All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2010:
Old-style posts with broken internal links:
Dear Mr Willetts… (June)
UK Space Agency (April)
Disappointed with Avatar (March)
New in 2015:
Short story The Marchioness
2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…
2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…
2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…
2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…
2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…
2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…
2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…
Index to essays – including:
The Great Sociology Debate (2011)
Building Selenopolis (2008)
All content is by Stephen Ashworth, Oxford, UK,
unless attributed to a different signed author.
(1) Competing visions of space in America reach compromise
“US politicians cement a new philosophy for Nasa” – BBC report by Jonathan Amos on Wednesday night’s House of Representatives vote.
This looks to me like a good compromise that we can all live with. The explorers get their big new rocket and Orion capsule. But the most significant point was made by Jonathan Amos: it “cements a new philosophy in human spaceflight”. No longer is government the only entity that can transport space travellers.
Commitment to the ISS over the period 2015-2020 is also important. It maintains the seed from which the orbital infrastructure for a broad-based low Earth orbit passenger spaceflight industry can develop.
For contrasting views, see also:
“House passes Senate Bill: Constellation and America’s Human Space Flight Program Are Now Dead” – Rocketman.
“The Space Frontier Foundation and NewSpace community voice their support for the 2011 NASA budget put forth by the current administration and denounce the HR-5781 bill. Share ‘Space for the People’ and support the need for a budget focused on innovation and new enterprise, not wasting money on failed projects [SFF code for “Constellation”]. Please forward this video to your friends and colleagues, and post it on your social networks.” – the Space Frontier Foundation.
(2) Competing visions of space in Europe gather pace
Just as America passionately debates the future direction of NASA and of US manned access to space, a parallel conflict between competing visions of Europe’s future access to space is gathering pace.
“European countries will soon be asked if they wish to press on with design work to upgrade the ATV space truck. The robotic craft takes supplies to the International Space station (ISS), but could be enhanced to return cargo to Earth and even carry a human crew.” – BBC report by Jonathan Amos.
“Skylon spaceplane approaches decision time” – BBC blog by Jonathan Amos.
Don’t miss the audio interviews on that page: with Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell of Reaction Engines, with David Parker of UKSA and Charlotte Duke of the London Economics consultancy.
The way I see this turning out over the next decade or two is that a growing commercial passenger spaceflight market using traditional capsules (Dragon, CST-100, etc.) on ballistic missiles (Atlas 5, Delta 4, Falcon 9) will encourage investment in the game-changing spaceplane technologies represented most prominently by Skylon.
If Europe really does decide to turn its throwaway ATV into a semi-throwaway manned capsule on the throwaway Ariane 5, that will then probably appear on the scene just as it’s about to be made obsolete by the first generation of reusable spaceplanes. I hope Europe can avoid this wasteful step.
But meanwhile it seems that the next private space explorers will not launch until 2013, leaving a four-year hiatus in private visits to the ISS since the flight of Guy Laliberté just 12 months ago.
(3) Congratulations, Dr Alan Bond!
As announced on the company website, Alan Bond, the chief designer of Skylon and the Sabre engine and MD of Reaction Engines, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bristol in July.
Over several decades Alan has made huge contributions in aerospace engineering and related topics, both theoretical and practical. It is extremely gratifying to see him receive the social recognition he deserves. Congratulations, Alan!
(4) Dr David Williams speaks at the Royal Aeronautical Society
Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society on 16 September, David Williams highlighted Britain’s involvement in space (Earth observation with GMES; cracking the ocean salinity problem with SMOS; the troubled Galileo satnav constellation; the Hylas broadband telecomms satellites, the first of which launches in November; ExoMars, due for launch in 2016/2017 with UK-built rover; UK involvement in the Planck and Herschel orbital observatories; the new International Space Innovation Centre at Harwell, a joint government-commercial venture).
He announced that a joint economics/engineering workshop on Skylon would be taking place the following week. On Skylon he sounded a little skeptical, yet grudgingly aware of its game-changing potential. I jotted down the following comments of his:
“It’s a massive project.”
“If it actually worked, it would be amazing.”
“It’s the little glimmer on the horizon that we’ve got to have if we’re going to have an ambitious programme.”
And he went on to emphasise the importance of “increasing economic growth from space – we’ve got to work hard at this”.
The annual UK space budget that the Agency will control will be in the region of £260 M – this was the figure Dr Williams gave as the baseline on with further discussions with the Treasury would be based.
He described the space minister David Willetts as “keen and knowledgeable”, and “very supportive”.
In response to a question about what the government would be doing to help our trainee European astronaut Tim Peake get a crack at a flight to the ISS, he emphasised UK involvement in robotics – no humans will go to a place that’s not been thoroughly scouted earlier by robot probes, so we are involved in a critical part of human exploration even if none of the astronaut explorers who eventually fly are actually carrying a UK passport. The most hope he could offer was that Tim was now a European astronaut first and foremost, and we should expect him to be treated on that basis when the time came to select individuals for missions.
His vision for the future includes the hope for stability over the next few years, with the UK continuing to do what it does best in Aurora, Earth observation and other science from space, and the Galileo programme.
David Williams is currently Acting Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency and Chairman of the ESA Council. The Council is preparing for the next major ESA ministerial meeting in 2012 when long-term decisions will be taken.
On getting economic growth out of space, see also: “How public investments in space can pay back” – Jonathan Amos, BBC blog.