Entries Tagged ‘Space Shuttle’

Is the collider closure cause for concern?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

Twenty-eight years of discovery is being marked by the closure of the Tevatron proton-antiproton collider last week. The closure of the collider is occurring while scientists around the world are trying to see if they can replicate measurements made by physicists at CERN of neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light.

The Tevatron has been the most powerful atom smasher in the United States since 1983. Analysis work based on the data collected by the collider will continue for the next few years, but the lab will no longer be pursuing data for collisions of the highest possible energy. The Large Hadron Collider, an accelerator capable of pushing particles to even higher energies, is replacing the Tevatron. Instead, the scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (or Fermilab), the home of the Tevatron, will be pursuing the “intensity frontier” which will focus on working with very intense beams with very large numbers of particles.

To date, the United States government has been a primary source of funding for large and expensive research projects such as the Tevatron collider and the Space Shuttle – both of which have closed down their programs this year. It is unlikely that these are the only research projects operating with aging equipment. Do these two recent program closures portend a slowing down of research, or are they the signs that research efforts are progressing so well that closing these projects are part of refining and reallocating research resources to more challenging discoveries?

What does the last Space Shuttle flight mean?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

The final Space Shuttle launch is scheduled for July 8, 2011. This upcoming event is a bittersweet moment for me and, I suspect, for many other people. I spent many years working in aerospace on projects that included supporting the Space Shuttle Main Engines as well as a payload that was cancelled for political (rather than technical) reasons after two years of pre-launch effort.

Similar to the tip of an iceberg, the Space Shuttle is just the front face of the launch and mission infrastructure that was the Space Shuttle program. Like many embedded systems that are contained within end systems, there is a huge amount of ground equipment and technical teams that work behind the scenes to make the Space Shuttle a successful endeavor. So one question is – what is the future of that infrastructure once the Space Shuttle program is completely closed down?

While the United States space program has been a largely publicly funded effort for many decades, the door is now opening for private entities to step up and take the stage. I am hopeful this type of shift will enable a resurgence in the space program because more ideas will be able to compete on how to best deliver space-based services rather than relying on a central group driving the vast majority of the direction that the space program could go. The flurry of aerospace activity and innovation that the Orteig Prize spawned demonstrated that private groups of individuals can accomplish Herculean feats – in this case, flying non-stop across the Pacific Ocean, in either direction, between New York and Paris.

However, I am not sure that a public prize is necessary to spawn a resurgence in aerospace innovation. There are a number of private space ventures already underway, including Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, as well as those companies in the list of private spaceflight companies on Wikipedia.

Does the end of the Space Shuttle program as it has been for the past few decades mean the space program will change? If so, how will it change – especially the hidden (or embedded) infrastructure? Is space just an academic exercise or are there any private/commercial ventures that you think will crack open the potential of space services that become self-sustaining in a private world?