Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dominance in Space – Concerns about U.S. Leadership?

Space industry executives attending the latest Space Foundation's annual National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado this week, are worried that the United States is losing its competitive edge in space unless it somehow improves the way it goes about buying hardware. They recommend that the U.S. MUST shore up its industrial base. And most importantly of all – make a firm commitment to human spaceflight. (Que Homer Simpson's “Doh” sound effect here please!).

These same executives also told Reuter's reporter Andrea Shalal-Esa, that companies must be more innovative and flexible to respond to rapidly evolving threats. The U.S. Commercial and military space has grown dramatically in recent years and last year in 2008 – it generated $257 billion. With the onset of the global recession, all these companies can expect tighter defense budgets in 2009 and beyond.

The U.S. And Russia are still top dogs when it comes to the business of space business. China is knocking on the door with it's recent manned space flights. The European Space Agency (ESA) is still in the planning process for their own manned spaceflight capability. India has its own manned spaceflight plans too. Smaller players such as Iran and North Korea have their own plans to get into space.

Vice Admiral Carl Mauney, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees America's space operations, told reporters that ten (10) countries now have space-launch capabilities, compared to just the two – Russia and the Untied States – several years ago.

President of Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, Jim Maser; told those conference attendees that the U.S. Government lacked “an integrated, stable road map for space. In the absence of that, we're placing belts, and in some cases, blind bets.”  Translation: U.S. Industry is always in a guessing game as to America's future priorities. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne gets 50% of its revenue from work on human spaceflight programs. And Maser is worried over what the Obama administration will do if it doesn't make a long-term commitment to human spaceflight, and thus provide the funding to ensure a smooth transition from the NASA space shuttle to the Constellation (Orion/Aries) Program.

Quoting: “A prolonged period without U.S. Human spaceflight would mean that we could lose that capability,” Maser told Reuters at the Space Foundation's annual National Space Symposium.

Add to this mix the recent new release from the group Taxpayers for Common Sense this last week, that U.S. Government spending on the unclassified satellites and space programs soared 42% up to $16.9 billion in fiscal 2009. This money was given out all across the government with no central authority to track the spending. Taxpayers for Common Sense is a Washington-base watchdog group. As for the Black Ops side of the budget, another $13 billion more can be added to that previous $16.9 billion. Or so reported by Micah Walter-Range who is an analyst with the Space Foundation.

Taxpayers for Common Sense site 12 space programs that had racked up costs of more than 200 percent in the past 5 years.

Jim Maser said that the U.S. Space Command was focused on space, advocated for new capabilities, and worked well with all the other space agencies on operational issues, but there had been many studies on how best to coordinate space policy all across the U.S. Government.

Current oversight procedures with the Pentagon splits classified intelligence programs from those focused on weather, communications, and other unclassified satellite programs.

CEO William Schuster of GeoEye Inc. was one of two companies that provide satellite imagery to the military – to expand its use of cheaper, commercial products.

Orbital Sciences Corp CEO David Thompson added the following, ..the biggest challenges facing the industry were “our own deficiencies in space architecture choices, acquisition practices and program implementation performance. If we do not shorten our space system acquisition cycles and better control their costs, other countries will inevitably narrow the substantial competitive advantages we possess today.”

Hmmm. Lets see. We could go with the Jupiter Direct program option that has been posted to this blog (January 12, 2009) and reported in the magazine Popular Mechanics (February 2009). Or the Skylon/Sabre that I posted (December 18, 2008) which is based off of an article that appeared in Aviation Week and Space Technology (December 8, 2008). Or – lets go back to what I posted about the DC-X on (September 10, 2008).

How about the true civilian space programs that are out there now? Burt Rutan building the White Knight Two/SpaceShipTwo for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism venture.

These last two paragraphs sound logical to me. Too bad that our government doesn't believe in logic anymore.

Ref., posted by Andrea Shalal-Esa, Colorado Springs, Colorado, on April 1, 2009 ( ).   

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