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Ad Astra
Volume 14, Number 2 March/April 2002


Mission Control

Kepler Kept...Up at Dawn
New NASA Chief Seeks Allies at Pentagon
Pluto Mission Gets New Lease on Life
NASA Selects Miniature SpacecraftTo Test Technology
New Meteorite Discovery Hits the Sweet Spot

What's Up?

Unconventional Space


Kepler Kept...Up at Dawn
The U.S. space agency has given the green light to two new Discovery-class missions, Kepler and Dawn, that promise to bring staples of science-fiction stories to reality. Kepler, a spaceborne telescope, will search for Earth-like planets around stars beyond the solar system, an important step toward finding life elsewhere in our galaxy, while Dawn will shed light on two of the largest asteroids in our solar system. Both missions are slated for launch in 2006.

“Kepler and Dawn are exactly the kind of missions NASA should be launching, missions that tackle some of the most important questions in science yet do it for a very modest cost,” said Edward Weiler, associate administrator for space science at NASA Headquarters. “It’s an indicator of how far we’ve come in our capability to explore space when missions with such ambitious goals are proposed for the Discovery Program of lower-cost missions rather than as major projects costing ten times as much.”

Once launched, Kepler will orbit the Sun and keep an eye on 100,000 stars, looking for planets that are similar in size and with similar orbits as Earth’s. Planets with orbits in this so-called “Goldilocks” zone, where it is not too hot and not too cold, are considered possible abodes of life. “This will be the first mission that ought to be able to produce a census of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones around other stars,” said David Morrison, a member of the mission’s science working group at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The Kepler mission differs from previous ways of looking for planets. Instead of detecting a slight wobble in the parent star, Kepler will use a 0.95-meter telescope to look for the “transit” signature of planets that cross the line-of-sight between the parent star and an observer. By noting how much the star dims and for how long, planet hunters can calculate the approximate size of the planet blocking the light. “Kepler will stare continuously ... to measure the tiny drop in brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of the disk of the star as seen from Kepler’s position in space,” Morrison explained.

Closer to home, the Dawn mission will make a nine-year journey to rendezvous with two massive, but very different, asteroids, Vesta and Ceres. Dawn will use the same set of instruments to observe these two bodies, both located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to determine these pre-planets’ shape, size, mass, craters and internal structure. The ion-propelled spacecraft will also investigate more complex properties such as composition, density and magnetism.

Once it arrives, the robot will peer at Ceres’ primitive surface from an 800- to 100-kilometer orbit searching for signs of water-bearing minerals, and possible wisps of atmosphere and frost. However, Dawn is likely to find an altogether less inviting vista on Vesta. The brightest of all the asteroids and the fourth to be discovered, Vesta is thought to be a dry body that has been resurfaced by lava flows from an early basaltic ocean like the Moon.

Both Kepler and Dawn are part of NASA’s Discovery Program that emphasizes lower-cost, highly focused scientific missions. Currently, two Discovery missions, Stardust and Genesis, are collecting science data in space, although Stardust has yet to arrive at its target comet. Future Discovery missions include CONTOUR, scheduled for launch next summer, Deep Impact, slated for a January 2004 liftoff, and MESSENGER, which will head to the planet Mercury in March 2004.
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New NASA Chief Seeks Allies at Pentagon
The new man in charge of giving NASA its marching orders, Admin-istrator Sean O’Keefe, is seeking closer links between the U.S. space agency and the Pentagon for both research and development projects and actual missions. “I don’t think
we have a choice,” the new Admin-istrator claimed. “Technology in the course of the last decade ... has taken us to a point where you really can’t differentiate ... between that which is purely military in application and those capabilities which are civil and commercial in nature,” he added.

Allied with the Pentagon, NASA’s new chief, a former Navy Secretary in the previous Bush administration, aims to combat duplicative projects in favor of “leap-ahead technologies” that move the agency toward a more “entrepreneurial” model. Where the previous Administrator, Dan Goldin, ran the agency under a motto of “faster, better, cheaper,” O’Keefe said his administration would have a different approach. “The fundamental question around here is going to be, what’s the point...While it may be a marvelous proposition to go to Mars, you’ve got to have a bunch of things in mind as to why you went there, or any other destination,” O’Keefe said.

While O’Keefe seems ready to put sacred cows to the sword, at least one, the International Space Station, is not on the casualty list for now. “We hope it will be a permanent human presence,” the new NASA chief said. “We’ve got to think in terms of what the science and technology priorities are, what we want them to do there—they’re not just up there for the entertainment value,” he added. Regarding the cost of the station, which could ultimately be over $60 billion, O’Keefe said, “It’s a challenge, but this is not unmanageable.” The newly minted Administrator said he is considering budget cuts over the next 18 months, including the possibility of reducing the number of construction flights made by the Shuttle.

Tourist Trip to ISS Costs (a) Shuttleworth
A South African Internet tycoon with the fitting but improbable name of Shuttleworth is set to become the second paying tourist in space. Unlikely to be shuttled to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard an American craft, Mark Shuttleworth will instead fly to ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz next April. The dot.com millionaire and Cape Town native follows in the footsteps of Californian Dennis Tito who reportedly paid Russia up to $20 million to tag along with two cosmonauts for an eight-day trip to space. “I have always dreamed of space as a platform for inspiration, education and technology, and am working to realize that dream for South Africa,” Shuttleworth said. “I hope it will inspire many of my fellow Africans of all ages to believe in the power of their dreams.”

Tito’s trip in May 2001 reportedly incensed officials at the U.S. space agency who expressed no desire to play cosmic concierge and turn the space station into an orbiting tourist trap. Since then, however, NASA and the Russian Space Agency have been negotiating guidelines for future tourist visits to the station. Russian Space Agency director Yuri Koptev claimed that NASA had not complained about the Shuttleworth deal. “We have the understanding of our partners,” Koptev said. “We follow a certain established procedure. There is no rift.”
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Pluto Mission Gets New Lease on Life
A mission to Pluto, the dark, distant planet named for the jealous Roman god of the dead, has been given a new lease on life—for now. In response to public and Congressional pressure, NASA has decided to proceed with preliminary design studies for a Pluto-Kuiper Belt (PKB) mission, intended to explore the most distant planet in the solar system. Although the proposed Pluto-Kuiper Belt probe—dubbed “New Horizons”—has survived a series of near-death experiences, there is no guarantee that the mission will continue to avoid the budget ax amid severe cutbacks at NASA. However, scientists and space enthusiasts continue to champion an expedition to the bizarre icy world. “This mission is likely to rewrite textbooks regarding the origins of the planets [and] the nature of the outer solar system,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s lead investigator and director of the Southwest Research Instit-ute’s Department of Space Studies in Colorado.

The 450-kilogram New Horizons spacecraft would, according to the plan, be launched from Cape Canaveral in January 2006 and hurtle into space at about 110,000 kilometers per hour. “We’re going like a bat out of hell,” Stern explained. The first leg of the trip, dubbed “Cruise 1,” would take the probe to Jupiter, where it would study the gas giant and perhaps one of its moons and then, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot, dash into “Cruise 2” for an almost decade-long journey to Pluto. For much of that time, the spacecraft would hibernate, returning to life only about 50 days each year until it neared Pluto.

Approaching the distant planet, New Horizons would aim imaging instruments and spectroscopic and other experiments to map the global geology and morphology of Pluto and its moon Charon. Data and images should begin pouring back months before the craft makes its closest pass, 9,500 kilometers from Pluto, between 2016 and 2018. When that happens, Stern said, “It’ll just be breathtaking. We will, at closest approach, see objects the size of office buildings.” Besides mapping the surface, the probe would study Pluto’s atmosphere and record frigid temperatures. Scientists speculate that fierce weather may erupt on Pluto, with winds that blow nitrogen blizzards at near-supersonic speeds.

After the Pluto-Charon flyby, the probe is slated to speed toward even more distant objects in a ring of primordial comets. There, some scientists believe, resides the frozen refuse of the solar system’s creation, which may include fledgling comets and weird “planetoids” as big as, or perhaps bigger than, Pluto. “The Kuiper Belt is an archeological dig into the early history of our solar system,” said Andrew Cheng, the mission’s project scientist, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “It’s full of small, icy, dirty and rocky objects that started to build into planets but, for some mysterious reason, stopped in mid-stride,” he said.

Time is of the essence, however, since Pluto is currently heading away from the sun and its tenuous atmosphere could be freezing solid. It might be over a century before it thaws out again, according to astronomers. If time and money don’t run out, scientists anticipate a once in a lifetime mission. “For all time,” Stern said, “as long as we have a thread of civilization and history, the first exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt will always be the pioneering mission to the frontier. It’s awe-inspiring.”
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NASA Selects Miniature SpacecraftTo Test Technology
In keeping with its drive to dramatically reduce the weight, size and costs of space missions, NASA has selected three small satellites, called the Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer mission, as the agency’s latest New Millennium mission. When built, each of the diminutive probes will be about the size of a large birthday cake, weigh about as much as a desktop computer, and be smart enough to fly in formation. While performing this miniature minuet in space, the trio will validate methods of operating several spacecraft as a system, and test eight technologies in the harsh environment near the boundary of Earth’s protective magnetosphere.


Slated to be launched in 2003 as a secondary payload on an expendable rocket, the Nanosats will test software that automatically operates the spacecraft and a miniature communications system that will allow the positions of the probes to be determined using the Global Positioning System. Other new technologies getting a tryout include a rechargeable lithium ion battery that stores more energy and has a longer life than proven technology, a light-weight method of connecting electrical lines, and an “electrically tunable coating” that can absorb the Sun’s heat when the spacecraft is cool or emit heat when the spacecraft is too warm.

Results from the Trailblazer mission will be used to design future
missions, including constellations of lightweight, highly miniaturized autonomous spacecraft. The Trailblazer mission could also have applications closer to home. “Not only could these technologies make future missions more productive and less expensive, some could become consumer products,” said Dana Brewer, New Millennium program executive. “For example, the variable-emittance thermal-control system is a coating applied to surfaces such as automobile windows which becomes highly reflective when you apply an electrical current to it. It blocks out a lot of the sunlight, keeping it cooler inside a car.”
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New Meteorite Discovery Hits the Sweet Spot
NASA scientists have discovered sugar and several related organic compounds in two carbon-rich (or “carbonaceous”) meteorites—providing the first evidence that another fundamental building block of life on Earth might have come from space. Previously, meteorite sleuths had detected other organic compounds that play major roles in life on Earth, such as amino acids and carboxylic acids, but no sugars. So identifying the confectionery compounds in meteorites was especially sweet. “Finding these compounds greatly adds to our understanding of what organic materials could have been present on Earth before life began,” said George Cooper from NASA’s Ames Research Center. “Sugar chemistry appears to be involved in life as far back as our records go.”

Unlike the sugars familiar to terrestrial weight watchers, Cooper found a small sugar called “dihydroxy-acetone” and several sugar-like substances, known as sugar acids and sugar alcohols, that are important for life today. Cooper also found one sugar alcohol, glycerol, that is used by all cells to build cell walls. Other closely related compounds, collectively called “polyols,” are critical to all known life forms. They act as components of the nucleic acids RNA and DNA, constituents of cell membranes, and cellular energy sources.

“This discovery shows that it’s highly likely organic synthesis critical to life has gone on throughout the universe,” said Kenneth Souza, acting director of astrobiology and space research at Ames. “Then, on Earth, since the other critical elements were in place, life could blossom.” However, there still are many unknowns about the chemistry that existed before the origin of life on Earth. “What we found could just be interesting space chemistry,” Cooper admits. More research on meteorites will be essential to determine the significance of these findings, Cooper concluded.
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What's Up?
By Astro USU

Name Date Launch Launch Period Incl Apogee Perigee
2001 Vehicle Site (min) () (KM) (KM)    
Progress M1-7 26 Nov Soyuz-FG Baikonur 92.2 51.6 387 380
DirecTV 27 Nov Ariane 44LP Kourou 630 6.9 35714 17966
Kosmos 2380 1 Dec Proton K Baikonur 675.7 64.8 19145 19114
Kosmos 2381 1 Dec Proton K Baikonur 666.8 64.8 19119 18690
Kosmos 2382 1 Dec Proton K Baikonur 675.9 64.8 19156 19113
Endeavor 5 Dec STS 108 KSC 92.1 51.6 389 362
TIMED 7 Dec Delta II Vandenberg 97.3 74.1 628 627
Jason-1 7 Dec Delta II Vandenberg 112.3 66 1340 1328
Meteor-3M 10 Dec Zenit 2 Baikonur 105.2 99.6 1016 996
Badr B 10 Dec Zenit 2 Baikonur 105.1 99.6 1014 986
Maroc-Tubsat 10 Dec Zenit 2 Baikonur 105.1 99.6 1014 986
Kompas 10 Dec Zenit 2 Baikonur 105.1 99.6 1014 987
Reflektor 10 Dec Zenit 2 Baikonur 105.1 99.6 1014 985
Starshine-2 16 Dec Endeavour LEO 92.1 51.6 389 362
Kosmos-2383 21 Dec Tsiklon-2 Baikonur No Orbital Data Issued
Kosmos-2384 28 Dec Tsiklon-3 Plesetsk 114.3 82.6 1432 1417
Kosmos-2385 28 Dec Tsiklon-3 Plesetsk 114.2 82.5 1426 1417
Kosmos-2386 28 Dec Tsiklon-3 Plesetsk 114.2 82.5 1419 1415
Gonets-D1 10 28 Dec Tsiklon-3 Plesetsk 114.1 82.5 1418 1412
Gonets-D1 11 28 Dec Tsiklon-3 Plesetsk 114.2 82.5 1418 1417
Gonets-D1 12 28 Dec Tsiklon-3 Plesetsk 114 82.6 1418 1404

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Unconventional Space
By Taylor Dinerman
The European satellite navigation constellation, Galileo, is never going to make a profit unless the EU authorities make its use obligatory and then force, say, the airlines or shipping firms, to use and pay for the coded signal that has been planned. Even then, the revenues will be more like a tax than a commercial profit. Why should anyone voluntarily pay for anything, when they can get the same service for free? Perhaps a few patriotic Europeans, who wish to assert their independence from America, will offer to pay for Galileo’s services but, again, that will be more like charity than a real commercial transaction.

ESA’s plan is to launch 30 navigation satellites beginning in 2004, with full operational capability planned for 2008. According to one study, Europe would gain 100,000 jobs though one must wonder how many jobs GPS has created in the U.S. The desire of the Europeans to use a part of the spectrum currently used by the GPS M (military band), complicates matters. Some Europeans are convinced that U.S. objections are based on the desire to squelch a commercial rival, though given the free nature of the service and the fact that the Japanese are proving formidable competitors when it comes to selling applications, it is hard to take this argument seriously.

The real driving force behind Galileo is the anti-American sentiment found in some of Europe’s elites. The fear that the U.S. will use its control of GPS to do something they consider awful, or, even worse, the U.S. might push them into doing something they would rather not do, is typical of their intellectual and emotional makeup. GPS, like the Internet, is an American military invention that has changed the way the world does business. Unlike the Internet, it is a system over which the Pentagon still has full control. The Europeans find that, like so many other aspects of American policy, unacceptable.

This desire for independence has lead them to begin designing their own satellite navigation system. However, for some reason, they cannot openly admit that they are building a military tool. The justifications which the EU and ESA have provided for calling this a civilian system, fool no one. Indeed, the French Defense Minister has made it clear that, ultimately, Galileo will be used by France for military purposes.

Perhaps the need to reassure the traditionally neutral members of ESA, such as Switzerland, that they are not going to be building part of Europe’s future military infrastructure is part of the reason for this shadow dance. Perhaps there is also a need to convince the more Atlanticist governments that Galileo is not, in fact, an effort to diminish American worldwide “hyperpower.”

If Europe were an enemy of the U.S., then it would be natural for them to want to build something like Galileo, just as it was natural for the USSR to build GLONASS when they needed a system to guide their bombers and missiles against America and its allies. However, the majority of ESA and EU members are also members of NATO, and none of the non-NATO nations have declared that they need an option of going to war against the U.S.

If the Europeans thought that by building Galileo they would gain technological skill which they would otherwise not have had, then the project would make sense. However, given Europeans’ already considerable satellite manufacturing ability, there is no question but that they have the know how. European companies, like Japanese ones, have shown they can build GPS applications and have not hesitated to do so. A GPS-equipped Mercedes Sedan does not represent a technological failure on the part
of Europe’s industry any more than a Veuve Cliquot-equipped American restaurant represents a failure of American cuisine.

In spite of this Galileo is a high priority European venture. Its precursor, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS), is already operational on two INMARSAT Communications Satellites in GEO over the eastern Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. In 2003, it is planned that ESA’s Artemis will augment the system, giving the Europeans a solid technological basis on which to develop Galileo.

It is the cost of Galileo and not the political impact which, so far, has held it back. In early December of last year, Europe’s transport ministers decided against paying their proposed share of the 3.7 billion Euros which the project needs through 2007. The EU Research Ministers have given their green light to the system and have committed to pay half its costs. The Transport Ministers are, so far, balking, but they will come under pressure to fund the other half at their March 2002 meeting.

Under current circumstances, while Germany, which would be the principal financier of Galileo, is under pressure from Europe’s Central Bank to cut its budget deficits, transportation budgets throughout Europe have been under pressure due to the needs to build and maintain the high quality rail services their populations have gotten used to, as well as other ambitious projects. From the Transport Ministers’ point of view Galileo must seem a luxury, compared to the urgent requirements they must deal with on a daily basis. Among this group it seems that only the French Communist Transport Minister, Gayssot, is totally committed to the program.
It is only for political reasons that Galileo is being built, and the politics lead to some dangerous questions. Do the promoters of this project expect to see its signal used by anti- American forces, either rogue states of terrorist groups against America? After all, Galileo is, potentially, a space-based guidance system for both cruise missiles and ballistic ones. There are plenty of people in Europe who would like to see the U.S. taken down a few notches. After the attack on 11 September, a significant segment of Europe’s elite media announced that America had somehow “earned” it.

Part of the problem is that Europe is fearful that they are becoming “technological vassals,” to use President Chirac’s phrase. He complained that America spends six times more on Space than does Europe, yet, even if Galileo were to be a success, it is hard to see how that is going to change. Europe’s relative technological backwardness is due more to their attitudes towards entrepreneurial capitalism than anything else. In dealing with established technologies, such as commercial aircraft or expendable launchers, Europe, and France in particular, are just as good as the U.S. In high risk, high payoff areas, like Information Technology, Biotech and RLVs, they tend to lag. Galileo will do nothing to solve this European problem.

In the end, Europe’s main objection to GPS — that it is controlled entirely by the Pentagon and that the U.S. does not intend to ever share control — will be resolved naturally. GPS can be jammed and it is not going to forever be the huge military asset it is now. The GPS II series is going to be replaced beginning in 2009 with the GPS III series which will have far more military utility than the current versions. At that point it might be possible to separate GPS II from the GPS III constellation and make it a civilian controlled system.
Other navigation systems, like Loran, have been built by the U.S. military and their control has, over time, migrated to civilians. Unless it becomes an issue of national pride, there is every reason to think that in ten years or so GPS master control will move into the hands of a civilian, possibly international, agency.

If, out of spitefulness, the Europeans try to undermine GPS, then the U.S. reaction will undoubtedly be equally spiteful. If Europe wishes to be considered an equal of the U.S., then petty anti-American projects, like Galileo, will have to be reconsidered. Genuinely useful European Space projects, such as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), will, over the long haul, be a far better investment, both for Europe and for world civilization as a whole.

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