Sunday, November 27, 2016

New space policy for Canada coming in June 2017

If you like the Emerson aerospace report, you'll probably like the government's new space plan, scheduled for release in June 2017.

You might want to get reacquainted with that report, known officially as The Aerospace Review: Volume 2: Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space. The previous Conservative government had commissioned former Member of Parliament David Emerson to create a framework for making the Canadian aerospace industry more competitive internationally.

The change of government after the October 2015 federal election didn't dampen enthusiasm for the report.

In November 2015, Navdeep Bains made his first public speech as Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) at an Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) event in Ottawa. In that speech, Mr. Bains gave a clear signal that he was paying attention to the Emerson report.

Mr. Bains said, "my primary role is to represent all Canadian industry, including the aerospace and space sectors, at the Cabinet table..."

"...I have the Emerson report on my desk. Rather than reading the 25 recommendations, I thought I would call Mr. Emerson instead. I am aware of the work that the Association and its members did with Mr. Emerson on the Review of Aerospace and Space Policies and Programs. I'm impressed by what has been accomplished, and I'll review what remains to be implemented." (emphasis added)

This past October, a key element of the Emerson report dropped into place when ISED announced they were looking for qualified people to participate in a "revitalized" Space Advisory Board. (See the SpaceRef Canada article, Wanted: A few good space advisors.)

The board was created in 2014 by then Industry Minister James Moore. If you didn't know the board existed, don't feel bad—you're in good company. Of those that did know, many weren't sure who was on it, when it met, or what it did, if anything.

The next move came in early November when two events took place in Ottawa on the same day:
Mr. Bains said the new space policy will be part of the Innovation Agenda, the government's plan to make Canada a leader in 21st century technologies. That means space won't be a stand-alone program. The CSA will work with public- and private-sector stakeholders, as recommended by the Emerson report.

Mr. Laporte echoed the point at the CSCA event. He said that "space is going to be very tightly aligned with the Innovation Agenda going forward." He then went into detail about where the agency fits in with the government's plans.

Integrating space with the Innovation Agenda isn't a recent idea. It's been a regular theme from both Mr. Bains and Mr. Laporte over the past year.

One of the more significant ideas that came from the plenaries that followed the speeches at the CSCA event was the need for a "balanced, sustainable" space program.

If you want to know what that is, read the article at SpaceRef Canada, "A Balanced Space Program from the 2016 Space Policy Symposium." Participants from all sectors—government, industry, and academia—weighed in.

What does it all mean? Maybe, just maybe, a Canadian government is ready to get serious about space.

You'll have to wait until June to find out, though. At this point, cautious optimism may be the best reaction.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

SpaceX finds some answers, but is NASA starting to have second thoughts?

SpaceX is closer to understanding why their rocket exploded at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40) on September 1. They may also be getting closer to seriously upsetting NASA.

A September 23 statement on the SpaceX website said, "At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place."

This isn't the first time the second stage liquid oxygen tank has been involved in a mishap. A faulty strut inside a second stage oxygen tank was blamed for the destruction of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station in June 2015.

Is there a connection between that incident and the recent one? According to SpaceX, no.

"Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

Even if the cause is different from the last time, SpaceX has a problem with that second stage oxygen tank. And NASA is not convinced that a faulty strut was solely responsible for the first incident.

According to an article at Parabolic Arc, an investigation by NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) uncovered several potential issues that could have contributed to the first accident.

Based on that LSP investigation, a recent report from the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said, "In addition to the material defects in the strut assembly SpaceX found during its testing, LSP pointed to manufacturing damage or improper installation of the assembly into the rocket as possible initiators of the failure."

The OIG report went on to say, "LSP also highlighted improper material selection and such practices as individuals standing on flight hardware during the assembly process, as possible contributing factors."

The LSP report noted that NASA was concerned about these issues. They sent a letter to SpaceX last February "...expressing concerns about the company's systems engineering and management practices, hardware installation and repair methods, and telemetry systems based on LSP's review of the failure."

The article at Parabolic Arc has further details and a link to the full OIG report.

Left unsaid is whether or not NASA is starting to run out of patience with SpaceX. Also unknown is whether or not Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, is paying attention to the gathering storm clouds.

Rocket accidents bring out the armchair analysts in droves claiming all sorts of things. One group of space cadets said an alien spaceship destroyed the rocket.

Perhaps the most interesting evaluation was done by a guy who goes by the name Thunderf00t. He did a 17-minute video analysis that identified the second stage oxygen tank as the likely problem. Keep in mind that his video came out before SpaceX's September 23 announcement.

That's all for this week. Let's see what new revelations emerge in the riveting space soap opera, As the Rocket Burns.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The fallout from SpaceX rocket explosion continues

SpaceX still doesn't know what caused their Falcon 9 rocket to explode at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40) on September 1. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk even turned to Twitter looking for help. He asked people to send him any video or pictures they might have of the incident, as noted in the story at Engadget, Elon Musk seeks public footage for SpaceX investigation.

(For background about the incident, read the blog post SpaceX accident bad news for space industry, including Canada.)

The media initially reported that no other launch pads were affected. In fact, if it wasn't for the quick work of emergency teams, the entire launch facility could have been shut down. That would have stopped the planned launch of NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe to the asteroid Bennu from nearby SLC 41.

Lieutenant Colonel Greg Lindsey of the 45th Mission Support Group at Cape Canaveral writes a fascinating account of how his group and others responded to the incident. If you only read one reference story in this article, read Emergency management: A behind the scenes look on the Eastern Range.

SpaceX will be grounded for an undetermined period. Other launch providers are looking to take advantage of SpaceX's downtime.

American company United Launch Alliance (ULA) said it has 1 or more slots open in 2017 on its Atlas V rocket. The company also announced a new program called RapidLaunch. ULA will build rockets without having customers for them, something they've never done before. This will get a new customer's payload into space in about 3 months, as opposed to the usual 2-3 years.

For more about ULA’s plans, read the story at SpaceNews, ULA says it could accommodate additional Atlas 5 launch next year.

Arianespace of Europe says a number of satellite operators have asked about open slots. Although the company said they only have 1 slot available for a large satellite launch by 2018, they're looking at ways of accommodating more customers.

Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel wants to work out a solution with other launch providers. That includes shifting a launch to a competitor's rocket, something that Arianespace did last year.

Mr. Israel also took a shot at SpaceX for the way the American company continually changes its rocket, saying they over-innovate and sometimes end up with an unstable system.

For more, read the story at Via Satellite, After SpaceX-Amos 6 loss, Arianespace sees demand surge.

Competition from ULA and Arianespace isn't all SpaceX has to worry about. An article at the Los Angeles Times, SpaceX faces a more crowded rocket launch market, even when it returns to flight, points out that other competitors, big and small, private and government-supported, are gearing up to grab a piece of the commercial launch market.

Mr. Israel isn't the only one who questions the way SpaceX is building its launch program. Unlike more conservative competitors, SpaceX tries to make big jumps. When they succeed, it's great. When they don't succeed....

The website Parabolic Arc takes a close look at SpaceX's unorthodox methodology in the article SpaceX: Giant leaps, deep troughs, but no plateaus.

Is SpaceX learning from their failures? Recent comments from the company's president, Gwynne Shotwell, might make a person wonder.

Shotwell is quoted in an article at Business Insider as saying the company anticipates flying again by November. Experienced space experts quoted in the article, SpaceX is 'unlikely' to start launching rockets again as quickly as it has said, doubt that it can be done unless the company can identify and fix the problem quickly. At this point, that seems unlikely.

It's a strange comment from someone who's been in the space business a while.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether SpaceX is pushing too hard. They're trying to recycle rockets. They're cutting out steps in the process to speed up launches. They're building a human-rated capsule to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. They want to send a Dragon capsule to land on Mars in the next couple of years.

Is it just too much for Elon Musk's team to handle?

More to come.