2021-3-imp1

Building and Launching Satellites: A Pivot to Asia?

Dallas Kasaboski, Consultant, NSR

 

For most industries, this year has been about getting back to business from the downturn brought by a global pandemic felt globally. Despite continued variants of the virus, most sectors have been working to rebound after lockdowns, slowdowns, and delays from 2020. This is especially true in the satellite manufacturing & launch sectors, which have seen more activity in 2021, from funding, to orders, launches, and announced launch vehicle opportunities.

Northern Sky Research’s (NSR) Global Satellite Manufacturing & Launch Markets, 11th Edition report forecasts over $567 billion in generated revenues between 2020-2030, with over 24,700 satellites to be built and launched in the same timeframe. It echoes this sentiment that the future is promising with launch in particular being shaped by aggressive rideshare pricing, along with increasing diversity of service offerings from emerging & established players. At the same time, manufacturing is experiencing both a push and a pull from the standardization of hardware and increased complexity of software, coupled with an intense desire to ‘do it yourself’ by building satellites ‘in-house’.

In terms of volume, constellations are the name of the game, with NSR tracking over 140 different ones in some form of development. What began in the West, as a means of competing with established GEO players in the communications and Earth Observation markets, has now expanded to all other sectors, with notable recent announcements for situational awareness and navigation constellations. So far this year, more than 500 additional satellites have launched than in the first nine months of 2020, owing to OneWeb’s return, along with many other players experiencing delays.

When forecasting the growth of the market, NSR evaluates the likelihood to launch, especially for constellations. Each fleet is assessed, based on their system CAPEX vs. current funding, competition in the space, launch constraints, potential manufacturing capabilities & delays, and so on. However, those driving mega constellations seem to have a hand-up on the game. Companies such as SpaceX, which has produced and launched more satellites than any other operator, and acquired Swarm Technologies earlier this year, presumably to aid in more manufacturing. Access to launch has not been a problem for their Starlink constellation: even as Falcon 9 manifest is pivoting back to other commercial opportunities, work on Heavy & Starship continues to (hopefully) provide potential for launching more Starlink satellites.

Amazon, while far behind SpaceX on development and deployment, is also not expected to face challenges typical to this market. Well-funded, and with its obvious relationship with Blue Origin, NSR’s assessment for Kuiper’s likelihood to launch remains high.

 

China Is Changing the Asian Landscape

While these continue to progress, activity in the East is not only heating up, but rising to become even more pivotal in this industry.

In April, China announced plans for its own mega constellation of 13,000 satellites. Given the country’s long practice of close public-private-partnerships, launch likelihood is expected to be high. Indeed, the project is headed by CASC, the main contractor for China’s space program, yet the architecture seems to be following the trend exhibited by other mega constellations, all commercially driven.

CASIC is also pushing forward with its 80-satellite constellation, Xingyun, with plans to launch at least 12 Xingyun-2 satellites in 2022, driven by its new assembly factory, capable of producing 240 small satellites each year. China’s Great Wall is also planning its 96-satellite SAR constellation, Tianxian, also set to launch in 2022.

Beyond traditional markets, China is pursuing new cargo & crew capabilities. Back in July, the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center launched a secretive suborbital vehicle intended for space transportation, and launches continue to support the Tiangong and Chang’e programs for Earth orbit and the Moon.

 

Trends are the same throughout Asia

Space activity in Asia goes well beyond China, though it is overshadowed by it. Thailand’s mu Space Corp announced Factory 1 back in July, as southeast Asia’s first dedicated satellite manufacturing facility. In the Philippines, cubesats and small platforms for science and Earth Observation continue to be developed and launched, highly prioritized by government programs. In India and South Korea, government agencies are attempting to work more closely with the commercial sector, to not only support local development, but become more competitive on the world stage.

More important than the specific activity is the impact on the satellite manufacturing & launch market landscape.

With more and more of Asia’s formidable manufacturing capability turning toward satellite production, the region is following the trend of high-volume, economies of scale pursued by aforementioned players. However, as witnessed in other industries, Asia is demonstrating a greater ability to reduce costs. Indeed, the region is attacking the problem from both ends. Entrants to the space domain are focusing on smaller, cheaper one-off designs, such as noted with the Philippines earlier, and examination of funding programs, investment, and contracts, alongside evaluation of CAPEX requirements reveals that China’s price/satellite for its mega constellation is expected to be lower than others.

NSR forecasts over $409 billion to be generated between 2020-2030, for 24,700 satellites orders. Asia is expected to take a quarter of that, or $105.7 billion for 9,200 satellites. A simple comparison yields that while the global price per satellite, including GEO & Non-GEO satellites, during that time is $16.5 million, it is only $11.4 million in Asia. Excluding GEO, the results are similar, at approximately $15 million/satellite globally, and $10.4 million in Asia.

In addition to decreasing costs, and thus revenues, the accessibility of those revenues remains only half open. Due to the region’s strong government presence, a significant portion of the market remains captive. While there has been increased commercial development in recent years, more companies beginning operation and receiving funding, it remains unclear how independently commercial these companies will remain. Focusing on the communications market, NSR’s lowest estimate, assuming strong commercialization patterns in China and throughout Asia, results in only 27% of manufacturing revenues being captive. However, this estimate was made before recent comments from representatives at the China Commercial Aerospace Forum, in which plans for the Hongyun constellation were notably silent. As such, NSR assumes that these and some other constellation plans have been considered by the national 13,000 satellite mega constellation plan, which will result in an even higher captive market ratio.

 

Launch is another Story

Given the growth of satellite orders in recent years, driven by constellations, it is not surprising to see volume-driven changes in the launch industry. India’s ISRO was one of the first, launching dozens and setting records by launching over 100 satellites at a time via rideshare launch. Arianespace and SpaceX quickly followed suit, the former returning OneWeb to orbit this year, and the latter breaking records with 143 satellites flown on a single launch in early 2021.

Schedule and cost are the two most important launch customer requirements, and rideshare pricing has been incredibly competitive, reducing the $/kg costs below $8,000 and expected to drop by a third by 2030. As a result, these established players are taking up much of the market; SpaceX’s Falcon 9 alone has launched approximately 60% of all satellites on average over 2019 and 2020. Even excluding Starlink from the equation, SpaceX continues to dominate the rideshare market.

In Asia, as with the rest of the world, launch is the bottleneck. Outside of India, China, Japan, there are few launch sites, though that is changing. Rocket Lab from New Zealand went public earlier this year, hoping to accelerate plans and more strongly compete globally. Australia, in particular, has shown increased funding recently for Gilmore Space Technologies and Equatorial Launch Australia. Even established regions are developing alternatives, such as ISRO’s SSLV.

Globally, NSR forecasts the launch industry to generate $158 billion between 2020-2030, launching over 24,800 satellites. Asia’s cut is roughly a third, or $51 billion for 9,000 satellites. Contrary to the manufacturing market, where Asia’s $/kg was noted to be significantly less than other regions, launch $/kg is relatively the same between North America and Asia.

Established players are setting the scene on price attempting to corner more of the market. In most cases, launch customers value price above all other factors, and so, most launch service providers (LSPs) are forced to follow the scene that the established players have set. Diversity is coming by means of added services, such as last mile delivery, in-orbit servicing, and built-in end of life programs. Some LSPs are aiming at alternative fuels, lower-altitude, lower-mass launch, which may be able to undercut pricing even more, but technology development remains low, risks remain high, and so time will tell.

 

Is Asia Any Different?

Is all of this growth and change sustainable? In manufacturing, the sector is being pulled in two directions, between manufacturers offering greater scale and capability, and operators wishing to move manufacturing in-house. Internalization, public-private partnership, captive markets, and economies of scale are reducing market potential, countered only by scale. While demand is expected to remain high, through constellations, the service market is not large enough for all players unless incredible innovation happens further downstream. The result could be as simple as shifting demand back to more commercialized offerings, rather than in-house, or could be as devastating as a collapsing bubble, reducing overall demand. NSR’s assessment is a middle ground, where the number of constellations is expected to grow over time, but not continue exponential growth, rolling back as the realities of service post-deployment become clear to more would-be operators.

Launch is another matter. Established players, such as SpaceX, Arianespace, and ISRO are cornering the rideshare market, and, alongside other operators, are the ones capable of handling heavy launch. However, aggression comes with a price, as concern over rideshare pricing undercutting margins continues to grow, and may even threaten future program development. This has long been a problem in the growth of launch diversity, but that is changing.

While these players hold the keys to launch pricing, and some dominate launch schedule considerations, launch customers have other requirements. Given growing competition and application diversity, launch customers are also seeking additional services, giving emerging LSPs the opportunity to grow. Additionally, governments, looking to bolster local launch capability and take-up, are also more closely collaborating with LSPs to offer ways to aid operators in more ways than simply launch procurement.

For Asia especially, the challenge is the interaction between manufacturing & launch, with the former growing strong, especially in China, but launch continuing to be the bottleneck. As a result, many players in the region may attempt to more aggressively expand outside the region, which may prove both advantageous, given low-cost manufacturing, but also quite difficult, given political concerns.

 

Bottom Line

Satellite manufacturing and launch markets are being greatly driven by the need for growth and flexibility. Manufacturing standards seen in other sectors continue to make an impact in the satellite sector, with scale being reached and cost-efficiencies being realized. Constellations drive demand, and the market is growing in capability to meet this challenge, worldwide. Even in GEO, manufacturers are finding ways to standardize the hardware of their platforms, resulting in lower costs, even as the software and network management becomes more complex. Investment in satellites remains strong, with more money funded for hardware and infrastructure every year, and companies seeking to go public through SPACs as a means of accelerating their pace on the market.

Launch is reaching new heights and new lows, through the development of new vehicles, greater rideshare capability, and aggressively priced rideshare offerings. Established players are seeking to control the market, through heavy launch to GEO for larger commercial players & government contracts, and competitive rideshare programs. Yet emerging players and opportunities remain for more comprehensive launch offerings and diversified ecosystems of service.

Dallas Kasaboski began his consulting work for NSR in 2016. Mr. Kasaboski has a M.Sc. degree in Space Studies from the International Space University, France. During his studies, Mr. Kasaboski worked on satellite mission design, contract negotiation, and was project manager of a team of young professionals studying unaddressed challenges in one-way human missions to Mars. His team’s final work was presented at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, 2014. During the summer of 2014, Mr. Kasaboski interned at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. His work involved designing a spacecraft’s thermal control system, the mission launch procedure, integration, and operation, as well as evaluating the status of the market of technologies necessary for the mission. His areas of expertise at NSR cover Earth Observation, flat panel antennas, satellite constellations, space tourism, and in-orbit servicing markets.

Interview with François Gaullier

Head of Telecommunications and Navigation Systems, Airbus

 

What is your opinion about 2020 and 2021 connectivity increasing despite the global pandemic?

The demand is undoubtedly there and COVID has shown the need for reliable and resilient communications, whether for governments, broadband connectivity or even aero-connectivity, despite fewer planes flying. In addition, if the last 20 months has taught us anything, it’s that digitalisation is the means to shape the future and that this future trades in the currency of data.  In fact, that often-quoted expression “data is the new oil” (or maybe that data is set to be even more valuable than oil) is underlined by figures from the OECD on internet traffic increases from the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our economies don’t run without digital connectivity and data.

 

What are the main challenges faced by satellite manufacturers?

We have to adapt our products to the increasing requirements and market uncertainties. Customers are still cautious about making big financial outlays required for traditional communications satellites with a 15 year lifetime even if they will meet all their needs. Offering flexible satellites at lower cost, and crucially quicker to market, allows operators to change the satellite mission at a touch of button – thus reducing their investment risk as they know this satellite will evolve with their needs.

And of course, there is the challenge, for individuals, research organisations, governments and innovative tech companies, like Airbus, to distribute the flux of data in the best possible way.

Seamlessly connecting the world and developing cutting edge technology to make space accessible for all – this is our vision of Next Space.

Weaving a space-base “web” (Image credit : Airbus)
How do you meet the needs of your customers?

As a manufacturer, innovating, having modular designs, software-defined systems, and standardized processes are keys for the future.

Airbus reinvented and redesigned the process of building satellites from top to bottom, turning production of OneWeb satellites – at a rate of up to two per day – into reality. Having developed a highly automated approach, with mass production, with our experience on LEO satellites for constellations, we are now leveraging that know-how and expertise and applying it to all our product lines.

With OneSat, Airbus will give operators the “full flexibility” they need, enabling them to adjust satellite usage, from broadcast and High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) or both, as well as the coverage area, capacity, power allocation, and frequency “on the fly” to adapt to short- and long-term evolving mission scenarios. Innovative flexibility is what operators demand in order to cope with a constantly changing market- and that includes integrating satellite assets in different orbits.

 

Are all these new technologies embarked on all satellites? Is there enough space for big and small satellites?

It’s not about large or small, it about using the right assets for your needs. If you’re trekking to the North Pole or gaming with a friend in Australia, it’s a low Earth orbit constellation which will give the best coverage and quickest connection (latency). But if you need high performance video across an entire continent or you’re a government minister who needs secure information to get through without fail then it’s a geostationary satellite which will provide the coverage, reliability and security you need. So as you see, it’s not one or the other.

Airbus is in both markets. At Airbus, we combine our heritage and cutting-edge innovation to bring the benefits of space to all through all our products and solutions.

We continue to drive further innovation and are looking at future satellite generations in all orbits.

The challenge is to distribute the flux of data in the best possible way
(Image credit : iStock by Getty Images)
Could you tell us more about your vision about the growing data demands and Next Space?

Currently, one of the main uses for telecommunications satellites is video broadcasting, but this is set to change as their usage becomes increasingly data-focused. Space-enabled data connectivity does exist now; however, it is often used as a last resort when no other terrestrial connectivity solutions, such as fibre or 4G, are available – and, furthermore, there is often limited integration between space-based and terrestrial infrastructures.

Research projects to address this are currently underway. Regions with complex geographies are being used to test ubiquitous communications technology that can switch seamlessly between 5G and satellite networks as needed. Rural and semi-rural areas represent a challenge both for terrestrial networks (where rollout may be limited or the construction of new masts restricted) and for satellite coverage, as hills or vegetation may mean that there’s not always clear line of sight to a satellite.

The future scenarios envision even more complex networks of connections. The journey of a piece of data could be compared to that of a traveller on a multi-modal transport network. Continuous connectivity is essential and expected. Our aim is to make satellites a seamless extension – another node – of the communications ecosystem, using all the space-based or terrestrial technology available to transfer a piece of data in the most efficient and reliable way possible.

The future will be combination of new products, services, markets and customers. Space will need to deliver integrated data, have massive capacity and ensure low latency (real time), dynamic management and security.

This will undoubtedly lead to significant evolutions towards optical communications, Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) comms, UHTS and software defined satellites and the continuous improvement of these technologies demonstrate how fast the market is moving.

Our vision of ‘Next Space’ – simply connecting the world (Image credit : Airbus)
How can we satisfy business needs while limiting our environmental footprint, as part of our 2021 objectives?

It is a key issue across all our space activities.  Space is a precious resource – just like the world’s forests or its oceans. If we don’t look after it, humanity will suffer. Airbus always offers solutions that respect this, its part of our values and in line with internationally agreed space regulations. For example, we designed the OneWeb satellites to prevent pollution with an intentionally less compact design to facilitate break-up and destruction in the atmosphere at the end of life. Today it is encouraging to see regulations developing, and Airbus is working with organisations like the World Economic Forum to achieve this, but ultimately it’s patchy and not happening fast enough. What we really need is strong international alignment on what is allowed, programme by programme, to protect the precious resource that is space.

François Gaullier is Head of Telecommunications and Navigation Systems at Airbus, delivering communications and navigation satellites and systems with the highest quality standard and boosting innovation and industrial efficiency in his organization. François brings more than 25 years of experience in the space business, where he has been holding over the years a variety of Engineering, Customer Support, Product Development and Director Positions. François is member of the Board of Directors of the Airbus Italia subsidiary. Married with 2 daughters, François is graduated in Aeronautical and Space Engineering (ISAE-SUPAERO 1988).

Interview with Rachelle Radpour

Chief Technology Officer, Boeing Satellite Systems International

 

Boeing has a long, rich history of serving the Asia Pacific region with commercial aviation and defense products and services. Can you tell us about how you’ve served the region with your satellite capabilities?

Boeing has built and launched many satellites that serve the Asia Pacific region. Historically most of the satellites we’ve built have served broadcast customers, but as the need for connectivity changes, our high-throughput satellites, like the 702X, are strongly positioned to meet customer demand in the region.

And while the region is dynamic and change can always be expected, one thing is clear: the demand for connectivity is growing every single day.

Growing up and living in a community rich with immigrant families, it’s been rewarding to see how the satellites we’ve built have changed lives for the better. I’ve seen how the world has changed in just the last decade – when an expensive international phone call was the only way to connect. Now, thanks to the bandwidth that satellites provide, people connect daily with their loved ones around the world.

 

Can you tell us more about the unique design and development of the 702X?

We designed 702X satellites to be lighter and quicker to manufacture and launch in order to meet emerging demands, positioning our customers to deliver greater capability to end users.

Because they’re software-defined, 702X satellites can be re-programmed from the ground to adapt as needs evolve. If more bandwidth is needed in a certain area – say an island with a growing population, or to a certain user base – it can be allocated on the fly.

702X satellites offer next-generation capabilities, today. Narrow shapeable beams with increased bandwidth, and high frequency re-use, can allow operators to deliver more capability, while securing and passing-on cost savings.

Also worth noting, Boeing is currently building eleven medium-Earth orbit (MEO) 702X satellites for SES. We are set to deliver the first three of these satellites in 2022. We’ve completed the development and testing of the technology, so when a customer invests in 702X, they know they are receiving one of the most powerful, flexible, and scalable satellites ever-built.

Boeing 702X satellite (Image credit: Boeing)
How can regional demands in the Asia Pacific region be addressed by 702X?

Every day, connectivity is growing even more integral to our daily lives. Boeing’s new 702X software-defined satellite can help make sure user connections are as reliable and fast as ever.

Many of our customers serve regions that are remote or spread out across various islands, for example, and shifting demographics can be hard to predict. COVID-19 has led many people to leave dense cities and settle in more rural areas.

The 702X’s flexibility will help better reach and serve all communities. Satellite providers no longer have to guess where demand will be; they can launch a 702X and adapt their signals as their business case evolves. With 702X’s narrow, shapeable beams, our customers can shift coverage areas and allocate bandwidth to best serve end users.

Also, because of the geographical landscape of the region, fiber infrastructure is not able to accommodate all users. Satellites can often provide the only reliable source of communication. Communities who in the past were only afforded slow, unreliable connections, will now have access to all the information and the economic opportunity that connectivity provides. This can help uplift previously underserved communities.

If disaster strikes, for example in a region with infrastructure that could be impacted by tsunamis or harsh weather, having the ability to shift bandwidth can prove extremely valuable for emergency response services.

 


What’s exciting you most about the future?

Connectivity excites me. Connectivity creates equity. Connectivity creates opportunity. Connectivity creates greater understanding and appreciation.

Martin Luther King, Jr once said, and I’m paraphrasing, that people don’t appreciate each other because they don’t communicate with each other. They’re disconnected. I think satellite connectivity is ushering in a new generation of people that will better understand each other, and this will hopefully make the world a better place.

Rachelle Radpour, Chief Technology Officer at Boeing Satellite Systems International, leads technical development and deployment of critical engineering capabilities across the company’s commercial satellite portfolio. Throughout her 20-year career at Boeing, Radpour has led teams through design, verification, launch, and on-orbit activities with a portfolio of products ranging from the classic 376 to higher-power 601 and 702, serving customers across Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. Radpour is a graduate from the University of Southern California, with both a Master’s and Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

Interview with Robert Curbeam

Senior Vice President, Space Capture, Maxar Technologies

Robert, we understand you are a former NASA astronaut and set the record for the most spacewalks during a single Space Shuttle mission. Tell us about more about your background and experience in space.

I served the U.S. Navy for 23 years, including graduating from Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and Navy Test Pilot School. I also flew more than 3,000 hours in numerous aircraft and spacecraft. As a NASA astronaut, I flew three spaceflights and completed seven spacewalks. I joined Maxar in January 2021 as Senior Vice President, Space Capture as I see Maxar’s unique potential as well as synergy in commercial and civil space markets. I’m also able to use my past experiences as an astronaut to guide the team, particularly on our Artemis program projects.

How do you foresee space technologies evolving and how does Maxar play a role in shaping next-generation technologies?

I served the U.S. Navy for 23 years, including graduating from Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and Navy Test Pilot School. I also flew more than 3,000 hours in numerous aircraft and spacecraft. As a NASA astronaut, I flew three spaceflights and completed seven spacewalks. I joined Maxar in January 2021 as Senior Vice President, Space Capture as I see Maxar’s unique potential as well as synergy in commercial and civil space markets. I’m also able to use my past experiences as an astronaut to guide the team, particularly on our Artemis program projects.

 

How do you foresee space technologies evolving and how does Maxar play a role in shaping next-generation technologies?

With more than 60 years of experience, Maxar serves as a trusted partner for government and commercial customers. Maxar’s industry-leading space capabilities, including manufacturing communication and Earth observation satellites, solar electric propulsion (SEP) and robotics, will be very important to advancing how space is used.

Additionally, on the Earth Intelligence side of Maxar’s business, we are manufacturing our next-generation WorldView Legion satellites, which will triple our 30 cm class collection capacity. This will enable us to provide more imagery and imagery-derived data, like our 3D datasets, to customers to gain business insights faster.

How does Maxar enable deep space exploration?

Robert Curbeam: Enabling deep space exploration is one of our many areas of expertise at Maxar. We built six of the robotic arms for NASA rovers and landers, including one on the newest rover, Perseverance.

As Perseverance explores Mars, the Maxar-built robotic arm will manipulate, assess, encapsulate, store and release collected Martian soil and rock samples for future analysis
(Image credit: NASA JPL-Caltech)

Maxar also built the SEP chassis for NASA’s Psyche program, which will send a spacecraft on a 1-billion-mile journey to explore a metal-rich asteroid. The SEP chassis is based on Maxar’s 1300-class platform, and it provided NASA the opportunity to budget, design and build the historic Psyche mission on flight-proven, commercially developed hardware. Psyche is set to launch in August 2022.

Maxar engineers prepare the Psyche spacecraft bus for transport to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
(Image credit: Maxar)

Maxar also developed advanced SEP capabilities to reduce program costs and enable long-duration missions for commercial communications satellites. We are excited to apply this technology to NASA’s Artemis program. Maxar is building the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) for the NASA-led Gateway, which will support astronaut expeditions to the lunar surface and provide a port for future space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and other destinations.

PPE, based on Maxar’s proven 1300-class platform, will provide power, maneuvering, attitude control, communications systems and initial docking capabilities for Gateway. Key elements of our PPE solution – high-power solar arrays and SEP – leverage our past flight experience and stretch those capabilities to 60kW of solar array power generation and electric propulsion thrusters operating at 12kW–an unprecedented level.

Artist rendering of Maxar’s Power and Propulsion Element (Image credit: Maxar)
Maxar works closely with NASA on PPE, Psyche and OSAM-1, among other programs. What current space market trends are changing the way Maxar works with NASA?

Maxar is quite unique in the space market as we do a lot of commercial and government work in space now. A new trend from NASA is that they are looking to leverage commercial capabilities to support their exploration efforts, and we are excited about this development!

The TEMPO payload is lowered onto the IS-40e spacecraft (Image credit: Maxar)

A prime example of this is Maxar integrating NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) payload onto a geostationary communications satellite that we’re building. By hosting government payloads on commercial satellites, Maxar can help government agencies access space without the cost of building a dedicated spacecraft. Similarly, hosted payloads help the commercial and the hosted customer share the cost of the satellite bus, launch and operations.

TEMPO, a collaborative effort between NASA and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, will monitor and track air pollution across North America on an hourly basis. From a vantage point 22,236 miles above North America, TEMPO will make complete, hourly east-to-west scans of the continent–from Mexico to northern Canada, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. TEMPO can also be configured to dwell on a region of interest: during a major fire or volcano eruption, for example.

TEMPO is a demanding payload on its host satellite, but Maxar’s 1300-class spacecraft can support optical instruments with fine pointing, low-jitter and high-fidelity sensor data as either a hosted sensor or a dedicated mission.

 

Can you tell us more Maxar’s success in commercial space programs?

Currently, there are more than 80 Maxar-built geostationary satellites in service, which is more than any other commercial manufacturer. We’re currently building several satellites, including a few that will help our customers transition their existing media distribution and contribution services uninterrupted to the new C-band spectrum. This effort will free up spectrum for 5G terrestrial wireless services.

If you want to learn more about Maxar’s Space Infrastructure capabilities, visit https://www.maxar.com/space-infrastructure.

Robert Curbeam is a former NASA astronaut and a retired US Navy captain, with over 35 years of operational and industry experience in aerospace and defense. He is currently the Senior Vice President for Space Capture at Maxar Technologies. During his 23-year naval career, Curbeam served as a Naval Flight Officer amassing over 3000 hours in numerous aircraft and spacecraft. He is a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and the US Naval Test Pilot School. During his time in as an astronaut, he flew three spaceflights and completed seven spacewalks. He also served as a Spacecraft Communicator (CAPCOM) and in various positions in the NASA Mission Assurance organization in the Astronaut Office, and at the Johnson Space Center and NASA Headquarters. His industry experience includes functional and profit and loss positions at ARES Corporation, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

Interview with Fu Zhiheng

President, China Great Wall Industry Corporation

 

Great changes have taken place in the satellite industry since 2019. What is the impact of market changes and the covid-19 pandemic on CGWIC’s business?

CGWIC is an internationally renowned space company, providing satellites, launch services and other space solutions. In the field of communications satellites, the DFH-4E platform of communication satellite is currently our most mature platform, accumulating a lot of on-orbit experiences. At the same time, a new generation of large satellite DFH-5 has made maiden flight successfully, which can provide up to 2 tons payload capacity in the future.

CGWIC has been fully aware of market changes. Satellite users have become more price-sensitive. For example, in the satellite market, small satellite platforms are favored by regional communications satellite operators and a number of emerging space nations. CGWIC has such demands and developed DFH-3E platform targeting this segmented market. The platform can be equipped with 30 C-band transponders, and 20 Ku transponders for conventional satellite services, or about 50Gbps HTS satellite payloads. At the same time, this satellite platform can be launched by a smaller and cost-effective Long March-2C launcher with a dedicated launch, giving it more flexibility in schedule. This small satellite plus small rocket scheme has the advantages of low total CAPEX and high flexibility. At present, a contract using this platform is under implementation and will be ready for the maiden flight soon. In the future, we also hope to promote this platform to more users with competitive pricing.

In addition, for different users, CGWIC provides different solutions of satellite platform, strengthening the “one-stop shopping” model. CGWIC explores the in-orbit delivery business model, and is not only to design and build satellite, but also provide a packaged solution that includes launch services, training, as well as TT&C system and ground segment, insurance placement, and flexible financing solutions upon customers’ needs.

Long March 6 (Image credit: CGWIC)
Remote sensing satellite market is growing rapidly in recent years. What is CGWIC’s view on recent market development?

In recent years, there is a strong demand for remote sensing. The demand for government and commercial remote sensing satellites is increasingly growing. CGWIC has exported three remote sensing satellites and has received favorable feedback from our overseas customers, including the VRSS-1 satellite which celebrated its ninth anniversary in orbit on September 29 this year. Remote sensing satellites and related applications have played an important role for national and social economic development. Remote sensing satellites launched by CGWIC for international users have been used in many applications.

In recent years, CGWIC closely focus on the international market, developed remote sensing family for government requirements and commercial requirements from large, medium and micro platform of satellite and products. In addition, for emerging space nations and space startup companies, CGWIC also offers small satellites, micro and nano satellites one-stop solutions. At the same time, we also provide a variety of remote sensing data image services.

Lift-off of Long March 6 for the dedicated rideshare mission (Image credit: CGWIC)
CGWIC started with launch service, and the Long-March series of launch vehicle just completed 400 launches recently, which is an outstanding achievement. Does CGWIC have any new development in launch service?

In recent years, with the development of commercial space industry, the demand for small satellites into space has soared. Piggy-back is the usual way for small satellites to enter space, which meets customer’ needs to a certain extent. Although the cost is relatively low, the piggy-back opportunity is limited. It is restricted by factors such as launch capacity and payload envelope limitation. Especially for small satellites of over 100 kg, it is difficult to find a suitable opportunity to launch.

Some customers may choose the dedicated launch opportunity provided by small launcher, but even after the reliability has been fully verified, there is still a gap between the dedicated launch price of small rocket and the customer’s expectation of low cost.

In order to meet the demand from domestic and international commercial customers, CGWIC carried out the commercial shared launch scheme, a new launch alternative that lowers launch prices for companies seeking access to space for the first time in China in 2021, also known as “dedicated rideshare launch”, which provides customers with high reliability and cost-effective launch services for different satellites on the same launcher.

During the first commercial dedicated ride share launch with long March-6 launch vehicle in 2021, CGWIC established a complete management process of “shared launcher” from technical coordination to business planning, laying a solid foundation for similar commercial launch services in the future. Actually, two new dedicated rideshare launch contracts were signed in September planning to launch in 2022.

Illustration of APSTAR-6D in orbit (image credit: APSAT)
The Asia-Pacific region is the region that communications satellites are widely used. Could you introduce the recent activities that CGWIC has conducted for the satellite services in Asia-Pacific region?

CGWIC has been involved in communications satellite services in the Asia-pacific region for a long time, successfully delivered five satellites in orbit respectively for Laos, Pakistan, and Hong Kong (SAR), including APSTAR-6D in 2020. This satellite advances in payload mass, communications capacity, design complexity, which set a new record in the similar Chinese made commercial communications satellite. In addition, APSTAR-6E satellite is also under construction to provide HTS services for the Asia Pacific region.

In terms of business and technological innovation, CGWIC has been actively exploring new financing models for customers to meet customers’ needs, and has developed the small communication satellite platform plus small launcher to meet the demands of regional satellite operators. The whole scheme provides operators with more flexible capital arrangement and launch schedule.

Fu Zhiheng graduated from the Northwestern Polytechnic University, Xi’an, China, with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in 1991. He then obtained his Master of Business Administration degree from China University of Mining Technology (Beijing) in 2004. Mr. Fu is currently the President of China Great Wall Industry Corporation (“CGWIC”). He has been working with CGWIC since 1993, taking various positions in marketing and program management for international space programs. Before he joined CGWIC, he had worked for China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology for two years. Apart from his current appointment in CGWIC, Mr. Fu is also the Non-Executive Director of the APT Satellite Holdings Limited based in Hong Kong from 2012 up to the date and a board member of Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Council (APSCC), headquartered in Seoul, Korea, from 2011 to 2014.

Interview with Tim Ellis

Cofounder and CEO of Relativity

 

What makes Relativity Space unique in the private space industry? What is the company doing differently?

Relativity is at the forefront of this inevitable shift towards software-driven manufacturing. Every other company in the world that’s building any aerospace product today is still using the same fundamental premise that was true 60 years ago. We’re still building products one at a time, by hand, with 100,000’s to millions of piece parts, all assembled with a ton of manual labor, in a very complicated supply chain. And that has resulted in aerospace products not fundamentally changing or evolving at the rate of the rest of the world, over the last six decades. Relativity is 3D printing an entire rocket — and really I view 3D printing as an automation technology, it’s software-driven. We’re 3D-printing 95% of a rocket. The way our factory looks is entirely different than what existed before and we’re really inventing a new paradigm and a new tech stack for aerospace. It’s not just about building and assembling the rocket, it’s how it’s designed, how we test it, how it’s analyzed, what it looks like. All of that is reinvented by Relativity and going to build an entirely new type of company that people haven’t seen before in this industry.

Relativity’s first rocket, Terran 1, the world’s first entirely 3D printed launch vehicle
(Image credit: Relativity)
Relativity is on track to be the first company to launch a fully 3D-printed rocket into space. What makes 3D printing such a game-changer?

3D printing really is an automation technology — And that’s the misconception people have about 3D printing, I think a lot of people think it’s very cool, it’s interesting, but they think it’s slow, or expensive or it’s going to only make small parts; “Can it really make rocket parts that work?” But what we’ve done is we’ve invented our own metal 3D printers, which we call Stargate. At Relativity, we set out to build the world’s largest metal 3D printer that can actually print a rocket successfully. And over the last 5.5 years, we’ve done that. We have a huge team just developing our own custom material alloys, our own software stack, our own robotics and computer vision, all of which are different techniques to make that happen. When you look at 3D printing this way, we’re collecting terabytes and terabytes of data on our rocket as we’re printed it, and using that data to reinforce how to make it better and faster and cheaper over time. And so it really is a technology that compounds progress at a far faster rate than traditional manufacturing.

Stargate, the world’s largest metal 3D printer (Image credit: Relativity)
There’s a lot of excitement about Terran R, Relativity’s fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket. What makes it so exciting?

Terran R is a fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket. So what that means is that the first stage, the second stage and the payload fairing are reusable. The entire product will be able to do many missions at an extremely low cost. And reuse is really enabled by our top down, revolutionary 3D printing process. We’re using more exotic metal alloys on the second stage to make the rocket far more reusable than you could traditionally, and have more complex geometries and shapes because we’re not limited by what traditional manufacturing can do. And we can create an entirely reusable rocket much more quickly. We just announced a new factory that is 1M+ sq. ft. where we’re going to be able to print Terran R in less than 60 days.

 

And what about your first rocket, Terran 1 — What can we expect from Terran 1 in the near future?

Terran 1 is launching to orbit in 2022. It’s a huge step for Relativity, since it’s our first orbital launch, but it’s also the world’s largest metal 3D printed object, and, by far, the world’s largest 3D printed product to ever actually fly. So it’s a huge milestone for Relativity, but also a huge milestone for the world and for humanity. I mean this really is the future of manufacturing, not just on Earth but also on Mars and other planets. And it is an early prototype for building off this planet and for the system that’s going to build humanity’s multiplanetary future.

Terran R, the first fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket (Image credit: Relativity)
What can we expect from Relativity Space a decade from now?

Ten years from now is going to be very interesting because I think what people don’t appreciate is our approach at Relativity compounds on itself, very quickly. Each improvement and print speed that we have for one part of a rocket actually makes the whole thing faster. So if we can print one piece 10x faster, then everything is 10x faster. And then once you can build an entire product that much faster, it’s cheaper because it’s faster. And then each successive version that’s lighter-weight and lighter-weight, actually improves speed and reduces costs. So this incentive alignment is extraordinarily powerful. The approach we take and the software-driven, data-driven nature of it, means it improves over time. So in 10 years, I think we’ll have our first mission on Mars. I do think that’s 100% possible. And that’s the long term vision of Relativity, to build humanity’s multiplanetary future on Mars.

Tim Ellis is cofounder and CEO of Relativity, the first and only company to integrate machine learning, software, and robotics with 3D printing to design, print and fly rockets in days, with the long-term goal of building humanity’s multiplanetary future. By developing the world’s largest metal 3D printer, Relativity created the first-ever entirely 3D printed rocket, Terran 1, and the first fully reusable, entirely 3D printed rocket, Terran R. Tim is also the youngest member on the National Space Council Users Advisory Group by nearly two decades, directly advising the United States White House on all space policy.