Keeping space projects affordable was currently the key challenge for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and probably most other space agencies in the world, Nasa administrator Charles Bolden said at the International Astronautical Congress, in Cape Town, on Monday.
Addressing the gathering together with the heads of a number of international space agencies, Bolden said that while the US government remained supportive of the space programme, more value was being demanded for the money spent.
“The public sector is demanding that we produce affordable systems with very sound plans that are sustainable and that will last over multiple administrations in the United States,” said Bolden.
The only way to achieve this, in Bolden’s opinion, was through international cooperation. “It’s important for as many nations as possible to join in the exploration effort. No one nation is going to be able to do the things that we all want to do alone, so it’s very important for every nation to participate.”
He echoed these sentiments even when asked about whether China’s participation in the space sector is a threat to the US, though he confirmed that Nasa was currently prohibited by law from being involved in bilateral relationships with China.
According to Bolden, cooperation would also be extended to commercial entities and he predicted that, within months, and not years, private companies would be carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
He said that already two companies, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, were preparing to fly their final demonstration missions before they were cleared to deliver cargo to the ISS.
With Russia still being a dominant force in the space industry, having about 40% of all space launches, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Vladimir Popovkin, also confirmed that international cooperation was vital. “Current large space exploration programmes are unthinkable without broader international cooperation.”
Russia already had numerous cooperative programmes with many other countries for which it carried out space launches. But it has experienced some problems during the last year in meeting its obligations. “Some failures have shown us again that space activities are very technologically advanced and difficult activities, so we must be very accurate and work carefully during the preflight preparations phase and launch phase,” he said.
While Nasa, the Russian Federal Space Agency and the European Space Agency were still looking at programmes of space exploration, including manned missions to Mars, the focus of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) had now turned to using its space programme for launching satellites for disaster management and environmental observation.
According to Jaxa president Keiji Tachikawa the importance of space exploration and international cooperation in this area became important in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan. “Satellite images of the affected areas from many organisations through international cooperation frameworks . . . were critical for our countermeasures after the earthquake,” said Tachikawa.
Similarly, India was using its space programme for environmental efforts and as a developing country is especially looking at using its programme to promote societal benefits. One of India’s latest satellite projects, in which is involved with Jaxa and Nasa, would be collecting data on cloud formation and precipitation in the tropics which should contribute to learning more about climate change.
The vice chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation, Dr Ranganath Navalgund, said that it was intended that the data would become freely available to the international community after the initial phase of the project of approximately nine months.
“It will be very important to have this particular data set in terms of climate change, as well as societal benefits of many of the countries along the tropics,” said Navalgund.