December 20 News Items

Space Debris Reaching Tipping Point? (Source: eWeek)
As space debris grew 13 percent in 2009, engineers and scientists are facing a daunting challenge: how to mitigate the dangers to the $200 billion a year satellite and launch industries from hundreds of thousands of bits of space debris whizzing around the Earth at 17,000 miles-per-hour. The orbital debris count is currently estimated at more than 300,000 objects dangerously whizzing around the Earth at 17,000 miles-per-hour. In 2009, the debris count increased 13 per cent, adding even more risk to the dicey $200 billion a year satellite and launch industries. (12/20)

Editorial: NASA in Need of a Major Overhaul (Source: Houston Chronicle)
There are only five shuttle missions left. Setting aside the views of critics who argue that human exploration in space is an economically unsound activity, it is our contention that it would be desirable to get the United States back in the manned launch-vehicle business as soon as possible. To do this, NASA must engage in a comprehensive overhaul of its processes and business culture for the challenges of the new decade. This seems to make sense to NASA chief Charles Bolden, who says the agency must “accelerate with a sense of urgency the development of a next-generation launch system and human carrier..." To meet this urgent call for action means radically revamping the way the agency does business, in line with reform currently taking place at other federal agencies, not least the Pentagon.

Changing a few regulations or coming up with a new feel-good marketing campaign won't cure the NASA culture. What's needed is a transformation that encourages an entrepreneurial, rather than bureaucratic, culture. Compare Bolden's NASA with Robert Gates' Department of Defense, and you will see some guideposts for what is needed from the NASA leadership. Gates has had the fortitude to dismiss subordinates when things go wrong. He halted further production of the F-22 fighter, a $350 million machine that has yet to contribute sortie one to the fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq.

What gives us hope is that the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley is deeply interested in the future of spaceflight, manned and unmanned. Google recently put some $30 million in award money on the table for teams able to land a robotic lunar rover on the moon as part of the X Prize Foundation's efforts to stimulate activity in spaceflight and exploration. This should stand as an indicator of where the NASA mission is headed. NASA's brightest potential future is one where it serves as an enabler, standards-setter and coordinating body for the more entrepreneurial activity needed to bring the cost of spaceflight down. (12/20)

Orbital Wins DARPA Contract for Spacecraft Clusters (Source: Space News)
DARPA has awarded Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. a $75 million contract to develop the final design for a radically new space architecture in which traditional, large spacecraft are replaced by clusters of wirelessly connected orbiting modules. Dubbed System F6, short for Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying spacecraft, Orbital’s design was selected among four competing study contracts issued in 2008 and 2009. The new contract is valued at $74.6 million over a one-year period. (12/20)

No comments: