Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The UK Gets a Spaceport, a New, Mostly Privately Funded Rocket and a New Partnership With Elecnor Deimos

         By Chuck Black

A remote area on the the northern coast of Scotland between the coastal villages of Tongue and Durnesson is on track to become the UK’s first operational spaceport. The new UK spaceport may also launch a new UK funded and built microsat launcher when it becomes operational in the early 2020's.


Unlike the controversial (and currently unfunded) proposal for a Canadian space port discussed most recently in the May 25th, 2018 post, "Maritime Launch Services Will Not Say When It Will Begin Building Proposed Canso NS Commercial Spaceport," the Scotish proposal is being championed by local government through the Scottish Government's economic and community development agency, known as Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which intends to build the launch site on Scotland's A’Mhoine peninsula.

As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 The Gaurdian post, "Rocket men: locals divided over plans for UK's first spaceport" initial funding for the spaceport will be provided through a £2.5Mln ($4.35Mln CDN) grant from the UK Space Agency.

The prime contractor for the project, which will receive an additional $31Mln US ($40.73Mln CDN) from the UK Space Agency, will be Bethesda, MD based Lockheed Martin, a US based global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company.

According to the article, a second “horizontal” spaceport will also be created at Cornwall airport near Newquay over the next few years in order to accomodate the requirements of Long Beach CA based Virgin Orbit, a company within the Virgin Group which plans to provide launch services for small satellites:
Virgin Orbit, part of the Virgin Group, is aiming to launch satellites into space by using a modified 747-400. 
The Boeing will carry a rocket under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release it at around 11,000m (35,000ft) for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth’s orbit.
As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Lockheed Martin press release, "Lockheed Martin To Help UK Space Agency Build First Commercial Spaceport; Launch First Orbital Rocket," the initiatives "will not only spark advancements in science and innovation, it will create new opportunities for current and future UK-based suppliers to become part of the next space age."

The spaceport announcements were made at the annual Farnborough International Air Show, which is being held in Farnborough UK from July 16th -22nd.


Also, and as outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Orbex press release, "Orbex Secures £30 Million Funding for UK Space Launch Vehicles,"  London UK based Orbex has secured £30Mln ($52Mln CDN) towards delivery of a fully "European orbital micro-launch system."

As outlined in the press release:
Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company, with subsidiaries and production facilities in Denmark and Germany. 
The company has received funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), two of Europe's largest venture capital funds, Sunstone Technology Ventures and the High-Tech Gründerfonds, as well as private investors, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme.
Orbex has "already secured commercial engagements with major aerospace organisations." which have "contracted Orbex to study the development of a European micro launcher solution." As outlined in the press release:
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) has joined Orbex as Chairman of the Advisory Board. He is joined by other notable figures from the space industry, including Jan Skolmli, Orbex’s recently-appointed Chief Commercial Officer, who was formerly Head of Launch at SSTL, the world’s leading small satellite manufacturer. 
Orbex staff members have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA and several other commercial spaceflight organisations. Equipment developed by Orbex team members has flown on more than 50 deep space missions, and collectively they have developed more than 50 rocket engines and a wide range of orbital and suborbital launch vehicles.
The Orbex launcher, called "Prime" is expected to be used at the New Scotish spaceport.
Editors Note: And the announcements keep coming. 
As outlined in the July 17th, 2018 Orbex press release, "Orbex and Elecnor Deimos Form Strategic Partnership for Satellite Launches," Spanish based aerospace systems integrator Elecnor Deimos has acquired a stake in Orbex.
According to the press release, "both companies have (also) signed a strategic agreement, building on previous collaborations between the two companies when successfully bidding together in UK and international tenders."
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Maxar Technologies Has Just Bought the Neptec Design Group for $42Mln CDN

        By Henry Stewart

Brampton, ON based MDA, the Canadian subsidiary of the Denver CO based  Maxar Technologies, a company once known as Richmond BC based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, has acquired Kanata ON based Neptec Design Group, in a deal valued at $42Mln CDN.


As outlined in the July 16th, 2018 Maxar Technologies press release, "Maxar Technologies' MDA Announces Acquisition of Neptec Design Group, a Leading Space Sensors Company in Canada and the United Kingdom," $8Mln CDN will be paid out in cash, with the balance paid out in Maxar common shares.

According to the press release:
With Neptec, MDA will deliver end-to-end robotic systems and an expanded set of solutions, positioning the company to capture growth in US, Canadian and global space exploration markets and accelerate advancement into new and expanding space segments. 
The transaction is accretive to Maxar's operating earnings per share beginning in 2019, solidifies MDA's leadership in space robotics innovation, and reinforces Maxar's industry-leading space capabilities.
According to MDA group president Mike Greenly, the acquisition "provides a tremendous opportunity to advance and grow MDA and Neptec internationally, develop powerful new technologies and drive future economies."

"The Neptec team is well-established in the industry, and this investment represents an important strategic opportunity to offer broader solutions for the growing space exploration market," he said.


Of course, several commentators have also mentioned that, while the deal adds new technologies to the already impressive Maxar robotics portfolio, it also further consolidates an already shaky and possibly shrinking domestic industry around a single, foreign owned player.

The truth may need to wait for the expected release of the latest of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) State of the Canadian Space Sector report. The newest report (covering the year 2016) should be released sometime this summer.

As for Neptec...

Founded in 1990, the privately owned Neptec Design Group provided "machine vision solutions for space, industrial, and military applications" to NASA for 3D imaging, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and triangulation and LIDAR automated rendezvous and docking (TRIDAR) technologies which controlled the various Canadarms attached to US space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS).

Neptec currently employs approximately 100 people in Kanata and the UK and recently won a series of contracts with the CSA worth several million dollars in total. The company says that the new contracts will help it develop the next generation of cameras and sensors.

It will be missed.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Canadian Science Policy Centre and Chief Science Advisor Connecting Science With Politics

        By Henry Stewart

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), in an effort to build on its successful campaign to increase Federal government science funding and in partnership with the Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, has rolled out a pilot program offering scientists and engineers from various disciplines a chance to "develop an understanding of the parliamentary process."

CSPC is looking for sponsors for its "Science Meets Parliment" program, primarily from academic institutions. To learn more, please check out the Partnership Prospectus. Graphic c/o CSPC.

It's a useful activity which members of Canada's space community, stung by the recent failure of the Federally mandated Space Advisory Board (SAB) to increase Federal funding for private and public sector space activities, would do well to emulate.

As outlined in the July 9th, 2018 CSPC press release, "CSPC in Partnership with Chief Science Advisor Present: Science Meets Parliament," the program offers scientists and engineers a chance to spend a day on Ottawa's Parliment Hill, and shadow a member of parliment (MP) or senator.

The plan was first developed as part of the CSPC Five-Year Strategic Plan (2018-2023), mainly as a mechanism to connect the two communities of scientists and politicians, foster dialogue and enhance mutual understanding.

As outlined in the press release:
This is a unique opportunity that invites scientists and engineers of various disciplines to spend one day on the Hill, shadow an MP or senator, explore their role in modern political decision making, and develop an understanding of the parliamentary process. 
As outlined on the CSPC "Science Meets Parliament" website, the program:
...is modeled on the acclaimed program run by Science and Technology Australia, now in its 19th year. You can find more information about the Science and Technology Australia’s Science Meets Parliament event by clicking here
As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," Canada's space sector was mostly left out of the 2018 budget which included "historic increases" in funding for applied and basic science programs.


Much of the credit for this increased funding was due to the April 10th 2017 release of the of the David Naylor led final report on "Canada's Fundamental Science Review," which advocated for structural changes and increased funding for basic research.

The report was popularized and promoted over the next year through organizations like the CSPC and contributed substantially to the increased basic science funding attached to Budget 2018.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

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