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Space industry entropy
by Staff Writers for Launchspace
Bethesda, MD (SPX) Oct 23, 2018

Constellations with hundreds or thousands of satellites are being proposed and developed. Entropy is being kept at low levels and will be at these levels until, at least, some of these business plans are tested.

"Entropy" is defined as a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system's thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work. Many use this term to describe the degree of disorder or randomness in a system. A third definition is a lack of order or predictability with gradual decline into disorder. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy always increases as available useful work decreases. Some managers in the space community use this term to represent a loss of productivity, innovation and enthusiasm within an organization.

Let's take the space program as an example. At the dawn of space flight in 1957, there was no entropy associated with space exploration excitement and interest. Almost all available energy was used to innovate, develop, experiment and test space systems. This was an ideal system for advancing space exploitation.

A number of great and exciting things were accomplished in the beginning: the development of early communications satellites, the first planetary probes, men landing on the moon and returning safely, and the Space Shuttle. However, after the race to the Moon, enthusiasm and interest started to wane.

Excitement and interest in the civil space arena started a long period of decline. At the same time the level of bureaucracy within civil space organizations began to increase. The rate of entropy increase grew, even though the Space Shuttle and ISS programs were successful. In the meantime, the growth rate of entropy within national security space and commercial space was kept at low levels.

National security space participants are highly challenged and dedicated. Entropy growth is kept low by the required high levels of focus on the contested space environment that has evolved over the past 20 years. Low earth orbits are extremely congested traffic zones. Individual satellites and constellations crowd the heavens between the altitudes of 600 km and 1200 km above Earth.

There are probably over 100 active national security satellites in this zone that are operated by several nation states, some of which are allies and some are adversaries. Add to this the tens of thousands of random, uncontrolled debris objects, each of which can cause catastrophic damage to very expensive spacecraft. Entropy levels are kept low, because focus, dedication and innovation all must be maintained at high levels.

In recent years commercial space has evolved into an area of high activity. Interest and innovation are intense. Applications such as space-based broad-band internet services are succeeding in attracting large investments and multiple players.

Constellations with hundreds or thousands of satellites are being proposed and developed. Entropy is being kept at low levels and will be at these levels until, at least, some of these business plans are tested.

Some of the entropy trends will continued. For example, government-sponsored human space exploration may not see any new enthusiasm until we have a domestic crew launch capability. The national security space community will likely maintain low entropy levels for the indefinite future. And, commercial space activities should maintain high levels of interest and innovation for several years.

One takeaway from these observation: Bureaucracy and entropy tend to grow together.

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