Monday, December 12, 2011

Dancing with the Devil in the Pale Moonlight

Here's something you never used to come across, but could soon be noticing with increasing frequency.

Kjell Stakkestad. Photo c/o NASA/Paul E. Alers.
According to the December 12th, 2011 Postmedia News article "Aerospace: Dollars for space exploration have dried up south of the 49th parallel" an American company is coming to Canada to discuss possible joint space ventures with Canadian firms like MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and Com Dev International, to develop a plan which could potentially receive funding from Export Development Canada, a Canadian crown corporation wholly owned by the Government of Canada.

The article quotes Kjell Stakkestad, the president of Arizona based KinetX Inc., as stating that the American business climate is "killing our industry" and the only way to grow new business is to develop international contacts and cost sharing agreements independent of traditional US government sources of funding. He was in Montreal last week attending the Aéro Montréal, conference on aviation innovation.

Stakkestad certainly isn't the only American who thinks that the current American concerns and regulations are damaging to American industry.

The organizers of the recently concluded 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS2011) have begun to post the conference presentations and one of the most interesting is the keynote address on "U.S. competitiveness: Where do we stand what can we do?" by George Nield, the associate administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

He states unequivocally that, when it it comes to the satellite launch market:
If we look at the data to date, the situation today doesn't look too good, at least for the satellite launch market. 

Back in the 1980's, the U.S. had almost 100% of the commercial launch market. During the 5-year period from 1996-2000, we had 40% of the global market share. From 2001-2005, the U.S had fallen to 22% of the market. During the most recent 5-year period, from 2006-2010, we were down to 16% of the global market, significantly behind both Russia and Europe. Clearly, we no longer appear to be able to compete internationally, at least with our current launchers. 

Probably the biggest reason for this is cost, but there are also questions about being able to get a launch slot on the range, and the overall nature of the commercial customer experience, given the temptation for U.S. launch providers to focus on their primary government customers, NASA and the DoD.
He states that, while there is some cause for long-term optimism:
...for the next several years, we will be completely dependent on the Russians to take our astronauts to and from the Space Station. Although several companies are eager to show that they can do the job as part of the Commercial Crew Development Program, the limited amount of money that has been allocated to the program to date calls into question, at least for me, whether we are really serious about maintaining a robust U.S. human spaceflight capability.
The rest of the presentation is a sensible overview of the current US situation and analysis of several potential new markets expected to open up over the next few years. If Nield is correct in his overall assessment, we should be expecting quite a few more US companies to visit Canada over the next few years.

It's likely, they'll be looking for money.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page