Thursday, September 28, 2017

A New Science Advisor, that "Massive" Science Review, the Deep Space Gateway & the Latest JWST Postponement

          By Chuck Black

Science is a method to help us answer questions about the physical world, officially at least. 

But in this age of military/university partnerships, government grants, industry-funded research and "evidence based decision making," it's not the scientists, but instead its the people who fund the science, who control the questions being asked and the answers being provided.

After all, even scientists have families and gotta eat. Given that, it's useful to note the context of some of the important government focused science and space stories which broke this week.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, have announced the appointment of Canada’s new chief science advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer. 
As outlined in the September 26th, 2017 Canadian Press post, "Mona Nemer, heart researcher, appointed Canada's new chief scientist," the new chief scientist begins with a staff of two "to help with transition" and a $2Mln CDN annual budget. Her job will be to advise the government on ways to keep "government science accessible and public" and protect "federal scientists from being muzzled."
Dr. Nemer. Photo c/o Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Many remain cautious over the new appointment. 
As outlined in the September 25th, 2017 Macleans post, "Commander Spock, report to the PMO," the real purpose of the 2015 Liberal campaign promise, and the subsequent appointment, might have been simply to "remind people that Stephen Harper had fired the previous science advisor, Arthur Carty, in 2008." 
But the announcement does provide Trudeau, Duncan and the Liberal government a little extra time and goodwill to deal with their Federal review of science, released back in April 2017 and officially ignored ever since. 
As outlined in the April 17th, 2017 post, "'Massive' Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon 'Drop Down the Memory Hole,'" no one in government really wants to tackle the reports key recommendation, which is an increase in "core" Federal science funding from $3.5Bln CDN per year to $4.8Bln CDN. Canada currently spends more than $10Bln CDN annually on science research and development. 
Here's hoping the new chief scientist has enough time and funding to cover her new beat.
  • They call it the "Deep Space Gateway," but it's really a US/ Russian collaboration (with the potential for other countries, such as Canada, to contribute) to consider building another space station, this time near the Moon.
As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 Popular Mechanics post, "NASA is teaming up with Russia to put a new space station near the moon. Here's why," the main thrust of this new proposal, first unleashed publicly at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2017), which is being held in Adelaide, Australia from September 25th - 29th, is to build a way-point to anywhere we might want to go in the solar system. 
Politically incorrect. Graphic c/o Quote Addicts.
The International Space Station (ISS) in Earth orbit was once considered to be a way-point to anywhere we wanted to go in the solar system, but evidently that was wrong. 
The new station has been pitched as an "enabler" for an "affordable" and "sustainable" exploration architecture and far better than the aging ISS, at least according to the article. 
But the new station is only affordable because its just "half way" to any potential destination and nothing important has so far been defined. 
As outlined in the article, "speculation on the cost of the station is not available yet."
It could certainly end up as a gateway to nowhere, in much the same way as the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), which currently has no real mission to justify its ongoing existence.
Of course, if the Deep Space Gateway is build then the SLS has at least one destination. It could go to the Deep Space Gateway. As outlined in the article, "These plans are all based around the Space Launch System and Orion capsule, NASA’s next-generation system that it hopes will have its first crewed launch in 2023."
Problem solved.  
In addition to Russia and the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency (ESA) are all interested in the project. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has already issued several small proposals (and pitched at least one idea for the Gateway to use a solar sail) to generate potential contributions.
And that's the real problem with this proposal. Nothing is yet defined and the funding does not yet exist. The Deep Space Gateway is simply a paper study awaiting funding from whichever government or private concern sees fit to salute the proposal, now that its been hoisted up its public flagpole. 
Will the proposal move forward? Stay tuned. 

  • For a sense of what political promises related to science are currently worth in the real world it's worth noting that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been delayed, again.
As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 Ars Technica post, "The oft-delayed James Webb Space Telescope gets delayed again," the latest delays will push out the next-generation space telescope expected launch in October 2018 into 2019. According to the article, the integration of the various subsystems into a complete satellite is simply taking longer than expected.
The original JWST contract, as described by the September 11th, 2002 New York Times (NYT) article "Next Generation Space Telescope Chosen to Peer into Past" was expected to cost $824.8Mln USD ($1.1Bln CDN) and launch in 2010. 
The current budget is estimated at $8.8Bln USD ($11Bln CDN) and the launch is currently scheduled for 2019, but only if everything goes well, which is kinda like hoping for a miracle based on the history of the program. 
For a sense of the cost overruns and delays which have dogged the program since the beginning, its worth checking out the July 12th, 2011 post, "Tracking Costs for the James Webb Telescope." 
Here's hoping everyone in government funded space and science programs a bit more luck next week.

Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page