Man's future in space depends on investment these days – space professor

Modern space exploration is more about commerce than national prestige, and getting funding means drawing a convincing picture of future profits to the investor, said Alan Smith from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in London.

­Alan Smith heads the British part of the Russia-UK joint TwinSat Project that is working on the construction of next-generation satellites to observe and monitor seismic activity on Earth, such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

“The TwinSat Project would involve two spacecrafts which would orbit the Earth about 400 kilometers apart and with instrumentation on board that would study the ionosphere from above,”
Alan Smith explains.

“What we are looking for are signatures in the ionosphere which are precursors to earthquake phenomena and volcanic eruption phenomena,” all of them necessary for an earthquake prediction programme.

A special website will be set up to predict the probability of earthquakes around the world. Predictions could be made up to 10 days before the actual disaster, so when the alert for a certain region goes red, the authorities will have time to prepare and do whatever they can to properly act when it happens.

“We’ll have less collateral damage, less loss of life,”
Alan Smith says.

The launch of the satellites is expected in about 2015 and their mission will last three years.

The Russian partners were chosen to develop the system because “Russians have a huge heritage of space activities” and have specialists for whom such work is “their culture and way of life,” which makes them “a very credible partner”.

Alan Smith says that modern day space exploration is more commercial than in the 1980’s and that puts certain limits on it, because such projects as the expedition to Mars demand more political will in the first place.

“If we decided to go to Mars tomorrow – we could be there in 10 years. It is a matter of political determination, just like going to the Moon.”

Today, however, politics affects pure science less because “These days it is not about national prestige but about national economics,” Alan Smith concluded.

That is why scientists are trying to encourage public interest because “without public interest we are not going to get the funding.”

“We need to be relevant; we need to show how going to Mars benefits the nation that is going there.”

Alan Smith expressed the opinion that space tourism will soon become much more affordable, but sub-orbital flights will become most needed as a means for intercontinental travel, as “it is not so much a matter of technical feasibility – it is whether or not you get the investment.”