Why are Virginia Republican Reps.
and Randy Forbes fear-mongering about Surrey Satellite Technology and complaining about Mississippi State University’s (MSU) efforts to learn how a small company can launch almost 30 successful low-cost satellite missions?
“U.S. Lawmakers Irked Over
. State Contract,” Nov. 12, page 6]
I don’t think they are afraid of
here. I think they are worried that a new entrant to the U.S. market and a low-cost, low-risk approach seriously threatens the U.S. space industry.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, India, China
and others are going to the
Moon and developing low-cost, highly responsive space capabilities of their own while we stick our head in the sand and try to protect our industry from foreign competition. It’s a good thing GM and Ford did not have congressionally imposed barriers against Toyota, otherwise we still would
be driving Edsels. Foreign competition has made U.S. companies perform better.
Why does Mississippi State think this is the right thing to do? Look no further than the Nov. 11 New York Times article “Death of a Spy Satellite Program, Lofty Plans and Unrealistic Bids,” which concludes that the United States has a shortage of new people becoming educated and trained in space systems engineering and other core areas. Furthermore, our nation’s space programs have become chained to the ground with over-bloated budgets, unfulfilled promises, rampant excuses and limited capabilities to advance technologies, applications and science. The examples of these conditions – the Future Imagery Architecture, the Space Based Infrared System,
etc. – are simply piling up. MSU is trying to answer those problems through an innovative solution with Surrey.
Would it be better to pretend we don’t have a problem with our space
industry and concede the higher ground to new players like China, or
should we avail ourselves of knowledge the Chinese supposedly have so as to better understand it?
MSU is not alone in exploring opportunities with Surrey.
Rep. Wolfe and Forbes need look no further than their backyard to find U.S. companies working with Surrey. Orbital Sciences of Virginia explored joint opportunities with Surrey
and used the British company’s
subsystems as part of the NASA DART Mission, which launched in 2005. In fact, Orbital Sciences lists Surrey as a partner on their corporate
Other U.S. government agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory
and the U.S. Air Force also have
bought and flown satellites and other Surrey-built components
. A U.S. payload on the Indian Chandrayaan 1
Moon mission uses a Surrey processor. For the last 12 years, the U.S. Air Force has had a continuous relationship with Surrey, receiving
hands-on training and working
officers and airmen who
pursued advanced degrees at the adjacent University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. In the course of their longstanding collaboration, the U.S. Air Force purchased an experimental satellite from Surrey under the foreign comparative test program.
Mississippi State examines
the lunar navigation and communications mission with Surrey, it is important to note that NASA recently signed a
memorandum of understanding
with United Kingdom on lunar exploration. If the United Kingdom puts significant funds of their own into a joint exploration program, shouldn’t we as taxpayers welcome that kind of financial commitment and international cooperation with our close allies? For
more than two centuries the United States has exchanged science, technology, innovation and more with the United Kingdom. As a result, two World Wars were won, the Cold War was ended and the lives of people on every continent have
improved. The prospective MSU partnership with Surrey continues that tradition.
As for Virginia companies, what is good for them is apparently not OK for Mississippi. The state of Mississippi is doing everything it can to make the United States more competitive in the global market, give students the best possible education, and create new jobs and career opportunities in an economy devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The British flew across the Atlantic to help put this program together.
The British made a long-term commitment, and offered to help educate our kids, conduct research and create jobs in our
I suppose we shouldn’t expect the same treatment from two Virginia congressmen trying to protect local companies.
Vice President, Research and Economic Development
Mississippi State University
A Young Engineer’s Vision
When I confront experienced engineers with the fact that “I have always wanted to contribute to space exploration, and that is my goal,” their responses range from
we all wanted to,” to
“we all thought so.” In my discussions about assembling a team to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize, they asked who my contacts were and where I was going to get the funding. Little did they know that this was the very reason I was asking for their support. These words were spoken by engineers with decades of experience, whom I consider my mentors and friends.
I am a 25-year-old engineer trying to decide how best to start my career. When I talk about my dreams to my mentors, I am often blasted with the reality they have seen during their careers. I have heard “that’s expensive,” “not in our lifetime,” and “it’s pie-in-the-sky.” All I have to say in response
is that it feels like I am working in the automotive industry.
I did not choose aerospace, the youngest form of engineering, because it is becoming a stable career path. I picked it because when it is done best, it is risky and rewarding; its advancement will mean the survival of humanity. I cannot understand why we have allowed our field, which at one time was the fastest
changing, to become so stagnant. Just because the world’s governments have become complacent with the toys they have presently is no reason for young scientists and engineers to lose their ultimate focus.
We cannot afford another few decades of miniscule technological and organizational progress. From the 1970s until today, the greatest change in humanity’s manned space-transportation systems have come in the form of the cockpit displays. The engines we will use on Ares are the same that our first, and perhaps last significant, group of innovators created a half-century ago. I am sure that any engineer in the 1960s could not have predicted this.
I know what you are probably thinking: “
This kid might have a point, but, like everyone else who makes these arguments, he’ll have no solution.” Wrong. This is the opportunity for my colleagues to pick a specialty and become so excellent at it that they can find a way to pay themselves to do it. In the very least, it is an opportunity to realize the fact that we do not have to continue on our current trajectory because of the inertia we have built with decades of repetition. We are limited by nobody’s vision but our own – and if we allow the vivid reminders of the complacency of those before us, we risk plaguing our children with the same short-sightedness.
Frank J. Centinello