27 February 2010

OpenNASA proposal for SBSP now in top position

If you would like to see NASA host a conference with DOE on Space-Based Solar Power, please weigh in with your vote here (registration is very short--shorter than most websites):

Right now it is in the top position, but let's keep it there.

Here are two more at DOE:

18 February 2010

Lockheed Martin and Space Based Solar Power

From: http://www.lmco.cn/data/assets/corporate/documents/April2009-LMToday.pdf

Energy and climate change are dominant issues for our customers, our nation and the world. It is imperative that we apply our tremendous depth of engineering and technical talent to solutions for energy independence, and at the same time open up adjacent markets for continued business growth.”
— Ray O. Johnson, Lockheed Martin senior vice president and chief technology officer

Space-based solar power has significant potential. After collecting the solar energy, the space-based solar power system converts it to radio frequency energy and conveys it efficiently and safely to the ground through large-aperture transmitters and collectors. This artist’s rendering of a space-based solar array shows the wide aperture delivery of the space-generated power, an important safety feature.

Another technology that is some years away but holds tremendous potential is space-based solar power.  Lockheed Martin Space Systems is in the early stages of forming a program in conjunction with government and industry partners to develop a solar power system that operates where the sun is always shining — above Earth’s atmosphere.  Around-the-clock access to sunshine with no weather outages, as well as the space-based system’s ability to collect solar energy before any is lost to the atmosphere, makes it potentially four to eight times more efficient than systems currently on the ground, says Rick Halbach, Space Systems senior manager.  After collecting the solar energy, the space-based solar power system would convert it to radio frequency energy and convey it efficiently and safely to the ground through large-aperture transmitters and collectors.  Related technology work, such as advanced photovoltaic solar cells designed specifically for use in space are being matured by Space Systems’ Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. The ATC is also working on thermovoltaics and battery technologies for space applications.

13 February 2010

Harrison "Jack" Schmitt on Cancelling Constellation

Jack gets it right regarding the importance of the Moon, but wrong on Constellation.  Constellation would not have put us on the path to space settlement or permanence on the Moon, and would have likely worked against it in the long run, and was premature.  We need to begin every part of our architecture with permanence in mind--that mean precursor steps in In Situ Resource Utilization, serious pre-cursor surveys, a robotic presence and presence of supplies.  What we intend to do there needs to consider commercial interests and contracts from the start.

New Space Policy Cedes Moon To China, Space Station To Russia, And Liberty To The Ages
February 6, 2010 by Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, Apollo 17
Filed under: Civil Space Flight
The Administration finally has announced its formal retreat on American Space Policy after a year of morale destroying clouds of uncertainty.  The lengthy delay, the abandonment of human exploration, and the wimpy, un-American thrust of the proposed budget indicates that the Administration does not understand, or want to acknowledge, the essential role space plays in the future of the United States and liberty.  This continuation of other apologies and retreats in the global arena would cede the Moon to China, the American Space Station to Russia, and assign liberty to the ages.

The repeated hypocrisy of this President continues to astound.  His campaign promises endorsed what he now proposes to cancel. His July celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the first Moon landing now turns out to be just a photo op with the Apollo 11 crew.  With one wave of a budget wand, the Congress, the NASA family, and the American people are asked to throw their sacrifices and achievements in space on the ash heap of history.

Expenditures of taxpayer provided funds on space related activities find constitutional justification in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, that gives Congress broad power to ”promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.”  In addition, the Article I power and obligation to “provide for the Common Defence” relates directly to the geopolitical importance of space exploration at this frontier of human endeavor.  A space program not only builds wealth, economic vitality, and educational momentum through technology and discovery, but it also sets the modern geopolitical tone for the United States to engage friends and adversaries in the world.  For example, in the 1980s, the dangerous leadership of the former Soviet Union believed America would be successful in creating a missile defense system because we succeeded in landing on the Moon and they had not. Dominance in space was one of the major factors leading to the end of the Cold War.

With a new Cold War looming before us, involving the global ambitions and geopolitical challenge of the national socialist regime in China, President George W. Bush put America back on a course to maintain space dominance. What became the Constellation Program comprised his January 14, 2004 vision of returning Americans and their partners to deep space by putting astronauts back on the Moon, going on to Mars, and ultimately venturing beyond.  Unfortunately, like all Administrations since Eisenhower and Kennedy, the Bush Administration lost perspective about space.

 Inadequate budget proposals and lack of Congressional leadership and funding during Constellation’s formative years undercut Administrator Michael Griffin’s effort to implement the Program after 2004.  Delays due to this under-funding have rippled through national space capabilities until we must retire the Space Shuttle without replacement access to space.  Now, we must pay at least $50 million per seat for the Russians to ferry Americans and others to the International Space Station.  How the mighty have fallen.

Not only did Constellation never receive the Administration’s promised funding, but the Bush Administration and Congress required NASA 1) to continue the construction of the International Space Station (badly under-budgeted by former NASA Administrator O’Keefe, the OMB, and ultimately by the Congress), 2) to accommodate numerous major over-runs in the science programs (largely protected from major revision or cancellation by narrow Congressional interests), 3) to manage the Agency without hire and fire authority (particularly devastating to the essential hiring of young engineers), and 4) to assimilate, through added delays, the redirection and inflation-related costs of several Continuing Resolutions.

Instead of fixing this situation, the current Administration let go Administrator Griffin, the best engineering Administrator in NASA’s history, and now has cancelled Constellation.  As a consequence, long-term access of American astronauts to space rests on the untested success of a plan for the “commercial” space launch sector to meet the increasingly risk adverse demands of space flight.

Histories of nations tell us that an aggressive program to return Americans permanently to deep space must form an essential component of national policy.  Americans would find it unacceptable, as well as devastating to liberty, if we abandon leadership in space to the Chinese, Europe, or any other nation or group of nations.  Potentially equally devastating to billions of people would be loss of freedom’s access to the energy resources of the Moon as fossil fuels diminish and populations and demand increase.

In that harsh light of history, it is frightening to contemplate the long-term, totally adverse consequences to the standing of the United States in modern civilization if the current Administration’s decision to abandon deep space holds.  Even a commitment to maintain the International Space Station using commercial launch assets constitutes a dead-end for Americans in space.  At some point, now set at the end of this decade, the $150 billion Station becomes a dead-end and would be abandoned to the Russians or just destroyed, ending America’s human space activities entirely.

What, then, should be the focus of national space policy in order to maintain leadership in deep space?  Some propose that we concentrate only on Mars.  Without the experience of returning to the Moon, however, we will not have the engineering, operational, or physiological insight for many decades to either fly to Mars or land there.  Others suggest going to an asteroid. As important as diversion of an asteroid from collision with the Earth someday may be, just going there hardly stimulates “Science and the useful Arts” anything like a permanent American settlement on the Moon!  Other means exist, robots and meteorites, for example, to obtain most or all of the scientific value from a human mission to an asteroid.  In any event, returning to the Moon inherently creates capabilities for reaching asteroids to study or divert them, as the case may be.

Returning to the Moon and to deep space constitutes the right and continuing space policy choice for the Congress of the United States.  It compares in significance to Jefferson’s dispatch of Lewis and Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase. The lasting significance to American growth and survival of Jefferson’s decision cannot be questioned.  Human exploration of space embodies the same basic instincts as the exploration of the West – the exercise of freedom, betterment of one’s conditions, and curiosity about nature.  Such instincts lie at the very core of America’s unique and special society of immigrants.

Over the last 150,000 years or more, human exploration of Earth has yielded new homes, livelihoods, know how, and resources as well as improved standards of living and increased family security.  Government has directly and indirectly played a role in encouraging exploration efforts.  Private groups and individuals take additional initiatives to explore newly discovered or newly accessible lands and seas.  Based on their specific historical experience, Americans can expect benefits comparable to those sought and won in the past also will flow from their return to the Moon, future exploration of Mars, and the long reach beyond. To realize such benefits, however, Americans must continue as the leader of human activities in space. No one else will hand them to us. Other than buying our national debt, China does not believe in welfare for the U.S.

With a permanent resumption of the exploration of deep space, one thing is certain: our efforts will be as significant as those of our ancestors as they migrated out of Africa and into a global habitat. Further, a permanent human presence away from Earth provides another opportunity for the expansion of free institutions, with all their attendant rewards, as humans face new situations and new individual and societal challenges.

Returning to the Moon first and as soon as possible meets the requirements for an American space policy that maintains deep space leadership, as well as providing major new scientific returns.  Properly conceived and implemented, returning to the Moon prepares the way to go to and land on Mars.  This also can provide a policy in which freedom-loving peoples throughout the world can participate as active partners.

The Congressionally approved Constellation Program, properly funded, contains most of the technical elements necessary to implement a policy of deep space leadership, particularly because it includes development of a heavy lift launch vehicle, the Ares V. In addition, Constellation includes a large upper stage for transfer to the Moon and other destinations, two well conceived spacecraft for transport and landing of crews on the lunar surface, strong concepts for exploration and lunar surface systems, and enthusiastic engineers and managers to make it happen if adequately supported. The one major missing component of a coherent and sustaining deep space systems architecture may be a well-developed concept for in-space refueling of spacecraft and upper rockets stages. The experience base for developing in-space refueling capabilities clearly exists.

Again, if we abandon leadership in deep space to any other nation or group of nations, particularly a non-democratic regime, the ability for the United States and its allies to protect themselves and liberty will be at great risk and potentially impossible. To others would accrue the benefits – psychological, political, economic, and scientific – that the United States harvested as a consequence of Apollo’s success 40 years ago.  This lesson has not been lost on our ideological and economic competitors.

American leadership absent from space?  Is this the future we wish for our progeny?  I think not.  Again, the 2010 elections offer the way to get back on the right track.

11 February 2010

Which Country Will Be The Next To Put An Astronaut On The Moon

This is nice information, but in a real sense, it misses the point entirely.  It isn't about firsts, or being able to "get there," the important step is to be able to get there and stay there permanently.  Only an architecture based upon Space Resource Utilization, conceived from the beginning as an industrial project with the private interests in mind, and with a nodal, reusable architecture with space logistics conceived from the start.  The more important essay is the previous entry by Paul Spudis below, that outlines what the real race is about.
Which Country Will Be The Next To Put An Astronaut On The Moon?President Obama's 2011 budget cut NASA's Constellation program, his predecessor's plan to return humans to the Moon, en route to Mars. With the US government apparently out of the race to return to the Moon, who will now be next?
As Buzz Aldrin once so famously observed, "Second comes right after first." The Apollo program was a remarkable achievement - it was arguably the single greatest feat of engineering and human ingenuity in our history - but it proved a dead-end in terms of further human exploration of the solar system.
After nearly a half-century's worth of technological advancement at an exponential rate, a return of humans to the Moon figures to be more than just an end in and of itself. As such, the implications of which astronauts are the next to set foot on the Moon likely entails more than just which flag gets planted in the lunar soil.
There are a number of potential candidates for which country (or, more accurately, which geopolitical entity, but "country" is catchier) will be the next to put astronauts on the Moon. Let's take a look at the contenders, which include emerging global powers, veterans of the space race, and a dark horse or two.
China has to be considered the odds-on favorite to reach the Moon next. The country made headlines when it launched its first taikonaut, Yang Liwei, into space in 2003. The mission itself was fairly primitive, recalling NASA's Mercury missions of the early 1960s. Indeed, that comparison to the American space race may be very appropriate, as a 2009 article in the UK's The Guardian noted:
"The attitude to the space programme in China is a little bit like the attitude towards space exploration in the western world in the 1960s," says Kevin Fong, an expert in space medicine at University College London. "There's a deep fervour among their university kids for space technology. The main difference between China and America now is that China can just do something - they don't need to ask permission or go through a democratic process and get the budget approved."Although China's proposed mission dates of 2025 and 2030 are not quite as ambitious as other countries, the sense among some experts is that China may have a much earlier date in mind. From the same article:
"It's all very dark out there and you're not really sure how much they're doing," says Fong. "They seem very serious about it and have mature thoughts about it, from the little you see in their presentations. They still have much to learn from the existing space community and don't want to be too overt about their ambitions at risk of looking like they've over-promised." China successfully placed the probe Chang'e-1 in lunar orbit in 2007.Current plans also include a sample return mission in 2017 before the crewed attempt in the next decade. Barring a major change, the smart money in this space race has to be on China.
[The Guardian]
India's first satellite was put into orbit by the Soviets in 1975, and the country has been undertaking its own rocket launches since the early eighties. However, it was the launch of Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 that marked the real giant leap for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The probe is the first Indian spacecraft to travel beyond Earth's orbit, and its Moon Impact Probe successfully landed on the Moon on November 14, 2008.
After the success of this mission, ISRO has set 2020 as its date for the first crewed mission to the Moon. It has a big budget to work with - about $800 million a year, with another $1.2 billion committed solely to human spaceflight over the next ten year - but the specific plans for a return to the Moon remain unclear. Without a better sense of the logistics of the mission, it's still difficult to gauge how realistic India's goal of 2020 actually is.
[The Hindu]
The current plan, as of August 2007, is for Russia to put cosmonauts on the Moon by 2025, with plans to establish a permanently crewed base on the lunar surface between 2027 and 2032. This is seen as a prelude for a mission to Mars in 2035.
The big problem for Russia is just how the country will be able to fund such a tremendously expensive endeavor. The economy did undergo massive growth in the previous decade under Vladimir Putin, but the global financial crisis has hit the country hard. Its fiscal situation remains precarious, and it may be difficult to consistently fund such ambitious programs. Russia's space tourism program has brought in about $30 million per ticket, but only eight plutocrats have thus far made the trip. That won't make much of a dent in the likely hundreds of billions of dollars needed for such a program.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Russian plan is thecreation between 2016 and 2025 of a low orbital platform around the EarthFrom here, Russia hopes to assemble spacecraft, potentially including those that will take the cosmonauts to the Moon and eventually Mars. They also hope to use the International Space Station as a laboratory until 2020, five years past the US's stated date of decommission.
[Ria Novosti]
The European Space Agency's Aurora Programme was an ambitious project established in 2001 with the lofty stated objectives of exploring the solar system and searching for life beyond Earth. The current timeline for Aurora is a crewed mission to the Moon in 2024.
Like with many cooperative projects undertaken by the European Union, budgetary considerations and clashing objectives of the member-states may prove to be huge complicating factors for Aurora. Even the ESA's official website still stresses that Europe has to decide how committed it is to space exploration, saying it can choose either to be a major player or junior partner in the global exploration of space. Although Europe likely has the technology and money to make Aurora a reality, it remains a very open question whether the public sentiment is there to see such a project through to its conclusion.
The Japanese space agency JAXA announced back in 2006 that it intends to establish a base on the Moon by 2030. To accomplish this feat, Japan hopes to land astronauts on the Moon by 2020. The base itself will begin construction around 2025, if all goes according to plan.
Although JAXA and its predecessor organizations have a long history dating back to 1970 of space exploration, they have not yet developed a crewed spacecraft. When the plan was first announced, spokesman Satoki Kurokawa addressed the public relations challenges of such an ambitious program:
"The feasibility of the plan is unclear at this point as we need to gain understanding by the government and the Japanese people on our plan, but technologically it would be possible in a few decades," Kurokawa said.At the risk of microanalyzing that statement, it seems a bit strange to talk about the technology being possible in "a few decades" when 2020 is now just ten years away. Considering just how steep a gradient Japan would have to climb just to get astronauts in space, let alone on the Moon, this has to be considered a real long shot.
[Moon Daily]
Private enterprise:
The most serious challenger to China is likely not a country at all, but instead the free market. Space Adventures, the company that has booked most of Russia's space tourists, already offers a circumnavigation of the Moon aboard the Soyuz craft for $100 million. (No billionaire has yet been quite eccentric enough to take them up on the offer.) Many entrepreneurs already predict such trips to the Moon will be commonplace by 2020, and Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies, is willing to predict there will be commercial trips to Mars by the end of this decade.
Indeed, the Obama Administration's decision to cancel the Constellation program came hand in hand with a plan to put six billion dollars over the next five years towards further development of commercial spaceflight. Current commercial spaceflight developers estimate that this decision could create up to 5,000 jobs, allow for routine and relatively cheap orbital flights to begin by 2014, and open up the serious possibility of commercial trips to the Moon in the near term.
The field:
Other countries with some manner of plans for human spaceflight include Ecuador, Iran, Malaysia, North Korea, Turkey, and Romania. Although all of these programs remain very much in their infancy, it's worth remembering that NASA put astronauts on the Moon within just eleven years of its founding, using technology that by today's standards was unimaginably primitive. So it's probably best not to rule any country out. Speaking of which...
Yes, Constellation has been scrapped. Yes, the current administration seems to be pursuing a very different direction of space exploration that may end up being far more beneficial than just remaking the Apollo program. Yes, there is absolutely no reason to think the US is headed back to the Moon anytime soon. Even so, it's hard to completely discount what is still the only country to actually put humans on the Moon. Admittedly, this viewpoint is not backed up by any hard evidence or information, and my reasoning is pretty much the intellectual equivalent of chanting "USA! USA!" All of that may be true. But still, um...

09 February 2010

Outstanding Essay on the by Paul Spudis

In this absolutely outstanding article, Paul Spudis simultaneously lays out the folly of the recently cancelled Constellation, and strategic importance of the original Vision that was its genesis.  I could not agree more.  Constellation was exactly the wrong direction.  The Moon itself is fundamentally strategic...but not just to go there. It is important and strategic to change the fundamentals of space capabilities and use its resources, and for that, a very different architecture, one with In Situ Space Resource Utilization, Propellant Depots, and Re-usable spacecraft is central.  It cannot be an afterthought.  It must consider the private sector from the beginning, and it must invest in those areas where the private sector cannot yet make money.  And the stakes are significant, for humanity and the way of life that will prevail if we are to hope to have a life beyond this cradle called Earth.
From: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1376
The New Space 
Paul Spudis
Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Recent media reports suggest that China is stepping up their program to send people to the Moon just as America appears to be standing down from it. This circumstance has re-awakened a long-standing debate about the geopolitical aspects of space travel and with it some questions. Are we in a race back to the Moon? Should we be? And if there is a "space race" today, what do we mean by the term? Is it a race of military dimensions or is such thinking just an artifact of the Cold War? What are the implications of a new space race?

Many in the space business purport to be unimpressed by the idea that China is going to the Moon and publicly invite them to waste money on such a stunt. "No big deal" seems to be the attitude - after all America did that over 30 years ago. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently professed to be unmoved by the possible future presence of a Chinese flag on the Moon, noting that there are already six American flags on the Moon.

Although it is not currently popular in this country to think about national interests and the competition of nations in space, others do not labor under this restriction. Our current human spaceflight effort, the International Space Station (ISS), has shown us both the benefits and drawbacks of cooperative projects. Soon, we will not have the ability to send crew to and from the ISS. But that's not a problem; the Russians have graciously agreed to transport us - at $50 million a pop. Look for that price to rise once the Shuttle is fully retired.

To understand whether there is a new space race or not, we must understand its history. Why would nations compete in space anyway? And if such competition occurs, how might it affect us? What should we have in space: Kumbaya or Starship Troopers? Or is the answer somewhere between the two?

Some History

People tend to think of Apollo and the race to the Moon when they hear the term "space race" but the race began with the October 1957 launch of a Russian satellite called Sputnik. The clear implication of this new Soviet satellite was that if they wanted to, they could lob a nuclear bomb at the United States. This situation led to near panic in America, with outraged demands that we technically catch up to the Soviets as quickly as possible and damn the cost.

The initial phases of the space race were not auspicious for America. In our publicized and televised launches, vehicles frequently blew up while the Soviets appeared to effortlessly achieve an endless series of headline-grabbing space "firsts." American officials working behind the scenes knew that we were not as far behind as it seemed but to reveal that knowledge was to disclose our national technical means of surveillance. So each new Soviet first was officially greeted with silence.

The Russians raised the stakes in the spring of 1961 with the launch of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. Although America followed a month later with Alan Shepard's ballistic hop, the new U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, wanted to issue a challenge, one carefully crafted to be beyond the existing capabilities of both the USA and the USSR, yet reachable by us (but not by them) over the course of a few years. A manned landing on the Moon was selected as the ideal target for such a race. Although no specific strategic goals on the Moon were identified, it was believed that the attainment of this difficult task would demonstrate the superiority of our open, pluralistic capitalist society in contrast to its closed, authoritarian, socialist opposite number.

The so-called "Moon race" of the 1960's was a Cold War exercise of soft power projection, meaning that no real military confrontation was part of it, but rather, it was a competition by non-lethal means to determine which country had the superior technology and by implication, the superior political and economic system. In short, it was largely a national propaganda struggle. Simultaneously, the two countries also engaged in a hard power struggle space race to develop ever-better systems to observe and monitor the military assets of the other. There was little public debate associated with this struggle, indeed, much of it was held in the deepest secrecy. But as the decade passed, military space systems became increasingly capable and extensive and largely replaced human intelligence assets for the estimation of our adversaries' strategic capabilities and intentions.

The United States went on to very publicly win the race to the Moon, giving rise to a flurry of rhetoric pronouncing everyone's peaceful intentions for outer space while the larger struggle continued to play out behind the scenes. NASA's replacement effort for the concluded Apollo program, the Space Shuttle project, promised to lower the costs of space travel by providing a reusable vehicle that would launch like a rocket and land like an airplane. Because of the need to fit under a tightly constrained budgetary envelope and for a variety of other technical reasons, the Shuttle did not live up to its promise as a low cost "truck" for space flight. However, the program resulted in a fleet of four operational spacecraft that flew over 120 missions over the course of its 30-year history.

Although widely cited in American space circles as a policy failure, the Shuttle had some interesting characteristics that led it to be considered a military threat by the USSR. One of the earliest missions of the Shuttle had its crew retrieve and repair an orbiting satellite (Solar Max). Later missions grappled balky satellites and returned them to Earth for refurbishment, repair and re-launch. This capability culminated with a series of Shuttle missions to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), which conducted on-orbit servicing tasks ranging from literally fixing the worthless satellite (the first mission) to routine upgrading of sensors, replacement of solar arrays and main computers, and re-boosting the telescope to a higher orbit. The significance of these missions was that the HST is basically a strategic reconnaissance satellite: it looks up at the heavens rather than down at nuclear missile sites from orbit. The Hubble repair missions documented the value of being able to access orbital assets with people and equipment.

Another relatively unnoticed series of Shuttle missions demonstrated the value of advanced sensors. As a large, stable platform in orbit (the orbiting mass of the Shuttle is almost 100 mT), the Shuttle could fly very heavy, high-power payloads that smaller robotic satellites could not. The Shuttle Imaging Radar (SIR) was a synthetic aperture radar that could obtain images of the Earth from space by sending out radar pulses as an illuminating beam. It could thus image through cloud cover, day or night, all over the Earth. In a stunning realization, it was found that it could also image subsurface features; in particular, the SIR-A mission mapped ancient riverbeds buried beneath the sands of the western Sahara from space. The strategic implications of this were immense; as most land-based nuclear missiles are buried in silos, they cannot be hidden from account because of sensors like imaging radar.

The construction of the International Space Station (ISS) became the next frontier for strategic space. One of the most complex spacecraft ever made, it was designed to be launched in small pieces by the Shuttle without an end-to-end systems test on the ground and assembled on-orbit. It worked perfectly the first time it was activated. The building of the ISS documented that not only could people assemble complex machines in space, they could also repair, maintain and upgrade them as well. As the ISS nears completion, much complaint continues about its cost and supposed lack of value, yet even if we get nothing further from it as a research facility, it has already taught us invaluable lessons about the building and maintenance of large spacecraft in orbit.

These new Shuttle capabilities had significant policy implications for the Soviets. To them, it seemed that the Shuttle was a great leap forward in military space technology, not the "policy failure" bemoaned by American analysts. With its capabilities for on-orbit satellite servicing and as a platform for advanced sensors, the Shuttle became a threat that had to be countered. The USSR responded with their own space shuttle (Buran), which looked superficially very similar to ours. The Challenger accident showed that Shuttle was a highly vulnerable system in many respects; even as the Soviets developed Buran, the American military decided to withdraw from our Shuttle program.

During the 1990's, we saw a revolution in tactical space - the use of and reliance on space assets on the modern battlefield. The Global Positioning System (GPS) has made the transition to the consumer market, but it was originally designed to allow troops to instantly know their exact positions. A global network of communications satellites carries both voice and data, and interfaces to the partly space-based Internet (another innovation originally built for military technical research). The entire world is connected and plugged in and spacebridges are now key components of that connection. Fifty years after the beginning of the Space Age, we are now, more than ever, dependent upon our satellite assets.
Space and the national interest

Most people don't realize how the many satellites in various orbits around the Earth affect their lives. We rely on satellites to provide us with instantaneous global communications that impact almost everything we do. We use GPS to find out both where we are and where we are going. Weather stations in orbit monitor the globe, alerting us to coming storms so that their destructive effects can be minimized. Remote sensors in space map the land and sea, permitting us to understand the distribution of various properties and how they change with time. Other satellites look outward to the Sun, which controls the Earth's climate and "space weather" (which influences radio propagation.) No aspect of our lives is untouched by the satellites orbiting the Earth. In a real sense, they are the "Skynet" of the Terminator movies - they are our eyes (reconnaissance), ears (communications) and brains (GPS and Internet) in Earth orbit. Fortunately, they are not yet self-aware. But the people who operate them are.

All satellites are vulnerable. Components constantly break down and must be replaced. New technology makes existing facilities obsolete, requiring replacement, at high cost. A satellite must fit within and on the largest launch vehicle we have; satellites thus have a practical size limit, which in turn limits their capabilities and lifetime. Once a satellite stops working, it is abandoned and a replacement must be designed, launched and put into its proper orbit. 

Satellite aging is normal and expected but satellites can also be catastrophically lost or disabled, either accidentally or deliberately. Encounters between objects in space tend to be at very high velocities. The ever-increasing amounts of debris and junk in orbit (e.g., pieces of old rockets and satellites) can hit functioning satellites and destroy them. NORAD carefully tracks the bigger pieces of junk and some spacecraft (e.g., ISS) can be maneuvered out of the path of oncoming debris, but smaller pieces (e.g., the size of a bolt or screw) cannot be tracked and if they collide with a critical part, it can cripple a satellite.

It has long been recognized that satellites are extremely vulnerable to attack and anti-satellite warfare (ASAT) is another possible cause of failure. Both the US and the USSR experimented with ASAT warfare during the Cold War. Although it sounds exotic, ASAT merely takes advantage of the fragility of these spacecraft to render them inoperative. This can be done with remote affecters like lasers to "blind" optical sensors. The simplest ASAT weapon is kinetic, i.e., an impactor. By intercepting a satellite with a projectile at high relative velocity, the satellite is rapidly and easily rendered worthless.

Despite the fact that the destruction of satellites is relatively easy, it has seldom happened by accident and never as an act of war. Although most space assets are extremely vulnerable, they are left alone because they are not easy to get to. Some orbiting spacecraft occupy low Earth orbit (LEO) and are accessible to interceptors, but many valuable strategic assets are in the much higher orbits of middle Earth orbit (MEO) 3000 to 35000 km and geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) 35786 km. Such orbits are difficult to reach and require long transit times and complex orbital maneuvers which quickly reveal themselves and their purpose to ground-based tracking.

In 1998, a communications satellite was left in a useless transfer orbit after a booster failure. Engineers at Hughes (the makers of the satellite) devised a clever scheme to send the satellite to GEO using a gravity assist from the Moon. This was the world's first "commercial" flight to the Moon and it saved the expensive satellite for its planned use. One aspect of this rescue is seldom mentioned but attracted the attention of military space watchers everywhere. This satellite approached GEO from an unobserved (and at least partly unobservable) direction. Most trips to GEO travel from LEO upwards; this one came down from the Moon, a direction not ordinarily monitored by tracking systems. This mission dramatically illustrated the importance of what is called "situational awareness" in space.

Our current model of operations in space is well established. Satellites must be self-contained and operated until dead, then completely replaced - a template of design, build, launch, operate, and abandon. With few exceptions, we are not able to access satellites to repair or upgrade them. Sometimes favorable conditions allow us to be clever and rescue an asset that had been written off, but the system is not designed for such operation. The current spaceflight paradigm is a use and throwaway culture. Yet thirty years of experience with the Shuttle program has shown us that such is not the case by necessity. What is missing is the ability to get people and servicing machines to the various satellites in all their myriad locations: LEO is easy, but MEO and GEO cannot be accessed with existing space systems. Yet from the experience of Shuttle and ISS, we know that if they could, a revolution in the way spaceflight is approached might be possible.

The Vision for Space Exploration and its implications

The Vision for Space Exploration (the Vision, or VSE,) announced by President Bush in January 2004, called for returning the Shuttle to flight after the Columbia accident, completion of the International Space Station, a human return to the Moon and eventually voyages to Mars and other destinations. This proposal was subsequently endorsed by two different Congresses (in 2005 and 2008) under the control of different parties; both authorizations passed with large bipartisan majorities. The preface to the founding VSE document states that the new policy is undertaken to serve national "security, economic and scientific interests."

Subsequent statements and writings elaborated on the purpose of the VSE. Despite concerted efforts to distort its meaning, the goal of lunar return was not to repeat Apollo but to create a long-term, sustained human presence in space by learning to use the material and energy resources of the Moon. The VSE was to be implemented under existing and anticipated budgetary constraints; the guidance given to NASA for this aspect of the mission was to stretch timetables if money became short. The idea was to create this new system with small, incremental, yet cumulative steps.

The intellectual underpinnings of the VSE began to be undermined by NASA almost immediately. The Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) made lunar return an Apollo redux, with the development of a large, 150-mT-payload heavy lift vehicle becoming the centerpiece and sine qua non of human spaceflight beyond LEO. An ambitious program to establish an early robotic presence to prospect for resources on the Moon was cancelled, along with the incremental approach outlined by the Vision. Thus, the Moon became a distant goal, with first arrival of humans occurring well after 2020, if then. NASA had chosen something familiar, an architecture very similar to Apollo with little effort made to develop reusable, refuelable spacecraft (although the Altair lander used LOX-hydrogen, so in principle, it could be modified for refueling).

In short, the purpose of returning to the Moon, i.e., to create a sustainable human presence based on the use of lunar resources, got lost in the ESAS shuffle. Lunar return became synonymous with "Apollo on Steroids" and heavy-lift rocket building while ESAS (Constellation) became synonymous with the VSE. Project Constellation, the agency project to develop the new Orion spacecraft and Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, was a costly, throw-away space system that got us to the Moon with considerable capability, but with little or no thought given to planned surface objectives or activities. The idea of finding and learning to use the resources of the Moon became an experiment slated for the manifest of some future mission, not the primary driver or objective of lunar return. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is currently mapping the Moon and sending us data on the extent and nature of lunar resources, but no lander missions are planned to follow up on its findings. The ingenuity of an incremental program was lost and we created no new capability in space.

The goal of the VSE is to create the capability to live ON the Moon and OFF its local resources with the goals of self-sufficiency and sustainability, including the production of propellant and refueling of cislunar transport vehicles. A system that is able to routinely go to and from the lunar surface is also able to access any other point in cislunar space. We can eventually export lunar propellant to fueling depots throughout cislunar space, where most of our space assets reside. In short, by going to the Moon, we create a new and qualitatively different capability for space access, a "transcontinental railroad" in space. Such a system would completely transform the paradigm of spaceflight. We would develop serviceable satellites, not ones designed to be abandoned after use. We could create extensible, upgradeable systems, not "use and discard." The ability to transport people and machines throughout cislunar space permits the construction of distributed instead of self-contained systems. Such space assets are more flexible, more capable and more easily defended than conventional ones.

The key to this new paradigm is to learn if it is possible to use lunar and space resources to create new capabilities and if so, how difficult it might be. Despite years of academic study, no one has demonstrated resource extraction on the Moon. There is nothing in the physics and chemistry of the materials of the Moon that suggests it is not possible, but we simply do not know how difficult it is or what practical problems might arise. This is why resource utilization is an appropriate goal for the federal space program. As a high-risk engineering research and development project, it is difficult for the private sector to raise the necessary capital to understand the magnitude of the problem. The VSE was conceived to let NASA answer these questions and begin the process of creating a permanent cislunar transportation infrastructure.

So where do we stand with the creation of such system? Is such a change in paradigm desirable? Are we still in a "space race" or is that an obsolete concept? The answers to some of these questions are not at all obvious. We must consider them fully, as this information is available to all space faring nations to adopt and adapt for their own uses.

A new space race

The race to the Moon of the 1960's was an exercise in "soft power" projection. We raced the Soviets to the Moon to demonstrate the superiority of our technology, not only to them, but also to the uncommitted and watching world. The landing of Apollo 11 in July 1969 was by any reckoning a huge win for United States and the success of Apollo gave us technical credibility for the Cold War endgame. Fifteen years after the moon landing, President Reagan advocated the development of a missile defense shield, the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Although disparaged by many in the West as unattainable, this program was taken very seriously by the Soviets. I believe that this was largely because the United States had already succeeded in accomplishing a very difficult technical task (the lunar landing) that the Soviet Union had not accomplished. Thus, the Soviets saw SDI as not only possible, but likely and its advent would render their entire nuclear strategic capability useless in an instant.

In this interpretation, the Apollo program achieved not only its literal objective of landing a man on the Moon (propaganda, soft power) but also its more abstract objective of intimidating our Soviet adversary (technical surprise, hard power). Thus, Apollo played a key role in the end of the Cold War, one far in excess of what many scholars believe. Similarly, our two follow-on programs of Shuttle and Station, although fraught with technical issues and deficiencies as tools of exploration, had significant success in pointing the way towards a new paradigm for space. That new path involves getting people and machines to satellite assets in space for construction, servicing, extension and repair. Through the experience of ISS construction, we now know it is possible to assemble very large systems in space from smaller pieces, and we know how to approach such a problem. Mastery of these skills suggests that the construction of new, large distributed systems for communications, surveillance, and other tasks is possible. These new space systems would be much more capable and enabling than existing ones.

Warfare in space is not as depicted in science-fiction movies, with flying saucers blasting lasers at speeding spaceships. The real threat from active space warfare is denial of assets and access. Communications satellites are silenced, reconnaissance satellites are blinded, and GPS constellations made inoperative. This completely disrupts command and control and forces reliance on terrestrially based systems. Force projection and coordination becomes more difficult, cumbersome and slower.

Recently, China tested an ASAT weapon in space, indicating that they fully understand the military benefits of hard space power. But they also have an interest in the Moon, probably for "soft power" projection ("Flags-and-Footprints") at some level. Sending astronauts beyond low Earth orbit is a statement of their technical equality with the United States, as among space faring nations, only we have done this in the past. So it is likely that the Chinese see a manned lunar mission as a propaganda coup. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that they also understand the Moon's strategic value, as described above. They tend to take a long view, spanning decades, not the short-term view that America favors. Thus, although their initial plans for human lunar missions do not feature resource utilization, they know the technical literature as well as we do and know that such use is possible and enabling. They are also aware of the value of the Moon as a "backdoor" to approach other levels of cislunar space, as the rescue of the Hughes communications satellite demonstrated.

The struggle for soft power projection in space has not ended. If space resource extraction and commerce is possible, a significant question emerges - What societal paradigm shall prevail in this new economy? Many New Space advocates assume that free markets and capitalism is the obvious organizing principle of space commerce, but others might not agree. For example, to China, a government-corporatist oligarchy, the benefits of a pluralistic, free market system are not obvious. Moreover, respect for contract law, a fundamental reason why Western capitalism is successful while its implementation in the developing world has had mixed results, does not exist in China. So what shall the organizing principle of society be in the new commerce of space resources: rule of law or authoritarian oligarchy? An American win in this new race for space does not guarantee that free markets will prevail, but an American loss could ensure that free markets would never emerge on this new frontier.

Why are we going to the Moon?

In one of his early speeches defending the Apollo program, President John F. Kennedy laid out the reasons that America had to go the Moon. Among the many ideas that he articulated, one stood out. He said, "whatever men shall undertake, free men must fully share." This was a classic expression of American exceptionalism, that idea that we must explore new frontiers not to establish an empire, but to ensure that our political and economic system prevails, a system that has created the most freedom and the largest amount of new wealth in the hands of the greatest number of people in the history of the world. This is a statement of both soft and hard power projection; by leading the world into space, we guarantee that space does not become the private domain of powers who view humanity as cogs in their ideological machine, rather than as individuals to be valued and protected.

The Vision was created to extend human reach beyond its current limit of low Earth orbit. It made the Moon the first destination because it has the material and energy resources needed to create a true space faring system. Recent data from the Moon show that it is even richer in resource potential than we had thought; both abundant water and near-permanent sunlight is available at selected areas near the poles. We go to the Moon to learn how to extract and use those resources to create a space transportation system that can routinely access all of cislunar space with both machines and people. Such a system is the logical next step in both space security and commerce. This goal for NASA makes the agency relevant to important national interests. A return to the Moon for resource utilization contributes to national security and economic interests as well as scientific ones.

There is indeed a new space race. It is just as important and vital to our country's future as the original one, if not as widely perceived and appreciated. It consists of a struggle with both hard and soft power. The hard power aspect is to confront the ability of other nations to deny us access to our vital satellite assets of cislunar space. The soft power aspect is a question: how shall society be organized in space? Both issues are equally important and both are addressed by lunar return. Will space be a sanctuary for science and PR stunts or will it be a true frontier with scientists and pilots, but also miners, technicians, entrepreneurs and settlers? The decisions made now will decide the fate of space for generations. The choice is clear; we cannot afford to relinquish our foothold in space and abandon the Vision for Space Exploration.

A Case for Space Based Solar Power

From: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/viewpoints/stories/DN-james_06edi.State.Edition1.1601d78.html

Pamela James: A case for space-based solar power
11:29 AM CST on Friday, February 5, 2010
Ross Perot Jr., I hope you're listening. T. Boone Pickens is preoccupied with some "winds of change" and rethinking his next move. Your ability to save us in our time of need looms once more. The most logical answer to our impending energy crisis is simple. We need to look up ... way up.
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I'm hardly a rocket scientist, but I've been doing a lot of reading lately about space. As it turns out, we don't have to keep plunging pipes into the earth hoping to land on a patch of Jed Clampett's "Texas Tea," nor anguish over the right moment to lasso a wind gust. And heaven help those who resort to littering our landscape with nuclear runoff to quench our thirst for nonstop power.
But Texas can take a leading role in solving our energy crisis by using what's already above our noggins: space and the sun that inhabits it. It's called space-based solar power.
It's not a new concept. According to Howard Bloom – a New York visionary and founder of The Space Development Steering Committee, composed of a gaggle of real rocket scientists such as former astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Edgar Mitchell) – we've been using it for nearly 50 years.
The first American commercial satellite, Telstar, was launched in the early '60s. A mere 35 inches in diameter, this space ball beamed solar power back to earth via its photovoltaic panels. The electromagnetic signals it sent are the same ones we use today that guide our GPS straight to Aunt Freda's lake cabin or to a business meeting in Frankfurt. And the same system that sends us late-breaking news from around the world.
It's also big business.
"Harvesting solar energy in space and transmitting it to earth is a quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar industry," explained Bloom by e-mail. "It's called the commercial satellite business."
To scale up this existing business is America's greatest challenge. In fact, civilization may well depend upon it, Bloom insists.
According to a recent study by 25-year Air Force Research Lab veteran James Michael Snead for the Space Development Steering Committee, even if we use every form of energy we have – the "clean" such as wind, earthbound solar and geothermal; or the "dirty" such as oil, gas and nuclear – we'll still run out well before 2100.
"Using earth-bound energy as the main power source takes unconscionable amounts of space," says Bloom, the steering committee's founder. In some cases, at the expense of entire eco-systems.
Wind turbines produce power only when the wind blows. Solar panels work only when the sun shines – a sun that has a habit of disappearing for eight to 12 hours a day.
On the other hand, space-based solar power runs 24/7 and is five times as intense as the sun that beats down on the Mojave Desert, experts say.
Sure, we have nuclear power. But who wants barrels of highly concentrated radioactive material in their back yard?
It's high time someone comes forward with the courage, the clout and the promotional acumen to see this to fruition. That's where someone like Perot would be perfect. His natural interest in technology and common-sense problem solving, not to mention his ability to get the attention of the media, would make him a good fit to lead a public relations campaign to get this idea rolling.
Our children, our grandchildren and our grandchildren's grandchildren may just darn well depend upon it.
Pamela James is a science co-teacher for McCulloch Middle School in Highland Park ISD and a Dallas-based writer. Her e-mail address isthisdogdonthunt09@gmail.com

03 February 2010

Hubble Shows Amazing Cosmic Collision

From: http://wjz.com/local/cosmic.collision.hubble.2.1467912.html
BALTIMORE (WJZ) ― It's probably happened countless times over the last four billion years or so, but thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, it's the first time it has been seen.

The Hubble Space Telescope was given orders from its operations center in Maryland to take a closer look at what was thought to be a comet.  When the pictures came back, the comet went out the window.

"Well, it's the first time we've witnessed a cosmic collision in the asteroid belt. We know they've happened many, many times in the past, at the time of the formation of the solar system. But this is the first chance we've had to see it happen recently," said Dr. Hal Weaver, Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

It may have happened as recently as late last year, with rocky debris from the crash still trailing behind the largest surviving piece of the collision.

Asteroids are the rocks that never had a chance. Jupiter's gravity prevented them from forming into a planet between it and Mars. They've been a threat to Earth ever since.

While small objects streak the sky all the time, the last big hit in Siberia was in 1908, which makes what's slamming around in the asteroid belt a wise thing to follow.

The asteroid's tail of debris is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of miles long. It is about 98 million miles from Earth, still safely tucked in the asteroid belt.