In 2007 the human presence in space continued its modest recovery from its post-Columbia low:
Year 2004: 794 (man-days logged in space over the calendar year)
Year 2005: 899
Year 2006: 1210
Year 2007: 1461
However, in 2007 the number of manned launches was the same as in 2006 (2 Soyuz plus 3 Shuttle in both years).
This level of activity is still some way off its historical peak ten years ago, in 1997, of 1746 man-days and ten launches (2 Soyuz, 8 Shuttle).
All five manned launches successfully reached the ISS. A total of 30 different people spent between 10 days and 7 months each in space, and 3 of them remain on board the ISS to celebrate the New Year.
There were no dedicated commercial manned launches, though Soyuz TMA-10 carried Charles Simonyi, the fifth private space explorer to travel on a Space Adventures flight to the ISS. There were no manned Chinese launches.
On 2 November 2007 the International Space Station passed its seventh year of continuous occupation (not counting the first two-day taxi flight to reach it). The record currently remains the second long-term occupation of Mir, at 9 years 354 days, which the ISS will exceed on 22 October 2010, assuming that it continues to be occupied continuously until then.
2007 should have featured the first launch of the European ATV to the ISS; this is now running about 9 months behind schedule. The launch of the European Columbus laboratory has also been delayed into 2008.
The following letter from Stephen Ashworth FBIS, Oxford, was published in the January 2008 issue of Spaceflight magazine (p.30):
You state that the Government's response to the Space Exploration Working Group (SEWG) has been lukewarm, particularly as regards funding future UK astronauts (Spaceflight, December 2007, p.454-55).
This is hardly surprising. The only option which the SEWG took seriously was that of sending astronauts on missions of science and spinoff. Since the SEWG was unable to name any scientific problem that needed to be solved on the International Space Station, the only rationale left was spinoff, plus the nebulous argument that we would keep our foot in the door in case the next US president wants to continue the Bush plan for manned lunar and Mars missions.
The fact that Britain has a head start in developing spaceplane access for a large-scale market of private visitors to space was not even mentioned by the SEWG. The fact that space offers a major contribution to the politically urgent conundrum of increasing global energy usage while decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and radioactive waste was dismissed in a single sentence.
The SEWG Report therefore deserved exactly the lukewarm response it received.
I hope that the BIS will be able to put across a view that is more acceptable to the government, namely: that it is existing government policy to support innovations with commercial potential, that the two innovations at the present moment with the greatest commercial potential in space are spaceplane access and space-based harvesting of solar power, both for large-scale global markets, and that progress in these areas will make scientific research in space vastly easier.
12 November 2007
Spaceflight magazine asked Mark Hempsell of Bristol University for further comment (printed opposite my letter on the same page). Mark made two points of particular interest.
He took issue with Spaceflight's description of the Government's response as "lukewarm". In his own experience, the SEWG report has created widespread interest, not just within the UK, but also at the IAC 2007 meeting in India. He believes that the report "may yet prove very influential in a positive direction".
Secondly, Mark says: "The SEWG only drew limited conclusions on the role of human spaceflight because that was the remit of the Working Group. [...] However, in the final analysis they were not charged with looking at the totality of space activity and therefore we should not expect a balanced view in the conclusions."
In other words, the SEWG were charged only with providing advice to the BNSC as to how the UK could play a minor supporting role in NASA-led exploration missions.
Is anyone advising the BNSC as to how the UK should best proceed in manned spaceflight? Or is the view that the UK can only ever aspire to play second fiddle to other countries so ingrained by now that any other options are inconceivable? I would love to know!
My full analysis of the SEWG report is available here.
Another report which dares to compare space science with commercial space has been written by Dr Duncan Law-Green of Leicester University (thank you, David Richer, for the reference).
"A New British Space Age" is a response to the Royal Astronomical Society Report on human spaceflight. Duncan Law-Green writes (in the Summary):
This author agrees with the positive assessment of Close et al. of the value of human spaceflight to the United Kingdom, but disagrees with the emphasis of the policy recommendations made so far. A number of relatively modest investments in UK commercial spaceflight would potentially deliver the same or greater scientific, cultural and economic returns, more promptly and at less overall expense than the proposed ESA funding.
He asks: "A UK Astronaut Corps?", and concludes:
In response to the question "Should the UK have its own astronaut corps?", my answer is "Yes, absolutely. By the way, we already have one. They work for Richard Branson."
The New British Space Age can be obtained from the author's website.
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