From the Editors

Crosslink Cover Summer 2011The U.S. government has increasingly come to recognize climate change as a threat to national security. Military and intelligence services now consider the impacts of climate change in their strategic planning activities, and various branches of the military have begun to assess new missions that could arise in a climate-altered world—some of which could require support from space assets. For example, climate models predict that within a decade or so, Arctic sea ice will melt enough during the summer months to allow commercial shipping and mineral exploitation. Accordingly, the Navy issued new policy guidance and structural plans to address the challenges posed by increased activity in the region. Similarly, military planners are anticipating an increase in the need for disaster relief and humanitarian aid as a result of changing weather patterns.

Anticipating future mandates in this area, The Aerospace Corporation has been conducting environmental and climate-related research using internal funds. Efforts so far have established Aerospace as a clearinghouse for information on climate trends and impacts, specifically with regard to future military and national security space requirements. Some of these research initiatives are detailed in this issue of Crosslink.

For example, Aerospace has been applying its expertise in modeling and simulation to explore how different parts of the globe might respond to shifts in the distribution of natural resources brought about by climate change. Also, in light of recent data-sharing agreements between the strategic and civil science communities, Aerospace has been investigating how spectral imaging technology initially developed for military applications can provide a paradigm for systems to address a variety of environmental monitoring applications. Another intriguing study assessed the feasibility of using space systems to detect the clandestine release of aerosols into the atmosphere to alter Earth’s albedo and cool the planet.

The current emphasis on developing a commercial launch and space tourism industry could lead to higher launch rates in the near future. Aerospace research has anticipated concerns over soot emissions from rocket plumes and the push for “green” alternatives to traditional propulsion technologies, including hybrid rocket engines. Similarly, Aerospace has been applying its expertise in constellation management and collision avoidance to predict the effects of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which—counterintuitively—decrease the density of the upper atmosphere and thus extend the orbital lifetimes of satellites and space debris alike. Continuing a long tradition of applying space-system engineering to terrestrial energy production, Aerospace has also put its hyperspectral imaging systems to work assessing the potential for geothermal power plants near the Salton Sea in Southern California.

Some of these efforts have been presented in academic journals and industry conferences around the world—but this issue of Crosslink represents the first time they’ve been showcased collectively. Although it is by no means comprehensive, this issue provides an intriguing glimpse into the corporation’s exciting and forward-looking work in this increasingly vital domain.

Return to the Summer 2011 Table of Contents