jump to navigation

Reinventing Space Conference Interviews, Friday, 5-11-12 May 11, 2012

Posted by The Space Show in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reinventing Space Conference Interviews, Friday, 5-11-12


Guests:  1st Segment: Col (Res.) Yoram Ilan-Lipovsky with George Vamos;  2nd Segment: George Vamos.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.  This program consists of two recorded interviews from the Reinventing Space Conference 2012.  The first interview for an hour is with Col (Res.) Yoram Ilan-Lipovsky .  Yoram has been interviewed in earlier years at this conference, still serves with the IAF though he is retired,  and is still part of the Israeli Space Program.  We were joined by George Vamos who was attending the conference as he was most interested in Yoram’s plans for air launch for Israeli satellites and missions.  Col. Ilan-Lipovsky told us about his plan to use cubesats for disaster management including wild fires as well as a host of other natural and man made disasters.  He talked about the interest in this project in Japan, the U.S. including the states most subject to wild fires, Europe and Israel.  We went through his satellite plan, the use of air launch to quickly get the satellites up for a specific disaster, and debris issues when the small satellites reach the end of their mission.  Later in this interview, we talked about space and the average Israeli, the Kepler Space Telescope and STEM issues in education in Israel and around the world.

In the second segment, George Vamos proposed several questions to us and hopes that listeners to this program will offer him comments, information, or ask questions on the blog.  George is looking ahead to the day when he believes there might be a government space program leaving all space exploration, including deep space exploration, to the private sector.  Thus, he is looking at a new model to finance deep space missions using philanthropy.  He is wondering what the price points might be for deep space mission, perhaps to Mars, and then can such a mission be financed through philanthropy.  He said he realized that most of these types of missions would not support a commercial model since traditional investment and ROI objectives would not likely be met.  Based on what he sees with wealthy people building wings of hospitals, cancer centers and even financing the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, he exploring philanthropy as a possible means of carrying, perhaps at a small level, meaningful deep space missions.  See what you think and let him know your thoughts on the blog.  He will be responding to your comments and questions.

For all comments and questions regarding both segments of this discussion, please post them on The Space Show blog.


1. Rick Kwan - June 3, 2012

As a long-time UNIX/Linux software engineer, the comments by George Vamos had me particularly intrigued.

I like the idea of TI OMAP3 for devices in low-Earth orbit. The NASA PhoneSat will supposedly have a Nexus One in it, which uses a Samsung Hummingbird chip. Both utilize the ARM Cortex-A8 CPU and some sort of PowerVR SGX5xx GPU. For low-cost short duration missions, perhaps either will do.

For an interplanetary mission, I would want to see a device with some rad tolerance data behind it. This would help determine the amount of shielding or redundancy that you would want on a mission. I am not an expert in rad testing. I understand there are different types of radiation and intensities of testing. I wonder if it makes sense to bombard many different ARM Cortex-A devices simultaneously and then see how they perform. Of course, this may need to be in the context of the boards they are mounted on (BeagleBoard vs Gumstix Overo vs DroidX vs whatever).

If a series of incremental steps can be clearly explained, perhaps a philanthropist or Kickstarter would fund a step. Rad testing might be such a test. Similar things might be done for heat or vibration. The results would have to be widely distributed so that (1) designers around the world can make use of the data, (2) donors can see in a tangible form that their money bought, (3) chip vendors that fail early will be motivated to create a better space-rated chip for the next round of testing.

There are also some specific modular software components that many missions could share: flight avionics (command and data handling), mission control center data displays. downlink data stream encryption or authentication. I see a lot of this being common to small satellite missions and UAVs.

As for Linux on a flight vehicle, I’d like to see it, but have some caveats. It will respond reliably and quickly 99 percent of the time. The 1 percent will kill you. It needs a co-resident kernel for hard-real-time. (I have one in mind.) Otherwise, it cannot handle things like flight controls.

2. George Vamos - May 18, 2012

Some additional factoids:
1. Los Angeles Disney concert hall (philantropic) oost about $250 million.
2. J.Paul Getty center (Museum, philantropic) cost $1.3 billion
3. Armand Hammer art museum (philantropic) cost almost $300 million, including building, endowment, and art.

Some commercial efforts:
1. Hasbro funded the movie “Battleship” for about $200 million dollars in order to sell toys. The deal covered four movies.
2. Red Bull’s 120,000 foot baloon jumb: $15 million.
3. Coca Cola annual advertising expense: $1.6 billion.

1. A Russian Oligarch has a $300 million super yacht
2. David Geffen sold a Jackson Pollock “drip” painting for $140 million.

Clearly, there is money out thers. Universities and hospitals have the sophistication to raise it. Could a university fundraising arm provide the skills and resources? Maybe. The lower the mission cost, the better the chance.

3. George Vamos - May 18, 2012

Wow. Thanks guys. I feel good that you agree, but i hoped the idea could be improved some more…

Andy Hill: Yes. My experience is pluggable interfaces and having the system and the right people available on hand is worth 100,000 pages of documents, which is normally what you get. Cheaper, too.

mjlarue: Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I would hope you would re-consider Yoram’s presentation: Using satellites to target a much more capable and precise emergency response system is also pretty cool, and his launcher and 200lb satellite would be nice to have as a Mars directed upper stage to cut costs. This is not what he was pitching, but would be nice to have.

4. Goran Marnfeldt - May 18, 2012

As a Swedish citizen, and as typical in Europe, we expect the government to take responsibility for advancing the common good, such as cooperate in science projects with other governments.
On the other hand, the cultural/political/economic direction in the US, and the Anglophone world in general, is to limit the government to defense and police functions. If this becomes the established practice, the government will be effectively excluded from non-military space exploration (among other things.)

For reasons unclear to me, this seems to be the choice of the American public. Carried to its logical conclusion, and assuming no near term (5-10 years) profits from deep space, philanthropy may be the only option the US will have.

On the other hand, I am not clear on how much space costs (especially launch and operations) can come down. I suspect that $50 million is plausible, maybe even lower, but the bottom will only be found by a series of real attempts.

Being an electronics engineer and having some microcomputer design experience, I think there is still a lot of room in cutting payload costs as far as the electronics are concerned. For example, I recall several of the ARM CPU’s having error control codes for registers, etc. And as was mentioned in the podcast, redundancy can be implemented as layer on top of the hardware. This would indicate that the sort of electronics in cell phones is not too far from applicable to space, especially with the right software. Again, I am not sure, but I think it’s worth a try. What may be missing from the picture are small launch vehicles. The new Italian Vega launch vehicle can launch about 2 tons to LEO, so maybe 200 Kg to mars, if an upper stage were available. Still, the expected price of just the launch vehicle is 32 million Euros. This would still be the dominating cost.

The bottom line is that reducing mission size and complexity to the point where private money is available seems preferable. I doubt that launch costs are coming down much in the next decade, or even further out, volumes being inadequate to support the manufacturing base.

drspaceshow - May 18, 2012

Goran, thanks for your comments. I think you have a bit of a misunderstanding about the American space program. The plan right now is for Low Earth Orbit and soon the Cis-Lunar environment (Earth-Moon) to be handled by the private sector (commercial sector including the entrepreneurs) and the BLEO/Deep space missions to be a function of NASA with or without public/private partnerships. The role for civil space in America, largely government driven and financed, is still very strong, both on the science mission side as well as on the planning side for future HSF flights. Our economic system is different from yours and our traditions going back to our nation’s founding are different from Sweden as well as Europe so we push for the commercial, not just government activity. Space is finally evolving to the point where there is a real chance for commercialization of some aspects of the industry and that is what the U.S. has traditionally done very well with over the years. Most Americans see expanding private sector commerce to space as a natural expansion of our economy. In fact, I taught a 5th grade class via Skype today in the Midwest and the students strongly supported the entrepreneurial and commercial space development efforts and much less so the government programs. We did not get into quality, waste, higher costs, etc., things we talk about on The Space Show all the time.

To me, we are at the very early stages of seeing a new part of our economy develop, a commercial sector a few hundred miles off the planet. Tomorrow’s Falcon 9 launch, if successful, will clearly hasten that economic development. But I believe you misunderstand what is going on here when you think our goal is to limit government to defense and police activities. That is just not so. But we do cherish our private sector, it creates our jobs, and it builds the wealth for our nation and inspires our youth and youth from around the world to greatness. As we evolve to a truly space fairing state and world, I personally think we will see robust civil and commercial space programs side by side enhancing one another in development, research, expansion, and all sorts of good things. We also cherish our individualism with safetynets. We look to the private sector for our economic growth and opportunities more so than government.

Again, I appreciate your comments.

David Livingston

George Vamos - May 18, 2012

Goran: You touched a sore spot. There is a major conflict in this country between those who believe in the government supporting non-defense space, and those that do. People on the far left believe that the government has the authority for space exploration, but that it is a waste of money. On the far right, they believe that space exploration, even by the government, is a good idea, but at the same time say that it is not one of the constitutional enumerated powers for the Federal government, so they should not be taxed to do so. Ironically, the effect is the same: Government money is a fading hope. Our only prospect private money, but without expecting a profit. This requires *EXTREMELY* low costs to be sustainable.

5. Alistair - May 18, 2012

Interesting show. Got to agree with @mjlarue720, I personally found the second portion of this podcast more interesting. But to each his own.

The discussion about non-rad hardened cpus was interesting and potentially a good cost savings. I came across a relevant article on physorg: http://phys.org/news/2012-05-experts-unveil-superefficient-inexact-chip.html This chip is designed to accept errors in calcuations, but can be must faster, lower power and cheaper. Throw a few of these on a cheap spacecraft, and I think you may have a cost effective and powerful cpu.

As for the philanthropic funding, I think it is an interesting proposition that should be followed through.

Overall, I would say that there is a clear need for some out of the box thinkning on spacecraft acquisition. The traditional process is ‘broken’ (w/rt cost), although they do produce some very capable spacecraft, just waaaaay too expensive.

Industry and the DoD need to accept some risk and just get it done; The Army doesn’t have the ‘installed base’ so it is, rightly so, accepting some risks. As a safety guy, I’m all infavor of “Accepting all Necessary Risks,” and plenty of other risks if the cost-benefit is favorable; you just need to understand the risks you are accepting.

George Vamos - May 18, 2012

Alistair: Thanks for your support. What worries me is your last paragraph: At the conference, I heard a deputy assistant secretary of defense explain that the government is willing to accept four classes of risk: A (must succeed), B(small chance of failure), C(moderate chance of failure), and D (experimental.) On the other hand he also said that the impact on the carreer of the mid-level officials of a failed mission was still so sevre that government risk tolerance may not be enough to change behavior. I think this is also the case with large civil projects. Elon Musk managed to lauch the Falcon 1 on the fourth try only because it was his personal money. I think clumsy efforts at career preservation are an invisible threat to the space program.

6. mjlarue720 - May 17, 2012

Before I say anything about content, let me voice concern about the packaging of this information, having listened to both segments.

These two topics are distinct enough that they each deserved their own podcast file. From the descriptions given I was more interested in the George Vamos segment and I found it difficult to commit an entire two hours to listen to both, to get to the second. My workaround was to skim the first segment and find segment break by trial and error.

Regarding content I found Mr Vamos’s analysis very insightful and compelling and I hope that the possibilities he alludes to get the right audience and subsequent attention.

My instinct tells me that the hypothetical price point intersection between “what can be raised” and “what it would take”, as stated to be ~$50M, is in the right ballpark, and would be attractive to certain philanthropic types.

I would like to see what could become of this discussion if it was seriously packaged and “marketed” so to speak. At the very least the current podcast should be split into two files.

I for one, would gladly promote this through social media, but only if I could point people directly to the “philanthropic space” discussion.

Thank you Space Show for presenting George Vamos’s concept and I hope that with a little extra marketing effort this idea gets the attention it deserves.

Rick Kwan - June 3, 2012

I just sent a private note to David, but I too would like to see these two topics as two separate podcast files. I’d like to also point software engineers specifically at the comments by George Vamos.

7. Andy Hill - May 11, 2012

Mr Vamos’s comment about the cost of intergrating a satellite was right.

I worked on an ESA project a few years back where I helped create a test lab out in Siberia because the existing facility could not prove measurement traceability back to European standards, they were using Russian standards. The first step was to produce an international test document that everyone would accept (ISO 14302).

Up to that point satelites that were being manufactured in Siberia were having to be shipped to France for testing before being sent to Balkanor for launch costing huge sums of money. Standardisation within the industry will certainly drive costs down.

Leave a Reply to Goran Marnfeldt Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: