NSS Congratulates SpaceX Team — Calls on Congress to Fully Fund Commercial Crew & Space Technology

Washington, DC-June 1 – The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team on the Dragon spacecraft’s historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and its safe return to Earth yesterday.

“The mission was truly spectacular and marks a watershed moment in space history – proving that the commercial sector can successfully service the ISS,” said NSS Executive Director Paul E. Damphousse. “We were especially fortunate to celebrate the Dragon’s grappling at ISS on Friday morning with NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., who was at that very moment addressing an audience of nearly one thousand at NSS’s recent International Space Development Conference (ISDC).”

ISDC, the National Space Society’s annual conference, wrapped up in Washington, DC earlier this week. Administrator Bolden was delivering the opening keynote speech just as Dragon approached and then berthed at the ISS.

The safe return of Dragon and the advancement of commercial cargo and crew programs mark true milestones on the path to enabling a space-faring civilization. NASA’s efforts to advance space technology will also have a significant impact: technologies such as cryogenic propellant storage and transfer (CPST), solar electric propulsion (SEP), and advanced robotics are “mission-multipliers,” and are but a few examples being advanced by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist. These efforts will help to enable robust space operations while providing dramatic reductions in overall costs.

The National Space Society recognizes that there is still much to be done, and maintains that strong leadership in government will be critical going forward. In this context, NSS calls on the Senate to fully fund the commercial crew development program and space technology lines of the NASA budget as proposed in the President’s budget request earlier this year, removing the proposed cuts made by the House in May. While NSS acknowledges the difficult budgetary parameters under which Congress must work, we strongly encourage both the Senate and the House to accede to the President’s FY2013 budget request for both commercial crew and space technology during conference later this year.

“The successful conclusion of SpaceX’s COTS-2/3 missions has demonstrated that the commercial sector is now ready to move forward with increased responsibility for servicing ISS, including the development of crew transport capability,” Damphousse said. “If funded and executed correctly, the commercial crew program will end our sole reliance on foreign providers and bring that capability – and the jobs associated with it – back home. We should be preserving funding for these commercial and space technology programs – which are producing tangible successes today, and will continue to do so in the near-term and beyond – rather than shifting it to already well-funded programs that may be years away from providing results.”

About the National Space Society: NSS is an independent, educational, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. Founded when the National Space Institute and the L5 Society merged in 1987, NSS is widely acknowledged as the preeminent citizen’s voice on space. NSS has over 10,000 members and supporters, and over 50 chapters in the United States and around the world. The society publishes Ad Astra magazine, an award-winning periodical chronicling the most important developments in space. To learn more, visit www.nss.org.

Lagrange Point

In the vicinity of two bodies in space that orbit each other lie five Lagrange points, named after Joseph-Louis Lagrange, the French / Italian mathematician (1736-1813). Lagrange made major contributions to various branches of mathematics, and discovered the Lagrange points in 1772 while working on the three body problem, first described by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687.

The diagram at the left shows the location of the five points. The Earth-Moon system has five Lagrange points, commonly labeled EML-n, and the Sun-Earth system has five points, labeled SEL-n:

  • L-1 is, as one might suspect, located between the two bodies, where the gravitational pull of each body equals the other. This point is unstable. That is, if a satellite deviates in any way from the point, it will fall into the gravity well of one or the other bodies. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is located at SEL-1 in a Halo Orbit.
  • L-2 is beyond the smaller body, where the combined gravitational pull of the two bodies balances the centrifugal force of the satellite. Satellites currently at SEL-2 include the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, the Planck space observatory and Herschel Space Observatory. L-2 is also an unstable point, and all three satellites occupy Lissajous orbits around the Lagrange point
  • L-3 lies beyond the larger body away from the smaller body. SEL-3 is on the other side of the Sun from the Earth.
  • L-4 lies at the corner of an equilateral triangle whose base is between the two bodies, ahead of the direction of the orbit of the smaller body. The Trojan asteroids occupy SJL-4 and SJL-5 of the Sun-Jupiter system. Both L-4 and L-5 are stable, as shown by the gravity contours in the diagram.
  • L-5 lies at the corner of an equilateral triangle whose base is between the two bodies, behind the direction of the orbit of the smaller body. EML-4 and EML-5 were popularized by G. K. Oneill as places to build human space colonies. This was the impetus for the founding of the L5 Society.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on Lagrange points in space.

Lagrange Points

Image from notes by Neil J. Cornish from the NASA WMAP Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe web site.