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Clearstream muddies the European aerospace industry

Most people in the US have not heard about the “Clearstream” scandal that’s currently rocking French politics; I admit I had not until last week, although the controversy has been brewing for weeks. In an article in this week’s issue of The Space Review, Taylor Dinerman provides a capsule summary of the scandal and its ties to the French aerospace industry: one of the key figures was, until recently, a vice president of EADS. Dinerman believes that EADS will get caught up in the controversy, which could have repercussions for launch services provider Arianespace and satellite manufacturer Astrium, as companies and governments outside France may be prompted to review their dealings with EADS “if only to insure that they are not being manipulated for interior French political purposes.” This comes at a time when the European aerospace industry had been performing well, yet “the Clearstream scandal looks to be yet another obstacle to France’s ambitions to make the EU into a first-rate space power.”

A couple other policy-related articles of note in this week’s issue:

  • Christopher Stone makes the case for space-based weapons—not for use against satellites but against terrestrial targets. Given the squeamishness many have towards putting weapons of any kind in space, this proposal is not likely to go anywhere in the foreseeable future, but it’s an interesting argument.
  • Eric Hedman examines why NASA appears unwilling to take major risks, noting the lack of new technology in the current implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration. (Some, of course, have argued that the lack of new technology is a positive, not negative, attribute of the VSE.) He hopes that the COTS program is a sign NASA is willing to take some risks to try and gain “a revolutionary approach to orbital access”.

19 comments to Clearstream muddies the European aerospace industry

  • Stone seems to pussyfoot around just what kinds of weapons he is talking about, eventually alluding to nuclear weapons based in space.

    This is not a good idea. It offers little if any advantage over nuclear weapons based on the ground, and has serious drawbacks. The weapons are more vulnerable, harder to maintain, and more difficult to control. Orbital nuclear weapons would not, on average, have a time-of-flight advantage over terrestrial weapons.

    It might make sense to make orbital beam weapons for surface attack, where TOF and competition with terrestrial basing are not issues.

  • Yorg Reiskoph

    Anyone who works in the space industry in Europe knows how chummy EADS France is with the French government. They all went to the same schools. Follow the histories of the people involved and you will unravel the connections.

  • Nemo

    Eric Hedman examines why NASA appears unwilling to take major risks, noting the lack of new technology in the current implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration. (Some, of course, have argued that the lack of new technology is a positive, not negative, attribute of the VSE.)

    And just like his previous article, he’s rehashing points that NASA watchers have already been discussing for years, if not decades, and fails to add any original insights to the discussion. While he’s still at the point of asking “Is NASA afraid to take risks?”, we’ve for the most part graduated on to “Why can’t NASA distinguish between good risks and bad risks, and how can this situation be improved?”

    Jeff, I assume you’re printing his articles as some sort of running joke? His previous article was “Asking NASA tough questions about the ISS and shuttle”, but most of the “tough questions” were answered in the CAIB report, if he’d bothered to read and comprehend it.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    There are some big problems with Stone’s article. But I’ll start with a little one–he never identifies Gregory Billman or explains where he has written the things that are attributed to him.

    Then there is this:
    “Donald Quarles, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development, believed the Russians unintentionally helped our strategic position by establishing the concept of freedom of international space. He believed that this idea, known today as ‘Sanctuary’ theory, was critical to US intelligence gathering in space. Also, it would alleviate political implications and possible fears of starting a war with the Soviets. Since the end of the Cold War, we have adhered to the policy of freedom of space since our space assets have not been threatened by any other spacefaring nation. This policy, while good intentioned, may be a weakness in the future of American security. Many nations, namely the Chinese and the Russians, have formed separate military space services and have stated their intentions to push out into space and to challenge current American space superiority.”

    This really misstates the issue of “Freedom of Space” and its connection to the “Sanctuary” theory. Freedom of space was really freedom of overflight. It was essentially an extension of American interests in reconnaissance. The proponents of this theory (it was first proposed by U-2 developer Richard Bissell at the CIA) believed that the US needed to establish an international legal regime where it could spy without having its satellites shot at. It was a right to not be harassed in orbit, not a call for keeping space free from weaponry. That is still in America’s interest.

    Those who complain about the “space as sanctuary” theory generally overstate and misstate the argument. It has not been theory that has kept America from deploying space weapons, but physics. They cost too much and offer too few benefits.

    As for Russia and China creating “separate military space services,” that seems to be a relatively benign claim, considering the sheer amount of money that the non-separate American military space service spends. Comparatively speaking, the US far outclasses both Russia and China combined when it comes to the military use of space. Any effort to portray them as threats to U.S. military space dominance requires a lot of context. And it is worth noting that the latest issue of Chinese Military Power appears to have downgraded the Chinese space threat.

    Yes, the Space Commission did call for making the U.S. safe from a “space Pearl Harbor.” But an interesting question to ask is how much the recommendations of the Space Commission have been implemented and why some of them have not been implemented, despite the fact that the chair of the commission has been Secretary of Defense for the past five years.

    The advocacy of replacing terrestrial military forces with an orbital bombardment system makes little sense. The cost per iron on target is immense for space weapons. And how many Air Force generals would be willing to give up their squadrons of F-22′s in favor of satellites?

  • I agree with Mr. Day. It is my understanding that the concepts of space as a sanctuary originated with the United States Air Force when they wanted to launch spy satellites. However, most people miss the key physical (as opposed to political) disadvantage of storing strike weapons in space. An ICBM on the ground has no fixed orbital plane. It can be launched into any plane and thus reach any target within no more than its flight time. Once you place an object into orbit, its plane becomes more-or-less fixed and extremely expensive to change. You have to wait for the Earth to rotate until your target is in the same plane as your orbit, during which time your weapon is fully visible to anyone who might care to try and take a shot at it. This is the key (physical) reason that basing strike weapons in orbit is expensive nonesense.

    – Donald

  • Dwayne A. Day

    Mr. Robertson wrote:
    “It is my understanding that the concepts of space as a sanctuary originated with the United States Air Force when they wanted to launch spy satellites.”

    Actually, no. I think that the “sanctuary” hypothesis can probably be traced to the State Department ca 1960 or so. They wanted to keep weapons out of space and also proposed things like internationalizing spy satellite imagery–in other words, the United States would share its satellite photos with the world. Now these things may sound sort of liberal today, but you really have to put yourself in the context back then. They were in some ways part of the same strategy. The idea was that the United States could demonstrate openness and peaceful intent in order to highlight the closed nature of Soviet society.

    Mr. Robertson wrote:
    “You have to wait for the Earth to rotate until your target is in the same plane as your orbit, during which time your weapon is fully visible to anyone who might care to try and take a shot at it. This is the key (physical) reason that basing strike weapons in orbit is expensive nonesense.”

    This is true. The only way that you can really counter this limitation is by orbiting a very large number of weapons. But that makes targeting and command and control really challenging. How do you track all of those weapons, select the right one, and direct it to the right target? And then you have to wait for the next weapon to move into place. Compare this to a few sorties of bombers and you see the disadvantages. And then there’s a tough question–do you really want to put your nukes in orbit where your adversary could potentially take control of them and bring them down on your head? Those were real issues during the 1960s when this was first considered. Modern command and control (and computers, and encryption) would make this easier, but not easy. And that was with nuclear weapons. Conventional weapons are nowhere near as cost effective as nukes.

    But the biggest problem is the cost. It is not cost-effective to put the weapon in orbit, whereas it is cost effective to keep it on the ground. Stone’s article posits a scenario where space weapons replace terrestrial weapons. Presumably all the fighters and bombers are withdrawn from overseas, brought back to the United States, and sent to the Boneyard. That saves money. But does it really? No, because those fighters and bombers are far more flexible than space weapons, and provide much greater capability for their cost. When the plane returns from its sortie it is refueled, rearmed and sent out again. When the satellite has fired its weapons, it is dead.

    The Air Force has discussed fringe ideas like orbital bombardment for decades. These proposals are not killed by liberal arms control advocates. They’re killed by the accountants in the Pentagon.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    Jeff does not provide a means for commenting on each individual article posted to The Space Review, so this comment is a little off topic, because I want to refer to an article on TSR that is not mentioned in Space Politics.

    Michael Huang’s article on “The Park Hypothesis” is amusing, but I would note that it is essentially a variation of something that I believe Jerry Pournelle (or Larry Niven?) proposed a few decades ago, which was called “the Proxmire effect.” Or alternatively, “the Proxmire hypothesis.” Pournelle joked that it is possible that any sentient race intelligent enough to develop space travel eventually produces the equivalent of Senator Proxmire, who cuts all funding for the program. Thus, the Fermi Paradox is determined by lack of funding.

  • Yes, and like “The Proxmire Effect” it comes across as mean-spirited whining. I mean, if the alien Proxmires/Parks/(insert demonized critic here) are dominant in all alien societies, at all points in their histories, it can only be becasue they’re right. (The idea that the dominant society could ban colonization, without itself colonizing, using self-reproducing machines if not people, is rather silly.) Moreover, imagining that humans would be so exceptional that they would be able to buck this univeral trend would be the height of shoddy SF storytelling (unless you like highly implausible humans-uber-alles stories.)

    More troublingly, this point of view misrepresents Parks’ position. I am sure Park is not claiming that in, say, 1000 years, human space travel will not make sense. He is claiming it doesn’t make sense now, so don’t spend money on it now. This is a context-dependent assessment, and there’s no reason to caricature it as a blind, unthinking, perpetual bias.

  • Human spaceflight is eminently practical right now. We do it, don’t we? Now, whether it is affordable, or cost effective, or whatever, are different questions — but it demonstrably _is_ practical.

    A more important question is, if you don’t try to sail the seas in dugout logs, will you ever learn to construct a supertanker? Or, can you construct a supertanker without first gaining the experience you learned sailing in dugout logs? Many people arguing that human spaceflight is not “practical” seem to be arguing that you wait until you can build a supertanker to do anything at all. That’s silly: you learn by doing. I argue that before you can build a supertanker and successfully sail her, you’ve got to work through the learning curve from dugout logs, to sailing ships, to your supertanker and all the steps in between. Before you can build an interplanetary spaceship to deliver crews and supplies to Mars, you’ve got to play around with chemical rockets, build primitive bases in LEO (Mir), do quick dashes to Earth’s moon (Apollo), and learn all the other things you need to learn to work effectively in space.

    To put it in terms that planetary scientists can understand, what you are arguing is like suggesting that you do no planetary spacecraft until you can build and send Cassini — all with no experience from prior generations of simpler spacecraft.

    If you did that, then yes indeed, human and automated spaceflight alike would not be “practical” for at least a thousand years.

    – Donald

  • Human spaceflight is eminently practical right now. We do it, don’t we?

    A nonsense argument. This would mean that any government program, however ill-conceived, is by definition ‘practical’.

    A more important question is, if you don’t try to sail the seas in dugout logs, will you ever learn to construct a supertanker?

    The implication here is that this linear step has to be taken now. But this is also nonsense. Progress can be made in other areas that will ‘spin on’ to space, even if human spaceflight is otherwise abandoned for now. We didn’t start flying rockets because of a space program stretching back to the dawn of history; we did it after capabilities were developed for non-space applications that made building rockets possible. The most obvious change in the future will be the general improvement in the efficiency of manufacturing and engineering with increasing automation. This will continue to occur even if NASA is axed tomorrow.

  • Michael Huang’s article on “The Park Hypothesis” is amusing, but I would note that it is essentially a variation of something that I believe Jerry Pournelle (or Larry Niven?) proposed a few decades ago, which was called “the Proxmire effect.”

    Thanks for the heads-up, Dwayne. I wasn’t aware of the Proxmire effect.

    The same topic is also covered by the book If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens… Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi’s Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb. “Solution 14: They Stay at Home…” says:

    One of the most thrilling events of my childhood happened on 20 July 1969. My father woke me to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon. I guess most people of my age felt the same awe when they saw Apollo 11 touch down. More than thirty years later, we lack the ready capability — and motivation — to repeat the venture. Since Gene Cernan shook the lunar dust from his boots in 1972, no one has set foot on the Moon, and there are no definite plans for anyone to do so. Some space enthusiasts continue to do valuable work on establishing the factors needed for a manned trip to Mars, but such a trip is unlikely to happen soon. An assumption shared by many, including myself, is that intelligent species like ours will inevitably expand into space — so why are we not out there? Perhaps the assumption is wrong. Perhaps an unfortunate mixture of apathy and economics means ETCs stay at home; maybe that is the sad solution to the Fermi paradox.

    It’s an interesting book, with a controversial conclusion (Solution 50). I won’t spoil it here!

  • Yes, and like “The Proxmire Effect” it comes across as mean-spirited whining.

    Please insert tongue in cheek now.

    I mean, if the alien Proxmires/Parks/(insert demonized critic here) are dominant in all alien societies, at all points in their histories, it can only be becasue they’re right.

    Well, it means they’re really really persuasive. The dominance or popularity of a particular set of beliefs doesn’t necessarily make it right.

    (The idea that the dominant society could ban colonization, without itself colonizing, using self-reproducing machines if not people, is rather silly.)

    Robotic weapons would satisfy the robots-only space policy and enforce the ban on colonization. And they’ll look cool.

    Moreover, imagining that humans would be so exceptional that they would be able to buck this univeral trend would be the height of shoddy SF storytelling (unless you like highly implausible humans-uber-alles stories.)

    Humans are doing a good job being exceptional here on Earth. Maybe we’ll be exceptional in space too. And look cool.

    More troublingly, this point of view misrepresents Parks’ position. I am sure Park is not claiming that in, say, 1000 years, human space travel will not make sense. He is claiming it doesn’t make sense now, so don’t spend money on it now. This is a context-dependent assessment, and there’s no reason to caricature it as a blind, unthinking, perpetual bias.

    I don’t know. I don’t think context-dependent assessment is Bob Park’s strong suit.

    But if you could give Bob a statement like “Human spaceflight is bad in the past and the present, but it’ll be good in the future”, and get him to sign it… that’ll be… really… cool.

  • Paul, while your second statement is technically true, it ignores a number of other factors. We, as a civilization, probably do not have infinite time to figure this out. More significantly, you ignore the side benefits of human spaceflight. The famous “Earthrise” photo taken by the Apollo-8 astronauts is often credited with creating the environmental movement. While I think that is a gross simplification, what people see and experience directly in orbit does feed back into our wider civilization, probably for a net improvement. The one consistant statement from almost every astronaut and tourist so far is that watching Earth out of the Space Station windows has a dramatic emotional effect on them. That fact alone is very important.

    I’m sure that you will argue that this photo, and the others, could have been taken by a robot. Some of it could — indeed, one of the Lunar Orbiters took a similar photo, and certainly, I expect the lovely photos from Saturn to have an impact. Nonetheless, it remains true that the singular photo that has had the greatest impact on our culture was taken by a very human man who hadn’t shaved in a week with a handheld camera out of a porthole window.

    I believe that is no accident. Personal experience counts in a way no amount of watching Mars over what amounts to television can ever duplicate.

    – Donald

  • We, as a civilization, probably do not have infinite time to figure this out.

    Of course we don’t have ‘infinite’ time. On the other hand, there’s no obvious reason why we don’t have lots of time.

    More significantly, you ignore the side benefits of human spaceflight. The famous “Earthrise” photo taken by the Apollo-8 astronauts is often credited with creating the environmental movement.

    It’s incredible that a seemingly intelligent person like yourself can actually make yourself believe that. It’s self-serving delusional bullshit.

    Environmentalism came about because of perceived damage to the local environment. Dead rivers, air that damaged the lungs, thousands dead in smogs in Britain, etc. It started well before the ‘Earthrise’ picture. I am sure you will find no documentation that this picture served any significant role in the founding or propagation of the environmental movement.

  • Paul: Quoting myself While I think that is a gross simplification, I certainly concede that there were many, many inputs into creating the environmental movement. However, your statement just as gross an oversimplification. No one who lived through the period could doubt that photo was a very important influence.

    Even in the unlikely event that you are entirely correct, the wider point is still valid. The Apollo-16 astronauts were aware the instant they looked out their windows that there was something wrong with what the scientists expected for their site based on remote observation. It took them a while, but they figured out what what it was, correctly, on site before returning to Earth. There are repeated references in the Apollo record to how beautiful the astronauts found their sites. These people came back and shared their experience with the wider society. (I recall that, when I was a child, just about every one of my friends had that wall paper with the astronauts against the lunar mountains on their walls.)

    Do you hike in the wilderness, or only watch it on Television? If your answer to the first question is yes, than why? It costs far more. There is no measurable benefit. Most people don’t bother. But, many, many people expend vast resources doing just that. Why? This experience causes some of them to fight tooth and nail for the retention of those natural places. Why?

    The answers to those questions are why you need human spaceflight, and why you need it at all times when it is possible, not only when it is cheap-and-easy.

    I find it incredible that a seemingly intelligent person like yourself can actually make yourself believe that watching the lunar or Martian surface on television can possibly have even a tiny fraction of the value of sending someone there to look at it themselves and report back. That large numbers of supposed “scientists” have bought into this absurdity is one of the great intellectual failings of our age.

    – Donald

  • No one who lived through the period could doubt that photo was a very important influence.

    Well, I lived through that time, and I do not remember that photo playing any significant role. My direct experience of the pollution of the time, however, is still a strong memory.

    The laws that were passed, from the early 1960s (well before Apollo 8) and onwards focused on local pollution, not global issues. This is true to this day in the US — we strictly control NOx, SOx, hydrocarbons, CO, but have no laws limited CO2 emissions. Judging by the results, that ‘Earth as a Whole’ picture seems to not caused actions compatible with its ostensible message. This leads one to doubt that it had much effect at all.

    If it is so all-fired important, you could surely point to web pages on the history of the environmental movement (or better, books) that document the importance of this photo. I do not see any such documentation. Indeed, the only place I have seen this photo mentioned is in the writings of space program apologists. Sorry, that’s not my flavor of Kool Aid.

  • Well, Paul, I suggest you look a little harder.

    The first hit from a Google search on “Apollo 8 environmental movement”

    http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/eh/9.3/maher.html

    The third hit,

    http://history.acusd.edu/gen/nature/environ5.html

    From no less an authority than the EPA,

    http://www.epa.gov/superfund/action/20years/ch1pg1.htm

    And so on. While none of these, of course, prove that I am right, they do prove that I am not isolated in my opinion. I would respectfully suggest that you closely examine the values you are an apologist for.

    – Donald

  • COTSadvocate

    Nemo said:

    {we’ve for the most part graduated on to “Why can’t NASA distinguish between good risks and bad risks, and how can this situation be improved?”}

    I have to agree with Nemo that this is the REAL question.

    Free enterprise capitalism has some real answers, which may or may not apply to the decisions that NASA needs to make.

    Anybody here who thinks that venture capitalists (or professional angel investors) “like risk” does not understand them.

    They hate taking irrational and unnecessary risk, which they avoid like the plague. Meanwhile they have figured out how to manage the risks they are willing to take, which can look quite substantical to the novice who does not understand their business. However, good investors generally have a proven method (measured by ROI) to reducing to the risks to the “good risks”.

    IMO, NASA still has not figured out how to manage or assess risk. By the way that Nemo made his statment, I am guessing he agrees.

    Neither the VSE (or one subpart of that, COTS) changes my opinion. (Do you really believe a government bureaucracy knows how assess which COTS competitors are more or less risky from a business perspective? Do you really believe NASA knows how to assess the business or investment risk among the competitors?

    If so, I have a bridge to sell you.

    In the meantime, I really hope COTS succeeds. The future of national space policy (and our future in space) depends on its success.

    But the signals are that NASA will pick the most risky companies to give contracts to, increasing the odds that they will fail. While we might think this is acceptable, and say so when it happens, look for the NASA bureaucracy to say “You commercial guys had your chance, and you failed. Don’t let the door hit you in the *ss.”

    Remember what happened on X-33.

    This community put in a huge amount of effort to sell x-vehicles, and helped fund a $900M program for NASA. NASA then picked the MOST technically risky approach of the 3 alternatives. It failed.

    NASA then said the lesson that NASA learned was that we did not have good enough technology yet. The real lesson is that the NASA culture designed the X-33 program poorly, and then chose the highest risk solution company, substantially increasing the likelihood of failure.

    I think Nemo’s point is right on.

    - COTSadvocate

  • Al Fansome

    I agree with COTSadvocate.

    NASA probably will blame the commercial space industry (and its advocates) if COTS fails. NASA will probably do everything it can to avoid accepting responsibility, and use this as a reason to kill off similar initiatives to use commercial approaches. Whether they get away with it depends on who the next NASA Administrator is (and who is in the White House).

    BTW, one of the market-based solutions, which is used by professional investors to manage risk, is to create a portfolio of investments. This usually means spreading the investments from a single fund to 10 or more separate investments.

    Contrast this with COTS. NASA is probably going to give COTS funds to two (2) companies.

    The solution?

    Add another couple billion dollars to COTS, which would create a half-dozen or more COTS winners. RESULT: We would have a real diversified portfolio to manage risk. It would become highly likely that at least one of them will succeed, and succeed in a spectacular fashion.

    Where would NASA get the money?

    Guess how much money NASA plans to spend to send the CEV to space station by 2014?

    There is enough funding available if we make the decision *now* that the CEV will NOT go to the ISS. This will 1) allow us to simplify the CEV, and 2) allow us to delay both CEV and CLV to a schedule that is more in line with CaLV, since it is no longer urgent that CEV/CLV fly ASAP.

    All we need to do is to make the decision *now* that COTS (and free enterprise) is the best (and right) way for the United States (the world’s economic powerhouse because of capitalism) to minimize the gap in U.S. government human spaceflight,

    - Al