Supplying the ISS

Regarding the article by Brian Berger in the April 9 issue of Space News [“As Shuttle Era Ends, NASA Rethinks ISS Supply Chain,” page 6], Brian makes a statement that is in error and must be corrected.

He states: “While the two main U.S. companies in the running to sell NASA ISS resupply services — Oklahoma City-based Rocketplane Kistler and El Segundo, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies — plan to offer the capability to return at least some hardware safely to the ground. The so-called recoverable down mass capacity of their planned reusable system is not dramatically greater than what Russia’s three-person Soyuz capsule can bring down today or what Orion will be able to bring back when its (sic) operational in 2015. In other words, only a tiny fraction of what the space shuttle is capable of hauling back today.”

To state the facts, the Soyuz capsule’s return cargo capability is about 50 kilograms per mission — usually less in practice, according to NASA. The Rocketplane Kistler (RPK) RPK K-1 transportation system is capable of transporting 2,775 kilograms per mission up and down for pressurized cargo and 3,000 kilograms per mission up and down for upressurized cargo.

RPK can certainly meet NASA’s projection for annual resupply of 13 metric tons in 2011 and 16 metric tons in 2012 and beyond, and at a price point far lower than the shuttle or other potential suppliers such as Progress, ATV or HTV, which only have upmass pressurized capability. The K-1 also is configured to transport standard science racks to and from the international space station (ISS).

This upmass and downmass capability is essential to achieving the science and technology research effectiveness for which the ISS was intended. While a few operational components may need to be redesigned to be able to be returned by the K-1, the vast majority of existing ISS critical components are compatible to be transported by the K-1 vehicle. For example, the K-1’s unpressurized cargo module can transport the existing ISS Control Moment Gyros discussed in the article, thereby avoiding costly redesign or reopening production lines.

I also note that on April 20 , NASA issued a press release stating in part, and significant to this issue, that production of a pressurized cargo carrier for the ISS has been deleted from the initial design phase or the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Another recent development is the public statement by NASA Administrator Mike Griffin regarding the extension of the operational life of the ISS beyond 2016. This only becomes affordable, in my opinion, through the use of commercial cargo transportation systems, which are capable of providing transportation of critical operational components, science and technology payloads, and logistical requirements to and from the ISS.

The savings that can be derived from commercial resupply of ISS can be dramatic, especially if the downmass capability avoids the requirement to reopen production lines for high value components. These savings will not only enable much more cost-effective operation of the ISS, but also will provide cost savings that can contribute directly to the funding needed for critical exploration developmental activities.

Randy Brinkley

Chief Executive Officer
and President, Rocketplane Kistler

Full Picture on Piracy

Eutelsat wishes to set the facts straight in response to the article “Intelsat Vows to Stop Piracy by Sri Lanka Separatist Group” [April 16, page 1] and the editorial “Fight Satellite Piracy” [April 23, page 18], which in your publication.

In the case reported and commented in your publication, Intelsat notified Eutelsat on April 12 of an imminent transfer of capacity under contract between the two companies. Intelsat has in fact over a number of months requested a transfer of this same capacity for commercial reasons in the sole interests of Intelsat before the issue of terrorism arose. On this basis it was legitimate to request further information on this new development. Eutelsat also asked for preliminary technical and operational data in order to coordinate with the end user since the capacity in question was leased for a telecommunications service subject to high-level security restrictions. Moreover, Eutelsat asked for specific information in order to offer technical and operational support to Intelsat which could mitigate or cease the illegal transmissions and which could thereby have also avoided the need for any transfer.

As Eutelsat has already acknowledged the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, these requests did not in any way delay the requested transfer which was consequently carried out on schedule, on April 17, in complete compliance with Intelsat’s requirements.

Based on these facts, Eutelsat firmly and categorically denies the accusation in your publication that Eutelsat’s actions would somehow have constituted “less than exemplary citizenship.”

To set the record straight, Eutelsat fully supports actions to halt illegal satellite broadcasts by channels known to be affiliated with terrorist organizations and has fully cooperated with relevant regulatory authorities to terminate illegal broadcasts.

Eutelsat also applauds your proposal to initiate a forum whereby operators and industry may jointly and proactively prevent these types of illegal activities, and define and implement policies for combating international terrorism.

Philippe McAllister

General Counsel, Eutelsat

The GEOSS 10-Year Plan

I read with interest the recent Commentary by William B. Gail, Molly Macauley and Neal F. Lane that called for A National Earth-Information Initiative [“A National-Earth Information Initiative,” April 2, page 19]. I believe that the 10-Year Implementation Plan for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) lays out just such a vision.

In February 2005, nearly 60 nations met at the Earth Observations Summit 3 in Brussels to adopt a 10-year plan to develop and implement GEOSS to achieve comprehensive, coordinated and sustained observations of the Earth system. This plan is designed to markedly enhance global policy- and decision-making abilities to support the environment, human health, safety and welfare.

Our nation’s contribution to GEOSS is the Integrated Earth Observation System (IEOS). The breadth and scope of the GEOSS and IEOS plans are unprecedented. They will facilitate the sharing and applied usage of global, regional and local data from satellites, ocean buoys, weather stations, and other surface and airborne Earth observing instruments. The end result will be access to a vast amount of environmental information, integrated into new data products benefiting societies and economies worldwide.

The American effort is coordinated by the U.S. Group on Earth Observations , which includes representatives from more than 15 federal agencies and three White House offices. However, the ultimate success of both the IEOS and GEOSS depends not only on federal sources, but also state and local governments, industry, academia and non government organizations that will play a major role in leveraging these observation systems for social and economic benefit.

The United States is now preparing for the 2007 Group on Earth Observations Ministerial Meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, where we will continue to develop GEOSS in cooperation with our international partners. We have exciting progress to report in the areas of air quality assessment, drought early warning, global land characterization, disaster reduction and environmental information dissemination systems.

I wholeheartedly agree with the authors’ call for “the aggressive pursuit of understanding the Earth as a system — and the effective application of that knowledge for society’s benefit.” It is my belief that the work being done by the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations and supported through U.S. Group on Earth Observations represents a substantive and promising effort to achieve this vision.

Vice Adm.
Conrad Lautenbacher

Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere

NOAA Administrator, Washington