Friday, December 15, 2017

Peruvian Government Reports Investment in Airbus' PerúSAT-1 Recovered Within First Year

          By Chuck Black

Toulouse, France based Airbus SE has a successful commercial story to tell about one of its newest satellites, the PerúSAT-1, a high resolution earth observing satellite built for the Peru National Space Agency (CONIDA), an organization attached to the Peruvian Ministry of Defense.

Expect the Airbus Canadian subsidiary to reference the story every chance it gets as it seeks to win new domestic satellite and space contracts.

PerúSat 1 is an high resolution earth observing satellite  ordered by the Peruvian Space Agency in April 2014 and launched as a secondary payload on an Arianespace Vega launch vehicle in 2016. As outlined on Gunter's space page, "the satellite is designed based on Airbus Defence and Space's AstroBus-S (AstroBus-300) bus and features an imaging system from the NAOMI (New Astrosat Observation Modular Instrument) family to provide 0.7 m resolution panchromatic images and 2 m resolution images in four wavelengtt bands." Graphic c/o Airbus.

As outlined in the December 14th, 2017 SatNews Daily post, "Peruvian Government Reports Investment in Airbus' PerúSAT-1 Already Recovered ... In First Year," the Peruvian government has already declared PerúSAT-1 a great success.

According to the article, "PerúSAT-1 has completed its first year of operation and the Peruvian government has recently declared that in that time, the investment it has made into the satellite program has already been recouped."

CONIDA and the Peruvian military have been using PerúSAT-1 for a variety of activities including:
  • The detection of public works irregularities for the Peruvian General Attorney's office.
  • Drug trafficking intelligence and property identification for Peru's national police.
  • The evaluation and analysis of landslides in the Vitorbasin for the Vitor District Municipality.
  • Map generation to track deforestation in the San Martín Region.
  • The generation of a new national cartography map for the National Geographical Institute (IGN) at a lower cost than could be done using traditional methods.
  • Landslide and volcano monitoring for the Geology, Mining and Metallurgic Institute (INGEMMET).
  • Update and  elaboration of satellite imagery, aerial reconnaissance and field data for post disaster evaluation in Lima and Callao after earthquakes for the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNPD) and the National Institute for Civil Defence (INDECI).
  • Strategic support and generation of a spectral signature data base for "precision agriculture" initiatives at the San Marcos Mayor National University (UNMSM).

Since the October 2016 signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (EU) intended to eliminate 98% of the tariffs between the two, Airbus has been ramping up its efforts to sell satellite and military technology to Canadian customers in both the government and the private sector.

As outlined in the January  7th, 2017 Esprit de Corps post, "Eyes in the North: Airbus Canada aims to Deliver Cutting-Edge Space Systems," satellites and space systems, "make major contributions to the effectiveness of Canada’s maritime surveillance, search and rescue, and Arctic sovereignty capabilities."
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

    Thursday, December 14, 2017

    FCC Begins Regulatory Approval Process for Orbital ATK Satellite Servicing Mission to Intelsat-901

              By Henry Stewart

    The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has signed-off on at least part of the paperwork required to approve Dulles, VA based Orbital ATK’s proposed upcoming satellite servicing mission to rendezvous and dock with the Intelsat 901 (IS 901) communication satellite.

    Orbital ATK CEO David W. Thompson and Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler announce their satellite servicing agreement at the 32nd Space Symposium, which which was held from April 11th - 14th, 2016 in Colorado Springs, CO. As outlined in the April 12th, 2016 Space News post, "Orbital ATK signs Intelsat as first satellite servicing customer," the two companies scheduled their first launch in 2018 and so far at least, seem to moving forward according to plan. According to the post, "MEV-1 will first dock with a retired satellite in a graveyard orbit above stationary orbit to test its systems, then dock with an active Intelsat satellite to extend its life for five years." Photo c/o Chuck Bigger.

    The IS 901 was the first of nine new Intelsat satellites launched in June 2001. It currently provides Ku-band spot beam coverage for Europe, as well as C-band coverage for the Atlantic Ocean region and is reaching the end of its operational life, but could potentially be refueled for several more years of service. The satellite is operated by US and Luxembourg based Intelsat.

    As outlined in the December 12th, 2017 Space News post, "FCC begins approval of Orbital ATK satellite-servicing mission for Intelsat-901," the proposed mission is intended to test out the new Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1), a satellite servicing vehicle operated by Orbital ATK subsidiary Space Logistics Services, which was set up specifically to deal with Orbital ATK’s satellite-servicing business.

    However, components of the mission are still to be decided. According to the post:
    The commission has, for now, withheld permission on a request from Space Logistics LLC, the subsidiary handling Orbital ATK’s satellite-servicing business, for relocating Intelsat-901 alongside another Intelsat satellite. 
    The agency also deferred on a request to undock MEV-1 from Intelsat-901 at the end of that mission and to return MEV-1 to a graveyard orbit to await its next assignment.
    The FCC licence is only one of the steps required to gain government approval for the mission, According to the article:
    Satellite servicing is a relatively new area for regulators, consequently requiring a lot of trailblazing by Orbital ATK. (Joe) Anderson, (the VP of business development and operations for Space Logistics) said the company has been in a dialogue with the FCC, the U.S. State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for several years, and those discussions concluded that the FCC would be the licensing body for launch, deployment, docking and TT&C.
    Several other hurdles remain to be jumped in order to obtain the necessary regulatory approval, but all sides are optimistic that a solution can be found before the planned launch of the MEV-1 in late 2018.

    As outlined most recently in the July 17, 2017 post, "Orbital ATK, DARPA, MacDonald Dettwiler, DigitalGlobe & Unleashing the Lobbyists," Orbital ATK isn't the only private firm developing the capability to service satellites in orbit.

    In fact, Orbital ATK spent a surprising amount of the last year in pitched battle with then Richmond, BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA), its US MDA subsidiary Space Systems Loral (SSL) and then Westminster, CO based Digitalglobe to prevent the US government from providing a variety of subsidies to it's competitors, in the form of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grants and NASA Restore-L contracts, in order to build much the same sort of satellite servicing technology.

    Orbital ATK argued that the US government provided an unfair advantage to MDA/SSL/Digitalglobe by providing the DARPA/NASA funding when the private sector was already competing in the area. US courts rejected that argument.

    But while both MDA and Digitalglobe are now operating under the banner of San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies, the partnerships and DARPA/NASA funding remain intact.

    Orbital ATK perseveres with its program, at least for now. It will be interesting to see which company manages to eventually pull ahead in this marathon.

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

    Monday, December 11, 2017

    Dreaming Big: US President Trump Signs Directive to Send Americans Back to the Moon, Probably!

              By Henry Stewart

    US president Donald Trump has signed a directive, instructing NASA to return Americans to the Moon, with the intent to one day send them to Mars.

    Canada is hoping to tag along for the ride.

    The US president signed the order during a ceremony in the Oval Office on December 11th, 2017, while surrounded by members of the recently re-established National Space Council (NSC), along with active NASA astronauts Christina Hammock Koch and Peggy Whitson, retired Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and retired astronaut Jack Schmitt, who flew to the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission.

    As outlined in the December 11th, 2017 post, "President Trump Directs NASA to Return to the Moon, Then Aim for Mars," the signed space policy directive makes official a recommendation approved by the NSC in October, 2017.

    The recommendation called for NASA to return American astronauts to the moon and build the foundation needed to send Americans to Mars and beyond.

    The unstated assumption is that, as outlined in the December 1st, 2017 post, "Deep Space Gateway 'Key Part of Exploration Roadmap'," the architecture which will be used to return Americans to the Moon will begin with the proposed Deep Space Gateway (DSG), a crew-tended cislunar space station concept proposed for possible partnership between NASA, Roscosmos and other current International Space Station (ISS) partners for construction after the ISS is retired in the 2020s.

    At least that's what Canada is hoping.

    That's why, as outlined in the October 26th, 2017 post, "A Quick Overview of the Next Few Expected Federal Announcements Concerning the Canadian Space Industry," our Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has climbed aboard the DSG bandwagon.

    As for the funding, according to the December 11th, 2017 Reuters post, "Trump wants to send US astronauts back to moon, someday Mars," NASA has indicated that initial funding for the new policy would be included in its budget request for fiscal year 2019.

    Of course, American presidents have had a poor track record in recent years when it comes to defining space policy. As outlined in the December 11th, 2017 Time Magazine post, "Trump Wants to Send Astronauts Back to the Moon. Will That Really Happen?," the current plans reverse President Barack Obama’s space policy, which called "for NASA to capture a small asteroid, move it to the vicinity of the moon and send astronauts out to explore it."

    According to the post:
    Obama’s oddball plan, in turn, reversed President George W. Bush’s plan, which was a lot closer to Trump’s. And Bush’s at least altered President Bill Clinton’s, which was focused almost entirely on the space shuttle and the International Space Station, with little thought of the moon at all. 
    Before Clinton, the first President Bush briefly flirted with Mars, but only until analysts ball-parked the cost of the mission at half a trillion dollars. 
    By contrast, the Apollo program’s principal objective — to get American astronauts onto the moon and to do it before 1970 – was a shared vision of four presidents, from Eisenhower through Nixon.
    But will the latest US president have any greater success than his recent predecessors? Maybe not.

    As outlined in the November 30th, 2017 Space News op-ed, "A house divided, or in this case, a rocket," the DSG was once a part of the cancelled US Constellation program (CxP), and keeps popping up every few years as a legitimate answer to the question of what to do with all the NASA scientists and engineers involved with the ISS after that program is shut down sometime in the 2020s.

    According to the plan, you can transfer the ISS scientists and engineers to another space station, the DSG, which will use most of the same tools developed for the ISS. That's why Canada is on-board with the program. We get to re-use all the Canadarm technology originally developed for the ISS.

    In essence, the real story here might be the continuing concern NASA and space scientists have over their ongoing job security and the hoops politicians are willing to jump through in order to retain the support of those scientists and engineers.

    This might not be a problem president's or prime ministers can solve by returning to the Moon or going to Mars. But as long as everyone pretends, the jobs continue and the political base remains secure.

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

    Molten Salt Reactors Catching On

              By Brian Orlotti

    Oakville, ON based Terrestrial Energy has announced that it’s integral molten salt reactor (IMSR) design had passed the first phase of a pre-licensing vendor design review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

    As outlined in the November 8th, 2017 Terrestrial Energy press release, "Terrestrial Energy IMSR First Commercial Advanced Reactor Assessed by Regulator," IMSR technology appears to be gaining traction in other nations for both civilian and military purposes.

    In January 2015, Terrestrial Energy announced a collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to commercialize its IMSR design and secured $10Mln CDN in funding. With Phase One of the CNSC design review proces complete, the company will enter Phase Two. Requiring further design detail, phase Two will take 18 months to 2 years to complete. Terrestrial Energy anticipates completing Phase Two in 2019, then obtaining a customer and beginning the reactor’s construction in the 2020s.

    IMSRs promise nuclear power that is far cheaper and greener than traditional methods. IMSRs differ from traditional fission-based nuclear reactors in that they use fuel (in this case, denatured uranium) which has been dissolved in a molten liquid salt. Because the reactor’s fuel is in liquid form, it functions as both fuel and coolant, transporting heat away from the reactor as it circulates. Thus, an IMSR cannot go into meltdown because a loss of coolant (the traditional cause of meltdowns) would also mean a loss of the fuel needed to drive the reactor.

    IMSRs would still produce radioactive waste, but at far lower volumes (kilograms versus tonnes) and far shorter time spans (200-300 years versus millennia) when compared to traditional reactors.

    Molten salt reactors are not new technology. Terrestrial Energy's design builds upon research done in the 1960’s in the US at ORNL. In addition, the Convair NB-36H "Crusader" aircraft, created under the US’ Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program (ANP), flew a series of test flights from 1955-57 with a functioning salt-water reactor on board to ascertain whether a nuclear reactor could be used to power an aircraft.

    From 1961 to 1965, the Soviet Union performed a series of test flights of a Tupolev-95LAL bomber, using conventional engines and fuel, but also carrying a Soviet-designed molten salt water reactor.

    Both the US and USSR’s programs were cancelled due to the rise of ballistic missile technology.

    As outlined in the December 6th, 2017 Next Big Future post, "Thorcon floating supertanker molten salt reactors starting with 2021 prototype," a US-based startup called Thorcon Power is developing a molten salt reactor based off of ORNL designs for use on oil supertankers.

    Currently under development in the US, Thorcon intends to build the reactor in a yet-to-be-determined Asian shipyard, then float it to Indonesia, where testing will begin in 2021. Thorcon’s team includes several former ORNL engineers.

    The US and China are also eyeing molten salt water reactor tech for use in warships and drones in order to greatly increase their endurance and capabilities.

    As outlined in a 2012 Sandia National Labs paper under the title, "Project Accomplishments Summary, Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (#1714) between Sandia National Labs and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation," from 2008-2011, Albuquerque, NM based Sandia National Labs and West Falls Church, VA based Northrop Grumman collaborated to design nuclear-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) able to stay aloft for many months.

    According to the December 5th, 2017 South China Morning Post, "China hopes cold war nuclear energy tech will power warships, drones," China will spend $3.3Bln USD ($4.4Bln CDN) to develop two molten salt reactors in the Gobi Desert in northern China by 2020. Aside from civilian energy production, China considers molten salt ideal for powering UAVs as well as warships in its steadily expanding navy.

    In addition, molten salt reactors could be fueled by thorium, a material China has in abundance. Using thorium as a fuel would enable higher power generation efficiency, enabling aircraft carriers and submarines with greater speed and range than uranium-powered ones.

    As ever, nuclear technology remains a double-edged sword, enabling new human capabilities for both war and peace. Let us hope such capabilities are used wisely.
    Brian Orlotti.

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

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