Tuesday, August 26, 2008


At this point, the funding scenarios that have been suggested to give context to the substantial but still limited scale of the proposed efforts should be well understood. At this point we can just jump right into the proposed efforts. Although the application areas described here have tended to be focused on Earth problems, it seems appropriate to dedicate the bulk of the newly available NASA funding in the Transportation application area to space and aeronautical transportation. Improvements in space transportation indirectly help solve problems on Earth through the space capabilities they allow to be efficiently transported.

1. Cheap Access to Space – In most cases, the proposals here have avoided suggesting what level of funding or priority level to assign to each effort, or even which efforts should be chosen at all should available funding to too limited to fund them all. However, Cheap Access to Space (CATS), or for many applications Cheap and Reliable Access to Space (CRATS), is considered to be so important to all space efforts that it’s suggested that the bulk of the funding in the Transportation application area be dedicated to CATS. As with most or all of the efforts suggested in this document, it’s assumed that the individual CATS efforts will be limited in funding and scale, and only through numerous small efforts will CATS gradually be achieved. CATS efforts could include space transportation research, prizes for improved private suborbital spaceflight capabilities, small and focused X plane demonstrations, and use of commercial suborbital vehicles to carry space access engineering tests. Possibly the largest effort would be a COTS or COTS-like effort for commercial crewed space and International Space Station access. This effort is important enough that in the scenario where the Ares and Orion transportation system is merely downsized and only about $500M per year is available for the Transportation application area, half or more of the Transportation application budget might need to be allocated to this crucial effort. It might be fair to say that the transportation effort may be important enough for the long-term success of all of the other efforts that this application area may need to be given some level of funding priority over the other application areas until a certain amount of success has been achieved. Note that the current COTS commercial cargo space launch program within the Constellation budget is not proposed to change here.

2. Cheap In-Space Transportation – This effort would encourage improvements in transportation in space once Low Earth Orbit has been achieved. It could involve research, development, or demonstration of improved technologies for satellite, space vehicle, or space station transportation or station keeping, tugs, tethers, in-space refueling, or other mechanisms. It could also involve planetary surface or near surface transportation improvements, like improvements to rovers, balloons, landers, and similar vehicles.

3. Airplane Transportation Improvement – This effort would fund research and development of improvements to large and small commercial planes, air traffic control, unmanned air vehicles, and similar systems with direct applicability to everyday use on Earth.

4. Ground and Sea Transportation Improvements – NASA could investigate space-based improvements to ground transportation, such as improvements to GPS applications, ground vehicle tracking, and similar down-to-Earth applications. Many of these applications are readily addressed by the commercial market already, so NASA’s efforts in this area might be to develop improved satellite technologies for its space missions or as applied research projects that can be spun off to the military GPS satellites or the commercial satellites and from there applied to solve ground and sea transportation problems.

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