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October 11, 2010 / car.

why countries finance space activities?

It is a fact, a vast amount of the financing of space projects come from the government, either financing the scientific missions or financing R&D projects for their industries. Space is a high-tech sector and, as such, strategic for the country’s economy in a world where only high-tech products can (barely) scape from China’s manufacturing capacity and low cost.

Lots of resources are needed to keep space industry competitive

But, what are the main (economic) rationales for space projects? (as explained by Dr. Simpson in one of his speeches)

  1. Governments try to create a minimum demand for certain high-tech products (ensure minimum profitability of their industries)
  2. Stimulate R&D and innovation to avoid competitive disadvantages over other countries’ industries
  3. Develop and sustain human infraestructure (if your high-tech workers have no job, they will go to other place with their knowledge)
  4. Gain and preserve access to off-earth resources (specially prized orbits)
  5. Meet space-specific technological demand (that can be later applied to other sectors via spin-offs

 

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October 5, 2010 / car.

Space projects contracts

When speaking about spacecraft manufacturing, the space sector usually works on an order basis. That is, even if you have a standard platform, you do not stock them ready for launch, but manufacture them on demand when a customer needs a new satellite (and usually, they may ask for some minor modifications to fit their requirements).

Space projects have been historically dominated by cost overruns, specially related to time overruns. If you ever try to buy a single electronic component for your spacecraft, and the manufacturer does not have it in stock (which is quite common), be ready to wait up to half a year for a quartz oscillator or FPGA, and some months for simpler components. And be ready to pay good money for them, but that is another story…

In the negotiation phase, you shall be able to estimate your hourly cost (with indirect costs) accurately, and be ready to consider the extra costs related to the possible time overrun. If you overestimate this time, you will lose the contract, but if you underestimate it  you will lose money! (and a lot!). Also, do not forget to consider the operation costs for a system. A good rule-of-thumb is the 1:3:6 rule for complex system cost, where 10 percent of the total cost is for design, 30 percent for building it and 60 percent for operation!! Be careful, as the operation costs are usually underestimated and can cause big financial troubles.

Also, when negotiating with your customer it is very important to choose the contract type. Traditionally, space projects were made on a cost plus scheme, where the final price for the customer was the contractor cost plus a fixed percentage. Of course, this led to inefficiencies because the contractor had no financial incentives to finish the work on time and the projects where endless and very expensive.

On the other hand, a firm fixed price contract has high incentives for the contractor to finish on time, as the sooner in finishes (and the lower its internal costs) the higher the benefit. The market is now moving to FFP contracts, with OHB (DE) winning some big contracts lately due to their high efficiency and agressive pricing strategies (Galileo!!).

Between them, there is a wide range of weird contract types to choose, each one trading risk from the customer to the contractor:

Different contract types for space projects

October 4, 2010 / car.

microgravity

Gravity is one of the fundamental interactions of nature, in which objects with mass attract one another. Newton’s theory of universal gravitation states that the force between any two distant bodies (m1 and m2) is F=(G\cdot m1 \cdot m2)/ r^2, where the gravitational constant G is 6.67\cdot 10^-11 N\cdot m^2 \cdot kg^-2.

So if all bodies attract each other with some force, how is it that we see astronauts on the ISS or shuttle floating as if they were in a non-gravity world?

Well, the fact is that the astronauts are in fact orbiting around the Earth, and they are in a state that we may call free fall. In this state, the spaceship is continuously falling in its trajectory around the Earth (if it were not falling, it would scape the Earth). This is easily seen with the cannon example, where we put a cannon in the top of a mountain and fire it, it the firing speed is high enough, the cannonball will orbit the Earth.

Newton's cannon explanation

Be it free fall, microgravity or other names, it is a very useful state for study of different physical, chemical and biological processes without the influence of gravity (e.g. crystal formation,…), so more to come!

September 24, 2010 / car.

where is space?

if we will be blogging about space, we better clarify what it is, or more exactly, what is commonly considered to be space…

From an astronaut point of view (so, the minimum high to get your astronaut’s wings), you shall cross the 100km above ground (that is 62miles for non-metric unit users).[edit: if you live in U.S., you only need to get above 50miles, lucky you!] It does not seem that high, specially if we consider that most telecom satellites orbit at 36,000 km.

However, in the human spaceflight history, only a bit more than 500people have reached this altitude so there is still lots of work in the human spaceflight area!

In the different posts related to human spaceflight, we will introduce the concepts of health effects, and the different rationales for human exploration of our solar system. I hope you will enjoy it, welcome!

September 22, 2010 / car.

spaceBlog for spacenauts

Welcome to spacenaut, a blog with information for space and technology enthusiasts.

We will cover different topics of the space sector, such as business, technology, human spaceflight and others…

Enjoy and feel free to comment!