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NASA Space Science

NASA Cancels Nanosat Challenge 35

RocketAcademy writes "NASA has canceled funding for the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, a $2-million prize competition that was intended to promote development of a low-cost dedicated launch system for CubeSats and other small satellites. The cancellation is a setback for small satellite developers, many of whom have satellites sitting on the shelf waiting for a launch, and the emerging commercial launch industry. The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge was being run by NASA and Space Florida as part of NASA's troubled Centennial Challenges program. The sudden cancellation of the Launch Challenge, before the competition even began, is calling NASA's commitment to Centennial Challenges into doubt."
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NASA Cancels Nanosat Challenge

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  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:17AM (#42127481)
    So is this a real funding issue, or is this a clarion call about the overall general funding issue which NASA has in that it wants more money?
    I read that the "Washington Monument" model of funding allocation is that if the National Parks service is given a smaller budget, the first response in trying to scale back expenditures is to close the Washington Monument. Thus, a very popular and impressive program is shut down rather than trying to actually trim real money-wasters or really trivial non-essential or non-popular budget items. The plan is that the uproar will be loud enough to get the budget reinstated to full values, or least not cut as much. The police do this locally too, in the "if you cut our budget, we have to cut down the number of patrol officers", rather than reallocating overtime payments and schedules.
    But then again, that might have been what they were trying to do with shutting the Space Shuttle program down. I don't know that this cubesat thing had gotten ahold of the popular imagination, or even any hold on publicity. I hadn't heard of it til now. :>(
    • by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:32AM (#42127561)
      Ah yes, the alleged Washington Monument Symdrome [wikipedia.org]. It's hard to prove beyond the one obvious case in 1969 from which the name is derived, and it led to the firing of the person responsible, so it's questionable to what degree anyone actually does this. Most civil servants like their jobs...
      • Its practiced all the time by governments as a whole. California recently did it and the voters fell for it. Pass these tax increases or schools get cut.

        As in, the people will always fall in line when you threaten their children or their safety. It is a tried and true method of getting people to accept fee and tax increases.

        • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @09:47AM (#42129059)
          I expect it's used much more often by conspiracy theorists than conspirators. Consider your California example: it's well known that the state is in trouble financially and lack of money always means cuts somewhere. How is it that you can say with such confidence that the education system wouldn't lose funding?
          • by Hatta ( 162192 )

            Education might lose funding. The point is that education is used as a distraction to keep them from having to cut pork.

            • by guises ( 2423402 )
              I did understand that part, but again: how can you say this for sure? Every program is considered pork by someone, even education. All the news I get out of California (and I don't live there, so I don't get everything) is cut after cut after cut. Some of those may be good, some of those may be bad, but every cut has people cheering and jeering about it.
              • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

                I did understand that part, but again: how can you say this for sure? Every program is considered pork by someone, even education. All the news I get out of California (and I don't live there, so I don't get everything) is cut after cut after cut. Some of those may be good, some of those may be bad, but every cut has people cheering and jeering about it.

                Exactly. Every program done by governement is considered pork by someone. Teachers want a pay raise? Pork - chop their salaries - who else gets 10+ weeks of

                • by cduffy ( 652 )

                  Hell, people will complain about road maintenance as well - those who don't drive probably complain how much is spent on them, and those who do complain how little is spent.

                  Folks who don't drive largely don't mind spending money on roads -- spending money on on-street parking (subsidizing others' use of a limited resource), and claiming that roads are paid for by use taxes (when that's only 51% of the budget, and only for highways) are a different matter.

                  Being willing to spend literally 1% of the transporta

        • That's interesting, a couple of years ago Washington State did the same thing, - please pass these taxes and the schools get cut. Here in Washington folks didn't vote for any tax increase and then the following year wondered why there was a major funding issue for schools. Guess some people call the bluff, or there's an actual reason for statements like that.
      • by Hatta ( 162192 )

        Every agency does this all the time. Whenever there's budget problems in any city, it's always police and fire departments that are first on the chopping block.

      • by Raenex ( 947668 )

        It's hard to prove beyond the one obvious case in 1969 from which the name is derived, and it led to the firing of the person responsible, so it's questionable to what degree anyone actually does this.

        Guess you missed this [sacbee.com] in the news this year:

        "The California Department of Parks and Recreation has been hit by scandal this summer. It began with news in July, first reported by The Sacramento Bee, of an unauthorized vacation buyout program offered to employees at agency headquarters, which resulted in payouts of more than $271,000. A week later, state officials revealed that the department had been sitting on $54 million in surplus money in two special funds, even as it moved to close 70 state parks becaus

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      doesn't sound funding. sounds like politics preferring the government backed programs.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Hardly anyone knows or cares about the CubeSat Centennial Challenge--it's not a "Washington Monument" strategy because hardly anyone will bat an eye if the program is cut. Maybe I'd agree with you if NASA were threatening to close something like ISS for a month each year.

      What most people don't realize is that NASA's mission has expanded way beyond it's original scope of engineering research and development for civil aircraft and spacecraft. NASA now works earth science, climate science, astronomy, biology

  • No text.

    • by gagol ( 583737 )
      When you are hungy enough, you will innovate something to feed yourself. Now too much austerity and people will not be able to afford education, but who will see the actual difference?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The problem really emerges when innovation is underfunded to begin with. Cutting an agency that's already on a starvation diet leaves nothing left to trim from their budget. Cutting the same amount from the military means only a million bullets and a thousand missiles instead of the originally planned two million and five thousand.
        I'm biased, certainly. I'm a biology student on a federal grant. But it's silly that I need to justify the purchase of a computer monitor, I'm not allowed to purchase printer pape

        • by gagol ( 583737 )
          I experienced similar experiences in the private sector. Not allowed to buy paper while the boss buys 5000$ worth of winter tires for its high end mercedes. Maybe you should look for something else like I did.
  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @05:25AM (#42127773)

    Ok, not terrorists precisely. Iran, actually.

    A Cubesat launcher terrifies non-proliferation wonks who are afraid that a bunch of little commercial competitors would be sloppy controlling access to their blueprints, or worse, would just publish them online, thereby giving Iran detailed plans for upgraded rockets. We have to remember that the other name for an orbital launcher is an ICBM. If the parts truly can be had at Radio Shack, it's just a matter of the skill to design a way to assemble them, and to write some software to control what you've made. Shoestring development projects encourage shoestring organizations, who in turn are far more likely to open source designs these days than, say, the entrenched military-industrial complex. Given Iran's continued and persistent efforts to prevent anybody from being educated in anything other than verses from a particular medieval book, having The Great Satan design and build the tool for The Next Big Attack (that we're all supposed to be frightened of) would appeal to the ayatollahs. (Of course the likely first target would be Israel, who would feel obliged to retaliate with their own nuclear arsenal, and the Middle East would be a whole lot quieter for a while afterwards. Craters don't complain about who is squatting on whose land.)

    We also have to remember that SpaceX was supposed to fail. It was supposed to be impossible to engineer a heavy lift launch vehicle from scratch in less than a decade for less than half a billion dollars. We got ULA partisans posting on Slashdot for years telling us how SpaceX couldn't possibly succeed. Now that SpaceX has undeniably succeeded, with an order of magnitude or two less money than they were supposed to require, there's a very real possibility that a Cubesat launcher project could also succeed for yet more orders of magnitude less money. That brings the cost of an orbital launch vehicle down to practically backyard standards. (I hear suborbital is already a backyard project.) Admittedly with a relatively tiny payload, if it's only supposed to launch one Cubesat at a time, but still. Once you've got something that works, you build it a little bit bigger and you can launch something dangerous with it. And of course, it's already fairly dangerous kinetically all by itself.

    The CIA allegedly pursued a global space denial program for decades, and fear of the potential payloads is the reason why. Space is expensive because the only thing that works is missile technology, and that scares people. (And that also explains why NASA spent a lot of time pushing the space elevator Centennial Challenges that the last blog post linked in the summary is complaining about. Space elevators aren't missiles.)

    • Only you got the notion of agressor and agressee a bit backwards, via a vis
      Iran and Israel.

      • Yes, because Israel's leaders are publicly proclaiming every day that they will see to it that Iran is cleansed from the Earth by holy fire...

    • If it is really to prevent Iran getting their hands on such a technology, what is preventing Iran to host the contest by themselves? The prize money is a mere US$ 2 mln, nothing a country like Iran can't afford. Heck, many bigger companies would have no problem with that.

      The most remarkable part to me is that so many companies were willing to invest in such a contest, which likely will require real-life demonstration of their tech, for so small a reward.

    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      The tricky part about an ICB is hitting the target i.e. your ring-laser gyros, PIGA accelerometers, and the algorithms to turn that into a useful inertially tracked position and velocity. The actual Big Grunty Rocket part is trivial in comparison, especially if you're not a commercial entity and cost effectiveness is not a particular concern. Inertial guidance isn't really something that goes into commercial launch vehicles, as you're expected to have good ground tracking station coverage.
    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @10:16AM (#42129321)

      >remember that the other name for an orbital launcher is an ICBM.

      I asked someone that worked on the CSXT spaceshot (private rocket that went to 67 miles in 2004 or about then) about such a thing be used as a weapon. His answer was, "don't let your imagination go wild. There are many things [besides rockets] that are dual use technology."

      I asked Al Stern at SETIcon II panel on commercial space if there is "conspiracy" in government making spaceflight so difficult to have a high barrier of entry to prevent small countries from acquiring ICBM capability. His answer was "that's BS."

      Main argument is programs such as Nanosat challenge that provide entry level are getting cut but money pits (SLS) charge on. And forget this about "They" are going to steal our secrets. There is no need for foreign spies to work in US as we simply export the engineering to other countries. Going back to commercial space, Spacex and others do it cheaper because legacy launch vehicles built by Boeing, LM (no, NASA never built rockets as there is no US Govt Rocket Factory) is because LV such as Atlas, Delta, etc were designed as military rockets where performance is the issue, not the cost.

  • Too bad this isn't a military project instead or it'd have been cancelled, reinstated, cancelled, reinstated, cancelled, reinstated, cancelled, reinstated, cancelled, and then reinstated as a missile.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Per the updated Link in the original article, NASA cancelled this challenge because of duplication of effort between the challenge and other programs. Here is the original text:

    "A NASA prize competition to support the development of very small launch vehicles appears to be aborted by the space agency before it can get off the launch pad. In an email Tuesday afternoon, Space Florida vice president Percy Luney announced that NASA had notified the agency of its plans to terminate the Space Act Agreement betwee

  • We don't need a program like this. We already have plenty of launch vehicles for cubesats... every rocket that goes up has some mass margin for at least a few cubesat. The money would be better spent prepping rockets for launch, not on some contest that is not guaranteed to produce results. http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/home/CubeSats_initiative.html [nasa.gov]

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll