Subject: : Milstar becomes space debris -- STOP CASSINI #117
Date: May 2nd, 1999
Time Frame: There are 53 days left until the flyby of Venus, 7 weeks before the flyby of Earth.
What's the difference between NASA's Titan's and the Titanic?
The latter could only fail once.
On Friday, April 30th, 1999, a rocket carrying a military communications satellite known as a "Milstar" failed to achieve proper orbit. That's $1.23 billion dollars lost to a "Cold War" that supposedly ended years ago. That's three Titan IV launch failures in a row.
Actually, the Titan IVA itself is not being blamed specifically this time, because it was the Centaur upper stage which failed by firing three times as planned, but too soon. Possibly a programming problem? The thing about programming, is that a seemingly little error can cause catastrophic failure. I wonder what happened?
The Centaur is the same type of upper stage as was used on Cassini.
On page 2-42 of NASA's 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission is this statement: "Crew safety guidelines prohibit the use of the powerful Centaur upper stage in the Shuttle." Clearly, using the Centaur for Cassini was nothing less than insane. Perhaps using it at all isn't so smart either.
We now have new space debris which is liable to be hit by other space debris, as it descends back to Earth.
If this mission contains a plutonium power source or plutonium heater units (known as RHUs) -- and there is no way to know if it does or it doesn't because it's a secret military mission -- then it is possible that when the inevitable reentry occurs, perhaps decades from now, the so-called "containment system" for the plutonium would have become brittle and utterly ineffective. The orbit of the stranded bird is highly elliptical, about 460 miles high right now at the lowest altitude, and 3,100 miles high at its highest altitude. At just 460 miles, a solar flare can and does sometimes actually raise the upper reaches of the atmosphere out that far -- inducing drag on the "Milstar", possibly heating it up to an explosive temperature -- and slowing it down, speeding the busted bird's descent to Earth.
If it had a plutonium power source -- recalling that military uses of plutonium are the whole reason the civilian plutonium power system exists -- then we have to wonder about the containment system's capabilities over time!
NASA, in fact, is quite explicit about this problem. They had this to say (from page 4-104, 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission):
"With respect to the long-term inadvertent reentry accident, the performance and behavior of the materials used in the RTGs after many years (a decade to millennia) is highly uncertain."
But maybe it did not have plutonium on board! Maybe. Do you trust our government?
If we got rid of the plutonium processing system that builds the RTGs and RHUs, (which we instead just funded to the tune of a five year, $13,000,000 contract, as reported in newsletter #113) we would not have to wonder what was on board the bird.
These three Titan failures together have cost U. S. taxpayers about as much as Cassini cost. NASA and the U.S. Military, and their contractors, have had failures in all types and manners with these birds. Let's not allow a fourth opportunity for a TITANIC problem. There's no reason to believe that Cassini's systems are any more reliable than anything else NASA has tried to launch recently. Cassini is about to be redirected a cosmic hare's breath away from Earth, in a dangerous "Flyby" maneuver. There is NO REASON to trust NASA's claimed ability to ensure that Cassini's series of bias correction maneuvers, which will occur just a few days prior to the Earth flyby, will not result in a incorrect firing of its rockets.
The result could be catastrophe.
This can be stopped if enough people complain directly to NASA. There is no way NASA can promise a catastrophe won't happen except by smashing Cassini into Venus instead, on purpose, less than two months from now. That is utterly safe to the 6 billion inhabitants of Earth, making it far better than any other option.
DEMAND THIS OF YOUR SENATORS AND CONGRESSPEOPLE AND ALL WORLD LEADERS!
The editor is pleased to report that this correspondence resulted in an (off-camera) interview on the subject.
At 07:06 PM 3/12/99 +0000, "B" wrote:
Dear Mr Hoffman,
I am writing to you in the hopes that you might be able to assist me with some research I am doing for a television programme about space debris. I came across some of your work on the Internet on the subject, and thought it would be useful to get in touch with you.
I work for a television company based in London, England and we are currently making a science documentary about man-made space debris ... We will be looking at the problem of debris, highlighting the work being done in tracking it and developing technologies to deal with it, as well as following a few key stories where space debris has played a role. I have been in touch with those dealing with orbital debris at the ESA, NASA and DERA in this country.
I am wondering whether you might be able to recommend any contacts or sources in America on the subject. In particular in reference to Cosmos 954 (1978), Mars 96, and upcoming Cassini probe pass - either scientists, researchers, first-hand participants/witnesses would all be of interest.
I'm sure you are very busy, so I appreciate any help you can give me. If you'd like any further details about our project, please do not hesitate to let me know.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your email [shown above]. I am really delighted to hear that you'll be doing a show on this important issue.
The most knowledgable person outside of NASA regarding the Mars '96 probe is probably:
"James Oberg" JamesOberg@aol.com
He had an article in New Scientist recently and has been researching Russian space nuclear and other Russian space policy issues for some time. Please give him my regards.
Karl Grossman is always up-to-date as well, on all three issues you mentioned. He can be reached at:
"Karl Grossman" email@example.com
Here is one of his articles about Mars 96:
The most knowledgeable person at NASA I've found (but frankly, I don't think he's really all that knowledgable!) regarding Mars '96 is:
Woody Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
He said it was a clean return and there was no plutonium leakage, but he called it "Mars 98" several times in a letter to one of my newsletter readers. (In fact his letter was so full of factual errors, we wondered if he really existed, but we have since learned that there is indeed a Woodrow Smith, so perhaps you can talk directly to him by simply calling the NASA HQ switchboard, whose number I should have handy but don't.)
Here's what Mr. Smith had to say in a letter to one of my readers:
"Launches of these units have in fact failed in the past, most recently aboard the Russian Mars98 probe, without any loss of plutonium whatsoever. If there is a "proof of the puddin'" argument, I would assume that's it."
Well, I don't think there's any proof that that's how it went. No body (wreckage), you know? I haven't seen Oberg's article, though I'm not sure I'd agree with his assessment, either! [Oberg's article will be discussed in an upcoming issue of this newsletter.]
Regarding Cosmos 954, Micheal Bein wrote a rather complete article which is available at this URL:
... Regarding Cassini, what I fear most is a vaporization of the plutonium payloads in a reentry accident. I say "payloads" because although NASA reminds you that there are three RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators), they don't seem to ever get around to mentioning the 130 or so RHUs (Radioisotope Heater Units), each with 2.7 grams of plutonium, mostly Pu 238 with a half-life of 87.75 years. These will ALL be completely incinerated in a flyby reentry accident, and that is about half a pound of plutonium! According to NASA's FSEIS for the Cassini mission (page D-3, with accompanying charts), they have a "conditional probability of 1.0" of incinerating in a reentry accident. NASA is very silent about this fact.
However, the sheer quantity of the RTGs does, in a sense, outweigh this. Even a very "successful" reentry would result in even greater releases of plutonium from the three RTGs than from all the 130 RHUs together, but they still should not be forgotten.
According to NASA, a similar material, vaporized intentionally (as was the custom of the day, until activists who came before me complained (and were then hoodwinked into thinking the problem had been solved)) in a reentry accident at a much slower speed in 1964, resulted in a spectrum of plutonium dioxide particle sizes with a "measured arithmetic mean" around 10 microns, ranging from 5 to 58 microns (1995 NASA EIS for the Cassini mission, page D-9). Please make contact with any of the "anti-nuclear" physicians (I can give you some email addresses if you need them) to learn how devastating even a gram of Pu 238, if vaporized into the atmosphere, can be, and what size is most likely to lodge permanently in the lung -- 10 microns!
Overall, the biggest single problem right now in orbit about the Earth is probably the Russian nuclear reactors which were used for mere months to collect "intelligence" information during the "Cold War" (which I heard ended, but funny there's been no "peace dividend"). After use they were boosted to a higher orbit, but even that is only a 400-year orbit or so, and some are leaking primary coolant into space, making "dead zones" for other space travelers. These carcasses should be boosted again, all the way out of Earth's orbit and towards the sun. This does NOT mean that rocketing new nuclear waste (or plutonium) into space to solve the waste problem is reasonable, only that those loads will eventually be hit by existing debris, or settle back to Earth to increase the "background radiation level", something the world needs to come to grips about. It is possible some objects will make it all the way to the ground, and contaminate a swath of land underneath its plume, much like Cosmos 954 did, only over a populated area. I'm really not sure which is worse. It depends as much as anything, on if the hot "LZ" (landing zone) is highly populated or not. It's definitely "Russian Roulette" for everyone, when and where those spy nukes are going to finally land, but none of them are climbing -- all are descending to Earth, slowly but surely (and quickly, compared to the half-lives).
Lastly, let me mention that it is important to recognize that what is tracked by NASA/ U.S. Military is a tiny fraction of what is dangerous to space travelers. Really, only the radioactive stuff, and probably a few other things as well, that won't burn up on reentry to Earth, are of any serious concern to citizens of "Spaceship Earth". But to space travelers, everything is dangerous above the smallest of particle sizes -- I'm sure you've seen the charts about it, showing that, "A piece of space debris the size of a small marble, traveling at 22,000 miles per hour, has the kinetic energy of a 400 pound safe dropped from about 100 feet." or some such comparison. Well, they only track stuff much bigger than that! They'll tell you they can track stuff bigger than about the size of your fist, but that's only in LEO. Out in GEO, (geosynchronous orbit), they only track stuff about the size of a large television set! And stuff keeps getting lost, since they don't track it all the time. They catalog it and look for it again periodically (I have no idea of the average periodicity, but I don't think every object is tracked every revolution it makes around Earth, and the orbits are not 100% predictable!) So they really, REALLY are "flying blind". And they don't have a very good idea of how much stuff is up there, but they did leave one big billboard up for a while earlier in the decade, to count pitting. There was a lot of it!
And the worst part is, A) They made this mess quite carelessly, and B) They are making things worse as we speak. The geosynchronous area especially, is filled with junk, and it doesn't fall very fast from that high up -- it takes millions of years! So when one of those satellites disappears, blows up, whatever, its pieces will still be in orbit when we've evolved back into apes or whatever it is we're going to do in a million years. In LEO, (Low Earth Orbit) there is a natural "cleansing" from the upper reaches of the atmosphere, which can even reach, I've heard, 500 miles or more during a solar flare (enough to lick the Russian nukes with 22,000 MPH microcollisions!) In the middle, from LEO to GEO, fall-back times get longer and longer as you go higher up. Highly elliptical orbits might touch the outer reaches of the atmosphere at their lowest point; if they do, then that object's orbit will decay more rapidly.
There are a number of solutions, some of which NASA talks about (but does little), but the most important one, nobody mentions. That is not putting so much stuff up there in the first place. For example a ground-based Internet is a much more reasonable, environmentally friendly, democratic, egalitarian way for all of us to communicate with each other than satellites. I know [Television media types don't] want to hear that, but it's true. Instead of CSPAN 1 and CSPAN 2 like we have over here in the States, there should be CSPAN 1, 2, ... 49,999, 50,000 etc. etc.! Every public hearing the Government holds anywhere should be available to everyone. Shareholder meetings of companies. All these should be available through a ground-based high-speed communications system. Even cellular phone technology can be accomplished through high-altitude remote-controlled drone aircraft which remain aloft for weeks at a time and each can cover huge areas at a far lower cost that satellites. So the days of the comsat are numbered, I hope, because they are a waste. I noticed, when I was in London, visiting the Science Museum there (the greatest museum I have ever seen!) that the space exhibit did not have ONE word about space debris that I could find (and I looked pretty hard)! I hope that your television show will help to wake people up. I've worried about it for something like 25 years, and only in the last few has there seemed to be any concern at all.
Thank you again for your email and I hope this has given you the necessary contact information and some food for thought as well. Feel free of course, to contact me any time if I may be of further assistance.
Russell D. Hoffman
In 1979 Russell Hoffman (the editor of this newsletter) created a comedy routine called Three Mile Island Beatles which was played around the world on the Dr. Demento Show and on Pacifica radio stations such as KPFA, KPFK, and WBAI. It made Dr. Demento's "Funny Five" one week (in the fifth spot). For the 20th anniversary of the partial meltdown, some folks did a poll which is presented below.
5 CMEP: NEWS RELEASE: Three Mile Island - Poll Results
Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project
SUSTAINABLE ENERGY COALITION
315 Circle Avenue
#2; Takoma Park
For Release: March 22 1999 - noon
Contact: Scott Denman 202-483-8491 ext.*814
Charlie Higley 202-546-4996 ext. 309
Washington DC -- Twenty years after the March 28 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg Pennsylvania most Americans believe a similar accident could happen again in the United States. Furthermore six out of ten registered voters oppose the building of any new nuclear plants in the United States and if given a choice of generator from which they could buy their electricity only six percent would choose nuclear power.
These are among the key findings of a new public opinion survey released today by the Sustainable Energy Coalition. The survey of 1 022 registered voters was conducted March 5-14 by International Communications Research of Media Pennsylvania; it has a margin of error of +/-3.0 percent.
Two-thirds (67%) of respondents stated that they believe that it was highly (21%) or somewhat (46%) likely that a nuclear accident like that which occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant could happen in the United States again. This view is held by male and female voters across all political party lines and age groups. It is therefore not surprising that three-fifths (60%) of all registered voters oppose the building of more nuclear power plants in the United States with women (69%) and younger voters (65%) particularly opposed.
The respondents overall were evenly split on the question of whether existing reactors should be phased out by the year 2020. However a nuclear phase-out is embraced by a majority of Democratic voters (51% vs. 35%). Furthermore the responses reveal a clear gender gap with women favoring a phase-out by a margin of 48% to 35%. Perhaps more troubling for the nuclear industry is that younger voters support a phase-out of nuclear reactors by an even larger margin of 50% to 40%.
'Most Americans think an accident like that which occurred at Three Mile Island could happen again and want no new plants built ' said Scott Denman Executive Director of the Safe Energy Communication Council. 'This provides convincing proof that voters believe nuclear power remains an unsafe unreliable and uneconomic source of electricity.'
Finally the survey suggests that as the nation's utility marketplace is gradually opened to competition the nuclear industry is faced with a bleak future inasmuch as only 6% of voters would opt to buy their electricity from nuclear generators. In comparison an overwhelming number of consumers (62%) would prefer to buy their electricity from renewable energy sources (i.e. solar wind geothermal biomass and hydroelectric) while another 18% would choose natural gas and 4% would select coal.
'Twenty years after the Three Mile Island accident the nuclear industry has clearly never recovered ' said Wenonah Hauter Director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project. 'It is a dying industry dependent on an outmoded technology for which there is little public support and which most consumers are prepared to reject in the marketplace.'
Question #1: On March 28 1979 the worst accident involving a U.S. nuclear reactor occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg Pennsylvania. Do you think a nuclear accident like that which occurred at the Three Mile Island plant could happen in the United States again? Would you say it is ...
Highly Likely 21.3%
Somewhat Likely 45.6%
Somewhat Unlikely 16.7%
Highly Unlikely 11.7%
Don't Remember TMI 0.8%
Don't Know 3.1%
Question #2: Do you favor or oppose the building of more nuclear
power plants in the United States?
Don't Know 13.4%
Question #3: Should the United States phase out its existing
nuclear power plants by the year 2020?
Don't Know 12.0%
Question #4: If you had a choice from what one type of power
plant would you buy electricity?
Renewable Energy* 61.5%
Natural Gas 18.3%
Don't Know 8.0%
*(i.e. solar wind geothermal biomass hydroelectric)
A one-page table presenting the above responses with details on
how they broke down along gender age and political party lines
can be faxed upon request. The complete 15-page survey "America
Speaks Out on Energy: Nuclear Power" (including charts and
demographic data) is available for $10 prepaid from the
Sustainable Energy Coalition (315 Circle Avenue #2 Takoma Park MD
The Sustainable Energy Coalition is a coalition of 36 national
energy policy organizations founded in 1992 to promote increased
use of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies."
READ THE RESOLUTION!
SIGN THE PETITION! http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/petition/cass1999.htm
CANCEL CASSINI by JUNE 24th, 1999!
To Cancel Cassini start by asking NASA for the 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission and all subsequent related documents (on paper, please!). Tell them you need it IMMEDIATELY (members of the world press should do this too). All citizens of the world are ENTITLED to these documents because of the global threat Cassini poses. Here's where to get information:
Cassini Public Information
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
NASA states that they do not have the resources anymore to answer most emails they receive. Liars! They have $13 billion dollars to play with. They can answer the public's questions. At least, ask them one specific question: How many letters did they get opposing Cassini today? (And tell them you oppose it too!) If each reader asks them that...
Here's NASA's "comments" email address:
Daniel Goldin is the head of NASA. Here's his email address:
Here's the NASA URL to find additional addresses to submit written questions to:
YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT NASA IS DOING TO YOUR HEALTH.
Be sure to "cc" the president and VP and your senators and congresspeople, too.
Always include your full name and postal address in all correspondence to any Government official of any country.
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Published by Russell D. Hoffman electronically.
Written in U.S.A.
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