Thursday, September 24, 2020

Redcliffe Partners' Ukrainian Space Regulation Review

Over the past decade, the aerospace industry has evolved from a race by countries for kudos into an accelerator of economic and scientific development, where technology travels freely between different industries and generates capital. Space technologies are now widely used in security, navigation systems, information and communication technologies, environmental protection, agriculture, state monitoring and control, and other sectors. The increase in demand for space technology (both public and private) has given impetus to the entry of private companies into the market, leading to the intensification of competition and a reduction in prices. In this article we will examine how Ukraine keeps up with changes in the market, and what Ukraine's potential is in the international "space club". Since independence, Ukraine has established itself as a reliable producer of rocket and space technology: 165 carrier rockets, developed and manufactured by Ukraine and partner countries, were used to launch 345 spacecraft into orbit for 25 different countries. Ukraine has launched 27 spacecraft developed 'in-house'; established the National Centre for Spacecraft Management and Testing, with a considerable ground-based infrastructure; developed a group of promising carrier rockets, "Mayak", propelled with environmentally friendly fuel; and has become a participant in international projects "Sea Launch", "Ground Launch", "Dnipro", "Antares" and "Vega", as well as the International Space Station.

At the same time, the industry has encountered a number of fundamental problems. Ukraine is one of nine countries that possesses a full cycle of aerospace hardware engineering and production, but does not use this potential efficiently. Amongst 18 enterprises managed by the State Space Agency ("SSA"), seven are unprofitable or on the verge of being loss-making, and six are economically inactive. Ukraine incurred losses of about USD1.5 billion within the Sea Launch, the Lybid satellite and the Alkantra spaceport projects. Ukraine still has neither its own Earth observation system nor independent access to space, which were laid down as strategic goals set in the first space programme, in 1993.

Analysing the development of the Ukrainian space industry, one can conclude that Ukraine is an up-and-coming developer and manufacturer of space technology, but its management is inefficient and unprofessional.

Window of opportunity
Repeated failures, however, have created an impetus for significant change: over the past year, the new SSA management presented the concept of industry development, opened the space technology market to private companies, created a start-up accelerator, began the process of inventorying intellectual property, and is developing a corporate reform concept.

Ukraine created for itself a window of opportunity, which, according to industry representatives, is to be open for another four to five years, as long as the technologies previously developed by Ukrainian enterprises remain valuable and competitive. Reform of the aerospace industry foundation is, certainly, a step in the right direction.

Market opening and deregulation of civil rocketry
For Ukraine, the state monopoly in the aerospace industry originated simultaneously with the industry itself. This monopoly survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and was only recently abolished in Ukraine: on 29 January 2020, the law allowing the engagement of private companies in the development, construction and launch of space hardware came into force.

The Parliament simplified significantly the permitting procedure, introducing the mechanism of unilateral notice to the SSA of an undertaking's intention to operate in the space technology market. As for the testing, launch, control and return of carrier rockets and spacecraft, companies are, however, obliged to obtain the relevant permits as these activities are considered dangerous.

To further promote the de-monopolisation of the space technology market, the SSA launched in May 2020 the start-up accelerator Yangel Space Tech, aimed at identifying and supporting teams that develop space technology-related projects.

The aim of these steps is to create an "ecosystem" of public and private companies that will compete and co-operate in an open space technology market. There is no need to create such an ecosystem from scratch; some companies had begun to appreciate Ukraine's space-related potential long before the market was opened, in particular, Progresstech-Ukraine, Elmiz, EOS DA, Space Logistics Ukraine, American-Ukrainian company Firefly Aerospace and British Skyrora (the last two have R&D centres in Ukraine).

Maksym Polyakov, the owner of Firefly Aerospace, for example, has repeatedly stated that the development of Ukrainian space technology is hampered by Soviet laws. Probably, when the ban on private companies operating in the Ukrainian space technology market is lifted, R&D centres will become fully-fledged companies.

Corporate governance reform
The current system of SOE management contradicts OECD principles of corporate governance and goals of the state; it has proved itself inefficient, corrupt and non-transparent. Government officials and SOE management all agree that in order to transform "slow Soviet dinosaurs" into competitive and efficient state-owned companies, it is necessary to reform the corporate governance system.

The chairman of SSA Volodymyr Usov has voiced his vision of merging reformed SOEs under the umbrella of a holding company. This step would ensure the SOEs' compliance with principles of corporate governance, transparency and accountability; facilitate the interaction of SOEs with other companies, including foreign enterprises, through a clear corporate form; and provide the tools necessary for asset use and project management. In addition, the transfer of the management function from the responsible ministry - holding both regulator and owner status that contradict each other at its core - to the holding company will eliminate the conflict of interests within such ministry, as provided for by the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises.

Another promising direction of corporate reform development is engaging in strategic investments in SOEs. We do not know what method will be chosen by the state in this regard. However, we will receive the initial intimation of this with the adoption of the new law showing the list of SOEs that are not subject to privatisation.

Intellectual property database and sale of intellectual property
Since independence, Ukrainian scientists have developed many technologies that have not yet been organised or inventoried. As a result, SOEs have patents and technical documentation that can be profitable and accelerate the development of space technology, but their existence is unknown to potential buyers.

Given the above, the SSA has established the Centre for Support of Technology and Innovation. Its task is to identify and inventory all space-related intellectual property created by Ukrainian enterprises and organisations, as well as to ensure the proper registration and protection of such intellectual property. Following the inventory, the Technology and Innovation Support Centre will create a special online platform, Space Gate IP-Platform, where anybody may transparently purchase intellectual property or invest in technology that is under development. The SSA is also considering the option of providing free access to intellectual property to companies that plan to locate their production facilities in Ukraine.

The commercialisation of intellectual property will become not only an incentive for further innovation, but will also demonstrate a real demand for Ukraine's existing technological base.

Space awaits
The range of opportunities Ukraine offers to those interested in space technology development is continually growing. The key projects that will become the foundation of the current five-year space programme are the following:

+ Start-up accelerator Yangel Space Tech, aimed at creating an ecosystem of start-ups for the development of the private sector of the space technology market in Ukraine. Both start-ups and interested investors can join the programme;

+ Space Gate-IP Platform, which will provide the possibility for investors to purchase space-related intellectual property on the platform, or invest in technology under development;

+ Satellite Earth Observing System of high and ultrahigh resolution: "Sokil" and Earth Observation Platform "OKO". These projects were established to develop a system for collecting, processing and analysing remote Earth observation data, and to create a platform providing data to state and commercial consumers;

+ SpaceStartUA, or the "Air Launch" project, aimed at building a platform for the launch of light, ultralight and mid-weight rockets, which is planned to be implemented on the basis of a public-private partnership; and

+ Moonkind, the project on the development of the infrastructure for supporting human life on the Moon, established so as to accelerate the development of new technologies and further develop the project of an industrial base on the moon created by Ukrainian scientists;

To conclude, the opening of the space technology market for private players marked a new era for Ukrainian aerospace based on two pillars: the competition between private and state-owned companies in the space technology market; and encouragement in the formation of strategic partnerships. We believe this new vision of the industry may secure Ukraine's place in the international space club as an innovative developer and producer of aerospace technology, having both a strong background and a bright perspective.

NASA chief warns Congress about Chinese space station

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine told lawmakers Wednesday it was crucial for the US to maintain a presence in Earth's orbit after the International Space Station is decommissioned so that China does not gain a strategic advantage. The first parts of the ISS were launched in 1998 and it has been continuously lived in since 2000. The station, which serves as a space science lab and is a partnership between the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, is currently expected to be operated until 2030. "I'll tell you one thing that has me very concerned -- and that is that a day is coming when the International Space Station comes to the end of its useful life," said Bridenstine. "In order to be able to have the United States of America have a presence in low Earth orbit, we have to be prepared for what comes next," he added. To that end, NASA has requested $150 million for the 2021 fiscal year to help develop the commercialization of low Earth orbit, defined as 2,000 km (1,200 miles) or less from the planet's surface. "We want to see a public-private partnership where NASA can deal with commercial space station providers, so that we can keep a permanent uninterrupted human presence in low Earth orbit," said Bridenstine. "I don't think it's in the interest of the nation to build another International Space Station -- I do think it's in the interest of the nation to support commercial industry, where NASA is a customer."

Bridenstine warned the lawmakers this was critical to maintain US space supremacy in the face of a planned Chinese space station that Beijing hopes will be operational by 2022.

The station is named Tiangong, meaning Heavenly Palace, and in June Chinese state media announced it was partnering with 23 entities from 17 countries to carry out scientific experiments on board.

These countries included both developed and developing countries, such as France, Germany and Japan, as well as Kenya and Peru, according to Xinhua news agency.

"China is rapidly building what they call the 'Chinese International Space Station,' and they're rapidly marketing that space station to all of our international partners," said Bridenstine.

"It would be a tragedy, if, after all of his time, and all of this effort, we were to abandon low Earth orbit and cede that territory."

He explained that the microgravity of ISS offered great potential for scientific advances, from innovations in pharmaceuticals to printing 3D human organs to the creation of artificial retinas to treat people with macular degeneration.

Bridenstine said that it was therefore necessary to fund NASA to pay companies to set up a space station, where it would be one of several customers in order to drive down its own costs.

This, he added, was vital to "ultimately not cede that territory to another country that doesn't have our interests at heart."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

NASA publishes Artemis plan to return Americans to Moon in 2024

Following a series of critical contract awards and hardware milestones, NASA has shared an update on its Artemis program, including the latest Phase 1 plans to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024. In the 18 months since NASA accepted a bold challenge to accelerate its exploration plans by more than four years and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade, the agency has continued to gain momentum toward sending humans to the Moon again for the first time since the last Apollo lunar mission in 1972. "With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the Moon is well within America's reach," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "As we've solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we've continued to refine our budget and architecture. We're going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new a generation of explorers. As we build up a sustainable presence, we're also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet." In its formal plan, NASA captures Artemis progress to date, identifying the key science, technology and human missions, as well as the commercial and international partnerships that will ensure we continue to lead in exploration and achieve our ambitious goal to land astronauts on the Moon. The agency's powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft are closer than ever to their first integrated launch. The spacecraft is complete while the core stage and its attached four engines are undergoing a final series of tests that will culminate in a critical hot fire test this fall.

Early Artemis Missions
Following a successful hot fire test, the core stage will be shipped to the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the spacecraft. NASA will launch an SLS and an Orion together on two flight tests around the Moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities. The first mission - known as Artemis I - is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.

In the Phase 1 plan, NASA notes additional details about conducting a new test during the Artemis II mission - a proximity operations demonstration. Shortly after Orion separates from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, astronauts will manually pilot Orion as they approach and back away from the stage.

This demonstration will assess Orion's handling qualities and related hardware and software to provide performance data and operational experience that cannot be readily gained on the ground in preparation for rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking, as well as undocking operations in lunar orbit beginning on Artemis III.

While preparing for and carrying out these flight test missions, NASA already will be back on the Moon robotically - using commercial delivery services to send dozens of new science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon twice per year beginning in 2021.

In 2024, Artemis III will be humanity's return to the surface of the Moon. After launching on SLS, astronauts will travel about 240,000 miles to lunar orbit aboard Orion, at which point they will directly board one of the new commercial human landing systems, or dock to the Gateway to inspect it and gather supplies before boarding the landing system for their expedition to the surface.

Wearing modern spacesuits that allow for greater flexibility and movement than those of their Apollo predecessors, astronauts will collect samples and conduct a range of science experiments over the course of nearly seven days. Using the lander, they will return to lunar orbit before ultimately heading home to Earth aboard Orion.

Work is progressing rapidly on the Gateway. NASA will integrate the first two components to launch - the power and propulsion element and the habitation and logistics outpost - in 2023. This foundation for the Gateway will be able to operate autonomously, conducting remote science experiments when astronauts are not aboard. NASA has selected the first two science instrument suites to conduct space weather investigations in lunar orbit before crew visits.

While NASA has not made a final decision to use the Gateway for Artemis III, Artemis IV and beyond will send crew aboard Orion to dock to the Gateway, where two crew members can stay aboard the spaceship in orbit while two go to the surface. Over time, the outpost will evolve, with new modules added by international partners, allowing crew members to conduct increasingly longer lunar missions.

As detailed in the agency's concept for surface sustainability earlier this year, an incremental buildup of infrastructure on the surface will follow later this decade, allowing for longer surface expeditions with more crew. That concept calls for an Artemis Base Camp that would include new rovers, power systems, habitats, and more on the surface for long-term exploration of the Moon.

Throughout the Artemis program, robots and humans will search for, and potentially extract, resources such as water that can be converted into other usable resources, including oxygen and fuel. By fine-tuning precision landing technologies as well as developing new mobility capabilities, astronauts will travel farther distances and explore new regions of the Moon.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

NASA missions spy first possible survivor planet hugging white dwarf star

An international team of astronomers using NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope has reported what may be the first intact planet found closely orbiting a white dwarf, the dense leftover of a Sun-like star, only 40% larger than Earth. The Jupiter-size object, called WD 1856 b, is about seven times larger than the white dwarf, named WD 1856+534. It circles this stellar cinder every 34 hours, more than 60 times faster than Mercury orbits our Sun. A paper about the system, led by Vanderburg and including several NASA co-authors, appears in the Sept. 17 issue of Nature and is now available online. TESS monitors large swaths of the sky, called sectors, for nearly a month at a time. This long gaze allows the satellite to find exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, by capturing changes in stellar brightness caused when a planet crosses in front of, or transits, its star. The satellite spotted WD 1856 b about 80 light-years away in the northern constellation Draco. It orbits a cool, quiet white dwarf that is roughly 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) across, may be up to 10 billion years old, and is a distant member of a triple star system. When a Sun-like star runs out of fuel, it swells up to hundreds to thousands of times its original size, forming a cooler red giant star. Eventually, it ejects its outer layers of gas, losing up to 80% of its mass. The remaining hot core becomes a white dwarf. Any nearby objects are typically engulfed and incinerated during this process, which in this system would have included WD 1856 b in its current orbit. Vanderburg and his colleagues estimate the possible planet must have originated at least 50 times farther away from its present location.

"We've known for a long time that after white dwarfs are born, distant small objects such as asteroids and comets can scatter inward towards these stars. They're usually pulled apart by a white dwarf's strong gravity and turn into a debris disk," said co-author Siyi Xu, an assistant astronomer at the international Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii, which is a program of the National Science Foundation's NOIRLab.

"That's why I was so excited when Andrew told me about this system. We've seen hints that planets could scatter inward, too, but this appears to be the first time we've seen a planet that made the whole journey intact."

The team suggests several scenarios that could have nudged WD 1856 b onto an elliptical path around the white dwarf. This trajectory would have become more circular over time as the star's gravity stretched the object, creating enormous tides that dissipated its orbital energy.

"The most likely case involves several other Jupiter-size bodies close to WD 1856 b's original orbit," said co-author Juliette Becker, a 51 Pegasi b Fellow in planetary science at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena. "The gravitational influence of objects that big could easily allow for the instability you'd need to knock a planet inward. But at this point, we still have more theories than data points."

Other possible scenarios involve the gradual gravitational tug of the two other stars in the system, red dwarfs G229-20 A and B, over billions of years and a flyby from a rogue star perturbing the system. Vanderburg's team thinks these and other explanations are less likely because they require finely tuned conditions to achieve the same effects as the potential giant companion planets.

Jupiter-size objects can occupy a huge range of masses, from planets only a few times more massive than Earth to low-mass stars thousands of times Earth's mass. Others are brown dwarfs, which straddle the line between planet and star. Usually scientists turn to radial velocity observations to measure an object's mass, which can hint at its composition and nature.

This method works by studying how an orbiting object tugs on its star and alters the color of its light. But in this case, the white dwarf is so old that its light has become both too faint and too featureless for scientists to detect noticeable changes.

Instead, the team observed the system in the infrared using Spitzer, just a few months before the telescope was decommissioned. If WD 1856 b were a brown dwarf or low-mass star, it would emit its own infrared glow.

This means Spitzer would record a brighter transit than it would if the object was a planet, which would block rather than emit light. When the researchers compared the Spitzer data to visible light transit observations taken with the Gran Telescopio Canarias in Spain's Canary Islands, they saw no discernible difference.

That, combined with the age of the star and other information about the system, led them to conclude that WD 1856 b is most likely a planet no more than 14 times Jupiter's size. Future research and observations may be able to confirm this conclusion.

Finding a possible world closely orbiting a white dwarf prompted co-author Lisa Kaltenegger, Vanderburg, and others to consider the implications for studying atmospheres of small rocky worlds in similar situations. For example, suppose that an Earth-size planet were located within the range of orbital distances around WD 1856 where water could exist on its surface. Using simulated observations, the researchers show that NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope could detect water and carbon dioxide on the hypothetical world by observing just five transits.

The results of these calculations, led by Kaltenegger and Ryan MacDonald, both at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, have been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and are available online.

"Even more impressively, Webb could detect gas combinations potentially indicating biological activity on such a world in as few as 25 transits," said Kaltenegger, the director of Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute.

"WD 1856 b suggests planets may survive white dwarfs' chaotic histories. In the right conditions, those worlds could maintain conditions favorable for life longer than the time scale predicted for Earth. Now we can explore many new intriguing possibilities for worlds orbiting these dead stellar cores."

There is currently no evidence suggesting there are other worlds in the system, but it's possible additional planets exist and haven't been detected yet. They could have orbits that exceed the time TESS observes a sector or are tipped in a way such that transits don't occur. The white dwarf is also so small that the possibility of catching transits from planets farther out in the system is very low.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia, NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes, and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California managed the Spitzer mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Spitzer science data continue to be analyzed by the science community via the Spitzer data archive, located at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech. Science operations were conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. Spacecraft operations were based at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. Caltech manages JPL for NASA

Monday, September 14, 2020

Giant particle accelerator in the sky

The Earth's magnetic field is trapping high energy particles. When the first satellites were launched into space, scientists led by James Van Allen unexpectedly discovered the high energy particle radiation regions, which were later named after its discoverer Van Allen Radiation Belts. Visualized, these look like two donut-shaped regions encompassing our planet. Now, a new study led by researchers from GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences shows that electrons in the radiation belts can be accelerated to very high speeds locally. The study shows that magnetosphere works as a very efficient particle accelerator speeding up electrons to so-called ultra-relativistic energies. The study conducted by Hayley Allison, a postdoctoral scholar at GFZ Potsdam, and Yuri Shprits from GFZ and Professor at the University of Potsdam, is published in Nature Communications. To better understand the origin of the Van Allen Belts, in 2012 NASA launched the Van Allen Probes twin spacecraft to traverse this most harsh environment and conduct detailed measurements in this hazardous region. The measurements included a full range of particles moving at different speeds and in different directions and plasma waves. Plasma waves are similar to the waves that we see on the water surface, but are in fact invisible to the naked eye. They can be compared to ripples in the electric and magnetic field. Recent observations revealed that the energy of electrons in the belts can go up to so called ultra-relativistic energies. These electrons with temperatures above 100 Billion degrees Fahrenheit, move so fast that their energy of motion is much higher than their energy of rest given by Einstein's famous E=mc2 formula. They are so fast that the time flow significantly slows down for these particles.

Scientists were surprised to find these ultra-relativistic electrons and assumed that such high energies can be only reached by a combination of two processes: the inward transport of particles from the outer regions of the magnetosphere, which accelerates them; and a local acceleration of particles by plasma waves.

However, the new study shows that electrons reach such incredible energies locally, in the heart of the belts, by taking all this energy from plasma waves. This process turns out to be extremely efficient.

The unexpected discovery of how acceleration of particles to ultra-relativistic energies operates in the near-Earth space, may help scientists understand the fundamental processes of acceleration on the Sun, near outer planets, and even in the distant corners of the universe where space probes cannot reach.