An Irish Space Programme and an Irish Base on the Moon! What do you mean we spent the money already? August 10, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
There’s a letter in the Irish Times which, while making what I think is a correct point about the utility of space exploration as characterised by the genuinely remarkable achievement in the most recent NASA mission to Mars, notes the following.
As a final aside, we could have had an Irish space programme and a viable base on the moon with all the associated financial, technological and investment spin-offs for the money that, with a stroke of a minister’s pen, we “invested” in bailing out our failed banks. – Yours, etc,
Back of the envelope calculations?
The EU bailout saw €17.5 bn from the NPRF. Then there’s the ‘loans’ from the EU, IMF and UK/Denmark and Sweden which would account for €67.5 bn. Sundry other costs can be thrown in. So let’s say we had €100bn. What could we do with that? Well the immediate Irish monies would cover the cost of 7 Mars landers and the international ‘loans’ would get us 27 extra landers.
Problems exist. We’d be starting from scratch, unless we imported US, Russian or Chinese expertise (and the latter country’s space programme is instructive being a sort of cautious reprise of the Soviet one. A sensible approach given that that technology is tried and tested) and it would depend upon significant development and testing prior to that of sub-orbital, orbital, and eventually rockets capable of interplanetary range.
So while the unmanned Mars exploration programme could see significant outcomes, perhaps 30 plus landers. Of course we could subcontract a lot of this to the US or others. That would probably shave a considerable amount off the price tag, though whether the US or others would be keen on Irish primacy in Martian exploration is another matter. And 30 does seem… excessive.
But what about a manned programme?
There’s a web page here which suggests that it cost $100bn at 1994 rates to land on the Moon. But even accounting for inflation we wouldn’t necessarily have to follow all the steps. For a start we could double up some of the missions and vehicles, perhaps by moving straight to a three or more person capsule and eschewing either the Mercury or Gemini elements of the program.
Suddenly the Irish space programme is looking entirely achievable.
As for a Moon Base with a tricolour set above or to one side of it. That might be trickier. But, we could do something the US never did and establish an permanent orbiting Moonlab consisting of reconfigured capsule or group of capsules that would operate as a de facto space station. And of course we could do the same in Earth orbit too.
None of this would be wasted money – well a fair bit of it wouldn’t be wasted. That €100bn would provide a genuine stimulus to the Irish economy, would thrust Ireland into the group of space capable nations and might potentially position us better than a faltering US in that area. If we boxed clever we could offer services to other EU states, or link up through ESA to dominate (if only for a short period) the European space programme, such as it is. Worth noting that the annual ESA budget is only €4.02bn so our infusion of monies even if staggered across a decade would amount to near enough twice that sum.
And let’s not worry about the lack of suitable launch facilities on this island (unfortunately positioned somewhat too far from the Equator and therefore incurring an energy cost for rockets launched from here, though I guess with all the extra money we could swallow that cost). ESA is now working on a cooperative basis with the Russian Federal Space Agency and lofting Soyuz-2 launchers from the ESA facilities at Kourou in French Guiana. They’d welcome us I tell you.
Another way forward would be to focus on one aspect of space technology. For example ESA in the 1980s had a programme which sought to develop a space shuttle-lite manned reusable launch vehicle called Hermes. This fell by the wayside after $3bn dollars was spent on it. But why should we let that failure stop us? We’d have loads more than €3bn. Loads.
So, potential outcomes, a Mars exploration programme. Check. Or… a manned space programme to get an Irish citizen to the Moon within the decade (2023 is good for me). Check! Or… working with others to develop a truly reusable low Earth orbit launch vehicle. Check!
All that for near enough the cost of the bailout. Cheap at half the cost. If we’re talking about space programmes.