Space Impacts as Sport
The Thrilla in the Chilla
"In this orbit, weighing in at Several Billion Tons, the great Comet, the Nubile Projectile, Tempel 1!, "
[audience hisses, roars]
"And in this orbit, the challenger: built by the most kick ass country on earth, and weighing in at eight hundred and twenty pounds: The Penetrator!
They're Closing in at twenty three thousand miles an hour! What will happen when they meet?
is my favorite space mission of this decade.
1) It's cheap, as such things go - only 333m/dollars - and much of that was spent on hardware that could be mass manufactured and used as a standard technique to figure out the true composition of the 1200+ near earth asteroids, dropping the cost per asteroid explored down below 20m/per.
The cost of today's space missions can be divided, nearly equally, into three parts - the cost of the hardware development, the cost of the launch itself, and the costs of creating and later maintaining the mission. Due to inexorable political factors, these costs tend to be roughly equal in modern probe design - and in (in the case of the jupiter/pluto lobby), oftentimes the hardware development and maintaining the mission far outweigh the launch costs.
Many proposed space missions seem to be nothing more than jobs programs for the people that design (and redesign) them - and I can't even bear to publish the costs of running Dawn
for example, or the ludicrously misnamed 17 year+ (30 years, if you included the design stage) "pluto express" mission...
The mission duration of Deep Impact is only 6 months.
I favor a pull-back from the edges of the solar system in order to focus on finding and then utilizing resources that could give us a better springboard to further exploration. More launches would lower launch costs. A shorter mission duration maximizes the gain of information and minimizes the cost of operation. Using impacts, rather than passive sensing, results in fast in-depth spectrographic results from a variety of sources (the big scopes - Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra will be watching) that we'd otherwise spend months teasing out of the system... and standardized hardware equals lower production costs.
Mining asteroids and comets to provide materials for future exploration should be a no brainer - it's not as if greenpeace was floating around the solar system in little rubber spaceships, or as if spending 100k/lb to haul things up from earth made any sense...
2) The results of Deep Impact promise to be spectacular. I'm far more an engineer than a scientist - blowing things up to learn about them is direct, and almost 2nd nature to me.
3) I like to think that a more frequent pace of exploration would get us a better story about these objects than the interminable - "Asteroid XXYY to not destroy earth" articles. Heck I'd like to see more betting pools spring up
... see space news covered on the sporting pages... and, hey, why couldn't they hire a sportswriter or two to add some friggen excitement to the event?
Stay tuned until 1.50AM July 4th for the Thrilla in the Chilla!Beeee Theree
Labels: comets, impactors, space, space sports, space05