Three pieces in Space News caught my eye today.
Firstly Dan Leone wrote regarding a letter from House Republicans calling for cuts in the NASA Earth Observation budget. The representatives call for $1.5 Billion in cuts in science spending with $177 Million from the NASA EO budget. They propose cancelling the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) in order to save $91 M. Now, I understand that in difficult times science, like the rest of society, might, or even should, be expected to share the pain. The big sums involved in large EO missions mean that large savings can be made by cutting a few programs. However, the conspiracy theorist in me is suspicious of the mission chosen: the OCO-2 will measure global atmospheric carbon. Since the GW Bush years anthropogenic climate change and carbon emissions has been something of a bugbear for sections of the Republican party. I find it hard to believe that ideology hasn’t influenced this choice.
Also on Space News, Peter B. de Selding writes about budget fears at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO): the USA’s satellite spies. The NRO director is worried that Science and Technology demonstration projects could be at risk in the drive for savings. Whilst lauding six satellite launches in seven months he noted the NRO had shrunk in size and funding over the last 25 years. Note NASA might lose fundamental science programs whilst the NRO worries about demo projects!
To add insult to the boffin’s injury a third Space News article, again by Peter B. Selding, reports on a presentation by a US Air Force General who noted that the Pentagon was being overwhelmed by the volume of surveillance data. The military is looking into organisational and technological solutions in the short and long term. The military isn’t exactly feeling the pain of budget cuts in the same way as some other areas of spending.
What amazes me though, is how the three issues intersect. Whilst you can’t use spy sat’s to replace the OCO-2 (should it be cancelled), you can develop multi-use platforms and sensors. Italy (CosmoSkyMed), Germany (TerraSAR-X) and France (SPOT) all do it. You can even degrade ultra-high resolution imagery to preserve technological secrets should you wish to. Furthermore, NASA and the NRO must share technological R&D interests: propulsion, launch vehicles, sensor tech and more. As for dealing with vast volumes of data: surely input from Earth scientists might help resolve some of the issues? Data mining is a civilian pursuit as much as a military one, as is pattern recognition and object oriented classification.
When will someone bang heads together to foster collaboration, or realise that savings can be made by sharing? It isn’t rocket science!