Planetary protection and the near approach of 4660 Nereus.
Orbital situational awareness: debris.
Orbital situational awareness: satellite constellations.
Space conflict and the laws of armed conflict.
Space industry notes.
Space Force notes.
Some of this month's more interesting stories represent continuations of news that emerged last month (and a lot of them have to do with space situational awareness).
Planetary protection: hail and farewell, 4660 Nereus.
We heard last month that, on October 24th, Asteroid 2021 UA1 made a close pass to earth, coming within 3000 kilometers of the planet. There was no danger, but the way the asteroid escaped detection until after its closest approach (it approached from sunward, and the glare prevented optical tracking) excited comment and promptedspeculation that there must be a better way of finding and following potential planet killers.
Early in December there was another near approach by a sizable asteroid, Space.comreports.4660 Nereus, a 330 meter-long body cruising at 23,700 kilometers per hour, crossed the Earth's orbit on December 11th. The approach wasn't close, by any lay standard, but it fell well within NASA's standards of potential hazard: "NASA flags any space object that comes within 120 million miles (193 million kilometers) of Earth as a 'near-Earth object' and any fast-moving object within 4.65 million miles (7.5 million km) as 'potentially hazardous.' Once flagged, astronomers closely monitor the objects, looking for any deviation from their predicted trajectory that could put them on a collision course with Earth."
The approach of 4660 Nereus lends more interest to NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon on November 23rd. DART will in October intercept the binary near-Earth asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos. The effect, if any, DART has on Dimorphos's orbit will be observed by a follow-on European Space Agency mission ("Hera") that will fly aboard an Ariane 6 in 2024.
Orbital situational awareness: debris as an ordinary byproduct of space activity.
In November the International Space Station's (ISS) orbit took it close to the debris cloud produced during a Russian test of a ground-based anti-satellite system. On November 15th a ground-based A-235/PL-19 Nudol interceptor launched from Plesetsk destroyed the defunct intelligence satellite Kosmos-1408. About 1500 pieces of debris, many of them large enough to cause concern, were produced in the test. The debris field was close enough to the ISS's orbit to cause the crew to shelter in their Soyuz and Crew Dragon capsules until the danger passed. Air Force Magazine ran anaccount of the communications between a US astronaut and mission controllers at NASA. The Russian test of a kinetic anti-satellite system drew widespread odium from other spacefaring powers as the irresponsible creation of an unnecessary hazard to vehicles in low-Earth orbit (as well as representing an unwelcome and potentially destabilizing escalation of military conflict in space).
Early last month, on December 3rd, the ISS dodged other debris, this one having nothing to do with an ASAT test. A three-minute burn moved the ISS away from the orbit of the remains of a Pegasus upper stage that broke up in 1996, two years after launch, Space.comreports.
Orbital situational awareness: satellite constellations.
In any case, low-Earth orbit is growing increasingly crowded with commercial constellations, and these two can present a risk of collision. The APreports that China has complained to the US about SpaceX's Starlink satellites, which, Beijing reports, approached the orbit of its Tiangong space station closely enough on July 1st and October 21st to require evasive maneuvers. China called upon the US to “take immediate measures to prevent such incidents from happening again,” a Chinese government spokesman said.
Space conflict, deterrence, denial, and the laws of war in near-Earth orbit.
One of the reasons Russia conducted its ASAT test in November may have been a desire to steal a march on the competition, conducting effective tests of an operational system in advance of any effective international agreements that might limit test and development of kinetic anti-satellite systems. Anessay in Foreign Policy argues that Moscow sees a dual advantage in the test: direct RDT&E on the one hand, diplomatic leverage on the other. US Vice President Harris, who holds the traditional leading space-policy position US vice presidents occupy, called the Russian test "irresponsible," Insurance Journalreports, and called for the development of international norms that would limit such tests. The Washington Postnotes that rising tension between Russia and the US are now beginning to affect areas in which the two countries had formerly cooperated, notably in the operation of the International Space Station.
The Russian test also arguably served a deterrent purpose, showing that Russia, in principle at least, can hold other nations' spacecraft at risk. Space Newssays that the test represents a challenge to the US Space Force, which will have to develop more robust satellite architectures to counter such threats. Space Flag, a Space Force exercise, isrunning simulations of kinetic and other threats to satellites that will enable it to test an array of responses that will, it's hoped, lead to more resilient US capabilities. Since not all threats to satellites are kinetic, Space Force has announced plans to put a dedicated cybersecurity testing satellite into orbit in 2023, Via Satellitereports. Project Moonlighter, as the test system is called, is an outgrowth of the Air Force's Hack-a-Sat program, and is expected to lead to the design of more cybersecure space systems.
Such resilience is intended to become a cornerstone of US space policy as expressed in theSpace Priorities Framework, along with enhanced ability to "detect and attribute hostile acts" on orbit. Air Force Magazinedescribes the ways in which Space Force intends to organize both exercises and personnel rotations to serve not only individual and collective training, but also the development of doctrine, systems, technologies, techniques, and procedures that will help ensure that US space systems achieve as much resilience as possible.
Addressing the National Space Council, US National Security Advisor Sullivan said,according to Breaking Defense, “Over the past few years, the international community — through work at the United Nations and elsewhere — has made progress in developing norms to strengthen the safety and sustainability of space activities. But frankly, we’ve fallen short in addressing the risks of inadvertent conflict arising from growing national security activities in space." Vice President Harris, in her address to the Council, didn't confine her objections to activities that create debris fields, but called for restrictions on anti-satellite testing generally. Whether an attack on a satellite should be considered a casus belli remains, Defense Oneobserves, an open and unresolved question.
Breaking Defensesees an opportunity for the US to use the adverse reaction to the Russian test as a means of leading international opinion in the direction of an arms limitation agreement that might inhibit the development of space weapons. The inherently indiscriminate nature of debris fields, making as they do no distinction between friend and foe, civilian infrastructure and military system, may, the Breaking Defense essay suggests, offer an opportunity to organize world opinion in favor of the limitation of kinetic ASAT systems.
Space industry notes.
We've entered a period in which human spaceflight is sufficiently advanced (and sufficiently privatized) to accommodate non-professional crew members. Mr. Michael Strahan (former New York Giants football great) has joined Mr. William Shatner (the original Captain Kirk himself) as a celebrity astronaut who's ridden along in a Blue Origin suborbital flight (see the Washington Post'saccount of the December trip). On December 11th Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa used his seat on a Soyuz run to the International Space Station to deliver UberEats to the crew. The APsays that Mr. Maezawa is a self-described "delivery superfan," and that he ubered the ISS astronauts and cosmonauts "boiled mackerel in miso, beef bowl cooked in sweet sauce, simmered chicken with bamboo shoots, and braised pork." That indeed is superfandom above and beyond the call of enthusiasm. “One small handoff for Yusaku Maezawa, one giant delivery for UberEats!” the AP quoted Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi as saying. “We’re over the moon to have helped make our first successful delivery to space. Our goal is to help people go anywhere and get anything, so we’re proud to serve the astronauts at the International Space Station. Yusaku Maezawa gets a thumbs up on this delivery, even though it took a bit longer than the usual 30 minutes to arrive.” There's also a long-standing rivalry between SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos: Insiderrecounts their history, and Mr. Musk's record of trolling Mr. Bezos.
Acommentary in Now sees this kind of rivalry as something we haven't seen since July of 1969, when US-Soviet space competition effectively ended its easily understood race-to-the-moon phase when Apollo XI returned from the Sea of Tranquility: a head-to-head space race with clear finish lines and an obvious set of competitors. This time around, however, the competitors are commercial enterprises. Such rivalry is, Via Satelliteargues, only one feature of the New Space Economy:
"The original space industry was centralized, national, and bureaucratic. It was essentially limited to state-run programs with limited numbers of public-private partnerships. The New Space economy is global, entrepreneurial, and accessible. It is increasingly diversified and expanding with private players across a variety of sub-sectors. The global space economy was valued at about $447 billion in 2020, 55% higher than a decade ago, according to The Space Report 2021 Q2. This is truly astronomical growth and made possible because the new space economy is finally connecting to the larger economy."
And that New Space Economy is one the Department of Defense is eager to take advantage of. Space Newsdescribes some of the ways in which the US Department of Defense is seeking to form enduring relationships with commercial space companies.
Space acquisition notes.
US President Biden has nominated Frank Calvelli as assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition. In that post, Space Newsreports, he'll oversee Space Force acquisition. Calvelli is a thirty-year veteran of the National Reconnaissance Office. After leaving Government service, he worked at Booz Allen Hamilton.
The principal challenge he'll face is a perennial one: transitioning the results of research, development, test, and acquisition to fielded systems while they're fresh enough to retain their claim to innovation. As is common in the US Services, innovation isprized as a national advantage, and the value they place on it is hagridden by thefear that adversaries will catch up and surpass the US in the ability to innovate.
A recent Space Force contract with a small business represents the kind of fast, innovative aspirations the acquisition system prizes. The U.S. Space Force has awarded GEOST a $32 million contract modification for prototype space domain awareness payloads which will be hosted on a number of different satellites. "The U.S. Space Force has awarded GEOST," a small Arizona sensor shop, "a $32 million contract modification for prototype space domain awareness payloads which will be hosted on a number of different satellites," C4ISRNetreports. Defense Onethinks the award looks a great deal like the kind of acquisition the Pentagon would like to see more of. The publication quotes an October contracting notice:
“The government has identified a need for evolutionary or revolutionary space-based [space domain awareness] sensors to augment current and planned systems by providing frequent, timely, assured volume revisit of significant portions of the GEO belt with real-time or near-real-time downlink and processing of collected data.... The objective of the production program will be to develop and demonstrate concepts for low-cost, hosted [space domain awareness] payloads to provide timely, assured volume revisit of the GEO belt.”
There are international opportunities as well--Space Force envisions the possibility of flying sensors developed under the contract on allied partners' spacecraft.
The contract may be representative in another respect. Small businesses (and start-ups in particular) have long been regarded as crucibles of innovation, with "Silicon Valley" as the classic metonym for a community of innovative small businesses. Silicon Valley has warned the Pentagon that its acquisition system may be running out of time to tap start-up creativity. Breaking Defensereports that Pentagon acquisition officials attending the Reagan National Defense Forum heard from tech venture capitalists that there's a limited window within which they can expect to draw upon the innovative companies they so prize: “Time is running out with Silicon Valley,” said Katherine Boyle, a partner with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, in a series of tweets published the day before the event. “We have, at most, two years before founders walk away and private capital dries up. And many, many startups will go out of business waiting for DOD to award real production contracts.”
Space Force notes.
Space Force celebrated its second birthday on December 20th. Military.comreports that General Raymond is happy with the Service's second year.
Among the Service's distinctive initiatives will be a personnel system that seeks to establish a job marketplace intended to match the Guardians' abilities and potential with the jobs in which they're placed. War on the Rocks gives the planned system an enthusiasticreview, and characterizes it as focused on personnel development as opposed to personnel management:
"To achieve the desired personnel performance, the focus needs to shift from solely developing future senior leaders to developing the total force, and the technology exists to accomplish this lofty goal today. The reality is that there are no late bloomers, only risk-averse gardeners. The effective application of technology can help incentivize members to meet the requirements that the services actually value and need. This will help right the wrongs of poor personnel management that has resulted in retention issues and enabled peer competitors to close the performance gap with the U.S. military over the last few decades."
It will be interesting to see how far the system succeeds, and whether it will escape what seem, historically, to have been the inevitable tendencies of American military personnel systems.
For all the easy wisecracks about the choice of "Guardians" as the name of the Space Force's service members, for all the cheap shots about diagonal rows of buttons on the uniforms (taken most recently in a South Park episode), Space Force has achieved a permanent place in the US Department of Defense. With that place comes the sort ofscrutiny the other Services routinely face, as Congress, defense intellectuals, and the media tell Space Force that, for a military Service, two years old is grown-up enough. So happy birthday, Space Force, and may you have a solid and successful 2022.
This month's issue includes events affecting China, the European Union, Russia, South Africa, and the United States.
Northrop Grumman Recognizes Diverse Small Business Suppliers(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has recognized 24 small business suppliers with World Class Team awards for their outstanding performance in support of the company’s cost, performance and supplier diversity...
Raytheon Subsidiary Awarded $67M Space Force OTA for Weather Satellite Prototyping, Demo Efforts(ExecutiveBiz) A Raytheon Technologies subsidiary will prototype an electro-optical infrared weather system and demonstrate its operational data delivery ability under a $67 million contract from the U.S. Space Force.Raytheon Intelligence & Space will build a satellite prototype in an effort to help Space Systems Command deliver cloud characterization and weather imagery observations to warfighters, the company
Samer Halawi Resigns from Intelsat(Via Satellite) Intelsat announced in filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday that COO Samer Halawi is leaving the company at the end of the
Starlink Expands but Q3 2021 Performance Flattens in Some Areas(Speedtest Stories & Analysis: Data-driven articles on internet speeds) Satellite internet is making headlines across the globe as Starlink continues to launch service in new countries and Viasat plans to acquire Inmarsat. We’re here to check in on our ongoing series on satellite internet performance around the globe with fresh data from Q3 2021 to see if Starlink’
UK RAF and NATO members assess SeaVue(Shephard Media) Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s SeaVue surveillance system has been demonstrated during joint military exercises with the RAF and other NATO members.
Massive Technical Leaps Push Satellite to the Fronthaul of 5G IoT(Via Satellite) Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s “big day for American leadership” was Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 — The start of a public auction of 120 megahertz of 3.7 gigahertz C-band spectrum to be repurposed for 5G. Pai’s 5G FAST plan, which he spent years promoting as the creator of, “millions of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, innovation on our shores, and stronger economic growth,” grossed $80.9 billion in government revenue.
Orbital Insight to build AI for intelligence community based on artificial data(C4ISRNet) The National Geospatial-Intelligence AGency sees human-machine pairing as critical for its success, with machine learning algorithms taking over the rote task of processing the torrent of satellite data to find potential intelligence and freeing up human operators to do more high level analysis and tasks.
James Webb Space Telescope Begins Million-Mile Journey(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, built in partnership with Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC), successfully launched today from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana aboard an...
US Space Force top leaders visit Fairfax County Public School inspiring students(WJLA) The United States Space Force is celebrating its second birthday with a month-long STEMtoSpace Campaign and Wednesday, they made a stop at Fairfax County High School. Hundreds of students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology heard from the top leader General John Raymond, the Chief of Space Operations with the Space Force. Astronaut Colonel Nick Hague was also in attendance allowing students to hear about his experience on board the International Space Station.
Space Force at two: 'Still a toddler,' with all that brings(Breaking Defense) "We made it clear when we stood this up that it is going to be an evolutionary process, and that we just stood up the bare bones in the first year — because it's hard enough to do that," Rep. Mike Rogers said. "And we're putting the flesh on the bones each year trying to mature it in a slow and pragmatic fashion, and do it right."
White House Unveils Its Priorities for Space Activities | Cooley | Global Law Firm(Cooley) The White House recently released the United States Space Priorities Framework, which highlights the Biden administration’s commitment to ensuring that the US maintains its leadership role in space. The framework identifies two primary priorities: (1) maintaining a robust and responsible US space enterprise; and (2) preserving space for current and future generations. In addition, the framework articulates how it will accomplish those priorities, including...
United States Space Priorities Framework(The White House) Space activities are essential to our way of life. They advance our understanding of the Earth, the universe, and humanity; enable U.S. national security; create good jobs and economic opportunity; enhance our health and well-being; and inspire us to pursue our dreams. Space capabilities provide critical data, products, and services that drive innovation in the United States and around the world. Access to and use of space is a vital national interest.