Thursday, August 16, 2018

Celebrities, Dreamers, Engineers and Opportunists on our Past, Present and Potential Space Future

          By Al Calder

Chris Hadfield, past astronaut and current space idol. Is he merely a musician from out of this world? Or does he have a point when, as outlined in the July 8th, 2018 Business Insider post, "Astronaut Chris Hadfield says we could have gone to Mars decades ago — here's why we haven't," he discussed our capacity to travel to Mars. 

As outlined on his Wikipedia record, Hadfield is the recipient of numerous awards and special honours. These include appointment to the Order of Ontario in 1996 and the Order of Canada in 2014, receipt of the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross.

"We could send people to Mars decades ago," Hadfield told Business Insider. "The technology that took us to the moon and back when I was just a kid — that technology can take us to Mars." However, "Hadfield noted that having the ability to go doesn't mean it'd be easy, safe, or worth the risk of human life — even considering new spacecraft."

"The majority of the astronauts that we send on those missions wouldn't make it," Hadfield said. "They'd die." But some wouldn't and perhaps that's the real problem.

According to Hadfield, the limits to current space exploration are dictated by use of chemical rockets which, while perfectly capable of traveling from the Earth's surface to orbit in a timely fashion, do not possess the ability to provide thrust for the days/weeks and/ or months at at time needed to get anywhere substancial in the solar system within a reasonable timeframe.

A slower spacecraft needs to be bigger and more complex to store the additional food and supplies needed for the journey. It also needs to deal with the known concerns such as the health risks associated with exposure to deep-space radiation and all those unknowns which, by definition, we currently don't know a lot about.

Altogether, there will be plenty of opportunities for catastrophe and death.

Hadfield might just be suggesting that space travel is currently so high profile, expensive and important to domestic and international perceptions, that no national space agency or government will risk leading a space mission likely to fail.


Of course, there are those, mostly from the private sector, who disagree with him. A few are even betting money on it.

Take Hawthorne CA based SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, for example. He has bet his public fortune and his reputation on a promise of being able to live out his final years in a well appointed Martian retirement community. He is perhaps the most noteworthy person to disagree with Hadfield. 

But Musk and Hadfield consider themselves practical and there is a reasonable argument to be made in both casesIt might be best to describe Musk as a dreamer/engineer. Who else would ever go? Hadfield has retired.

However, the Fortune 500 monied sorts are banking that quite a few would go, if allowed.

Dennis Muilenburg, the chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Chicago Il based Boeing, has even been quoted in the July 25th, 2018 The Street post, "Boeing's CEO Said He Will Beat Elon Musk's SpaceX to Mars: Rewind," as stating:
We are working jointly with NASA and building that first rocket space launch system. It's about 38 stories tall, the first story is being built right now. It has 9.2 million pounds of thrust on that rocket, it's the biggest rocket ever. We will begin test flights starting next year. 
I firmly believe that the first person to step foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket.
The Boeing launch system is more commonly known as a component of the US government funded Space Launch System (SLS), a shuttle-derived heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which has come in for more that its fair share of criticism.


The SLS is a high-priced traditionally engineered and run NASA program dedicated to the belief that no one should ever die in space and nothing should ever go wrong, just so long as all the Earth bound aerospace jobs in Huntsville, Al are preserved.

Naturally it costs far more than the SpaceX program and there is even some question over whether it will ever fly, since money doesn't grow on trees and risk can never be reduced to "absolute" zero. 

According to the August 3rd, 2018 NASA Spaceflight.com post, "Commercial Crew assignments; NASA nears goal of human space transport innovation," NASA has officially announced the flight assignments for the first crewed test and operational flights of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner crew transportation vehicles.  

For now, both teams seem to be progressing towards their first milestone, the ability to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

As outlined in the July 11th, 2018 NASA Commercial Crew Program update to the US Government Accountability (GAO) office under the title, "Plan Needed to Ensure Uninterrupted Access to the International Space Station," both Boeing and SpaceX are "making progress finalizing designs and building hardware for their crew transportation systems." 

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. As outlined in the November 15th, 2015 Spaceflight Insider post, "Aerojet Rocketdyne Signs Deal With Boeing to Provide CST-100 Propulsion System," the Starliner subcontracts out substancial portions of its capsule construction, unlike SpaceX, which prefers to make most components in house. Graphic c/o Boeing / Beyond Earth.

However, both contractors are also pushing back certification milestones needing to be achieved in order to move the program forward, although Boeing may be further behind, at least as outlined in the July 30th, 2018 NASA Spaceflight.com post, "ASAP reviews Boeing failure, positive SpaceX success ahead of Commercial Crew announcement." 

So here we are wondering if this is a contest to see who has the fastest car in the space race? Is this comparable to comparing the fastest race car to the fastest horse to the fastest space vehicle? 

According to Chris Hadfield:
"Burning chemical rockets is the equivalent of using a sailboat or a pedal boat to try and travel around the world. Someone has to invent something we haven't thought of yet, maybe the work that's going on with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the space station and in the particle accelerator in CERN and other places ... is going to show us how we can harness gravity. 
"It sounds outlandish, but we figured out how to harness electricity and what electrons do, and that seemed crazy, and it's revolutionized life and travel. So who knows?"
Meanwhile, Elon Musk dreams big of retiring on Mars while Dennis Muilenburg mostly just wants to get there first and make some money on the trip. 

Graphic c/o Space.com.

At least Hadfield has experience in space, having flown two space shuttle missions and serving as ISS commander before retiring in 2014. He's probably right when he said we've had the same technological motor capabilities for decades.

This isn’t leaps and bounds of innovation by any stretch of the imagination.

But maybe, just maybe, some of the celebrities, dreamers, engineers and opportunists currently interested in the idea are willing to give it a good go this time round.

Here's hoping.  
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Al Calder is VP of special projects for the Commercial Space Blog, where he creates events focused on space industry needs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An Overview of the Canadian Space Industry

          By Henry Stewart

Want an overview of the Canadian space industry and the public policy and political issues associated with it?

Then check out these freely available online publications from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Paris, France based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to the Space Economy at a Glance 2014, a "statistical overview of the global space sector and its contributions to economic activity," compliled by the OECD:
Canada has a well-developed space industry, including about 200 private companies, in addition to research institutions and universities, some of which have some commercial activities.
The ten biggest companies accounted for almost 88% of revenues and 64% of employment (Canadian Space Agency, 2013). Space manufacturing is mainly located in Ontario (more than half of the workforce) and in Quebec (19% of workforce). Some 7,993 people were employed in the space sector in 2012, an increase compared to 2011, with more than half defined as “highly” qualified’ (engineers, scientists and technicians). 
Total Canadian space sector revenues amounted in 2012 to $3.3Bln CDN, a 4.5% decrease as compared to 2011 (Canadian Space Agency, 2013). 
Satellite communications applications and services generated the largest revenue share, followed by the earth observation sector. The applications and services segment generated two thirds of total revenues...
Of course, the data used in the OECD publication had to come from somewhere and most of the OECD numbers were referenced from the 2012 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report, which was released in January 2014 by the CSA.

The 2012 CSA report was discussed in the January 24th, 2014 post, "Canadian Space Industry Shrinks While International Markets Grow!"

The latest CSA report is the 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector, which was released in July 2018 and discussed in the July 26, 2018 post, "Assessing the 2016 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report."

As discussed in that post, there has been a six year stagnation in Canadian space focused activities going back to 2010, which shows no signs of abating. In part, the stagnation reflects the international markets which also stagnated during that period, although the Canadian decline is generally considered more severe.

The key metrics and statistics used to measure the space sector by the CSA and others are explained in the OECD Handbook on Measuring the Space Economy.

Meant to be complementary to the Space Economy at a Glance report, both documents are updated every few years and available on the OECD website.

The CSA report on the "Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector," completed in March 2015 but only released in June 2016, was developed using OECD methodologies in an effort to "capture the economic argument for investment in space."

The report was discussed in the June 3rd 2016 post, "Canadian Space Agency Releases "Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector" and the June 12th, 2016 post, "A Quick Conversation with Euroconsult on the "Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of the Canadian Space Sector."

The OECD also covers the economic argument for the investment in space.

The OECD Space and Innovation Report, published on October 27th, 2016, notes that "after decades of innovation, satellites now play a discrete but pivotal role in the efficient functioning of modern societies and their economic development."

The report was compiled using data collected from the OECD Space Forum project on the state of innovation in the space sector, with a view to examine how space innovation may impact the larger economy. According to the paper:
New analysis and indicators contribute to answering some of the following questions: is the space sector still a driver for innovation in the 21st century? What are the determinants for an innovative space sector? And what are the policy responses to encourage and harness better space-related innovation? 
After becoming familiar with the publications described above, even the most casual of space geeks will possess a working knowledge of the public policy issues associated with the space industry.

And that's a good thing.

Knowledgeable people who understand the context and constraints under which existing policies were developed are dangerous, capable of bending the political process to their will and well able to build better policies.
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Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Stopping Satellite "Pwnage"

          By Brian Orlotti

A team of postgraduate researcher from Yale and Stanford Universities and the University of Colorado have urged the space industry to adopt a policy requiring the use of encryption on all cubesats and smallsats with onboard propulsion.

"From scytales in the year 700 BC to the first password, CAPTCHAs and literally unbreakable 258-bit encryption, take a walk with us through the history of encryption," says the introduction to this infographic. To see the complete infographic, simply click on this link. Graphic c/o Visually.

As outlined in the August 9th, 2018 Space News post, "'No encryption, no fly' rule proposed for smallsats," the team made their presentation at the recently concluded American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Annual Smallsat Conference, which was held from August 4th - 9th, in Logan, UT.

Their request comes at a time when multiple independent groups have demonstrated the vulnerability of various mobile platforms (aircraft, spacecraft, automobiles and drones) to hacking---with potentially disastrous results.

As part of their presentation, the researchers modelled several different propulsion systems on a hypothetical 10 kg nanosatellite in a 300-kilometer Earth orbit with propulsion systems accounting for half of the spacecraft’s mass.

The results ranged from the satellite reaching medium Earth orbit altitudes within two hours when using chemical propulsion to passing geostationary orbit in about a year with an electric propulsion system.

Cubesat builders, who once had few options available for onboard propulsion, now seek to make use of more advanced chemical and electric propulsion systems. These systems can provide smallsats with big boosts in velocity, which can enable rapid orbital changes.


The researchers were troubled by potential scenarios where hackers can take control of and quickly redirect satelites with unencrypted command and control systems. These compromised satellites could then be used to attack other satellites.

Government satellites, as well as many commercial ones, strongly encrypt their command signals to make hacking unlikely.

However, many satellites run by academic institutions have no such security, often due to funding or technical limitations.

To prevent such incidents, the researchers recommended that the space industry adopt a policy  requiring the use of encrypted command systems on small satellites, called  ‘no encryption, no fly.’ This policy could be enforced by launch providers or via contract provisions from satellite propulsion manufacturers.

History has proven that any system that can be hacked will be hacked, given time. Satellite encryption will prove all the more critical in the coming decades as multiple commsat constellations come online, more space-based construction takes place and private crewed orbital and suborbital flights increase.


Recent signs show the dangers of inactivity in this area.

As shown in the August 9th, 2018 Forbes post, "This Guy Hacked Hundreds Of Planes From The Ground," cybersecrity researcher Ruben Santamarta demonstrated how he spied on hundreds of commercial passenger aircraft during November and December of 2017 due to vulnerabilities in satellite communications equipment, i.e. antennas and modems.

Santamarta could monitor data being sent to and from the aircraft and, had he wished, access their onboard WiFi systems and passengers’ connected devices.

Luckily, the aircraft’s safety systems were inaccessible due to the way modern aircraft’s onboard networks are segmented. Santamarta has shared his data with the relevant airlines, satellite equipment vendors and government agencies and most (though not all) have patched the vulnerabilities. Santamarta also presented his findings at the prestigious 2018 Black Hat USA Conference, which was held in Los Vegas NV from August 4th - 9th.

New frontiers always bring new dangers, and space is no exception. All stakeholders will need to do their part to prevent the space industry from being ‘pwned.’
Brian Orlotti.
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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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