Friday, March 29, 2019

An Aggressive, Achievable Plan Requiring Lots of Money to Accomplish

          By Henry Stewart

American experts and industry suppliers are slowly chiming in on US Vice President Mike Pence's aggressive demand that the US commit to placing "boots on the Moon" by 2024. The emerging consensus is that the goal is achievable, but difficult and will "require concerted effort by NASA, the White House, and the Office of Management and Budget."

As outlined in the March 28th, 2019 post, "Can NASA Really Put Astronauts on the Moon in 2024?," Pence has instructed NASA to put US astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024, four years earlier than previously planned.

The article noted that representatives from Denver CO based Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the prime contractor for the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle (Orion MPCV), have indicated that:
... the company could build a crewed lunar lander relatively quickly, by leveraging technologies developed for Orion. This lander could touch down by 2024, provided it departs from an "early version" of the (Lunar) Gateway, the moon-orbiting space station that NASA plans to start building in 2022 as a fulcrum for landing operations.
The article also quoted Brian Weeden, the director of program planning at the Washington DC based Secure World Foundation, a private operating foundation that promotes cooperative solutions for space sustainability and the peaceful uses of outer space.

According to Wheedon, "The question has always been politics."
Historically, Congress and the White House tend to pull NASA in different directions, he explained, and the agency doesn't have enough money to do all that it's asked to do.
Any increase in the tempo of the construction of the NASA led Lunar Gateway could also effect the Canadian Federal government's recent commitment of $1.9Bln CDN in funding for a 3rd generation Canadarm for the Gateway.

As outlined in the March 20th, 2019 "Special Report on the 2019 Federal Budget," the funding for the new Canadarm doesn't really start to kick in until the 2020-2021 budget period. It might need to be re-allocated or pushed forward in order to effectively contribute to the now modified, US initiative.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2019

If NASA is Putting US Boots on the Moon by 2024, Who Will Pay for the Lunar Gateway and Space Launch System?

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that very few large government or private sector organizations ever announce new initiatives unless they're having trouble raising enough money to build the consensus needed for the previous plan.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just the way the world works.

It's also worth noting that, in Canada at least, our space program has recently tied its future to approximately $2Bln CDN of new funding over the next twenty-four years to construct an AI turbocharged next generation Canadarm for the NASA led Lunar Gateway.

The Gateway is one of two major US programs which could very well end up delayed or on the chopping block to fund this latest, boots on the Moon, US initiative. Or worse, each individual program could continue but no single program would ever receive enough of a budget to ever accomplish something.

That would be kinda like how things are now.

US President Trump. Photo c/o Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.
As outlined in the March 27th, 2019 Forbes post, "'Get Americans On The Moon In 5 Years' - VP Mike Pence Challenges NASA," the US VP called for "American astronauts to be back on the Moon within the next five years," during a speech at the Huntsville AL based US Space and Rocket Center, a space focused museum operated by the government of Alabama on Tuesday.

According to the post:
Pence said that NASA should be getting boots on the ground at the Moon’s South Pole “by any means necessary”. 
“It is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years,” he said. “The first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil.”
Pence even suggested that the US astronauts should land near the Moon's south pole, which would make it easier to explore for water and the other astronaut consumables needed to set up permanent facilities.

But without an approved FY 2019 funding package the US VP is only using his political capital and public speaking skills to put together the consensus needed to either approve or change the existing FY 2019 NASA budget request into something which can be approved.

Given that, his announcement should be taken with a grain of salt. Only when the final NASA budget is approved will anyone have any real idea of what NASA will be doing this year.

And then next year, everyone starts over.

It's hard to defund or wind-down a Federal government program once its been rolled-out. As outlined in the March 14th, 2019 post, "NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is Officially in Trouble," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine promised, earlier this month, to investigate replacing the very expensive and terribly behind schedule first orbital launch of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) with two, far less expensive, already operational rockets supplied by commercial launch providers. But, as noted in the March 15th, 2019 post, "Bridenstine Reassures SLS/Orion Workforce That They're Still Needed," the NASA Administrator began backtracking on his statements the very next day. Just over a week later, as noted in the March 26th, 2019 post, "Commercial Alternatives to SLS for EM-1 Rejected," things were back to normal and the SLS program was back on track. Whether or not the now back-to-normal program ever accomplishes anything substantive is another question entirely. Graphic c/o SpacePolicyOnline.

Other commentators have also noted that this latest of many hard turns in space policy is still tentative and mostly unsustainable without consensus and new funding. For example, and as outlined in the March 28th, 2019 The Atlantic post, "Why Trump Wants to Go to the Moon So Badly," NASA:
... received far more funding in the Apollo days than it does now; at the moon program’s peak, the agency’s annual budget accounted for more than 4 percent of federal spending. It’s less than half a percent today. NASA has poured plenty into exploration efforts in the past several decades, but one president’s policies usually get yanked back by the next. Little gets done in the meantime. 
The latest NASA budget, $21.5Bln US ($29Mln CDN), is the largest in years. But the Trump administration had requested $19.9Bln US ($27Mln CDN), and it was Congress, the final arbiter on funding, who added the extra cash. And in its request for next year’s allocation, the administration actually proposed scaling back funding.
Others are far more cynical. As outlined in the March 27th, 2019 Popular Mechanics post, "Not Going Back to the Moon: A Brief Timeline," VP Pence has:
...become the face of the Trump Administration's mission to put US boots back on the moon, and beyond. Last fall, NASA released a roadmap of its new new plan for returning to the lunar surface via the Lunar Gateway, a space station to be built in orbit around the moon. But that timeline wouldn't put Americans there until 2028. 
At yesterday's (the Tuesday, March 26th, 2019) Space Council meeting, Pence declared that 2028 is not soon enough. He demanded NASA return to the moon by 2024—perhaps not coincidentally, the final year of a theoretical two-term Trump Administration—and said that if NASA couldn't do the job, the Executive Branch would find somebody in the private sector who could.
The Popular Mechanics post also noted a series of policy changes and reversals which related to space and went back to the Bush presidency. Most of the current US plans for the future go back to that period and while some of the programs have changed their names over the part twenty years, most of the same technology is still on the same drawing boards and being promoted in much the same way by many of the same engineers and politicians.

The only real change over the last twenty years has come from the way NASA has contracted out some of its smaller programs.

The reference to "private sector" providers is a veiled reference to the various corporations which grew out of the NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. CCDev used what, for NASA at least, was considered to be an innovative series of public/private partnerships and procurement contracts to fund and build low-cost space technology.

The capacity developed through the CCDev program is likely almost ready to compete with NASA's legacy programs, such as the SLS and the Lunar Gateway. Hawthorne CA based SpaceX and it's mercurial CEO Elon Musk is already "bending metal" on privately funded technology intended to colonize Mars.

Over the next few years, this new tech will begin to wag the legacy dog.

Of course, none of this is going to help Canada's space industry. We've strapped our space future to an expensive legacy Lunar Gateway controlled by the Americans over which we have no real input. The program will live, die or end up on life support depending on US domestic policy concerns which have nothing to do with Canadian issues.

Maybe we'll take a page from the Americans and start changing the plan after every budget. Stranger things have happened and it sure would confuse the Americans!
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Short History of Canada's Military Space Policy and How it Fits into the Current US Space Force Discussions

Part 6: Future War, Micro-Sats Controlled by AI "BattleStars" Supported by Fast Launching, Hypersonic Transports and Space Based Solar Power

         By Chuck Black
This series of posts is attempting to answer some of the questions surrounding the appropriate Canadian response to the recently announced US plan to create an expanded United States Space Force. 
Part one ("The Axworthy Doctrine") focused on how the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's led to a new Canadian focus on aggressive, international peacekeeping missions requiring space focused communication and surveillance capabilities of a type which Canada didn't then possess.
Part two ("The Changing Political Landscape") discussed why Canada never had a military space policy prior to 1998 by going back to the 1960's and the federal liberal party under Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. 
Part three ("Towards Northern Sovereignty") dealt with the changing focus of Canadian foreign policy from international peacekeeping towards northern sovereignty, a policy developed in the 1990's under then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien which also required a substantial space-focused component, and what happened when the Canadian government realized that it still didn't possess those capabilities.
Part four ("Funding an Appropriate Force") and part five ("The Current Liberal Government") outlined the attempts of former Conservative Prime Prime  Minister Stephen Harper and current Canadian Prime Mister Justin Trudeau to address the situation.
Here is the conclusion of this series. 

Now that we know a little more about Canadian military capabilities and policy requirements, it's worth taking a look at the essence of the fast developing US "space force" and discussing where Canada could legitimately fit in. Hopefully, we'll fit somewhere.

For an overview of the future US space force, it's worthwhile revisiting a book first discussed in the April 2nd, 2018 post, "What George Friedman's 2009 Book "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the Next Century" Said About Space."

George Friedman, who wrote the 2009 book "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the Next Century" is the founder and chairman of Austin TX based Geopolitical Futures, an "online publication focused around analyzing and forecasting global events."

Prior to founding Geopolitical Futures in 2015, Friedman was chairman of Austin TX based Stratfor, a private intelligence publishing and consulting firm he founded with Meredith Friedman and Matthew Baker in 1996.

He is a well regarded researcher of political issues, new technologies and future possibilities with some seriously close connections to the US government, intelligence and military communities.

In his book, Friedman postulated a near future beginning in the 2040's where many nations have secretly placed weapons, surveillance and communications satellites in orbit to support various national defence activities, often in violation of signed treaties specifically forbidding such actions.

Popular movies and books have already explored this possibility. It's naive to expect the military not to have done the same.

Friedman also suggested that the next generation of huge, low Earth orbiting micro-satellite constellations will create a new era where the US can inspect and communicate with every square foot of the Earth, on land and sea at anytime.

Which makes it pretty easy to remove most of the fog of war from any future battlefield. Several hundred smaller, low-cost Earth imaging satellites parked in low-Earth orbit more effectively and at a lower cost than three or four larger satellites located in higher orbits.

The new constellations are expected to give a tremendous advantage to US combat forces in much the same way as an earlier generation of global positioning satellites (GPS) gave the advantage to US troops during the 1990 Gulf war.

The constellations will be supported and controlled by larger installations Friedman called "BattleStars" which will be both human crewed and unmanned and located on the Earth, the Moon and in orbit.

But the individual satellites in the constellations will be vulnerable to first strikes and will therefore need to be defended using both Earth and space based weaponry. Destroyed components of the constellation will be quickly replaced using the new generation of fast launching rockets currently being developed.

An example of launch on demand capabilities being developed today would be the February 12th, 2019 Geekwire post, "DARPA is zeroing in on Launch Challenge," which discussed the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Launch Challenge, a competition with a $10Mln US ($13.4Mln CDN) grand prize "aimed at boosting America’s rapid-response launch capabilities."

As noted most recently in the March 23rd, 2019 SpaceFlightNow post, "Rocket Lab readies for launch with U.S. military satellite," the US military is also experimenting with smaller satellites able to be prepared quickly for launch on the smaller rockets.

But perhaps the most unique component of Friedman's book is the use of space solar power satellites to support the power requirements of terrestrial forces during combat operations..

As outlined in the March 16th, 2009 Power and Energy Solutions post, "Solar: the military’s secret weapon," a report released in 2008 by the (US) National Security Space Office recommended that "the US government sponsor projects to demonstrate solar-power-generating satellites and provide financial incentives for further private development of the technology."

Graphic c/o PES.
The ability to beam power through the atmosphere whenever needed would also bolster the case for a hyper-sonic delivery systems or transport (perhaps based around the Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two, which is well designed for the purpose), which can travel lighter if they don't need to carry large power generators.

A hypersonic transport could move both weapons and soldiers around the world quickly enough to take advantage of the data provided by the next generation of low Earth orbiting micro-satellites mentioned earlier in this post.

Taken together, the new technologies would revolutionize the battlefield of the future in much the same way as the US global positioning system (GPS) revolutionized combat in the early 2000's and the aircraft carrier revolutionized combat in World War 2.

The new tools are also expected to cost far less than conventional technologies while almost totally superseding the current generation of combat aircraft, missiles , shipping and armored vehicles by 2040.

The older technology ("boots on the ground" and ships at sea) would still be required to hold and control territory, but the proposed newer tools would serve an an effective deterrent, able to break up enemy attacks once begun and allowing almost total control over the battlefield environment.

So where does that leave Canada? Right now we're committed to spending $60Bln plus CDN to replace an older generation of technology with only slightly better versions of the same aircraft, ships and combat vehicles currently in service.

Both the existing forces and their expected upgrades are the sort of equipment the new space focused technology advocated by Friedman was explicitly designed to overwhelm in combat.

Certainly nothing in the current list of procurement priorities will defend against a "BattleStar" or protect against raids by hypersonic transports fully aware of every square metre of a future battlefield.

Except for some work with satellite constellations and AI, the Canadian government hasn't committed much of the new funding allocated in 2017 to the new technologies.

The pride of Canada's space assets, the upcoming $1Bln CDN Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) is based on 1990's era technology, contains only three satellites (which makes it difficult to provide real-time intelligence over the entire Earth) and would takes years of effort and another billion dollars to replace if some or all of the three satellites were lost or destroyed.

Besides, as outlined in the March 13th, 2019 Forbes post, "Delayed Satellite Radar Mission Bucks The Smallsat Trend," RCM is perceived of as being too technologically complex to distribute over a larger amount of smaller satellites, an assessment obviously not shared by the US.

Lloyd Axworthy in the 1990's. Graphic c/o Graeme Mackay.
While Canada dithers, the US is investing in new weaponry focused around Earth imaging and communications focused micro-satellites controlled by armed AI "BattleStars" supported by fast launching, hypersonic transports and orbiting space based solar power installations.

It's a far more complex mission than RCM, but the US doesn't consider the mission to be too complex.

It's a good thing we're not expected to ever go to war against the US. They'd whup us. They'd whup us good.

Thank god we can at least plug into their systems and borrow their equipment.

As noted in the August 10th, 2009 Space Review post, "The age of the great battlestars," the US Air Force Academy’s Class of 2013 began Basic Cadet Training in 2009.
Why is this significant to the readers of The Space Review? 
Because according to George Friedman in his book The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, in 2045, one of them may well be a major general of US space forces—and will be killed in orbit.
As for Canada, we won't even be in the fight. Perhaps we need to return to where we started this discussion.

As outlined originally in the January 21th, 2019 post on "Part 1, The Axworthy Doctrine" which began this series, we need to begin with something called the "1994 Canadian White Paper on Defence," which suggested that Canada needed an alternative to the existing policy of simply buying more of the same stuff that it had always purchased.

Twenty-five years later, that's still the situation we find ourselves in today. Some things never change. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Last episode: "The Current Liberal Government," as part five of "A Short History of Canada's Military Space Policy and How it Fits into the Current US Space Force Discussions," continues.

To Start at the Beginning,  check out part one, "The Axworthy Doctrine," in "A Short History of Canada's Military Space Policy and How it Fits into the Current US Space Force Discussions."

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Rocket Crafters Developing 3D Printed Rocket Fuel for its Hybrid Engine

          By Brian Orlotti

Cocoa FL based space startup Rocket Crafters Inc., has patented a new method of 3d printing rocket fuel and is seeking new funding to commercialize its technology.

Founded in a garage in Cocoa, Florida some 15 miles from Kennedy Space Centre, Rocket Crafters is led by former astronaut Sid Gutierrez, its chairman, and US Air Force veteran Rob Fabian, its president.

In 2017, Rocket Crafters was granted a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test its patented hybrid rocket engine, which combines a 3D-printed solid plastic fuel with liquid nitrous oxide during ignition. This contrasts with traditional rocket engines that mix a liquid fuel and oxidizer.

The fuel, of the same type of plastic used in Lego bricks, is printed as a long horizontal core. The company found that 3D printing the fuel in a linear form reduces imperfections in the plastic, making for a more efficient, predictable burn.

Linear fuel cores were also found to faster to print than the previously used cylindrical forms. Also, Rocket Crafters found that adding aluminum to the plastic fuel further increased burn efficiency. The company is targeting its engine towards the small satellite launch market.

In late 2018, however, the company pivoted to patenting its 3D-printing process for fuel after co-founder Ronald Jones left the company and took his patents to form a new company, the Indialantic, FL based Firehawk Aerospace.

Advocates of hybrid rocket engines claim they are far safer than traditional ones because they eliminate the risk of a catastrophic explosion. The two components of a hybrid system cannot ignite except at very high temperatures. Rocket Crafters argues that hybrid engines would require less airspace to be closed during a launch since there would be zero risk of a large explosion.

Despite the rosy picture of hybrid engines painted by Rocket Crafters, the company has also admitted that hybrids in general have had a history of issues with unpredictable thrust and excessive vibration.

Rocket Crafters is currently in a Series A round of venture capital fundraising, with a goal of $5.7Mln US ($7.6Mln CDN).

The company is also in discussions with Exploration Park FL based Space Florida, the state’s space marketing and economic development agency. In addition to engine development, the company also seeks to build a new office and production facility. Rocket Crafters has scheduled its first test flight for this fall at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Hybrid rocket engines have the potential to make much safer launch vehicles, despite their developmental issues. As the commercial industry expands and matures, all new avenues of technology must be explored to maintain its momentum.
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.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Mars 2020 Rover is About to Go Over Budget

          By Henry Stewart

NASA's current flagship robotics mission, the $2.46Bln US ($3.29Bln CDN) Mars 2020 rover, is "following the pattern of its predecessors and seeing its cost rise because of technical issues."

As outlined in the March 18th, 2019 Science post, "Cost of Mars 2020 mission may rise by up to 15%," the mission’s cost will increase by "no more than 15%" according to Lori Glade, NASA’s acting director of planetary science.

That's still a sizable sum and will take money away from other NASA missions. Cost growth above the 15% threshold would also trigger requirements for US Congressional notification and mission modifications, according to a plan put in place by NASA in 2016 intended to limit cost overruns.

As outlined in the March 19th, 2019 Space News post, "NASA dealing with cost growth on planetary science flagship missions," there had been "widespread rumors in the planetary science community that Mars 2020 was facing cost overruns."

According to the article:
The agency said problems with two instruments, the planetary instrument for x-ray lithochemistry and scanning habitable environments with raman and luminescence for organics and chemicals, as well as rover’s system for caching samples that will be returned to Earth by future missions, contributed to the cost growth.

Mars 2020 is part of a larger NASA multi-mission plan to collect Martian rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth. Any cost overruns and delays in the Mars 2020 mission will likely also impact and delay the anticipated follow-on missions.

As outlined in the December 4th, 2018 Don't Let Go Canada post, "Canadian-Based Company Selected to Design Next-Generation Mars Rover," Brampton ON based MDA Space Systems will have the opportunity to contribute to the follow-on programs.

The Mars 2020 rover is currently scheduled to launch on in July 2020, and touch down in Jezero crater on Mars in February 2021.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Space Focused Overview of the 2019 Federal Budget is Now Available Online

          By Chuck Black

It's a little bit late (it was posted 1am EST last night) and it's got a few typo's and glitches (which we're hoping to correct for next time) but the March 20th, 2019 Commercial Space blog "Special Report" on "A Space Focused Overview of the 2019 Federal Budget" is now available online.

The report also contains an overview of the last three Federal budgets and how those documents effected the Canadian space industry, an overview of recent press releases from corporations and industry groups reacting to the latest budget and links to primary source materials.

It's important for independent journalists to hold governments to account and provide context for government decisions and current events. If you'd like to learn more about how you can assist with this, please contact me at
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

We'll Release a "Special Report" on the 2019 Federal Budget on Wednesday, March 20th

Finance Minister Bill Morneau will formally release his fourth Federal Budget to the Canadian House of Commons just after 4pm EST today.

This blog is compiling a "Special Report" on what the new budget means for Canada's space industry. It will be e-mailed directly to Commercial Space blog subscribers on Wednesday, March 20th, 2019.

If you're not a subscriber who already receives our regular Tuesday and Friday coverage and wish to receive a free subscription, please check out the "Subscribe to this Blog" section on the Commercial Space blog website.

Finance Minister Morneau in the House of Commons. Photo c/o Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick.

As outlined in the March 17th, 2019 National Post article, "Morneau seen delivering a stimulus-filled budget ahead of the election," Canada’s ruling Liberals "are expected to table a goody-filled budget later this week in bid to get back on course with voters."

Several of those about to be announced goodies are expected to effect the space industry and the various innovation policies developed by the Federal government over the last four years to turn Canada into a global centre for innovation.

The budget will almost certainly also serve as an informal (and perhaps formal, depending on the validity of various political rumors currently making the rounds) kick-off to the 2019 Federal election.

For more, check out the Commercial Space blog "Special Report" on the 2019 Federal Budget on Wednesday.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Canadian Tech Developed For Asteroid Mining is Now Available for Terrestrial Mining Operations

          By Chuck Black

Two years ago, as outlined in the April 10th, 2016 post, "Deltion Innovations Receives Gov't Funding to Develop Multi-Tool for Space Mining; Will Anyone Buy It?," Capreol ON based Deltion Innovations received a $700,000 CDN contract from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to build a Percussive and Rotary Multi-Purpose Tool (PROMPT), a combination drill and rotary multi-use tool designed to facilitate future mining operations on the Moon, the asteroids and on Mars.

The first PROMPT on the left with the commercial "MicroCorer" version on the right in the Deltion booth at PDAC 2019. Photo's c/o Chuck Black

At the time, the real question was whether anyone would ever commercially support the tool by buying one. While that question doesn't yet have a definitive answer, it's worth noting that Deltion, after delivering the original PROMPT in 2017, has just rolled out a smaller, less costly, commercially available version of the tool for terrestrial mining operations.

This is how the space industry is supposed to work.

The commercial version is called a "MicroCorer Sampling Tool" and according to the Deltion specification sheet, it's designed to "extract a small core sample in difficult to access areas, such as a drill face between advancement rounds."

According to Deltion CEO Dale Boucher:
...when mining companies are looking for minerals and drilling holes, core samples of the rock being drilled needs to be removed in order to gauge the appropriate next steps in the operation. 
Normally you'd need to send in a person to take a sample and that's normally dangerous and often expensive, since you need to shore up the rock to insure against cave-ins plus make the hole big enough for the person to function.
The MicroCorer is able to form and capture a small sample from any "competent" rock face. The system is fully automatic and once turned on, will drill and extract a 10 mm core sample up to 100 mm in length without further operator input.

According to Boucher, PROMPT required twenty years of "significant time and fiscal investments" before the CSA provided enough money to build the demonstration unit. The final cost for the commercial MicroCorer is expected to be under $50K CDN per unit, a substantial cost savings over current methods of accessing core samples during drilling operations.

MicroCorer spec sheet from Deltion Innovations. To view the full document, please click on this link. Graphic c/o Deltion

The new tool was rolled-out for review during the recently concluded 2019 annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), which was held in Toronto, ON from March 3rd - 6th.

As outlined in the March 4th, 2019 post, "The New Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan Stakes its Claim on the Space Industry," the recently released Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan (CMMP), also unveiled at PDAC 2019, discussed the need for the adaption of "new and emerging technologies" from a variety of other industries, including Canada's space industry.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Bridenstine Reassures SLS/Orion Workforce That They're Still Needed

          By Henry Stewart

Jim Bridenstine. Photo c/o NASA/ Bill Ingalls.
It's worth noting that, only a day after questioning whether the US Space Launch System (SLS) will be ready in time to be used for the scheduled 2020 first orbital flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft and its European built service module, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent an e-mail to NASA employees and SLS contractors praising the SLS workforce and stating that using alternative commercial carriers for Orion missions "is not optimum or sustainable."

As outlined in the March 14th, 2019 NASA blog post, "A Message to the Workforce on SLS and Orion," Bridenstine sent this message to NASA employees and contractors:
Yesterday, I was asked by Congress about the schedule slip of the Space Launch System and plans to get NASA back on track. I mentioned that we are exploring the possibility of launching Orion and the European Service Module to low-Earth orbit on an existing heavy-lift rocket, then using a boost from another existing vehicle for Trans Lunar Injection. Our goal would be to test Orion in lunar orbit in 2020 and free up the first SLS for the launch of habitation or other hardware in 2021. This would get us back on schedule for a crewed lunar orbital mission in 2022 with the added bonus of a lunar destination for our astronauts. 
We are studying this approach to accelerate our lunar efforts. The review will take no longer than two weeks and the results will be made available. Please know that NASA is committed to building and flying the SLS for the following reasons: 
  • Launching two heavy-lift rockets to get Orion to the Moon is not optimum or sustainable. 
  • Docking crewed vehicles in Earth orbit to get to the Moon adds complexity and risk that is undesirable. 
  • SLS mitigates these challenges and allows crew and payloads to get to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, safer and more efficiently than any temporary solution used to get back on track.
I believe in the strength of our workforce and our ability to utilize every tool available to achieve our objectives. Our goal is to get to the Moon sustainably and on to Mars. With your focused efforts, and unmatched talent, the possibility of achieving this objective is real. 
Ad astra, 
Jim Bridenstine
Only the day before, as outlined in the March 14th, 2019 post, "NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is Officially in Trouble," Bridenstine had questioned the capabilities of SLS contractors to meet the tight deadlines required to be included as part of the first orbital Orion mission and stated that NASA was investigating alternatives to using SLS.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is Officially in Trouble

          By Chuck Black

The rumor has been whispered in the corridors of space industry experts since almost the beginning of the program. NASA's expensive Space Launch System (SLS), an American shuttle-derived "super heavy-lift" expendable launch vehicle developed originally as part of NASA's long-term deep space exploration plans, would eventually be replaced by the smaller, but far less expensive commercial crewed vehicles currently undergoing their final testing and expected to fly astronauts to space over the next year.

And now, that rumor has exploded into public view.

During a public hearing of the US Senate Commerce Committee to assess America's future in space held in Washington DC on March 13th, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency would decide in the coming weeks about whether to take the first orbital flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft and its European built Orion service module on a pair of commercial launch vehicles, instead of the SLS.

This is a big thing. As outlined in the March 13th, 2019 Space News post, "NASA considering flying Orion on commercial launch vehicles," the mission, known as Exploration Mission (EM) 1, was: 
...intended to be the first flight of the SLS (with Orion and its service module). However, problems with the launch vehicle’s development have pushed that mission’s launch to the middle of 2020, and agency officials recently indicated that it could slip again.
Jim Bridenstine. Photo c/o NASA/ Bill Ingalls.
SLS is struggling to meet its schedule,” Bridenstine said in response to a line of questions from the committee’s chairman, Senator Roger Wicker (Republican-MI) “We’re now understanding better how difficult this project is and that it is going to take some additional time.”

Bridenstine went on to state that:
I think we as an agency need to stick to our commitment. If we tell you, and others, that we’re going to launch in June of 2020 around the Moon, I think we should launch around the Moon in June of 2020. 
And I think it can be done. We should consider, as an agency, all options to accomplish that objective.
Without SLS the only real option to launch EM-1 in June 2020 would be to use two large, privately developed heavy lift rockets in-place of the single larger SLS rocket. The rockets would each carry a component (either the Orion capsule or the service module) and those components would dock in orbit.

The alternatives to the SLS include the Falcon-9 and Falcon Heavy rockets built by Hawthorne CA based SpaceX for their Dragon capsule and the Centennial CO based United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, which are the favored rockets for the Boeing CST-100 Starliner at least until the ULA Vulcan rocket is expected to become operational in 2021, although the CST-100 can also be launched on SpaceX rockets. 

While not as powerful as the SLS, these alternatives would allow for the mission to move forward on schedule and for a far lower cost.

A Delta-4 launched a test version of the Orion spacecraft to 3,600km in 2014, so the plan to launch on another rocket is quite feasible. And spacecraft have docked with each other and with the International Space Station (ISS) hundreds of times over the last 50 years, going back to the NASA Gemini program in the 1960's. Maybe Canada could even sell the US another Canadarm to include with Orion in order to facilitate the docking.

It's worth noting that ULA is a partnership between Denver CO based Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Berkeley MI based Boeing Defense, Space & Security a subsidiary of the larger Seattle WA based Boeing Company, which is (along with ULA and others) also responsible for building the SLS.

As outlined in the March 14th, 2019 Ars Technica post, "Here’s why NASA’s administrator made such a bold move Wednesday," Bridenstine said NASA engineers are already studying how this can be done and a preliminary plan could be available as soon as next week.

This is the second piece of bad news for SLS subcontractors this week. 

As outlined in the March 13th, 2019 Hackaday post, "Proposed NASA Budget Signals Changes to Space Launch System," NASA's proposed 2020 budget, released on Monday, would defer work on the enhanced (Block 1B) version of the SLS with the Exploration Upper Stage intended to replace the lower powered Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (Block 1) in favor of increased funding for NASA's Lunar Gateway.

SLS is derived from the NASA Constellation program, a manned spaceflight program wrapped around another expensive, over-sized American rocket rocket intended to help the US complete construction of the ISS, then return to the Moon by 2020 (?) and finally send a crewed flight to Mars.

Constellation was officially cancelled in 2010 after the release of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee (more commonly known as the Augustine Committee) concluded that the then nine year old program was so far behind schedule and so underfunded and over budget that it would never achieve any of its goals.

But unofficially, at least one component of Constellation, the Orion crew capsule program, was reintegrated into the NASA budget almost immediately. Other components of Constellation also remained in place until Congress would act to overturn the previous mandate according to the January 7th, 2011 post, "NASA Stuck in Limbo as New Congress Takes Over."

Curiously enough, many of the remaining components of Constellation were re-integrated into the follow-on NASA plan for the SLS which, as announced in the September 14th, 2011 NASA press release, "NASA Announces Design For New Deep Space Exploration System," promised a "a new Space Launch System that will take the agency's astronauts farther into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home, and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space exploration efforts."

According to the press release:
"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow's explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars." 
Maybe SLS did provide well paying jobs, for some of us at least.

But it certainly doesn't seem like the program going to send us back to the Moon, at least not any time soon and not without a lot of help from commercial launch providers.

For example, and as outlined in the September 11th, 2018 NASA post, "NASA updates Lunar Gateway plans," at least one SLS Block 1B SLS rocket will be required in 2024 by NASA for the currently scheduled EM-3 crewed Orion mission, which is supposed to mate both the NASA Lunar Gateway ESPRIT and the Utilization Modules to the previously orbited Power and Propulsion Element (PPE).

By pushing SLS Block 1B development into the next budget year, that could open up other opportunities for commercial providers, which might include being used for the 2024 EM-3 and other SLS missions.

Here's hoping. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Federal Government Releases 1st Annual Report from Canada's Chief Science Adviser

          By Henry Stewart

Mona Nemer. Photo c/o Gov't of Canada.
On the one hand, very few government employees have ever written reports indicating that their tasks have been accomplished and its time to retire back to the private sector or academia.

On the other hand, Federal government chief science adviser Dr. Mona Nemer has really only held her position for a little over a year and its certainly fair to give a bit more time before expecting to receive a full public accounting of her actions and usefulness.

On Monday, the Federal government released its first "Annual Report of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada," the science advisory's first attempt to to self-assess its successes and accomplishments.

According to its summary, the report "outlines the major activities of the Office of the Chief Science Advisor for Canada over the course of its first full year."

These activities included, "developing the Model Policy on Scientific Integrity, providing principles and insights relevant to science-based decision-making across government, establishing a federal science advisory function, and advising on how to better support quality scientific research within the federal government."

The Report also identified the priority areas of action for the year ahead. They included:
... (the creation of) a road-map for open science, reviewing the impact assessment process for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, advising on how to expand the role of national academies in the Canadian science enterprise, and establishing a Youth Advisory Committee to ensure good communications with the next generation of researchers.
The final section of the report noted that:
Despite recent federal efforts such as the creation of the Deputy Ministers Science Committee, the Deputy Ministers Group on Climate Change and the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, there is still an acute need to better coordinate the various organizational mandates in support of science in Canada. 
The section also argues for enhanced participation of Canada in international research projects and science diplomacy, making the suggestion, among others, that the Canadian scientific diaspora could be mobilized to that end. The section concludes that better data are necessary to properly assess the state of the federal science workforce, as has been requested of the Office.
Perhaps there is but results are not simply assessed by the number of new committees created or suggestions formulated. The report would have benefited by including the criteria which the science advisory is judging itself along with the criteria the Federal government is using to judge the success of the science advisory.

Without knowing these criteria, the science advisory job might never be completed, which might not be a bad thing if its real role is simple job creation, but is probably a bad thing otherwise.

As outlined in the March 11th, 2019 Federal government press release, "Statement from the Minister of Science and Sport on the release of the first annual report of Canada's Chief Science Advisor," there is much to be done by the science officer, especially in the areas of setting up the basic steps needed to build a useful, "inclusive" policy, establish bureaucratic processes to track how that developing policy is successfully integrated into political decision making process and develop the specific steps needed to promote the end result both domestically and internationally.

Here's hoping that at least a few of those issues end up being addressed in time to be included with the 2rd annual report from Canada's chief science adviser.

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

New 3D Printed Manufacturing Methodologies for the Space Age

          By Brian Orlotti

A team from Cannes France based Thales Alenia Space (TAS), Bedford UK based Cranfield University and Glascow UK based Glenalmond Technologies has successfully 3d printed a full-scale prototype of a titanium tank to be used in future crewed space exploration missions.

As outlined in the March 8th, 2019 Manufacturing Technology post, "Titanium pressure vessel for space exploration made using additive manufacturing," the tank is made of a titanium alloy deposited using an additive process called Wire + Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM). The tank is approximately 1m in height and 8.5kg in mass.

The WAAM process enabled two individual pieces to be integrated into a single part, eliminating the need for long-lead-time forgings and substantially reducing waste material to be removed by machining. If manufactured traditionally, the tank would have required about 30 times more raw material than its final mass.

In WAAM, metal wire is melted using an electric arc and deposited in layers to build an object. WAAM’s precision enables it to produce near-final forms requiring only minimal machining.

WAAM’s high precision places it in the middle ground between accurate, but slower laser-based 3d printers and less accurate, but high-deposition-rate plasma/electron beam-based 3d printers. WAAM’s software and hardware has been in development for over 10 years at Cranfield, leading the university to spin-off a new company, WAAM3D, to commercialize the technology.

The tank was manufactured at Cranfield U, then sent to Glenalmond Technologies to be laser-scanned, machined and inspected using an ultrasonic method.

The final inspection was performed by Bolongna ITaly based Agiometrix using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner as well as an optical scanner for internal quality analysis and an optical scanner, with TAS ensuring that the part met all mechanical requirements and specifications.

Satisfied with the results, the team is now building a second prototype, to fine tune the WAAM process, demonstrate its repeatability and reliability, and push for its implementation into flight hardware.

Pressurized tanks made with traditional methods based on subtractive machining typically suffer from long lead times. WAAM technology greatly reduces this time; from months to days. Such shorter lead times not only speed up part delivery, but also increase design flexibility---even in the late stage of a project.

As shown by this project and other recent projects at Hawthorne CA based SpaceX, Huntington Beach CA based Rocket Lab and Los Angeles CA based Relativity Space, 3d printing promises to finally make the promise of democratizing space exploration a reality.
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.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

If Canada REALLY Wanted to Go To the Moon, We Should Support Bob Richards or Call Elon Musk

          By Chuck Black

The Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at least being honest when talking about Federal motivation to participate in the US Lunar Gateway.

As outlined in the March 6th, 2019 Canadian government press release, "Launching Canada's Space Strategy," the key priority of the strategy is "investing in science, innovation and research" which, according the press release, will unlock "new opportunities for economic growth," create "thousands of jobs for hard-working Canadians," and help Canadian's "understand the world we live in and our place in it."

But while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the government's stated motivations, some (in office and elsewhere) have argued that the Moon is now "the central focus of the new space strategy and investments," despite what the press release explicitly states.

Those arguments are obviously in error. The new plan is simply about jobs on Earth.

If Canada really wanted to land Canadian rovers and explore the Moon remotely, we'd provide a few extra tens to millions to Cape Canaveral FL based Moon Express.

As outlined most recently in the November 30th, 2018 post, "Procurement Contracts, Not Science or Engineering, Will Define the Next Generation of Robotics and Planetary Rovers," the company and it's expatriate Canadian founder Robert Richards already possess major Canadian connections and a skill-set widely expected to land rovers on the Moon within the next two years for far, far less than what Canada is spending on the Lunar Gateway.

If our focus is really on the Moon and if we want to land rovers there to explore, we should call Moon Express.

Of course, we might also want to send astronauts to the Moon. In that case, we might want to send a few hundreds of millions of dollars to Elon Musk, the CEO of Hawthorne CA based SpaceX.

That's still hundreds of millions of dollars less than we would be spending under "Canada's New Space Strategy" which, as outlined in the March 7th, 2019 post, "Minister Bains Releases "Canada's New (Sorta) Space Strategy," But No Details or New Funding Announcements," is already expected to cost billions.

And Musk already has rockets. Lots of them They're reusable, better than anything anyone else can field and already dominate the international launch market.

He's also got spaceships.

As outlined in the March 3rd, 2019 post, "Crew Dragon Docks at International Space Station," SpaceX is currently rolling out a human rated rated capsule which could begin ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) within the next year.

Musk, who holds South African, Canadian, and US citizenship but lives in California, has made no secret of his wish to explore space, the Moon and colonize Mars.

As outlined in the February 1st, 2019 Futurism post, "Elon Musk’s New Goal: “Reach the Moon as Fast as Possible,” the entrepreneur has the skill and the knowledge to get there, but is working with a limited, private sector budget.

A few hundred million extra dollars from the Canadian government would certainly solve the cash flow problem and allow Canada to land our astronauts on the Moon at a far lower cost than contributing a next generation Canadarm for the Lunar Gateway and hoping for the best, which is the plan being promoted in Canada's new space strategy.

Of course, calling Musk or Richards won't unlock "new opportunities for economic growth," create "thousands of jobs for hard-working Canadians," or even help Canadian's "understand the world we live in and our place in it," at least not as government understands it.

Nor will it help to protect jobs at legacy space companies like Brantford ON based MDA Space Systems, the subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies which builds the iconic Canadarm or the hundreds of Canadian Space Agency (CSA) employees who need to do something to justify their salaries.

As outlined in the March 01, 2019 post, "Maxar Technologies Misses Q4 Revenue Estimates; Will Retain SSL Subsidiary & Drop Dividend to $.01 US per Share," Maxar is hoping for at least one more big sale to save its bacon. Musk and Richards can't help with that.

But then, the object of the new Canadian funding isn't to get to the Moon. It's jobs.

In this, the Canadian plan has much in common with the US Space Launch System (SLS) which, as described in the February 19th, 2019 Ars Technica post, "After nearly $50 billion, NASA’s deep-space plans remain grounded," hasn't really accomplished anything except for acting as a jobs program.

But at least that retained workforce is more likely to vote for the politicians who supported the SLS and saved their jobs. In that way, one could argue that the SLS also saved political jobs.

Expect much the same to happen in Canada over the next few years, as the Lunar Gateway initially seems to move forward and then doesn't.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Minister Bains Releases "Canada's New (Sorta) Space Strategy," But No Details or Funding Breakdowns

          By Chuck Black

It wasn't a bad press conference, if you ignored the fact that it was set up mostly to release documents intended to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's February 28th, 2019 press conference announcing Canadian support for the US led Lunar Gateway program and funding for the construction of a new $2Bln CDN "Canadarm3."

There was also the question of why the language used by the presenters seemed targeted more at the elementary school children attending the event than at the Canadian taxpayers expected to pay for the program or the scientists, engineers and businessmen expected to build and manage the new Canadarm.

Be that as it may, on March 6th, 2019 Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains formally announced the release of the written copies of "Canada's New Space Strategy," at the Telus "World of Science" Centre in Edmonton AB to an audience of mostly elementary school students.

As outlined in the March 6th, 2019 Canadian government press release, "Launching Canada's Space Strategy," the key priority of the strategy is "investing in science, innovation and research" which, according the press release, will unlock "new opportunities for economic growth," create "thousands of jobs for hard-working Canadians," and help Canadian's "understand the world we live in and our place in it."

In essence, the new program seems to be all about jobs, although the specifics of how much those jobs could cost to create and where those jobs might eventually end-up has been (so far at least) left unsaid:
Government will position Canada's space industry to take full advantage of the growing global space economy while ensuring that Canada keeps pace. It will also support innovative space firms through a dedicated investment so that they can scale up and thrive both in Canada and abroad.
Hopefully, the Federal government will provide a little more clarity over the next few weeks. After all, most Canadians aren't going to appreciate having their tax money spent on the creation of new jobs in (for example) Colorado.

The strategy will also place a "priority on harnessing space science and technology to solve important challenges on Earth." These include:
  1. Investing in satellite communications technologies for broadband, including connectivity in rural and remote regions.
  2. Exploring how the delivery of healthcare services in isolated communities can be improved through lessons learned in space. 
  3. Funding the development and demonstration of lunar science and technologies in fields that include AI, robotics and health.
  4. Leveraging the unique data collected from Canada's space-based assets to grow businesses and conduct cutting-edge science, including about the impact of climate change on Earth's atmosphere.
It's interesting that only one item on the above list (Item 3) is currently dealt with directly through the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Given that the new space strategy includes a great many areas without direct CSA overview, the new policy is congruent with the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which was adapted originally by the previous Steven Harper Conservative government.

As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," Emerson argued for a narrowing the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government."

Emerson recommended this specifically because of prime contractor cost overruns in several CSA programs, most notably Canada's Radarsat-2, which was built by what was then known as the Burnaby BC based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).

The new goals are also well within the current CSA mandate which, as outlined on the April 16th, 2018 CSA web page "Raison d'être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do," is focused around coordinating, assisting, promoting and encouraging, rather than controlling.

The press release noted a couple of interesting items related to the larger international space industry.
  • "Canada's space sector currently employs 10,000 highly skilled workers, generates $5.5 billion in Canada's economy annually, and averages $2 billion in export sales." 
The assumption is that this data comes from the CSA "State of the Canadian Space Sector Report 2016," which is the most recent CSA published report on the matter. 
According to the 2016 CSA report: 
  • In 2016, "the space sector contributed $2.3Bln CDN to Canada's GDP and supported a total of 21,654 jobs." 
  • In 2016, "total revenues in the Canadian space sector came to $5.5Bln CDN."  
  • Space generates "lucrative commercial opportunities for our companies. Morgan Stanley expects the global space market to triple in size to $1.1Tln US ($1.5Tln CDN) by 2040." 
The assumption is that this data comes from the November 7th, 2018 Morgan Stanley blog post, "Space: Investing in the Final Frontier," which noted "growing public sector interest" in the area and noted that "the global space industry could generate revenue of $1.1Trillion or more in 2040, up from $350Bln US currently." 
But the Morgan Stanley blog also noted that "most significant short- and medium-term opportunities may come from satellite broadband Internet access." Those opportunities are already well funded through the private sector.
  • The Government of Canada "has invested more than $2.5Bln CDN since 2015 in Canada's space sector, extending our participation in the International Space Station, providing funding to the Canadian Space Agency to test technologies in space, and helping Canadian companies scale up through the Strategic Innovation Fund." 
That may be true, but as outlined in the April 22nd, 2015 CBC News post, "Canada's International Space Station support extended to 2024" the Stephen Harper Conservatives were the ones who allocated $379Mln for Canada’s continuation in the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, not the Trudeau Liberals. 
It's very likely that the Conservative party would also join up to contribute to the US Lunar Gateway, if it were in power. Canada possesses a strong bipartisan consensus on how it should be assisting Canada's space industry and that consensus includes contributing to US projects like the Lunar Gateway. 

Documents released or items referenced during the press conference and in the press release include the following:
  • The CSA webpage outlining the Lunar Gateway and Canada's expected contribution to the US program.
  • The CSA overview of Canada's Junior Astronauts program, which is part of CSA educational efforts.
  • The Government of Canada Space Advisory Board (SAB) website, because the new policy is informed by the views and perspectives gathered by the SAB. This is another indication that the new policy is following the new rules announced in the 2012 Aerospace Review.
  • The Government of Canada Strategic Innovation Fund, another indication that at least some of the announced funding will not go through the CSA.
One of the more noteworthy absences in the document was anything substantial relating to the $150Mln CDN over five years promised under the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), which was supposed to fund the development and demonstration of lunar science and technologies in fields that include AI, robotics and health.

The program was simply noted, but nothing more was said.

But the new policy, even with all the included and anticipated (but still missing) documentation, doesn't have more than the the most vague of fiscal outlines of when the money will become available and how it will be spent. 

All of which makes perfect sense when you note that, as outlined in the March 6th, 2019 Forbes post, "Canada Makes A Risky Bet On A Giant Robot Arm," even the US Congress hasn't yet allocated enough money for a serious start on the Lunar Gateway.

They're also still cautious over the Constellation Program, NASA's last "big budget" attempt to go back to the Moon, which was cancelled in 2010.

Right now the Lunar Gateway is mostly a twinkle in a few farseeing eyes, despite what the fancy graphics and persuasive pundits might be suggesting.

The Liberal government is hoping that the Canadian public will become distracted by the romance of the big plan and forget to ask some of the harder questions, at least until after the next election. 

Just like children, which kinda accounts for the tone of the press conference.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

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