Space is cool again.
That’s the view of Arianespace managing director and head of sales for Asia Pacific Vivian Quenet.
While high-profile projects from the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson undoubtedly capture a lot of headlines, there is also a growing trend in smaller satellites, particularly among universities and entrepreneurs.
The availability of off-the-shelf materials that are ideal for these satellites that might only have a useful life of a few years, compared with the decade or more often required for big military or telecommunications satellites has helped lower the cost of entry for many and led to a new interest in space.
And satellite launch company Arianespace is hoping to tap into this sector with the planned launch of its Vega C rocket in 2019, which will be tailored for the small satellite market.
“The cool factor, all those cubesats, nanosats, microsats, that is giving a lot of new potential customers,” Quenet told Australian Aviation on the sidelines of the Australasia Satellite Forum being held in Sydney.
“Our challenge is to adapt to these new customers. We have the launcher in the new Vega C. What we need to sort out is how we are going to sell the space.
“It is not a one-on-one, we are selling to many ço-passengers now so we have to re-dimension. One way is to work with brokers and maybe the other way is to have maybe a wider distribution network. We are observing this for the moment.”
Cubesats can be as small as a loaf of bread and weigh as little as two kilograms, while nanosats can be up to 10kg and microsats up to 100kg.
Quenet said the Vega C would have a technologies that would allow many of these smaller satellites, which often have an observational purpose, to be launched into space and then dispensed into orbit.
This would help lower the cost of putting a satellite in space.
“The issue for the owners of cubesats, nanosats and microsats is obviously the price,” Quenet said.
“There has been in the market a dream price of all the people who own a satellite and are willing to launch it which has been $10,000 per kg.
“If we manage to fill the Vega C with enough cubesats, nanosats and microsats, we will be close to that price so people will really be able with a very small budget first of all, to build those new types of satellite such as cubesats, but also to launch them.
“At the end of the day what we are providing is transportation. We transport things into space. Like any transportation, it is a matter of how much can you fill your boat or your truck or your plane.”
In addition to the Vega C, Arianespace also has the the Ariane 6.2 and Ariane 6.4 launch vehicles in development. The Ariane 6.2 is expected to replace the Soyuz launch vehicle, while the Ariane 6.4 will replace Ariane 5. The Vega C will replace the Vega.
Quenet said Arianespace was reducing costs through the use of similar parts across its Ariane 6.2, Ariane 6.4 and Vega C launch vehicles.
“Across the whole range of the products we will use the same boosters,” Quenet said.
“Suddenly from building 10 boosters every year with the Ariane 5 we are going to build 35-40 for the whole lineup. That is going to reduce the cost from the supplier as we are tripling our purchase.
“And they are all going to be built at the same location so our logistics costs, our production costs are going to drop tremendously. That’s the kind of synergy savings that we are working on.”
“We are aiming to save at least 30 per cent or up to 40 per cent on our costs.”
VIDEO: A behind the scenes look at the launch of Ariane 5 in April 2018, as shown on Arianespace’s YouTube channel.
Australia to have its own national space agency from July 1
In September 2017, the federal government committed to establishing an Australian Space Agency.
Since then, an Expert Reference Group chaired by former CSIRO chief Dr Megan Clark has been working on a charter and structure for the agency.
Its report was published on May 14 and outlined what was described as “an ambitious strategy to triple the size of Australia’s nascent space industry to AU$10-$12 billion dollars per year by 2030”.
“Space is integral to how all of us communicate, locate and see the world and underpins the ability of Australia’s key sectors such as agriculture, maritime, gas, mining and transport to remain world-leading,” the report said.
“Growing how we use space will change how we live and work in remote and regional Australia, including providing new opportunities for communication in our regional areas.”
The report outlined nine recommendations covering a national industry strategy, funding, treaties, working with government departments and engagement with schools and industry, among other matters.
It said the national space agency would have four key roles and responsibilities, namely to lift national and international engagement, set national policy and strategy to realise Australia’s ambitions in the civil space sector, facilitate growth in space industry sector and inspire the nation with Australian’s contribution to human endeavours in space.
In response to the report, the Australian Government said it supported five of the nine recommendations, with the remaining four recommendations “supported in principle”.
It said the national space agency would begin operations on July 1 2018, with Dr Clark to lead the organisation in its first year.
The Commonwealth’s 2018/19 budget handed down on May 8 included $26 million over the next four financial years to establish the national space agency.
There was also $15 million over three years from 2019/20 to establish the International Space Investment project, which will “provide grants to strategic space projects that generate employment and business opportunities for Australians”, the budget papers said.
The Expert Reference Group report, as well as the federal government’s response, can be read on the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science website.
Quenet said having an Australian Space Agency would help support more activity in the region.