Speaker Spotlight – John Roth, Sierra Nevada Corporation

John RothSpace Tech Expo Europe is fast approaching, so the Space Tech Expo team caught up with panellists and keynote speakers ahead of their talks and panels, to get to know them better and to understand their roles and functions as well as their views on developments in the global space industry. This week’s speaker: John Roth – Vice President, Strategy & Business Development for Space Systems at Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).

John spent most of his career within the aerospace and defence industries. He joined SNC in 2008 following the acquisition of MicroSat Systems, where he most recently served as President.

Earlier in his career he held positions including: Vice President, Electronic Business Combat Unit at Litton Advanced Systems; Director of Colorado Springs Operations for Lockheed Martin Electronic Defense Systems; Director of Advanced Programs at Litton Amecom; Electronic Warfare Program Manager at HRB-Singer; and Manager of the Processor Architecture Group at Hughes Aircraft Ground Systems Group.

Hi John, could you please tell us a little bit more about your role as Vice President of Strategy & Business Development, Space Systems at SNC?

As head of the business development organisation for SNC’s space systems, I have overall responsibility for new business acquisition and customer relations for all our products. We have multiple product lines that cover a wide range of products and services, including satellites, propulsion systems, spacecraft subsystems and components, environmental control and life support systems, science payloads and space exploration; so it is certainly a team effort in partnership with my product line directors and support staff.


What would you say are the key challenges and opportunities you face at present?

The rapid growth of the commercial space industry, which includes unprecedented equity funding in the last few years, has been very exciting for us, but brings challenges as well as opportunities. One challenge for an established company such as ours is how to compete with start-up companies that are using equity investments to build out satellite systems with the hope of future profits. Companies that are planning to establish their own satellite manufacturing lines for hundreds of satellites using very large amounts of debt and equity funding, for example, can become competitors to our own small-satellite manufacturing line. We are also seeing a race to the bottom in terms of price points, where companies are trying to produce the lowest-cost systems to make their commercial service models work, which puts price pressure on the space components providers. On the opportunity side, however, the upsurge in interest in commercial space ventures has opened new markets for virtually all our product lines, including our Dream Chaser space vehicle, which is able to service low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations.


You are speaking on the Bringing Space Closer to Us: How Advanced Space Transportation Systems Are Changing Exploration of the Moon, Mars and Beyond panel on October 26, which addresses projects such as the Deep Space Gateway. What is the importance of the Deep Space Gateway to the global space industry?

The Deep Space Gateway is envisioned by NASA to operate in cislunar space, so will provide unprecedented access to the moon and other beyond low-Earth orbit destinations. Up until this point, only low-Earth orbit has been readily accessible through the International Space Station (ISS). With a lunar habitat that can support lunar landers and be a gateway for deep space exploration such as asteroid or Mars missions, a whole new range of commercial space activities can be supported, including exploitation of resources on the moon or a moon base.

The Deep Space Gateway as envisioned by NASA.


What kind of architecture is needed to propel deep space exploration as soon as possible?

In my view, deep space exploration will require an integrated support network that would include a habitat in low-Earth orbit (ISS or its successor), the Deep Space Gateway in lunar orbit, and cargo and crew transportation vehicles servicing Earth to LEO, LEO to lunar orbit, lunar orbit to lunar surface, and Deep Space Gateway to destinations beyond. Launching directly from Earth to deep space destinations may not be practical, because deep space exploration requires such a large amount of resources. Interim depots with stocked resources will be necessary to provide waypoints for missions, and can include capabilities such as in-space manufacturing and the ability to extract resources such as propellants from the moon or asteroids. Supplies needed for crewed Mars landings may have to be pre-positioned by unmanned cargo ships and potentially include a habitat in orbit around Mars that can be a waypoint for Mars exploration.


In terms of industry news, what development, announcement or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year?

There are so many developments and concepts in commercial space that have been announced over the last year or two that it is hard to single out one. ISS is starting to be used for true commercial activities, which is a great precursor for more ambitious commercial missions. Lots of companies are trying to lower the cost of launch, from launching cubesats and small-satellite constellations up to launch of exploration missions. With launch cost being the single biggest hurdle to space access, this is critical for growth of a commercial industry. Probably the biggest single development that I think is propelling the industry forward is the huge increase in equity investors that are willing to finance space-focused businesses and take risks and address markets that the traditional government funders of space missions were not.

To hear more about the future of a commercialised ISS, visit the Getting Ready for the Commercial International Space Station and Expanding Commercial Enterprise in Space panel – taking place just before John’s panel on October 26.


We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Industry Forum at Space Tech Expo Europe. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

I have been surprised at the growth of businesses and the breadth of their products and services over the last few years. As a prime contractor, we are always looking for innovative suppliers who can provide us with discriminating capabilities for our products and can be partners with us as we move forward in what I think of as the age of space exploration.

John will be speaking on the 'Bringing Space Closer to Us: How Advanced Space Transportation Systems are Changing Exploration of the Moon, Mars and Beyond' panel on Thursday October 26, 2017 at the Industry Forum – register for your FREE pass here.