Thursday, May 16, 2019

No Canadarms Needed Under Current US Plans to Return to the Moon by 2024 Says NASA's Gerstenmaier

          By Chuck Black

Short weeks after noting in the May 1st, 2019 post "The Canadian Space Agency has Begun Issuing Millions of Dollars in New Canadarm Contracts for the US Lunar Gateway" that, "if the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) really wanted to build a new "3rd generation Canadarm" for the NASA led US Lunar Gateway, then it might want to wait until someone figures out if and/or when the US wants one," someone has figured out that NASA doesn't really want one.

One of the most famous catchphrases of the 50s was from the TV show, The Life of Riley, which ran from 1953 to 1958. The show featured William Bendix as kind-hearted doofus Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at the Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. When Riley's well-intentioned blunders blew up in his face, he'd turn to the camera and exclaim,  "What a revoltin' development this is!" Kinda reminds you of Canada. Graphic c/o Imgflip.

At least not for today and not until an alternative plan to plant American astronaut boots on the Moon by 2024 is completed.

The information, as outlined in the May 14th, 2019 SpaceQ post, "Accelerated NASA Moon Landing Plan Doesn’t Need Canadian Robotic System," derived from a series of e-mails from Bill Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. The emails occurred after a May 13th, 2019 NASA teleconference announcing a preliminary budget for the Moon 2024 initiative and naming the project "Artemis."

According to the post, Gerstenmaier said that “at this point in our planning the robotic arm is not required for the 2024 landing.” He also said “we would like the arm as soon as available. The CSA arm concept is very creative and (could) be used inside (of the station) as well.”

This publication has never been a fan of SpaceQ, finding the writing and editorial stance tilted way too far away from journalism in favor of promoting legacy CSA subcontractors, but this particular article is timely and throws most of Canada's space community into a tailspin.

As outlined in the February 28th, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the initial announcement that Canada would be contributing to the US Lunar Gateway in late February, just before the 2019 Federal budget was released and the US decided to change its plan.

Unlike the current Canadian space program, which is locked in concrete until after the next Federal election in October 2019. the NASA's preliminary budget is still expected to be subjected to months of political infighting before being finalized.

As outlined in the May 14th, 2019 post, "Trump Proposes Extra $1.6Bln for NASA's 2024 Return to Moon," the proposed budgetgives NASA an additional $1.6Bln US ($2.2Bln CDN) in fiscal year 2020, on top of the $21Bln US ($28Bln CDN) already allocated to the space agency."

The plan calls for American astronauts to return to the moon using American made landers and hardware.

But NASA won't get the money "until Congress, which has the power of the purse, officially signs off." No one really knows when that will happen or what will happen with next years budget.

Most observers expect that far more funding will be required in future years. The long-term political prognosis for the proposal is, so far at least, far from favorable. 

So while its good that NASA's Mr. Gerstenmaier is still interested in getting free Canadarms which can be traded for future astronaut slots, informed Canadians should note that the US budget and its NASA component are targeted specifically at programs designed to further US interests.

Not Canadian interests. 

Back in March, almost as soon as Canada committed funding for the US Lunar Gateway, the US government, as outlined in the March 28th, 2019 post, "If NASA is Putting US Boots on the Moon by 2024, Who Will Pay for the Lunar Gateway and Space Launch System?," quietly began the process of throwing Canada's proposed contribution under the bus.

In retrospect, this country and the ruling Justin Trudeau Liberal government was foolish to bet so much of its space future on a US space program focused almost exclusively on US domestic and international concerns. 

Let's see about cleaning up our mistake. Canada's space activities should address Canadian concerns, grow Canada's space industry and solve Canadian problems on Canadian timetables.

We don't need to serve as an adjunct to someone else's space program.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Proposed CASTOR Space Telescope is Looking for Funding

          By Chuck Black

A design for a proposed Canadian space telescope intended to provide panoramic, high-resolution imaging in the UV/optical (0.15–0.55 µm) spectral region is being revisited by many of the same academics, scientists and engineers who contributed to the initial design.

The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR) was the subject of a thirty five page Canadian Space Agency (CSA) position paper seven years ago, but the project has received no substantive funding since the paper was published in March 2012.

The original CASTOR proposal was developed in response to the Canadian Astronomical Society's (CASCA) 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy, a review of Canadian capabilities intended to outline "the broad goals and directions of astronomical and astrophysical research in Canada," over the period from 2010 - 2020.

It derived from an earlier CASCA plans to champion a domestically based large space telescope project in order to promote Canadian academic and private sector capabilities to the rest of the world.

As outlined in the CASCA 2010 Long Range Plan:

  • The highest priority in space astronomy is: “…significant involvement in the next generation of dark energy missions — ESA‘s Euclid, or the NASA WFIRST mission, or a Canadian-led mission, the Canadian Space Telescope (CST).”
  • … Canadian space astronomy technology has reached the point that we could [now] lead a large space astronomy mission (such as the Canadian Space Telescope).”
  • Leading such a project would break new ground for Canadian space astronomy and present numerous opportunities for Canadian companies to showcase technological capabilities.” 

The CASCA Joint Committee on Space Astronomy advises the CSA on matters pertaining to the space astronomy segment of the CSA space science program including priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms and funding. They thought that they had a decent chance of moving the program forward, but after the initial reception, the plan languished in unfunded space project purgatory, where it seemingly remained until last week.

Early milestones in CASCA's quest to generate the CST. Chart c/o the July 2014 CASCA CASTOR website

The revival came on the Space Matters website from one of the original authors of the 2012 CASTOR proposal. As outlined in the May 9th, 2019 Space Matters post, "CASTOR: a Beaver or a Canadian Space Telescope?," space astronomy is on the verge of a revolution:
In the next decade, a pair of sophisticated imaging telescopes — Europe’s Euclid mission and NASA’s WFIRST mission — will survey the skies at red-optical and infrared wavelengths, hoping to unlock the secrets of Dark Energy, a mysterious form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. 
CASTOR has been designed to complement these by providing razor-sharp images at shorter wavelengths, in the ultraviolet and blue-optical region.
CASTOR would not only open a new window on the cosmos, but it would succeed the legendary Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as the world’s preeminent imaging facility at these wavelengths. Launched in 1990, HST is nearing the end of its lifetime, and astronomers worldwide will soon lose access to the razor-sharp imaging capabilities that have propelled their research to new heights and captivated the pubic in the process.
Author Patrick Côté is an astronomer at the National Research Council’s (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria BC and one of the contributors to the 2012 CASTOR proposal.

The Space Matters website began in 2018 with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) PromoScience grant to the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at the University of Western Ontario (Western).

Current partners in the Space Matters collective also include the Canadian Association of Science Centres, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Partners in Research Canada, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Space Generation Advisory Council and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Cover page from the March 2012 CSA overview of CASTOR, which included a list of contributing authors. Cambridge ON based COM DEV International would likely have become the prime contractor for the program had it been approved and funded by the CSA, which accounts for the large number of COM DEV contributors. Graphic c/o CSA.

Will CASTER ever receive enough funding to move forward? That's not likely given the upcoming election and the uncomfortable fact that the natural prime contractor for the project is no longer in existence.

In November 2015, Cambridge ON based COM DEV International, a strong contributer to the 2012 CASTOR position paper, was purchased by Charlotte NC based Honeywell International.

It's unknown if the current owners would be able to take on the prime contractor role for CASTER. Maybe that's something that can be revisited at some point.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mr. Bezos Goes to the Moon

          By Brian Orlotti

On May 9th, Kent WA based Blue Origin, a private space firm company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos—revealed at an invite-only event in Washington DC its plans to send a lunar lander named Blue Moon to the Moon’s south pole.

Offering images of teeming, free-floating O’Neill space cylinders, Bezos’ ambition has drawn admiration, skepticism and cynicism alike.

Looking liked an amped-up Apollo lunar module designed by Syd Mead, the Blue Moon will be capable of autonomous navigation and delivering 3.6 to 6.5 metric tons of payload to the Moon’s surface.

Blue Moon can also carry as many as four large rovers, or an "ascent stage," which can launch from the lander to transport people off the Lunar surface. the surface of the Moon. The lander will use a newly developed engine called the BE-7, which will see its first ignition test this summer.

Blue Origin’s target, Shackleton Crater, is an area of both scientific interest as well as a source of two settlement-enabling resources; water and steady sunlight.

Lunar water, useful for drinking water as well as making rocket fuel, was first discovered in the 1990’s by NASA’s Lunar crater observation and sensing satellite (LCROSS) and more recently confirmed by India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. This water consists of ice deposits residing in the dark areas of craters, like Shackleton, where temperatures do not rise above -156 degrees Celsius.

The ice, likely mixed in with surface soil, could be present in quantities between 10 thousand and a hundred million tons at the Lunar south pole alone.  The lunar poles are also areas of lengthy (though not constant) sunlight, ideal for powering a lunar base via solar energy.

As noted in the May 13th, 2019 post, "Billionaire Star Wars: Bezos' Blue Origin is now hiring more than Musk's SpaceX," Bezos has ramped up the hiring at Blue Origin. Graphic c/o Thinknum Open Dataset.

The Bezos presentation was likely an attempt to position Blue Origin as the vendor of choice for contracts expected to be issued by NASA over the next few months to support US President Donald Trump's plan to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

While this might not sit well with some of the more entrenched, traditional and "cost-plus" focused NASA subcontractors over the short term, it is the best opportunity for Bezos and Blue Origin to become a major industry player in the space industry. 
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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