Article co-written with Azam Shaghaghi, the CEO and President of Space Tourism Society of Canada and Advisor to hErVOLUTION
Statistics show that women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the past two decades, and self-made female billionaires are piling up. However, a much more interesting point is the effectiveness of female leadership in organizations.
"The co-founder and president of Escape Dynamic, Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux is a true role model of business leadership in science & technology. Escape Dynamics is building an electromagnetically-powered space launch system that will enable reusable single-stage-to-orbit spaceplanes, and plans to reduce costs of access to space by 100x for small payloads. They will do this by abandoning the path that all chemical rockets have used for the last 50 years, and instead will beam energy wirelessly to the rocket from ground to space," says Azam Shaghaghi, the President of Space Tourism Society of Canada, who had the rare opportunity to sit down with Laetitia during the International Space Development Conference 2014.
During this interview, Laetitia Garriott and Azam discussed how the next giant leap for space launch & space access will come from electromagnetic propulsion and the technologies that Escape Dynamics has been developing to build an externally powered space launch system, in which energy necessary to power the vehicle to orbit is not stored on the vehicle as it is for all chemical rockets, but instead comes from the electric grid, and is wirelessly transmitted using a phased array of high power microwave antennas located on the ground.
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In a world that favors leadership based on bold passions, attitude, confidence, and personal interaction skills, women have a head start. These leadership skills are shown by Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux`s vision for revolutionizing space access while also artfully implementing strategic-growth plans.
As a female entrepreneur myself, I was galvanized by her varied achievements as a president, mother and wife. Laetitia has an extensive and strong 15 year influential business career in senior positions in the corporate and investment worlds. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and serves on multiple non-profit boards.
Private astronaut and entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari, who was a distinguished speaker at ISDC 2014, spoke about the need to reduce the cost of space access and noted that "we are going to need new methods of propulsion, and pointed that we needed to look no further than Escape Dynamics", touting Escape Dynamics as the path to affordable space access.
The ISDC 2014 dinner keynote speaker, George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, also embraced Laetitia Garriott's` presentation and Escape Dynamics several times during his keynote as an "exciting" and "new" development, and he stated confidently that "he could see nothing in physics that would prevent the company from achieving their proposed plans".
As we discussed Escape Dynamics' roadmap, Laetitia mentioned the exciting news that the company is planning to demonstrate the most powerful orbital engine ever developed by the end of the 2015 or early in 2016 - one with specific impulse over 700 seconds. She also went on to explain that the reason such level of specific impulse is so meaningful is that it enables fully reusable single-stage-to-orbit operations, and that chemical rockets on the other hand are limited to a specific impulse of approximately 450 seconds which is too low for single-stage-to orbit operations. With their single-stage-to-orbit operations, Escape Dynamics expects to bring the cost to orbit for payloads up to 200kg from $50,000/kg today down to $150/kg at high flight rates, a 100x decrease in launch costs.
"External propulsion is the only way to generate enough thrust and specific impulse for single-stage to orbit vehicles which will profoundly reduce the cost of space access," Laetitia stated.
When asked about why the technology was now ready for primetime, Laetitia noted that the idea of using wireless energy transmission for orbital launches was first described almost 100 years ago by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky -- the same man who gave us the Rocket Equation. However, we needed many technology advancements to come to pass including in battery storage technology, also from the particle accelerator industry the Marx modulator, and separately advances in ceramic matrix composites. It is fascinating in fact how the Escape Dynamics team has leveraged some of these innovations, and been a key contributor to creating new breakthroughs required for microwave-powered propulsion to become a viable solution. Examples include their design and patent for a grid-tie in battery storage system also capable of discharging high voltage DC power at a rapid discharge rate in a bank of high power microwave sources. Another important innovation from the Escape Dynamics team is a water-jacketed radome which captures side-lobes, allowing for the first time safe wireless energy transfer using high power microwave sources.
Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux left her terrestrial finance career to launch into a game-changing technology career hoping to bring a much needed revolution in the aerospace industry, following the inspiration she took from her grandfather, French planetary geologist Andre de Cayeux (dit "Cailleux") after whom a crater is named on the Moon.
Note: just before the publication of this note, Escape Dynamics reached a major interim milestone on their journey whose press release can be obtained at the following link. I am looking forward to these next few years as they progress from engine and wireless energy transfer tests to test flights and eventually orbit!
Both Azam and myself strongly believe that Laetitia's initiative affects the next generation of women in a way that it is acceptable for women to be bold too regardless of stereotype level in business. It is now time for all women to start believing that they can be the creator of big ideas too, no matter what their background or filed of specialty is, specifically when it comes to STEM. Lesson learned from Laetitia is that it does not matter who we are in life, what race, nationality, etc, as long as we have a big dream in order to change the world while making a positive impact on humanity.
It is now time for us to stand out and speak our minds!
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