Author Topic: Thesis - "The rise of SpaceX and European access to space"  (Read 1138 times)

Offline calapine

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I came across this pretty thought-provoking paper:

DISRUPTING LAUNCH SYSTEMS - The rise of SpaceX and European access to space


Quote
1 Abstract
The rise of SpaceX as a major launch provider has been the most surprising evolution of the
launch sector during the past decade. It forced incumbent industrial actors to adapt their
business model to face this new competitor. European actors are particularly threatened
today, since European Autonomous Access to Space highly depends on the competitive edge
of the Ariane launcher family. This study argues that the framework of analysis which best
describes the events leading to the current situation is the theory of disruptive innovation.
The study uses this framework to analyse the reusability technology promoted by new
actors of the launch industry. The study argues that, while concurring with most analysis
that the price advantage of reused launchers remains questionable, the most important
advantage of this technology is the convenience it could confer to launch systems
customers.

The study offers two recommendations to European actors willing to maintain European
Autonomous Access to Space. The first one aims at allocating resources toward a
commercial exploitation of the Vega small launch system, to disrupt the growing market of
small satellites and strengthen ties with Italian partners in the launcher program.
The second aims at increasing the perception of European launchers as strategic assets, to
avoid their commoditization. The recommendation entails developing an autonomous
European capacity to launch astronauts into space, which could strengthen the ties between
France and Germany as well as lead to a rationalization of the geo-return principle. This
capability would use Ariane launchers and provide European actors with a powerful
diplomatic tool.

While I don't fully agree with its conclusions there are quite a few interesting quotes as the author had access to a lot of professionals in the launch industry. (Arianespace, SpaceX, ESA, BlueOrigin,...)

List of persons interviewed below.
« Last Edit: 09/24/2018 08:31 pm by calapine »

Offline EnigmaSCADA

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I came across the same paper a few weeks ago (read the whole thing one night in bed so my wife thinks I'm one sick puppy). A very impressive list of interviews so whether anyone agrees with the author's analysis doesn't much matter because it provides insights from industry decision makers to allow the reader to include in their own thoughts on the topic.

 Really glad you posted this, hopefully others will read and we can have an informed discussion.

ETA: I also don't agree with all the author's points, nor some of the industry execs for that matter. Of course the execs have an explicit interest in the message their public/interview opinions convey so some things are understandable in that context.

Offline Rik ISS-fan

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Finally I've finished reading the thesis. I'll share my thoughts about it.

Initially I expected a technical paper, being a Master Thesis for Science Degree in Space Studies. But it turned out to be more a political and economical paper. That was a little disappointing. (I'll  :-X about the layout)

There were several educative and sharp statements in the thesis.
- I think it very nicely explains why SpaceX with it's Falcon 9 can benefit from the development of reusability.
But Arianespace/ Ariane Group with Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 can not benefit from reusability.
Ariane 5 and 6 use one engine on both the first (Core) and second stage, those are totally different engines. Reusability of the first stage would reduce the (already low) Vulcan production rate, while launch rate can't increase because other production facilities are producing at maximum production rate.
Falcon 9 requires 10 merlin engines, there is a lot of comonality between the sea level and vacuum Merlin  1D engines. If a first stage is reused, the engines production spots can be used for more vacuum merlins and the tank structure segments can be used for more second stages instead of the first stage. So SpaceX can increase launch rate when they reuse the first stage. This doesn't work for the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6. (and most other launchers)
- The thesis very nicely distinguishes the different launch markets. And I didn't knew the DoD space budget is 30 Billion annually (besides the 19 Billion for NASA). So US spacebudget is >4x the European space budget.

I agree with the conclusion that Vega could get a more prominent role besides Ariane 5 /6. But a average of eight annual launches seams a little high.
That were my positive remarks, now my more critical notes.

First and foremost; I disagree with the status quo (it's normal) that ArianeSpace launches >50% of the commercial satellites. Indeed, this has been true with Ariane 4 and Ariane 5. But it's not because Ariane is such a good launcher. It's that all other launchers are even worse.
The thesis starts with the situation in the 1980's. AFAIK NASA/USA had far cheaper and superior launchers in the 70's Atlas, Delta and Titan. In the 80's they were phased-out because the reusable Space Shuttle would dramatically cut launch cost and increase access to space. It turned out being a very expensive master of non.
The Ariane 4 profited very much form this US failure. The Ariane 5 profited from the EELV debacle that lead to the creation of ULA.

In my opinion there are also two misconceptions about the German preferences.
1) The industrial importance of Germany in the Ariane program, and the leg off preference of Germany to launch there satellites on European launchers.
2) The German preference for Human spaceflight.
I totally disagree with the idea that ESA/Europe should develop a Human launch capability.

Reading this thesis, I came to the conclusion that the Ariane 4 was far closer to Falcon 9 than the Ariane 5. So Ariane 4 could have far easier benefited from reusability than Ariane 5 and 6. In my oppinion the development of the Ariane 5 was a huge mistake on ESA's part. It was developed as manned launcher for the Hermes Shuttle. As a consequence it was very large and heavy. The Hermes project turned out to expansive and was dropped but the development of Ariane 5 was so far along, completing it was cheaper than ending it.
But later (in the 2000s) it turned out that the Ariane 5 couldn't serve the institutional launch demand, where the Ariane 4 could. Thus France formed a alliance and created Starsam (Soyuz) and Germany created EUROCKOT.
I think the SAR-LUPE Kosmos launches were inline with this. They couldn't be launched affordably with Ariane 5, also not with Rockot, thus they diverted to Kosmos. If they would have had an European alternative (Ariane 4 or Vega) Germany would have chosen it.
I think the same is true for the SARah satellites, they can't be launched affordably on Ariane 5 and Vega (to large /heavy). And Germany has no stake in the Soyuz-ST. Thus they procure the most attractive launch solution, in this case two Falcon 9 launches. AFAIK Ariane 62 or Vega C could have also launched SARah, most likely at lower cost. But those launchers aren't available jet, and are still unproven.

Paul Wohrer come to the conclusion that Germany prefers human spaceflight because they were the mayor backer of SpaceLab and the ISS. I think this is a wrong conclusion. There are two commonalities between the SpaceLab and the ISS. The first is that they were both human spaceflight programs. The second is that they were both micro gravity science platforms. I think this later one is the reason Germany wants to fund these projects.
Germany also funded a few FOTON and BION (Soyuz derived micro gravity free flying laboratory) flights.
The SpaceLab modules turned the Spaceshuttles into microgravity laboratories during several shuttle missions.

I think it's important that ESA/Europe maintains the capability of a microgravity laboratory in space. This can be as space station or a free flying laboratory. (So Spacerider could fulfill this mission, though very restricted).

These are my initial thoughts about this nice thesis from Paul Wohrer. I would like to further discuss it.

Offline woods170

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Paul Wohrer come to the conclusion that Germany prefers human spaceflight because they were the mayor backer of SpaceLab and the ISS. I think this is a wrong conclusion. There are two commonalities between the SpaceLab and the ISS. The first is that they were both human spaceflight programs. The second is that they were both micro gravity science platforms. I think this later one is the reason Germany wants to fund these projects.
Germany also funded a few FOTON and BION (Soyuz derived micro gravity free flying laboratory) flights.
The SpaceLab modules turned the Spaceshuttles into microgravity laboratories during several shuttle missions.

You are correct. Germany wasn't, and still isn't, really interested in human spaceflight transportations systems. The German reluctance to join the Hermes project is testimony to this, as the book "Hermes" by Luc van den Abeelen explains clearly.

The reason the Germans flew TWO dedicated Spacelab missions (D1 and D2) was not so much getting European astronauts into space but performing micro gravity laboratory missions.
Germany still is interested in flying astronauts in space, to do scientific research.
But Germany has shown, over the past several decades, only a very limited interest in having a European manned space transportation system. Other than the mentioned Hermes example there was the proposal to turn ATV in a manned vehicle. German interest in that idea was lackluster and the idea went away real quick for lack of support from both Germany and France.

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