May 22, 2012
US Not Losing Its Foothold In Earth Observing Satellites, Only Shifting Power
Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
Speculations are emerging that the U.S. may be losing its foothold in Earth observing satellites technology, which could inevitably lead to a science community that is behind the times. However, the one thing these reports fail to account for is the up-and-coming commercialized space industry.
Reports from several news agencies point to a new study by the American Meteorological Society Policy Program, as well as expert sources, to show how the economic downturn and federal budget deficits are putting a stronghold on building and maintaining Earth observation, science and service capabilities.
One particular report by CNN writer Matt Smith focuses on the current satellites in orbit, and how launch failures and budget crunches are threatening the United State's powerhouse position in Earth-sciences.
Although the news reports offer some valid speculation and conclusions, they fail to see that it is not the government that scientists will have to rely on for future Earth observing satellites. A shift in command is nearing, and as NASA begins to rely on private companies for its space travel, the science community will be finding new alternatives as well.
It comes down to the simple matter of supply and demand, a principle well understood by the American business industry. As budget strains keep NASA from getting certain satellites off the ground, the demand for these science instruments has increased.
The U.S. science community faces stiff competition from developing nations, as well as other established countries, but that does not mean America lacks the need for a science community.
As businesses like SpaceX see the need for new Earth-observing satellites, their research and development crew will surely be the first among many to try and fulfill it.
SpaceX is just one of many space industry businesses that reside in the U.S., and with its successful Dragon launch on Tuesday morning, the company has shown it is more than capable of picking up the slack where NASA left off.
Another U.S. company known as Planetary Resources recently announced plans to start mining Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs). The company said it plans to start tapping some of Earth's celestial neighbors for precious resources like gold and platinum. It even announced plans to build spacecraft that help analyze NEAs, a feat that so far has only been taken on by government space agencies.
Although Planetary Resources has not specially talked about plans to supply the demands of the science community for Earth observing satellites, it is just one example of a company that has seen the fertile grounds which the commercial space industry offers, and plans to cash in on it.
The future of space industry clearly resides in the U.S., and its path is bright, but a lull will be inevitable. There may be some years that U.S. scientists have to rely on satellites being placed into orbit by the European Space Agency, but it will not be a long dependence.
NASA currently relies on Russia to take its astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but in the next few years it will instead be counting on private industries to ferry its space sailors. Even the recently successful SpaceX Dragon capsule is designed to be transformed into a spacecraft that takes astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit.
So there could be gap for a while as the change of power switches from the government space agency to private companies, but it will be met with new industry that America is the pioneer behind.
It is only a matter of time until private companies begin to see the demand from the science community and start to develop ways to fulfill it.