Lowering the High Cost of Getting to Space

Much of this decrease, Dr. Taylor said, was caused by the high costs of getting to space from the United States, while other countries innovate to find cheaper ways. One of the ways to change the economics of space access “is to make things smaller and cheaper.” The cost of developing a big satellite, he said, is about a billion dollars; even small satellites, including launch, cost about $140 million. The good news, he said, is that technology is allowing the miniaturization of technology, particularly the computing aspects. “Small satellites are going to be more and more capable,” he said.

One exciting development, he said, is the development of new, space-friendly technologies such as the CubeSat, 10 cm on a side, which was mentioned the previous day by Vice Admiral Oliver of the Naval Postgraduate School. The National Reconnaissance Office, Boeing, and the Air Force are investing in this new technology, and the space office of DoD, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist were also promoting small satellite development.

In traditional development, Dr. Taylor said, new technologies have to be “space validated” or proven through experimental missions before they can fly. This means that a “new” technology being launched today is actually more than five years old. But today’s approach, he said, is to produce components that are modular and “pre-stage” so they can be can launched earlier, with safety-redundant “constellations of small satellites.” If this can be done reliably, he said, “it will be a game changer.”

A New Space Flight Laboratory

In the University of Hawaii’s centennial year, 2007, the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology (SOEST) joined with the College of Engineering to create a new Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL). The partnership, said Dr. Taylor, will collaborate on every aspect of space missions, from developing spacecraft and instrumentation to mission operations and analysis. Its mission21is to:

•  Promote innovative engineering and science research for terrestrial and planetary space missions;

•  Develop, launch, and operate small spacecraft from the Hawaiian Islands;

•  Provide workforce training in space mission activities;

•  Promote collaboration between other institutions interested in space exploration.


21The mission of the HSFL can be accessed at <http://hsfl.hawaii.edu/HSFL_about.html>.

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