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Astropolítica

"Se se pudessem interrogar as estrelas perguntar-lhes-ia se as maçam mais os astrónomos ou os poetas." Pitigrilli

Astropolítica

"Se se pudessem interrogar as estrelas perguntar-lhes-ia se as maçam mais os astrónomos ou os poetas." Pitigrilli

The third shoe, by Wayne Eleazer

Fevereiro 25, 2006

Vera Gomes

(Monday, February 20, 2006)

The FY 2006 Department of Defense budget slashed funding for a number of military space programs. According to Aviation Week, the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) communications system was cut by $400 million, the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High was cut by $50 million, and the Space Radar Program lost $125.8 million. All together, that is a cut of over $575 million; as the late Senator Everett F. Dirksen might have said, at this rate pretty soon we are going to be talking about some real money.
The cuts were hardly a surprise. The fact that a number of Air Force space acquisition programs were not doing too well has been obvious for some time. On top of the most recent concerns, the past few years have seen the Air Force pick up the tab for a far greater share of the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 program costs than was envisioned. Add to that the virtual abandonment of once-key aspects of the largest launch range upgrade program ever conceived, Range Standardization and Automation, and you have a less than sterling record.
How did this come about? Well, like most things in the military it was carefully planned and took a long time to accomplish.
The USAF’s space efforts developed in an unusual manner. Satellites transitioned from scientific toys into military necessities with incredible speed. During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s public attention was focused on the highly publicized and dramatic manned missions, but the most important progress was being made with unmanned satellite programs, especially those with military applications. Within a decade of the launch of Sputnik, military satellites were providing unequaled capabilities in such areas as weather forecasting, reconnaissance, navigation, and missile early warning. Other promising applications such as communications were coming up fast. So rapid was the pace of development that military space systems never really got out of the research and development phase; the success of one new system merely encouraged the development of an even more capable one. Rarely were any two sequentially launched satellites completely identical. “Tests” and actual “operations” became interchangeable in both terminology and approach. The normally torrid pace of aircraft development looked glacial in comparison to spacecraft.
So daunting were the challenges presented by the military utilization of space that it required a new way of doing business. One reason for this was the rapid pace of development, but an even more important reason was the unique manner in which the required tasks had to be accomplished. Specifying, designing, developing, assembling, processing, launching, and even operating a satellite system became one continuous process. All this meant that the skills and techniques required were so specialized and unique that only the spacecraft and booster builders themselves could handle the tasks required. But the most important driver of all was the fact that every launch was a test flight, and there were no second chances.
Spacecraft simply could not be delivered to a loading dock; ultimately they had to be delivered to the correct orbit, and in proper operating condition. First, though, the spacecraft had to leave the builder’s production facility and be delivered to what was, essentially, another factory. The same situation existed for the booster and the rest of the components required for the entire flight vehicle. All of the hardware that had to be assembled for a launch first encountered the rest of the equipment required at the launch base, and nowhere else. Spacecraft were never mounted on a booster until they got to the launch pad. All of the booster components were not assembled until they got to the launch base as well; in some cases this even included engines and flight control systems. Then there were the ground systems: boosters and spacecraft were checked out individually at the factory but usually were not interfaced with the actual ground control and support systems until they arrived at the launch base. Frequently there was no testing of such vital interfaces until they got to the launch facility itself.
And the worst problem of all was that there was no way to simulate the actual flight conditions—and there was no turning back after liftoff. Every launch was a test flight, because the hardware had never flown before. In many cases not even that particular combination of hardware types had been flown before.
All this meant that the pre-launch processing at the launch base could only be viewed as an extension of the factory process, and processing and launch operations as part of the acquisition task. Contractors would provide the highly specialized skills required to accomplish all of the hands-on work, just as they did in their own factories. The System Program Offices (SPOs) would manage the contractors, just as SPOs did for production of aircraft and other more traditional military equipment. The SPOs would assure that contract requirements and the applicable laws and regulations were followed and also ensure that the Air Force conducted a thorough technical evaluation of the entire process.
The organization that was created to handle all of this management effort was perhaps not unique in structure but was unprecedented in its scope. The SPOs wrote, issued, and managed the contracts in all of their aspects, aided by government representatives at the contractor’s factories. The SPO “arms in the field”, the Aerospace Test Groups at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base, controlled the launch process, including pre-launch processing activities, but did so under the authority granted them by the SPOs.
Meanwhile, there were SPOs at the launch ranges concerned with procuring range equipment: radars, computer systems, optical tracking gear, telemetry processing hardware, and communications electronics. Such an effort required an engineering organization at the ranges in order to understand, specify, and provide technical oversight of these procurements. Since handling all of the requirements of operating a test range and meeting a wide variety of users’ needs demanded considerable engineering expertise, this was neither out of character for the ranges nor beyond their intrinsic capabilities.
The Air Force Systems Command organization formed to accomplish all of this was known at various times as the Space and Missile Systems Organization, the Space and Missile Systems Center, or simply as Space Division. It was analogous to the other Air Force Systems Command product divisions that produced aircraft and electronics, but had much broader responsibilities. The three-star general that commanded Space Division was unique in that he had the whole ball of wax: specification, acquisition, production, test, launch operations, range support, and at least the initial phases of orbital operations. Unlike any other product division, he commanded not only the traditionally organized SPOs but also the ranges and launch organizations at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg and the satellite control center at Sunnyvale, just south of San Francisco. The same general officer had responsibility for ballistic missile development and testing as well; there also were SPOs and related test organizations at the test ranges to accomplish that task.
In the early 1980’s this organization was expanded additionally to include the Air Force’s space-related laboratories, such as the “Rocket Lab” at Edwards Air Force Base. The concept here was that the labs ultimately were producing technologies that would be employed in the acquisition of space-related hardware and so should be driven by those requirements.
Thus, there was a “space force” with unique skills and techniques within the much larger US Air Force. While never recognized as a separate career field by the Air Force, the Space Division SPOs, ranges, test groups, and labs relied heavily on their ability to retain experienced people with the overall array of specialties they required. People were transferred between the larger Air Force and the space business quite regularly, but nonetheless Space Division was able to create and maintain a highly-experienced cadre of professional space acquisition and engineering personnel.
The space-related SPOs and other organizations eagerly sought out experienced officers and enlisted personnel. People that already had served in various space-related assignments not only were experienced in acquisition, but also had been indoctrinated in the unique attitudes and techniques demanded by space activities. They not only knew the organizational structure and the procedures required for procurement; they appreciated the consequences of failure - and failure was all too common.
This approach to manpower was essential to getting the job done but had its problems in terms of traditional military personnel management. Viewed from the perspective of the overall Air Force, someone who had rotated between assignments at the various space SPOs—Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg, Sunnyvale, and perhaps the associated labs or the ballistic missile SPOs—appeared to have acquired little broad experience. In fact, from a space acquisition perspective he had covered all of the bases, including launch operations. It was very difficult for the Air Force as a whole to recognize the kind of trained personnel required by the space acquisition business, and thus it proved to be well-nigh impossible to manage the people in a suitable fashion. This problem was never solved, and suddenly it got much worse.
Breaking the system
On September 1, 1982 Air Force Space Command was created, the intention being that it would become one of the operational Air Force commands similar to Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Tactical Air Command (TAC). Most space tracking and control assets were transferred to Space Command right away. These included the warning radars and analysis systems that SAC had gained with the shutdown of Air Defense Command a few years earlier, as well as the remote satellite tracking stations operated by Air Force Systems Command. The space acquisition workforce got a little smaller as a result.
Next, in 1991 Space Command acquired the space launch ranges and launch organizations there. The consequences of this transfer were enormous. Overnight, many of the Air Force personnel at the launch ranges were no longer qualified to hold their jobs: they were now in “operational” rather than “acquisition” career fields. Also, essentially overnight the “acquirers” of Space Division and the “operators” of Space Command had to figure out how to break up the factory-like launch process into its “acquisition” and “operational” elements. This was not easy; in fact, it represented a real unknown. Launch processing and operations had never been done that way and nothing had changed in terms of the technical requirements of the tasks and the considerable challenges that accompanied them. We were still launching exactly the same vehicles in exactly the same manner, and the results were often distressing.
By the early 1990s launch failures were far less common than in the early days of space flight, but failure was still far more likely than in any other endeavor. About 6% of space launches fail in some way, and about half of those represent failures to attain any kind of an orbit. Now, aviation related-analogies are favored by those who argue for an “operational approach” to space launch operations. To use such an analogy, if a similar failure probability applied to airplanes, about 150 airliners each day would arrive at an airport different than their intended destination and another 150 a day would arrive at a place on the ground where there was no airport of any kind (some might call this a crash).
The operators of Space Command and the acquirers of Space Division gave the problem of dividing up a continuous process a lot of thought but failed to ever solve it satisfactorily. In one case, the two organizations agreed to give Space Command responsibility for launch vehicle integration “except for the engineering”, which would be done by Space Division. Since such integration is an engineering task, this was like giving someone the responsibility for all of the mathematics except for the actual calculations. A few years later, Space Command conducted a study that concluded that Space Division’s SPO’s had too much control over launch operations—but that this problem would be solved by a pending new agreement between the organizations that would give the SPOs more authority.
But aside from the difficulty inherent in such a task, another less-well recognized aspect was that the space acquisition career field—never truly a recognized specialty—had lost a large percentage of its jobs and a huge portion of its on-the-job training opportunities. Because of this, it was no longer a self-sustaining career field. To impact the Air Force’s aircraft procurement efforts in a similar manner you would have to close the test ranges at Eglin and Edwards Air Force Bases, where test programs are handled, and forbid personnel transfers to and from the Air Logistics Centers, where most aircraft major repair and modification work takes place.
The splitting up of space launch tasks was the biggest problem faced by the space SPOs, but it was not the only one. The SPOs relied on a specialized advisory contractor, Aerospace Corp., for much of their detailed technical expertise. In the early 1990s Congress mandated a reduction in funding for the company, which was forced to conduct its first reduction in force. Then Vice President Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative forced a 30% reduction in Air Force civilian personnel, and more experience went out the door. If that wasn’t enough, later in the ’90s the Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition directed that no SPO would have more than 50 people, regardless of the complexity of the task.
The impact of this draconian and largely arbitrary pruning activity was telling, but was not felt by just the SPOs. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) had depended on transfers of the most experienced personnel from the SPOs and launch bases to staff its own engineering, acquisition, and even operations efforts. By the late ’90s everyone was puzzling over the mysterious disappearance of the NRO’s once-legendary systems engineering capabilities. Then there was industry, which had always eagerly recruited experienced Air Force personnel, both the younger people and highly experienced retirees. One senior engineer with a major firm recently expressed his disappointment with the resumes he had been reviewing. One applicant might boast a series of impressive-sounding Air Force space launch assignments—all leading back to a liberal arts degree and no program office experience. Another resume might show an engineering degree combined with a hopscotch of assignments at various Air Force SPOs, but with no special experience in space programs. “I used to think that the space SPOs were made up of special people, that they got the cream of the crop. Not any more,” was how he summed it up.
The first shoe dropped in 1998 and 1999. Three out of four Air Force Titan 4 boosters launched from Cape Canaveral failed to deliver their payloads properly—and that wasn’t all. The first two Delta 3 boosters, launched in that same time frame, failed to achieve orbit, while one of the new Lockheed Martin Athena 2 boosters also suffered a failure, the second for the series.
Such a series of failures simply was unprecedented. Not even the failures that shook the industry in 1985 and 1986 had been as numerous or as costly. While the Delta 3 and Athena failures had not occurred under Air Force control, they indicated that no element of the industry was problem-free—and even more importantly, that the Air Force could not rely on private company professionalism to make up for its own technical and managerial shortcomings. The Air Force convened an independent Broad Area Review Board that eventually concluded “You broke it; now go fix it.” To some this equated to “put it back the other way,” and, in fact, one member of the board, a former Air Force Chief of Staff, put it in just those terms. Problem was, it was not that easy.
The second shoe dropped soon after. A high-level study concluded that the space element of the Air Force should be managed under one organization, and that included the SPOs as well as the operational aspects. This was a radical suggestion, but the Air Force was in no position to ignore it: the leader of the study group was a remarkable gentleman named Donald Rumsfeld, and soon thereafter he was selected for a position that gave him considerable influence.
These latest funding cuts should be regarded as a “third shoe” dropping, or rather, perhaps, of it being banged on a podium, Khrushchev-style. The word is that the Air Force now is considering creating a cadre of space acquisition specialists. What a novel idea! Viewed from a longer perspective, this equates once again to the observation of six years ago: “You broke it; go fix it.” But perhaps first we really should understand how it was broken.
________________________________________
Wayne Eleazer spent 25 years in the US Air Force, serving as the Thor program manager, GPS integration manager, Atlas test director at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and led the space launch section of the Air Force Acquisition Directorate of the Secretariat in the Pentagon. Prior to his retirement in 1999 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, he served as chief of advanced planning of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, responsible for initial planning of EELV and other launch operations at Cape Canaveral.

Português participa em viagem ao espaço

Fevereiro 23, 2006

Vera Gomes

Um português vai ao espaço, para já apenas em férias. O excêntrico é o empresário Mário Ferreira que ajudou a colocar o Douro nos roteiros turísticos internacionais. Mário Ferreira comprou o bilhete no "Clube Virgin Galactic", um projecto de turismo espacial.

A viagem custa 200 mil dólares, cerca de 168.500 euros, e está marcada para o final de 2008, a partir do estado norte-americano do Novo México. Como companheiros de viagem, Mário Ferreira vai ter, entre outros, Morgan Freeman eo designer Philippe Stark.

O empresário português consegue integrar o grupo restrito dos cem fundadores da Virgin Galactic, um projecto lançado pelo multimilionário britânico Richard Branson.

Nesta altura, a Virgin Galatic está a construir cinco naves espaciais que devem partir perto de Roswell. A localidade mais associada nos Estados Unidos quando se fala do aparecimento de OVNIS.

Space Adventures To Build Spaceport In Singapore

Fevereiro 22, 2006

Vera Gomes

Space Adventures Ltd. said Monday it plans to develop an integrated spaceport in Singapore that will offer sub-orbital spaceflights and operate astronaut training facilities and a public education and interactive visitor center.
"Singapore is one of the best-connected countries in the world. It is home to one of the world's busiest air and sea ports. Singapore, with its superior geographical and economic infrastructure, is primed to be the hub of a new, revolutionary form of travel - in space," said Eric Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Space Adventures.

The company, which arranged orbital flights for U.S. businessman Dennis Tito in April 2001, and South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth in April 2002 - both via Russian spacecraft to the International Space Station - said the focal point of Spaceport Singapore will be sub-orbital spaceflights. As the company’s Explorer spacecraft reaches its maximum altitude of 100 kilometers (64 miles), its maximum of five passengers will experience up to five minutes of continuous weightlessness.

"Countries around the world are only just realizing the enormous commercial possibilities of space tourism,” Anderson said. “The market potential for sub-orbital spaceflights alone is estimated at $1 billion annually.”

The company said it has been working with the Singapore Tourism Board for the past three years, to facilitate technical discussions with other agencies required for the project and to handle negotiations over possible land sites.

"Space Adventures and the consortium have given Singapore a big vote of confidence as a choice tourism investment location,” said Lim Neo Chian, deputy chairman and chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board. “Pending the finalization of funds that are expected in the near future, we are optimistic that Spaceport Singapore will quickly become a reality."

In its statement announcing the venture, Space Adventures said it plans to offer parabolic flights to allow passengers to experience weightlessness, G-force training in a centrifuge, and simulated space walks in a neutral buoyancy tank, in addition to the sub-orbital flights. Visitors to Spaceport Singapore also would be able to fly aboard a variety of jet aircraft.

"We identified Singapore as an ideal location for a spaceport, as it has the right combination of foresight, entrepreneurialism and technological sophistication to support a project such as this," said Michael Lyon, managing director of the project. "We have met with the relevant agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, to begin the process of obtaining the necessary approvals.”

Myasishchev Design Bureau, the Russian aerospace organization, designed the Explorer, and its lifting body, called the M-55X.

Spaceport Singapore will cost an estimated minimum of $115 million, to be funded by a consortium of Singapore investors, and by Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the Crown Prince of Ras Al-Khaimah, who last week announced he had partnered with Space Adventures on a spaceport in his country, part of the United Arab Emirates. KPMG Corporate Finance in Singapore also has begun to raise funds for the project.

The consortium includes Octtane Pte, Batey Pte Ltd., Lyon Capital Inc., DP Architects, ST Medical and KPMG Corporate Finance, along with Space Adventures.

ESA joins forces with Japan on new infrared sky surveyor

Fevereiro 22, 2006

Vera Gomes

ESA joins forces with Japan on new infrared sky surveyor

A high-capability new infrared satellite, ASTRO-F, was successfully launched last night by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). In a collaborative effort involving ESA and scientists across Europe, the spacecraft is now being prepared to start its mapping of the cosmos. Orbiting the Earth, ASTRO-F (to be renamed Akari (light) now that it is in orbit) will make an unprecedented study of the sky in infrared light, to reveal the distant phenomena hidden from our eyes that tell the story of the formation and evolution processes taking place in the universe.

Prof. David Southwood, ESA’s Director of Science, said: “The successful launch of ASTRO-F(Akari) is a big step. A decade ago, our Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) opened up this field of astronomy, and the Japanese took part then. It is wonderful to be cooperating again with Japan in this discipline.”

“Our involvement with the Japanese in this programme responds to our long-term commitment in infrared astronomy, whose potential for discovery is huge. We are now off and rolling with ASTRO-F/Akari, but we are also working extremely hard towards the launch of the next-generation infrared telescope, ESA’s Herschel spacecraft, which will go up in the next two years”, he continued.

“This will still not be the end of the story. Infrared astronomy is also a fundamental part of the future vision for ESA’s space research, as outlined in the ‘Cosmic Vision 2015-2025’
programme. The truth is, subjects such as the formation of stars and exoplanets, or the evolution of the early universe, are themes at the very core of our programme.”

The mission
On 21 February, at 22:28 Central European Time, (22 February, 06:28 local time), a Japanese M-V rocket blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Centre, in the Kagoshima district of Japan, carrying the new infrared satellite into space.

In about two weeks' time, ASTRO-F will be in polar orbit around the Earth at an altitude of 745 kilometres. From there, after two months of system check-outs and performance verification, it will survey the whole sky in about half a year, with much better sensitivity, spatial resolution and wider wavelength coverage than its only infrared surveyor predecessor, the Anglo-Dutch-US IRAS satellite (1983).

The all-sky survey will be followed by a ten-month phase during which thousands of selected astronomical targets will be observed in detail. This will enable scientists to look at these individual objects for a longer time, and thus with increased sensitivity, to conduct their spectral analysis.

This second phase will end with the depletion of the liquid helium needed to cool down the spacecraft telescope and its instruments to only a few degrees above absolute zero. ASTRO-F will then start its third operations phase and continue to make observations of selected celestial targets with its infrared camera only, in a few specific infrared wavelengths.

ESA’s involvement

Only two decades have passed since the birth of space-based infrared astronomy; since then, each decade has been marked by the launch of innovative infrared satellites that have revolutionised our very perception of the cosmos.

In fact, infrared satellites make possible the detection of cool objects, including planetary systems, interstellar dust and gas, or distant galaxies, all of which are most difficult to study in the visible part of the light spectrum. With infrared astronomy, it is also possible to study the birth of stars and galaxies, the ‘creation’ energy of which peaks in the infrared range.

The European Space Agency and Europe have a strong tradition in infrared astronomy, which is now being continued by the participation of the UK, the Netherlands and ESA in ASTRO-F. ESA is providing network support through its ground station in Kiruna (Sweden) for a few passes per day.

ESA is also providing expertise and support for the sky-survey data processing. This includes ‘pointing reconstruction’ – which means measuring exactly where the observed objects are in the sky, to help accelerate the production of sky catalogues and ultimately produce a census of the infrared universe.

In return, ESA has obtained ten percent of the observing opportunities during the second and third operational phases of the ASTRO-F mission, which is being allocated to European astronomers to perform their proposed observations.

“The cooperation offered to ESA by Japan in ASTRO-F will help keep up momentum for European astronomers as they build on their past work with ISO, and look forward to the launch of ESA’s Herschel infrared mission, in early 2008,” commented Prof. Southwood.

With the largest and most powerful space telescope to date (3.5 metres in diameter), Herschel will build on the ASTRO-F census of the infrared universe and on the legacy left by other satellites such as ESA’s ISO and NASA’s Spitzer. It will reveal the deepest secrets of galaxies and of star formation and evolution, while also studying the chemistry of the cold, hidden cosmos.

Note for editors

ASTRO-F is the result of a truly international effort. It was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (ISAS/JAXA), with the participation of Nagoya University, the University of Tokyo, the National Institute of Information & Communications Technology and other Japanese universities and institutes. Including South Korea, the project also draws on the involvement of ESA and a consortium of UK universities (Imperial College, London, the Open University, the University of Sussex) funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), as well as the Netherlands Institute for Space Research and Groningen University (NL).

ESA’s ground-station support will be managed by the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC). ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) is in charge of pointing reconstruction and user support for European open time observations.

ASTRO-F is carrying onboard a cooled telescope with an approx. 70 centimetre aperture. It is also equipped with two instruments: the Far-Infrared Surveyor (FIS) and the Infrared Camera (IRC). Together, they will make possible an all-sky survey in six infrared wavelengths. These instruments will also perform detailed photometric and spectroscopic observation of selected astronomical targets over the 2–180 micrometre wavelength range in 13 bands.

During the survey, ASTRO-F will provide a complete infrared map of our galaxy with its stellar nurseries, which are only observable in infrared because their visible light is obscured by the dust in which they are embedded.

ASTRO-F will also detect dead stars in the solar neighbourhood and failed stars known as "brown dwarfs", emitting their dim light in the infrared. It will also search for planetary systems within a distance of 1,000 light years from our sun and will enable scientists to study their formation from the discs of dust and gas in which the ‘protoplanets’ are enshrouded.

It is expected that the all-sky survey alone will detect about a million galaxies. ASTRO-F will also trace the large-scale structure of the universe, observe its most luminous objects which are rapidly moving away from us and observe star formation in nearby and distant galaxies.

During selected observations, ASTRO-F will provide comprehensive, multi-wavelength coverage of a wide variety of radio sources, such as solar system asteroids, brown dwarf stars, debris discs and stars in our and other close-by galaxies; it will also study many extragalactic sources.

The response from European astronomers to the call for observing proposals issued by ESA over the available observing time (10%) has been overwhelming. Fifty proposals were received from 42 different principal investigators from 32 institutes in nine European countries.

Moonscam: Russians try to sell the Moon for foreign cash, by James Oberg

Fevereiro 16, 2006

Vera Gomes

With NASA’s return to the Moon plans struggling with severe budget constraints, advocates of expanded human spaceflight both inside the agency and outside it have been encouraged by a blitz of publicity from Russia concerning their own plans to build a Moon base in the next ten to fifteen years. The vision of the 1960’s “Moon Race” and the astronomical funding levels it engendered is bound to cheer up today’s spaceflight advocates.
At a seminar on space research at Moscow’s Bauman State Technological University on January 25, a leading Russian space official proclaimed that a moon base could solve the world’s energy crisis by mining the isotope helium-3, potentially a valuable fuel for nuclear fusion power plants. “We are planning to build a permanent base on the moon by 2015 and by 2020 we can begin the industrial-scale delivery… of the rare isotope helium-3,” Nikolay Sevastianov announced.
Sevastianov, the recently-appointed head of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation (the firm that builds and operates all of Russia’s human space vehicles), claimed that one ton of helium-3 could produce as much energy as 14 million tons of oil. “Ten tons of helium-3 would be enough to meet the yearly energy needs of Russia,” he added. “There are practically no reserves of helium on the Earth. On the Moon, there are between 1 million and 500 million tons, according to various estimates,” he said, enough for the entire planet’s energy needs for a thousand years.
“We are optimistic about a complex for transportation which can be created by 2015, and a complex for extracting helium-3 on the Moon can be built by 2020,” Sevastianov told “Russia TV” reporter Aleksandr Rogatkin in a program aired January 29.
But exultation may be premature. The first thing an observer must notice about this chorus of bold Moon talk is its source. Sevastianov and other experts are first and foremost spaceship salesmen, not spaceship buyers. What they are announcing is their willingness to carry out the described mission, if somebody else steps up and pays for it.
An Associated Press story prudently pointed out that “Sevastianov’s statement appeared to be part of Energia’s publicity campaign aimed at attracting government funding for the development of a next-generation spacecraft.” The story continued with commendable caution: “Not everyone is sold on the promise of helium-3: A workable fusion reactor is still decades away, and researchers say that the technology for using helium-3 is more difficult than the technology for other potential fusion fuels that would be more abundant on Earth. Even if the technique for helium-3-based fusion were perfected, mining the material on the moon and bringing it to Earth may not make economic sense, skeptics say.”
At the Bauman seminar, held annually in honor of Soviet space program founder Sergey Korolyov (1906–1966), one of Korolyov’s surviving colleagues urged support for the proposals.
“Our state must develop a state program for lunar exploration,” Boris Chertok told a television reporter. “We must start thinking as early as today what energy will be used for producing electricity for our distant descendants. We must not use up everything and leave them unable to survive.” Adding in a reference to the ongoing record cold snap in Russia, Chertok continued: “The poor chaps should not freeze.”
Franchising Russian spacecraft
Seeking private funding for major new space projects is actually a standard Russian practice. In the past two years, many innovative space vehicles have been touted in Russia. Their common feature is a lack of substantial Russian federal funding. Instead, space agency and industry officials have been instructed to talk up the virtues of this new hardware and find foreign partners willing to foot most of the bill.
The concept of mining helium-3 from lunar dirt is not original with Russia, and has been discussed at length in the Western space literature. This is underscored by an embarrassing slip-up: not even the artwork released in Russia to show “a typical Moon base” is original. It too has been ripped off from Western sources, often apparently in violation of international copyright laws.
One Moon base concept shown on the Komsomolskaya Pravda website on January 27 (http://www.kp.ru/upimg/photo/57527.jpg) was carefully labeled in Russian, showing the helium-3 refinery and the storage and transshipment equipment. But within three hours space observer Rusty Barton had posted on an Internet space policy newsgroup the URL of the original artwork by Roger Arno (http://www.challenger.org/pacct/Images/LunarBase-fs.jpg), with the notice: “copyright 1996-97, California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved. Further reproduction is prohibited.”
Russia can and does produce original spacecraft, but in recent years mostly on other people’s money. The Russian space industry has been offering space services to foreign customers since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in good years brought in $500 to $800 million for launches, manufacturing, and testing and operating vehicles. For money, it has built segments of the International Space Station, while paying for other components out of the federal budget.
The Europeans have paid Russian firms to build a new launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, for the Soyuz rocket, and to build and test an inflatable heat shield for returning material (and ultimately crewmembers) from the space station. And the two biggest “jewels in the space crown” of Russia’s future space program, the Kliper human spacecraft and the Angara family of booster rockets, rely almost exclusively on foreign financial support.
This is not at all inherently a bad thing, since Russia has shown that it can deliver on its spacecraft contracts, both for routine space transportation and for innovative development. Where foreign partners want to play their own leading roles in projects independent of, and complementary or competitive to, US projects, it could be a win-win-win situation all around.
Additional voices
Space geologist Erik Galimov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, added that immediate steps must be taken to explore potential mining sites. “We should start geological survey, make maps of blocs exposed to the Sun, and design experimental installations if we want to start the production of helium-3 on the Moon in 15–20 years,” he said.
“There is nothing difficult from the engineer’s point of view in the production of helium-3,” he continued. “It is only a matter of investments.”
He calculates that an area of 10–15 square kilometers with the depth of three meters will be enough for producing one ton of helium-3. Engineers will have to remove and purify three meters of sand, enrich helium-3, and liquidify it for the delivery to the Earth.
“It is much easier to develop resources on the Moon than to produce oil on the Earth,” Galimov continued. “The Moon should become part of the Earth economy, as helium-3 is the only alternative to modern energy sources, which will ensure the normal environmental future of the planet,” he said.
Raising the stakes, a spokesman for another vastly underemployed Russian spacecraft builder fanned anxieties that a Chinese-Russian alliance would stake out lunar resources first—unless, presumably, European and American money (or for that matter, even Moscow’s own money) showed up first. At the same space conference, Alexander Lukyanchikov from the Lavochkin Research and Production Center told TASS January 27 that before mining the Moon, unmanned spacecraft (coincidentally, the kind his company used to build for the Soviet government during the glory days of the “Space Race”) would be needed first.
“Before building a manned base, we should study the Moon with the help of unmanned apparatuses and build a research compound, which will become a future industrial base,” he said.
He did admit that such projects had been sparse for several decades: “Although Russia had not been working on a lunar program for the past 30 years, the center carried on research of planetary rovers,” he continued. “That research will make the core of the lunar research compound, which will have scientific and applied tasks,” such as the helium-3 refinery.
The Lavochkin Bureau, he modestly suggested, was ready to manufacture “a number of light and heavy lunar rovers, telecom and astrophysical compounds, a runway, large-size antennas and other facilities,” whatever a still-unidentified customer is willing to pay for. And remote-sensing satellites in lunar orbit, he added.
The project would not require large investments, he went on, because the launches of all vehicles with the exception of heavy lunar rovers can be done onboard existing Rockot or Zenit rockets that could be purchased from yet another team of starving rocket scientists.
Sergey Buslayev, another official at the Lavochkin company, showed pictures of old Lunokhod Moon rovers to a television reporter. “It is a kind of a geologist who will automatically move on the surface and find places which are richer in helium.” The Russian TV correspondent ended his program with the best estimate of actual costs for such a project: “The most modest calculations say 20 billion to 30 billion dollars will be required,” he casually pointed out—with no indication of who might be willing to pay for it.

James Oberg (www.jamesoberg.com) is a 22-year veteran of NASA mission control. He is now a writer and consultant in Houston.

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