Notes from the 51st IAF Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Oct 2-6 2000

by Michael Martin-Smith


The dominant theme of this year's IAF was the International Space Station now at last entering its construction and utilization phase. It is now expected to finish in 2006, and will see contributions from Brazil and possibly Spacehab, Khrunichev and Boeing in the shape of commercial modules. The general consensus at present is that, while the much hoped for new wonder materials made in Space are not on the immediate horizon, the new facilities will allow greater understanding of basic physical, chemical, and biological processes which will improve the economies and quality of production processes here, with the ultimate benefit to all of us.

Kistler Aerospace's K-1 vehicle is now 80 % built and is hoped to make its debut in the first half of next year. If so, it will be the world's first fully re-usable two stage launcher, and, interestingly for Mercantile Astronautics, is being studied by NASA as a possible privately operated rapid response supply vehicle for the ISS.

One of the principal justifications for the ISS, in my view, was that, being a destination, it would encourage the development of cheaper and more reliable access to Space which in turn would lead in time to space tourism and other larger markets in Space Companies such as Dassault and Astrium are also moving further towards SSTO technologcal development vehicles with the aim of choosing a design for Europe in 2008 so as to replace Ariane 5 in 2015 or so.

Supply ships for the ISS are being built in Europe and Japan, and logistic modules by Italy, to give a sturdy multinational infrastructure for the project. Further, the X-38 - due to become the emergency crew return vehicle by 2005 - is now receiving an extensive european contribution and is planned to be evolved into a re-usable space transport system launchable by Ariane 5. It will test and demonstrate many technologies required for an eventual European resuable crewed spaceship, alongside the other tech demonstrator craft being planned.

Moves by Brazil and Argentina to form the nucleus of a new South American space agency are being discussed; these countries, although presently minor players, have an enormous joint interest in pooling their activities for the good on the continent; earth resources and enviromental management are leading areas of common interest China is now officially pushing on towards human spaceflights within the next couple of years with a space station programme and advanced space vehicles to follow; a clear declaration that these steps are to lead to a Chinese lunar presence in the next 20 years or so has been made this year. An unexpected 50th anniversary celebration of Apollo, perhaps?

India is now entering a hot debate on whether to use its developing polar satellite Launcher - now an emerging force in commercial Earth Resources systems - to launch a small 350 kg probe to the Moon in or near 2008. I have been told that this debate is fairly finely balanced; against is the question of whether a country like India can or should undertake the costs of a lunar exploration; in favour are that with India's low labour costs these expenses would not in fact be very heavy and that, if a mission could be proposed by Indian scientists which would add significantly to knowledge or use of the moon, within or almost within ISRO's (Indian Space Research Organization) annual budget, the benefit to India's industry and high tech would be powerful enough to genrate real benefits for India at large. A decision to go ahead or not is expected within about 6 months.

Adriano Autino's paper on "New Credit Tools and Taxation Regimes for Opening the Space Frontier" was given to a large audience of space entrepreneurs and finance specialists at the 51st IAF Congress in Rio and attracted considerable interest. It is to be hoped that these innovative concepts will have fallen on some fertile ground and will in time bear fruit; if so, they will be a satisfying result for Adriano's courage, imagination and hard work. As he often says, " Aim High!"

Michael Martin-Smith

MMS - TDF 3/2000 - 17/10/2000