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Photonics Helps Space Designers Battle Costs

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Aaron J. Hand, Senior Editor/Technology

Space agencies around the world are looking for ways to do more with less. In the US, NASA has spent the past few years emphasizing smaller, faster, cheaper missions. Since taking over as the agencyis director in 1992, Daniel Goldin has pushed managers to cut back, and has developed a policy that axes any mission spilling more than 15 percent over budget.
With shrinking or stagnant space budgets, agencies in other parts of the world are developing similar programs. Most of its member states strapped for cash, the European Space Agency has come up with its own version of faster, simpler missions. Japanis National Space Development Agency has cut back on budgets for several satellite programs in a long-term effort to bring costs down by 20 percent.
But it canit all be about the bottom line. Money or no money, space agencies are struggling to keep the missions meaningful, explore new realms, and keep a new generation interested in scientific endeavors.
And sometimes it takes money to save money. Space agencies are spending more on advanced technologies, hoping that they will show the way to smaller (and significantly cheaper) spacecraft in the long run. Photonics n a high-tech area often skipped over because of its high costs n is beginning to gain serious recognition as an enabling technology. While such technologies as optical communications and remote sensing must still prove that they are cost-effective alternatives, they are achieving this like never before.

Photonics Spectra
Jun 1998

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