Thursday, 8 June 2017

UK space conference part 2, Thoughts on Launch Development and Wales.

So part 2 . In this post I want to focus on the topics of UK launch provision and then focus in on some ideas for Wales... which could also equate to anywhere in the UK but Wales is where I live and I would love to see more space/astro/aero sector stuff happening! So I attended a plenary where all the speakers were talking about UK launch services, of course the space port licensing and development were discussed, but also the launch vehicles required for a space port where spoken about. The take away point for me was that although it may be possible to have some form of proto space port under way by the targeted year 2020 having a UK based and developed launch vehicle/s/system is very unlikely.

Any company bringing a launch vehicle online in this time frame would have to be at the stage of test launches (ahem Rocketlabs) now. The elephant in the room was that I don't think the UK is attractive to any of the larger players/primes involved in developing launch vehicles, vertical rockets or horizontal space plane. The challenges politically and the uncertainty of trade agreements due to Brexit are part of this, but also we are limited by our position on the planet, launch to LEO will be inefficient and whilst polar orbits may be achievable I think the larger players will look for easier sites.

The second takeaway point I took from the plenary is that all speakers agreed there were astonishing opportunities particularly for SME's to be disruptive in this sector in the UK. Launch providers are historically notoriously difficult to make profit in, are high risk and technically challenging, but these complexities, if embraced correctly, also provide the most opportunity for impact and innovation.

So here is my take on a possible progression route in Wales...

I think we need to play a longer game, I would love to see some energies focus on developing home grown launch vehicles, as mentioned, we are never going to hit the 2020 target, but could be a part of the 2030 target of the UKgarnering 10% of the expected £400 billion global spaceeconomy. I believe we need to invigorate ideas, explore bootstrapping and grass roots development and as such I look to numerous places for inspiration.

Firstly my recent trip to talk about Pocketqube satellite chassis development at the Delft Technical University also included a visit to the DARErocketry team . Basically they are well funded by sponsorship (3M, SAFRAN,ALTIUM, ANSYS, TUDelft and many more) and run a fascinating program which emulates the professional sector in that they hold contracts to supply rockets for programs like the CANSAT program, the program turns out fantastic young scientists and engineers who have a heap of very real industry experience and creates great vehicles which have held world records in altitude in non commercial flights. Having visited the team their energy and enthusiasm is as infectious and as inspiring as the IP developed and the learning undertaken.

A program like DARE in Wales could be achieved across the Universities or indeed could be formed privately in terms of an SME with commercial aims as well as an educative mission campaign. CANSAT type programs could be linked into school, colleges and voluntary sector STEM/STEAM orgs. There are numerous things in place already that would support it. For example, I've recently took a position on the council of the UK Rocketry Association , who manage insurance and accreditation for those wishing to fly high power larger rockets in the UK up with up to O impulse solid or hybrid motors. As well as accreditation, a technical safety panel and other services, we offer a program called “team rocket support”  which supports and guides teams wishing to build rockets at the top end of these impulse levels (level 3 certified). UKRA also has measures to streamline the number of people on teams who need to be accredited in order for a team to fly. For a developmental launch vehicle program I believe this is invaluable and provides easy to reach high altitude experimental platforms/sounding rockets within reach building not only technical expertise, but building the narrative of Wales in space.

Secondly the top image on this post is taken from the exhibition stand from Wales Aerospace and shows the unlimited ceiling de restricted airspace sat next to Wales, this provides huge possibilities for both horizontal launch and vertical. With the recent development of sea launch by organisations such as Copenhagen Sub Orbitals  (as well as Space X) I think this could provide a safe and exciting test bed area for launches prior to land based launches.

As ever, feel free to disagree... but I hope this post stimulates discussion and hopefully inspires some movement, action and progression.

In future posts I plan to talk about satellite developments that have already happened in Wales and also those organisations and companies that could easily mobilise in this sector and also about some fascinating materials I learnt about at the UK space conference. 

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