Great news is emerging from America – that the costly irrelevance of Ares/Constellation is to be scrapped in favour of commercial manned space development in LEO.
According to the BBC’s Jonathan Amos, who has been studying the Florida press, the Obama administration has made up its mind to go with the unofficial recommendation of the Augustine Review, and contract out the transport of US astronauts to commercial operators such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. Additional funding will be available to seed commercial manned spacecraft development.
The International Space Station will be maintained until at least 2020, and NASA Station manager Mike Suffredini – who earlier made the ludicrous suggestion that the enormous investment of the ISS could be deliberately destroyed as early as 2016 – is now quoted as expecting the ISS to continue operating well into the late 2020s. Of its potential longevity, he said: “We’re looking at 30 years from the first launch, so from the November 1998 launch.”
Meanwhile the Space Frontier Foundation led by Bob Werb (Chairman) and Rick Tumlinson (Founder) has welcomed the decision:
The Space Frontier Foundation today [28 January] praised the White House’s decision to cancel NASA’s failed Ares rocket programs and instead invest in private enterprise systems [as] “inspirational” and “a giant leap in the right direction.”
“The reforms announced yesterday fix some of the worst errors of the Bush Vision of Space Exploration,” said Foundation chairman Bob Werb. “More than that, they make NASA exciting and relevant again. Canceling the expensive, ill-fated Ares 1 rocket opens the door for private enterprise to create a safe, reliable and low-cost commercial spaceflight industry, with government as a customer and partner instead of a competitor.”
Full statement here.
I have found an excellent summary of the changing prospects for manned spaceflight from a contribution by Rick Tumlinson to the Space Renaissance Initiative discussions:
We are in a transition. We are moving from “space programs” run by governments to the opening of a frontier which will include private citizens and firms and organizations doing all sorts of things.
As NewSpace comes online more and more, as the first space hotels and private labs open (3 are in the works for the next 5 years) and other commercial and civil activities in space increase we will see an increase in interest – and participation.
If NASA ever built Ares, if it didn’t blow up and if it ever flew astronauts into space it would have carried a few government employees to the space station and perhaps If the next administration wanted to it might have flown them on the first stage of a Moon voyage (HUGE “Ifs”). If the private sector is hired to carry payloads and people a new industry begins that can carry astronauts and explorers, as well as private citizens to hotels and industrial sites in space, while lowering costs for all (“volume, volume, volume!”). Then at some point it will make sense to mine fuels in space and we get the gas stations we need to go further ... Low cost, robust systems, frequent transportation and living off local resources are keys to permanence.
I couldn’t have put it better.
Find the Space Renaissance Initiative here.
If it is confirmed that Constellation really is dead or postponed indefinitely, then this will mean the end of big-budget, big-vision, dead-end government manned space exploration.
When I was at Edinburgh for the European exploration workshop in January 2007, all the talk was of exploration, and commercial passenger spaceflight was hardly even mentioned (except by myself). But Europe can’t do the glamorous big-budget astronaut exploration of the Moon and Mars by itself, as the political support here is even weaker than in the USA. Europe’s plans hinged upon America leading the way, with ESA and other space agencies around the world contributing a module or two and an astronaut or two to a NASA programme over which they had little influence, as with the ISS, under the fig-leaf of a global exploration programme.
Now, with the Bush junior Constellation programme apparently going down the same orbit to oblivion as the 1989 Bush senior Space Exploration Initiative, Europe will have to re-invent its attitude to manned spaceflight.
European access to the ISS may now be secure for the next 15 years or more, thanks to its partnership with Russia for crew transport, but it will need to articulate a reason why European astronauts are spending taxpayers’ money on these trips if they’re not preparing to boldly occupy spare seats on American Moon and Mars forays.
The only mission that makes sense is if they are preparing the way for large-scale commercial passenger access to space, and for European companies to play a leading role in this emerging industry.
This surely represents a huge opportunity for reusable spaceplane projects, such as the UK’s Spacebus and Skylon, to seize the initiative in the creation of a sustainable space future.
Personal space passenger Richard Garriott was recently (September 2009) quoted in Spaceflight magazine as saying:
Seeing the Earth from space, especially over a period of days from orbit, is a life-changing experience, far beyond what I expected would be true before my launch. I firmly believe that if a significant percentage of the population could do what I did, it would completely change the culture of humanity.
This must be the manifesto of manned spaceflight for at least the next couple of decades – not the elitist, expensive, controversial and dead-end glamour of exploring other worlds for which the majority of taxpayers (who are left behind on the ground) can muster little interest!
Rick Tumlinson’s blog essay “Avatar, Seed-Carriers of Gaia & a ‘Prime Directive’ for Space Settlement” can be found on his Space Frontier Foundation blog, posted 30 January 2010. An extract follows:
The goal of what I call the “frontier movement” (“human space settlement” movement) is to expand the domain of life beyond this one world and to carry the seeds of life and human civilization to worlds now dead.
All previous discussions between left and right, industrialists or environmentalists do not apply. This is a new conversation.
This is the nature of a paradigm shift. The old arguments fall apart. They were based on a world view that does not apply in the new reality. And do not misunderstand, a paradigm shift at the level of Copernicus is exactly what we are engaged upon.
For the First time in human history the expansion of our civilization will not mean an attack on the living biosphere – but instead its expansion.
Read the full text here.
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