[amsat-bb] Launch Costs (was-re: AMSAT-BB Digest, Vol. 7, Issue 312)
bbaines at mac.com
Mon Sep 24 12:47:36 PDT 2012
Subject: [amsat-bb] Re: AMSAT-BB Digest, Vol 7, Issue 312
From: Mark Spencer <mspencer12345 at xxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2012 13:26:45 -0700 (PDT)
DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed; d=yahoo.ca; s=s1024;t=1348432005; bh=80uPIe5CmB8SGZ5MZxoULRcCEHpTMj/CnSBzOEshbmE=;h=X-YMail-OSG:Received:X-Mailer:Message-ID:Date:From:Subject:To:In-Reply-To:MIME-Version:Content-Type:Content-Transfer-Encoding;b=2XqW1uQOnVUxJ6VdnkvH2vSdsHvVxS0N6ibnK0WcxjQsYwAy1kZl9/g9BcIjf18lHjHTX602nnlh9yI2ATubVWyTeGJoAUbCF6x87XHC6fUzr34EXU814LLgA1hzHDyF7qMfKuTO8AgCf0eM7sUyGNkaG3XbGRGOyeQvIJ+okeE=
Just out of curiosity what would a reasonable estimate of the launch costs be
for a P3E class satellite ?
VE7AFZ (long lapsed former AMSAT member (: )
Back in 2008 when we last seriously looked at this, the cost of launching a satellite into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) of the size/weight of Eagle or P3-E was $8 million. Today that figure is more like $10 million, though Peter, DB2OS (President of AMSAT-DL) probably has a more accurate figure than this. Even so, the cost to launch is what makes things prohibitively expensive. Raising that kind of money (plus the cost of the spacecraft itself) is not viewed as viable given the results of our past fund raising efforts.
The last HEO launch was for P3-D/AO-40. Please keep in mind that the money that was passed through AMSAT-NA totaled over $2 Million for P3-D/AO-40, from 1993-2000 (seven years) with considerable help from individual donors, ARRL matching donor program, AMSAT-UK, etc. Other organizations, such as AMSAT-DL and JAMSAT also had their own fundraising efforts as well in support of those aspects of the program that they were handling. AMSAT also developed the SBS (Specific Bearing Structure) as part of P3-D program that became the "frame" that housed P3-D on the launch vehicle. At that time, we believe we had pretty much "maxed out" what might be raised from within the amateur radio community in North America. Unfortunately, that considerable fundraising effort wouldn't get us 20% of the current launch costs. Clearly, we must expand beyond the amateur radio community to raise funds of this magnitude, but to do so requires both a non-amateur radio "vision" to what a HEO satellite would provide (e.g. excite non-amateurs) as well as a "Case for Support" that would attract major donors, such as foundations. To date, we have not been able to put together a plan that would meet these expectations.
Needless-to-say, given today's costs, the launch economics is the major inhibitor, and not necessarily the cost of building the satellite itself (though that also costs "real money" depending upon size and features and whether major systems, such as propulsion are donated as was the case with P3-D).
So, let's look deeper into the launch cost environment to determine what AMSAT might be able to "afford" under current circumstances:
The cost to launch a "microsat" (e.g. a 9" x 9" x 9" structure such as AO-51) was estimated in 2008 to be around $350,000.00. That is why we opted for a 1u cubesat (4" x 4" x 4") back in 2008 as replacement satellite for AO-51-- we couldn't afford the launch of a microsat given our finances at the time and the concern about being able to raise the funds to pay for a launch that would likely increase in cost of time.
To put this further in perspective, as I recall, back in 2008 the cost to launch a 1u cubesat was around $60-80K to place a cubesat in LEO. The current cost is about $120K for 1 Kg of mass to LEO (a cubesat is 1.1 Kg). The doubling of launch cost is due in part to the significant interest in cubesats by the US Government, aerospace firms (Boeing, for example), and others who have "real money" to place cubesat payloads in LEO. Clearly, as Tony, AA2TX (AMSAT's VP-Engineering) pointed out to me, the cubesat has evolved from a university "novelty" to a standard spacecraft specification. This cost increase is the reason why AMSAT applied for an ELaNA grant in 2011 (we were selected in 2012) and where we will continue to apply for ELaNA grants in order to be able to "afford" launches. Clearly, it make much more sense to focus on dollars donated to AMSAT for spacecraft development rather than launches if we can get "others" to support our launch costs.
BTW, "Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine" had a series of articles in the 30 JUL 12 issue ("Small Satellites: Doing More with Less") which highlights this evolution, including cubesats, such as TechEdSat that will be the first US cubesat to be deployed from the ISS using the same deployment scheme (JEM-SSOD or Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) as the Vietnamese student F-1 cubesat that will be deployed this week. Information about TechEdSat may be found here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/TechEdSat.html
Coupled with the launch costs is the "justification" for launches. NASA and others (such as the National Science Foundation) will support launch opportunities if the proposal meets THEIR strategic goals. Consequently, the most effective way to "hitch a ride" is to put something in an amateur radio space frame that meets their expectations, such as a scientific/educational payload and/or provide "educational outreach." For example:
1. ARISSat-1/Kedr deployed by RSC/Energia from the ISS in August 2011 with a student scientific payload developed by Kursk State University. AMSAT developed ground based software to capture telemetry from both the satellite and the payload, with amateurs forwarding captured data to a central server. ARISSat-1/Kedr was considered to be a "prototype" for deploying student payloads. Education outreach was also part of our efforts with ARISSat-1, where, for example, telemetry data is available for student analysis. Whether there are future opportunities for more ARISSat deployments remains to be seen.
2. AMSAT-UK developed FunCube (funcube.org.uk) under the model where educational outreach is the justification (to be launched in 2013). The satellite has received financial support from the Radio Communications Foundation and is being developed in collaboration with ISIS-Innovative Solutions in Space BV (a Dutch small satellite company that is a spin-off from Delft University of Technology). AMSAT-UK is developing ground-based software with an easy-to-use receiver (FunCube Dongle developed by Howard Long, G6LVB) to encourage use of the satellite in the classroom.
3. FOX-1 will have a student scientific payload (MEMS Gyro originally developed by Penn State-Erie students) as justification for NASA to pay for our launch under the ELaNA grant. Ground-based software for capture of satellite telemetry and payload data is also being developed using a central server for data to be forwarded. AMSAT is also focused on creating education outreach materials focused on Fox-1 that will be appropriate for future missions as well.
4. The appointment of Mark Hammond, N8MH as AMSAT's VP-Educational Relations and the subsequent work that he is doing to develop relationships with outside organizations (including ARRL and NASA Education), develop an "educational outreach" capability in support of AMSAT's scientific and education mission, and work to foster support of "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) as part of more traditional engineering work on space craft is in recognition of the fact that we are dependent upon the support of other organizations to be able to afford to fly. "Education outreach" is the new "cost" (one that AMSAT can hopefully "afford") that we must bear to keep amateur radio in space.
Clearly, it is launch costs that is driving much of what AMSAT can afford to accomplish. In addition, we must recognize that those that pay for the launch will only do so if the satellite provides a benefit that meets their goals/expectations. Clearly, future opportunities for placing amateur radio transponders in HEO will be dependent upon finding partners who have a need to place THEIR payload(s) in those orbits AND have the major funding to support the launch. In essence, that is what AMSAT-DL attempted to do by persuading the German government to fund P3-E as part of a larger mission to Mars. Unfortunately, their attempts did not pan out.
BTW, we'd be happy to accept your $44.00 to renew your AMSAT membership; you can renew online at www.amsat.org... ;-)
Barry Baines, WD4ASW
More information about the AMSAT-BB