Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Swiss Space Systems: Just "Fugget About It!"

          By Brian Orlotti

In a story reminiscent of HBO’s ‘The Sopranos,’ Swiss Space Systems (S3), a European space company that had partnered with the City of North Bay, ON to launch a mini-space shuttle, has gone bankrupt beneath a shroud of mystery.

A photo of "our Airbus A340 in its black livery," as posted on the S3 twitter feed (@swissspace) on October 14th, 2016. The plane was to be used as both a "vomit comet" zero-G astronaut training vehicle and as the first stage of the two stage SOAR reusable, suborbital spaceplane. Photo c/o @swissspace.

As outlined in the December 17th, 2016 Bay Today post, "Swiss Space Systems declared bankrupt," S3 was "trying to make space more accessible by creating low-cost, reusable satellite launchers and it also intended to offer zero-gravity flights from North Bay to the general public in 2017."

As outlined in the December 18th, 2016 Nugget.ca post, "S3 bankruptcy 'a surprise'" a court in the Swiss canton of Vaud had declared the company bankrupt last week. S3 has until December 23rd, 2016 to contest the judgement in court.

Here's what we know.

In 2014, S3 entered into a partnership with the City of North Bay and Canadore College which, as outlined in the June 30th, 2014 post, "Canadore College Testing New European Space Plane Design," was brokered by then North Bay Conservative MP Jay Aspin and Federal Industry Minister James Moore. The intent was to launch satellites and conduct zero-gravity tourism and suborbital cargo flights aboard the S3 designed SOAR spaceplane by 2017.

A reusable vehicle, SOAR was to have been launched from an Airbus A300 carrier aircraft and deploy micro and nano-satellites weighing up to 250 kg. SOAR was also to have been capable of both autonomous and crewed flight.

A series of drop tests of a SOAR mock-up at North Bay’s Jack Garland Airport in the same year had gone well, but the company has been silent ever since.

S3 CEO Jaussi in 2014. As outlined in the September 5th, 2016 Bilan Odyssee post, "Le patron de S3 sauvagement agressé," the local police were investigating his August 2016 assault, which likely occurred as a result of "industrial questions." Photo c/o Jean-Paul Guinnard.

Founded in Switzerland in 2012, S3 had shown an impressive pedigree, with over 50 employees drawn from industry, academia, and the military as well as an impressive global network of partners including Breitling, Thales Alenia Space, Dassault Aviation, Space Florida, the European Space Agency and Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

Signs of trouble first appeared in February 2016, when Canadore College announced that the SOAR’s zero-gravity flights would be postponed as S3 was facing financial issues.

Things then took a bizarre turn last August when S3’s CEO, Paul Jaussi was kidnapped by armed assailants and forced to drive into a Swiss forest. He was then beaten unconscious, doused in a flammable liquid, strangled and finally set on fire. Although Jaussi managed to regain consciousness and snuff out the flames, he still suffered severe burns to over 25 per cent of his body.

The coup de grace came on December 14th when a Swiss court declared S3 bankrupt.

The S3 debacle illustrates the risks inherent in a nation being dependent on foreign interests for space access.

Given Canada’s abundance of scientific and engineering talent and the rise of new space powers (such as India) who have developed their own space launch capabilities with far fewer resources than us, why has Canadian industry not risen to the challenge? Will Canadians continue living in the past while government space programs fade into history and companies like MDA exit Canada for new homes in the south?

Perhaps some Canadians need a Tony Soprano-style beating of their own to rouse from their stupor.
Brian Orlotti.

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

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