How to research a disadvantage: Part three – Link

In preparation for our January tournament, here’s a brief post a series of four posts on the basics of researching and debating a disadvantage.

Part one: Intro to disadvantages

Part two: Uniqueness research

Part three: Link research

Part four: Impact research

Second, Links.

I think links are the easiest thing to research on a disadvantage. You usually know just what you’re looking for, and the evidence doesn’t change all that often. That being said, you have to know what you’re looking for and what your disadvantage needs.

To be a really good disad, you want link evidence to every possible affirmative. Given that this isn’t possible, you usually want to research a couple specific links and one good general one. For our example, I’ll try to find specific evidence against 1) ballistic missile defense, 2) solar power satellites, and 3) a general link.

Google News is less helpful for link research – you’re looking for in-depth analysis, not news stories. I usually start out with a general google search to see if I can get lucky. On BMD, I got really lucky: I googled “space ballistic missile defense expensive” and the first hit (after wikipedia, which by the way is absolutely unacceptable for evidence – if you can’t figure out why then click “edit” next to the article that contains the relevant information) is an article by the Union of Concerned Scientists arguing exactly that.

Space-Based Missile Defense would be incredibly expensive and easily destroyed

Grego Wright and Young 11 (Space-Based Missile Defense: Why It Would Reduce U.S. Security, Laura Grego, Senior Scientist, Global Security Program, Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology, and a B.Sc. in physics and astronomy from the University of Michigan; David Wright, Senior Scientist & Co-Director, Global Security, Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University, research affiliate in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at MIT; Stephen Young, Senior Analyst & Washington Representative, Global Security Program.

 Space-Based Defenses: Enormously Expensive, Inherently Ineffective A space-based boost-phase defense is intended to intercept attacking missiles during the first few minutes of their flight, while the missiles’ engines are still burning. To reach attacking missiles during this very short time, SBIs must be stationed in low-altitude orbits. However, in these orbits SBIs move rapidly with respect to the ground and cannot stay over any one location on Earth. To keep at least one interceptor within reach of a given missile launch site at all times therefore requires many SBIs in orbit. A 2003 American Physical Society study showed that many hundreds or thousands of SBIs would be required to provide limited coverage against ballistic missiles launched from areas of concern. This estimate is consistent with the size of the space layer in the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) missile defense system, which was proposed (but not built) by the George H.W. Bush administration in the early 1990s. GPALS called for 1,000 to 5,000 SBIs. Doubling the number of missiles that such a defense could engage would require doubling the size of the entire constellation of SBIs. Moreover, given the technology expected for the next decade, each SBI would weigh up to a ton or more. As a result, deploying such a system would be enormously expensive and actually would exceed U.S. launch capabilities. Additionally, such a system would raise significant issues for crowding and traffic management in space. Yet even if such a large system were built and the technology worked perfectly, it would not provide a reliable defense, for two reasons. First, even if the constellation of hundreds to thousands of interceptors described above were in place, only one or two SBIs would be in position to reach any given launching missile in time to destroy it. Consequently, the defense could be overwhelmed by simultaneously launching multiple missiles from one location. Second, the system could not protect itself from attacks intended to remove interceptors. Because SBIs would be in low-altitude orbits they could easily be detected and tracked from the ground; an adversary would know their current and future locations. As a result, any SBI would be vulnerable to attack by inexpensive short- or medium-range missiles. These missiles would burn out at too low an altitude to be intercepted by the SBI, but they could loft homing ASAT weapons at it. By destroying relatively few SBIs in this way, an attacker could create a gap in the defense through which it subsequently could launch its long-range missiles. In short, a defense based on deploying hundreds or thousands of SBIs at enormous cost could be defeated by a handful of enemy missiles.

Solar Powered Satellites was considerably tougher. I googled “solar power satellites expensive” as well as “space based solar expensive” and I didn’t come up with anything, which was odd because I know one of the main criticisms of SPS is its up-front cost.

Here I have a couple tips that will help you do some good research.

– First, you’ll want to make sure you’re varying your words appropriately. Look up synonyms for the word that you’re trying to search for, move words around, and add words to your search to make connections.

– Second, become familiar with the ways you can make searches more specific (for example by putting words “in quotes” to look for results with that exact word order). Type in space solar power, and you’re likely to come up with an argument about how solar panels take up too much space. Type in “space solar power” and you’ll solve the problem.

– Third, you’ll want to search more than just google. The best sources for research usually come from academic search engines, which high schoolers usually have very limited access to. A good proxy is Google Scholar, which has lots of academic articles available to search. Click on “more” on the tabs above Google, and then click scholar. It’s easier to limit your search to recent years for debate evidence. If your local library has access to lexis-nexis, academic search premiere, or other scholarly search engines, for your own good ask the librarian to help you figure out how to research with it.

For an SPS spending link, I had success by changing my search to [ construction of space solar power expensive ]. On about the third page, I came across this:

Equipment and launch costs make SPS incredibly expensive – current estimates are decades away

Hsu 11 (Jeremy, InnovationNewsDaily Senior Writer, “Forecast for Solar Power from Space Is Not Yet Sunny” 03 March 2011

Keeping down the equipment cost represents just one part of trying to make space-based solar power a competitive alternative to Earth-based renewable energy sources. It goes hand-in-hand with the problem of astronomical costs for space launches. A cost analysis by JAXA and another Japanese space agency, the Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer, suggested that space-based solar power eventually could cost just 10 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour, which would make it as competitive as fossil fuel power costs. But that depends on many assumptions for bringing down the costs of access to space. “There is a large uncertainty in the cost estimate,” JAXA officials said. “For example, the current space transportation cost is assumed to be reduced by a factor of 50-100 using reusable launch vehicles expected in the future.” Given the challenges, JAXA expects a commercial space solar power system (SSPS) no sooner than in the 2030s.

For a generic link, I’m trying to find a piece of evidence that says space exploration and development is expensive. I searched for “cost of space exploration” and came up with a Forbes article from 2009 called “The Cost of Space Exploration”.

The Cost of Space Exploration and Development is astronomical – historical evidence

Kaku 9 (Michio, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, “The Cost Of Space Exploration,” 7/16/9

After all is said and done about what went wrong, the bottom line is simple: money. It’s about $10,000 to put a pound of anything into a near-earth orbit. (Imagine John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, made of solid gold, and you can appreciate the enormous cost of space travel.) It costs $500 to $700 million every time the shuttle flies. Billionaire space tourists have flown to the space station at a reputed price of $20 million per head. And to put a pound of anything on the moon costs about 10 times as much. (To reach Mars, imagine your body made of diamonds.) We are 50 years into the space age, and yet space travel is just as expensive as it always was. We can debate endlessly over what went wrong; there is probably no one correct answer. But a few observations can be made. The space shuttle, the workhorse of the space program, proved to be somewhat of a disappointment, with large cost overruns and long delays. It was bloated and probably did not need to have seven astronauts on board. (The Soviet copy of the space shuttle, a near-clone called the Buran, actually flew into outer space fully automated, without any astronauts whatsoever.) An alternative to the space shuttle was the original space plane of the Eisenhower era. It was to be small and compact, but provide easy access to space on a moment’s notice, instead of the long months to prepare each shuttle launch. It was to take off and land like a plane, but soar into outer space like a rocket. President Ronald Reagan called one version of it the “Orient Express.” (Ironically, now there will be a hiatus as the space shuttle is mothballed next year. Instead of fast and cheap access to space, for five years we will have no access to space at all. We’ll have to beg the Europeans and Russians to piggy-back off their rockets.) One of the primary missions of NASA should have been to drive down the cost of space travel. Instead of spending half a billion dollars on each shuttle mission, it should have diverted some of the funds to make research and development a primary focus. New materials, new fuels and innovative concepts, which would make space exploration less expensive, should have been prioritized. (Today, some of that entrepreneurial spirit still lives in the commercial sector, as it tries to nourish a fledgling space tourism industry.) The space station costs upward of $100 billion, yet its critics call it a “station to nowhere.” It has no clearly defined scientific purpose. Once, President George H.W. Bush’s science adviser was asked about the benefits of doing experiments in weightlessness and microgravity. His response was, “Microgravity is of microimportance.” Its supporters have justified the space station as a terminal for the space shuttle. But the space shuttle has been justified as a vehicle to reach the space station, which is a completely circular and illogical argument. Now, NASA is painfully reconstructing the infrastructure that it dismantled back in the 1970s as it prepares to send astronauts to the moon via the Orion crew vehicle and the Ares launch rocket in 2020. This time, though, there could be a traffic jam on the moon, since China, India and Japan have all publicly announced that by then they too will have sent astronauts to the moon. (Please see story, “A Traffic Jam On The Moon?”)

– Here’s a strange thing about Google: I have visited this article before. Google weighs results that it receives based on the previous websites that you have already visited, so what comes up in a google search for me will be different than for you.

I found this on the next page, and it seems like a good backup:

NASA programs are awful at keeping costs contained – spending will skyrocket

Scientific American 9 (“Space Exploration Sticker Shock–Economics at NASA,” By George Mussner January 14, 2009

The panel’s prognosis was bad. Between ballooning costs and shrinking budgets, NASA has had to delay or cancel many projects. Some worry that Congress may never trust it with ambitious future projects, such as bringing samples of Mars back to Earth for analysis, which scientists feel is ultimately the only way to tell whether the Red Planet was once inhabited. “As a result of the disregard for cost control, I’m now pessimistic that Mars sample return can ever happen,” says Alan Stern, who was NASA associate administrator for science until resigning last March in protest at the agency’s handling of MSL overruns. It is not as if agency officials are unaware of the problem. Every project goes through independent evaluations and sets aside about a third of its budget as “reserves” for contingencies. But this is never quite enough to hold the line. “In an organization run almost exclusively by engineers and scientists, the technical will always supersede the financial,” says Humbolt Mandell of the University of Texas at Austin, a former high-level manager for the space shuttle and space station. The competition among project proposals reinforces this inclination; to get funded, projects have to promise the moon (sometimes literally). Many experts argue that NASA should invest more in technology development. The agency used to have a stand-alone program to invent rockets, power supplies and communications systems that science missions could then pull off the shelf—making it easier to price them out. That program is now gone, and some scientists argue that MSL is one victim. “I think the cost of everything was severely underestimated because they didn’t have enough good information, because not enough investment had been made in the technology,” concludes Wesley Huntress of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, co-chair of the NRC panel. Longer lead times could also mitigate overruns. Right now designing a spacecraft takes about a year and a half and 15 to 20 percent of the mission’s total budget. “It’s rather short,” Atreya says. An extra year or more would give engineers more time to nip problems in the bud.

Next step: Impacts


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