Monday, July 27, 2009

SATELLITE 2 convention

Saturday & Sunday I was at the Satellite 2 Convention celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Moon landing/commiserating that we can't do it any more. Apparently somebody who didn't go denounced it as being a space advocacy convention masquerading as a science fiction convention & there is something to that. But that suits me because I am way into space advocacy. Nonetheless with 2 fairly extensive programme streams of talks, panels, & silly games it was pretty cool.

The Future of Space Exploration (Nik Whitehead, Iain Banks, Andy Nimmo, Frank O'Brien, David Woods was a somewhat pessimistic panel about what will be done in space by 2025 (not a lot - NASA might get back to the Moon by then) & over the next 50 years (the Moon & just about reaching Mars). In questions I asked government funding of an X-Prize Foundation by £1 billion a year would improve things. We had already discussed that Obama has no problem talking about spending trillions & mere billions are old hat. 4 of the 5 agreed that it would very much help. The 4th also said it would but that it would do so so successfully that it would make space look easy which would make it more difficult to persuade taxpayers they would have to pay the gigantic sums a NASA mission to Mars. I can live with that.

Ed Buckley did a talk on period with a newspaper cover from the day of the landing. Marianne Faithful saying what a good thing it was was relegated to the inside so perhaps the media were a little more sensible then but not much.

The Small Space panel (Phil Wellings, Robert Law, Duncan McInnes) was on what small countries (well OK mainly Scotland) can do in space. Professor McInnes produced a Cubesat - a satellite 20cm on a side which can be launched by very small rockets , or in large multiples & yet, modern electronics being what they are can carry an awful lot of capacity. You can buy one online now if your credit card is big enough. There was also discussion of small equatorial states being in a particularly good situation & Andy Nimmo mentioned Sao Tome, just off the African coast. I mentioned Ascension Island, though it was pointed out the America, having a base, might be in a position to object.

Colin McInnes talk was previously given at the RPSoG & I reported it then. His title this time Random Thoughts of a Techno-Utopist Running Dog was taken from what a colleague had said to him after that lecture. This time he was clearly with an audience who understands & was even more enthusiastic for progress & against the anti-progress movement which is raising hysteria against key technologies (nuclear GM), encouraging risk aversion in anything new & encouraging stifling bureaucracy.

I also met him for the first time while I was having a rant about every last Scottish MSP being clinically insane.

Robert Law did a talk on returning to the Moon the last bit of which was the most interesting because it was about the Chinese who, unlike NASA, look like doing things. He said that the Shengzhou spacecraft - an updated Soyuz itself derived from Redstone, which wasn't selected for the Gemini system, is the world's most advanced. The intended American rocket Constellation, being an updated Apollo which in turn is derived from Gemini. He expected the Chinese to go to the Moon in 2017-25. By that time, at current growth rates, China will be the world's biggest economy.
A couple of interesting figures - a Shuttle launch costs $300 million whereas Soyuz, admittedly with a smaller payload, is $20 million. That Britain is currently spending £275 million annually on ESA (less than I thought but a firm figure). On that basis a British X-Prize foundation, funded purely from the money we currently waste on ESA, committed to that sum growing in line with interest in such prizes & allowed to offer prizes on the assumption that they will only be won after several years, would, right now, be able to offer prizes sufficient to create a commercial reusable British owned shuttle.

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