Monday, March 27, 2017

UrtheCast, 3D Printing for Space, AlbertaSat & More on Reusable Rockets

          By Henry Stewart

The week of March 27th, 2017 has certainly a busy week for news in the space industry. Given that, here are some of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

A view of East Vancouver, including the Port of Vancouver, as seen from space. Photo c/o Urthecast.

  • Vancouver, BC based Urthecast has scheduled its 2017 year end conference call for 4pm ET on the afternoon of March 28th, 2017. Hopefully, the company will provide some clarification on where it intends to spend the substantial amounts of money its been raising over the last little while. 
As outlined in the March 22nd, 2017 CNW press release, "UrtheCast Closes C$19.6 Million Offering of Common Shares," the company has just closed its previously-announced bought deal public offering of 13,033,341 common shares. These shares were issued at a price of $1.50 per share, for aggregate gross proceeds of $19,550,012Mln CDN.
Those funds are in addition to the $17.6Mln CDN windfall the Federal government provided earlier in March. 
As outlined in the March 14th, 2017 CBC News post, "Vancouver's UrtheCast gets $17.6M from feds for Earth observation technology," the Federal funding, provided under the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI), will be used to develop "patented, cutting-edge technology" to be used in equip "a group of satellites for Earth observation and to make the high-resolution images easier for its customers to use."
The 3D printed spacecraft antenna interface bracket. Photo c/o

As outlined in the March 24th, 2017 post, "Thanks to a Group Effort, 3D Printed Satellite Bracket Will Soon Go to Space," the bracket, funded by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) under its Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) along with contributions from the Canada Makes’ Metal Additive Manufacturing Demonstration Program, still needs to be tested structurally in order to qualify to fly.
While Canada is a latecomer to the benefits of 3D printing, the technology has become very popular among international aerospace companies because of the cost savings, durability and quick turn around time. 
As outlined in the post, "satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral (an MDA subsidiary) kept costs and part mass down by using additive manufacturing to design the JCSAT-110A antenna tower, Poland’s first commercial satellite was created with a 3D printed housing and Boeing recently started to implement additive manufacturing into satellite production."
Even NASA has taken note. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2015 post, "Aerojet Rocketdyne completes first 3D printed parts for Orion spacecraft," 3D printing technology is being used in a number of important NASA spacecraft.
The ex-Alta 1. Graphic c/o AlbertaSat.
  • There's no official word on when its going to launch, but when it does (and that could happen as early as Thursday), the University of Alberta (UofA) AlbertaSat 1 (ex-Alta 1), "will be propelling the province into the space industry by launching the first ever made-in-Alberta satellite."
As outlined in the March 21st, 2017 Satnews post, "University of Alberta's Ex-Alta 1 Smallsat to Dig Into Space Weather," the satellite, "is part of a newer generation of technologies that puts space exploration and research within reach of students and smaller startup companies."
Ex-Alta 1 is part of the international QB50 mission of about 50 smallsats built at universities around the world. The Albertan satellite will examine will space weather and attempt to better understand the powerful forces that pose a threat to spacecraft and other satellites as well as vital power and electronic networks on Earth.
According to the article, a group of senior students involved with the project have created their own spinoff company, Promethean Labs, in order to offer expertise to clients in government and industry to commercialize the lessons learned from the project.
Landing a rocket properly, ready for refueling and reuse. "as God and John W. Campbell intended." Photo of the SpaceX' Falcon-9 historic first landing on an ocean barge on April 8th, 2016. Photo c/o SpaceX.
  • Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos aren't the only ones considering reusable rockets. 
As outlined in the March 23rd, 2017 Space Daily post, "Russia, China could cooperate on developing reusable rockets," the South China Morning Post has reported that China "is developing a rocket whose first stage will be designed to be reusable. Such a rocket will be capable of competing with the rocket designed by Elon Musks's SpaceX."
The article quoted Russian military expert Vasily Kashin as stating that, "the development of space carriers with returned stages is now considered as the most important direction for reducing costs of launching spacecraft into the orbit."
The article goes on to state that China should co-operate with Russia, which began work on reusable rockets in mid-2016. 
As outlined in the January 21st, 2016 Space News post, "French government commissions report on rocket reuse, competitiveness," other countries such as France have also been working to ramp up reusable rocket programs.
For more, check out future posts in the Commercial Space blog.

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

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