February 15, 2019: Weekly Spatial Resolutions

Because in space, someone might be trying to steal your underpants for profit. This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome! Image from Criticalhit.net.

Australia: well placed to join the Moon mining race … or is it?

The article talks about the reasons why Australia might want to mine the Moon. Even though the country does not have its own launch vehicles, launch pads, or other sorts of infrastructure useful to spacefaring nations. Not saying that Australia shouldn’t try, but it’s going to take more effort than maybe that nation’s populace is willing to fund.

And while I was hoping for other reasons to be on the Moon, Australia’s plan ultimately reminds me of the business plan of the Underpants Gnomes in the South Park cartoon series.

Step 1. Collect underpants.

Step 2. ?

Step 3. PROFIT

Just like a lot of plans to get to the Moon right now. And just like the business plans of certain satellite operators and Silicon Valley con-trepreneurs. Replace “underpants” with “data” and “PROFIT” with “MONETIZE.”

Get Ready For Commercial Space Flights…With Points and Miles

This seems a little…premature.

It’s easy to get excited about day-to-day travel through space, but I am not sure that Virgin Galactic will be the one to come out on top here. The company still needs to do more testing, including more than just launching from an airplane, quickly flying up to space, then quickly down again and landing at Spaceport America. And the tickets are really, really expensive–$250,000 for the equivalent of a roller coaster ride.

I do think affordable Earth point-to-point travel through space will happen, I just don’t think Virgin Galactic will be the one to do it.

Virgin Orbit, on the other hand, might have a good shot at the small satellite launcher market.

SpaceX protests NASA’s $148 million award to rival ULA. Now a Jupiter mission is on hold.

The link in the above title leads to one of several SpaceX-related stories this past week.

SpaceX is right to protest the award. I doubt that NASA will be forced to choose SpaceX over ULA for this contract now, even with this protest. One of the reasons given for choosing ULA is that NASA wanted “schedule certainty” for a TWENTY-DAY launch window. SpaceX has conducted launches with launch windows in minutes and seconds successfully. SpaceX has conducted complex flight plans successfully. It can insert objects into orbits, including the larger ones around our Solar System (remember Starman?) pretty well.

This story brings to mind the European’s complaints about U.S. companies receiving unofficial “sponsorship” money from NASA and the USAF. And in this very instance, that seems to be true, thanks to NASA. There may be another reason for NASA’s decision too, one not at all to do with SpaceX’s performance: social engineering.

Remember a few months ago a story broke about NASA’s concerns about Musk’s behavior? The selection of ULA could also be NASA’s attempt to show SpaceX what happens when CEOs from other company’s exhibit “desirable” behavior.

Whatever it is that made NASA select ULA over SpaceX, it would be good if this selection process were less secretive. That way future selections might have a chance at being less puzzling.

Speaking of…

SpaceX Launch Certification to Get Review by Pentagon Watchdog

So, yeah, even though SpaceX has successfully launched a few Department of Defense payloads now, someone, probably someone who wants to get hired by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or Northrop Grumman (it’s called an “exit strategy” by certain acquisitions types), thinks that the hoops that SpaceX had to jump through to become “certified” for DoD launches might not have been quite right.

Yeah, let’s focus on something that isn’t a problem, and spend money there. That’s the ticket.

But maybe SpaceX will get the last laugh, because…?

Lawmakers: Air Force launch procurement strategy undermines SpaceX

Of course, the United States Air Force has done a lot of talk about addressing the many issues with space procurement before (it’s called a “holding action” by certain acquisitions types). Somehow, things still aren’t fixed.

China, Russia see our satellites as a vulnerability

The Defense Intelligence Agency released a report last week about the U.S. military’s challenges in space.

Scared Tommy Wiseau GIF by The Room
Image from Giphy.com.

Thing is, we’ve heard this song before–many times:

2018: Space Race: How The Air Force Can Respond Faster As China, Russia Threaten U.S. Orbital Systems

2017: In outer space, the US is vulnerable to China and Russia

2016: The Pentagon Is Betting Big on Space Warfare — Against China and Russia

2015: Pentagon Rushing to Open Space-War Center To Counter China, Russia

2014: U.S. Dependence on Space Assets Could be a Liability in a Conflict with China

2005: Space Vulnerabilities Threaten U.S. Edge in Battle

Yup. Since at least 2005 (I skipped some… you get the idea), this whole script keeps popping up again and again. The Pentagon seriously needs to retire the contractor it keeps hiring to write this stuff. This narrative pops up about as much as that other DoD narrative of “congested, contested, and competitive.”

A lot of things have changed with space since 2005. Russia, the bogeyman trotted out in the 2019 report, is struggling with its space program. It’s launch rate is depressed (has been for a few years). It’s launch vehicle reliability is becoming questionable. Not saying Russia is definitely not a threat, but its space capability is far from supreme.

China is different. The country keeps launching more and more stuff into orbit. Most of it appears to be remote sensing-type, although 2018 was interesting in the high number of BeiDou positioning, navigation, and timing (GPS-type) satellites launched.

But the above narrative is repeated so often, I have to wonder what the real narrative is. Chicken Little was listened to only once, maybe twice before people ignored him.

One thought on “February 15, 2019: Weekly Spatial Resolutions

  1. “”This story brings to mind the European’s complaints about U.S. companies receiving unofficial “sponsorship” money from NASA and the USAF. And in this very instance, that seems to be true, thanks to NASA. There may be another reason for NASA’s decision too, one not at all to do with SpaceX’s performance: social engineering.””
    SO TRUE!!

    Liked by 1 person

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