CCNet 57/2002 - 7 May 2002
"Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation
and Development's (OECD) Global Science Forum which agreed at its
meeting in January 2002 to establish a Working Group to examine the issues
related to Near Earth Asteroids. Australia supported the establishment of
the Working Group and will participate in its activities. The aim of the
Working Group is to review the current state of scientific understanding of
the impact hazard, in order to reach an international consensus of the
level of the potential risk. It will also review current
international work on detection to consider where stronger
international interactions are needed. The Government will consider the
report of the Working Group when it is delivered in early 2003 and will
assess the potential for further Australian involvement at that
--Peter McGauran, (Australian) Minister for Science, 30
(1) AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT TO CONSIDER OECD RECOMMENDATIONS ON IMPACT HAZARD
Michael Paine <email@example.com>
(2) NOW ANYONE CAN DISCOVER A COMET
Wired.com, 6 May 2002
(3) THE SOHO-500 COMET CONTEST
Ron Baalke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(4) "SPACE POLICY" ESSAY COMPETITION
Roger Launius <email@example.com>
(5) GEOMAGNETIC STORMS - REDUCING THE THREAT TO CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Andrew Yee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(6) BRUNEL HOLOCENE CONFERENCE ABSTRACT: QUAKE AD 365
Hermann Burchard <email@example.com>
(7) JOURNAL ABSTRACTS
Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(8) REPORT ON THE SPACE LAUNCH INITIATIVE (SLI) AND NEO NEWS FROM NASA
E.P. Grondine <email@example.com>
(1) AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT TO CONSIDER OECD RECOMMENDATIONS ON IMPACT HAZARD
>From Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Benny, Duncan and Jay
I have just received the following from Peter McGauran, oddly via the office
of fellow minsiter, Brendan Nelson. The Australian government is attempting
to side-step the issue by saying it will wait for the report of an OECD
working group - not due until 2003!
It is therefore very important that the OECD working group is properly
informed about Spaceguard. However, I won't let up on the Australian
government's irresponsible approach to this issue. I expect that Jay will
receive a similar reply to the letter signed by 91 scientists in January.
THE HON PETER McGAURAN MP
Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 1
MINISTER FOR SCIENCE, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE HOUSE
30 APR 2002
Mr Michael Paine
Dear Mr Paine
Thank you for your emails of 31 January, 19 March and 5 and 8 Apri12002
regarding government funding for Australian involvement in international
efforts to detect approaching asteroids.
At present the Federal Government provides considerable funding for
astronomy research, guided by input from the astronomy community.
Government funding for Near Earth Asteroid detection was ceased in 1996
after a review of astronomy research in 1995 established other areas of
higher priority. The review entitled 'Australian Astronomy: Beyond 2000' was
conducted by the National Committee for Astronomy of the Australian Academy
of Science. The Government responded to the top priority that had been
identified by providing funding of some $13M in 1996 for membership to the
major international Gemini telescope project. In 2001 $23.5M was provided
through the Major National Research Facility Program for increasing
membership in the International Gemini project from 5% to 10% and for
participation in the early stage of international work towards the
development of a major new radio-telescope -the Square Kilometre Array
(SKA). Further funding is being provided to astronomy
projects from the Australian Research Council' s (ARC) highly competitive
grants programs and from the Federal Government's ongoing support of the
Anglo Australian Observatory .
By way of background the SKA telescope will be a centimetre-wave radio
telescope with loo times the sensitivity of existing radio telescopes that
will cost about US$l billion spread over a 16 year period to 2015. An
international scientific consortium, including representatives from
Australia's science community, has been established with the objective of
collaborating to design and build the SKA telescope. The draft timetable
prepared by the consortium indicates that decisions on design and the
geographic location of the telescope will be made in 2005, construction
would begin in 2010 and the telescope would be completed in 2015.
Returning to your specific concerns in regard to Near Earth Asteroids I wish
to outline the current situation.
Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development's (OECD) Global Science Forum which agreed at its meeting in
January 2002 to establish a Working Group to examine the issues related to
Near Earth Asteroids. Australia supported the establishment of the
Working Group and will participate in its activities.
The aim of the Working Group is to review the current state of scientific
understanding of the impact hazard, in order to reach an international
consensus of the level of the potential risk. It will also review current
international work on detection to consider where stronger international
interactions are needed.
The Government will consider the report of the Working Group when it is
delivered in early 2003 and will assess the potential for further Australian
involvement at that time.
I will contact you once the Government has decided upon its response to this
Thank you for writing with your concerns in this area.
(2) NOW ANYONE CAN DISCOVER A COMET
>From Wired.com, 6 May 2002
By Jeffrey Benner
Warning: This website can trigger an obsessive search for comets.
In offices, dens and dorm rooms around the world, a geeky band of hunters
are desperately scouring the site for comets. A German student likened his
interest to addiction. A father of three in Britain, who has found 132
comets, is reluctant to admit just how much time he spends on his quest.
The unknown comets are turning up in the background of photos of the sun
taken from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, a satellite in
orbit around the sun. Dozens of amateur astronomers from around the world
scour the images for the wispy tail of a comet, racing to be the first human
to ever lay eyes on a particular glowing ball of ice hurtling toward the
Sebastian Hoenig constantly pores over the SOHO images, sometimes for 16
hours a day. Since he started visiting the SOHO website in December 2000, he
has found 18 comets and he's gunning for more.
"Searching for comets has become like addiction," said Hoenig, who studies
astronomy and physics at Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany. A
competitive speed skater, he compared discovering a comet to victory in
sports. "When you realize that no one else has ever seen it before, it's
like winning the gold medal: great feeling."
Launched in 1995, the SOHO observatory is a joint project of NASA and the
European Space Agency. The primary purpose of the mission is to study solar
activity. The discovery of hundreds of new comets -- more than 400 have been
found so far -- has been an unexpected perk.
The undisputed champion among amateur SOHO comet hunters is Mike Oates, 45,
a father of three from Manchester, Great Britain, where he runs an
electroplating business. With 132 comet discoveries to his name, his tally
is nearly triple that of second-ranked Xavier Leprette of France, who has
found 50 comets.
Oates, possessed with the same compulsive thirst for discovery that drives
Hoenig, has spent more hours looking for comets than he cares to admit.
"I would not like to give any exact figures," he said. "But at my peak, I
have my computer downloading images for at least 12 hours a day, with about
half that spent directly image processing and searching."
When Oates started plowing through the SOHO archives to find images taken
before the website went live -- a clever tactic his rivals hadn't thought of
-- he really started to pile on the comet credits. He considers these
archival finds particularly satisfying. "There is just that little extra
thrill of discovering comets that have been missed by the professionals," he
Doug Biesecker, a scientist who works on the SOHO project, said his team
didn't plan on amateur astronomers playing such a huge role in picking
comets out from the chronograph images. But when they started posting the
images on the Web in 1999, the e-mails started to roll in.
Nearly all the messages came from people who had mistaken a star, or planet,
or imperfections in the photos for comets. But a few people were really onto
something. "They started to find objects we were missing," Biesecker said.
"We realized (help from amateurs) was an important tool we could use."
Biesecker set up a special website and reporting log for the comet spotters.
Once Biesecker verifies a discovery, he reports the new comet and its
discoverer to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams at Harvard, the
world's official recorder of celestial discoveries.
Amateurs looking at the SOHO images on the Web have found 76 percent of the
428 new comets that have turned up in SOHO images. Of the 31 people who have
discovered comets, 21 of them are amateurs. They come from 10 different
countries, including Australia, Great Britain, Germany and China.
The comet hunters agree that the spirit of competition is a big part of the
allure. Nearly all the comets they find are tiny shards of rock and ice,
doomed to evaporate in the sun's atmosphere days after they are spotted.
"There's not great science coming out of us discovering these comets," said
Rob Matson, a systems engineer from Newport Beach, California. "But there's
a thrill of the hunt." Matson has yet to bag his first comet, but he spends
about ten hours a week trying.
But the competition is friendly. Hoenig has built a website to help newbies
get the hang of comet spotting and comet-master Oates has one too.
Copyright 2002, Wired
(3) THE SOHO-500 COMET CONTEST
>From Ron Baalke <email@example.com>
The SOHO-500 Comet Contest
Predict the perihelion date and time of SOHO-500.
1. The contest is open to anyone, anywhere, except to Doug Biesecker and
2. Entries must be e-mailed to Doug Biesecker (
firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than the end of the day May
31st, 2002 EDT (0400 UT, June 1).
Valid entries must include your name, your e-mail address, and the date
and time, including year, month, day and time of day in UT. Only one
entry per person will be accepted.
3. In the case of the 500th comet being an archive discovery, then the
discoverer is also not eligible, but the closest guess still wins.
4. Guesses will not be revealed publicly until the entry period has
closed. However names of those who have submitted guesses will be
posted to verify that an entry has been received on your behalf.
See the web site sungrazer.nascom.nasa.gov/soho500/
Note: The web site will be updated as often as possible, but due to
travel engagements, in the next few weeks, there will be delays.
Win a DVD or VHS copy of the SOLAR MAX movie (www.solarmovie.com).
Solar Max is a movie about the Sun. It also shows, very briefly, the
Twin sungrazers (C/1998 K10 and K11). It is definitely very cool,
featuring images not only from various satellites, but also of sites of
international interest, such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Newgrange in
Ireland, Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Tromso in Norway. It is available
commercially in a variety of video formats, including DVD and VHS (NTSC
and PAL). Find out more...
Other Notes & Disclaimers
Determination of the SOHO comet numbers is entirely at the discretion
of Douglas Biesecker. He assigns the numbers in order of discovery.
These numbers are not an official product of any recognized
astronomical body. However, they are a very convenient way to refer to
the various comets and to keep track of the total number.
Definition of an archive discovery: This is also at the discretion of
Douglas Biesecker. If a comet is reported more than 36 hours after it
is first visible in the data (and there are no large gaps in the data),
then the comet will be designated as an archive claim. In cases of
ambiguity, the 36 hour rule will begin at the time when an average
observer might be expected to have been able to find the comet.
* Neither ESA, NASA, or any other institution associated with SOHO is
involved with the adjudication of claims or providing the prize. The
contest is designed to increase the public's awareness of SOHO's
discoveries and demonstrate the ease of accesibility of scientific data
sets by the general public.
Links & Tips
o As of May 2, 2001, the count is up to SOHO-435. Keep track of
discoveries at sungrazer.nascom.nasa.gov/recent.html.
o The SOHO Homepage, LASCO Homepage
Tips: Possible Strategies
1. Estimate the number of comets per year and extrapolate.
2. Refine your estimate by looking at the monthly variation in the
rate of discoveries.
3. Consider the chance that the discovery will be an archive claim.
(4) "SPACE POLICY" ESSAY COMPETITION
>From Roger Launius <email@example.com>
The Journal, Space Policy, has created a new award for essays in space
policy open to graduate students. The information on this award follows.
Roger D. Launius
NASA Chief Historian
The Maxim Tarasenko Award
Maxim Tarasenko, a leading Russian space history scholar and a member of
Space Policy's editorial board, who contributed greatly to the elucidation
of the Russian space programme in the journal and elsewhere, died in 1999.
In order to commemorate his pioneering work in space policy, Elsevier
Science has decided to hold an annual competition, open to all law school
students and graduate students of space policy, to find the best essay. The
competition will be announced in each February issue of Space Policy. The
closing date will be 1 September of the same year and the winning entry will
be published the following year. This year's competition is thus now open,
with a closing date of 1 September 2002; the winner to be announced and
published in February 2003.
1. The competition is open to all law school students and graduate students
of space policy.
2. The essay may be written on any topic of current debate in space law or
policy, should be typewritten in English and should be between 10 and 20
pages (or 2500 and 5000 words) in length.
3. Essays should be submitted by 1 September 2002 to Frances Brown, Editor,
Space Policy. Where possible they should be submitted electronically (in
Word) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Students without access to the Internet
may post their essays (preferably including a disk version) to Seabank,
Turnberry Road, Maidens, Ayrshire KA26 9NN, Scotland.
4. The judges will be the Editor of Space Policy and two other judges
appointed by Elsevier.
5. The judges' decision will be final; the editors cannot enter into any
correspondence about the competition.
In addition to publication in the journal, the winner will receive 100
pounds, a certificate, and a year's subscription to Space Policy.
(5) GEOMAGNETIC STORMS - REDUCING THE THREAT TO CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
>From Andrew Yee <email@example.com>
Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Date: 30 April 2002
Threat Analysis Number: TA02-001
Geomagnetic Storms -- Reducing the Threat to Critical Infrastructure in
This report has been compiled to assist Canadian critical infrastructure
(CI) owners and operators with their emergency management planning by
discussing how geomagnetic storms can impact CI and by addressing ways in
which industry can mitigate the impacts of these potentially
dangerous storms. This report also illustrated some of the proactive
practices that Canadian industry has implemented to avoid prolonged negative
effects from geomagnetic storms. This document was derived primarily from
open sources and draws on a variety of public and private information
current to 29 April 2002.
* Geomagnetic storms have the potential to severely impair critical
* Consequences of geomagnetic storm activity can include widespread power
failures, pipeline corrosion, the shutdown of cable systems, an increased
drag on satellites, inaccurate navigational sensors and the loss of millions
of dollars in revenue.
* In Canada, it has been demonstrated that power systems, pipelines and
communications are at risk from the damaging effects of coronal mass
ejections (CME) and geomagnetically induced currents (GIC).
* Canadian infrastructure owners and operators have developed effective
operating procedures to deal with the threat of geomagnetic storms. Advance
warning systems provide infrastructure owners and operators with the necessary
information to prevent the negative consequences of GICs through the implementation
of proactive conservative operating procedures.
The phenomenon of geomagnetic currents was first noticed in 1847. In this
year, the telegraph was the primary method of communication and relied on
batteries for power. Once, however, while an Aurora Borealis was occurring,
telegraph operators observed a disruption in the transmission of
communications. When the power was switched off, the geomagnetically induced
currents (GIC) or "celestial power" allowed transmissions to be conducted
at a better quality than with the use of batteries.
GICs are a result of erupting sunspots. Sunspots are massive dark areas on
the surface of the sun that lie on top of hurricanes of electrified gas.
When sunspots erupt, they release a coronal mass ejection (CME) at
approximately 2 million miles per hour. Geomagnetic storms occur when the
CME impacts the Earth's magnetosphere, thereby disturbing the solar wind and
reducing the global magnetic field. While these powerful storms usually trigger auroras,
they can also damage energy and communication systems.
 According to Faraday's law of induction, a temporal change of a magnetic
field is always accompanied by an electric field. Therefore, an electric
field is associated with geomagnetic activity. The geomagnetic variation and
the geoelectric field observed at the earth's surface depend primarily on
ionospheric-magnetospheric currents and secondarily on currents and charges
induced in earth. A part of the earth currents can flow into man-made
conductors, like power transmission systems, pipelines, telecommunication cables and
railroads. Such currents are called geomagnetically induced currents (GIC).
 An observable change in coronal structure that occurs on a time scale
between a few minutes and several hours, and involves the appearance of a
new, discrete, bright white-light feature in the coronograph field of view.
They are associated with the large-scale, closed magnetic structures in the
corona. When a coronal mass ejection occurs, a large quantity of material
(10^15 - 10^16 g) is sporadically ejected from the Sun into interplanetary
space. The speed of the leading edge of the coronal mass ejection may vary
from 50 km/s to 1200 km/s. Average speed is about 400 km/s. The average
heliocentric width is about 45 degrees. Large geomagnetic storms are caused
by coronal mass ejections.
Full analysis is available at
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
(6) BRUNEL HOLOCENE CONFERENCE ABSTRACT: QUAKE AD 365
>From Hermann Burchard <firstname.lastname@example.org>
the workshop on HOLOCENE EXTRATERRESTRIAL IMPACTS AND THEIR EFFECTS, August
29 2002, that you are organizing as part of the conference on HOLOCENE
CATASTROPHES AND RECOVERY IN THE HOLOCENE, Brunel University, London, should
be helpful in elucidating the importance of impacts in our
immediate history and prehistory. As you write in your abstract: "The fact
that no large impact crater dating to this crucial period has been detected,
has led to the belief that no large scale impact disaster can possibly have
happened. However, this is a widespread delusion..." As has
been noted on CCNet before, the public view of impact risk is slanted toward
neglect as a result of such misperceptions.
Here, data that you and others are going to present at Brunel on actual
occurrences in the Holocene could tip the scale. One conference abstract,
"Seismicity of Sicily before 1000AD," by Carla Bottari mentions the AD 365
quake. This affected not only Sicily. Her abstract states magnitude 8.5 for
Crete. Magnitude 8.5 may be close to a maximum magnitude of quakes (I seem
to recall magnitude 9 being mentioned) due to the limited strength of
Earth's crustal rocks. Edward Gibbon "History of the Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire", Chapter 26,
and Saint Jerome "Chronicle" describe effects on the entire Mediterranean
basin including mega-tsunami in Egypt and elsewhere. Gibbon and other
historians cite details of an environmental catastrophe in ensuing years.
While Gibbon apparently did not make a connection, when in AD 379 the
Visigoths defeated the Roman Army at Adrianople (now Edirne, Western Turkey)
killing Emperor Valens, there can be little doubt of such a link, as the
Goths were driven to despair by starvation. For Saint Jerome this date
signified the end of the Roman Empire. He mentions Sicily for heavy
devastations from the 365 quake.
The extent and magnitude would seem to exclude local faults as the source
(Amos Nur, Stanford) of the 365 quake. A suspicion of cosmic impact arises,
but is there any direct evidence of comets or meteors for this year? Perhaps
readers who know the astronomical records for the period would like to
The entire picture of what exactly happened is clouded by the fact that
numerous quakes and other, similar disasters that occurred during an
interval including the 4th to the 6th centuries appear to have hastened the
downfall of civilization, and not just in the West. In the East, the
Jin or Tsin dynasty (AD 265-420) retreated to Southern China and then
Upon re-reading Duncan Steel's "Rogue Asteroids..." I do get the impression
that our planet Earth was close to a branch of the Taurid meteor stream in
those times. The (Julian) date of July 21st AD 365 (morning hours) needs to
be adjusted for orbital precession. See "Exodus to Arthur" by Mike Bailley
concerning the 6th century and cometary links, where there seems little
doubt at least for that age.
(7) JOURNAL ABSTRACTS
>From Michael Paine <email@example.com>
Here are some interesting abstracts. They each suggest a series of climate
upheavals around the KT boundary.
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, Vol. 178 (1-2) (2002) pp.
© 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
A possible causal relationship between extinction of dinosaurs and K/T
iridium enrichment in the Nanxiong Basin, South China: evidence from
Zi-kui Zhao a * firstname.lastname@example.org , Xue-ying Mao b, Zhi-fang Chai b,
Gao-chuang Yang b, Ping Kong c, Mitsuru Ebihara c and Zhen-hua Zhao d
Multiple distinct iridium anomalies have been observed in dinosaur eggshells
in the K/T boundary sections of the Nanxiong Basin, Guangdong Province,
South China. The eggshells collected at and
near the fossil-pollen-defined K/T boundary interval show iridium increases
of about 19 and 28 times, respectively, above the background level. The
enrichment of other trace elements in the eggshells occurs mostly at and
near the interval. The distribution of Ir-bearing levels proves the
existence of at least six Ir-delivering events from the latest Cretaceous
into the earliest Paleocene. The enrichment of Ir and other trace elements
in eggshells may have been caused by the assimilation of these elements into
the dinosaur body through food, and then into the eggs laid by them. Two
types of pathological development, i.e. variation in eggshell thickness and
eggshell microstructure, have been observed from the basin. It seems that
they occur frequently during the K/T transition. The physiological
mechanisms producing pathologic dinosaur eggshells are evaluated in the
light of homologous phenomena occurring in living birds. On this basis, it is
concluded that the formation of pathologic dinosaur eggshells was caused by
anomalous trace element concentrations. The extinction of the dinosaurs in
the Nanxiong Basin did not occur instantaneously, but spread out within 250
ka with major extinction beginning at the boundary interval. The cause may
have been environmental poisoning and adverse changes in climatic conditions
as indicated by the geochemical analyses of the dinosaur eggshells. A
repeating short- and long-term geochemically induced environmental stress
adversely affected the reproductive process and contributed to the
extinction of the dinosaurs.
Volume 178, Issues 3-4
28 February 2002
Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
High stress late Maastrichtian paleoenvironment: inference from planktonic
foraminifera in Tunisia
Sigal Abramovich, and Gerta Keller
High resolution (~5¯10 kyr) planktonic foraminiferal analysis at Elles,
Tunisia, reveals major changes in the structure of the Tethyan marine
ecosystem during the upper Maastrichtian. During the first 1.5 Myr of the
late Maastrichtian (68.3¯66.8 Ma) relatively stable environmental conditions
and cool temperatures are indicated by diverse planktonic foraminiferal populations
with abundant intermediate and surface dwellers. A progressive cooling trend
between ~66.8¯65.45 Ma resulted in the decline of globotruncanid species
(intermediate dwellers). This group experienced a further decline at the climax of a rapid
warm event about 300 kyr before the K¯T boundary. At the same time relative abundances
of long ranging dominant species fluctuated considerably reflecting the high stress
environmental conditions. Times of critical high stress environments during
the late Maastrichtian, and particularly at the K¯T boundary, are indicated
by low species diversity and blooms of the opportunistic genus Guembelitria
at warm¯cool transition intervals. During the last 100 kyr of the
Maastrichtian rapid cooling is associated with accelerated species
extinctions followed by the extinction of all tropical and subtropical
species at the K¯T boundary.
(8) REPORT ON THE SPACE LAUNCH INITIATIVE (SLI) AND NEO NEWS FROM NASA
>From E.P. Grondine <email@example.com>
Hello Benny -
Last Tuesday I drove into Wahington to attend the NASA briefing on the Space
Launch Initiative (SLI) downselect. On the way into the briefing I ran into
Ed Weiler, and I used the opportunity to ask him a few questions about
progress in the NASA NEO programs, in particular about his Office of Space
Science's negotiations with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Following
Ed's suggestion I also did follow up interviews with several of his staffers
on these matters. While the Space Launch Initiative decisions are more
likely to ultimately have a greater impact on US NEO programs than anything
Weiler and his staff are doing, my assumption is that these activities are
of more immediate interest to Conference particpants, and so I will cover
JUST A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS...
The first thing that I asked Ed was how the negotiations with the NSF were
going. He told me they were hitting problems. He also pointed out that
nobody said that NASA was not the only agency to save the Earth. In looking
at this one must understand that Weiler did not run the Office of Space
Science when it was last called before Congress on the NEO problem; Carl
Pilcher did, so it is understandable that Ed might not know that the House
Space Sub-Committee had said exactly that several years earlier. While I can
sympathize with Ed on his desire to seek more funding for the NEO search
from other pockets, I think that ultimately dealing with the impact hazard
is going to require the use of space based assets. Since this is an area
with which NASA has specific experitse, I think that the Sub-Committee
members were correct in their initial assessment.
(Dealing with the impact hazard has been studied in depth by specialists at
NASA's Langley Research Center, and their conclusions may be found here:
Ed suggested that I contact his deputy Colleen Hartman for further details
on the NSF negotiations, of which, more, shortly.
I asked Ed about the final budget for the NEO office, and he did not know
it, but did point out that he personally had signed off on $500,000 for a
pencil-beam search by the Spacewatch group Arizona at the Kitt Peak
Observatory. (Thank you very much!, Ed) This pencil beam search will provide
population information not only for the asteroids, but also for Kuiper Belt
Objects, and Tom Gehrels should be able to provide Conference participants
with detailed information on the progress of this effort.
That afternoon I contacted Colleen Hartman, who brought up Areceible again,
and had no idea that Weiler intended for the NSF co-operation to include the
optical bands. I don't know why, but I am not too shocked by this. I guess
it's simply that I've seen too much of how NASA has dealt with the quite
real and immediate NEO hazard to expect anything better.
Colleen initially agreed to a follow up telephone intereview 2 days later,
but in the event she passed me on to Jay Bergstrahl and Tom Morgan. CCNet
readers will remember my interview with Tom earlier this year while trying
to find the NASA NEO budget. The new numbers I obtained this time are
$4,430,000 this year, including the $500,000 for the Spacewatch pencil beam
search, leaving $3,930,000 for other items. The initial budget estimate for
next year is at a similar level, $3,900,000.
Actual negotiations with the NSF were now be conducted by John Hillman from
planetary sciences. So a curious situation presents itself. Hillman was/is
at Goddard Spacefight Center concentrating on planetary atmospheres, not
their surfaces where impact craters are found. Hartman worked with Hillman
on TOMS, the ozone mapper, and AQUA, which studies water cycles and
planetary atmosphers. Her most recent focus for the last year or so has
been on what NASA is calling "In-Space Propulsion", in other words the
nuclear engines for deep space, which have among other uses exploration of
the large outer gas planets. Bergstrahl's interests lie with the detection
of large planets around stars other than our Sun, and these planets are
large gas giants. Morgan's original major focus was on planetary
atmospheres, with a later minor focus on impact craters and planetary
regoliths. Morgan came to NASA from the Southwest Research Institute, an
organization which recieves funding from both NASA and the NSF.
Ah yes, well, where was I? Oh, that's right, my focus is on preventing
extremely large numbers of people from being killed by the next "small"
impactor. They told me that NASA was now awaiting a reply from Wayne van
Citters over at the NSF, but if I were any of them I would not be holding my
breath waiting for his call...
In discussing the pencil beam search, Morgan once again emphasized that
money would be spent for upgrading equipment, and I asked him about this in
detail. In addition to the money spent on CCDs, money was being spent on
telescope control programs, sufficiently powerful computers for image
processing, and writing the code that those computer's needed to do this
I asked about searching for comets, and was told that they expected that
those would be picked up during the asteroid search, in particular by
LINEAR. I asked about searching for objects less than 1 kilometer in
diameter, and they told me that this would not be done unless a new
directive was established, and that this would require a national consensus
on the new goal. In other words, they won't do it unless the Congress makes
them, and I think one can safely assert tha further, they have no interest
in asking the Congress make them.
They told me again that they expected to meet the current goal of finding
90% of NEOs 1 kilometer in diamter and larger by 2008. Later I asked
Bergstrahl and Morgan about NASA's true NEO expert Don Yeoman's estimate in
the Decadal Study that NASA would not in fact meet that goal without a
significant increase in funds, and both said that they were not aware of
that, and in any case they would have to wait until the final report was
delivered to them from the National Research Council.
HOUSE SPACE SUB-COMMITTEE HEARINGS ON NASA AND NEOS SOON?
At least the House Space Sub-Committee is aware that NASA is underfunding
the NEO detection program, and they have been aware of this for several
There's nothing like a Congressional Hearing to focus management's attention
on a problem. Will we see one soon? I don't know. Reps. Boehlert, Hall,
Walker-Jones, and Rohrabacher are certainly aware of the problem. Chairman
Boehlert has recently been focusing, very correctly in my opinion, on the
very immediate potential terrorist threat to US infrastructure, covering
water supply security, cyber security, first responders, building design,
and also the fuel efficiency of US vehicles and alternatives to oil for
portable liquid fuels.
Boehlert's long term concerns are with the lack of rigor in the education US
children are recieving, and the shortage of scientists and engineers that
this is causing. Rohrabacher's recent introduction of a bill setting up
NEO prizes for amateur (young) astronomers can be read as a request by him
for Boehlert to give more attention to the NEO hazard in general, as it
touches on Boehlert's concerns about education in general.
What will happen? I suspect that other members of the House Space
Sub-Committee besides those mentioned above have an interest in how NASA is
dealing, or failing to deal, with the NEO hazard. It must be remembered
that the last time the House Space Sub-Committee looked at the problem,
George Brown was still alive and there were 2 major Hollywood movies dealing
with the NEO hazard that were just about to be released. What may
precipitate another hearing? We are not simply observers here, and perhaps
we can try to better document both the large as well as the small impacts.
The Rio Cuarto Impact may be a key here, but perhaps increased NEO funding
may follow simply as a consequence of the increase in funding for
environmental research, and the inevitable discovery by these new
researchers of the signs of impact events in the tree rings and ice cores.
As for the ultimate benefits of Rohrabacher's bill, I wouldn't mind if young
astronomers were given money, if only the professional astronomers were
funded first. It also might be nice if at least a few of these young
astronomers could reasonably expect that someday they might actually be
hired to look for NEOs, and to recieve reasonable pay for doing so.
In his comments to the bill Rohrabacher also expressed his concern about the
amount of time young people in the US are wasting in front of video games;
my thinking is that porting the planetary data sets to the game consoles and
personal computers may be a better way of getting to these young people than
astronomy prizes, as who could resist virtually "flying" over the surface of
Mars or Io?
NEOS AND SLI: $3,900,000 is 1/256 of $1,000,000,000
Whatever their level of awareness of the NEO hazard, the members of the
House Space Sub-Committee are definitely more worried about US launch
systems and NASA policy decisions concerning US lauch systems than they are
about NEOs, for these have a far greater immediate economic impact on their
Some approximate numbers can give an idea of the current relative importance
which is assigned to various items. NASA's total budget for 1998-2007, the
time in which it intends to meet the goal of finding 90% of 1 kilometer
diameter and larger Near Earth Asteroids, is around $163,083,700,000. When
one considers that the direct costs of the World Trade Center attack alone
are around $100,000,000, not including indirect costs, Chairman Boehlert's
current focuses are very understandable.
A key committee focus is on the International Space Station. Direct and
indirect costs for the International Space Station during this time period
may be estimated at around $75,471,300,000, give or take several
$100,000,000's or so, or a little more or less than 1/2 of the total NASA
As the next largest single item in its total yearly budget, NASA has spent
or intends to spend about $1,000,000,000 per year on the development of
advanced launch systems, in other words about $10,000,000,000 over the 10
years, or about 1/16 of its total budget. This will also affect long term
operating costs for the ISS in fairly fundamental ways.
Where exactly do we currently stand in the grand order of things? NASA has
been and intends to spend around $3,900,000 per year on reaching the 90% of
1 kilometer or greater diameter near Earth asteroid detection goal, or
approximately $39,000,000 for the 10 years between 1998 and 2008. In other
words NASA plans to devote around 1/4182 of its budget to preventing us
going the way of the dinosaurs, so we're approximately two orders of
magnitude less important than SLI.
But $3,900,000 per year is known to be inadequate for reaching the dinosaur
killer goal, and the best estiamtes are that it will take around
$10,000,000 per year to reach even the dinosaur killer goal. So in order to
find the next dinosaur killer, NASA will have to spend about $100,000,000
over this 10 year period, in other words spend some 1/1631 of its budget on
the task. Delivery of the final NRC report may trigger hearings, but I
As NASA does like to buy and launch rockets, the probes to the asteroids and
comets come out better than the observatories. DAWN will cost $271,000,000;
DEEP IMPACT $279,000,000; CONTOUR $154,000,000; DEEP SPACE 1 $149,700,000;
NEAR $224,000,000; and STARDUST $208,000,000; for a total of $1,285,700,000,
or about 1/127 of the total NASA budget for this period. Clearly these folks
came out far ahead of the NEO astronomers, as this represents only a one
order of magnitude difference from SLI.
Given current funding levels, at least this way we'll know what hit us. Of
the total budget for the 10 year period NASA will spend $0.00 on the
reliable detection of "mid-sized" impactors, such as the one which pretty
much destroyed all of South America a "short" while ago. A very small
percentage of these asteroids will be detected reaching the 1 kilometer or
greater goal, but that percentage is so small that it is very close to 0.
There is a possibility that the Large-aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope or
LSST will be funded at some $170,000,000, and it is currently estimated that
this telescope would be able to find about 90% of all the continent killers.
But this move would increase the total amount spent by NASA on NEO detection
to $270,000,000, and would represent a staggering 1/604 of the NASA budget,
or the approximately the cost of one probe to an asteroid or comet. One can
understand why Weiler is so insistant that the NSF pick up part of the cost
of the LSST, especially given the other astronomical research which that
telescope would accomplish.
While $270,000,000 is a fairly large amount of money, in relation to the
annual impact hazard it is fairly small. The Gross Domestic Product of the
US is around $10,000,000,000,000 per year; and for the sake of comparison,
let's attribute 10% of that, or $1,000,000,000,000, to the South East United
States. Given a 5% return on capital, we could then value that area of the
US at some $20,000,000,000,000. Accepting that the historical data seems to
point to 2 catastrophic impacts which devastated this area in the last
10,000 years, (the Holocene Start Impact and the Late Archaic End Impact),
this translates into 1 impact per 5,000 years. On a historical basis the
annual risk would therefore seem to be some $20,000,000,000,000 * 1/5,000,
or very, very roughly some $4,000,000,000 PER YEAR for just that region
alone. When viewed in the terms of the annual risk, a total one time
premium payment of $270,000,000 is very small potatoes indeed.
Perhaps the LSST will cause hearings to be held. One must remember that it
took nearly 20 years for knowledge of even the largest extinction level
event impacts to spread and for these impact events to be widely accepted as
a real hazard. While we may hope that knowledge of smaller impact events,
the continent killers and city killers, might spread more rapidly, this
spread may take a similar period of time as well, say 20 years. On the other
hand, there's about a 1 in 5 chance that a city killer will hit sometime in
any 20 year period and change everything, so who knows? For that matter,
since the process appears to be chaotic to some degree, the next small one
could arrive unannounced in the next 20 seconds...
THE NEED FOR THE SPACE LAUNCH INITIATIVE
For us, the bottom line is that dealing with the even smaller sized city
killer NEOS is going to require the use of space based systems, both for
detection as well as for interception. Assuming no immediate impact, the
policy decisions on the SLI are going to determine which tools to deal with
this hazard are going to be available to us or our immediate descendants in
the near future, whether that future is near or slightly further off. In the
short term, these decisions are also going to be key in determining the
total NASA budget, and that in turn will be one key to determining the total
NEO detection budget for the next few years.
The immediate motivation for start of the Space Launch Initiative was the
failure of the composite cryogenic fuel tanks for the X-33, which was the
test bed for the Venture Star Re-usable Launch Vehicle (RLV). One of the
most startling things which I learned after the briefing was from Northrop
Grumman's Doug Young: his estimate was that with the new composite
manufacturing techniques which had been developed, along with a belt and
suspenders support system, the composite cryogenic fuel tanks could probably
(let me emphasize the "PROBABLY" here) be made to work.
Now in the days of Apollo, when problems were hit with developing
hydrogen/oxygen engines, they were simply engineered away. This did not
happen with the Venture Star, and several reasons for this failure of "will"
lie easily at hand. First off, former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin had
been under pretty continuous attack by US Mars "enthusiasts", who believed
that a manned Mars mission could be developed for some $8,000,000,000, a
small fraction of the cost of the International Space Station. However
reliable this cost estimate is, it was and is held with an almost religious
fervor by most of these Mars "enthusiasts", and they were quite vocal in
their objections to the International Space Station. A second factor in
stopping work on the Venture Star was that many of these same Mars
"enthusiasts" favored the development of the McDonell Douglas design for the
re-usbale vehicle, the DC-X, which they thought could be more easily used
than the Venture Star design for manned flight to Mars. A third factor in
the ending of work on the Venture Star was that Goldin had come under attack
for Russia's (specifically NPO Energia's Yuri Pavlovich Semenov's) failure
to deliver components for the International Space Station. The cumulative
effect of all of this was that Goldin had no political capital left with
which to fight for continued work on the composite cryogenic tank for the
But the most significant fact in stopping work on the Venture Star lay
elsewhere. Finally, and most importantly, ground based alternatives for
space based communication systems had emerged by the time of the composite
cryongenic tank failure. Fiber optic cables have replaced geo-synchronous
satellites for some uses, while advancing cell phone technologies have
satsfied needs which low-Earth orbit satellites were expected to fulfill.
Bluntly, market demand in some segments of the communication satellite
market has fallen significantly, and with the reduced demand for launch
services, there is a reduced demand for launchers. Venture Star could not
have been funded with private capital under these conditions, adn Lockheed
Martin wanted out.
WORK BEGINS ON THE MINI-SHUTTLE
As I reported in February, work on the Crew Return Vehicle was stopped so
that work could begin on the Mini-Shuttle, and NASA formally announced this
on 2 May.
There are currently 2 designs under consideration for the Mini-Shuttle, one
using a lifting body, the other using razor edge wings. Which design will be
optimal, and who will build it, are questions far from being decided.
LAUNCHING THE MINI-SHUTTLE
A number of concepts were shown at the SLI briefing for the launch of the
Mini-Shuttle, and these may be seen at: http://www.slinews.com/concepts.html
The concept which seems nearest to use is the use of "heavy stacks" of the
Exhanced Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs), the Atlas 5 and Delta 4, for
launch of the Mini-Shuttles. Both of these launch vehicles are scheduled to
begin operation this year, and improving them to the point at which they
could be man rated would significantly lower the insurance premium which
must be paid for the launch of communication satellites. Kevin Neifert from
Boeing told me after the briefing that initial aerodynamic studies had
indicated no obstacles to front mounting the Mini-Shuttle on a heavy EELV
stack of 3 cores.
The Mini-Shuttle could reduce the cost of delivering men to the
International Space Station, and to replace the Shuttle for unmanned payload
delivery to the Station an autonomous docking system is currently under
development by the SLI team for use with unmanned modules launched by the
Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launchers.
THE FUTURE OF THE SHUTTLE
One of the most interesting concepts under study by the SLI group is the use
of liquid fueled fly-back boosters with a shuttle derivative. When the EELVs
were first set under development it was anticipated that the Venture Star
RLV would be operational by 2005. Thus no consideration was given to
developing either the Atlas 5 or the Delta 4 as a re-usable liquid fueled
booster for use with the shuttle, and no consideration was given to equiping
either of them with drogue parachutes and folding wings for their own
individual re-use in commercial settings.
NASA's earlier indications that it intended to end Shuttle operations by
2012 met with fierce Congressional "scepticism", and it is currently being
anticipated that the Shuttle will now remain operational until the year
2020. Given the current political state, the development of a liquid
fly-back booster for use with either the Shuttle or Mini-Shuttle, as well as
with commercial payloads, presents itself as a viable alternative for NASA's
future course of action. I don't know if drogue chute/folding wing
technologies can be adopted for use with the Atlas 5 or Delta 4; my guess is
that if NASA chooses to go this route, a separate stage would be developed
by a joint industry team.
Well, Benny, That's it for now -
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