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What can we do for NASA?

There's been alot of scuttlebut and i'd rather look at this differntly.
Can we say or do anything positive in light of the shuttle disaster?

First, i want to remind folks of what the past-president of AMSAT-NA was

   I want to urge all connected with AMSAT not to speculate publicly (That
   includes on the Internet.) regarding what might have happened and what steps
   should be taken in the future.  Some may take whatever is said by a person
   connected with an organization like AMSAT, or is placed on an AMSAT facility
   such as BB, as carrying some kind of specialized or "inside" knowledge.
   This could turn out to be very damaging to our future activities.

							 -- Bill Tynan, W3XO

There will be numerous panels with access to much better data and expertise
than we have.  So let's leave the conclusions to them, and not discuss what
might have gone wrong here (with the Shuttle, NASA or the United States
government).  What is clear, is that politics, in general, is off-topic on
this mailing list and to be discussed elsewhere.

Rather than fixating on the negative, how about looking at what we might
do to help in the future?  Being amateurs, we're in a position to explore
ideas than NASA may not have the time or money to look into.  What could
we do?

So i'll toss out an idea as an example of what i'm talking about.  One
thing that NASA is not able to do, is to inspect the Shuttle once it is
in space.  (Granted that they might not be able to do anything about it
now, but that could change.)  We, as amateurs, have built satellites 
which are able to take pictures of things from space.  Could we make a 
microsat or picosat which could be hand-launched from the shuttle bay 
(or otherwise be gently released) and inspect the shuttle in orbit?

An interesting problem, but alas, there's one constraint that might make
it very difficult.  In general, we're not allowed to use anything that
might be toxic or under pressure on the shuttle.  So then, how could a
microsat or picosat be self-propelled.  Ion drive??

But wait, maybe this isn't such a problem.  I remember that one of the
things that the Shuttle did when it has visited the Internation Space
Station was to fly around it and take pictures of it.  So the Shuttle 
was inspecting the ISS.  That's some pretty fancy maneuvering and almost
certainly under computer control.  If it can fly around the ISS, maybe
it can manuever well enough around some arbitrary point in orbit.

Having the microsat or picosat maneuver around the Shuttle would not only
require non-toxic propulsion, it would also require rather sophisticated 
software and a fairly powerful computer.  So rather than moving a camera
around the space shuttle, how about moving the space shuttle around a

Now we have a project we might be able to handle.  All we have to do is
build a satellite with a camera that we can keep pointed in a known
direction and send pictures back to Earth.  That we might be able to do
with a gravity gradient boom.  We're now in a relatively known place in
space and pointing in a known direction in space, albeit probably with
some spin in the same axis as the boom.  Perhaps gyroscope might cure 
that??  Or maybe the camera is fast enough that it doesn't matter.

So now the Shuttle positions itself to get wide-angle views of itself.  
It is accurate enough to dock with the Space Station, so if it knows the
microsat's location well enough and finds anything abnormal, the Shuttle
could manuever itself into a position that would give the microsat's
camera a closer look at the area of concern.  

While a GPS receiver could give reasonably accurate positioning information 
for a wide-angle view, perhaps something else might be needed for closer 
manuevering.  Or perhaps the distant images themselves could provide enough
information to give adequate location information for a close-up.  (Someone
else here probably understands the mechanics and mathematics of this to draw
some better conclusions.)

Suppose we arrange the camera to point down the gravity boom at the Earth.
When it's done with its primary mission of inspecting the Shuttle, if it
is equipped with solar cells then for the rest of its life, it can be
taking pictures of Earth!  It might also have a secondary mission of being
a APRS satellite or if space permitted, a voice transponder.

We'd get a launch and NASA could find out if this is a feasible way of
inspecting a Shuttle in orbit.  It might also be a real-life application
of GPS data in orbit.  It's not a great orbit, but the publicity value
would be fantastic if it succeeded.

So this is just one crazy idea and my challenge to you is to come up with
a better one!  What can we do for the space program?

				-- KD6PAG
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