Sunday, August 24, 2008

Security and Defense

Much of the Security and Defense application area is similar to the Environment application area. Thus, the arguments for Earth Observation satellites, suborbital rocket use, small satellite use, satellite servicing, and hosted payloads also apply to the Security and Defense area. Many Earth Observations themselves are pertinent to military and reconnaissance agencies, for example, so NASA could improve such capabilities with security and defense needs in mind in much the same way that it could with environment monitoring in mind. Example applications include improved weather monitoring (NPOESS is funded by both NOAA and the Defense Department) and reconnaissance. Beyond the various applications, promoting satellite technology, suborbital rocket technology, small satellites, hosted payloads, launch vehicle use, and satellite servicing capabilities is helpful to Security and Defense agencies for many other missions beyond Earth Observation ones. Examples that would benefit from these efforts include military communications satellites and GPS satellites. Because of the strong overlap between the Environment and Security and Defense applications, instead of repeating the pertinent examples, this section will just note that the Security and Defense application area could represent another source of funding for this type of effort within NASA. However, a few new examples will be described.

1. Assist Defense and Intelligence Agencies – The first Security and Defense applications that typically come to mind are the major military and intelligence agencies with their own substantial space assets. However, these areas have their own space programs with obvious security requirements, so the nature of NASA’s efforts would not be primarily of developing technology for these agencies, but rather of opening up considerably new capabilities to them (like satellite servicing) or promotion of industries (suborbital vehicles, small satellites, launch vehicles) that these agencies can make use of.

2. Assist Homeland Security – Other Defense and Security agencies don’t have large space programs, but can benefit from NASA’s space efforts. For example, Homeland Security agencies can benefit from Earth Observation capabilities NASA could promote. They can also benefit from communication satellite technologies that NASA can promote. For example, these technologies help agencies monitor packages and maritime shipping containers, communicate using hand-held devices, and more. Many of these capabilities would not come from NASA, but from commercial satellites that would benefit from the types of NASA business, technology development, and shared costs described above.

3. Assist Disaster Response – Like Homeland Security agencies, disaster response agencies can benefit greatly from the increased Earth Observation measurements and satellite communication technologies that could be promoted by NASA, whether actually offered by NASA, NOAA, or private companies. Such measurements can help detect disasters early, such as tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, heat waves, fires, and other natural events. Early detection gives a better opportunity for evacuation and disaster response. Observation and communication technologies can also help with implementing disaster response, whether the event is a detectable natural event or a surprise man-made event such as a terrorist attack, an act of war, or an industrial accident. For example, observations help in disaster assessment, and satellite communications help with response coordination. The concepts that should be envisioned here include better and cheaper versions of the types of responses we have seen in recent years that have included innovative uses of space technology to improve disaster detection and response. They should also include new capabilities, though. Examples of these new capabilities might include space based power beamed or relayed from a satellite to a disaster area, quick movement of disaster response assets to a disaster site using point to point suborbital vehicles, and many other potential new capabilities that could be promoted by NASA, but currently aren’t because of the Constellation opportunity cost.

4. Aeronautics Response – The previous discussions focused on the space capabilities that could be promoted better by NASA. However, clearly many Security and Defense scenarios would also benefit from new Aeronautics capabilities that could be promoted by NASA. These might include aerospace vehicle technologies that could be incorporated into military planes, technologies to thwart terrorist attacks in, or using, airplanes or airports, long duration and/or unmanned aircraft for observing or supplying disaster areas or potential disaster areas, and much more.

5. Detecting Asteroid or Comet Impacts – Although we are more familiar with Defense and Security issues based on human conflicts, accidents, and weather, asteroid and comet impacts on the Earth are also a real, credible concern, and NASA is an appropriate agency to address this concern. NASA’s Defense and Security application area could complement existing NASA efforts to detect and assess objects that may impact the Earth. These efforts have scientific and resource assessment benefits in addition to their Security aspect. They might take the form of prizes for amateur or professional astronomers that detect such impacts in advance, new ground-based observations, or space-based observations. Early detection could allow evacuation of the impact site, movement of the asteroid or comet out of the Earth’s path, or destruction of the comet or asteroid. One of the efforts promoted here is additional robotic planetary science missions. These could include additional comet or asteroid missions, which would help us characterize these bodies and develop better impact response plans. These missions would also improve our skills in getting to these objects, which improves our ability to affect them. Another effort that is promoted here is a gradual improvement of commercial and (if not cancelled) Ares/Orion capability from ISS support, to LEO satellite servicing, to GEO satellite servicing, to later capabilities. One path for these later capabilities is lunar orbit followed by lunar landing. Another path for these later capabilities is Lagrange point satellite servicing, followed by Near Earth asteroid missions. This second path would promote our ability to do something active about a predicted impact. It could be argued that the Constellation path with its Ares V heavy lift vehicle would be a better way to achieve such results. However, the Constellation path involves reaching the Moon by 2020 or so, followed by a lengthy build-up of a lunar base. Because of the funding such an effort would require, it’s suggested here that any capability for astronauts to visit asteroids would necessarily come much later. It’s also suggested that a path that includes smaller, easier incremental improvements (ISS to LEO to GEO to Lagrange Point to Near Earth Asteroid), no heavy lift launcher, more commercial infrastructure development, more emphasis on Cheap Access to Space, satellite servicing capabilities like in-space refueling, and similar features offers a better path for getting astronauts to asteroids.

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