Developing an approach to cleaning up orbital debris.
Planetary protection and asteroid diversion.
Cybersecurity for space systems.
Allied cooperation in space.
SpaceX's Raptor worries.
ASAT tests and orbital debris: the messy demise of Kosmos-1408.
Messy, but from an RDT&E point-of-view it was a successful demise. Breaking Defense reports that on November 15th, in a Russian anti-satellite test, an A-235/PL-19 Nudol interceptor launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrone north of Moscow hit and destroyed Kosmos-1408. It's thought to represent Russia's first test of a ground-based ASAT system. Kosmos-1408 was a retired intelligence satellite placed in orbit in 1982. It had a total mass of about 1750 kilograms, and that, plus whatever fragments the Nudol contributed, was enough to produce a non-trivial debris cloud, readily trackable from earth. Debris tracking and collision avoidance firm LeoLabs tweeted soon after the interception that it was following at least thirty objects spread over some forty kilometers. Slingshot Aerospace tweeted radar and telescopic images from its partner, space-domain awareness firm Numerica, that indicated there were around 1500 pieces of wreckage in the debris field. Some will decay in a matter of months; the entire debris cloud is expected to deorbit in about two years.
The International Space Station's (ISS) orbit took it through the vicinity of the debris cloud, and the ISS crew as a precaution sheltered in their Soyuz and Crew Dragon capsules. Air Force Magazine has an account of the emergency call between a US astronaut on board and controllers at NASA. Even Roscosmos, the Russian space agency that operates the ISS with NASA, acknowledged a disruption of ISS activities, albeit in a rather anodyne tweet: "The @Space_Station crew is routinely performing operations according to the flight program. The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit. The station is in the green zone." (That is, out of danger.)
But international reaction to the test has been uniformly negative. Slingshot's November 15th tweet was an early, representative comment: "Our #SlingshotBeacon partner, @Numerica_Corp, leveraging their global telescope network, imaged the debris field created by the Russian anti-satellite test against #Cosmos1408 in #LEO causing alarm to the #ISS crew, satellite operators, and spacefaring nations." Other industry reaction was equally harsh. Space sustainability company Astroscale wrote, on November 16th:
"The intentional and unnecessary destruction of any object in space is irresponsible. This ASAT test threatens the incredible progress we are making as a global community, endangering humans in orbit and the long-term stability of the space environment. Our orbital highways are already congested, and every further piece of debris created increases the risks and costs of operating in space."
US Secretary of State Blinken called the Russian test "irresponsible," and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed, saying, “This was a reckless act by Russia to actually shoot down and destroy a satellite as part of a test of an anti-satellite weapons system,” NASA Administrator Nelson issued a full statement on the 15th that read, in part:
“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety.
“Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.
“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment.
“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit.”
Russia officially dismissed Western expressions of outrage as "hypocrisy," C4ISRNet reports, and also dismissed the notion that the test had endangered the ISS or its crew. But international reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, and prompted calls for development and enforcement of norms to prevent further formation of dangerous clutter in low earth orbit. In the US, members of Congress have written, Via Satellite says, letters to both Vice President Harris and Commerce Secretary Raimundo calling for US action on the problem: “While the Russian actions are disturbing, they are a reminder of the need for U.S. leadership on SSA [Space Situational Awareness] and STM [Space Traffic Management] and provide an opportunity to disseminate lessons learned that will protect U.S assets and personnel in the future.”
Developing an approach to cleaning up orbital debris.
The destruction of Kosmos-1408 brought into prominence the existence of a number of private companies in the orbital tracking and collision-avoidance business. It also brought renewed attention to programs intended to find ways of clearing debris from low earth orbit. US Space Force's Orbital Prime program, for one, drew new attention after the Russian test (see this WIRED piece, for example). SpaceWerx describes the program as follows:
"The first Space Prime effort, Orbital Prime will invigorate the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) market using Active Debris Remediation (ADR) as a use case for the foundational technologies. As congestion and debris threaten the long-term sustainability of the space domain, Orbital Prime will transition agile, affordable, and accelerated OSAM space capabilities to build the foundation for space logistics while preserving the global commons. On-orbit capability will be demonstrated on an accelerated timeline in two to four years."
The program's vision is to "accelerate transition of technologies and architectures that enable a sustainable space infrastructure and preserves an open and prosperous space domain." Space Force has an STTR solicitation open. Note the connection between debris removal and "on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing."
Two days after the Russian ASAT test Virgin Orbit and Astroscale announced that they'd concluded a memorandum of understanding under which they would collaborate to develop on-orbit servicing capabilities that would include debris removal. One of Astroscale's relevant products was revealed on November 16th: a docking plate designed to hitch up defunct satellites that would enable them to be towed to safety. The interest in the problem isn't confined to a small number of companies. Via Satellite has an overview of industry thinking on the technological innovation that will be required to foster a "more sustainable" space environment.
Planetary protection and asteroid diversion.
Natural hazards also drew attention. On October 24th Asteroid 2021 UA1 made a close pass to earth, coming within 3000 kilometers of the planet. The asteroid, Space.com says, went undetected until after its closest point of approach, probably because it came from sunward and was lost in the glare. Asteroid 2021 UA1 wasn't particularly large by Asteroid standards--about, Space.com writes, the size of a refrigerator, and even had it hit the earth, it's unlikely in the extreme that enough of it would have reached the surface to do any damage. But the fact that it went undetected prompted some thought about the hazards asteroids present.
That risk is small, but non-negligible, and given the planet-killing potential of a big impact, policymakers have been devoting some thought to planetary protection. NASA launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) aboard a SpaceX Falcon on November 23rd. That was of course not a response to the passage of Asteroid 2021 UA1 (the launch had been originally planned for earlier in the year) but it's a sign that asteroid diversion technology is under preliminary development. The spacecraft will intercept, according to Space.com, the binary near-Earth asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos. DART will hit its target, the smaller of the two objects, Dimorphos, in October of next year. The European Space Agency will launch a follow-on mission ("Hera") aboard an Ariane 6 in 2024. Hera's goal will be to observe what, if any, changes DART's impact made to Dimorphos's orbit.
It would seem, POLITICO muses, that there ought to be some sort of international body charged on a permanent basis with planetary protection, but as yet no such organization has been formed.
Cybersecurity for space systems.
Not all threats to space systems are kinetic. Cyberthreats pose a growing risk to space operations. As a Bloomberg headline puts it, "The next big hack could come from the stars." A cyberattack might affect satellite communication (especially as more Internet connectivity comes to be delivered by low-earth orbit constellations like StarLink) or navigation and timing (GPS is always of concern). It might also, however, affect ground stations, or the industrial hardware and software supply chains on which space operations depend.
The relatively young Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Space-ISAC) conducted an exercise at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ ASCEND space technology conference to help determine how Space-ISAC will organize the watch center it intends to stand up to maintain cyber situational awareness. And CISA, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has, FedScoop reports, assembled a working group to assess cyber risks to space infrastructure. The US has yet to formally designate space infrastructure as critical, but the CISA study suggests that it may be moving in that direction. The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) has published a paper laying out the case for designating space systems as critical infrastructure. INSA sees better information-sharing and more clarity with respect to roles and missions as two of the principal benefits that such designation would bring.
Allied cooperation in space.
US allies are looking for "niche" space capabilities they might be able to contribute to combined operations, Breaking Defense reports. A great deal of allied cooperation will be in research and development. There are currently four multilateral Project Arrangements under which such cooperation is ongoing:
"Micro-Satellite Military Utility (MSMU) PA: to evaluate the utility, performance, technical feasibility, and potential cost of microsatellite concepts to determine the extent to which military Microsatellite systems can provide a cost-effective replacement or complement to other space assets."
"Military Optical Satellite Communications and Optical Space Data Relay (MOSCOM) PA: to determine the interoperability, benefits, and limitations of evolving optical satellite communications technologies, including data relay and machine to machine interactions."
"Responsive Launch and Range (ReLaR) PA: explore, identify, and assess concepts to reduce the cost of launch and improve the military space launch responsiveness of the Participants to this Project. This ReLaR PA will explore responsive space capabilities-related technologies that may increase the responsiveness of launch operations."
"Low-Light Automatic Identification System (AIS) for Maritime Domain Awareness (LLAMDA) PA: The development of a low-cost non-cooperative space-based maritime surveillance capability using an EO sensor and a micro-satellite approach."
And some allies are working toward becoming major space powers in their own right. Via Satellite summarizes British Prime Minister Johnson's strategy for "Galactic Britain."
Industry notes: Mr. Musk wants the Raptor engine fixed pronto.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend Elon Musk emailed concerns about the development of SpaceX's Raptor engine to the company's employees. The Raptor is intended to power SpaceX's advanced, deep-space-exploring, Tintinesque Starship. The Verge reports that Musk's email characterized the Raptor as a "disaster," and said that if the program weren't put right, it might place SpaceX at risk of bankruptcy. So it's all hands on deck. The email read, in part, “I was going to take this weekend off, as my first weekend off in a long time, but instead I will be on the Raptor line all night and through the weekend.” Few think SpaceX is in imminent danger of going under, and Musk has had a tendency to speak and write for effect (he's said the company's flirted with bankruptcy before, for example), but the recent departure of some senior executives seems to have induced some stress at SpaceX.
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Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting .
Attacks, Threats, and Vulnerabilities
Chinese orbital bombardment? Don't panic!(Breaking Defense) Around this time last month the defense world was sent a tizzy by a reported Chinese hypersonic orbital weapons test. While many questions remain unanswered, Bleddyn Bowen and Cameron Hunter of the University of Leicester have some advice: calm down. The following is an abridged and updated summary of a report published by the Asia-Pacific…
The Next Big Hack Could Come From the Stars(Bloomberg) A new era of space development also means more opportunities for hackers to hit vulnerable systems and cause havoc with the growing number of satellites spinning around our skies.
CISA working group assessing cyber risks to space infrastructure(FedScoop) The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency established a cross-sector space working group that is performing an assessment of risks to both federal and commercial space infrastructure, said Assistant Director Bob Kolasky. CISA’s primary concern is mitigating cyber risks to position, navigation and timing (PNT) services and GPS, Kolasky said, during an AFCEA Bethesda event on […]
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Space Investment Has Moved Past Max-Q, Can it Continue to Ascend?(Via Satellite) “Max-Q” is the moment in the launch sequence where a rocket experiences maximum dynamic pressure. After this point, the force on the rocket decreases quickly and the entire mission control room can rest a little easier. The space industry with its myriad of new startups has now successfully gone through its own Max-Q. Over the last decade, these startups have grinded, innovated, and withstood the drag of naysayers and limited amounts of early capital to blaze ahead into higher altitudes.
Space Force Searching for Spying-as-a-Service Satellite Options(Bloomberg Law) Boeing has accrued $157 million in obligations to date providing the current space and ground segments of military space-based surveillance, but the U.S. Space Force is indicating a potential shift in strategy that could bring different companies into the picture.
NRO Says It Buys 50K Commercial Images Weekly — Tally Likely to Grow(Via Satellite) The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) said on Nov. 3 that it has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the agency’s Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL), as the agency looks to boost its involvement with commercial companies. “Right now, we procure approximately 50,000 commercial images each and every
Telesat Will be Publicly Traded by End of Year, CEO Forecasts in Q3 Report(Via Satellite) Telesat reported a modest revenue decline of 5% in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, and CEO Dan Goldberg said Telesat expects to complete its deal to become publicly traded by the end of the year. Third quarter revenue was $192 million Canadian dollars ($154 million), down 5% compared
Mynaric Places Shares on US Nasdaq Market(Via Satellite) Laser communication company Mynaric, which is publicly traded in Germany, placed shares in the Nasdaq market on Friday. Mynaric announced Friday that it
CACI to Acquire Optical Communications Tech Provider SA Photonics for $275M(Via Satellite) CACI International on Wednesday said it has agreed to acquire SA Photonics for $275 million in a deal that complements its existing Free Space Optical (FSO) communications capabilities for the U.S. government and commercial customers, and adds development and production capacity. The transaction is subject to
Firefly Establishes Space Transport Services Subsidiary, Hires Jason Mello(Via Satellite) Firefly Aerospace has renamed its subsidiary that serves government customers and hired former U.S. Air Force Colonel Jason Mello to lead it. Mello will join as president of Firefly Space Transport Services (STS), formerly known as Firefly Black, located in Washington D.C. The company said that subsidiary Firefly
FCC Authorizes Boeing V-Band LEO Broadband Constellation(Via Satellite) Boeing could be joining the fray of broadband constellation competitors in the coming years, expanding its role in space beyond manufacturing. On Wednesday, the FCC approved a Boeing application for a license to construct, deploy, and operate a satellite constellation. Boeing’s plan is for a V-band constellation of
OneWeb Signs New Agreements with BT and Leonardo(Via Satellite) OneWeb continues its momentum by announcing another new deals with BT Group and Leonardo DRS. OneWeb and British telecommunications company BT have agreed on a new distribution partner agreement to provide Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communication services across BT Group. This deal was announced Nov.2. This
Thaicom Profit Doubles in Q3 2021 Compared to 2020(Via Satellite) Thaicom doubled its profit in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same time in 2020, according to results released Oct. 20. The Thai satellite operator had profits for the three months to the end of September of 146 million Baht ($4.31 million). This compares to Baht 77 million ($2.31 million) in the same
Intelsat Restructuring Costs Add Up to a Net Loss in Q3 2021(Via Satellite) Global satellite operator Intelsat generated a 7% year-over-year increase in total revenue during its third fiscal quarter of 2021, but its hefty legal and restructuring costs caused net losses to jump from $15.9 million to $145.7 million. Intelsat earned $526.1 million in revenue and spent $98.3 million in
Mercury Systems acquires Atlanta Micro(GlobeNewswire News Room) Expands Company’s RF and microwave component portfolioDeepens market penetration in core EW, radar, and weapons marketsStrengthens Mercury’s leadership...
Viasat Names Kevin Harkenrider as COO(Via Satellite) Viasat has named a new chief operating officer, selecting Kevin Harkenrider for the role. Harkenrider has been with the company since 2006. As COO, he
ANA Holdings to Procure 20 Virgin Orbit Flights from Japan(Via Satellite) Virgin Orbit has signed an MoU with the holding company of Japan’s largest airline that paves the way for 20 LauncherOne flights from Japan. On Nov. 4, Virgin Orbit announced the MoU with ANA Holdings, the owners of Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways (ANA), which will procure 20 flights of the LauncherOne
Intelsat and OneWeb Demonstrate GEO/LEO Service to U.S. DoD(Via Satellite) Intelsat, OneWeb, and Linchpin Solutions demonstrated a multi-orbit satellite communications solution for the U.S. Army and Department of Defense (DoD). Intelsat and OneWeb government subsidiary OneWeb Technologies used both Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites simultaneously, and software
Amazon to Launch Prototype Kuiper Satellites with ABL Space Systems in 2022(Via Satellite) Amazon plans to launch its first two prototype satellites for the Project Kuiper constellation with ABL Space Systems in the fourth quarter of 2022, the company announced Monday. Amazon has signed a multi-launch agreement with ABL Space Systems, which is developing the RS1 rocket, for launches from Cape Canaveral
Lynk Signs Commercial Agreement with Mongolian MNO Unitel(Via Satellite) Lynk Global has signed another mobile network operator for service on its satellite-to-cell service. Mongolia’s largest mobile operator, Unitel, has signed on as a member of Lynk’s flagship carrier program. Lynk is working to launch a satellite-to-cell network, which allows cell phone users to send messages outside
Measat Inks New Capacity Deal With Rock Entertainment Holdings(Via Satellite) Measat Satellite Systems has signed a new capacity deal with Rock Entertainment Holdings. The company announced Nov. 2 that it will distribute Global Trekker HD via its Measat-3a satellite. The channel joins Measat’s HD video neighborhood at 91.5 degrees East for viewers across the Asia Pacific region. The 91.5
Hispasat Signs Exclusive Capacity Agreement with Eutelsat for Portugal and Spain(Via Satellite) Hispasat has signed a capacity agreement with Eutelsat Communications to be the exclusive operator and distributor of KONNECT capacity in Spain and Portugal. This is a multi-year agreement that Hispasat said will support ubiquitous access to high-speed fixed broadband in Spain and Portugal. Eutelsat said in the Oct.
SpaceBridge VSAT Network Deployed to 2,000 Sites in Oman With SCT(Via Satellite) SpaceBridge has delivered a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) network to connect 2,000 locations in Oman, the company announced Oct. 26. SpaceBridge worked with Space Communication Technologies (SCT), which is owned by the government of Oman. SpaceBridge delivered its multiple spot beam (MSB) Ka-band broadband
Hunton Andrews Kurth Launches National Security Practice(Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP) Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP helps businesses around the world navigate complex legal challenges in the energy, financial services, real estate investment and finance, retail and consumer products, and technology sectors and beyond. The firm has offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
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.
Next Generation Of Tactical Terminals for Resilient Tactical SATCOM(SatNews) Today the Army’s tactical SATCOM network uses GEO satellites to deliver services to the warfighter. This legacy capability allows Army commanders to perform command and control duties while on the move (OTM) in ground tactical vehicles. Future US Army’s SATCOM solution will add resiliency for operations by incorporating emerging LEO, MEO and GEO HTS services into this network.
Space Force sees AI as 'absolutely essential' for JADC2(Breaking Defense) Brig. Gen. John Olson said that for JADC2 to work, "artificial intelligence and machine learning are absolutely essential enablers to make us able to react, and respond, and again, make sense of the information, then act upon it."
Urban Life on Mars?(Bloomberg) In October, an international cohort of thinkers beamed into the virtual 2021 conference of the Mars Society, which has advocated colonizing the planet since 1998. In an age of low-cost rocket launches and Shatner space jaunts, it was a sign of how attainable the possibility of reaching Mars suddenly seems that the discussions were often about mundane logistics. How would criminals be jailed? What would safe sex mean in a low-gravity, low-oxygen environment? Should Mars have a Catholic diocese?
UK-Led TRUTH Mission to Fight Climate Change Moves to Early Design Phase(Via Satellite) The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has revealed new details this week at COP26 for a United Kingdom-led mission that will aim to set a new benchmark to detect change in Earth’s climate system. This mission called TRUTHS — Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies — will aim to be the gold standard
VP Harris To Convene First Space Council Meeting on December 1(Space Policy Onlne) Posted: November 5, 2021 6:50 pm ET | Last Updated: November 6, 2021 1:07 pm ET | Find out what Vice President Kamala Harris's plans are for the White House National Space Council, which she chairs, and her views on the value of space activities to combat climate change.
Designating the U.S. Space Sector as Critical Infrastructure(INSA) It is in the national interest to designate space systems as a sector of the critical infrastructure of the United States. As commercial companies have driven significant technological innovation and growth in the space sector, space-related technologies and systems have become increasingly critical to U.S. national and economic security. Designation of space as a critical infrastructure sector would enable public-private collaboration and information-sharing regarding both the space sector’s vulnerabilities and the threats space assets face.
Where will the Space National Guard land?(Air Force Times) Congress is divided on whether to establish a Space National Guard apart from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units with space missions.
How Will SATCOM Evolve From GWOT To Great Power?(Breaking Defense) DoD Satcom Chief Mike Dean discusses how new, disruptive capabilities for SATCOM in LEO, MEO, and GEO are creating novel mission sets for all-domain operations and new ways of paying for it. He also provides a status report on developing enterprise SATCOM command and control.
Air Combat Command transfers SIPRNet mission to the Air Education and Training Command(DVIDS) In a historical transfer of responsibility, Lt. Col. Traci Sarmiento, 690th Intelligence Support Squadron commander transferred the local Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) mission to the 502nd Communications Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Waddell, Oct. 29, 2021 at Joint Base San Antonio- Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
The EU Faces Legal Changes Ahead for Cybersecurity in Space(Via Satellite) Cybersecurity remains one of the central topics when it comes to the space sector, not the least because of the role that satellite networks play in society, from satellite communications to Earth Observation (EO), to navigation. Nevertheless, few national space legislations have expressly addressed the need to meet cybersecurity requirements.
Blue Origin Plans No Further Legal Action After Losing NASA Lunar Lander Appeal(Via Satellite) A judge in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied Blue Origin’s request for judgement in a lawsuit over SpaceX receiving NASA’s sole lunar lander award on Thursday. This uphold’s NASA’s selection of SpaceX in April 2021 for a firm-fixed price, $2.89 billion contract to send astronauts to the Moon on the Starship
Compiled and published by the CyberWire editorial staff. Views and assertions in source articles are those of the authors, not CyberWire, Inc. or Cosmic AES