Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The "Most Interesting Man in the World" is Building a SSTO Spacecraft in Edmonton

          By Chuck Black

A small, western Canadian company, with connections to government, mining, aerospace and the University of Calgary, is seeking "joint venture projects with major aerospace and space companies," in order to commercialize various "spin-off and patented products."

Those products are designed for use in a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) hypersonic, air-breathing orbital launch vehicle with more than a passing resemblance to the Skylon space plane, although they also have other aerospace applications.

Stay thirsty, my friends! SES CEO Pradeep Dass, who bears more than a slight resemblance to the pitchman for Dos Equis beer, discusses his company, its facilities, its research and development program and its partnership with the University of Calgary in this May 27th, 2015 promotional video. To see the complete video, please click on the photo. Screenshot c/o iiralberta

Edmonton, AB based Space Engine Systems (SES) issued a press release on April 8th, 2016 under the title, "Space Engine Systems, Inc." in order to publicize its interest in a series of joint venture projects to commercialize several of its existing products. These include:
  • A specialized, "ultra-light" planetary gear box able to function at temperatures up to 420 degrees Celsius "under full load" and with the lubricant completely pulled out by vacuum for up to 45 minutes with no "metallurgical or mechanical damage."
  • Other "aerospace & space" high speed gearbox designs for turbine engines requiring the ability to function under high temperature. 
  •  An "efficient and light heat exchanger."
  • A "liquid/multiphase twin screw and three screws pump" and hydraulic multiple screw pump for aerospace (and space) applications.
  • Drive systems "with sophisticated constant velocity (CV) joints."
  • Custom designed hydrodynamic, hydrostatic and anti-friction roller bearings for moderate and extreme temperatures and restricted spaces.
  • A permanent magnet motor system "adaptable for aerospace and space requirements," plus various other "custom light weight and high temperature materials," aerospace and space sub-assemblies custom made to customer’s requirements, nano oil for long term use and various other custom designed "vacuum operational equipment."

The DASS GN1 engine uses existing aerospace technologies, including conventional gas turbine components, and new developments in nanotechnology to overcome some of the key technical obstacles associated with overheating and fuel storage. For more information on the graphic, check out the Space Engine Systems Wikipedia page. Graphic c/o SES.

But the big ticket item the company is seeking to develop is the DASS engine. Named after SES founder and CEO Pradeep Dass, the engine is a "pre-cooled combined cycle propulsion concept that can produce thrust over a wide range of vehicle flight Mach numbers."

According to the press release, derivatives of the engine can even be used, "for propulsion of an SSTO (single stage to orbit) vehicle, long-range missiles and hypersonic transport aircraft."

In a recent interview, Dass said that he planned to test his supersonic engine (the DASS GN1) in the first quarter of 2018. A space engine (the DASS GNX, which will carry it's own supply of oxygen rather than depend on atmospheric oxygen for combustion) is also being being developed.

According to the SES website:
The DASS Engine will exceed Mach 5 and can fly at altitudes of around 30 KMs reaching anywhere on earth within 4.5 to 5 hours. It will take off from a runway just like a plane and go to 30 km altitude and develop speeds of a minimum of Mach 5. It can also be used for Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO) for space applications to exit and re-enter by storing oxygen.
Both engines start with an off-the-shelf, geared turbofan engine. To this is added a custom designed heat exchanger (HX), which Dass calls "simple, light, efficient and not as complicated" as the REL heat exchanger designed by Reaction Engines for use in the Skylon space plane.

Fast moving airflow causes up high temperatures in traditional turbofan engines, which restricts top speed and must be dissipated quickly, or else the metal parts will begin to melt. According to Dass, SES is currently testing a modified Honeywell TFE-731-3 Turbofan engine optimized for high temperature applications using their SES heat exchanger. Intake temperature are rated as 760 deg K at 30 km altitude which should provide a supersonic speed of Mach 3.2 at 20,700 rpm and a normal standard thrust of 16.5 kN, which is far above the standard rating of this well known, but until now, mostly subsonic engine. The ability to operate at higher temperatures also means increased fuel savings, according to Dass.  Photo c/o SES.

SES currently claims the support of the Alberta government, which included them as part of the Canadian pavilion at the 2015 Paris Air Show and the Western Canadian pavilion at the upcoming 2016 Farnborough International Airshow, which will be held in Farnborough, UK from July 11th - 17th, 2016. SES also presented at the 2015 Airtec Aerospace Supply Fair, which was held in Munich, Germany from November 3rd - 5th, 2015.

SES works with the CAN-K group of companies, which prides itself on building surface and subsurface pumps for the oil and gas industry. Dass acts as president and CTO for both firms.

SES also enjoys a partnership with the University of Calgary to develop technologies relating to nanotechnology, heat exchanger and high-speed aerodynamics applications which are useful in a wide variety of aerospace applications.

An overview of the Skylon space plane, another design for a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. Both the Skylon and the SES proposal depend on the efficient dissipation of heat from the turbine engine at extreme temperatures. Graphic c/o Reaction Engines

As outlined by CEO Dass, the company has also been supported by at least two Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grants and expects to perform a "full sized" test of their technology in 2018.

Just don't share any of this with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Chuck Black.
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 CSA thinks that there are more important things than access to space for Canadian space focused companies to spend their time and effort on.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, May 23, 2016

India is also Building Reusable Spacecraft

          By Henry Stewart

For those who believe that only the Americans and Elon Musk should be building high-tech spaceships, it's worth noting that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has just completed the first flight test of a small, shuttle like and reusable "space plane."

It's hard to believe that, as recently as 2010, Canada was considered to have a stronger and more competitive space industry.

Up, up and Away. The RLV-TD spacecraft takes off Monday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Photo c/o ISRO.

As outlined in the May 23rd, 2016 Government of India Department of Space press release, "India’s Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), Successfully Flight Tested," an ISRO reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator (IRLV-TD) winged body spacecraft was launched on Monday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 07:00hr Indian standard time (IST).

As outlined in the press release:
From that peak altitude of 65 km, RLV-TD began its descent followed by atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). The vehicle’s Navigation, Guidance and Control system accurately steered the vehicle during this phase for safe descent. 
After successfully surviving a high temperatures of re-entry with the help of its Thermal Protection System (TPS), RLV-TD successfully glided down to the defined landing spot over Bay of Bengal, at a distance of about 450km from Sriharikota, thereby fulfilling its mission objectives. The vehicle was successfully tracked during its flight from ground stations at Sriharikota and a shipborne terminal. 
Total flight duration from launch to landing of this mission of the delta winged RLV-TD, lasted for about 770 seconds.
While the RLV-TD will not be recovered this time, the flight was expected to be the first in a series intended to develop reusable spacecraft to drop the cost of going into orbit by an order of magnitude.

As outlined in the September 11th, 2011 post, "Canadian Space Competitiveness Falls Behind India Reports International Study," Canadian space competitiveness and capabilities began falling behind the capabilities of India beginning around 2010, the year Canada first dropped to seventh, behind India in the annual Futron Space Competitiveness Index.

According to the article, the Futron report also claimed that Canada was starting to lose ground to other big space systems players such as Brazil, China, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Of those countries, only Brazil has failed to launch a satellite into orbit (although it has tried several times).

For those that missed the connection, it's pretty obvious that space faring countries with rockets are slowly pulling ahead of space countries without rockets.

As outlined in the the April 26th, 2016 post, "2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said "Yes!" But CSA Didn't Move Forward," the last Canadian chance to move forward with a domestic launcher was rejected around 2010, about the time India pulled ahead of Canada in space competitiveness.

A partially reusable, Australian rocket being developed by Heliaq Advanced Engineering. Graphic c/o Heliaq.

Today, even Australia is researching reusable space vehicles. As outlined in the January 29th, 2016 Spaceflight News post, "New Vision of Reusable Launch Vehicle from Australia," the Australian company Heliaq, in cooperation with University of Queensland, is developing reusable technology capable of lifting "from 80 kg to 550 kg in low Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). It could be compared to new launch vehicles developed in different countries like Long March 11 in China, ALASA or more conventional Super Strypi in USA."

The Australian launcher capabilities are comparable to the rejected Canadian proposal. The only real difference was that the Canadian proposal wasn't reusable.

After all, we Canadians are always a little behind the leading edge.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The 2016 Listing of Canadian Space Advocates, Activists and Otherwise Associated Groups

          By Chuck Black

Poster c/o Valzonline.
There are a lot of space advocates in Canada.

Some of them are affiliated with academic institutions. Others are wrapped around ideas such as the "open source" development of space missions/ equipment or "working in space" or something else.

A few are tied to activities where the members actually have to accomplish something, such as launching rockets, building satellites, raising money for scientific research or some other activity. Normally, this last group is the sanest, because of the practical requirements needed to accomplish something, which tends to overwhelm the dreamers.

With that in mind, below is a representative sampling of some of the more interesting Canadian examples of space advocates, activists and their associated groups.


The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) - A non-profit organization run out of the University of Toronto with a mandate to "educate, excite, and inspire students, professionals, and the general public about astronomy and space." Best known for its annual January "Expanding Canada" symposiums.

The AstroNut's Kids Space Club - A space focused educational group for elementary school students created in May 2010 by the father/ son team of Ray and Brett Bielecki. The various "missions" of spaceship "Mercury One" and its successor "Mercury Two" have been profiled on CBC, CTV, CITY-TV, A-Channel, the Daily Planet (for the Discovery Channel) and Rogers TV. Best known for its annual "What's Up in Space Camp and STEM Conference," which is targeted to elementary and secondary school students.

The Calgary Space Workers Society - Local advocacy group focused on how "to live and work in space." The group hosted the 2007 "Canadian Space Summit."

The Canadian Association of Rocketry listing of affiliated organizations - Who says that Canadian's don't build rockets? Certainly not these self-supporting, non-profit organizations. Their sole purpose is to promote development of amateur rocketry as a recognized sport and worthwhile activity, learn something and have a little fun.

The Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) - A nonprofit technical organization for aeronautics, space and remote sensing. Host for a variety of annual events including recently the concluded 65th International Astronautics Congress (IAC), which was held in Toronto from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014 and the 2016 CASI ASTRO, which was held in Ottawa, Ontario from May 17th - 19th.

The Canadian Association of Science Centres - An organization promoting and encouraging public involvement with Canadian public science centres and the organizations needed to support them.

The Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) – Academic focused organization founded in 1971 and incorporated in 1983 as a society of astronomers devoted "to the promotion and advancement of knowledge of the universe through research and education." The CASCA Joint Committee on Space Astronomy also advises the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on matters pertaining to the space astronomy segment of the CSA space science program, including priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms, funding areas and the extent of funding.

The Canadian Remote Sensing Society (CRSS-SCT) - Focused on the Canadian activities relating to geomatics (the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information), this scientific association organizes conferences and helps publish the Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing (CJRS).

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge - A privately funded, biannual event focused on teams of Canadian university students (undergraduate and graduate) who design and build an operational small-satellite, based on commercially-available, "off-the-shelf" components. 

The Canadian Science Policy Centre - Passionate professionals from industry, academia, and science-based governmental departments who organize the annual Canadian Science Policy Conference.

The Canadian Space Society (CSS) – A non-profit corporation promoting Canadian space activities. Has organized the annual Canadian Space Summit since 2008.

Engineers Canada - The national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the profession of engineering in Canada and license the country's more than 260,000 members of the engineering profession. The organization also issues national position statements on key issues relating to the public interest, including infrastructure, labour mobility and regulating the profession.

The Geological Association of Canada - A national geo-science society, publisher and distributor of geo-science books and journals. Also holds a variety of conferences, meetings and exhibitions for the discussion of geological problems and the exchange of views in matters related to geology. Geologists often use Earth imaging and geo-spatial satellite technology derived from our space program to inventory natural resources.

Hacklab.TO - One of a number of small Canadian organizations like the Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, the Kwartzlab Makerspace, the Makerkids non-profit workshop space for kids, Think|Haus, the Site 3 coLaboratory, UnLab and others who focus on the technologies associated with open source additive manufacturing/ 3-D printing. These techniques show great promise for a variety of low cost space manufacturing technologies.

The North York Astronomy Association (NYAA) - This Ontario based club is the organizer of the annual StarFest star party, which is recognized as one of the world's top 10 gatherings of amateur astronomers for the purpose of observing the sky.

The OpenLuna Foundation - A privately funded public outreach program (officially a US based 501(c) 3) to encourage the use of open-source tools and methodologies (open design) for space focused activities. The founding member and project manager/ director of the organization is Paul Graham, who lives in London, Ontario.

The Planetary Society Canada - A subgroup of the larger US based Planetary Society. a non-government, nonprofit organization involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach, and political advocacy founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman. The current CEO is Bill Nye.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) - 4,800 members, including about 500 "unattached" members from remote parts of Canada and around the world and strong chapters in Vancouver and 28 other centres across the country makes RASC one of Canada's largest space and astronomy advocacy groups. Since 2009, the organization has purchased the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill, Ontario and SkyNews; the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy and Stargazing.

The Royal Canadian Institute (RCI) - The oldest scientific society in Canada, founded in Toronto in 1849 by a small group of civil engineers, architects and surveyors led by Sandford Fleming. The current membership is focused around events and lectures promoting scientific advancement.

Science Rendezvous - Grassroots not-for-profit organization and public platform to promote science awareness and increase science literacy in Canada. Holds the yearly, spring Science Rendezvous at the University of Toronto, St. George campus.

Space Canada – A not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of solar energy from space. Organized the 2009 Symposium on Solar Energy from Space. Space Canada president and CEO George Dietrich has a long history of supporting US and Canadian NewSpace activities.  

The Space Society of London (SSoL) - Aims to unite members of the University of Western Ontario and greater London communities who have a common interest in space.

The Space Tourism Society Canada - The northern outpost of the US based Space Tourism Society (STS) promotes space tourism and the acquisition of "financial, political and public support to make space tourism available to the general population in the near future."

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) Canadian chapter - Part of an international group of student-run organizations dedicated to promoting public interest in space. Countries with active SEDS groups include the US, the UK and India.
The Toronto International Space Apps Challenge - An annual "hackathon" organized each spring as part of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

The Toronto Students for the Advancement of Aerospace (TSAA) - An inter-university student organization striving to promote the advancement of aerospace through student leadership and hands-on initiatives, focused on building an annual conference series focused around the "do-it-yourself engineer" in order to "educate, motivate and enrich the experience of students in aerospace and related fields."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.