Friday, February 5, 2010

Declaration of Independence, Remixed...

Pluto Changes...

The Hubble telescope has captured the most detailed images of Pluto ever taken.  There are plenty of mysteries for the scientists to dig into, and some interesting and heretofore unknwn (apparent) seasonal changes discovered.

This reminds me of an interesting comment I saw in an interview I read the other day.  An unnamed engineer at NASA (one of the “renegades” who's trying to change NASA's course) asserted that for the cost of the manned Hubble repair missions we could have launched 5 more advanced space telescopes.

I have no way to verify that assertion, but it gave me an idea that I'm pretty certain is accurate.  The idea is based on the easily observable fact that most of the cost of a mission like the Hubble telescope is in developement: the design of the instruments and the infrastructure on Earth to support the mission.  Actually constructing and launching the mission isn't free, but it's a much lower cost than the development.

So if we're going to develop the next generation Hubble, why build just one?  Why not build, say, five of the things – and launch them a couple of years apart.  By doing this we'd have a relatively long-lived project, reusing the same development and Earth-bound infrastructure.  The years between launches would provide time to “tweak” the design to handle issues raised by earlier missions.

It strikes me that this is very similar to what the U.S. Navy does with ships and boats.  The first ship or boat of any particular class (such as the Los Angeles class of submarines) is followed by some number of almost-but-not-quite identical sister ships or boats – with the design tweaked to fix issues found in the earlier examples, or to incorporate improved technology.  But basically the design is the same, only the details change.

Why not for our unmanned robot space explorers as well?