Monday, December 28, 2015

New Beginnings: New Life, New Rocket, New Position, New Professional Goals

The beauty of new beginnings: one week ago, after being discharged from the hospital, I watched space history in the making. As my husband drove the car and my one-day-old daughter wailed in the car seat, I watched the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch above the treetops and disappear into the clouds. When I brought my daughter home for the first time and was taking her out of the car seat, we heard the twin sonic booms from the upper stage returning to land vertically. A new life beginning, the sonic booms returning to the Space Coast, and a new stage of rocketry beginning. Cheers for new beginnings at the conclusion of 2015!

The new year will also bring new beginnings for me professionally. When I was approached to help establish a space start-up company in Florida, it was an exciting opportunity that I couldn't pass up. Although I don't use the term “newspace,” I find myself swept up in the excitement of the emerging space industry with its promise of new technology and more frequent access to space for a larger segment of the population. I knew full well that many space start-ups don't achieve their goals and fade into history. I don't regret my decision to take the job and I have learned a lot in the past year. I've had experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise had and gotten to know some great people from all over the world. But, it is time to move on. We have closed the Florida office and I have resigned from my position managing Swiss Space System's Florida operations.

I'm not one to be idle for long. Already I've been working on a few projects as an analyst for Astralytical, a space consultancy start-up. I am starting small, especially with a newborn to care for. In 2016, I plan to increase my efforts and try new things. I am a highly educated, highly competent space professional, yet I find it difficult to put myself out there to try new things which I've never done but know that I'm capable of. I fear criticism and failure, yet those negatives help to mold me into a better professional. With Astralytical, I will grow professionally to become what I know that I can be.

A merry Christmas and a joyful and successful new year to us all!

Baby Josephine and I wish you the happiest of holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Newest Addition to the Space Generation: Josephine Claire

I'm interrupting our usual space news and discussions to introduce you to the newest addition to the space generation, my daughter, Josephine Claire. She was born yesterday morning, December 20, 7:25 AM Eastern, 6 lbs 6 oz. Baby is doing well after 24 hours and new parents are recovering and resting. After a long labor, I'm thankful to have gotten some sleep last night.

Josephine the newborn - December 20, 2015
Holding my baby, 12 hours old - December 20, 2015

I'm going to take some time to care for this new life on planet Earth. I'm looking forward to some positive changes and new opportunities in 2016! My professional goal in 2016 is to put myself out there and try new things that I know that I'm capable of but have been too intimidated to try. Watch out new year, I'm ready for you!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Space Commercialization: Small Sats, Launch Costs, and Florida's Future

Twitter is a very useful communication medium, but I sometimes forget its limitations and my limited skill in utilizing it. I posted a couple of summary tweets from a talk that I gave this morning but wasn't able to formulate my opinions well in the limited space. Blogging seems like the better avenue of expression in this case.

This morning I gave a talk and sat on a panel titled Space Commercialization hosted by the Space Coast Technical Council's Aviation & Aerospace Committee. My fellow panelists were Don Platt, the CEO of Micro Aerospace Solutions, and Mike Vinje, Small Business Technology Manager at NASA KSC. I've met both Don and Mike previously and had a good idea of what they might touch upon. And so, I made my talk a general overview.

Where is the profit in space? It's important to note from the start that money in space is not fictional. According to the Space Foundation's 2015 report, the space industry was a $330 billion business globally in 2014. Roughly half of that comes from government spending. This year was also a big year for venture capitalists with several large investments into companies such as SkyBox, OneWeb, and Planet Labs.

Traditional space profit-makers are large satellite constellations used for navigation (GPS, for example), communications, TV, and radio. Many of the companies involved in these sectors are publicly traded with revenues in the hundreds of millions through tens of billions. Many of these ventures began as military applications with government funding. All have branched out to capture the private commercial market.

Remote sensing and specifically Earth observation is also a huge and diverse industry. Applications for military intelligence are obvious, but alternate applications are vast. Weather and climate monitoring, mapping, and environmental monitoring beyond weather (logging, agriculture, water and plant resources and quality, mineral locations, traffic, infrastructure development or disruption, etc.) are just a few examples of how space data can be useful to businesses on Earth.

The launch industry in the United States is almost entirely commercial with government paying for services as needed. There are too many players to list, but some of the current successes are: Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites / The Spaceship Company, Blue Origin, XCOR, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Masten Space Systems, UP Aerospace, and zero2infinity.

Space components needed for satellites, launching, and ground infrastructure are too numerous to mention. Space manufacturing is an area of potential profit but has not reached its time. Material science, fluid science, biotechnology, biomedical sciences, and protein crystals are some areas of research which show promise. Recent advances in 3D printing have great potential in space as Made in Space has recently demonstrated. Space utilization and integration – providing means to allow others to utilize space – is a great niche area, as NanoRacks has shown.

Space tourism remains an area for the very rich. Space Adventures has flown 7 paying individuals (private astronauts, spaceflight participants, whatever term you'd prefer) to the International Space Station. Virgin Galactic, XCOR, and Sierra Nevada want to enter into the space tourism market as well. Perhaps someday, space tourism will become more commonplace and affordable. I'm hoping to buy myself a ticket someday!

Potential areas of future space commercialization include space mining (on asteroids, the Moon, Mars, or other planetary bodies), rapid global transportation (sometimes called point-to-point transportation), space-based solar power (beaming solar power to Earth's surface), and advanced tourism in deeper space or other planetary bodies. Sign me up for a trip to the Moon.

Panel discussion that I want to highlight has to do with the bottleneck of small satellites needing transportation to space. The small sat and cubesat community is very active in central Florida. Due to the relative ease and inexpensive of building such small satellites, the door has opened for almost anyone to build one, including student groups. But the means to launch these small sats into space is still very limited. For smaller, newer companies who are trying to respond to this market need, there is a large learning curve. Building a spacecraft and operating successfully is a complex, difficult, expensive, and time-consuming process. I cheer on the small launch community in the hope that soon we will see more frequent access to space for these smaller payloads.

Another area that I want to highlight is the continued high expense of launching to orbit or beyond. Generally speaking, launching has gotten more expensive over time. The old technology of chemical propulsion has not seen many improvements over the decades. More R&D into new propulsion technology is needed. Reusability may bring costs down, but it may not be enough (I apologize for leaving out the word “may” in my tweets). We have yet to see a truly reusable rocket so it's hard to judge how such technology will effect the market. I am a skeptic, and my guess is that it won't be enough to make any major dents in launch costs, but I'd love to be proven wrong. It's certainly a step in the right direction.

Florida's Space Coast remains one of the best areas in the world to launch to orbit because of its existing infrastructure, skilled workforce, and geographic positioning. In a conversation I had at a space function last night, we agreed that more rural areas such as Mojave, Texas, and New Mexico offer better areas for test launches. But to create a transportation hub, a population with establish infrastructure is a better bet. It was slow-going for a few years after the retirement of the space shuttle program, but I had no doubt that this area would bounce back and thrive in the evolving space industry. Florida has a lot to offer and has been making a fantastic effort over the years to evolve with the industry, even lead the industry at times. I'm proud to live here.