Skip to comments.U.S. Spy Satellite Program Could Be Undermined By Flagging Demand For Rocket Motors
Posted on 04/28/2010 9:22:38 PM PDT by ErnstStavroBlofeld
Butler of Aviation Week & Space Technology reported last week that the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office will be launching new spy satellites over the next two years at the highest rate since the Reagan era. Butler quotes NRO director Bruce Carlson as stating that several "very large, very critical" spacecraft will be sent into orbit by his agency -- presumably systems that collect imagery of surface targets or eavesdrop on the radio-frequency transmissions of potential adversaries. Combined with impending launches of new military-communications and missile-warning satellites, news of the spy-satellite payloads will come as welcome news to the nation's endangered rocket-motor industry.
But trouble lies ahead for the rocket-motor sector. The Space Shuttle is nearing the end of its remarkable run as the nation's only means for lofting astronauts into low-earth orbit, and President Obama plans to largely dismantle the Constellation program that would have replaced it as the centerpiece of NASA's human space-flight program. In addition, the Air Force has completed modernization of the nation's land-based ballistic missile force, Navy demand for sea-based ballistic missiles is at a low ebb, and a major missile-defense program using solid-fuel boosters has been terminated. So despite the accelerated rate of national-security space launches, it appears that most of the demand for large rocket motors is disappearing.
That trend will have several negative consequences for the nation.
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>>Butler of Aviation Week & Space Technology reported last week that the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office will be launching new spy satellites over the next two years at the highest rate since the Reagan era.<<
Sorta brings a whole new definition to “super secret.” I guess to be unpublished it has to be “super-double-secret.”
Aviation Week has been doing the “loose lips sink ships” thing for years.
Part of me wonders how much of this is posturing over funding streams rather than actual requirements for technology. America has managed to get big hunks of metal into orbit for many years now, using a variety of rockets. I don’t doubt that there is value in continued research and development, but at some point it becomes akin to a teenager begging her parents for the latest and greatest cell phone. Last year’s model will make phone calls just fine, and it’s cheaper to buy an old model.
I retired from the premier US liquid rocket engine supplier last year. They are currently offering “departure packages” for 60+ year old employees thanks to a declining business base. At some point, firms such as this and other rocket engine suppliers will start to lose the critical skills necessary to design, develop, test and manufacture new engines. Once that happens, it will take the better part of a decade to reconstitute the labor force. The quandry is how to maintain that knowledge base and the labor skills. The current administration’s proposed cancellation of the Ares constellation will only exacerbate matters. NASA will hog all remaining space propulsion funding, and the aerospace propulsion firms that NASA normally subcontracts will go begging. If the suppliers exit the business, the US will become dependent on our “friends” Russia and China for space launch capability.
There is a reason that their nickname in the trade is “Aviation Leak and Soviet Technology.”