Space Capsule

Posted by Sam Churchill on

You see a lot don’t you doctor. Why don’t you turn that high-powered perception at yourself and tell us what you see. — Silence of the Lambs

Six months after India’s geo-synchronous satellite launch vehicle, GSLV-FO2, broke up in the sky 65 seconds after its take-off, the country has successfully placed an advanced Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, the PSLV-C7.

PSLV-C7 carries the country’s first space capsule recovery equipment, SRE-1, besides three other satellites, opening up the way for unmanned and manned space flights in the future. The SRE is expected to splashdown in the Bay of Bengal, about 140 km east of Sriharikota coast on January 22nd.

Other payloads launched on the rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre included India’s remote sensing satellite CARTOSAT-2, Indonesia’s earth observation satellite LAPAN-TUBSAT and Argentina’s nano-satellite PEHUENSAT-1.

The Indian CARTOSAT-2 is intended to carry out some vital remote sensing operations (presumably including Pakistan), with a panchromatic camera with a spatial resolution of one metre and a sold state recorder with 64-gigabyte storage capacity.

The next generation of polar orbiting weather satellites for the United States is planned to be the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). Designed to avoid duplication by the military (DMSP) and civilian (POES) low orbit weather satellites, it will pack a ton of exotic instrumentation.

NPOESS was supposed to be the key satellite for developing three- to seven-day weather forecasts for civilian and military purposes and designed to replace existing, LEO satellites that are expected to be beyond their useful lives over the next several years.

The joint program, run by NASA, NOAA and the Defense Department was scheduled to begin replacing separate military and civilian constellations by 2009.

But something has gone horribly wrong with NPOESS. In March 2005, NPOESS was budgeted at $6.8 billion, but current cost estimates have ballooned to $13.8 billion. NOAA’s entire annual budget is $4 billion while NASA’s is $16.8 billion. NPOESS is at least three years behind its targeted year for becoming operational.

NPOESS is currently not expected to be launched until 2012 – three years late. Gaps in coverage are possible during that time, if enough older satellites fail. Long range weather forecasting could be in jeopardy.

UPDATE: A two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, was released on Jan 15, at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. The panel sought to “restore U.S. leadership in earth science and applications and avert the potential collapse of the system of environmental satellites.” By 2010, the number of operating Earth-observing instruments on NASA satellites, most of which are already past their planned lifetimes, is likely to drop by 40 percent, the report said.

The GAO Director of Information Technology Management Issues, told Congress: “NPOESS is a program in crisis”.

Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) ranking member on the environment technology and standards subcommittee said, NOAA’s Administrator should be fired.

Dr. Alexis Livanos, President of Northrop Grumman Space Technology, assured the Committee that his company is making changes to help get the program back on track. “We are working diligently to put NPOESS on solid footing and have made organizational changes to further improve the performance of our instrument subcontractors,” he said.

Costs for the DOD’s major space programs have increased roughly $12.2 billion – or almost 44 percent – above initial estimates for fiscal years 2006 through 2011, according to GAO’s Nov. 17 report (pdf, above), prepared for the House Armed Services Subcommittee.

The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High program, originally estimated to cost about $4 billion, is now estimated to cost over $10 billion, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite program (AEHF) went from $6.1 billion to $8.7 billion, the NPOESS weather satellites went from from $6.8 billion to $13.8 billion, and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, initially a $17B heavy lifter program, has ballooned $14 Billion over budget (and counting), reports Florida Today.

Meanwhile, the NRO’s L-21 launched last month, the first by the newly merged Boeing/Lockheed EELV program, is now a billion dollar orbiting brick, reports Reuters.

Lockheed and Boeing appear to have lost their moral compass — and their Indian talent. Hopefully, a Democratically-lead Congress will put some pressure on the $100B “man-in-space” program and prevent it from becoming a Texas-sized pot of graft, run through the Caymans. Taxpayer welfare keeps the richest, most powerful arms dealers on the planet running like a well-oiled machine.

Tens of billions have been spent on data mining. SAIC has a lead role in the Army’s $100 billion Future Combat System, the billion dollar Trailblazer and the $2 billion Groundbreaker programs. At the same time, it enabled scores of former high-ranking government officials to become instant millionaires when SAIC went public last year.

In other news, Pirate Bay may purchase Sealand. “It should be a great place for everybody, with high-speed Internet access, no copyright laws and VIP accounts to The Pirate Bay,” proclaims the outfit.

Maybe they’ve got the right idea. Create your own world. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, John Carmack, Surrey Satellite, Robert Twiggs and Burt Rutan plan to leave it.

The real heroes — and patriots — are the bean counters at the GAO.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, January 12th, 2007 at 1:21 pm .