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Entries in space (4)

11:42AM

Time's Battleland: (CYBER) Cyber Warfare Treaty: DOA, Thanks to President and Pentagon

Misha Glenny making a smart case in the New York Times for a cyber arms control treaty, but it won’t happen.

Why?

For the same reason why the U.S. has refused – for many years now – to engage other great powers on a treaty banning space weaponry: our Pentagon wants to dominate that imagine conflict space like any other. This fantasy lives on despite the great private-sector forays into space transport and travel.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

9:55AM

Going to the Red Planet - seriously

Having done a lot of reading recently on the Apollo program, I found this WSJ op-ed to be a seriously plausible description of how we get to Mars:

1) one rocket sends unmanned capsule to Mars orbit with enough fuel for trip home (this is the lunar equivalent of the command module that did not go to the surface);

2) second rocket delivers to Martian surface a payload of chemicals that would use local materials to build up sufficient rocket power strength to ascend off the surface at Mars mission's end;

3) third rocket sends two astronauts to Mars, they land near ascent vehicle, spend 18 (!) months on surface, then ascend up to command module, dock, and fly that home.

Basic point of piece:  enough of the near-Earth stuff!  Let's get NASA back in the business of exploration and let the private sector work the near-space commercial.

Couldn't agree more, and like the logic of the mission plan.

12:07AM

Enter Boeing, and hopefully a new "space race" begins

NYT story on Boeing announcement:

Boeing said Wednesday that it was entering the space tourism business, an announcement that could bolster the Obama administration’s efforts to transform the National Aeronautics and Space Administration into an agency that focuses less on building rockets and more on nurturing a commercial space industry.

The flights, which could begin as early as 2015, would most likely launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the International Space Station. The Obama administration has proposed turning over to private companies the business of taking NASA astronauts to orbit, and Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas won an $18 million contract this year for preliminary development and testing of a capsule that could carry seven passengers.

Current NASA plans call for four space station crew members to go up at a time, which would leave up to three seats available for space tourists. The flights would be the first to give nonprofessional astronauts the chance to go into orbit aboard a spacecraft launched from the United States. Seven earlier space tourists have made visits to the space station, riding in Russian Soyuz capsules.

“We’re ready now to start talking to prospective customers,” said Eric C. Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, the space tourism company based in Virginia that would market the seats for Boeing.

Boeing and Space Adventures have not set a price, although Mr. Anderson said it would be competitive with the Soyuz flights, which Space Adventures arranged with the Russian Space Agency. Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid about $40 million for a Soyuz ride and an eight-day stay at the space station last year. But the prospects that anyone buying a ticket will get to space on an American vehicle hinge on discussions in Congress about the future of NASA.

As the era of the space shuttle winds down — two, perhaps three shuttle flights remain — a clash of visions over what should come next has kept the space agency adrift for much of the past year. An authorization bill written by the House Science and Technology Committee to lay out the direction of NASA for the next three years would largely follow the traditional trajectory for human spaceflight. It calls on NASA to build a government-owned rocket — likely the Ares I, which NASA has been working on for five years — for taking astronauts to the space station and then a larger one for missions to the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars.

The competing vision, embodied in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal for NASA, focuses instead on investing in companies like Boeing that want to develop the space equivalent of airlines. NASA would then just buy seats on those rockets to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.

Competition, the thinking goes, would drive down the costs of getting to space, leading to a profitable new American industry and freeing more of NASA’s budget for deep-space missions.

 I am firmly behind the Obama administration on this one, and wish Boeing the best on this endeavor.

I am still firmly committed to dying off-Earth!

12:08AM

Fly me to the moon--privately!

Holman Jenkin’s column in WSJ taking Obama to task on his space policy.  It’s not that Jenkins disagrees with the internationalization thrust.  He just says Obama has done a terrible job of getting Congress on board.

The way he makes it sound, the White House is in full retreat, accepting a compromise bill by FLA senator Bill Nelson, “the ‘compromise’ being that the programs the president wanted to cancel will be renamed and spending accelerated.”

Missing in Nelson’s bill is all the money Obama wanted to redirect to private entrepreneurs to take over the task of keeping low Earth orbit projects supplied with astronauts and material. 

The usual answer from pork barrel-rollers in Congress persists:  only NASA is qualified to operate in space, an opinion that dooms us to suboptimal outcomes that eventually, entrepreneurs from elsewhere—apparently, will surpass.

Jenkins notes that while the private sector is clearly incentivized to strive for the safest possible operation that is economically feasible, NASA is just as clearly incentivized to “spend as much as possible to do as little as possible.”

Jenkins says the private space industry in the US has survived on mega-rich angel investors, pinning their hope that Obama would pull a space-age equivalent of the Air Mail Act of 1925, which had the effect of lofting the early airline industry.

Instead, Nelson bests Obama strictly out of greed for jobs in his state.

Sad state of affairs.

We can only hope that Richard Branson and Burt Rutan’s Virgin Galactic dramatically outshines NASA in the eyes of taxpayers, who thereupon should demand better use of their tax dollars.

Excellent piece by Jenkins.