Spaceport Darwin Low Risk Business Model

Point Stephens NT General AreaA Staged Business Model

by Robert Brand. To be clear, I will not go into the long term business model details, profit and loss figures in a public forum and I will not be exposing any business plans other than a general outline, but the nature of why it is a low risk for the Northern Territory government and my company will be clear. There is almost nothing needed other than to reserve this land until developers wish to fund the development of private launch pads.

I proposed a site for Spaceport Darwin in yesterday’s post and by today there were several people that liked the site, but needed a business model to fully accept that this could happen. I understand that desire to see everything so this morning I am posting the basis of the business model. I was going to wait a week to be able to report more, but to get some credibility, here it is.

Spaceport Darwin will be a staged approach that would see investment grow over time and facilities established as needed. The failure of the past is that massive investment was needed on day one. Another factor is that we can establish credibility over time for the site and with those wanting i invest in launch facilities. With almost zero cost, agreements can be put in place for the first part of the operation and sounding rocket launches can take place before the main area sees a shovel of dirt moved.

Why does our Business Need a Spaceport?

Simply because in two years we expect to test fire our booster / sounding rocket to space. I have worked with CASA and with other groups that would have plenty of objections to where I can launch from. There are also few places to launch to orbit. Insurance companies prefer a water launch and costs are lower if you can lower the risk. Since our long term goals are orbital space, it makes sense to look to a long term site to save money. My company also has an interest in being involved in the running of a spaceport. My background is founded in the civil aviation sector and my education was focused on Civil Aviation electronics and systems. I have also a flying background and interact with CASA on balloon flights to the stratosphere. In our company (being set-up now) I am currently heading a group to build spacecraft and rocket technology. All small points, but with the right people, it makes me ideal to kick start such a business. We also need an area away from major air traffic to launch heavy payloads to the Stratosphere. As a Spaceport is not in constant use, this makes Spaceport Darwin ideal as a launch point for 2-3 ton payloads for stratospheric space observation. With a 2 year start date on a couple of these items, now is the time for me to secure a site for a Spaceport and negotiate an outcome.

Potential Spaceport Services

Apart from fuel storage, gas storage, water, power, staff and other background essentials, I am talking about the end product/ services. The first three below my company requires in two years:

  • Sounding rocket – non orbital – straight up and down
  • Sounding rocket – launched to the east. Payload landing 190km away
  • 2-3 ton payloads sent by balloon to the stratosphere.
  • light to heavy rocket launch facilities – increasing over time
  • 5km runway for landing winged space vehicles
  • Up to 4 launch pads – as demand requires. We are seeing the establishment of private pads in the US at the Kennedy Space Centre
  • Equatorial launches – near polar launches
  • Launches for space tourism
  • Other operations as required

Why be in this business? The current worth of the Space Sector is US$330,000,000,000 per year and Australia is only earning money from the radio astronomy and the space communications service. It is a small player, well positioned to player a bigger role servicing launches, but to be competitive, we must keep our operational costs low and that means being close to a major town. With these requirements met and adequate competition for supply of services to the facility, Spaceport Darwin could well see a significant business in the future. We will eventually have a Space Agency and they will be promoting such objectives. Even securing 1/3 of one percent of the space business would see about US$1B income annually with much of that injected back into the local economy through wages, spending and government fees. It is clear that we can secure much more than this if all services are met.

What is the Proposal underpinning the Business Model?

Stage 1

Legal: The Northern Territory (NT) government would need to place a 15 to 20 year hold on any other development in the proposed area while services are put in place and expanded over time. Stage one also requires the clearing of a future car park to be used as a temporary launch pad. Once stage 2 is implemented, all launches can be moved to their permanentlocation

Technical: A clearing of the Car Park area and a concrete area for launches and testing. The concrete area will be suitable for small launches and balloon launches. The access road, although gravel, should be suitable for large trucks in the dry season. A bunker house with no equipment would be built on the west side of the future Car Park to facilitate a safe house during launches. Not equipment will be left between launches and the building secured and patrolled. Balloon and rocket flights to space will occur from time to time. PlusAerospace (expected name of the company) will manage the site from a launch perspective. That will be source of most of the income

The Car Park clearing will be paid for by grants and other funding. PlusAerospace will look after the mobile plant and other setup as required for launches and will bring shipping containers ready to deploy for the electronics and fuel mixing. The ingredients are of a safe nature until combined and are safe without an ignition source. Only large balloons, sounding rockets and small orbital rockets could be launched from a temporary site.

Point Stephens NTStage 2

Legal: This would only proceed with finance, partnerships and most importantly with customers. A solid commitment from the Northern Territory (NT) government and other legal entities would be needed at that time for long term tenancy and a permanent arrangement for continued services put in place with PlusAerospace as the customer. The government would be responsible for build a sealed road suitable for heavy loads and a 400m bridge suitable for the same heavy loads.

Technical: It would require a large pad for launches and completion of a security perimeter (and fence) that would be easy to patrol and cleared areas for a large concrete launch pad and launch structure. Like the US Kennedy Space Center (KSC) it would need a bunker-like launch control centre 5km away from the launch site with adequate protection. This would need sealed roads from Darwin to support the area. Gas and fuel facilities would be needed and it should be noted that much of the specialist gases used are plentiful in Darwin as they arrive by boat for distribution around Australia. It is likely that facilities would grow for a crawler and fabrication centre and although these items may be a long way away, such assets and pathways will be included in plans for the site ensuring adequate land is available for the service and safety.

Other Business Model Information

It is too early at this stage and some discussions are private in nature, but this staged approach to a business model will also allow a real growth and need dependent expansion that is very low risk. Government partnerships will ensure that risk is kept low and it is expected that a permanent arrangement will be in place with CASA that has to regularly pass review, but will allow launches without jumping through massive hoops each launch. ie, some permanent restrictions at all times. It should be noted that the proposed runway would be built in a location that would be suitable for operation near the Darwin. The current suggested location may be too close to the airport and will need to be located further away. The launch of the tourist flight (rocket motors) could be positioned in the appropriate airspace for the rocket flights.

Comments

I would seriously love your comments on this approach and will respond as needed. I will begin some serious lobbying for this site unless a better one exists, so please place your thinking caps on and let me know your thoughts.

Reading

This following link is a bit old, but will fill you in on some useful background. Cape York and Weipa Spaceports never progressed and people felt bunt by the experience.

http://www.spacetoday.org/Rockets/Spaceports/Australia.html

The following link is also very old and the Christmas Island spaceport also never progressed:

http://members.optusnet.com.au/virgothomas/space/spaceport.html#History

Darwin Area and Spaceport Darwin

Point Stephens NT_2

ThunderStruck Spacecraft Development Begins

BOR-4 breakdownWinged Spacecraft Takes Form

Our Australian ThunderStruck team has commenced design of the ThunderStruck Spacecraft. This graphic (right), courtesy of Project Thunderstruck team member David Galea, is just a doodle to break down the benefits of the USSR BOR-4 design. Yes, we started with a 50 year old design and have worked our way forward as the basic air frame is a solid design that has a good flight track record. We then looked at Dream Chaser which looks surprisingly similar, but with a modern interior. We too will have a similar design to both of these but with some big differences. Our starting length will be 3m (10 feet); our unfueled mass is expected to be 400Kg and optimum payload return will be 50Kg. It will have hypergolic fuel for the space flight – main thrust and hypergolic thrusters. If our air-frame can’t support the mass, then we will increase the lift or size. The fuels under consideration are not like the very dangerous Hydrazine used extensively for most NASA missions, but much safer fuels that are pretty safe for humans. They often don’t pack the punch of Hydrazine, but safety is our biggest goal so long as the thrust is powerful enough to do the job.

This from Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergolic_propellant

A hypergolic propellant combination used in a rocket engine is one whose components spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with each other.

The two propellant components usually consist of a fuel and an oxidizer. Although commonly used hypergolic propellants are difficult to handle because of their extreme toxicity and/or corrosiveness, they can be stored as liquids at room temperature and hypergolic engines are easy to ignite reliably and repeatedly.

We are now go for liftoff in eerrhhhh …in 6 years… But we have started. We are choosing a suitable fuel at this time – one that is relatively safe for humans and still able to provide the thrust needed to de-orbit and maneuver. There are new fuels – not as powerfully as many of the well known thruster fuels, but sacrificing power for safety could be a really good thing if the numbers stack up.

Our Invasion of Space has Begun.

Let’s rewind a bit. ThunderStruck is a Spacecraft under development. This story is about our spacecraft that we are building for actual flight many years from now. We also have a transonic test vehicle that has yet to fly, but we hope early next year we will get permission to fly the craft in northern Queensland (QLD) – probably a little North East of Longreach, QLD. There may be more test vehicles and even the design of our spacecraft may end up radically different from our

At this time, the Thunderstruck transonic test vehicle has been on hold, but it too will benefit from the spacecraft design kicking off since they may share common components. The Spacecraft will be slow to design and build compared to the transonic testing flier, but we have to start this if we are to finish it in a timely fashion. So back to our spacecraft design.

It is expected that we will partner with a university that will assist with the build. At this time we are closest to Sydney University and we know that they have similar goals of working with a winged re-entry flier.

It is clear that we are not relying on using the Russian BOR-4 as a blueprint, but it is a starting point. It is also clear that the BOR-4 and the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser share a lot of common air frame characteristics. So Dream Chaser was the next craft to go under the microscope.

Critical to the design and thus one of the first components to understand is the type of fuel that will be needed. This may determine that we need a bigger craft to carry the tanks or that the shape must be different to handle the large tanks.

Dream Chaser Graphic on top of a Rocket for LaunchDream Chaser (pictured right) is large and has a crew. Our craft does not have a crew and the ThunderStruck spacecraft is small in comparison.

Dream Chaser can launch on top of a rocket and we expect ThunderStruck to do the same. ThunderStruck is way smaller and potentially has folding wings and thus could sit inside a fairing making the ride more comfortable.

ThunderStruck will have a docking ring and the ability to swap old and new payload canisters. ie to provide a new empty canister to , say, an asteroid service craft and bring back a full set of samples.

ThunderStruck will evolve and its capabilities will change as we grow. Our aim is to make the smallest rocket launched spacecraft with wings for re-entry and an exchangeable payload.

 

A Bit About the ThunderStruck Spacecraft

LegoBricks_1.jpgd498eb81-9774-46dc-ac4e-aa9800a21782OriginalThunderStruck Spacecraft Details

It has been spoken about before with other spacecraft design, but let’s put it clearly on the table. ThunderStruck is a multipurpose spacecraft designed as a carrier for your payload. It is modular. The systems on board will be designed to fit into a several configurations:

  • A winged vehicle for straight up and down flight, launched on a sounding rocket for microgravity experiments. The vehicle will need min or heat shielding and will land on a runway. A capsule and parachute is also a possibility.
  • A winged vehicle for LEO reentry. A capsule with heat shield and parachute is also possible.
  • A capsule for high speed reentry – a bigger heat shield and a parachute.

These are just a couple of the possibilities. Others are:

  • Laser or radio communications
  • optional ion engine for long distance travel
  • navigation aids
  • Power systems / solar configuration.
  • Cold gas or chemical thrusters

Of course there is more, but like a Lego system, these units will be basically a plug and play system. The units ensure compatibility and we can optionally open the payload doors if additional power or access to space is needed. The doors may have solar panel deployment.

We expect that the craft will not be sold, but the service rented. Place your payload in the spacecraft and we will take it where it is needed, we can swap out payloads and take on new payloads and we can return. It is expected that we can also stay on station and control the attitude, etc of your experiment for many years with no expectation of the craft returning to earth. ie no heat shields, no parachute.

If we are to rent such a service, it means that we also have to supply the mission control centre; backup centre; global links, receiving/transmitting stations and much more. The ThunderStruck concept is not just a spacecraft, it is a space service.

Ideally it would be great to have this small craft land in Australia, but if other countries wish to take part, spaceports around the world would be a consideration for a winged landing. With full autonomy on landing, once the destination details are uploaded, the flight systems will fully control the flight all the way to the ground, but given that this is a glider, it would need priority on the landing spaceport runway and the airspace to lead into the landing strip. This would suit dedicated spaceports where the runway is not for commercial aircraft landing or incoming spacecraft have priority.

Okay, there is a glimpse to the long term ThunderStruck spacecraft and its mode of operation. All comments appreciated.

There is one more important factor soon to be made public – the ThunderStruck team! Also the associations that we are making with important companies. Stay tuned for details.

Australia’s First Real Spacecraft

ThunderStruck mk2ThunderStruck Spacecraft – a First for Australia

Yes, Australia has built vehicles that have gone into space, but ThunderStruck will not be an orbiting satellite. It will be a vehicle that has propulsion other than that used for orbital watch-keeping. It is being designed to have both an Ion Engine for long distance travel and also a high DeltaV for rendezvous and reentry control.

So what is DeltaV?

Simply: Delta-V, or dV as it’s sometimes abbreviated, is a measure of the total amount of acceleration (or deceleration) your ship can output. Skip down to the next heading if you hate maths!

Mathematically, delta-V takes the form: delta-V = ln(M/Mo)* Isp *go

where delta-V is the change in velocity, ln is the natural logarithm function (look for it on a scientific calculator, or use =LN() in MS Excel), M is the full mass of the rocket stage, Mo is the dry mass of the rocket stage (i.e. what it weighs when all its fuel tanks are empty), go is standard gravity (9.81 m/s2 regardless of what body you’re orbiting/launching from) and Isp is the specific impulse of the engine (a way of measuring the engine’s efficiency). It’s importance, is in determining the total magnitude of the changes the rocket may make to its velocity before it runs out of fuel; in the process it determines where a rocket may go given a certain mission profile. There are three main ways of increasing a rocket’s delta-V:

1) improving propellant mass fraction (i.e. more fuel)
2) increasing specific impulse (by selecting an engine combination that increases this value
3) staging (shedding mass that’s no longer needed, which has the effect of improving the propellant mass fraction)

ThunderStruck’s Range

With an Ion engine, we expect it to be huge, but this spacecraft is designed to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land, so we have to slow and return. Basically, however long we took to get there, will also be how long it takes to slow. We will have some ways of beating that equation, but for now, we have to understand that Ion engines have an appallingly low DeltaV. That is why we need strong thrusters for the craft and a radically different system to make the craft more versatile. None the less, ThunderStruckĀ  is being built for orbit but also for round trips to the Moon, Mars and Asteroids. With an upper design payload of around 50Kg, it should be able to handle significant experiments. The most appealing destination for long flights is of course the asteroid belt. ThunderStruck’s main role as a space taxi will be to meet with survey vessels to bring back payloads. The survey vessel will need to be able to rendezvous with ThunderStruck, remove the empty container and load the full container for the trip back to earth.

ThunderStruck is a Space Taxi – but not for people

Most craft are built uniquely for every mission. ThunderStruck is a “space taxi” built to a standard design. it will have a payload that will be able to be opened to space for any science such as collecting particles or other experimentation and be closed again for the return to earth. It is envisaged that a capsule version will be available for high velocity returns to earth and it will use a parachute to land. A further version may be used in a one way trip and not need an ablative shield. This will make it inexpensive to get somewhere and the navigation can be handled by the ThunderStruck team’s mission control.

ThunderStruck and Cruise Mode

I mentioned that there was a way to save time and fuel. Simply that is to launch directly to the direction required by buying a ride on a launch vehicle with a bit of power. The rocket can power us to fly in the right direction with plenty of speed. This either lowers the fuel consumption or the time taken, or a bit of both. None the less getting to your destination with more fuel and in less time is a good start to the flight. Launches like this are not precise. We will spend some time and fuel correcting the trajectory , and with an ion engine, that can take time. None the less in Cruise mode, we will put the bulk of the craft to sleep for periods. This lessens the load on the electronics and can provide more of our solar power to the payload that may in fact be fully operational. In Cruise mode all unnecessary systems will be shut down. They may be woken up for checks on position and direction or orientation to the sun for the solar panels, etc. For such a long flight we will need to use systems like reaction wheels for orientation to ensure that fuel is not used. Solar is renewable. Thunderstruck will need both solar panels for the ion engines and solar power for the spacecraft systems. The ion engine will have its own solar units and Thunderstruck will deploy its own for the flight. these may vary depending on the payload requirements.

Deceleration

About halfway on a flight that has not had boost assistance, we need to turn the spacecraft around and fire the ion engines again to slow the craft. Using the ion engines, this will be the same time taken to accelerate to that speed. It is a slow braking system, but it must be done. If we are using a winged vehicle that is designed for re-entry for Low Earth Orbit (LEO), then we must slow to reach those speed and enter an orbit that will be suitable for a LEO re-entry. If we hit the atmosphere too hard, we could bounce off (like skimming stones on water) and our heat shield and structural integrity would both fail resulting in a breakup of the craft. As stated before a capsule version of the craft may allow us to re-enter at high speeds.

A First For Australia?

Well in fact a first for the entire world. There is nothing to currently service this part of the marketplace. The same winged craft without a massive heat shield could also do significant experiments using a sounding rocket – straight up to over 100Km altitude and back down for a landing.

Heating is insignificant compared to the fiery re-entry that we are accustomed to for orbital re-entry but still a concern that will be addressed. Cold gas thrusters will be all that is needed for flight control until the atmosphere thickens and also a feathering system to keep the spped as slow as possible.

Phase Two Testing from Space

This will occur in about 2 years time and will test the feathering system for a sounding rocket. If nothing else it is likely to be the commencement of building a return vehicle for sounding rocket flights as these can be serviced with different guidance systems and cold gas thrusters – very different from the ThunderStruck spacecraft.

The cold gas thrusters may only be needed before and after the period of “weightlessness” has been used for the experiment. Unlike the tourism spacecraft, sounding rockets are capable of flight higher than 105km and thus a reliable return craft would be a commercial success. It may still have the same shape of the ThunderStruck spacecraft, but have no need for space systems as we know them. It will still break the wound barrier, but be able to land near to the takeoff point. This means full video from space and the entire return flight and that of the payload.

Support for ThunderStruck

The world needs a craft of this capability and Australia needs a healthy space industry. please support ThunderStruck by:

  • Linking to http://ptojctthunderstruck.org
  • helping with fundraising
  • contributing funds
  • talking about ThunderStruck
  • becoming a shareholder in the new company to own the intellectual property.
  • Donate time and resources to assist the project.