Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Time to Take a Break

This blog will be taking some time off to enjoy the summer, recharge our batteries, revise our distribution strategy and do our own small part to contribute to the upcoming Federal election scheduled for October 2019.

The Commercial Space blog will return with all new stories and a slightly updated format in October 2019.

Enjoy the summer.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Canadian Space Agency Role "Evolving," But Maxar Technologies Has a New $375Mln US Contract for the Lunar Gateway

          By Chuck Black

NASA has awarded Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies, in conjunction with Kent WA based Blue Origin and Cambridge MA based Draper, a "firm-fixed priced" contract worth up to $375Mln US ($505Mln CDN) to develop the lead element of NASA's planned Lunar Gateway, a component of the new Artemis plan to return US astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

Known as the power and propulsion element (PPE), the module is currently expected to launch in late 2022. The procurement process will be "non-traditional" which, as outlined in the May 20th, 2019 post, "NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers," is designed to keep costs down, lower oversight requirements and speed up implementation.

The announcement was made by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the Florida Institute of Technology on May 23rd, 2019.

The new Maxar contract comes only one day after Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Sylvain Laporte went to Washington to meet with Bridenstine and discuss speeding up the implementation schedule for Canada's contribution to the Lunar Gateway.

Maxar is also the prime contractor for the new "3rd generation" Canadarm, Canada's primary contribution to the Lunar Gateway. The new Canadarm is currently scheduled to be installed on the Lunar Gateway in 2027, well after the new Maxar PPE is operational and in-orbit.

This also makes the new Maxar PPE a higher operational priority for the program than any new Canadarm.

As outlined in the May 23rd, 2019 NASA press release, "NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion," the new Maxar contract will begin:
... with a 12-month base period of performance... followed by a 26-month option, a 14-month option and two 12-month options. 
Spacecraft design will be completed during the base period, after which the exercise of options will provide for the development, launch, and in-space flight demonstration. The flight demonstration will last as long as one year, during which the spacecraft will be fully owned and operated by Maxar. 
Following a successful demonstration, NASA will have the option to acquire the spacecraft for use as the first element of the Gateway. NASA is targeting launch of the power and propulsion element on a commercial rocket in late 2022. 
Maxar has based the PPE on its Palo Alto CA based SSL owned 1300-class satellite platform. As outlined in the May 23rd, 2019 Maxar press release, "Maxar Selected to Build, Fly First Element of NASA’s Lunar Gateway," the PPE will also include an "affordable and innovative" electric-propulsion-enabled system, which "will provide power, maneuvering, attitude control, communications systems and initial docking capabilities."

NASA's team on the left (with NASA Administrator Bridenstine second from the left) discusses politics and procurement with Canada's team on the right (with CSA President Laporte, the second from the right) in Washington on May 22nd, 2019. As outlined in the May 22nd, 2019 Space News post, "Canada mulls accelerated schedule to keep pace with NASA’s 2024 moon goal," noted that, while "NASA’s previous plans called for a return to the moon by 2028. Laporte described Canada’s role in the Gateway as “evolving” in light of the new 2024 target." Bridenstine and others within NASA have expressed an openness to foreign contractors working on the Maxar PPE, although no confirmed non-US subcontractors have so-far been announced. Photo c/o @JimBridenstine.

The press release also quoted Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky, who stated:
Maxar Space Solutions is proud to play a critical role in enabling American astronauts to build a sustainable presence on the Moon. Our power and propulsion element partnership enables NASA to leverage Maxar’s commercial capabilities to cost-effectively expedite plans for sustainable exploration of the Moon, while also providing significant benefits to American industry.
Time to change socks? Photo c/o Anonymous.
But it likely won't provide all that many benefits to Canada although it will be configured to accept that new Canadarm everyone expects to be installed in 2027.

Earlier this year and as outlined in the February 28th, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would be allocating $2.05Bln CDN over the next twenty-four years to build a new, 3rd generation Canadarm, to contribute to the NASA program.

Trudeau even made it the core of "Canada’s new, ambitious space strategy."

Then US President Donald Trump changed the plan. 

Canadian technology was no longer on the "critical path," at least until after the Americans return to the Moon in 2024.

That's not to say that Canada's contribution is no longer important. But it is a reminder that Canada's domestic space program is no longer totally in the hands of Canada's national space agency.

In a May 23rd, 2019 e-mail exchange with this blog, CSA media relations chief Marie-André Malouin noted that:
President Laporte and Administrator Bridenstine held one of their regular meetings on Washington on May 22. Their brief discussion focused on the lunar program, on the need for Canadian robotics on Gateway and on future collaborations. 
The positive outcome of their discussion is reflected in Jim Bridenstine's comments about Canada's partnership earlier today. We continue to work closely with NASA on the exciting lunar exploration campaign. This is just the beginning.
It is indeed the beginning of something.

Best guess is that, if you're a Canadian company looking to participate in the exploration of the Moon and other heavenly bodies, you might want to skip out on the courtesy call to CSA headquarters in Longueuil PQ and instead focus on making a direct connection with Maxar executives in Westminster CO.

After what happened today, the Colorado executives certainly seem to have more "pull." 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

NASA's Leaked Artemis Lunar Exploration Plan Includes 37 Launches, 5 Crewed Landings and a Lunar Outpost

          By Chuck Black

Technology focused website Ars Technica claims to have obtained an internal NASA plan for the next 37 rocket launches to the Moon under the proposed Artemis program. The proposal includes the landing of the first of five human astronaut crews on the Moon in 2024 and culminates with the establishment a crewed base at the Lunar South Pole in 2028.

NASA's "notional" plan for a human return to the Moon by 2024 and the creation of a lunar outpost by 2028. Graphic c/o ArsTechnica.

As outlined in the May 20th, 2019 Ars Technica post, "NASA’s full Artemis plan revealed: 37 launches and a lunar outpost," the plan began circulating within NASA last week.

According to the post:
A graphic (above), provides information about each of the major launches needed to construct a small Lunar Gateway, stage elements of a lunar lander there, fly crews to the Moon and back, and conduct refueling missions. 
This decade-long plan, which entails 37 launches of private and NASA rockets, as well as a mix of robotic and human landers, culminates with a "Lunar Surface Asset Deployment" in 2028, likely the beginning of a surface outpost for long-duration crew stays. 
Developed by the agency's senior human spaceflight manager, Bill Gerstenmaier, this plan is everything (US VP Mike) Pence asked for—an urgent human return, a Moon base, a mix of existing and new contractors.
But the plan is currently missing two important components. According to the post:
It's not clear what role there would be on these charts for international partners, as nearly all of the vehicles could—and likely would—come from NASA or US based companies.  
Also missing is a discussion of the estimated total budget needed to fund the program.

As outlined in the May 20th, 2019 post, "NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers," much of the total cost will end up being dependent on the type of procurement methodologies the US uses to purchase the required vehicles and technologies.

But new money might not be easy to come by.

As outlined in the May 20th, 2019 Parabolic Arc post, "House Subcommittee Boosts NASA Budget, Ignores Supplemental Request," the US House of Representatives Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee has just approved a fiscal year 2020 NASA budget increase of $820Mln US ($1.1Bln CDN) over FY 2019.

The increase is far lower than the $1.6Bln US ($2.15Bln CDN) supplemental budget request from the Trump Administration that NASA says is required to land astronauts on the Lunar South Pole in 2024.

But it's also an initial negotiating position from only one of the many committees with input into the final deal. Over the next few months, we'll see if the US government can build out a useful consensus.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers

          By Henry Stewart

NASA has begun issuing contracts to US based companies to develop human rated lunar landers as part of US President Donald Trump's plan to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

In an effort to keep costs down and speed up program roll-out, the contracts will be based around "public/private partnership" procurement methodologies and not the "cost-plus" methodologies traditionally favored by NASA and other national space agencies, including Canada's.

As outlined in the May 16th, 2019 NASA press release, "NASA Taps 11 American Companies to Advance Human Lunar Landers," the new contracts were issued last week to eleven companies for preliminary design studies and the development of prototypes that "reduce schedule risk for the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system."

The awards total $45.5Mln US ($61Mln CDN) and "will help put American astronauts - the first woman and next man - on the Moon's south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028," according to the press release:
To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business. We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations," said Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters. 
"Our team is excited to get back to the Moon quickly as possible, and our public/private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process."
The awards were made under the NASA Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. The successful companies are required to contribute at least 20% of the total project cost of the contract.

To expedite the work, NASA will be invoking what they describe as "undefinitized" contract actions, which allow the agency to authorize partners to start on components of a larger project, while negotiations for the undefined project components continue in parallel.

The eleven companies receiving contracts are from eight states located across the US. They include:
  • Canoga Park CA based Aerojet Rocketdyne -  Awarded one contract for a transfer vehicle study.
  • Kent WA based Blue Origin - Awarded three contracts covering one descent element study, one transfer vehicle study and one transfer vehicle prototype.
  • Houston TX based Boeing - Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.
  • Huntsville AL based Dynetics -  Awarded six contracts covering one descent element study and five descent element prototypes.
  • Littleton CO based Lockheed Martin - Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study and one refueling element study.
  • Dulles VA based Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems -  Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.
  • Edison NJ based ORBITBeyond - Awarded two contracts covering two refueling element prototypes.
  • Louisville CO and Madison WI based Sierra Nevada Corporation - Awarded five contracts covering one descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype and one refueling element study.
  • Hawthorne CA based SpaceX - Awarded one contract covering one descent element study. 
  • Palo Alto CA based SSL - Awarded two contracts covering one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.

In April 2019, NASA notified US industry of its intention to partner with US based companies to develop an integrated lander.

The formal solicitation is expected to be issued sometime this summer, It's expected to provide a general overview of the requirements for a 2024 human landing, "and leave it to US industry to propose innovative concepts, hardware development and integration," according to the NASA press release.

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

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