Saturday, January 12, 2013

But We Are Going to L1

The US Government has responded to a petition to "secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016."

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:
  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. 
  • We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it. 
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets. 
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
. . . .Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.
Which brings Rabett Run to the point of this post.  Somewhat under the radar, DSCOVR nee Triana aka Goresat has been taken out of mothballs and readied for launch in 2014.  Al Gore's original concept was to place a satellite in a stable position at the Lagrange point L1 to beam back real time pictures of the whole Earth.  While the science basis of the concept was, shall Eli say, lacking, the social implications were strong as was clear to anyone who thought about the effect that the original and newer blue marble images have had on support for the space program, science and most importantly understanding of how the Earth system is complex, beautiful and isolated.  IEHO, opposition to Triana was driven by those who were determined to avoid such an outcome.  Well that and the science lack, however, it was quickly realized that there was important science to be done from a satellite looking at the whole Earth from L1, in particular measurements of the whole disc albedo and total IR emission and TRIANA was reconfigured (e.g. the instrumentation).   Of course, the Bush administration was never going to let DSCOVR be launched.  DeSmog has a continuing series on the politics surrounding the mission cancellation, but although the mission was cancelled, the satellite was mothballed and sat in a warehouse at the Goddard Space Flight Center in "stable suspension".

Which brings Rabett Run to 2011, when it was realized that ACE, the primary satellite that observes space weather (e.g. energetic particles, etc emitted from the sun) was twelve years beyond its due date and likely to fail soon.  While space weather produces spectacular displays in the sky, Earth beings also have come to rely on assets, such as Earth weather satellites, GPS systems and more which are subject to damage and shutdown from space weather.  NOAA and NASA were very concerned.  They realized that while DSCOVR was earth facing, being at L1 it was also sun facing and had in its original configuration appropriate instrumentation.  DSCOVR offered the right mission configuration, and even better it was already built so it could be, in terms of normal process, relatively rapidly launched.

Some administrative ju-jitsu was applied to the mission description
Continue solar wind measurements in support of space weather requirements providing 3-dimensional distribution function of the proton and alpha components of the solar wind; 3-dimensional magnetic field vector and 3-dimensional electron velocity distribution. Secondary objective is to observe the Earth from the unique Earth-Sun L1 perspective. Tertiary objective is to measure the energetic particle environment.
NASA  is refurbishing the Earth observation instruments, NOAA is handling the space weather components.  Quang-Viet Nguyen gave a mission briefing last February.  The instruments NOAA wants to fly are
Primary Mission Instruments required by NOAA (“Threshold Requirement”):
• Faraday Cup to measure the time-resolved 3-dimensional distribution
function of the proton and alpha components of the solar wind plasma
• Fluxgate Magnetometer to measure the 3-dimensional magnetic field vector
of the solar wind
The Earth Observation instrumentation suite
Secondary Mission (“Objective Requirements” – optional ):
• Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC)
- Global Ozone Levels
- Aerosol Index and Aerosol Optical Depth
- Cloud Height over Land and Ocean
- Vegetation Index and Leaf Area Index
- UV Surface Radiation
- Aerosol and Ozone Plume Tracking
• NIST Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR) measures UV, visible, and IR reflected solar irradiance
• Electron Spectrometer (electrostatic analyzer 3 eV to 3 keV range)
• Pulse Height Analyzer (PHA) monitors effect of high energy particles on spacecraft electronics
The potential catch is that
• NASA does not have any appropriations to expend on DSCOVR, hence
direction as to which instruments will fly are at NOAA’s discretion.
 The good news is that the launch contract has been signed with Space X


Hank Roberts said...

Gavin pointed out to me, at RC some years ago, that to get useful energy balance numbers requires having another satellite on the, ahem, dark side.

I suggest kickstarter. I'm sure a properly worded proposal could capture backers from the Death Star community.

Russell Seitz said...

The NAE should be tasked to modify the Death Star to enable modulation of the solar wind in such a manner as to threaten auroral displays mirroring the visages of past and present American vice presidents, a prospect far more likely to induce craven compliance with imperial decrees than the mere threat of planetary destruction.

kT said...

Thanks for this timely post and update on the project. If anyone is interested I've more or less finished my large scale reusable Lagrange point and lunar polar surface transport architecture and written it up. Of course in the future SpaceX is going to be doing this with extremely powerful liquid methane engines and cryocoolers, but for now cancelling Orion and converting the SLS architecture to uncrewed, all liquid fuels, SpaceX boosters and integrated upper stage engines appears to suffice to make it work.

So yeah, lunar death star. Using the moon for the death star component saves almost 650 gazillion dollars right off.

Hank Roberts said...

Calibration docmented; this isn't just a pretty face.

Russell Seitz said...

At a debate in Florida on january 8, James Taylor ( the Heartland hack, not the Chilmark elevator music magnate) invoked the Oregon Petition as proof positive that his facts were more sciency than his opponent's.

In the spirit of the Harpers Index let us note :

Number signing petition stating climate change can be safely ignored: 31,487

Number petitioning to secure resources & funding for Death Star constructin by 2016: 34,435

Holly Stick said...

Chris Hadfield keeps tweeting magnificent photos of Earth from the space station:

Hank Roberts said...

So it's got to be up to politicians -- today's politicians -- to decide if there's funding for a camera at L1, eh, not to mention the Dark Side Climatesat also needed.


You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch!”
— Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, People magazine, 8 April 1974.

Anonymous said...

The earth observation suite will almost certainly not fly.

NASA can't spend money on the earth observation suite. NOAA most likely won't spend money on the earth observation suite (they have bigger problems right now).