What if there was a “spaceplane” that blasted off – went into space – returned to Earth and landed on a normal runway just like a modern commercial airliner?
Well, the “what if” scenario will soon be a reality. A company called Sierra Space is moving forward with its Dream Chaser spaceplane. Not only is the company working on a highly reusable spaceplane, but it’s also developing an inflatable, three-story commercial space station called the LIFE habitat.
This episode of Talking Aerospace Today ventures into some truly awe-inspiring territory. Joining me are the CEO of Sierra Space, Tom Vice, and my partner, Dale Tutt. We’ll be talking about how Sierra Space adopted the Siemens Xcelerator as its digital platform for all of its projects. Siemens Xcelerator provides Sierra Space with a fully integrated process from concept to design to manufacturing. Among the many advantages is how the Siemens Xcelerator allows teams to perform concurrent engineering while testing thousands of iterations before anything ever gets built. When it comes to the advantages of a digitalized work environment, Tom has a lot to share.
Tom also touches on the importance of making space travel open to all. If more people could visit space with all of its mystery and fascination, we might be able to move the boundaries of human understanding forward to benefit all Earth’s inhabitants.
Please don’t miss this episode! Listen to this podcast now:
Welcome to Talking Aerospace Today – a podcast for the Aerospace & Defense industry. A place that brings the promise of tomorrow’s technology to the ears of our listeners today.
What if someday…we could all travel into space?
Not only would space travel be more accessible to the general public, but it would be more affordable. To make this a reality, companies today are exploring different ways of reducing flight costs. Digitalization is proving to be one of the best ways to achieve this because it allows for the design, testing and flying of a spacecraft before anything gets built.
Joining the podcast today is Tom Vice, Chief Executive Officer at Sierra Space. A company building the Dream Chaser, a spaceplane set to begin NASA resupply missions to the International Space Station in 2023. Sierra Space also developed the LIFE habitat, an inflatable, modular commercial space research center – with unlimited upside potential. Joining the conversation is Dale Tutt, Vice President of Industry Strategy at Siemens. Dale has over 30 years of experience in engineering design, development and program leadership within the aerospace industry.
In this episode, “The Digitalized Future of Space Travel” you’ll learn about the progress being made in space travel as a result of digitalization. You’ll learn more about the technology Sierra Spaced used to create their Dream Chaser and LIFE projects. Additionally, you’ll discover the special role Siemens Xcelerator is playing with these projects.
Space travel… Space exploration… We are on the brink of some wonderful innovations that will change the way we see space forever. I hope you’ll join us for a mind-blowing experience.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The main focus of Sierra Space. (07:36)
- The changes in space exploration that we can expect to see in the next ten years. (13:49)
- How the Dream Chaser came to be. (17:59)
- How Siemens Xcelerator is assisting Sierra Space. (21:42)
- What the LIFE project is about. (31:19)
- The role that digital solutions play in certifying aerospace products. (34:59)
Connect with Tom Vice:
Connect with Dale Tutt:
Connect with Scott Salzwedel:
Scott Salzwedel: Hello, this is Talking Aerospace Today, a podcast for the aerospace and defense industry. A place that brings the promise of tomorrow’s technology to the ears of our listeners today. And I’m your host, Scott Salzwedel.
I’m so happy to bring you this special episode of Talking Aerospace Today. Our topic today is the future of space exploration and travel. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen what Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos had been up to. But there’s more innovation not making the evening news. For example, a company called Sierra Space out of Louisville, Colorado is doing some pretty remarkable stuff. And that’s the topic of today’s podcast.
So, in this podcast, what we’re calling “The Digitalized Future of Space Travel,” we’ll be taking a closer look at what Sierra Space has on the drawing board, as well as what’s on the runway. The goal behind Sierra Space is to build a future of fast and easy space travel, which includes a commercial space destination and infrastructure. By opening up space via affordable access to all, the company hopes to empower humanity to enhance life here on planet Earth. With me, to discuss the vision and technology behind Sierra Space is CEO, Tom Vice. My partner and colleague, Dale Tutt, has joined the conversation.
Hi, Tom, welcome to the show. I’d like to begin with you. Could you please share with our listeners your background in the aerospace industry?
Tom Vice: First, Scott and Dale, it’s great to be with you today, and I appreciate your inviting me on to the podcast. It’s great to be with you. My background – I started in aerospace while I was still working in college and attended the University of Southern California and started working for Northrop Grumman – then Northrop – and spent the early part of my career really in the area of stealth design and engineering, and started working on what’s now known as the B2. And just had a remarkable career and lots of incredible mentors. Ultimately, went into the area of designing aircraft, missile systems, spacecraft, got involved with the James Webb Space Telescope, advanced autonomy. We started producing almost all of our own chips, we ran our own foundries in Southern California. So, really had been spending a lot of time in the area of early conceptual design, manufacturing operations, and ultimately became the President of Aerospace Systems at Northrop Grumman. I’ll tell you the reason why I got into this field was as a young kid, in the late ‘60s watching the Apollo program, as many of us did, who got into the industry; just really inspired by what we were doing in space and human spaceflight specifically, and thinking about just exploration of the heavens. And ultimately, thinking about the opportunity for humanity to create civilizations beyond Earth. But the thing that has always stuck with me is the reason why we go to space. And the reason why we explore, the reason why we push the boundaries of human understanding is to benefit life on Earth. This is an incredible planet, one that we all really love. It’s the home we grew up in – it’s the hometown if you will. And so we think about going to space, we think about the innovative new disruptive products that we’ll create in space to really benefit life here on Earth.
Scott Salzwedel: That’s wonderful. So, you alluded to the fact that at a very young age, you wanted to get into this industry.
Tom Vice: Thinking about the things that were always very interesting to me was science and engineering. Whether that was building fast cars. Whether that was playing with rockets as a kid. Whether it was designing the first RC airplanes. And then, ultimately, stuck with that. I got into advanced software design, trying to think about how to manipulate electromagnetics, which got me into stealth. It was always trying to understand how to create what other people thought was impossible and make it possible. And that’s always stuck with me.
Scott Salzwedel: Dale, let’s turn to you. What were your aspirations as a kid?
Dale Tutt: I actually have a lot of the things that Tom has said kind of resonates with me as well. I watched the tail end of the Apollo program, watching the astronauts walking on the moon. It was so incredible. And I think then after that, there was Skylab and so many of the other activities. And watching the space shuttle for the first time, even when they were just doing the drop test with the Enterprise. And then I had the aviation bug as well; my parents taking me to air shows and watching the Blue Angels, probably when I was still just six or seven years old, and just the amazing power of those machines. And whenever there’s an airplane fly over, I’d look up and watch the airplane fly over when I was a kid. And that’s always been in my blood, and doing model rockets, doing airplanes, building model airplanes. It’s just crazy. And for me, that’s how I got into my blood. And when I went to engineering school, my first job was working for General Dynamics Space Systems Division on the Atlas I and II, and two AAS rockets back when they were still out in California. And I’ve had an opportunity to work at Cessna, Learjet, and even Virgin Galactic – actually, the spaceship company, which is a sister company to Virgin Galactic. But what Tom said really resonates with me about why do we go to space? And our motto, even at Virgin Galactic was we want to open up space for good and people see the world that we’re on from space. It’s a different perspective. And I think just the curiosity and the exploration of opportunity. So, it’s really cool stuff. I guess when I start talking about it, I always feel like I got the little kid in me again. So, it’s always fun to talk about.
Tom Vice: I still remember my first trip up to Scaled Composites, meeting Burt Rutan. And ultimately, Northrop, as you know, acquired Scaled and largely driven by Burt, but the whole team up there. And in the early days, working with SpaceShipOne and White Knight One, and ultimately, the products that become, I think, part of Virgin Galactic today; it was amazing witnessing innovation at that level and thinking about just this commercialization of space that we’ve gone from just deep space exploration and human exploration around the moon to we’re at a phase now where we really are transitioning from one of exploration to full commercialization. And the early days of, obviously, watching Burt Rutan, and ultimately, Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, it was inspiring.
Dale Tutt: With all that innovation going on, we’re going to continue to see the cost of access continue to go down and it’s going to become more available to more and more people. It’s not just going to be for the richest people or their most rich governments of the world; it’s going to be for everybody, I think.
Tom Vice: It has to be, I think, to ultimately get there to the true opportunity here, the full potential, if you will, of human spaceflight, and ultimately creating civilizations beyond Earth. And that’s one thing that we’re thinking about as a company: How do we drop that price? And how do we make it accessible to everyone to enjoy?
Scott Salzwedel: Let’s talk present day a little bit here. By that, I mean there was the Space Symposium back in, I think, early April of this year? And I know Sierra Space was there. Tom, what was your takeaway from that event? Anything you want to share with the listeners?
Tom Vice: Yeah, I would say a little bit what I was just talking about. If you think about it, we’ve now celebrated over 60 years of human spaceflight. But yet, over that 60 years, only a little over 600 people have been to space, and only 12 human beings have ever walked on the surface of the moon. And what fascinates me is we’re in the midst of a significant pivot between one of exploration to now one of full commercialization. And that’s what excites us as a company. And I think you saw that on display there at the symposium. We’re a company that thinks a lot about changing the way that humans have really experienced space, where millions of people are working, living in space, civilizations are thriving, businesses are opening, families are raised in space. And our focus is really around the commercialization of low Earth orbit (LEO). It’s been hard if you think about the challenges of going just to low Earth orbit 250-300 miles. But we think, over the next decade, that 250 miles straight up will become as ubiquitous as 250 miles on a highway across the United States. And that’s how we think about it. And you see that in the way we think about transportation, it’s the way that you saw it and the way that we talked about our destinations, and it’s the way that you see the way we talk about our underlying technologies. It’s all about the commercialization of LEO. And why is that important? Again, we go to space to benefit life on Earth. So we think that by creating a new platform for business in low Earth orbit, we will see incredible new breakthroughs in biotech, semiconductors, telecommunications, and energy. And of course, we’re really excited about hospitality and tourism. I mean, think about a family that decides where do they want to go on vacation? Where do they want to experience something new that life has to offer? We want to be able to offer that to them in space. You travel into space, you spent a week at our destination, and you look back on Earth. And I think there’s something miraculous that happens when you’re in space and you’re looking down at Earth, and you realize that everything you’ve ever known – this is sort of the Carl Sagan in me – everything you’ve ever known comes from this small planet, every human being ever that’s been born, every achievement that we know about is on this incredible place we call Earth. And it does something to you, I think. It makes us think differently about the human race. It makes us think about how cultures and civilizations around Earth. I think it just makes us be more humanistic, it makes us be more empathetic.
Scott Salzwedel: I would imagine it’s a very humbling experience. And then I’d also think that all of a sudden, we realize we’re all in this together.
Tom Vice: We’re all in it together… Right. We’re not thinking about we’re trying to leave Earth. For some reason, for us to think about having to travel to distant planets because there’s something that’s going to cause harm here. I think we have to do everything we possibly can to protect this beautiful place we call Earth. So, everything that we think about, the commercialization, the new products, the breakthroughs in oncology, the next breakthroughs in advanced material systems. We think about it from the perspective of how to protect and how benefit life on our planet. I think it’s just a different way to think about things.
Scott Salzwedel: Tom, that’s some impressive visionary thinking. And Dale, where are you with this visionary thinking? Where do you see things?
Dale Tutt: I mean, I would echo a lot of Tom’s comments. The commercialization of space and the fact that you can have such access to space and that it’s within our reach. And that’s the thing that 20 to 30 years ago people might not have felt like they could say, but I think the amount of innovation now that we’re seeing, it’s within our reach. And I was off-site for some meetings last week, and I walked by this conference room, and their team had been in there having a workshop, and they had their final question, which was, I guess, would be the opposite of the icebreaker question, but it was kind of the wrap-up question. And the question on the board was “What’s the top thing on your bucket list?” And I didn’t even have to really think about it. It was “I want to go spend a week in space. I want to see the world from a different place.” To me, that would be like the ultimate vacation. Instead of going to the Caribbean, I’m going to space and spend some time up there. And I liked the whole thought process that once we start operating in space, low earth orbit, we can develop new materials, new manufacturing processes that aren’t available here in gravity. So, being in a different environment enables different processes. And I sometimes think what’s that next step? The next space station maybe is actually on the moon, where you have access to the moon and you’re just there and you have this permanent presence there. And I liked how Tom characterize it, that we’re not leaving Earth we’re extending Earth. We’re extending our reach. And that’s what’s got to be important when you think about the history of the world, you think about the history of the United States and the explorers that first came. It was a daunting task to come to this new world. And then people started coming to carve a new life to try something different, just to explore the unknown, and you think about how they progressed. And that’s kind of our nature, to progress and to see the goodness that we have around us. And so that’s why I’m very excited. It’s I think space exploration and the commercialization of space. But the fact that it’s in our reach, people can seriously start talking about how we will have a permanent presence on the moon. And it’s not that far away, we’re going to be sending people to Mars. And that exploration, that curiosity that is within all of us, I think is really going to drive a lot of the innovation that we’re seeing right now.
Scott Salzwedel: It’s just amazing that the time the period we’re in right now, just so much to look forward to. So, we’ve been sort of dusting off the crystal ball and looking into the future. And, Tom, I’m directing this at you. I know that International Space Station is going to be decommissioned soon. How do you see that playing out? NASA’s role in the next ten years? What are some straightforward changes that you see are very possible in the next ten years?
Tom Vice: First of all, the International Space Station (ISS) and just the incredible research and development that’s been done on the station. It’s really allowed us to think differently. It’s allowed us to envision commercialization of low earth orbit. But the space station, the ISS, at some point will deorbit. Right now, the US has certified the US components through 2030. The Russian components right now would have to be certified past 2024. We’ll see ultimately where that ends up. But at some point, whether it’s in mid-decade or in 2030, the ISS will come to an end of its useful life. And that’s where Sierra Space and our partners come into play. We’re building the first true commercial LEO space station, which we call Orbital Reef along with our partners Blue Origin. And we intend to launch it and have it fully operational in 2027. So, we’re really excited about the station, but I would also think it’s the first of many. Just like we talked about constellations of satellites. I can see a world where there are constellations of space stations, each one at a different inclination and altitude, serving different customers’ different needs. Some of them might be a complete biotech R&D facility, some might be embassies, some might be hotels and Airbnbs. So, we’re very excited about that. We see, again, by the end of 2030, one of the things that we’re building, we’re known for Dream Chasers spaceplanes and space stations. But the other thing that we’re very excited about is a place we call Earth Base 1, which we think is the first superhighway to low Earth orbit. And we think these highways are what’s really important, as goods and services are going back and forth between low Earth orbit and back to the surface of the planet. Raw materials going up, finished materials coming down, whether, again, that might be an organ that we create in space, or might be a new semiconductor, or might be a new fiber optic cables that are being developed in space. That’s how we see this decade playing out.
Tom Vice: I would say that we really are at the very beginning of what I believe is the most significant industrial revolution we’ve had as a human race. The space industrial revolution is taking advantage of every industrial revolution that has come before it, but this one has really got the opportunity to change everything. We think about products and services and the way they will impact all of humanity. And I think that’s going to play out over the next decade. The beautiful thing about our Dream Chaser is that instead of just sending things up, and then bringing them back down and either landing a capsule, whether it’s in the ocean or somewhere out in the desert, we actually fly back to any airport in the world, which can serve as a 737, for example. That will change things. That’s the beginning of changing the way we bring things back to Earth. And we form relationships now. You’ve seen recently the press release at Huntsville, we’ve worked with the FAA, and Dream Chaser now can fly into Huntsville. We’re working on that obviously in the UK. We’ve got to the work that we’re doing in Japan. We also think that, again, Dream Chasers in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and then multiple Earth bases here in the US.
Scott Salzwedel: So, Tom, before we go any further, some of our listeners might not be familiar with Dream Chaser. And I know that’s really one of your pride and joys. So, I know it’s a winged commercial space plane. Also, I did my little research, and I saw that the first flight was scheduled for later this year, I’m not sure what’s the latest on that. And then also, can you tell the audience a little bit more about the Dream Chaser and how that came to be?
Tom Vice: Let me start off with maybe a little story. I was giving a speech at Oshkosh. And this ninth-grade girl had asked me a question, again, hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance. And I was asked the question, do I believe that a space plane is possible, being able to fly into space, and then fly back and land at an airport? I just think that that was a very insightful question to think about what’s the possibility of flying into space? And can we make it as ubiquitous and as simple and safe as the airline industry has become? And I believe that’s what makes Dream Chaser special. We’re building a spaceplane that is highly reusable and comes back into Earth at a very low G, just like you would expect in a regular commercial airplane, and again, lands on a runway. There are no toxic hazardous fuels. And so you land and either walk up and pull out cargo or the people that we actually fly to space and come back and land, they walk out of that Dream Chaser and walk into the facility just like, again, they’re landing in a private jet or in a commercial airliner. What really makes this special is the new ways we think about space travel, it makes it, again, as easy and as ubiquitous as flying airplanes around the world today. If we can really pull that off, that’s what makes going to space and coming back from space very different than anything else in our history. And that’s what we’re building. Our first flight is early next year.
Scott Salzwedel: And where will that take place?
Tom Vice: At Kennedy Space Center. We fly from Kennedy Space Center up to the International Space Station to deliver cargo onto the ISS. And then we come back to Earth, and we land back at Kennedy Space Center.
Scott Salzwedel: So, sticking with Dream Chaser, what did you find to be some of your more pressing challenges, bringing that craft into reality? Where was the toughest challenge, you think?
Tom Vice: It’s very challenging because it’s both a spacecraft and an airplane. When the airplane comes back in, it has to fly. First of all, it’s coming at a very high-speed regime, so it’s flying at hypersonic speeds, supersonic speeds, transonic, and then subsonic. And so it has to be designed. So, think about all the aerodynamics, thermodynamics, all of the fiber acoustics; all of that from an airplane side, as well as a spacecraft. Many people ask the question, “Is this airplane hypersonic?” It’s hypersonic, supersonic, subsonic, all in a single platform. So, we had all of those challenges that we had to think about, at the same time being able to be highly maneuverable while we’re in space. And then, obviously, make sure that the reusability; this spacecraft, space plane is reusable up to 15 times. So, having that safety, reliability, and then obviously, having the ability to when it comes back to enter Earth’s atmosphere at 1.5G, the things on board, whether they’re people or cargo, have that nice smooth reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere, land, turn the vehicle and fly again. So, those were challenges. And I think, again, we’ve been working very hard, over many many years solving those challenges. Those are many of the things that we had to work our way through.
Scott Salzwedel: So, then, I imagine a digitalized work environment. We talk about the digital twin and the digital threads and how important automation and traceability are. Did those types of technologies have a major role in what you guys are doing?
Tom Vice: Absolutely. We’re really excited about the relationship with Siemens going forward. We are embarking upon every product we build, whether it’s space stations, space planes, technologies, or the way that we design our factories, all of it is built now on the Siemens Xcelerator toolset. It provides us a full integration from concept to design to manufacturing. We can fly all of our space stations and space planes while they’re still in the design phase. And that is hugely powerful for us. So, having that fully integrated digital thread throughout the entire lifecycle of a product across all of our products, and of course, all those products are integrated. But also then having the ability to see full representative digital twin so we can perfect that design, we can think about how to build Dream Chasers now where we’re building the first article thousands of times in the digital domain before we ever actually produce it for the first time in the manufacturing floor. That has huge implications in terms of reducing cost, rework, improving reliability and safety from day one. We can fly our products, and we can see how they operate in real flight regimes, again, while they’re still in the digital domain. That is hugely powerful. At the end of the day, the full digitalization of our enterprise allows us to bring better products to market faster, higher-performing products at a significantly reduced cost. Getting back to what you had said earlier, Dale, we’ve got to reduce the cost of access to space, giving more people the opportunity to go to space.
Scott Salzwedel: It’s the old “fly before we build it.” We talk about that quite a bit, and you’ve just illustrated that beautifully. Dale, you’ve been involved with digitalization in the aerospace and defense industry. I’m just curious about your take on how Sierra Space is using the digitalized work environment.
Dale Tutt: Tom characterized it very well. Embracing the digital twin and what you can learn by flying it before you build it or even building it before you build it, that virtual environment I think is critical. And when you think about just the cost of developing these new solutions and the amount of effort that goes into all of the design, the testing, the number of tests that you have to run, the physical testing, and the changes that happen – that’s always been a problem where companies either have to repeat testing, they have to make design changes because they didn’t succeed in a test, they have to make design changes, they have to go test again, they build more test articles – all of this just adds cost and that’s what drives some of the cost of access to space. And then the other piece of it is if you don’t get the performance that you intended, it’s also more costly. It’s more costly to build each vehicle. So, there are so many places where using the digital twin and digital thread is really helping companies to go faster and to really reduce their costs, and reducing that manufacturing cost is really what’s going to really pay the dividends in the future. So, when you think about digital transformation, I’m going back to some of the things that Tom talked about at the beginning, where all the different requirements for the vehicle, being able to fly 15 times and have the right safety, being able to get a certain level of performance, coming back in where it’s low G’s, there are certain profiles that they have to fly and have to look at how they can optimize the vehicle design around that. So, taking a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) approach, and then flowing that into the design where you’re starting with those requirements and you have to be able to demonstrate all of the design decisions that trace back to those requirements, and all the verification artifacts when you get done with your analysis and your testing, being able to trace that back to the requirements so you can then go show the people that are regulating this that you’ve done that work, that it’s safe to fly, “We’re going to put people on this. We’re going to fly them back and forth from the space station.”
Dale Tutt: There’s a lot of work involved with that. And the more that you can streamline that process, and really build that digital thread for model-based systems engineering, and even into your design and in your design and engineering solutions is to be able to have that traceability is just as critical for companies. And then have that seamless transition in the manufacturing process. So, really, they’ve done a lot here. And I really like that whole thought process of integrating these solutions from end-to-end instead of having these discrete solutions as you move through and then you’re throwing over the wall to the next guy, you’re really going to drive the cost out when you have that connectivity. And one of the things I’ve always seen is the first time you go through this process and you start to adopt digital transformation, maybe you save 20% to 30%. But then the next time you do it, you’re going to save another 20% to 30%. And over time, you’ve really started to save a lot of money as you go through several programs. And so this journey that Sierra Space is on is awesome, and I think it’s going to be critical to helping to get those costs down.
Scott Salzwedel: So, Tom, real quick, Dale had talked about some of the benefits and some of the advantages of using the digitalized environment. I’m wondering, could you think of a couple of specific examples of where that worked to your favor, whether it was simulation or some sort of composite?
Tom Vice: I think the specifics are around, traditionally, you would find issues at the worst possible time, and that is, you’re now into production, you’re bringing the first vehicle into manufacturing. And what you define is you have clashes, you have engineering that doesn’t come together, and you have significant rework and redesign. And that’s what gets into this idea of concurrent engineering. That’s a fancy term for “I’m still engineering while still building. I’ve got all this rework.” And then, you’re finding challenges as you get into flight tests. I mean, how many flight test programs have we all worked on that we found things in the design, while we’re in flight test? That takes a program that you had envisioned to bring to the marketplace, let’s say, in five or six years, and now it’s taking you eight and ten. And the cost is now doubling. The specific answer to your question is, that we can now find all of that in the early design, while it’s still digital. The accuracy of the digital design, the accuracy of the manufacturing simulations that we’re building in simulations that product over and over again, teasing out all of those design flaws and fixing them while it’s still relatively inexpensive. I think that’s the first breakthrough. And that’s the sort of thing, I think, Dale talked about, that’s where people are seeing this 20% to 30% right off the bat. But we’re now envisioning is the fact that we can design high-performance products and bring them to market in a fraction of the time. One of the things that we think about as we think about this platform is the transportation piece, which is the Dream Chaser segment, the key advantage to us is not just the fact that we have the only commercial space plane. The real advantage we have is that we can invent and scale those space planes for higher cargo loading more passengers as the market demands bigger and higher performing Dream Chasers. What the Siemens Xcelerator toolset does is allow us to bring those new products to the market at a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost as what Dream Chaser, the first vehicle did. That is ultimately the real value of what we’re doing in our digital transformation.
Dale Tutt: I have one thing to add that I’ve seen a lot as well, is that my own experience in work in some of these programs upfront work is so key to accelerating all of those new innovations and to accelerating that development of those new programs because the decisions that you make early on if you are not able to fully evaluate those in the virtual world, you end up proceeding. Once you get in the test program, what I’ve usually found is it’s really hard to undo some of those decisions that you made up front and those lessons that you have. And so you end up paying the penalty of extra weight or extra cost in how you build it. By leveraging all of the insights that you get from the digital twin and how you’re able to verify all of this, that’s what’s key to being able to save that weight and get that extra 100 pounds of cargo to the space station. And it pays off in so many ways in the performance of your vehicle, the cost, the time it takes – just taking the risk out of these programs. And so it’s really huge. And people often say, “Well, you drive 85% of your costs in the first 20% of your program.” And that’s a true statement because you end up living with all those decisions.
Tom Vice: And what we like to think of is when people compete against our platform in space, it is the full platform, it’s all of our partners that they have to compete with. So it’s not just a Dream Chaser, or a space station, or an enabling technology and propulsion or power. One of the things that our competitors have to think about is the speed by which we can innovate, and that’s the backbone of the Xcelerator toolset. Everything we’re bringing to bear, that’s why we think of this as a full platform play, not just an integrated set of capabilities.
Scott Salzwedel: So we touched on Dream Chaser a little bit. I know you guys have a few other tricks in your back pocket. And I’m thinking of LIFE Habitat project, that’s an acronym for Large, Integrated, Flexible, Environment. It’s amazing stuff that you guys are doing. So, Tom, could you just share with our listeners what the LIFE project is all about?
Tom Vice: What the LIFE project was about is how we build a large infrastructure in space, even though we’re still constrained by the size of the rocket and the size of the fairing to go to space. The flexible structure approach allows us to put up a module for a space station that is constrained by a five-meter fairing – at the time, that was the biggest fairing we could get access to. It literally grows into a three-story building once it gets to orbit. So, think about this for a second. In a single LIFE module, we have the same volume in orbit, in reference to the International Space Station. So, think of how big the International Space Station is: $100 single launch in a billion, multiple different launches – in a single launch, the LIFE Habitat is one-third the entire volume of the ISS in a single launch. That’s the innovation. Now, that’s pretty innovative, but let me take it to the next level. And this is, again, the way we think about this digital transformation. Now today, there are seven-meter fairings, there are nine-meter fairings. So, LIFE module, LIFE 1, again, is a three-story building, constrained to a five-meter fairing. We now can double the size of that in a seven-meter fairing and double it again in size for a nine-meter fairing. So, now we have multiple different variants of the LIFE module, each of them twice as big as the one before. And the real beauty is LIFE 4 is a flexible structure that’s never been built on Earth. We’re designing it to be the first station module that’s actually built for purpose, on orbit, using, again, advanced digital design technology, but on orbit, robotics, and 3D manufacturing. So, we can actually build to suit any size structure that our customers would have. And again, we have to think about Sierra Space, as we think of ourselves as the largest real-estate developer in space. So, some customers want a 300-cubic meter facility, some might want a 1,200-cubic meter facility, and some might want a 50-million cubic meter. So, whatever the size is, this now allows us to scale to that.
Dale Tutt: I don’t know about you, Scott. But man, I’m really geeking out right now.
Scott Salzwedel: My head is spinning…
Tom Vice: Again, everything we think about is scalability. So, we’re going to build out in LEO, we’re going to build out a full commercial platform for the innovation of lots of different products, which brings with it lots of different customers. Our company can’t just build a Dream Chaser or a LIFE module, we have to think about how to scale these up as the market demands. And that ability to scale goes back to the heart of our conversation: What’s the value of a full digital enterprise, a fully integrated digital suite of tools that allows us to scale at speed? Again, we like to take the Sierra Space process, the nomenclature Sierra Space, and the Siemens Xcelerator toolset. And we talk about this as the “Sierra Space Xcelerator.” That’s how much of this has integrated into our thinking.
Scott Salzwedel: We’ve talked so much about the digital technology that’s going on. And Dale, you talk about this quite a bit, but in aerospace and defense certification is such a big deal. With stuff so revolutionary, how do you even begin to certify this?
Dale Tutt: You really need to bring all of the digital solutions to bear here, and that characterization of the Xcelerator environment and Sierra Space Xcelerator, when you think about the digital threads and the workflows that we’re able to help with our digital solutions. I talked a little bit earlier about model-based systems engineering and our ability to start with the requirements. Because as Tom was talking through these different versions of the habitat, there’s a set of requirements that are in place to enable that stepping stone to each one of those habitats. You’re starting with that process around the requirements and you have that foundation. You’re able to really then as you design a product, do your virtual verification product using agile development methods, fully analyzing and leveraging the digital twin to understand the performance of those sections. But it’s a big program and there are a lot of different pieces of the program, so having your program planning execution pieces in place to provide those program management solutions and connecting that with verification management solutions.
Dale Tutt: So, all this data is being managed as part of Xcelerator as part of Teamcenter, that digital backbone. You’re connecting the design and the analysis and electrical systems solutions; you’re connecting all those together. You’re being able to automate a lot of those workflows, connecting to your program management processes, but also connecting to your certification processes. You have this traceability of all your artifacts, both from a certification standpoint, but also program management standpoint. And now your team, because we want to be able to automate a lot of those workflows that allow those engineering teams to focus on solving complex problems, instead of just managing data and managing schedules, and managing all the artifacts that you need to show this. So, really having that digital backbone, that platform, gives you that end-to-end traceability for the certification process but also enables the entire manufacturing process across the entire lifecycle. The digital solution is at the heart of helping to solve these problems quickly. And really to help unlock the innovation that we need from our teams. I think that’s really how the digital solutions really help support what they’re trying to do.
Scott Salzwedel: So, Tom, what Dale just said, there’s so much to cover. And you might have mentioned this already, but I’m just curious, if you just had to pick one breakthrough that digital technology has allowed, the one thing that’s just so eye-opening, what would that breakthrough be?
Tom Vice: The ability to have these highly accurate digital twins throughout the process. The first one is taking a digital twin of the design and bringing in advanced manufacturing simulations to manufacture a product while it’s in design over and over again. You can do that all along the way. You can do the same thing and fly it operationally. So, I think the one big breakthrough for us is it gives us these opportunities to test the design at multiple phases, and it’s fully integrated. I think that is a very powerful innovation. You’ve got to have a full digital thread to do that, and that’s powerful. But for me, it’s these digital twins along the way that are the most powerful.
Scott Salzwedel: Really powerful stuff. So, we’re coming to a close here. Unfortunately, we have to wrap things up. But are there any last things you want to mention, Tom, anything we haven’t covered that you want to get out there real quick?
Tom Vice: I would just encourage everybody to realize that think about if you were in any of the previous industrial revolutions, whether that was the steam engine, the printing press. The way that we think about the internet, we are in the midst of a true revolution. Sometimes it’s hard to see when you’re at the beginning of it, but this is going to change everything. I’m proud to say that with the partnership between Sierra Space and what we’re doing with Siemens, we’re at the forefront of this revolution.
Scott Salzwedel: That’s great. Wonderful. Dale, do you want to get in here? Any last words?
Dale Tutt: First off, Tom, thank you for joining us today and I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I’m looking for my first ride on the Dream Chaser one of these days. It has been a wonderful conversation. I’ll just throw out a few things. Oftentimes, I talk about, I really feel we’re in a golden age of aerospace in general. We talk about Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and we talk about people developing high-speed commercial transportation. But we talk about space so much, and really, the number of companies that are involved, it reminds me of you’ve got to go back to the 1920s maybe with aviation to characterize it, you had these guys starting a company in their garage and airplane company building airplanes. And there was so much innovation that was happening. And you had these contests, and people doing these first things. The first trip across the country or Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. But that’s where we’re at. And that’s why I’m so excited about this time period. I’m excited from the digital side, the transformation that we’re enabling for these companies to actually be so successful now, leveraging the digital twin and the digital thread, and really unlocking the innovation that we’re able to unlock because we’re helping people focus on solving these problems. It’s exciting times and I’m really excited to be part of this revolution as well with companies like Sierra Space that we’re working with. A lot of fun here.
Tom Vice: Maybe one last one, Scott, that’s just along the lines of what Dale talked about. Imagine the day that we launch, and Dream Chaser lands at the Paris Air Show, and six people walk out and go into a chalet and have a glass of champagne. It will change the way we think about space travel forever. So, we’ll never stop the dream of point to point, that day is coming.
Scott Salzwedel: Well, unfortunately, that pretty much wraps up this episode. Tom, thank you so much for joining us today.
Tom Vice: Thank you.
Scott Salzwedel: And Dale, likewise, it’s always great to have you on the show.
Dale Tutt: Thank you.
Scott Salzwedel: All right guys. So, listeners, if you enjoyed this episode and want to catch up on previous episodes, please subscribe to the Talking Aerospace Today on Apple iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you go to get your favorite podcast. My name is Scott Salzwedel, and this has been Siemens Talking Aerospace Today.
Dale Tutt – Vice President of Industry Strategy at Siemens Digital Industries Software
Scott Salzwedel – Host
Scott Salzwedel is senior technical writer and corporate communications writer involved in the Siemens Aerospace & Defense Industry and Siemens Capital. In addition to writer/host of Talking Aerospace Today, Scott is the writer of white papers, articles, blogs, videos and websites at Siemens.
Photo credit: Sierra Space Dream Chaser® spaceplane (Image credit: © Sierra Space)
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