China's final Beidou satellite has reached geosynchronous orbit, and Beijing's global navigation system is now held to be officially operational. Beidou represents in part an autarkic move away from dependence on the US-developed GPS, as a 2017 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission concluded. It also represents the introduction of a new capability. Beidou-enabled devices will not only receive positioning signals from the constellation, but the satellites will also receive data from the devices. Inside GNSS notes that the Chinese government explained that “In layman’s terms, you can not only know where you are through BeiDou but also tell others where you are through the system.” Not everyone views this a desirable feature. Taiwan has advised its citizens to steer clear of Beidou, and the Voice of America last month drew attention to the dangers this particular capability poses as an avenue for cyberattack.
There are other satellite-borne vulnerabilities drawing attention as commercial constellations designed to deliver Internet access come online (for which see the discussion below). Computing reports that the satellites themselves may represent an expanded attack surface for the networks they service, that their security should itself receive the kind of scrutiny terrestrial networks aspire to.
Near earth asteroids, deorbiting old satellites, and large commercial constellations.
On August 16th a "car-sized" asteroid, 2020 QG, passed within 1839 miles of earth. 2020 QG, had it hit us, would have probably produced a fireball, big, but not as big in all likelihood as the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013. But it's unsettling to realize, Business Insider notes, that 2020 QG went undetected until NASA noticed it shortly after the asteroid had made its closest approach and headed back for deep space. (NASA also just warned that a somewhat larger asteroid, 2011 ES4, which Spacenews describes as being about the size of a "jumbo jet," will pass at a roomier but still uncomfortably close 75,000 miles on September 1st.)
As had been long foreseen, on August 29th a decommissioned US satellite, Orbiting Geophysics Observatory 1 (OGO-1), reentered the atmosphere and burned up during reentry over the South Pacific without incident. OGO-1 had been in orbit since September 1964.
Large commercial satellite constellations are also contributing to an increasingly crowded near-earth environment. The US Federal Communications Commission at the end of July approved Amazon's 3236-satellite Project Kuiper constellation, a $10-billion project intended as an aggressive initiative to close the last mile of Internet access. Amazon isn't, as Government Technology points out, the only player in this particular market. HughesNet and ViaSat are currently the leaders in the satellite Internet market, but they face pressure not only from Amazon, but from SpaceX, and, possibly, OneWeb as well.
CNBC reports that SpaceX says its Starlink service has attracted "extraordinary demand," with more than seven-hundred-thousand customers interested in getting their Internet via the House of Musk. SpaceX has already flown about five-hundred satellites of the Starlink constellation, with twelve-thousand already approved by the FCC. CNBC puts current Starlink production at one-hundred-twenty satellites per month. According to Spacenews, in 2019 the company submitted plans for a thirty-thousand satellite constellation. SpaceX is aware of the effect so many spacecraft can have on the near-earth environment: it stresses its satellites' small size, ion-engine maneuvering capabilities, and integration with US Department of Defense debris tracking systems to enable automatic collision avoidance. And the satellites are designed for controlled deorbiting once they're retired.
OneWeb has been on shakier financial ground, but the British government is seeking a forty-five percent interest in the bankrupt company, and while funding remains an issue (the Telegraph reports that £1 billion may be required to cover the business's losses, and that the UK's stake may be diluted) OneWeb still intends to be a player in the satellite Internet market. Arianespace launched thirty-four OneWeb craft from Kazakhstan in February, the second batch of satellites in the constellation.
The rapid growth of commercial satellite constellations has given rise to concerns about the effect they're having on the space environment. The FCC approval of Amazon's plans revived, for one thing, objections from astronomers about the possible effect so many new spacecraft may have on the ability to conduct astronomical observations from the earth's surface. They add, the New York Times reports, a great deal of light pollution to the night sky. Different orbits present different challenges. OneWeb's craft, for example, are seen as a greater problem for radio astronomy than for optical observation.
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Responsibility for space situational awareness.
These issues—asteroids, decommissioned spacecraft, and rapidly proliferating commercial constellations—raise the importance of space situational awareness. (There's a conference on the topic scheduled for London on September 3rd and 4th, the 15th annual Military Space Situational Awareness Conference.)
In the US, responsibility for space situational awareness had historically resided with the Department of Defense. On June 18th, 2018, however, Space Policy Directive 3 shifted that responsibility to the Commerce Department (Commerce, it's worth noting, also runs NIST, the Weather Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which suggests that the Directive sees the problem of monitoring the space environment as analogous to the problem of monitoring the terrestrial environment.) This month a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration released a report on Space Traffic Management, requested by Congress, which offered an "Assessment of the Feasibility, Expected Effectiveness, and Funding Implications of a Transfer of Space Traffic Management Functions." The panel reviewed four possible candidates for the lead agency in the area:
"The Office of Space Commerce (OSC), a part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inside the Department of Commerce (DOC)"
"The Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inside the Department of Transportation (DOT)"
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)"
"The Department of Defense (DoD)"
The study concluded that NOAA's OSC within the Department of Commerce is the right organization to manage space traffic. The Fellows who prepared the report explained, in a Government Executive op-ed, that their study wasn't confined to a simple recommendation about how to assign agency equities. It represents a call for Congressional funding and legislation, and it also includes a call for the development of international norms concerning "orbital hygiene." As the op-ed puts it, "The “which agency” question ought not obscure two more urgent issues. There is an imperative to act now, and the concept for exercising the federal government’s space situational awareness and traffic management responsibilities must not only be effective, but also should stimulate innovation, both in situational awareness/traffic management and in space-based commerce."
Government contracts and efforts to foster innovation.
On August 31st the US Space Development Agency announced that it had awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems to build the satellites for an on-orbit mesh network''s transport layer. The program is designed to connect orbital sensors with terrestrial combat units. Each company will build ten satellites. C4ISRNet reports that York Space Systems will receive $94 million, Lockheed Martin $188 million, under the firm-fixed price awards. The twenty satellites will comprise "Tranche 0" of the systems, and six of them will be equipped with Link 16 transmitters.
US Space Force has scheduled an industry day for the Spring of 2021. The pandemic permitting, the Service's Space and Missile Systems Center intends to hold its pitch day in Los Angeles. Should COVID-19 still be prohibitively risky this coming spring, the even will move online, C4ISRNet says. Eleven topic areas have been announced:
Innovation in early missile detection and warning
Space situational awareness
Multidomain command and control
Operations within electronically contested environments
Responsive launch systems
Protection of critical space assets
Interested companies may register and submit proposals here.
Space C2 at the Space and Missile Systems Center has also fast-tracked a Silicon Valley-focused software initiative (with the Trekkie name "Kobayashi Maru"). CNBC says that the cloud-based package is designed "to track and monitor objects in space."
US national space policy and strategy.
US Space Command, the operational combatant command not to be confused with the new Space Force military Service, now has a leader distinct from the uniformed head of Space Force. Military.com reports that Space Force's General Raymond has, as planned, handed command over to Army General James Dickinson. Thus both leaders will be able to give their organizations their full attention. The Department of Defense explained that Space Command's roles include deterrence, delivering space combat power (for the joint force, allies and partners), and defeating aggression. Breaking Defense says that revisions to the Unified Command Plan clarified its roles and missions.
Space Force itself is engaged in applying and developing its own doctrine, expressed in its Capstone Publication Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces. Military spacepower, the doctrine says, consists of "deterrent and coercive capabilities." The space domain is defined as the “altitude where atmospheric effects on airborne objects becomes negligible,” and this means, in Space Force's view, that spacepower is inherently global. Three "cornerstone responsibilities" in the doctrine will shape further developments:
"Preserve Freedom of Action in the space domain. The United States’ ability to project and employ national power is predicated on access to space. Therefore, unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space is a vital national interest."
"Enable Joint Lethality and Effectiveness. Given the vital and interdependent nature of military spacepower within the Joint Force, military space forces must comprehensively and effectively integrate space capabilities into Joint training, planning, and operations. Maximizing Joint lethality and effectiveness requires a cadre of military space forces that are deliberately prepared to integrate spacepower across the range of national and Joint operations."
"Provide Independent Options to U.S. national leadership capable of achieving national objectives. Because nations can generate and apply national power from space, actions in the domain can directly affect a nation’s decision calculus. Therefore, a central tenet of military spacepower is the ability to independently achieve strategic effects. In this capacity, military spacepower is more than an adjunct to landpower, seapower, airpower, and cyberpower. Across the conflict continuum, military spacepower provides national leadership with independent military options that advance the nation’s prosperity and security. Military space forces achieve national and military objectives by operating in, from and to the space domain."
Space Force developments: acquisition, organization, and culture.
Space Force's culture will be shaped of course by doctrine, but also by its approach to acquisition (seen above in the description of its 2021 pitch day), the units that will join it (and a decision on which US Army and Navy units will move to the new Service is expected soon, Military.com reports, even as Stars and Stripes points out that its first units are already in operation around the globe), and such matters as uniforms and rank structure. These last two have proven foreseeable contentious, with some arguing for Naval, others for Air Force models. TheHill suggests that, as much as members of Congress might wish to weigh in on the matter, perhaps Space Force itself should be left to sort the matter out.
But William Shatner hasn't been deterred from offering advice. In an op-ed he contributed to Military Times, Captain Kirk himself lists all the great space commanders in the history of science fiction, and points out that for the most part they held the rank of Captain: Captain Buck Rogers, Captain Flash Gordon, Captain Dallas (of the Nostromo), even Captain Han Solo. To the obvious objection that "Captain" could be an Air Force rank as easily as it could be a Navy rank, Mr. Shatner argues that the large number of stumblebums and screw-ups in such science fiction typically held the (Air Force) ranks of Major or Colonel: Major Don West, who was responsible for losing the space family Robinson, Major Anthony Nelson, who brought back an ill-omened Jeannie from that island he crash-landed his space capsule on, or Colonel Steve Austin, who crashed and had to be rebuilt at considerable expense as the Six-Million Dollar Man. Mr. Shatner even throws in Colonel Klink, which seems a little unfair—sure, the guy was air force, sort of, said once he longed to be free of Hogan and back behind the controls of his Heinkel, but he never got within a stone's throw of space, or even Peenemünde, as far as we know—but Mr. Shatner is committed, and he thinks that all those Captains were in fact Navy Captains. Captain Kirk ought to know.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Australia, China, India, Israel, Japan, NATO/OTAN, New Zealand, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
US Space Force schedules pitch day for spring 2021(C4ISRNET) The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center will host a Space Force Pitch Day in spring 2021. While the current plan is to host the event in person in Los Angeles, California, SMC noted that it may move to a virtual environment due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Securing the Next Journey to the Moon(Korea IT Times) On April 4, 2019, the “Beresheet” spacecraft successfully managed to complete the Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuver, making Israel the 7th country to reach the moon and SpaceIL the first privately funded organization in the world to do so. As the organization is preparing for it’s the second journey to
Abu Dhabi's Tawazun to build satellite centre with Airbus(WKZO) Abu Dhabi state defence and security entity Tawazun is to build a satellite assembly, integration and testing centre with Airbus in the United Arab Emirates' oasis city of Al Ain, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday. The centre also intends to manufacture components for small to medium-sized communication, navigation and …
Leidos subsidiary to build NASA spacecraft under $253M contract | Virginia Business(Virginia Business) Dynetics, a subsidiary of Reston-based federal contractor Leidos, has started developing a spacecraft called the Autonomous Logistics Platform for All-Moon Cargo Access through a potential $253 million contract with NASA to develop human landing systems for the agency’s lunar mission by 2024, CNBC first reported Wednesday. NASA selected Dynetics, along with Blue Origin and SpaceX,…
SAIC Awarded $950M Air Force Contract(WashingtonExec) Science Applications International Corp. has been awarded a $950 million ceiling indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract for the maturation,
Kratos Targets Ground System ‘Revolution’(Breaking Defense) "We think that p-LEO is a big deal. And there's got to be a revolution that has to hit the ground segment, says Phil Carrai, president of Kratos's space, training and cyber division.
Spirent Introduces SimIQ to Accelerate GNSS Product Evolution(Chronicle-Tribune) Spirent Federal Systems, the nation’s leader in global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) testing solutions, today announced the release of SimIQ, a new software that will allow for earlier and more efficient GNSS testing during product development.
United Platform Levels UP(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) Northrop Grumman is at the leading edge of a Lean-Agile and Development Security Operations (DevSecOps) revolution within the U.S. armed forces as the system coordinator for a U.S. Air Force program called Unified Platform (UP). As a cloud-based,...
Modern spy satellites in an age of space wars(Deutsche Welle) Space is a battleground for dominance among major powers. About a fifth of all satellites belongs to the military and are used for spying. The US launches two more this year.
AFWERX Announces Final Selection of Participating Teams Across the Globe Vying to Build the Base of the Future(Digital Journal) AFWERX, the catalyst for fostering innovation within the U.S. Air Force, announces the selection of the top 92 participating teams from across the globe competing in the Base of the Future Challenge. The diverse group of teams - originating from the vast regions of North America, Europe, Australia and other allied countries - represent entrepreneurial startups, businesses, large enterprises, academic institutions and research labs who are all vying to build the Base of the Future and modernize the Department of Defense.
Northrop Grumman Awarded DARPA Gamebreaker Contract(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) was recently awarded a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Strategic Technology Office (STO) for the Gamebreaker program. This innovative...
trusted computing cryptography IoT devices(Military & Aerospace Electronics) CHARIOT eyes low-cost, low-footprint, post-quantum cryptographic techniques that use minimal energy use for IoT devices in vehicle and wearable uses.
Commerce Applauds NAPA Study Reaffirming the Department as the Lead Agency for Space Traffic Management(U.S. Department of Commerce) Today, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) released their Congressionally directed study, “Space Traffic Management: Assessment of the Feasibility, Expected Effectiveness, and Funding Implications of a Transfer of Space Traffic Management Functions.” The findings reaffirm that the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce is the best suited civil agency to perform
Trump announces historic peace agreement between Israel and United Arab Emirates(Washington Post) President Trump announced a preliminary peace agreement Thursday between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, a historic step that makes the Persian Gulf state only the third Arab country to currently have diplomatic relations with the Jewish nation and temporarily suspends Israel’s controversial plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
Space Force defines ‘spacepower’ in capstone doctrine(C4ISRNET) The Space Capstone Publication is the Space Force’s first official doctrine, and it will serve as a foundation for further doctrines that will delve deeper into the thorny military issues confronting the nascent service.