Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Proposed New Hypersonic Flight Test Bed from Stratolaunch Systems

          By Brian Orlotti

Seattle WA based Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the aerospace firm founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has announced that it is exploring the development of a series of rocket planes that would serve as a testbed for hypersonic flight.

As outlined in the September 20th, 2018 Geek Wire post, "Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems lays out a roadmap for hypersonic rocket planes," Stratolaunch senior technical fellow for hypersonics Stephen Corda presented a concept study detailing a delta-wing uncrewed testbed aircraft called Hyper-Z at the 22nd American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) International Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies conference, which was held on September 19th - 22nd in Orlando FL.

Called the Hyper-Z, the proposed rocket plane would feature a hydrogen-fueled rocket engine as its main propulsion system, but could also be equipped with an air-breathing engine, such as a scram-jet. The craft could achieve a maximum speed of Mach 11, or a maximum altitude of 477,000 feet.

Hyper-Z would be launched from Stratolaunch, the company’s massive twin-fuselage carrier aircraft, currently the world’s largest with a wingspan of 385 feet. The Stratolaunch is presently undergoing ground tests at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, with its maiden test flight expected within the next few months.

Stratolaunch made its public debut in December 2011. The company was founded by American business magnate Paul G. Allen and Mojave CA based Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan, who had previously collaborated on the creation of SpaceShipOne.

The company hopes that the Hyper-Z will make hypersonic flight accessible to universities small business, and other interested parties. The craft would serve as the first in a line of rocket-powered vehicles, including a crewed orbital space plane that the company has dubbed ‘Black Ice.’

Though Stratolaunch has not made a formal decision to build the Hyper-Z nor given a timeline, the path is being prepared with the proposed building of a subscale version called Hyper-A. This precursor vehicle would be slightly bigger than the US Air Force’s Boeing-built X-51 Waverider aircraft, which made a record-setting hypersonic flight in 2013. The Hyper-A is designed to fly beyond Mach 6 and could potentially reach Mach 7.7.

Stratolaunch has already performed low-speed wind tunnel tests of the Hyper-Z design, and high-speed wind tunnel tests are to begin this fall. While no timeline has been given for Hyper-Z’s development, the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft is expected to require 1.5 to 2 years of flight testing before becoming operational. This would mean no flights of the Hyper-A could take place before 2020.

Hypersonic flight holds the civilian promise of vastly reduced global flight times as well as cheaper space launches, but will have substantial military applications as well and the program will likely need to receive initial funding from military sources.

Should Stratolaunch scrape together enough money to proceed with the Hyper-Z, both civilian and military requirements will need to be met.
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.

Monday, September 24, 2018

With Stock Prices Rising, A New Board, New CEO and Secured Funding, UrtheCast Might Be Moving Forward

          By Chuck Black

Vancouver BC based UrtheCast is moving quickly to make up for lost time and (hopefully) remind the country that the private sector can also fund and execute complex space focused projects.

According to the January 3rd, 2018 Cantech Letter post, "Urthecast has 264% upside, Clarus Securities says," the stock market was betting big on UrtheCast. But in March 2018, its stock fell through the floor, loosing almost half its value on March 8th (from $0.98 CDN to $0.55CDN) and slowly dropping under $0.30 CDN per share over the next several months. As outlined in the June 26th, 2018 post, "UrtheCast Shareholders Endorse the New Board," the new board and CEO, ex-MDA president Don Osborne, are hoping to generate a turn around, or at least some signs of life, before the next financial reporting period, sometime this fall. Graphic c/o UrtheCast.

As outlined in the September 20th, 2018 UrtheCast press release, "UrtheCast Announces the Signing of New US$25M Contract for UrtheDaily Constellation," UrtheCast:
...has signed a binding contract for $25Mln US ($32.5Mln CDN) to provide data from the Company's planned UrtheDaily™ Constellation to a long-established commercial Earth observation operator and value-added services provider on the Indian subcontinent. The contract will provide UrtheCast US$5Mln ($6.5Mln CDN) annually over the first five years of UrtheDaily™ operations...
This latest contract, when added to revenue acquired from the acquisition of the North Vancouver BC based Geosys Technology in August 2018, is expected to bring UrtheCast's total contracted revenue backlog to over $300Mln CDN, according to the press release.

And, while $300Mln doesn't compare to the billions of dollars of backlog commonly reported by large telecom companies like Ottawa ON based Telesat or Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies, its a good start.

As outlined in the August 2nd, 2018 Ottawa Business Journal post, "Ottawa-based Telesat adds new contracts amid disappointing Q2," Telesat reported a $3.8Bln CDN backlog for its most recent quarter. As outlined in the July 31st, 2018 Maxar press release, "Maxar Technologies reports second quarter 2018 results, declares quarterly dividend," Maxar reported a backlog of $3.05Bln US ($3.95Mln CDN) as of June 30th, 2018.

Revenue backlog is the value of contracted revenue that has yet to be recognized. Its a useful measurement of the future strength of a company.

The three revenue generation windows for Urthecast as per the January 9th, 2018 Seeking Alpha post, "UrtheCast: 3 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back," which stated that "UrtheCast has steadily improved its business stability throughout its corporate history," and praised the 2015 UrtheCast purchase of Boecillo Spain based Deimos Imaging. As outlined on the UrtheCast website, the UrtheDaily Constellation is a planned "global coverage constellation aiming to acquire high-quality, multispectral imagery, at 5-m GSD, taken at the same time, from the same altitude every day." As outlined on Gunter's Space page listing for Urthedaily, the constellation, "planned for launch in 2020, will be capable of scientific-grade quality, multispectral imagery, high-resolution, targeted specifically at geoanalytics applications. The satellites have a 5 m ground resolution with a 360 km swath width." Graphic c/o Seeking Alpha.

In anticipation of the new order, UrtheCast stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) rose substantially last week.

As outlined in the September 22nd, 2018 Press Oracle post, "UrtheCast (UR) Shares Up 43.8%," UrtheCast stock prices:
...shot up 43.8% during trading on Thursday (September 20th). The company traded as high as 0.23 CDN and last traded at $0.23 CDN. 
523,490 shares traded hands during mid-day trading, an increase of 20% from the average session volume of 436,979 shares. The stock had previously closed at $0.16 CDN...
The stock price eventually settled down at $0.20 CDN per share, up from $0.16 CDN, where it currently seems to be hovering.

As outlined in the June 26th, 2018  post, "UrtheCast Shareholders Endorse the New Board," the company has recently approved a new board and a new CEO. The appointments were considered by the broader investment community to be "a vote of confidence" on UrtheCast's future prospects, according to sources.

The next formal quarterly investor report is expected in November.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Update on the Maxar/MDA Billion Dollar Campaign for Next-Gen Canadarm Funding

          By Henry Stewart

Brampton ON based MDA Space Missions (a subsidiary of Westminster, CO based Maxar Technologies) is moving forward with its controversial campaign to lobby the Federal government to provide up to $2Bln CDN over a period of up to twenty years to fund a "third-generation Canadarm" for NASA's planned Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G).

The campaign, currently being pushed by Maxar/MDA with the assistance of senior members of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada (AIAC) space committee and others, is wrapped around a suggestion that funding a new Canadarm would insure Canadian astronaut access to the LOP-G in much the same way the the earlier generations of Canadarms provided Canada's entrance fee into the International Space Station (ISS).

A subtext of the main plan seems to be that funding a major, international program would also re-establish Canada's traditional role as a player in the international space industry. New opportunities (such as on-orbit satellite servicing) would then open up for Canada, which would once again have the luxury of picking and choosing programs which could be crafted into a functioning and workable "long-term space plan."

The first problem with that strategy is that long-term space plans, beginning with the first one, "Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada by J.H. Chapman, P.A. Forsyth, P.A. Lapp and G.N. Patterson, which was written in 1967, have traditionally been focused around domestic concerns, not international opportunities.

The second problem, as outlined in the September 18th, 2018 post, "Colorado Based Maxar/MDA Asking for $1-2Bln to Build Another Canadarm for the US LOP-G," is the publicly perceived pressure being quietly placed on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government by Maxar/MDA, NASA and the US to announce support for the LOP-G and funding for another Canadarm program as quickly as possible. The pressure for an immediate solution makes it difficult to properly assess the costs and benefits of the proposal.

The third problem is that most of the money initially allocated for the LOP-G goes to Maxar/MDA which has promised a wonderful, but surprisingly vague, future of "unicorns and rainbows" for all organizations willing to support its plan. This promise doesn't sit well with many Maxar/MDA supporters who would like a little more detail on how all that new Federal funding will help to build out a "balanced program," where everyone receives a fair share of the Federal pie. 

The fourth problem with this strategy is that no real Canadian work on a "next generation Canadarm" has been undertaken in Canada since 2013 when the last large chunk of Federal funding for the program ran out. Five years is a long time in robotics.

Now that the general interest presentation kicking off the "Don't Let Go Canada" campaign is out of the way, the focus has changed to more business and political focused arenas.

On Tuesday, September 25th, 2018, MDA group president Mike Greenley and business manager Holly Johnson will be giving a presentation on "Securing Canada’s Place in Space," in Ottawa ON. The presentation will launch the Canadian Club of Ottawa's fall season.

On Tuesday, October 16th, 2018, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute will be presenting a full day event titled, "Ready for Launch: Preparing Canada for a Future in Space." The event will also take place in Ottawa ON, which will make it really convenient for all those politicians which Maxar/MDA are hoping will attend.

Speakers include Greenley, former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Mac Evans, Federal transport minister, ex-astronaut and ex-CSA head Marc Garneau (who will serve as keynote speaker), Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg, Honeywell Aerospace senior director of space payloads Marina Mississian, current CSA head Sylvain Laporte, Space Advisory Board (SAB) chair Lucy Stojak and quite a number of others.
Editors Note: It looks like the Federal government SAB website has gone offline. Here's hoping that the loss of the public access to the information collected by the SAB during its deliberations last spring is an accident and not a political statement on what the Federal Liberal government thinks of current SAB efforts.
Of course and as outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," it's well known that the SAB doesn't think all that highly of the government. 
That's part of the reason why SAB members are involved in the current Maxar/MDA effort and maybe those feelings are mutual. As always, we'll update this story as new information becomes available.
September 21st, 2018 Editors Note: Looks like the SAB website is back online but at a new location. It's now at http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/082.nsf/eng/h_03983.html. It used to be at the slightly different http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ad-ad.nsf/eng/h_ad03983.html.
The future of the the Federal Space Advisory Board (shown here with innovation minister Navdeep Bains in February 2018, just before the 2018 Canadian Federal budget was announced) seemed a lot sharper when this photo was taken than it does today. Photo c/o Canadian Space Society.
Meanwhile, back on Parliment Hill the budget process will continue and will culminate sometime around March 2019, when the next Federal budget will be released.

While Maxar/MDA hasn't been called to present in person during the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the 2019 Federal Budget, that doesn't necessarily mean that any final decision has been made.

Stand by for adventure.

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

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