Category Archives: aerospace

Sorting out new space and old space

The Space Frontier Foundation has put on a NewSpace conference every year since 2006 as a way to bring together people involved in the space industry—be they from established companies, startups, or government agencies—with investors and tech innovators. The confab ventured out of the Silicon Valley and landed in Seattle for the first time last week, in a nod to the growing number of new-space companies located in the area. Interestingly, one of the takeaways from the conference is that NewSpace may be something of a misnomer, an unnecessary distinction given the direction in which the industry is headed.

“This future, we call next space,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace.

Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson

Aerojet Rocketdyne would qualify as old space if you want to make a distinction; the Redmond-based company was founded back in the 1950s and has built more than 15,000 rocket engines that have powered missions to every planet in the solar system.

“There’s a lot of talk of new space versus old space, but I think the key relevant thing to me is innovating versus stagnating,” said Fred Wilson, director of business development at Aerojet, who noted that the company’s track record is no guarantee of future success. “It’s the successful innovators that grow over time. Even though we’ve been around for 50-60 years, if we quit innovating we’re not going to be around much longer.”

Distinction without a difference

Lepore

Debra Facktor Lepore

Debra Facktor Lepore, vice president and general manager of strategic operations at Ball Aerospace, finds the dichotomy to be a false one.

“It’s about old and new and everything in between, both working together to advance the future of space,” Lepore said. She noted that the relationships between entrepreneurs and startups and more established companies can evolve to meet the specific business or technical needs in each situation, and that an us-versus-them approach can be disruptive. Lepore called the relationship synergistic.

“In the end it is all about the people and being passionate about going to space: why we go there, how we get there, what we do there, what we discover when we’re there, and making a difference for our lives here on Earth and in pioneering discoveries to make a difference for beyond our planet and the solar system,” Lepore said.

Building real businesses

Charles Beames

Charles Beames

Beames, of Vulcan, noted that one aspect of new space that really is new is that the laws of economics are beginning to apply to low-Earth orbit. It isn’t enough for companies to simply go to space; they must have concrete business plans, real products or services, and customers who want those things. Vulcan aims to support startups to help them get there.

“It’s all about enabling access to the entrepreneur; the entrepreneur that wants to create a business, the entrepreneur that has an idea to solve a really tough problem,” he said. Sometimes, the challenge for space businesses is the long wait to get a project launched and off the planet. Beames said providing convenient and timely access to low-Earth orbit could help raise confidence among investors.

“Keeping the proverbial two-men-in-a-garage together for two years, that’s a long time to be paying salary without being able to either generate revenue or to raise equity,” he observed.

Simpson

Jim Simpson

Jim Simpson, senior vice president of strategy and business development with Aerojet Rocketdyne, said space companies, new or old, need to remember a key fact. His voice lowered to a near whisper, as if he were divulging a well-kept secret: “Businesses need to make money,” he said, echoing the point about sound economic practices.

While there’s a lot that is new about the space industry, Simpson reminded conference attendees that one old player can’t be ignored. He pointed out that two-thirds of all space missions are still government missions, and that the government remains a big economic player in the industry.

“There’s going to be a struggle between the government and commercial space applications as far as the dynamics are concerned,” Simpson said, adding that he expects that will lead to a healthy evolution.

“Old space and new space: it’s about the ideas, the drive, the people, the innovation and the partnerships,” said Lepore of Ball Aerospace. “All of us are really working to make a difference to pioneer discoveries, explore the universe, have a sustainable planet, improve our quality of life. Is it new? Is it old? Is it mid? Is it next?” she asked.

“It’s always about what’s next,” she concluded.

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Discussion of space security is highlight of week’s calendar

Several area astronomy clubs have meetings and star parties this week, and the University of Washington hosts a symposium about space security.

Jackson School of International StudiesDoctoral candidates and junior fellows in the Space Security Initiative at the UW’s Jackson School of International Studies have been examining the prospects of various international spacefaring nations, and will present a briefing about their findings at the University this Wednesday, June 8. Seattle Astronomy is among the participant panel of journalists, space company representatives, government officials, military, economic development specialists, and other space thinkers involved in the discussion of the future of space exploration and security. We’ll report back on the discussion in a future post.

Astro club activity

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus. Seattle Astronomical Society member Mark de Regt will give a talk about how he moved from observing the skies from his yard to remote imaging with equipment located in the South Australia desert. He gave a similar presentation to the SAS back in March. The Tacoma group also will hold one of its free public nights beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 11 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. An all-weather program about aurorae will be featured, and club members will have telescopes on hand for observing if weather permits.

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association has a full evening of events planned for Saturday, June 11. The club’s popular BP Astro Kids program will celebrate its first birthday at 5 p.m. by revisiting its first year of fun kid projects in a relaxed, science-based, crafty evening! Participants can come by any time as there is no talk, just celebrations! The club’s monthly planetarium program follows at 8:30 p.m., this time focusing on “Pluto & Some Planets.” Astronomer Steve Ruhl will examine the latest data about Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft. They’ll also take a brief look at the three bright planets currently in the evening sky: Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. If the sky is clear, astronomers will be on hand with telescopes. The event is free to BPAA members, $2 donation suggested for nonmembers, $5 for families.

Olympic Astronomical Society has its monthly meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 6 in room Art 103 at Olympic College in Bremerton. As of this writing the program had not been published.

Up in the sky

As the BPAA suggests, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are all beautifully placed for viewing starting at dusk these days. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope list additional observing highlights for the week.

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Seattle’s place in the future of space

Some of the top thinkers about the future of space visited Seattle this week as part of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum. The forum, supported by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, is a standing committee of policy experts who meet regularly to sort out the challenges and opportunities for the two countries and more. The group had two days of private meetings in town, followed by a public symposium Wednesday at the Museum of Flight. Saadia Pekkanen, a professor at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and a co-chair of the forum, said there was good reason to bring the discussion to Seattle.

Saadia Pekkanen

Saadia Pekkanen is a UW professor and co-chair of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum. She moderated a panel discussion Wednesday at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Seattle is in many ways the new hub for space policy, bringing together a combination of billionaire interest, technical workforce talents, and also shared passion on the part of educational institutions like the Museum of Flight to take and advance our understanding of space,” Pekkanen said. She added that space is no longer dominated just by governments, and that the list of important partners includes longtime contractors such as Boeing and all of the newcomers in commercial space as well.

“We are also dealing with a world that is no longer just dominated by Western players,” Pekkanen said. “The most ambitious space players, I would say, are actually found in Asia—not only ambitious but also very competent.”

With so many countries and companies getting into the space business we have to examine our old assumptions.

“We can no longer take the rules of the game—the normative, the legal, the policy, and the regulatory frameworks that have really shaped global space affairs—for granted,” Pekkanen said. Shaping that discussion, she said, is a big part of what the U.S.-Japan Forum is all about.

Security challenges

Yamakawa

Hiroshi Yamakawa, professor from Kyoto University. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Roy Kamphausen, the vice president of the National Bureau of Asian Research, spelled out six challenges for space and security in the Asia-Pacific region. These include China’s space expansion, conflict with North Korea, the evolving and complex relationship between China and Russia, Southeast Asia’s reluctance to act on military and security questions, and changing priorities and resources for the United States and Japan.

Hiroshi Yamakawa, a professor from Kyoto University, noted that space debris and possible threats to assets in space also present challenges. Yamakawa presented a history of collaboration in space between the U.S. and Japan, which he said goes back more than 50 years.

“It’s a very long and sustainable cooperation since the beginning of the space age,” Yamakawa said, noting Japan had recently extended its commitment to work with the International Space Station until at least 2024. “I hope that this cooperation will last at least until 3016.”

Collaboration in space

Collaboration in space comes down to pretty practical matters. For one, few countries have the funds to go it alone in space any more.

Ron Lopez

Ron Lopez of Boeing. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“This backdrop of real threats, favorable policy environment, and budgetary constraints creates an environment that necessitates greater collaboration in space and defense,” said Ron Lopez, director of Asia-Pacific business development for Boeing. “We’re talking about the bringing together of superior technologies with skills and know-how to develop value-added, cost-effective solutions.”

“The purpose of collaboration is really to do more with less,” Lopez added.

Collaboration is not a new idea. Shoichiro Asada of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries pointed out that U.S. and Japanese companies have already worked together on missile defense systems, jet fighters and engines, and other systems.

 

Shoichiro Asada of MHI. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Shoichiro Asada of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Until now, industries in the U.S. and Japan have had a good relationship in space and defense,” Asada said. He had five suggestions about how that could be made even more productive. These include promotion of collaboration between governments and of an open-door policy for government procurement, harmonizing of procurement rules and of requirements and specifications for projects, and standardizing parts, which he admits can be a challenge when few of certain items are produced.

John Mittleman, expert on maritime domain awareness with the U.S. Naval Research Lab, gave an interesting presentation about the huge quantities of data available, especially from small satellites. We can pinpoint practically every ship at sea as we work on security considerations. Information about what is happening on the oceans can also inform us about other challenges, such as resource issues, energy, and climate change. There’s so much data that Mittleman says machines are going to have to do a lot of the heavy thinking.

John Mittleman

John Mittleman of the Navy Research Lab. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Machine learning embedded in big-data analytics will rival human all-source analysis, with one important distinction: the volume of information they can handle will far surpass the speed and capacity of the world’s entire corps of intelligence analysts,” Mittleman said. “Very useful information can be pulled from massive troves of data, whether the data comes form satellites, drones, every car on the highway, every smart phone in your pocket, or anywhere else.”

Can computers really think and understand? Mittleman said the premise of the 2015 film Ex Machina is not all that far-fetched.

“Machine learning can and does discover very complex relationships, hidden relationships, that look an awful lot like human intuition,” he said. “We’re beginning to see real, live, effective understanding coming from the conjunction of persistent, multi-source data with high-speed, high-volume data analytics.”

There’s a fascinating and important future ahead in space, and Seattle people and companies will have a big part to play.

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Astronaut Wilson blazing trails to space

It’s interesting that so many people involved in space and astronomy can point to a particular moment when they became interested in the field as a career. For astronaut Stephanie Wilson it happened when she was about 13 years old.

Stephanie Wilson

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson spoke about her inspiration for pursuing a career in aerospace during a talk to participants in the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program Saturday at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“I was given a school assignment to interview somebody who worked in an interesting career field,” Wilson recalled. “I was interested in astronomy at the time, so I interviewed an astronomy professor at Williams College.”

Wilson said she was fascinated by the opportunities to travel, do research, and teach to which a career in astronomy might lead.

“That was my first interest in space and my introduction to science,” Wilson said.

Wilson spoke Saturday at the Museum of Flight in a presentation to the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program. The program, named after the Washington-native astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, aims to provide inspiration and role models for students who are underrepresented in aerospace.

“It really started a thought process about what other opportunities were available and what were some other ways that I could function in aerospace,” Wilson said of her talk with the astronomy professor. “I also had an inerest in working with my hands and understanding how devices are put together, so I did decide to study engineering in college.”

Statue of Mike Anderson

This statue of astronaut Michael P. Anderson is outside the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

She earned degrees in engineering science at Harvard and in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas. Wilson held jobs in structural dynamics, robotics, and spacecraft attitude control before becoming part of the astronaut class of 1996. She was the second African-American woman to fly in space, going on three shuttle missions to the International Space Station. During her presentation Wilson showed video of highlights of her STS-131 mission in 2010. She has logged 42 days in space, and hopes to go again. She said she’d especially enjoy a longer mission during which she could spend six months on the ISS.

Michael Anderson was part of the 1995 astronaut class, and Wilson met and flew with him during her early days with NASA. She said that gives her some extra affinity for his namesake aerospace program’s goals.

“I really hope that people see that, as a woman and as an engineer, I tried to worked hard in that field, I did the best that I could to advance those fields,” Wilson said. “I also hope that people see that I tried to make a path so that people could follow in those footsteps and continue on their work. I hope that young people will see that anything is possible.”

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Astronaut visit, three club meetings this week

A talk by a visiting astronaut and three astronomy club meetings highlight the week on the Seattle Astronomy calendar, and two of the week’s featured events are on the west side of Puget Sound.

Astronaut Wilson speaks at MOF program

Stephanie Wilson

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson. Photo: NASA.

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, the second African-American woman to travel to space, will give a talk at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Museum of Flight. Wilson, who flew on three shuttle missions, appears in recognition of Black History Month and in conjunction with the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program, named after the Washington native astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy. The program brings in mentors for at-risk students and gives them exposure to aerospace education, improving their chances to graduate from high school.

The talk is free with admission to the museum.

Astronomy clubs meet

Three area astronomy clubs have their regular meetings scheduled this week.

The Olympic Astronomical Society gathers at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1 in room Art 103 on the Olympic College campus in Bremerton. The club has a half-dozen interesting talks on its agenda for the evening.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2 in room 175 of  Thompson Hall on the campus of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Popular speaker Ron Hobbs, a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, will give a talk about the DAWN mission to Ceres.

The Spokane Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5 in the planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Guest speaker and program information hadn’t been published as of this writing.

First Friday Sky Walk

Pacific PlanetariumIf you haven’t checked out Pacific Planetarium in Bremerton, this Friday would be a good time to do so. The planetarium presents a First Friday Sky Walk each month, with the next being on Feb. 5. These family-friendly presentations give a look at what’s up in the night sky for the coming month. The first show is at 5 p.m. and it is repeated hourly through 8 p.m. Before or after shows you can explore the planetarium’s space science exhibits and activities. Volunteers from the Olympic Astronomical Society will be present to answer your astronomy questions.

Tickets are $3 and are available online or at the door. For those coming from the east side of the sound, the planetarium is less than a mile from the Bremerton ferry terminal.

Up in the sky

The Moon passes near Mars, Saturn, and Venus this week as the early-morning lineup of planets continues. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.

Follow the Seattle Astronomy calendar to keep up to date on astronomy happenings in the area.

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Museum of Flight receives F-1 engines that launched Apollo

Forty-six years ago today Apollo 12 became the second craft to land people on the Moon. Today the Museum of Flight received an incredible treasure: parts of the Rocketdyne F-1 engines that blasted Apollo into orbit.

Doug King, president of the Museum of Flight, announces the gift of the Apollo F-1 engines at a news conference Nov. 19, 2015. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Doug King, president of the Museum of Flight, announces the gift of the Apollo F-1 engines at a news conference Nov. 19, 2015. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The engines were found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2013 by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his team from Bezos Expeditions. Bezos requested that the engines be donated to the museum and NASA honored that request.

“This is truly a historic day for the museum, for our community,” said Doug King, president and CEO of the Museum of Flight. “I don’t think it’s too grandiose to say for our country and maybe even for humankind.”

“Exhibiting these historic engines not only shares NASA’s storied history, it also helps America educate to innovate,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a news release. “This display of spaceflight greatness can help inspire our next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers and explorers to build upon past successes and create the new knowledge and capabilities needed to enable our journey to Mars.”

Bezos said he became interested in science and exploration as a five-year-old watching Neil Armstrong’s first small step on the Moon.

“You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you,” he said. Bezos said he thinks about rockets at lot, and one day it occurred to him that it would be great to find and restore those F-1 engines. The engineers who built them were working to send people to the Moon, and few folks at the time were thinking about posterity.

Expendable stuff

“That first stage with these gigantic engines is expendable; it’s supposed to crash into the ocean, that was the whole plan,” Bezos said.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos talks about his passion for space and the project to recover the F-1 engines. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“We’re working on changing that plan,” he continued. “I have this space company called Blue Origin; we’re trying to make reusable rockets because we don’t like throwing the hardware away.”

It took Bezos all of ten minutes of Internet searching to find the coordinates at which NASA said the Apollo 11 first stage rocket crashed. The hunt was on.

“That was going to prove to be the only easy thing about this project,” Bezos laughed. It was an incredibly complicated endeavor. Bezos Expeditions put together a team of more than 60 people who are experts in ocean recovery. They searched some 300 square miles of ocean with side-scanning sonar to find the engines and then pulled them out from under 14,000 feet of seawater, where they’d been at rest for more than 40 years.

The parts were restored at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. Much of the damage to the engines was caused not by their high-speed crash into the sea, but by silt and corrosion from four decades in salt water, though the large and highly recognizable bell-shaped nozzle extensions were badly mangled.

Great museum pieces

Geoff Nunn, the adjunct curator for space history at the museum, said the engines that drove Apollo were marvels of engineering.

Geoff Nunn

Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the Museum of Flight, talked about what makes the F-1 engines a special artifact. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“The Rocketdyne F-1 was the largest single-chambered liquid-fueled rocket ever flown,” Nunn said. “Each engine produced over a million and a half pounds of thrust and stood 18 and a half feet tall.”

That’s quite a kick. King said all of the planes in the museum’s entire collection collectively have only half that much thrust. Five F-1s launched each Saturn V.

The first piece unwrapped at the news conference this morning, still in its shrink wrap from Cosmosphere, was an injector plate from one of the Apollo 12 engines.

“The injector plate is really what is key to making the F-1 engine an engine and not just a million and a half pounds of bomb,” Nunn explained. “It’s covered in these minute holes that release fuel and oxidizer in an incredibly precise mixture in order to ensure that the combustion that occurs is smooth and controlled.”

Bezos injector

Bezos talks about the workings of the F-1 engine injector plate. Photo: Greg Scheiderer

Some of the F-1 engine components will go on public display at the museum starting Saturday and will be out until early January. The full collection will be part of a new, permanent exhibit that will open late next year or in early 2017.

For Bezos, finding and restoring artifacts like the F-1 engines is not about looking to the past.

“It’s about today and it’s about the future,” he said. “It’s about building a 21st-century version of the F-1 engine. It’s about building reusable rockets.

“Civilization for many centuries has been getting better and better, and the point of recovering an object like this is to remind us of who we are and what we can do as we move forward as a civilization.”

The video below from Bezos Expeditions tells the tale of the recovery of the F-1 engines from the briny Atlantic.

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Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries flying high

It’s been a whale of a month for Seattle-based space-services company Spaceflight. Since late September the company has purchased a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, announced it will use it to launch a private Israeli mission to the Moon as part of the Lunar XPrize competition, and, most recently, brought a third ground station online to facilitate better communication with the bevy of small satellites it has helped put into space.

Andrews

Jason Andrews is president and CEO of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries.

“We’ve got a little bit going on,” said Spaceflight president and CEO Jason Andrews in something of an understatement. “It’s fun; what we do is really exciting. Anytime you buy a rocket and send it towards the Moon, how can you not love it?”

Andrews said the industry is really taking off.

“There is this sudden, rapid advancement of commercial space—some people call it new space—and it’s really been brought about in the last three or four years due to improvements in technology and access to space,” he said. “You can finally build spacecraft that are the size of a shoebox that actually do something. With what we’ve been able to advance with our Spaceflight launch business, you can actually get those satellites into space.”

Andrews said Spaceflight is aiming to be a comprehensive, full-service company in that effort.

“We’re really trying to address all parts of the value chain by building the satellite components, building the satellites, helping everyone get to space, and now helping them get their data back from space,” he said.

Spaceflight's newest ground station in New Zealand marks another step toward reaching the company's goal of improving communications for smallsat operators. Photo: Spaceflight Industries.

Spaceflight’s newest ground station in New Zealand marks another step toward reaching the company’s goal of improving communications for smallsat operators. Photo: Spaceflight Industries.

Retrieving the data more quickly and efficiently is why Spaceflight is building a network of ground stations. The new one in Invercargill, New Zealand is the company’s third to go operational, following stations in Tukwila, Wash. and Fairbanks, Alaska. Andrews noted that our mobile telephones work most anywhere we go because the gear is standard and speaks the same technical language. It’s not so for spacecraft, which often use custom equipment. Spaceflight wants to change that.

“What we’re doing is building a series of ground stations over the next three years that uses a standard interface protocol,” Andrews explained. The satellites will use standard radios that can connect to the ground stations easily. “Just like a cell phone data plan, we’ll have a satellite data plan.”

While the ultimate number of stations Spaceflight will build is a bit up in the air, Andrews said they plan to have at least a dozen of them in operation around the globe by 2017.

“They’re strategically located geographically to minimize latency—the time between satellites flying over—and that way we can get customer data back quickly,” he explained. As in most businesses, time is money.

Andrews noted that Spaceflight has launched 80 small satellites to date, and has another 86 penciled in to go up next year. He expects customer demand will continue to increase.

“It’s clearly a revolution, and I think just the beginning of the revolution,” he said.

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