Three Compelling Questions You Asked Speakers at Space Tech Expo Europe
Space Tech Expo Europe introduced Slido to the Industry Forum, an audience interaction tool allowing you to ask questions through your phones and tablets to the speakers on the panel discussions. During the sessions, we received more than a hundred compelling questions from you to the Industry Forum panellists. We compiled three questions answered by the speakers.
Would abandoning the ISS rapidly accelerate other exploration and science missions?
During the panel on global collaboration on October 24, Jan Wörner, Director-General at ESA, Timothy Tawney, NASA Europe Representative at NASA, Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Director Paris office at JAXA and Luc Brûlé, Vice President at the Canadian Space Agency, were asked this question while they discussed future of the International Space Station and according to the panellists, it turns out they are asked this question rather often!
Jan Wörner: “Of course, if you do not use the money for ISS, you can use it for other things. But the question should really be: do we need microgravity research in low-Earth orbit? I say yes. Of course, it costs some money, but if we work together globally we can afford to go further and therefore this is not an either-or question.”
Luc Brûlé remarked that there has to be an operational platform in low-Earth orbit in order to continue deep space exploration. “There is always something to learn – flying in space is a harsh environment, so we need to learn and need experiments to try. If we get rid of the ISS, we don’t have that anymore. We need to preserve the ISS for as long as we need it, so deep space exploration can really begin.” Tim Tawney at NASA added: “We have a very long list of things that need to be accomplished in advance of going deeper into space. The space station can help us accomplish those goals and objectives.”
Could you all give us an example of the use automatised or robotics operations?
The satellite manufacturing panel on Wednesday October 25 saw speakers from OHB, RUAG Space, Airbus and Teledyne e2V talk about how the satellite manufacturing process can be sped up through high-volume manufacturing, automation, standardisation and customisation.
Guy Perez, CTO at OHB, said that many different options need to be explored in order to introduce robotics and automation, but made clear that OHB is interested in the topic: “When we were competing for the OneWeb proposal we were trading this aspect and we considered, because of the controversial economics of the mega constellations model, it’s not worth the investment required to have this kind of robotisation.” Perez highlighted the fact that production cycles should be consistent with an organisation’s business model. “There could be different ways to address this problem [of automisation], but in OHB we don’t believe that mega constellations have their own business model as such. We decided not to invest large sums of money to prepare ourselves down this avenue so far.” The Bremen-based satellite manufacturer is finding ways, together with German universities, to understand where robotics can improve the process of satellite manufacturing.
Christophe Tatard, VP of Space Imaging Engineering and Operations at Teledyne e2V, proposed to look at different areas in the production cycle where time and money could be saved: “Why do we perform testing at each step in the supply chain? The testing itself doesn’t improve the product: it is done to reduce the risk and to perform quality checks at various levels. If we can find different ways to address this [testing] aspect, then we can reduce the schedule and at the end reduce the cost. I think however that we are still far from this [level of] maturity.”
Both Philippe Galland, OneWeb Return of Experience Manager at Airbus and Axel Roenneke, Vice President Marketing & Sales at RUAG Space, provided examples of robotisation and automation in their production process. Roenneke: “We use it in the production and integration of a satellite structure which is done by a robotised production street. Only a couple of people are working while the robot is doing operations 24/7. When you look at it the parts and inserts taking place, it’s like looking at a bottling process of a brewery.” Galland highlighted the reduced amount of risk due to fewer human intervention: “All modules of the satellite are based on a given function like avionics, propulsion or payloads. As they are all modular, all assembly and testing can be done automatically, so there are few human interventions, decreasing the level of risk.”
What is the advantage for a user to pay a commercial price to get on ISS instead of getting a free ride via a space agency?
In the “Getting ready for the commercial International Space Station and expanding commercial enterprise in space” panel on October 26, speakers from Airbus, NanoRacks and Space Applications Services discussed the future of the commercialisation of low-Earth orbit.
Answering the above question, Hilde Stenuit, responsible for Ice Cubes Business Development at Space Applications Services said: “I do not think there is such a thing as a free ride. A space agency also needs the funding for space experiments. Agencies are very well positioned to do complex mission and experiments that need funding from different sides. That by its nature takes a while. What we have seen from supporting ESA in the past is that there is a lot of potential of fast track experiments that are simple but that doesn’t mean that they are simplified. It means that there is still very good science that can be done using miniaturised state-of-the-art equipment and diagnostics which can be done through a fast track and affordable route.”
Peter Back, Head of European Operations at NanoRacks answered the question by pointing out that commercial organisations are focused on bringing the price down and to keep up the pace: “On the pricing, we need to take some cost into consideration to make the service happening but we are doing this on a commercial basis. We’re trying to bring down the cost by standardising interfaces, figuring out simple and cheap ways. It’s much more difficult to do when you are a big agency setting your mind to do something specific.”
Akos Hegyi, Head of ISS Operations & Microgravity Missions at Airbus, pointed out that collaboration between commercial organisations and agencies is key: “We need to think together with the agencies of what conditions we need to put in place in order to encourage this commercial market and to grow it rather than kill it.” Hegyi pointed out the US cases in this area, which are often providing free-access and support for new users. “We need to make sure there are attractive conditions no matter through which channel customers try to enter. If one of the channels are made artificially unattractive then the channels will die and we’ll fall back to the past.”
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