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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

European missile defense: why bother?

Março 29, 2007

Vera Gomes

by Taylor Dinerman
Monday, March 26, 2007

If NATO were an effective alliance with a real future it might be worth it for America to invest billions of dollars and substantial political capital in setting up a European extension of the Ground Based Missile Defense System (GMD). However, it seems that no American leader can count on Europe for anything other than insults, sneers, and obstruction. Sure there are a few exceptions: politicians in the UK, Denmark and Poland, for example, have gone out on a limb to support the US in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but always against the will of a large segment of their own population.

A more profound question is why we should want to place any interceptors on foreign soil in Europe or anywhere else. The political cost is substantial and the military value of placing these weapons in Europe, rather than in Maine or Virginia, is marginal. In fact such weapons will give our allies a veto over whether or not an ICBM aimed at a US city will or will not hit its target. Once the system is operational, a British or Polish politician would have, at best, a few seconds to make up his or her mind to allow a GMD interceptor to launch. In the future a European leader might be in a position to decide whether a nuclear weapon would or would not explode over New York or Washington.

There is no reason why a more effective system cannot be based in orbit. A new version of Brilliant Pebbles or an orbital battlestation armed with a dozen or so miniature interceptors would be far more effective and would not be subject to the vagaries of European politics.

A US GMD based in the UK or Poland would provide Europe with a significant defense against intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) at little or no cost to them. France, which seeks to make the EU into a military superpower rival to America, finds this possibility disturbing. In an editorial in the February 24th issue of Le Monde, it was pointed out “If this shield remains purely American, Europeans will find themselves more than ever tributary of the United States.” The article does not reveal how the Europeans pay this supposed “tribute” to the US.

Yet, over the years, the European NATO nations have invested ridiculously small sums into this technology while non-NATO Europeans have done even less. A minor exception is the Medium-range Air Defense System (MEADS). Germany and Italy are cooperating with the US on MEADS, based on the PAC-3 version of the Patriot. Why should the US continue to invest in a program that only gives both sides the illusion that they can effectively cooperate?

There is a very, very remote possibility that Spain and Norway may someday follow Japan’s example and buy the American SM-3 sea-based interceptor They have a small number of warships with Aegis radars compatible with the SM-3, but actually buying the US missiles needed to give themselves an effective capability seems out of the question. Some day it might be possible to integrate the SM-3 missile with a European radar and fire control system, but the cost of such a development program would be huge.
This US system might have made sense for the UK, but they chose to go with the pan-European (mostly French) Aster missile and its derivatives for their Type 45 Air Defense Destroyer. It will be a long time before this missile has the capabilities of the SM-3. Britain could, in fact, be defended from IRBM attack by a combination of SM-3 Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missiles and a few PAC-3 units in strategic locations. This, however, would require substantial funding, and there is no sign that they will make this investment any time soon. It will be at least a decade, maybe more, before Europe has the kind of homegrown missile defense technology that the US has today.

The tidal wave of anti-Americanism that is washing over Europe will not recede any time soon. Iraq and Bush are simply excuses for it. Before Iraq and before Bush they were complaining about America as a “hyperpower” and were trying to find ways to bring it to heel. Keeping up any sort of “special relationship” or friendship, especially in the missile defense field with a continent so full of hostility, seems a bit illogical.

Europe had its chance to cooperate with the US missile defense program in the 1980s. They treated Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s offers of cooperation with contempt, while greedily trying to cash in on SDI research contracts. The train has now left the station, and US technology is far to valuable and sensitive to be shared with those who never invested any money or political capital in it.

Many Europeans affect to believe that America needs their bases and airspace in order to project military power worldwide. This may once have been so, but things are changing rapidly. Why should America bother with bases in Germany or the UK when it can base non-nuclear weapons in space that are even more effective and devastating than ones dropped or fired from air-breathing vehicles such as B-52s?

Some nations in Europe deserve better than being told, “Sorry, you’re on your own.” Poland, for example, has not only stood with us in Iraq and elsewhere, but has, throughout history shown a unquenchable desire to be free. Defending Poland from space would not require the US to ask permission from Germany, Sweden, or anyone else.

If America were to channel some of the funds it now spends in Europe into a new space-based military force, future Presidents will have undreamed of military alternatives. As for our former friends, they have always hated the idea of having US missiles, aircraft, and troops in their neighborhood, and they will be able to live without them. In the future, they may also have to learn to live with US space weapons orbiting over their heads.


Taylor Dinerman is an author and journalist based in New York City.

in: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/836/1

Lawyers, insurance, and money: the business challenges of NewSpace

Março 29, 2007

Vera Gomes

by Jeff Foust
Monday, March 26, 2007
For over a decade members of the entrepreneurial space transportation community—engineers and executives of startup companies, hobbyists, and advocates of low-cost access to space, among others—have gathered in Phoenix every spring for the annual Space Access meeting. The conference has an informal, lively atmosphere, often punctuated by spirited debates about various elements of reusable launch vehicle (RLV) design, from takeoff and landing modes to choice of propellant—debates that often continued long after attendees adjourned to the hotel bar after the last session of the day.
However, over the last few years, including this year’s conference, held last week, there has been a gradual transformation in the debates and discussion at the conference. There are still plenty of technical presentations, including videos of engine firings and flight tests, but many of the discussions have shifted from what launch mode or engine design is superior to the best approaches to legal and financial issues, including dealing with export control regulations and lining up financing. One explanation for this change is the realization that different companies have different needs and thus will select different technologies; or, in the words of one speaker, that there is no “magic bean theory of spaceflight”. This shift may also be a sign that the entrepreneurial space industry is becoming just that—an industry—and thus must become increasingly concerned with business issues rather than just rocket science.
Export control
Like seemingly every other space conference in the US in the last few years, one topic of discussion was the state of export control, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Like bigger space companies, emerging ventures also suffer from the strict regulations that govern the export of space-related products; however, for these smaller companies and even hobbyists, the problems are exacerbated by the fact that they rarely have employees dedicated to export control work, unlike larger firms, and sometimes may not even be aware of when ITAR applies.
“It’s a monster pain in the neck,” said Randall Clague, whose duties at XCOR Aerospace include export control compliance. During a panel at the conference about export control, he described having to go around the company’s facility on a regular basis, looking for papers left out in workspaces that might have sensitive information and marking them with a stamp labeled “ITAR” as a reminder that the paper should be secured. “I feel like a babysitter. It’s just stupid.”
Kerry Scarlott, an attorney who specializes in export control law, said that, while difficult, ITAR is something that even small companies can deal with. “It’s a narrow portal, not a wall,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the biggest issue you’re facing.” However, even he acknowledged that ITAR is like “a sledgehammer hitting a fly” and that some type of reform was needed.
Some have hoped that the new Congress, now led by the Democrats, would be in a position to push for reform (see “A new hope for export control reform?” The Space Review, February 26, 2007) Conference panelists were skeptical, though, because of concerns that some Republicans will use any reform effort as a means of attacking the Democrats as being weak on national security issues. “Unless we can find a way to get some Republicans to take the lead and inoculate Democrats from any flanking maneuvers by other Republicans, I don’t see anyone taking the lead and actually trying to fix this in a serious way,” said Jim Muncy of PoliSpace.
Scarlott was similarly pessimistic of the odds of near-term reform. “There are a lot of changes potentially afoot in ITAR. I emphasize ‘potentially’ because it’s unlikely significant changes will occur in the next couple of years.”
Insurance
Pat Bahn of TGV Rockets has said on a number pf past occasions, including previous Space Access conferences, “Amateurs talk propellant, professional talk insurance.” While Bahn wasn’t at this year’s conference, there were a number of professionals there talking about insurance issues facing RLV developers.
Doug Griffith, an aerospace attorney, said companies planning to fly passengers (or “spaceflight participants”, as they’re called in official FAA documents) need two kinds of insurance: liability insurance against claims made by those participants, and the third-party insurance mandated by federal law. The latter type of insurance covers the maximum probable loss (MPL) to uninvolved parties, as calculated by the FAA when issuing a permit or license. The MPL will depend on the vehicle and where it will be flying from, but will rarely be less than $3 million. That insurance tends to be available and not unduly expensive: John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace said he obtained a policy that covers unlimited launches for one year with $3 million in coverage for $50,000.
The FAA, though, sets no guidelines on liability insurance for participant claims, “and that means that the liability to personal spaceflight companies from spaceflight participants is going to be governed by state law,” said Griffith. That creates a potential hodgepodge of different laws, providing varying degrees of protection against liability claims by participants and making insurance difficult and expensive to obtain.
“State legislation is really the next great frontier for us space lawyers,” said attorney Jim Dunstan. “The goal, I think, by the Personal Spaceflight Federation and many operators, is to try and pass state legislation to provide immunity for operators who complied with the federal licensing environment and obtained informed consent from spaceflight participants.”
The first state tackling that issue is Virginia. The state legislature there unanimously passed earlier this year the “Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act”, designed to give spaceflight operators in the state immunity from liability claims. That is particularly important in Virginia, said Dunstan, because liability waivers are not valid in the state, a precedent established in state law nearly 200 years ago.
While the bill breezed through the legislature, the bill was then effectively rewritten by the Federation and lawyers like Dunstan, taking advantage of a process in the state known as the “governor’s amendment” that allows the governor to change the bill and then resubmit it to the legislature for approval. That rewrite was needed since the original bill was essentially copied from one passed last year that covered “agricultural tourism”; the original bill, for example, made mention of the “risks of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals”. The legislature will take up the bill, along with nearly 500 others, in a one-day special session next month.
Beyond Virginia, Dunstan said there is already interest in similar legislation in Oklahoma and New Mexico, both home to commercial spaceports and spaceflight operators. California will take more time and effort, he said, because of the difficulties in passing such measures there, which effectively require amending the state’s constitution. “California is going to be a very difficult row to hoe,” he said.
Financing
One of the evergreen issues in the entrepreneurial space industry has been the difficulties such ventures have faced raising money. Unless one has a wealthy patron (such as Paul Allen’s funding the development of SpaceShipOne) or is independently wealthy (Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Carmack), companies have to scrape up money, typically from individual investors rather than institutional ones.
In a reprise of a panel from last year’s conference, three investors provided their assessment of funding for companies in the industry. All of them saw evidence that it’s becoming less difficult for companies to deal with potential investors. “Every year that goes by where there are practical successes” like the X Prize Cup and space tourist visits to the International Space Station, said Joe Pistritto, “decreases the giggle factor, to the point where the giggle factor is almost gone in this industry.”
“There’s more excitement among investors,” said Esther Dyson, citing the increase in money in investment markets. “In other words, they’re more ready to be stupid.”
Just because there’s a lot of money and excitement out there, though, doesn’t mean that all investors, such as venture capitalists, are ready to sink money into space companies. “You’re not ready for them yet,” Stephen Fleming said, speaking specifically of VCs firms, who are looking for investments that will provide a healthy return in the short term. “One of the things they’re going to insist on is, ‘what’s your exit strategy?’… Well, guess what, there aren’t any exits in this industry yet.” Companies would do better, he said, to focus on angel investors and others with long-term horizons.
Dyson said she was concerned that the emphasis by many potential investors was on NASA. “The fitness function is always on NASA. It’s not can you build something that people want to fly in, it’s what does NASA want, what does NASA want to do… it’s kind of distressing.”
She believes companies in the field—and their potential investors—need to focus on consumer markets, like space tourism. “XCOR is now talking about the user experience, and not just the rocketship,” Dyson, an investor in the company, said. “If you’re doing anything that can talk directly to consumers, you need to start thinking about doing that both in terms of finding customers as well as finding investors. Make it something that’s attractive to people on a personal level.”
While institutional investors are not necessarily at the point where they will put their money into space ventures, Pistritto said that time is not far off. “It’s getting to the point where a rational investor might soon write the first rational investor check.”



Jeff Foust (jeff@thespacereview.com) is the editor and publisher of The Space Review. He also operates the Spacetoday.net web site and the Space Politics and Personal Spaceflight weblogs. Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not represent the official positions of any organization or company, including the Futron Corporation, the author’s employer.


in: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/840/1

Electrical Glitch Knocks Out Japanese Spy Satellite

Março 29, 2007

Vera Gomes

By Hiroko Tabuchi
Associated Press Writer
posted: 28 March 2007
10:54 a.m. ET


TOKYO (AP) – An electrical glitch has knocked out a satellite in a spy network Japan hoped to use to gather intelligence on North Korea and other trouble spots around the world, a Cabinet official said Tuesday.

The failure comes just a month after Japan launched its fourth and final satellite in the network expected to significantly boost its ability to independently gather intelligence and re-establish itself as a major player in Asia's accelerating space race.

The defective satellite, launched in March 2003, appears to have problems with its electrical system and has been unresponsive since Sunday, said Yasuhiro Itakura of the Cabinet's satellite unit. He said efforts to restart the probe have been unsuccessful.

“The situation is not looking good. The satellite could never come back online,'' Itakura said. “That would mean the network can capture photographs less frequently.''

It could take years to replace the satellite, Itakura added.

Japan launched its spy satellite network after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan's main island in 1998. North Korea's nuclear test in October has further spurred Japan to boost its intelligence gathering capabilities.

But the spy network has been riddled with delays and setbacks – including a spectacular mid-air explosion just over three years ago and problems with the probes' optics.

Some in Japan also complain that the network's photos are inferior to those provided by their U.S. counterparts. An improved version is not due for launch until 2009.

Meanwhile, the government has also struggled to keep with regional rivals in its push into space.

China put its first astronauts in orbit in 2003, establishing itself as the leader in Asia's space race, then followed up in February by blasting a satellite out of orbit with a ground-based missile. India is accelerating its rocket development program and has announced plans to shoot for the moon.

Japan has yet to send astronauts into space on its own, though Japanese have joined in U.S. missions.

in: http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/ap_070328_japan_spysat_glitch.html

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