The CSS Blog Network

Orbiting Around a Public-Private Strategy for Space

Earth and International Space Station (ISS), courtesy NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 May 2016.

In the latest sign of how new entrants are upending the space launch industry, the Air Force announced last week that an $83 million contract awarded to SpaceX to put a GPS satellite into orbit would cost the government 40 percent less than the competing bid from United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As impressive as that is, SpaceX’s competitiveness is set to increase further after the firm achieved a milestone in the history of space exploration. After numerous failed attempts, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of one of its rockets on a “drone ship” floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket’s payload, a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS), was successfully lifted into orbit.

The achievement is a first step towards the reuse of SpaceX rockets (or more precisely the first of the rocket’s two stages), which previously would be lost after a single use. The next step will be to attempt to refurbish and reuse a rocket — potentially many times over — at acceptable cost and risk. The Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters parachuted to sea and were recovered by ship, but they did not themselves lift payloads into orbit and were very expensive to refurbish. Another rocketry firm, Blue Origin, has also managed to safely land its rockets after launch, but those are sub-orbital vehicles not meant to reach the ISS or place satellites aloft. ULA has studied reusability but has not implemented it.

The major implication of rocket reusability – and the reason it has been so feverishly pursued — is to reduce the price of placing a payload into orbit. SpaceX’s per-launch price is reportedly $60 million, well below the $200 million charged by ULA or the $137 million charged by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium. Rocket reuse stands to reduce SpaceX’s price even further, to perhaps just $40 million. To put that in perspective, it is about the same as it costs to stage the Oscars.

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Illegal Fishing in the Shadow of Piracy

A Somali fisherman carries fish from a car in Hamar Weyn distrct’s fish market. Mogadishu, Somalia. Image: AMISOM Public Information/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Blog on 6 October, 2015.

Extensive illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Somali waters threatens economic development in the Horn of Africa. Somali fishermen are unable to compete because the foreign fishers are better equipped and better skilled. Some Somalis believe that the only way to protect their resources and make a living is by committing piracy.

Piracy slowly grew from unorganized vigilante “coast guards” in the 1990s to transnational organized crime networks, wreaking havoc on the global shipping industry, in the early to mid-2000s. It reached its peak in 2011, when more than 28 vessels were hijacked in the waters off the Horn of Africa. Maritime crime has declined intensively over the past few years, as international naval patrols and armed guards on ships have increased. However, a recent report by Secure Fisheries, warns that those advances could be reversed if illegal fishing is not stopped. » More

The Geo-Economic Potential of the China–Japan Relationship

Japanese and Chinese Flags. Image: futureatlas.com/Flickr

This article was originally published by the East Asia Forum on 28 September, 2015.

China and Japan already together account for more than a fifth of global output, bigger than the share held by the United States or that of Europe. Over three-quarters of that, of course, is generated in mainland China but, contrary to widely held perceptions, the China–Japan economic partnership is one of the biggest in the world.

The bilateral trade relationship is the third-largest in the world, with a US$340 billion trade relationship in 2014. China is Japan’s largest trading partner, accounting for one-fifth of its trade, and Japan is China’s second-largest. Japan is the largest investor in China, with a stock of direct investment at more than US$100 billion in 2014 or US$30 billion more than the next largest source, the United States. But even those massive trade and investment figures understate just how intertwined are these two Asian giants. » More

China’s Domino Tactics Boost Infrastructure Bank

President Jacob Zuma receiving the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping in Pretoria in March of 2013. Image: GovernmentZA/Flickr

This article was originally published by the CIPS Blog, hosted by the Centre for International Policy Studies on 22 March 2015.

China is looking ever the experienced super-power. In a week it has scooped up all the important European dominos, humiliating a U.S. government which has lobbied hard to block the launch of China’s new $50b Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The dominos have fallen quickly. Last week it was the UK’s turn to join, preferring its commercial interest and geo-political judgment over its friendship with the U.S. Now it is a coordinated set of EU announcements from France, Germany and Italy. The driver was their desire to be well-connected economic partners in Asia, but there was also an element of blowback on U.S. geo-political arrogance, be it spying on Angela Merkel or military jingoism towards Russia. » More

Falling Oil Prices May Spell Disaster for President of Venezuela

Tear gas used against protesters in Altamira, Caracas, 2014. Image: Andrés E. Azpúrua/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Southern Pulse on 22 January 2015.

On 14 January 2014, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro promised the Petrocaribe alliance would continue and its twenty member countries would further consolidate into a “great economic zone.” President Maduro’s guarantee comes at a precarious time for his country, as a rapid and unexpected slump in global oil prices, coupled with persistent economic stagnation in Venezuela, have undercut his administration’s ability to maintain its social programs and address the country’s financial imbalances. » More

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