US - Russian space research results from conference this week
November 14, 1997
"The meeting was a great success," declared Russian Academician Vladimir Utkin, chairman of the Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) which oversees these projects. In concurrent sessions, Russian scientists, usually speaking through interpreters, described their research results and a number of proposals for work using the International Space Station.
"Our main achievement was that we experienced a desire always to strive to overcome those [interpreting] difficulties and that's why we achieved agreements that outline the final tasks of all the sessions," Utkin said. The tasks that lie ahead include building a safe, operational space station - the Russian Space Agency will provide more than a third of the International Space Station's modules, including control modules crucial to initial activities - and then "striving to put our creativity together" in using the station.
Atop that, Utkin said, the "new profession for some of you is marketing" to persuade colleagues and the public that the station is worthwhile.
In that vein, Dr. Arnauld Nicogossian, NASA associate administrator for life and microgravity sciences, said that research reviewed this week provides much of that justification.
"Our job is not finished," Nicogossian said. "We have to let the world know what we accomplished."
Among the many research projects reviewed at this week's meeting were:
Microgravity materials sciences:
The scientists involved in this group recommended that research focus on behavior and characteristics of molten materials under microgravity and under 1-g, that the low-g environment of space be characterized with respect to local accelerations, and that more work be done on fundamental studies of low-temperature physical phenomena.
While several of these areas are addressed in current NASA activities (such as the upcoming USMP-4 mission), Alexander noted that, "They've got a 10-year jump on us in some areas because they've been working the theoretical aspects more than we have."
Space biology and medicine:
In that area, Collier said that more research is needed in human factors so that mission planners can do a better job of anticipating possible crew mistakes and preventing them. The Russian approach to preparing for space walks is of interest since cosmonauts can be ready with half an hour of prebreathing as compared to the 12 hours it takes U.S. astronauts (prebreathing is necessary to reduce nitrogen in the blood and reduce the chances of decompression sickness). Further, Russia's "Penguin" suit - used to reverse some effects of fluid shifts to the upper body - could be benefit some stroke victims.
Plasma and Solar physics:
Another scientist proposed deploying a cluster of small satellites to fly in formation near the station and measure its effects on the local plasma environment. The data would be relayed through the station rather than relying on ground tracking stations.
Earth resources and remote sensing:
"It's important that scientists from all countries be able to exchange data in order to make optimum use of their results," Miller said of the large sets of data collected by many different satellites and instruments over the years. Often these are analyzed with software which is specialized for one program or computer system.
The subcommittee recommended that STAC ask the Gore - Chernomyrdin Commission to give ocean remote sensing a higher level of importance. The subcommittee also recommended further development of bilateral programs on sensing ocean color and atmospheric chemistry, and considering joint work on Doppler wind Lidar (laser radar, an area when Marshall is working).
(continued from previous column) Dr. Alexander Boyarchuk, director of the Institute for Astronomy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, described the Gammascope, a wide-field gamma-ray monitor. It would comprise six pentagons (the top half of a dodecahedron) with pinholes, and an array of detectors a short distance behind. This would act as a pinhole camera to monitor the entire sky for gamma ray sources in the 0.05 to 1.0 MeV range.
Another suggestion by this subcommittee is to assemble and check out spacecraft for exploring the planets. Boyarchuk noted that the solar power arrays for electric propulsion are large and fragile; supporting them adds weight when launched. Fragile arrays could be assembled at the station, and then the spacecraft test fired, before embarking on a long planetary mission, he said.
Space power and propulsion:
In a different area, Cohen noted that stricter controls on how spacecraft thrusters fire can help mitigate contamination problems around the station. Because fuel and oxidizer valves usually open and close slightly out of step, a thruster typically will emit droplets of unburned fuel or oxidizer. If the thruster is aimed at the space station to slow a spacecraft that is docking, the droplets could contaminate or corrode optical or other sensitive surfaces. Better control on valves, and possibly screens on the exit nozzles to capture droplets, could reduce the problem.