Tout Concept With Care
Your Editorial in support of the idea of the often-repeated concept of using constellations of simple spacecraft to perform otherwise complex space missions [“Peril in Complexity,” May 11, page 20] – as well as some of Mr. Josh Hartman’s recent congressional testimony on the same topic – paid less attention than it should have to one key element of certain complex missions. Specifically, planetary science or Earth observing missions often require us to make time-coincident measurements of multiple parameters and types of data – and to do so along identical lines of sight. Moreover, the data must be calibrated to account for the effects of spacecraft noise, atmospheric contributions from the craft to the ground, and many other factors. The realistic challenges of achieving such a well-calibrated set of time- and space-coincident measurements from a swarm of different spacecraft can make the idea more costly, if not intractable, for certain types of observation.
The advantages of the often-repeated concept of breaking up a complex space mission among swarms of less-costly spacecraft must be touted with care. It may be that simple missions, such as multiple in-situ measurements of the spacecraft environment, observation of a single type of data, or rudimentary data relay tasks, are the ones that lend themselves to the use of simple single-purpose spacecraft. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer to the question of whether this concept really makes sense for all missions.
Why Not Spend It on Space?
To date there has been much debate on how to foster job growth and re-spark the economy. U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of dispersing some $7 billion in hopes that it may rekindle growth. Meanwhile some state governors are rejecting stimulus money. Perhaps some of those unwanted funds could be spent nationally to further
‘s space development goals. Clear space lanes are a national asset. While the military is fully tasked ensuring national and manned space vehicles are adequately screened against collisions, commercial entities are handled on a space-available, per-request basis. Some of that stimulus money could go toward standing up a civilian space control effort to guard against future collisions much like air traffic controllers. Why waste money trying to keep a manufacturer in an oversupplied market in business when we could take that money, that infrastructure and those workers and steer them toward accelerating the construction of the Constellation system and maintaining the shuttle fleet until it is ready. An increased focus on our school systems is very laudable but let’s also ensure that we grown-ups are undertaking activities that will inspire our young to follow in our footsteps. Space development is not just about astronauts in space, it’s also about jobs on Earth and it enriches everyone.