Section 1.10 - Existing Programs (page 2)

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Government Programs - United States (continued)Edit


The space projects of the US Department of Defense (DOD), are primarily managed by the United States Air Force (USAF) Space Command, with some assistance from other branches and agencies within the department. It is difficult to get a full view of DOD space-related projects, since it only makes up part of the department's total activity and the 2012 DOD Budget is categorized by military branch and budget function (personnel, operations, procurement, construction, and research and development) rather than entire cost by program. Much of the space-related activity is also classified, so details are not publicly available.

What is known publicly is the DOD procures and operates a number of satellites and supporting launch systems in the areas of communications, weather, nuclear detection, mapping, and navigation. It also funds a significant amount of scientific research and engineering development either directly or indirectly related to space projects. Examples of indirect efforts include high-speed air-breathing propulsion and radiation-hardened electronics. The GlobalSecurity website has a somewhat out of date survey of military space programs.

Past ProjectsEdit

Ballistic missiles were developed for military purposes rather than space launch. The requirement to deliver a bomb thousands of miles requires reaching about 80-90% of Earth orbit velocity. Therefore ballistic missiles could be adapted for space launch, usually by adding or enlarging the upper stage, and a number of them were in the late 1950's to 1960's. As the size of space satellites grew far beyond that of nuclear bombs, those launchers were repeatedly modified, to the point that some of them no longer retain any original parts except the name. Besides being used for delivery of DOD spacecraft, the same launch site and vehicles have often been used for non-military launches. Ballistic missiles are not designed to be used more than once, and their value is relative to the target they intended to destroy. So an unfortunate side effect of their design heritage for later space projects is they were not optimized for cost. In fact, expensive throw-away hardware is the exact opposite of optimized for cost. Since the previous technology and experience was gained in that environment, later space projects have had to struggle to overcome that history.


The National Science Foundation, or NSF, is an independent federal agency which funds research in all fields of science and engineering, except medical sciences, which have their own agency. The expected funding from the 2013 Budget Request totals $7.33 billion, a $300 million increase over 2012. Although all knowledge is a seamless whole, and much of it applies to space projects, certain fields are currently more directly related than others. The NSF offices in this category include:

Engineering Directorate (ENG)

Funds research in all the fields of engineering. Much of this can apply to space projects because most fields of engineering are used in such projects. Particular areas of interest are:

  • Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET), which funds research in chemical, mechanical, and aerospace topics.
  • Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI), which funds topics named it it's title plus materials design.
  • Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems (ECCS), which funds electronics, communications, power sources, networking, and robotics.

Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS}

Funds the scientific fields of astronomy, chemistry, materials research, mathematics, and physics. This includes the Astronomical Sciences Division (ASD), which funds research in astronomy, including planetary science, and contributes funding or operates a number of ground-based observatories such as ALMA and LSST. Details of astronomy projects are gathered under the not-for-profit section, because typically they have multiple funding sources for the instruments and researchers.

Department of Commerce - NOAAEdit

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Weather and earth observation satellites.

Department of EnergyEdit

The US Department of Energy is a cabinet level department formed in 1977 to consolidate nuclear and other energy activities of the United States. It performs research into all forms of energy and some scientific research. Almost all space projects require energy to function, so some of this research is relevant. Details of all the department's current programs and funding can be found in it's Annual Budget Request.

- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

This office performs research into all forms of energy supply and energy efficiency. Total funding in 2012 was $1.81 billion, and while the request for 2013 was $2.337 billion, the expected appropriations is currently $1.45 billion. Programs of particular interest include:

  • Solar Energy Techologies - Develops photovoltaic and concentrated solar power, aiming to reduce cost and increase efficiency. Given the high solar flux in the inner Solar System, many space projects use this as their main power source. Note that Photovoltaics by 2012 has developed into a large worldwide industry, and much research and development now occurs outside US government funding.

- Nuclear Energy

This office performs research into Nuclear energy sources in particular. Total funding in 2012 was $765 million, and the request for 2013 was $770 million. Expected appropriations for 2013 is $765 million. Programs of particular interest include:

  • Small Modular Reactors - Since mass is a concern for space projects, power sources smaller than terrestrial nuclear power plants are desirable.
  • Radiological Facilities Management - Provides Radioisotope Thermal Generators, which are used as power supplies for space missions. They are developed, built and tested at the Idaho National Laboratory, and several other DOE national laboratories.

- Science

This office funds scientific research and scientific tools to understand nature and advance energy security. Total funding in 2012 was $4.87 billion, and the request for 2013 was $5.00 billion, while expected appropriations for 2013 are $4.82 billion. Much of the work occurs through a network of National Laboratories. Programs of particular interest include:

  • Basic Energy Sciences - Includes research in materials science, engineering, chemical, geoscience, bioscience, and large scientific user facilities.
  • Fusion Energy Sciences -
  • Nuclear Physics -

Expected funding for ARPA-E is $200 million.

Commercial ProgramsEdit

Commercial space projects are part of the more general Aerospace and Defense business sector. An Annual Overview of the entire sector is compiled by Price Waterhouse Cooper. There is considerable overlap between items used in space projects and those developed for other parts of the sector, and often the same company does both types of work. The sector as a whole had identified revenue of US$ 677 billion for the top 100 companies. Note that excludes undisclosed classified or private projects, and that supplier sales which end up in final products in the industry are double-counted.

The Satellite Industry Association is a US-based trade association for commercial space businesses. It has a 2012 Industry Report which indicates the global space industry in 2011 was US$ 290 billion, of which the satellite portion was US$ 177 billion. The latter represents 4.2% of global telecommunications revenue. The vast majority of satellite revenue is from services and ground equipment, such as for satellite television. Satellite hardware manufacturing and launch accounts for US$ 16.7 billion of the total. Since 90 spacecraft were launched in 2011, that implies the average unit cost to build and launch is US$ 185 million. For comparison, the average prices of Boeing passenger aircraft range from US$ 60-330 million. We will not attempt to list every commercial space program, but rather give an indication of the main categories by function.

By far the largest segment of commercial programs is for communication services, of which consumer satellite TV is the largest single component at 2011 revenue of US$ 84 billion. All other satellite services amounted to US$ 23.3 billion. This included satellite radio and broadband, commercial communications, mobile voice and data, and remote sensing. Unclassified satellite manufacturing averaged about US$ 12 billion per year in recent years, and launch revenue averaged about US$ 4-5 billion. Both are counted in year of delivery, while actual costs usually are distributed over several years. Ground equipment to receive from or transmit to satellites accounted for US$ 53 billion in 2011. Future commercial programs which are in development but not yet significant in revenue include space tourism and mining.

Not-for-Profit ProgramsEdit

The not-for-profit sector includes activities performed for the general benefit of humanity, most often at universities and research foundations. At present, most such space programs are related to astronomy, and the cross-discipline field of Planetary Science. Astronomy is heavily represented partly because that is the science which studies the Universe i.e. all of space outside the Earth. It is also partly because the Earth's atmosphere, gravity, and day/night cycle interfere with certain types of instruments and observations, thus they must be performed in space themselves. Individual researchers can work on their own, but the larger projects, such as new telescopes, are often a mixture of private and government funding.

Planetary science is the study of objects and systems which orbit stars. Originally it was purely a subset of Astronomy, and restricted to the Solar System as no other planetary systems were known. As better instruments and close-up observations have been made, we have progressed from merely determining orbit and approximate size of planets and moons to detailed mapping and geology. Thus planetary science now draws heavily on what was called the Earth Sciences to understand the history and development of these bodies. In recent decades circumstellar matter and extrasolar planets have been detected around other stars, extending the study beyond our Solar System. There is even the possibility of Rogue Planets, objects too small to be stars, but not attached to any stellar system.

Astronomy ProgramsEdit

The US National Academies compile a Decadal Survey every 10 years, laying out priorities for astronomy and astrophysics. This is a good starting point to review current and near-term programs in this field. Other science and engineering departments at universities do research related to space, and there are some smaller foundations dedicated to space research. Although much of the funding for astronomy comes from government sources, we list all of the programs here to give a better view of the field as a whole.

Astronomy programs can be roughly sorted by location and wavelength of the instruments. Locations include ground, airborne, and space. The latter two are more expensive, but are used to get above interference from the Earth's atmosphere. The Electromagnetic Spectrum ranges from long radio to very short gamma, and instruments exist to cover most or all of it. The location of the instruments, which are grouped into Observatories, is nowadays where the viewing is best for that device. This is usually different than where the funding organizations or the astronomers who make use of the data are.

There are a great number of observatories in use, since even small privately owned ones can collect useful data. Wikipedia has a lists of Astronomical Observatories and Space Observatories, the latter meaning located in space (all of them look at space). A few of the more significant ones which are relevant to future space programs are noted below. These are mainly ones that look at our own and nearby planetary systems.

Current ProjectsEdit

Hubble Space Telescope - This most famous of telescopes is a 2.4 meter UV to infrared space telescope launched in 1990 and expected to operate to until either equipment failure or orbit decay terminates the mission, likely in the 2015-2020 period. In addition to other science, Hubble has been used to examine outer solar system objects, extrasolar planets, and protoplanetary disks. Hubble is mainly funded by NASA and ESA, and scientific operations are managed by the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Spitzer Space Telescope - This is a 0.85 meter infrared space telescope launched in 2003. Its original helium supply, used to cool the instruments, ran out in 2009, so at present only the shortest wavelength instruments are still operating. At some point equipment failure will end the mission. Spitzer observed many solar system and extrasolar objects. It is funded by NASA.
Herschel Space Observatory - This is a 3.5 meter far infrared and sub-millimeter wave space telescope launched in 2009 and operating to about 2013. Its instruments are cooled by liquid Helium to near absolute zero (2K) in order detect very cold objects. Among its other science goals is the detection of the composition of planets, planetary accretions disks, and molecular clouds. Herschel is mainly funded by the ESA.
Kepler Mission - This is a 0.95 meter visible light space telescope operating since 2009 to about 2016. It is designed to detect planets orbiting other stars which cross in front of the star (transit) and dim the star's light. Since that only happens when the orbits are edge-on to us, Kepler can only detect a fraction of the total planets in the direction it is looking. The total number of planets can be estimated from the fraction it can see. Kepler is funded and operated by NASA.
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) - This is a 2.5 meter infrared airborne telescope mounted on a 747 aircraft which first saw operation in 2010. At its operating altitude of 13.7 km it is above most of the absorption caused by the Earth's atmosphere. It will study, among other things, the formation of stars and planets, the interstellar medium, and planets and small objects within our own solar system. It is funded 80% by NASA and 20% by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) - This is an array of 66 x 12 and 7 meter radio telescopes that function as an interferometer to combine their signals and act as a large single instrument up to 14 km across. It began scientific observations in 2011 when partially built, and is expected to be complete by 2013. It is a general purpose telescope in the 0.35-10 mm wavelength bands. Among the types of observations it is expected to make are circumstellar dust and planetary systems around other stars. ALMA is jointly funded by the US, Europe, Japan and is hosted by Chile. The ALMA Website has additional information about the project.
Radar Astronomy - A few instruments are used to actively send out radar signals and measure the return. The timing of the return signal provides extremely accurate location and detailed shape information. The latter comes from timing differences from parts of the object that are at different distances, and repeating the measurements as the object rotates. Signal intensity falls as the 4th power of distance, so this technique has been limited to approximately 500 nearby objects, mostly Near Earth Asteroids.

Future ProjectsEdit

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - This is a 6.5 meter visible to mid-infrared space telescope expected to launch in 2018. It has a number of science objectives, including observing extrasolar planets, brown dwarfs, and outer Solar System objects among the more relevant ones for space programs. The instruments have a fairly narrow field of view, 2x4 minutes of arc or about 1% of the area of the Moon as seen from Earth. So it will do targeted observations rather than wide surveys of the whole sky.
Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) - This is a 1.5 meter near-infrared space telescope proposed for launch about 2020. The Science Definition Team membership comes from many universities and several independent observatories and US government centers. They released a Final Report in August 2012 describing the science goals and telescope design. Among the science goals is to perform a search for planetary systems in our Galaxy using gravitational microlensing. The program would be primarily funded by NASA, but the data would be used by astronomers worldwide.
Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) - This is a 30 meter near-UV to mid-infrared (0.31 to 28 μm) ground telescope with an estimated completion of 2018. It is made of nearly 500 1.4 meter hexagonal mirror segments on a single large mounting to be built at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. It has multiple science goals, including extra-solar planet and Kuiper Belt measurements. It is jointly funded by multiple foundations, universities, and national governments.
Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) - This is a 24.5 meter equivalent visible and near infrared ground telescope with an estimated completion date of 2020. It is made up of seven 8.4 meter mirrors on a single large mounting because that is the largest mirror size that can currently be made in one piece. As of 2012 several of the mirrors are in various stages of completion and site work for the observatory has started in Chile. Like other large telescopes it has multiple science goals, including imaging of planets around nearby stars. It is currently funded by a group of universities.
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) - This is an 8.4 meter visible and near-infrared ground telescope with a 3200 megapixel camera which has begun construction. The LSST Construction Schedule shows a completion date of early 2022. It is a general purpose survey telescope which the LSST Science Book estimated could find 90% of Near Earth Objects larger than 140 meters in 12 years (ie 2034) if 15% of it's time is used for that purpose (section 5.11.1).
European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) - This is a 39 meter visible and near-infrared segmented ground telescope expected to be operational about 2022. This is the largest optical telescope currently planned. Its science goals include finding extrasolar planets. It is being built by the European Southern Observatory, which is funded by 15 nations and one host country (Chile), where the telescope will be located.

Planetary Science ProgramsEdit