The almost ten-year hiatus in US launches of crewed spacecraft (a history summarized in a piece by WIRED) ended on November 15th when a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a Crew Dragon capsule to deliver four astronauts to the International Space Station. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the US had depended on Russian launch vehicles and spacecraft for human spaceflight.
SpaceX has continued to enjoy success in recovering and reusing its Falcon boosters, an operation that has, for the company, become routine. Space.com observed that the November 24th launch of sixty Starlink satellites marked not only the seventh use of a launch vehicle, but the hundredth time SpaceX has recovered a booster for further reuse. An op-ed in the New York Post calls the Crew Dragon mission the opening of a new phase of the space age: the "sustainable age," in which space operations are conducted not principally for reasons of domestic politics or international competition, but because those operations return economic value.
And SpaceX is no longer the only commercial player in that sustainable age. Four days after the successful Crew Dragon flight and the recovery of its Falcon 9, SpaceX's smaller competitor Rocket Lab put thirty small satellites into orbit from facilities in New Zealand and recovered its reusable Electron launch vehicle. UPI notes that Rocket Lab is now the second company to fly and recover a reusable booster.
Mars roving and a round-trip to the lunar surface.
China's Chang'e 5 lunar mission is expected to reach the moon's surface on December 1st, Ars Technica reports. The craft, launched on November 23rd from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site aboard a Long March 5 rocket, entered lunar orbit on November 28th.The uncrewed mission will collect samples from the surface and return them to earth, the first such return since the last Apollo lunar mission.
NASA's own robotic exploration of Mars continues. The Curiosity rover has been returning high-quality pictures (including what Space.com calls "a stunning selfie" from the Mary Anning location). Curiosity will be joined on Mars by the Perseverance rover, scheduled to arrive at the Jezero Crater on February 18th, 2021.
Fostering innovation to keep systems up to the state-of-the art.
A new US Congress and Administration are inbound, but existing efforts to find ways of streamlining Federal acquisition can be expected to continue into 2021. Such efforts seem destined to become increasingly international. This month a joint US-UK International Space Pitch Day selected ten winners of small but significant seed contracts intended to foster innovation. The winning companies, C4ISRNet reports, included winners from four countries: one from India (114 AI Innovations Limited), one from Australia (Clearbox Systems), three from the UK (Clutch Space Systems, Riskaware Limited and Telespazio Vega UK, and Spire Global UK), and five from the US (Cognitive Space, precursor SPC, Rocket Communications, Slingshot Aerospace, and Swim.ai).
Space Force has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for an anti-jamming satellite prototype in the Evolved Strategic Satellite Communications program. C4ISRNet says the contract, worth $258 million, was announced on November 8th. Boeing and Northrop Grumman had earlier been given ESSC prototyping contracts.
C4ISRNet reports that the Space Development Agency aims to shake up acquisition in ways that will overcome the notoriously difficult and requirements-bound processes familiar in other, historical Defense acquisition programs. How successful it will be remains of course to be seen, but the Space Development Agency at least presents itself as making as much of a fresh start as law, policy, and agency equities are likely to permit. Air Force Magazine says that plans now call for Space Systems Command, Space Force's analogue of Air Force Materiel Command, to stand up early in the summer of 2021. The Space Enterprise Consortium, inherited from the Air Force, is expected to serve as a focus of Space Force rapid prototyping efforts.
On November 3rd and 4th US Space Force for the first time led the Schriever Wargame, Colorado Springs Military News Group and UPI report. The fourteenth Schriever Wargame saw participation from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Its focus was on "strategic messaging in the space domain." Such allied participation is not expected to be exceptional. US Space Command head General James Dickinson sees allied participation in exercises, operations, and staffs as a permanent feature of SPACECOM's way of doing business.
Space Force's role in leading the exercise marks another milestone in the maturation of the young Service. An essay in War on the Rocks argues that such exercises should play a central role in shaping and clarifying Space Force missions, doctrine, and organization.
Space Force updates: priorities, organization, and projected operations.
Space Force may be the youngest Service, but consensus among Defense experts is that it can be expected to hold its own and continue to develop under the next US Administration. It may not receive the level of Presidential attention it's enjoyed during its first years, but it is thought likely that Space Force will be permitted to follow the path forward it's marked out so far.
The Chief of Space Operations has issued planning guidance that outlines the lines that development is to follow. General James defined five priorities that will shape Space Force's organization, going forward:
"Empower a Lean and Agile Service"
"Develop Joint Warfighters in World Class Teams"
"Deliver New Capabilities at Operationally Relevant Speeds"
"Expand Cooperation to Enhance Prosperity and Security"
"Create a Digital Service to Accelerate Innovation"
In sum, however, General James says "the ultimate measure of our readiness is the ability to prevail should war initiate in, or extend to space."
Two Air Force units, the Space Analysis Squadron and the Counter-Space Analysis Squadron, are moving to Space Force where they'll form the nucleus of a new National Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Air Force Magazine reports.
Two developments reveal, albeit through a glass and darkly, some of the more exotic missions Space Force will be charged with. One is the recurring discussion of cislunar space as a new military frontier, "moon patrols," as Space News rather melodramatically characterizes the projected mission. The other has more immediate effect: Space Delta 9, responsible for "orbital warfare," is now operating the Air Force's X-37B space plane, Military.com reports.
An attack surface as big as low earth orbit.
SpaceX has continued to add satellites to its Starlink constellation, and PCMAG, for one, gives the service, now in beta, high marks. Early users in rural Montana and Idaho report reliable delivery of high-bandwidth Internet access that's made things urban users have long been accustomed to, like streaming movies and television, realistically possible for the first time.
The users report occasional outages (normally less than ten seconds) and brief periods where 170Mbps download speed drops to 20 Mbps, but these don't appear to have affected their enthusiasm for the new service. Those imperfections are generally put down to the limited number of satellites in the constellation ("only" about 800), and Starlink is expected to outgrow such imperfections as it scales up to its designed size, And it's affordable, too, at least compared to the DSL people were bucketing along with. Space.com writes that beta users pay $499 for Starlink ground equipment and $99 per month for the service.
Military networks are also growing more interoperable and mutually dependent. The Services have evolved disparate data standards, and C4ISRNet observes that there's a general recognition that incompatibilities among them constitute an obstacle to the sorts of joint, multi-domain operations the Department of Defense envisions for the future. The US Army's Project Rainmaker affords a representative example. Breaking Defense reports that the Service's C5ISR Center is working to develop a "foundational data fabric" that would link joint networks of otherwise incompatible systems. The goal in principle is to connect every sensor with every shooter, whether those sensors and shooters are space-based or terrestrial.
Thus cyberspace is clearly entangled with (outer) space. This brings together two domains whose respective legal and policy regimes may prove difficult to reconcile. That space-borne systems increasingly require protection from cyberattack is clear. Space Policy Directive-5, released on September 4th of this year, outlines five principles of "Cybersecurity for Space Systems:"
"Space systems and their supporting infrastructure, including software, should be developed and operated using risk-based, cybersecurity-informed engineering.... Space system configurations should be resourced and actively managed to achieve and maintain an effective and resilient cyber survivability posture throughout the space system lifecycle."
"Space system owners and operators should develop and implement cybersecurity plans for their space systems that incorporate capabilities to ensure operators or automated control center systems can retain or recover positive control of space vehicles. These plans should also ensure the ability to verify the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of critical functions and the missions, services, and data they enable and provide."
'Implementation of these principles, through rules, regulations, and guidance, should enhance space system cybersecurity, including through the consideration and adoption, where appropriate, of cybersecurity best practices and norms of behavior."
"Space system owners and operators should collaborate to promote the development of best practices, to the extent permitted by applicable law"
"Security measures should be designed to be effective while permitting space system owners and operators to manage appropriate risk tolerances and minimize undue burden, consistent with specific mission requirements, United States national security and national critical functions, space vehicle size, mission duration, maneuverability, and any applicable orbital regimes."
How such protection might be achieved under current US cyber doctrine is less clear, an essay in Lawfare argues. US Cyber Command has been working to "defend forward" through the "persistent engagement" of adversaries. Such persistent engagement involves not simply defending friendly networks and systems, but actively working to disrupt and degrade adversaries' capabilities. That doctrine may be difficult to apply in the context of international space law, which generally prohibits interference with other nation's space systems.
Some observers comment that SPD-5 will shift system development from stressing on time-to-market toward a new emphasis on security. In any case, at one level that emphasis is now a requirement: beginning December 1st, Breaking Defense reminds us, future Defense systems will be required to meet more rigorous standards of cybersecurity.
Ave atque vale, Arecibo.
An icon of the space age and one of the biggest and most recognizable ground stations in the world, the Arecibo radio telescope, has come to the end of its life. A series of failures in supporting cables proved impossible to fix, Space.com reports, and the National Science Foundation announced on November 19th that Arecibo will be decommissioned. Hail and farewell, Arecibo: you'll be missed. As if 2020 needed any other anxieties and agita, here's another one: some scientists, Space.com adds, are warning that the loss of Arecibo has reduced our planetary defense capabilities. The observatory had been good at tracking asteroids.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Stock Picks, Stock Market Investing(SeekingAlpha) Raytheon Technologies (NYSE:RTX) inks agreement to acquire privately held Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT), a provider of small satellites and spacecraft systems components.
Boeing and Clearbox to develop satellite communications system | Australian Manufacturing Forum(Australian Manufacturing Forum) Boeing Defence Australia and Sydney technology company Clearbox Systems will collaborate to develop a next generation satellite communication (SATCOM) system for the defence department project known as Joint Project 9102. JP9102 aims to deliver a system which will enable the joint command and control of deployed Joint Task Forces beyond the range and capacity of...
Palantir Enters Mission Command Space With US Army Futures Command Prototype(Odessa American) Palantir Technologies (NYSE:PLTR) announced today it was chosen by the US Army to receive one of two prototype contracts for the Common Data Fabric and Data Security solution to support network design experimentation for the Army's next network modernization set of technology, termed Capability Set 23.
Schriever Wargame: Critical Space Event Concludes(Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group) For the first time, the U.S. Space Force has led Schriever Wargame, a two-day critical, in-depth space training event with more than 200 attendees from eight countries. Schriever Wargame is designed to explore critical space issues to include investigating military... Continue Reading Schriever Wargame: Critical Space Event Concludes
More Space Wargames, Please(War on the Rocks) How would the United States respond if China or another adversary launched a missile against a vital communications satellite? Is that a clear red line
HALO space habitat module passes preliminary design review(New Atlas) Northrop Grumman has announced that its Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) module has passed its preliminary design review. The module, which forms a key element of NASA's Gateway deep space outpost, will act as a way station for future missions to the Moon and beyond.
Project Rainmaker: Army Weaves 'Data Fabric' To Link Joint Networks(Breaking Defense) The Pentagon's grand plans for Joint All Domain Command & Control require translating masses of data across incompatible systems. "Unless you get the underpinnings of a foundational data fabric," Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher told me, "it will never happen."
Moon patrols could be a future reality for Space Force(SpaceNews) U.S. military space activities today are confined to Earth orbit. As NASA begins to establish a permanent presence at the moon and works with the private sector to develop a cislunar economy, the military foresees playing a role protecting those interests if they were challenged by a foreign power.
Pentagon plans to open a school focused entirely on beating drones(Stars and Stripes) The Pentagon wants to open a new school in the coming years specifically to teach troops to spot and kill small enemy drones, as the military seeks a uniform approach to defeating the small, unmanned aircraft, which officials have labeled a growing battlefield threat.
Adm. Trussler: Information Warfare 'All About Speed for Advantage'(Seapower) ARLINGTON, Va. —The admiral who sponsors the resources for the U.S. Navy's information warfare operations said the modern warfare environment is increasingly governed by the speed of information and its effects on decision-making. "It is all about speed for advantage,"...
Pentagon innovates new weapons to 'fight through' next-gen cyberattacks(Fox News) The flight trajectory of ICBMs, targeting accuracy of an Abrams tank 120mm cannon, sharing of enemy location intelligence in real-time or the decreasing of critical sensor-to-shooter times for small arms, missile attacks, bomber strikes and other weapons systems ... increasingly rely ... on computer systems.
US Air Force opens new space lab(C4ISRNET) The Deployable Structures Laboratory will research and develop high-strain composite materials for the U.S. Space Force.
AFRL's Newest Lab Aims At Building Things In Space(Breaking Defense) One of the first projects the new DeSel lab will work on is testing structures for a futuristic capability that could be enabled by on-orbit assembly and manufacturing: space-based solar power.
Space Cybersecurity in the Age of Defending Forward(Lawfare) A recent policy directive detailing the United States's cybersecurity principles for "space systems" raises important questions concerning U.S. legal obligations in space under international law.
Biden begins choosing national security team(Defense News) President-elect Joe Biden is moving to fill out his national security team with a raft of appointments to top positions that signal his intent to repudiate the Trump administration's "America First" doctrine.
Britain announces its largest military investment since the Cold War(Washington Post) Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday announced Britain's biggest boost in military spending since the end of the Cold War, as the country looks to head off threats from China and Russia and exert "global influence" as a power separate from the European Union.
Space Force Ponders NSSL Revamp For New Missions(Breaking Defense) "I don't think we're at the position to know both what the demand is, but also where industry is going, what's the viable way to consider other orbits if we were asked to do," says Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC's Space Vehicles Directorate.
Starting Dec. 1, Cybersecurity Is No Longer Optional(Breaking Defense) "This is the start of a new day in the Department of Defense where cybersecurity, as we've been saying for years is foundational for acquisitions, we're putting our money where our mouth is. We mean it," Katie Arrington says.
Space Command Widens Embrace Of Allies(Breaking Defense) "We're looking internally to my headquarters, as well as here at Peterson, to bring some of our great allies and partners into our staff and into our operations and processes here at the Combatant Command level as well," said SPACECOM head Gen. James Dickinson.
Gen. Raymond Targets Combat-Ready Space Force(Breaking Defense) "While we will extend and defend America's competitive advantage in peacetime, the ultimate measure of our readiness is the ability to prevail should war initiate in, or extend to space," the new Chief of Space Operations (CSO) Planning Guidance says.
Keep U.S. Space Command Where It Is(Forbes) Keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs and let us get on with building a stronger U.S. Space Command by not diverting resources to move the command for no good reason.