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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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @05:11AM (#42127717)

    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 paper with my grant, and I need to be reviewed each year. Yet the first place Congress looks for spare change is in research and exploration.

  • 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.)

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.