Monday, May 21, 2018

The First Chinese "Private Space Company" Has Launched its First Suborbital Rocket

          By Brian Orlotti

Beijing-based OneSpace Technologies has launched a suborbital rocket from northwestern China, becoming the first private Chinese space firm to do so. While OneSpace’s claims to being a private firm are debatable, they are the vanguard of a slew of new Chinese space firms eager to stake their claim to the opening space market.

As outlined in the May 17th, 2018 Reuters post, "China launches first rocket designed by a private company," the rocket, dubbed the “Chongqing Liangjiang Star,” reached a reported altitude of 25 miles and travelled about 170 miles before falling back to Earth.

It is powered by a solid fuel engine developed by OneSpace and its control systems are customizable to users’ needs, the company’s chairman, Ma Chao, told Chinese state news agency Xinhua. The craft, also known as the OS-XO, can place a 100 kg payload into an 800 km Earth orbit.

According to the May 17th, 2018 Xinhua post, "China launches rocket developed by private company," the rocket is energy-efficient by using wireless rather than wired networking to link onboard systems, cutting weight and thus lowering fuel costs by about 30%.

The launch is the first step towards the company’s goal of a scalable business focused on launching small satellites into orbit. OneSpace is aiming for 10 satellite launches in 2019, company founder Shu Chang told the official newspaper China Daily.  “I hope we can become one of the biggest small-satellite launchers in the world,” Shu said.

In a May 17th, 2018 CNN interview under the title, "OneSpace launches China's first private rocket," Shu compared his company to Hawthorne, CA based rocket pioneer SpaceX. Other media outlets have drawn the same comparison, but a fairer comment would be that OneSpace (like SpaceX) inhabits the grey area between private and government-run.

According to CNN, Shu Chang is a former employee of a “state-owned aerospace company.”

OneSpace, as outlined in the May 17th, 2018 Quartz post, "A Chinese firm says it launched the country’s first privately built rocket," was reportedly founded with money from the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, and this particular flight was financed by China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation.

The rocket’s very name, “Chongqing Liangjiang Star,” is a nod to the state-run Chongqing Liangjiang Aviation Industry Investment Group, which OneSpace is partnering with to build a research and manufacturing base that will become part of the Chinese government’s massive Belt and Road initiative.

OneSpace’s rocket, in its current form, has marked disadvantages over SpaceX’s Falcon rockets. It stands at just 30 feet tall and can only carry a 220 pound payload, far below the 230 ft tall and 50,000 pound capacity of the Falcon 9.

OneSpace also uses a solid-fuel engine, which, though generally more stable and simple to build, prevents reuse of the rocket---unlike SpaceX craft.

It is important to note, however, that similar criticisms were hurled at SpaceX in its early years, yet the company was able to overcome the naysayers. Shu Chang has stated that OneSpace will eventually build larger rockets with greater payload capacity and intends to serve both commercial and govt customers, like SpaceX.

However, OneSpace faces significant hurdles in building an international clientele, particularly in the US.

Existing US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), as well as the US Congress’ prohibitions on NASA and other government entities from cooperating with China currently lock OneSpace out of the lucrative US market. Yet OneSpace may be able to build up a sizeable customer base in Asia, Europe and elsewhere in addition to government contract work.

Murky though its origins may be, OneSpace’s entry into the commercial spaceflight industry is no bad thing. Keeping competitors on each other’s toes is a spur that drives progress forward.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

EU "Freezes" Britain out of Galileo SatNav System; RAF Promises New "British" SatNav & Space Defence Policy

          By Henry Stewart

In the latest example of how politics influences the activities of the space industry, the United Kingdom (UK) has learned that, after contributing £1.2Bln ($2.06Bln CDN) of the estimated £8.5Bln ($14.6Bln CDN) total cost towards the building of the European Union (EU) Galileo navigation satellite system (GNSS) UK scientists will not be allowed to remain involved with the program.

As outlined in the May 21st, 2018 Express post, "RAF to launch NASA-style space agency after EU freezes Britain out of Galileo project," the non-elected governing body of the European Union (EU), known as the European Commission (EC), has said that continued UK participation in the Galileo program would “no longer be appropriate” after the expected exit of the UK from the EU (known as 'Brexit"), currently scheduled for midnight on March 30th, 2019 Central European Time.

In response, UK Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson has tasked the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) with assessing "the military requirements for a UK global navigation system," and developing partnerships "with other close allies such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US" interested in contributing to a UK based satellite navigation project.

UK Defence Secretary Williamson. Photo c/o Mirror.
The assessment will become a core component of the first UK Defence Space Strategy, which is expected to be developed over the next few months.

Other UK news services are also reporting on the story.

As outlined in the May 21st, Independent post, "UK plans own space programme after dispute with EU over Galileo project, defence secretary announces," the UK will: its contribution to the EU’s Galileo satellite programme and “plan for alternative systems in this crucial area”, Gavin Williamson has said as he announced the launch of the UK’s first Defence Space Strategy. 
The move follows an increasingly bitter dispute between Whitehall (the centre of the UK government) and Brussels (the EU capital) over the access the UK, the European Union’s biggest spender on defence, will have to the bloc’s satellite navigation project after it leaves the EU.
The article also quoted the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who said last week that British companies could not be directly involved in a new EU satellite navigation system after Brexit, but Britain would have access to its signal.

It cannot be business as usual,” according to Barnier. “Third countries and their companies cannot participate in the development of security-sensitive matters.”

The announcement that the UK is planning “alternative systems” suggests that the UK government is resigned to being excluded from Galileo and forfeiting its investment.

The proposed new UK Space Defence Strategy "aims to significantly boost the sector in response to changing threats to the country’s critical infrastructure," according to the May 21st, 2018 Government Europa post, "UK launches first space defence strategy to protect space-based infrastructure."

According to the post:
Under the new strategy, the RAF Air Command will take control and assume responsibility for the UK’s military space operations in the future. These operations are set to increase as the nature of space-based threats changes.
According to UK Secretary of State Williamson, “Britain is a world leader in the space industry and our defence scientists and military personnel have played a central role in the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme alongside British companies, so it is important we also review our contribution and how we plan for alternative systems in this crucial area.”

Galileo GNSS is being built through the European Union (EU) by the European Space Agency (ESA). It's advertized as being intended primarily for civilian use, unlike the more military-orientated systems such as the US based Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia's  Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) or China's 1st generation BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) and 2nd generation COMPASS system.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is a "cooperating state" of the ESA and participates in a variety of ESA programs and missions including Galileo, as outlined in the October 8th, 2003 Universe Today post, "Canada Joins Galileo System."

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

Friday, May 18, 2018

That Massive Political Elephant Crowding Every Room at CASI ASTRO'18

         By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that few (if any) Canadian Federal government space related initiatives can move forward without the active participation of some fairly senior Ottawa based politcal operatives.

An "advocacy funnel," one of many useful, graphic representations available online to help define the mechanisms and actions needed to gain the attention of elected representatives. Graphic c/o The Campaign Workshop.

As outlined most recently in the March 22nd, 2018 post, "What Happens After the Failure of the Space Advisory Board?," that political engagement has been missing under the present Justin Trudeau Federal government.

It's not that the appropriate politician won't politely return the phone calls from the appropriate technocrat, bureaucrat or independent advisory board panel member. It's that the politicians continue to promise action next week, not this week, after making similar promises last week and the week before.

In some cases, such as the proposed Canadian contributions to the US Deep Space Gateway (DSG), now known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), political approval may simply be a formality.

After all, the general consensus within government is that the program is the logical follow-on to one of the current core mission of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which is to administer and co-ordinate Canadian contributions to the International Space Station (ISS).

But sometimes those initial assumptions are simply not congruent with the final political and funding decisions.

As outlined in the both the April 30th, 2018 post, "NASA Resource Prospector Cancellation "Disappointing" Says Deltion Innovations CEO Boucher," and the September 26th, 2016 post, "The REAL Reason Why Canada Won't Be Participating in the NASA Resolve Mission Anytime Soon, Probably!," those disconnects happen often and occur because of political decisions at both the domestic and international level.

Sometimes, the consensus needed to make a political decision may be lacking.

An example of this could be found at the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) ASTRO'18 conference, held this year in Quebec City, PQ from May 15th - 17th, during the Thursday morning presentation on the upcoming "RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) Data Policy."

The presentation focused on the substancial amount of legislation which has grown up around Earth imaging since RADARSAT-2 launched in 2005 and how the existing policy needs to be taken into account before creating a new set of policy decisions to cover the release of the expected flood of upcoming RCM data.

Given that RCM is currently scheduled to launch sometime before the end of 2018, there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the constellation could begin operating and collecting data before any RCM data policy is finalized and appoved at the political level.

The complexity of integrating the existing and proposed new legislation could also be a part of the problem with that new, private sector commercial ground station built by Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks for San Francisco, CA based Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT). 

As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 post, "That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used," and the newer, May 7th, 2018 CTV news post, "'We're quite frustrated:' Red tape threatens growing Arctic space industry," that situation has remained unresolved for two years and will fall apart if not soon dealt with by Ottawa.

Of course, there were at least a few people focused on space policy at CASI ASTRO'18.

These including Federal Space Advisory Board (SAB) head Lucy Stojak, Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) executive VP Iain Christie, along with representatives from the McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and others.

But there wasn't any influencial members of parliment in attendance or any explicitely political operatives of the kind that inhabit the darker corridors of the typical AIAC or Canadian Science Policy Centre conference.

And, for the most part, those who did attend focused either on a simple listing of the items needing to be politically addressed (and that's a long list) or on their favoured version of a political end result.

There wasn't a lot of discussion on practical methodologies needed to achieve results or address problems. This is an obvious failure on the part of our domestic space industry.

Until it can come to grips with the specific steps required to move the political ball forward, that massive political elephant already crowding every room at CASI ASTRO'18 will continue to grow larger.

Eventually, it could end up crushing us all.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. During this past week, he attended and participated at CASI ASTRO'18 in Quebec City.

UTIAS Space Flight Lab Team Presented With 2018 Alouette Award at CASI ASTRO'18

         By Chuck Black

The Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) has honoured the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) for their highly successful Canadian Advanced Nanospace eXperiment (CanX) nanosatellite precision formation flying mission. 

CanX-4 and CanX-5 at the UTIAS SFL just before being transfered to Sriharikota, India for launch onboard the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) PSLV C23 launch vehicle on June 30th, 2014. As outlined in the July 30th, 2014 UTUAS SFL press release, "CanX-4 & CanX-5 Formation Flying Mission, One Month in Space," the satellites were commissioned quickly after launch and were designed to demonstrate low cost, low mass orbital positioning technologies with.practical application related to sparse aperture sensing, ground target tracking, precise geolocation and on-orbit satellite servicing. Photo c/o UTIAS SFL.

In November 2014, the CanX-4 and CanX-5 dual formation flying mission accomplished a series of automous orbital formations with sub metre control and centimetre level relative position knowlege which allowed the two micrsats to dance around each other in an orbital ballet of unparalleled complexity for a smallsat.

CASI president Dr. Jacques Giroux presented each of the six named mambers of the UTIAS SFL team with the 2018 Alouette Award for outstanding contribution to advancement in Canadian space technology during the gala dinner of the biannual CASI ASTRO'18 conference, held this year in Quebec City, PQ from May 15th - 17th.

The CanX-4/CanX-5 team included: 
  • Dr. Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, the director general, space science and technology at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
  • Dr. Brad Wallace of Defence R&D Canada
  • Dr. Cameron Ower, the director of engineering and chief technology officer, robotics and automation at Brampton ON based MDA.
  • Doug Sinclair the owner of Sinclair Interplanetary, a supplier of hardware, software, training and expertise to the spacecraft community.
Mission contributions also included control algorithms from Prof. Christopher J. Damaren of UTIAS and navigation algorithms from Profs Susan Skone and Elizabeth Cannon of the University of Calgary.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The First Falcon-9 Block 5 Launch

          By Brian Orlotti

On May 11th, the SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket launched and landed successfully at the Kennedy Space Centre. The launch marks another milestone for the commercial space industry, allowing SpaceX and its customers to greatly up the tempo of launches.

The Falcon 9 Block 5’s first flight was actually delayed by a day, after a technical issue triggered an automatic abort with less than a minute remaining before launch on May 10th. Fortunately, no issues marred the rescheduled launch, allowing the Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket to deliver its payload to orbit.

As outlined in the  May 11th, 2018 The Verge post, "With the landing of SpaceX’s powerful new Falcon 9, a new era of rocket reusability takes off," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk admitted to some nervousness:
The reason that it’s so hard to make an orbital rocket work is that your passing grade is 100 percent. And you can’t fully and properly test an orbital rocket until it launches, because you cannot recreate those conditions on Earth… Man, anyway, I’m stressed.
The Block 5’s first payload was Bangabandhu 1, a Bangladeshi communications satellite designed and built by Thales Alenia Space. Bangabandhu 1 is Bangladesh’s first geostationary communications satellite, providing Internet access across the country as well as India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The $248 million USD satellite was financed via a loan from HSBC Holdings plc.

The Falcon 9 Block 5 incorporates upgrades meant to satisfy both NASA Commercial Crew program as well as US military launch requirements. These include:
  • Uprated engines enabling 7-10% more thrust
  • An improved flight control system that lowers landing fuel requirements
  • A reusable heat shield at the rocket’s base to protect the engines and plumbing
  • More temperature-resistant cast and machined titanium grid fins
  • A thermal protection coating on the first stage to limit damage from re-entry heating
  • Redesigned and requalified valves for greater durability
  • A set of retractable landing legs for rapid recovery and shipping
These various upgrades will make the new Block 5 rockets sturdier and easier to maintain, so that each can be flown up to 10 times before needing refurbishment. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has states that his next goal is to launch the same Falcon booster stage twice within 24 hours. The Falcon 9 Block 5’s leap forward in efficiency will greatly help to cut the cost of space travel, a key enabler for Elon Musk’s ambitious plans to settle Mars.

The success of the Falcon 9 Block 5 is another step towards the bright future envisioned by Musk, Jeff Bezos and others; a vision of millions of humans living and working in space.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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