NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) is designed to encourage private investment in space transportation. Currently, no privately developed rocket is capable of meeting NASA’s needs, but the agency is pursuing agreements for capability demonstrations and hopes to find a contractor for ISS resupply by 2010.
Applications of GPS technology have revolutionized air traffic control, shifting it from radar-based tools to more accurate and cost-effective systems using satellite technologies. In the United States, the airspace tracking system is called the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system.
Satellite systems also are essential for communication between management and remote manufacturing facilities. By outsourcing part of the manufacturing process, companies can reduce labor costs but often must cope with limited terrestrial infrastructure. Satellites provide a cost-effective method of retaining communications infrastructure without running fiber from the nearest population center.
Personal navigation systems are a quickly growing application of GPS for the consumer market. In-vehicle navigation systems can be purchased as an integral component of the car’s systems or an autonomous dashboard navigation unit.
Satellite data communications and GPS play a crucial role in logistics. GPS and fleet tracking enable timely and dependable deliveries to reduce the amount of capital manufacturers have tied up in inventory. While this “lean” thinking is not new, the technologies that support these business methods are evolving and continue to leverage space assets.
Civil space programs have major science directorates that guide programmatic decisions. Divisions for Solar System Exploration, Structure & Evolution of the Universe, and Astronomical Search for Origins are all found in NASA’s $## billion 2005 space science budget.
Low cost launchers, like SpaceX’s Falcon family, could have a significant impact on scientific missions, which typically rely on scarce public funds. Payloads from universities and research labs often “piggy back” on the launch of commercial satellites.
Space-based platforms provide unique opportunities for microgravity research and international scientific cooperation. The ISS, the space shuttles, Skylab, Russia’s Mir Space Station and Soyuz, and the Chinese Shenzhou have enabled microgravity research.
In 2005, NOAA requested $## million for scientific research to provide funding for internal research laboratories and partnerships with academia. In addition to gathering data through Earth observation satellites, NOAA research projects use space systems for communication and navigation such as the joint NOAA/NASA Altair Unmanned Aircraft System.
Telescopes placed in space have greater capabilities than those located on the ground. Light received by telescopes in Earth orbit does not travel through the atmosphere (which causes the characteristic “twinkle” in stars). Orbital telescopes are protected from vibrations and weather.