Sunday, February 07, 2016

2016 Could Be a Big Year for Space: Is Ottawa Paying Attention?

          By Glen Strom

Is the space business really growing? A group called Space Angels Network says it is.

A December 3rd, 2013 BBC News panel discussion on investing profitably in NewSpace start-ups with Virgin Galactic founder and chairman Richard Branson (on the left, connecting "via satellite") and Space Angels Network managing director Chad Anderson (right). Not shown in the photo was Satellite Applications Catapult CEO Stuart Martin, who also participated in the discussion. To see the entire interview, please click on this link. It's also worth noting that, as outlined in the December 14th, 2015 post, "UK Space Policy Follows US Down the "NewSpace" Path," both the UK and the US have implemented public policy designed to encourage large increases in private sector space activities. These new policies are creating a business environment in which Canadian companies cannot currently compete. Screenshot c/o Space Angels Network.

The organization describes itself this way:
Space Angels Network is a global network for angel investors, offering insider access to the emerging private space industry and sophisticated investment opportunities across diverse market segments, with the expertise and network connections to cultivate stellar returns on investment. We are the largest community of space investors and entrepreneurs in the world.
A January 21, 2016 article at their website, “2015 An Epic Year for the Space Industry,” makes the case that 2015 was a big year for space activities and 2016 will be even better.

The first half of the article is a summary of the events that took place in space in 2015. It’s the second half of the article, starting with the heading, “Record Levels of Investment,” that’s of real interest.

According to the Space Angels website, the network has funded 29 companies during its eight years of existence. These include Astrobotics (presently contracting for private sector Moon missions), Nanoracks (which places small science experiments on board the International Space Station), Planetary Resources (focused on outer space resource gathering) Ursa Space Systems (geospatial imagery) and XCOR Aerospace (currently building the Lynx rocket plane). Co-funders and sponsors include venture capital firms Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Data Collective (focused around funding data scientists) and First Round Capital. Graphic c/o Space Angels Network.

Here’s a summary of what that part of the article says:
  • The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for commercial space activities between 2012-2015 was 180%.
  • In the last 10 years over $20Bln USD of non-governmental money has been invested in commercial space companies.
  • In 2015 the level of non-governmental investing in commercial space was $3.3Bln USD, with most of it coming from corporations. A majority of this money went to launch systems and satellites.
  • Acquisitions of space assets in 2015 totaled nearly $4Bln USD.
A July 24, 2015 post, “Space Economy Now $330Bln US Annually, Says Report,” examines the numbers in a report from the Space Foundation, a US based non-profit organization that advocates for the global space industry. They agree that a breakthrough year is likely. The data in the report on European space activities comes from Eurospace, the trade association of the European space industry, which also thinks that way.

The 2015 State of the Satellite Industry Report, a 32-page PDF document produced by the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), shows that the satellite communications area has the most potential in the near term. That’s an area where Canada does well.

Canada’s federal government has made a big deal about promoting technology. When it comes to space, though, so far the only announcement was about Neptec Design Group getting $1.7Mln CDN to design a damage detection system for the International Space Station. This contract had already been announced in November 2015, as outlined in the January 10th, 2016 post “Innovation Minister's Latest Announcement a Rehash of November 2015 Announcement.”

As outlined in the February 5th, 2016 Business Insider post, "A tiny European country just made an unprecedented move in the space mining business," crazy American based entrepreneurs aren't the only ones making large bets on the future of the space industry. As outlined in the article, the tiny country with a well deserved reputation as a tax haven, has followed down the same path as the US  by securing property rights for commercial companies intending to utilize rare and precious resources from asteroids. For some background on the US initiative and why Canada should also follow down this legislative path, it's worth checking out the November 26th, 2015 post, "Say Hello to the New US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act." Screenshot c/o Business Insider.

Commercial space is picking up speed. What should the Canadian government be doing to get us a piece of that action?

If you’re about to say create more projects for space companies, forget it. Canada’s economy is slow, the dollar is down and the government will likely run deficits for a few years. It’s unlikely that they’ll put a lot more money into government space projects.

Here’s what they can do:
  • Stabilize the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). As recommended by Emerson, give it a clear mandate and the funding it needs to carry out that mandate.
  • Create an environment that helps space companies grow through initiatives like tax breaks and access to financing. 
  • Promote the Canadian space industry internationally. The government has been promoting Canadian technology, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did at the recent 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF), but more focus on space is needed.
  • Create an environment where more young Canadians can get their space dreams off the ground while they’re still in university. Some schools, the University of Waterloo in Ontario being one example, are doing well at this on their own, but promoting entrepreneurship needs to be done at a national level.
Glen Strom.
If the growth trend in 2015 continues, 2016 will be a strong year for commercial space. Let’s hope the Canadian government is paying attention and puts some effort into promoting our space industry.

Commercial space is the future and we need to carve out our place in it.

Glen Strom is a freelance writer and editor with a background in business and technical writing. Follow him on Twitter @stromspace for the latest on Canadian space stories.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

How Ed Mitchell Expected to be Remembered

          By Chuck Black

The sixth person to walk on the Moon, American naval officer, astronaut and explorer Edgar Dean "Ed" Mitchell passed on Thursday, after a long, adventurous and fruitful life.

In August 2000, Mitchell talked with author, publisher and Space Library curator Robert Godwin at the Airport Marriot Hotel in Chicago, Ill. During the interview, which Godwin recorded, Mitchell discussed how he expected to be remembered. 

Ed Mitchell, at the Marriott Hotel Chicago on August 27th, 2000. For a sampling of the interview, please click on this link. Screenshot c/o The Space Library.

Mitchell said that his life has been "that of exploration," initially of the atmosphere and of outer space.

But over the last thirty years, he had also explored inner-space, "and consciousness and the studies of the cosmology of mind and consciousness (and) how did all of this come to be," According to Mitchell:
I have a suspicion that I'm likely to be remembered more for the latter than the former.
The work we have been doing for thirty years now is very, very significant. We have re-addressed the old questions and used all the tools of science to help try to understand it.  
The ancient questions that every generation has asked; Who are we and how did we get here and where are we going and what is this all about...
To learn more, check out this free clip at the Space Library. 

And, if you'd like to listen to the entire forty-seven minute interview with Mitchell, please consider signing up for a monthly membership in The Space Library.

It's only $5 CDN a month and helps to keep the website online.

Membership also entitles you to over 33,000 other pages of primary first generation source materials, visuals, audio and video files covering the complete history of space exploration.

Recent posts include the article "Willy Ley – Berliner, Raketenpionier, Weltraumhistoriker" by Wolfgang Both and a new history of the German Rocketry Society by Frank H. Winter, the retired Curator of Rocketry of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. 

Chuck Black.
Best of all, your funds will help to support not just the work being done through the Space Library but will also help to support the Commercial Space blog.

So be awesome. Help us get the word out.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Washington "All Fired Up" Over Russian Rocket Engines

          By Henry Stewart

John McCain. Photo c/o
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.