.
    The post will be updated when new information becomes available. 
    Graphic c/o Maxar Technologies.

    And, as outlined in the November 21st, 2017 post, "What You Must Know About Maxar Technologies Ltd’s (TSX:MAXR) Financial Strength," mid-caps stocks like Maxar, with a market capitalization of only $4.43Bln CDN, aren’t "the focus of most investors who prefer to direct their investments towards either large-cap or small-cap stocks."
    If nothing else, this will cause the usual suspects in industry to reassess their perception of the value of holding Maxar stock which, back when it was known as MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), was a far more magnetic stock for investors.  
    The  November 19th, 2017 The Ledger Gazette post, "Scotiabank Lowers Maxar Technologies Ltd (MAXR) to Sector Perform," is only the first of an expected series of financial industry reassessments expected now that the company has officially joined the lower tier of the big leagues.
    Expect more reassessments in the near future. 
    For more, check out upcoming issues of the Commercial Space blog.

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

    Friday, November 17, 2017

    9th Canadian Science Policy Conference Video's, Audio Recordings and Photo's are Now Online

              By Henry Stewart

    For those who missed it, selected video's from the 9th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC2017), which took place in Ottawa, ON between November 1st - 3rd, 2017, have been posted online.

    Posted items include:
    • A conversation with Canada's chief science advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer.
    More CSPC 2017 videos and interviews are available on the CSPC YouTube channel. Audio recordings and photos are also available.

    This annual event is organized by the Canadian Science Policy Centre to serve "as an inclusive, non-partisan and national forum uniting stakeholders, strengthening dialogue, and enabling action with respect to current and emerging issues in national science, technology, and innovation policy."

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

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