Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


next time, let me spend the 100 million
September 18, 2006 10:53 AM   Subscribe

"Not knowing may kill us." Seed Magazine asks why the DSCOVR climate satelite (constructed for a paltry $100 million) is just sitting in a storage warehouse collecting dust when several nations outside the US are offering to launch the thing on their own dime.
posted by saulgoodman (27 comments total)

 
"Well, I say there are some things we don't want to know. Important things."
-- Ned Flanders
posted by oncogenesis at 11:01 AM on September 18, 2006


How much room is there at the L1 Lagrange Point for more satellites?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2006


George Bush is serious about climate change, perhaps he could do something about this?
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on September 18, 2006


As long as you prevent teenage girls from learning about contraception or abortion, they can't get pregnant.

As long as you don't look at the cost of the Medicare Drug Bill, and as along as your accountant isn't allowed to testify to congress, the cost can't have exceeded you projections.

As long as you're confident that your tax cuts will stimulate the economy, and as long as you ignore other economists' forecasts, that means you'll have enough money for tax cuts andan unnecessary war.

As long as you don't look to see if the Earth is warming, you can't be sure it's warning, so it isn't warming.

As long as nobody looks at the emperor, there's no way to tell he has no clothes, so don't look and everything will be ok!
posted by orthogonality at 11:27 AM on September 18, 2006


Great story, thanks.
posted by gsteff at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2006


b1tr0t writes "How much room is there at the L1 Lagrange Point for more satellites?"

Lots. You don't need to be in the exact point, and even if you were, you'd need to correct for minor perturberations or accept a gradual decay of your orbit.
posted by orthogonality at 11:29 AM on September 18, 2006


b1tr0t writes "How much room is there at the L1 Lagrange Point for more satellites?"

Lots. You don't need to be in the exact point, and even if you were, you'd need to correct for minor perturberations or accept a gradual decay of your orbit.


Would it be crazy to say that the probes further from the earth are pulling on the ones closer to it to maintain everything in a wad of satellites that we can (effectively) treat as one mass centered on the L1 point?

Like one of those expandy science balls.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2006


but Bush is preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming, senior Washington sources say, how could he be against this?
posted by caddis at 12:09 PM on September 18, 2006


Would it be crazy to say that the probes further from the earth are pulling on the ones closer to it to maintain everything in a wad of satellites that we can (effectively) treat as one mass centered on the L1 point?


I only work with spacecraft in Clarke orbit, so take my response with a large grain of salt.

If I understand the L points correctly, they depend on the third object to be of negligible mass, so as not to throw off the gravitational balancing act. Because they are of such negligible mass (say, the size of a winnebago compared to a planet), whatever gravitational forces they would exert on the other would become moot when compared with the huge forces exerted by the other two bodies, however in equilibrium.

Anyone out there with more than a passing interest in planetary physics, feel free to tear me a new one.
posted by quite unimportant at 12:16 PM on September 18, 2006


Almost nothing orbits at exactly L1 or L2, because the balance isn't very stable -- if you are moved even a tiny bit off the point, you fall away, because the points are only stable in a plane perpendicular to the line between the two major bodies. Instead, you orbit the point, in a Liassjous orbit. SOHO orbits this way around L1, WMAP does so around L2.

The fact that the L1/L2 points aren't very stable leads to a very interesting artifact -- the Interplantary Transport Network. It doesn't take much energy to get to L1 (Sol-Earth) and it takes very little to fall away from L1 -- less than it takes to hit Earth's escape velocity.

The magic is when you control exactly how you fall of. In short, L1 is like the top of a mountain, you can roll a marble away in many directions, and have end up in dramatically different places.

So, you boost to LEO, then again to L1, and then just a nudge, enough to fall off L1 in just the right way, and you can get almost anywhere in the solar systems for the Δv required to reach L1. The catch is that it can be very, very, very slow -- but when the Δv budget isn't there, very slow is infinitly faster than never. It is also practically (and quite possibly theoretically) impossible to hang out at L1 (Sol-Earth) and then fall completely out of the solar system, so you would still need Δv if you wanted to go for the starts.

L3 is just as unstable, but given that it's always behind the sun, it's not useful for this. Earth-Moon L3 might be useful for something. L4 and L5, however, are stable in all planes, an object placed at L4 or L5 will stay there as long as another mass doesn't pull it out. (Remember, kids, the Lagrangian points are a three body problem, there's lots more than three bodies in the real solar system.)

For example, the Trojan Asteroids collect at the Sol-Jupiter L4 and L5 points, thus, they're often called the "trojan points."
posted by eriko at 12:49 PM on September 18, 2006


perhaps its the neo-con "fear" agenda that is keeping this satellite from being launched. why launch something that may prove global warming.
posted by obeygiant at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2006


Maybe budgetary pressures are what is keeping this spacecraft from being launched. It isn't just a simple matter of getting a launch vehicle and launch services.

Once you pulled Triana out of storage, you'd have to build a mission operations center, conduct simulations, spacecraft interface tests, ground system tests, as well as recruit and train a new operations team. That all takes cash. It's not like the Triana MOC has been in standby waiting for the spacecraft to be launched, and the people who built and tested this spacecraft have all moved on to other jobs. Nothing makes for mission success like a thrown-together MOC manned by fresh outs.
posted by Fat Guy at 1:54 PM on September 18, 2006


Once you pulled Triana out of storage, you'd have to build a mission operations center, conduct simulations, spacecraft interface tests, ground system tests, as well as recruit and train a new operations team.

Fat Guy: Did you miss the part where France and the Ukraine offered to pick up the tab for doing all this? It was a key point of the article.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:08 PM on September 18, 2006


I love the way astro terms sound so awesome. Lagrange points and Liassjous orbits just sound cool.
posted by Skorgu at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2006


Rumor spreadin' round in that Texas town 'bout that shack outside L1 Lagrange Point
posted by unsupervised at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2006


Ericb: Very slow is infinitly faster than never.

That would make a good quote.
posted by Skygazer at 2:20 PM on September 18, 2006


Once you pulled Triana out of storage, you'd have to build a mission operations center, conduct simulations, spacecraft interface tests, ground system tests, as well as recruit and train a new operations team. That all takes cash.

Yeah, except other countries already agreed to pay for all this stuff...
posted by delmoi at 2:29 PM on September 18, 2006


Fat Guy writes "Once you pulled Triana out of storage, you'd have to build a mission operations center, conduct simulations, spacecraft interface tests, ground system tests, as well as recruit and train a new operations team. "

Why isn't this standarized, with standard interfaces?
posted by orthogonality at 3:50 PM on September 18, 2006


“As long as you prevent teenage girls from learning about contraception or abortion, they can't get pregnant....As long as nobody looks at the emperor, there's no way to tell he has no clothes, so don't look and everything will be ok!”

orthogonality - that is one of the craziest things I’ve ever read. That would be the most foolish way of going through life that would be possible. You would have to be some kind of moran to think just looking away from a situation protects you fnord it. It would be as stupid as not recognizing blatent sarcasm or ignoring that other people have agreed to pay for something when you read it. What’s happened to you, man? You’ve changed.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:36 PM on September 18, 2006


Why isn't this standarized, with standard interfaces?

Because we don't make enough satellites to justify the restrictions of a standard interface.

There are a few common interfaces -- the GPS and Galileo Constellations, TV up/downlink, WEFAX via satellite. But when you look at the cost of a satellite, the metaphor you want to be thinking is that these aren't Honda Civics, these are Formula One racers, and you optimize the hell out of them for the particular mission you are trying to accomplish or race you are trying to win. (Winning F-1 teams basically bring a new car to every track, optimized for that track.)

The vast majority of satellites, esp. research statellites, are one shots. There are exceptions (Pioneer 10/11, Voyager 1/2, some of the Mariners) but each one is built for that particular mission, and the data interfaces are built to handle that particular mission's needs. An outer planet explorer can safely buffer data for burst transmission, but a weather satellite would need incredible amounts of storage to be able to do so, and it would dramatically impact the mission if it did, because that data would become less useful with every hour held on the satellite, and of course, a realtime TV or Telco satellite that holds data for two minutes is useless.

So the GEOS satellites are built to stream data, while Galelio and Cassini were built to capture data on a close pass and then transmit that data back to us when the craft was away from the target, and the Telecom satellites are built to never hold data, just accept a signal and rebroadcast it. If we'd bolted SOHO's data interfaces on Galileo, we wouldn't have gotten *any* data from the craft after the failure of the High Gain Antenna. If we'd put Galileo's interfaces on SOHO, the major missions of the probe would have been impossible. So, diffferent probes, different interfaces.

Or, in simpler terms, Satellites are very much custom crafted items, not mass produced widgets. When you start making thousands of them, you can bet there will be something like SCDP (the Sattellite Control and Data Protocol -- running over, of course, IP) but for now, you build the control and data interfaces to maximize the usage of your very expensive one shot box.


That would make a good quote.


Okay.

"Very slow is infinitly faster than never."

(Thanks, but you credited the wrong eri[c|k]. )
posted by eriko at 5:58 PM on September 18, 2006


Well, hell, they could just take the satellite and put its eye out, that'd bollix the extra benefit it offered originally --- Gore's idea of having a continuous video feed showing the full face of the Earth in full sunlight.

Instead they could send back some simple numerical figure for the total albedo, arguably (lawyer word) fulfilling its science duty with no associated social or aesthetic benefit.

That'd probably make the Administration really happy.

Particularly because they could have Diebold handle the data as it came in, to prove that there was no change that would embarass them.
posted by hank at 6:40 PM on September 18, 2006


Sorry bout that.

Let it hereby be known that Eriko the satellite guy said:

"Very slow is infinitly faster than never."
posted by Skygazer at 8:29 PM on September 18, 2006


Sadly, this article appears to omit the most important parts of the puzzle: what happened between 1999, when the GOP "put the project on ice," and January 2006, when the project was finally cancelled? Clearly there was enough time to build a functioning satellite. Did this happen after 1999? If so, how did it get built despite the opposition? If not, how did NASA continue to pay for it until 2006? Finally, if NOAA decides it wants a piece of the satellite, what's to prevent NASA from saying no to them as well?

Gotta wonder a little bit if Bush's push for a Mars mission had anything to do with this. Even though the ten-year-old boy in me still wants to go to Mars someday, it doesn't seem to be worth mothballing projects like this.
posted by chrominance at 9:03 PM on September 18, 2006


what happened between 1999, when the GOP "put the project on ice," and January 2006, when the project was finally cancelled?

1999 -- Congress halts funding, directs review by National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences
2000 -- NRC approves project [report]; Clinton administration orders satellite built
2001 -- Amid deep NASA cuts, Triana axed from Shuttle schedule
2002+ -- maintenance of satellite > $1M/yr
2003 -- tentatively scheduled for 2004 after major ISS construction is complete
2003 -- Columbia accident delays entire Shuttle manifest
2006 -- Shuttles fly again, but ISS remains priority

I agree there is no taste in the Bush administration for this Gore project and/or anything in re global warming, but I think that's only one part of the problem.

Gotta wonder a little bit if Bush's push for a Mars mission had anything to do with this

Oh, absolutely. Just as the $250B annual Shuttle budget (even if no orbiters launch, pretty much) drained NASA of many opportunities to do planetary exploration. NASA has to pick and choose between things that keep them in business and this, well, doesn't. Also, you have to understand that at the most basic political level, the entire space program is pork.

But ultimately, Mars is a side issue. Right now they want to finish ISS any which way they can, and they have a limited number of possible flights left to do it in. The ISS elements cost just as much and in many cases much more than DSCOVR did, and have been sitting around in clean rooms just as long if not longer due to various other ISS construction delays. DSCOVR is a piddly little science mission whereas ISS keeps half the agency employed. ISS is a must-complete mission, because ISS is visible and popular and without it NASA all but ceases to exist.

I read between the lines and I feel significant decline in confidence that the three remaining orbiters will be able to complete the mission. In fact, Atlantis is scheduled to be retired in 2008 and begin serving as a parts bin for Endeavour and Discovery, so from two years from now there will only be two orbiters available to do everything that needs done for ISS.

It's a dilemma for sure, and I'm not at all surprised that DSCOVR is near the bottom of NASA's list.

Now, even if NOAA decides to launch it, the problem is that they don't have space shuttles. DSCOVR was optimized for an orbiter payload bay launch. A new launch vehicle might mean redesigning everything from the instrumentation (that might not fit, or could be damaged) to the propulsion, and would cost another $60-120M on top of the cool $100,000 Gs already spent. That isn't chump change for NOAA or even France, and Ukraine? Forget it. Their offers are probably contingent on our underwriting the modification. So NOAA picking it up is the only hope.

(And then you have to figure in what other missions NOAA could do for the same money that it has to forgo in favor of this one.)
posted by dhartung at 12:09 AM on September 19, 2006


I only work with spacecraft in Clarke orbit, so take my response with a large grain of salt.

Well, that has IANAL beat by a mile.
posted by spacewaitress at 12:15 PM on September 19, 2006


Well, that has IANAL beat by a mile.


Well, that and IAN eriko. Jesus, man.
posted by quite unimportant at 2:08 PM on September 19, 2006


For years, a network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies has been claiming that science of global warming is inconclusive. They set back action on climate change by a decade. But who funded them? Exxon's involvement is well known, but not the strange role of Big Tobacco.
posted by homunculus at 5:01 PM on September 20, 2006


« Older I Do Nothing All Day...  |  The Photos of David Burnett... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments