SpaceX successfully conducted the first crewed flight of its Dragon capsule this past weekend. A Falcon 9 carried the two astronauts into orbit from Cape Canaveral at 3:22 PM on Saturday, May 30th. National Geographic has a good summary of the mission and its implications for commercial space: the crew were from NASA, the vehicle from SpaceX.
It's not only the first crewed flight from the US since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, but it's also the first time a private company has put astronauts into orbit Quartz notes. The Dragon's crew demonstrated their ability to control the spacecraft manually enroute to docking with the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken boarded the ISS on Sunday after a successful docking, the Washington Post reports. It represents a clear win for SpaceX, which has now beaten Boeing's Starliner into orbit.
Other launch notes.
United Launch Alliance said, shortly before it successfully placed the Air Force's X-37B spaceplane into orbit, said that it expected its launches this year to proceed on schedule, unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Defense News reports. The X-37B's May 17th launch was a success; it's the spaceplane's sixth mission. Yahoo says this one carries an experiment designed to demonstrate the feasibility of collecting solar power in earth orbit and beaming it down to the surface, the pace Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) Project. WIRED has an extended account of that experiment. Other experiments, C4ISRNet reports, include "FalconSat-8, an educational small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy that will carry five experimental payloads. Also on board will be two National Aeronautics and Space Administration experiments that will study the effects of radiation and the space environment on seeds used for food products."
Virgin Orbit lost a test mission on May 25th when its LauncherOne system was released from its 747 mothership over the Pacific. According to UPI, the first stage ignited but then experienced "an anomaly" that led Virgin Orbit to terminate the mission. The 747 and its crew returned safely.
DARPA's Blackjack satellite will fly later this year.
C4ISRNet reports that DARPA's Blackjack program will orbit its first satellite in 2020. The Blackjack satellites will demonstrate space-based mesh networks and autonomous constellations, and connectivity with tactical communications systems.
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China's counter-space capabilities and "cislunar ambitions."
Eurasia Review describes China's counter-space capabilities. There's a dual-use approach evident: co-orbital anti-satellite systems can easily be developed as on-orbit repair capabilities. National Defense outlines another aspect of Beijing's space ambitions: operations in cislunar space, beyond geosynchronous orbit, and including lunar orbit.
Space Force has a flag, a temporary home for Space Command, and is developing its roles and missions.
Space Force unveiled its official colors at the White House on May 15th, CNN reports, another symbolic milestone for the new Service.
Its Space Command also has a home, at least for the next six years: it's going to be Colorado Springs, writes that city's Gazette. It might be there permanently, but that decision will await the outcome of a competition among states who think themselves able to accommodate the Service's headquarters. Colorado is one of the frontrunners; but Alabama (home of Redstone Arsenal) and California (with Vandenberg Air Force Base) are also in the running, Military.com reports.
The Air Force is running the site selection process on behalf of Space Force, and Defense News has a rundown of the criteria they're using to evaluate the competing sites. They must meet three minimal standards to be considered:
"The location must be within one of the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., based on 2019 population estimates from the Census Bureau.
"The location must be within 25 miles or less of a military base.
"The location must have a livability index score of at least 50 points out of 100, based on statistics kept by AARP’s Public Policy Institute."
Beyond that, the evaluation will look at the following criteria, each given an appropriate weight:
"Mission related (40 points): This assessment will look at the “available qualified workforce, proximity to mutually supporting space entities, and ability of the eligible locations to provide emergency and incident response requirements, and enable mobility,” per the release. Locations that already have a space-focused workforce would seem to have an edge here.
"Infrastructure capacity (30 points): Everything from parking spaces and communications bandwidth to security requirements fall under this category, with a special emphasis on judging how well the closest military base will meet requirements for service members’ medical care, childcare and housing needs.
"Community support (15 points): Essentially, this is how judges will rank the local community in terms of school quality, cost of living and access to military support programs, among other factors.
"Costs to the Department of the Air Force (15 points): How much will this cost to set up? One-time infrastructure costs, how much construction will cost in the area and the rate of basic housing allowance factor in here. As with the first category, a preexisting infrastructure for space issues could be a benefit."
Space Force will be open to receiving members from all the Armed Services, but a great many of its personnel will come from the Air Force, and Air Force Magazine describes the recruiting pitch the new Service is using to attract Airmen. That recruiting presentation includes a succinct description of Space Force's place among the Services (it's administratively within the Department of the Air Force as the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy), its mission (protecting space-based assets vital to national life), and the rationale for setting it up (American dominance in space is being challenged by other countries, and the US needs to be able to buy space systems faster and more efficiently). The roles the new Service will assume include working against a range of threats, including electronic warfare, cyberattacks, both directed-energy and kinetic-energy weapons, orbital threats, ground site attacks, and nuclear detonations in space.
The Space Force vice commander, Lieutenant General David Thompson, told Breaking Defense that it wasn't their intention to compete with the other Services, and in particular that Space Force would avoid assuming missions or capabilities those Services regarded as integral combat capabilities.
GPS spectrum management and the FCC's Ligado decision.
The US Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) April 20th decision to open the L-band spectrum to Ligado Networks for use in 5G applications has not gone unopposed, according to C4ISRNet. The Department of Defense opposed the proposal (which was supported by, C4ISRNet reports, the White House National Economic Council) because of concerns that 5G L-band signals could interfere with GPS.
Defense isn't reconciled to the decision, although it's working on plans for greater resilience in GPS. The Pentagon has been joined by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has filed a request for a stay in Ligado's 5G plans, and by a bipartisan group of thirty-two Senators who've written the FCC to ask for a reconsideration of the decision.
L-band interference would of course be inadvertent, but there are deliberate threats to GPS. Russian jamming in particular has recently given cause for concern, and an op-ed in C4ISRNet summarizes and advocates measures that could introduce more resilience in the system.
Space business notes.
Intelsat filed for bankruptcy this past month. C4ISRNet reports that the Chapter 11 filing affects the company's commercial operations but not its defense business, Intelsat General. The company's financial problems were exacerbated in part by the FCC's plans, announced in the Fall, to auction off C-band spectrum to make it available for 5G systems. Intelsat and other C-band users had hoped to sell their rights to the spectrum directly. The bankruptcy represents an opportunity for restructuring.
Space Force, according to Space News, announced on May 22nd that competing Next-Generation Overhead Infrared satellite sensor packages successfully passed preliminary design reviews. The two payloads, one designed by Raytheon Technologies and the other by a Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace team, will compete to be flown aboard Next-Generation OPIR satellites. The launches are scheduled to begin in 2025.
VOX Space, a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, has received a Space Force contract to put cubesats into orbit from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. The company's LauncherOne, an air-launch system that uses a Boeing 747 to carry the rocket booster aloft, would be used to fly the payloads, C4ISRNet reports.
Hey astronauts: keep your noses clean and your hands to yourself on that moon up there. (And we're looking at you, too, cosmonauts and taikonauts.)
NASA is working on "rules for behavior on the lunar surface," the Washington Post reports. Those rules would form part of an international agreement designed to facilitate economic activity on the moon. The US hopes to have an agreement in place before a projected return to the moon in 2024. NASA sources say the Artemis Accords wouldn't supersede or even change the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that prevents any nation from laying claim to the moon or other celestial bodies. It would instead permit spacefaring nations to create “safety zones” around mining or exploration sites. Nations would agree to mutual consultation should one intend to enter another's safety zone. There would be certain analogies to rules governing behavior in other global commons.
Parties to the Accords would undertake to publicly explain “the extent and general nature of operations taking place within” their safety zones “while taking into account appropriate protection of business confidential, national security, and export controlled information.” They would also agree to use the zones “in a manner that encourages scientific discovery, technology demonstration, as well as the safe and efficient extraction and utilization of space resources,” publicly revealing “the extent and general nature of operations taking place within” their zones.
NASA's invited Russian participation in the Accords, but early indications are that Russia, predictably, isn't not buying it. Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, tweeted that the American plan would lead only to conflict, "only Irag or Afghanistan will come out of this." Vice offers a summary of this and other reactions to the proposed international agreement.
Space Force (the television series, not the military service).
We should caution you, readers, that this brief review of the Netflix series Space Force probably contains spoilers. If you dislike spoilers, please read no further.
Like 1998's HBO film The Pentagon Wars, the Netflix television show Space Force whose first season premiered Friday is in part a satire of the US Defense procurement process. Like Stanley Kubrick's 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, Space Force is in part a satire of military and national security culture.
Reviews of the first season haven't been kind to the show (it earned a 37% on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, and the best Forbes was willing to do was a reluctant, well, it wasn't that bad). There's an interesting divide: reviews in the military-focused press, in outlets like Task & Purpose, were generally more positive than those in the general interest media. In part this is because one of the things the show gets right is the military look: the uniforms are either accurate, when they're Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine Corps uniforms, or at least plausible, when they're worn by Space Force personnel ("Spacemen," as the show calls them, on analogy with "Airmen"). Space Force of course has no distinctive uniforms yet, but the Air Force-derived Class A's with the navy blue shirt look like something a Service might come up with. And the lunar-surface camouflage battledress is great: it looks like it means business, and, really, it's no more absurd than the Navy's recently retired Type I blue camouflage, whose concealment capabilities seemed limited to making you hard to see if you fell overboard. (Still, that one looked good, too.)
Military people appreciate that sort of attention to detail, surprisingly rare in Hollywood. And the show also checks off other boxes: competition in space between China and the US, with Russia playing the role of also-ran and spoiler; the place of India as an emerging spacefaring nation; territorial claims to the lunar surface that really aren't territorial claims at all; the cult of disruptive innovation in Defense acquisition; Silicon Valley bogosity, Colorado's place in military space operations, and so on.
There was some funny stuff in the first season. John Malkovich sells the role of Chief Scientist Dr. Mallory, and he's especially funny in a sequence of swift alteration between cool, controlled civilized rationality and wild, schoolyard screaming. Steve Carell, as Space Force commander General Naird is also fairly convincing, and not the buffoon one sees if one regards his character as simply The Office's Michael Scott in lunar-surface battledress.
And one of the most successful episodes deals with a Theranos-like company that's produced a lite, high-energy, planet-friendly rocket propellant they call "Skinny Fuel." The young and hip CEO Edison Jaymes (Kaitlin Olson) shows up to demonstrate her product in what Dr. Mallory describes as "jeans and a thousand dollars of diamonds--that's the look." Her Maybach may sport Colorado vanity plates (they say "DI$RPT") but spiritually Edison Jaymes is from Silicon Valley. Her fuel is turned down, eventually, despite the hype with which it arrives.
But too much in the series doesn't work. The subplots involving General Naird's wife (Lisa Kudrow) and teenaged daughter (Diana Silvers) are too poorly realized to be salvaged by strong performances. Mrs. Naird is sentenced to a Federal prison between General Naird's assignment to lead Space Force and his arrival two years later at its new Colorado headquarters. It's a forty year sentence, but why? What has she done? We never know, and one gets the impression that the subplot is an allusion, a gesture toward shows like Orange is the New Black. And while Erin Naird is a convincing high school junior, too much of the business she's given seems arbitrary, a maguffin that doesn't even advance the story. And in the end the series fails to deliver a sense of what it might be like to work in a large, still young organization. Space Force might be a new Service, but it's not an organization run by five or so people who among them do basically everything that needs to be done. Not even Dunder-Mifflin's Scranton branch was that much of a mom-and-pop.
Those who lead organizations of even modest size soon learn that they depend on experts, and on experts whose expertise they themselves don't necessarily share, or even understand. That trust isn't blind, and it doesn't seem, at least in the moment, to be irrational. But it does lend itself to dramatic treatment, either as tragedy or comedy. There were a couple of moments when the show seemed to get this. Skinny Fuel's rejection was one. Another was General Naird's explanation of why he decided to risk a launch over the advice of his second-ranking scientist: the man, he said, was holding an umbrella when there were at most two clouds in the sky, and that told the General that he was getting advice from someone who had no realistic understanding of risk. It would have been nice, and funnier, to have more moments like these. So, disappointing, but still, maybe not that bad.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
UK nears final stage of Skynet competition(C4ISRNET) The new competition, for a program known as the service delivery wrap, aims to compete management of the ground control stations until a new generation of communication satellites are launched around 2028.
IBCS Goes Agile(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) A year ago, after the U.S. Department of Defense called for a movement to Agile development methodologies, one of the Northrop Grumman IBCS software teams was part of a pilot program with the U.S. Army. The experience and results were well received and,...
WorldView Legion remains on track for 2021 launch(SpaceNews) Maxar Technologies is on track to begin integrating Earth-imaging sensors built by Raytheon Intelligence & Space with WorldView Legion satellites this summer in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Space Is Cybersecurity's New Frontier(SIGNAL Magazine) Amid growing fears about U.S. military reliance on civilian space infrastructure, two organizations seek to improve cybersecurity in the satellite industry.
DoD Creating Standards For AI Programs(Breaking Defense) DoD has "so many hundreds of programs that we really couldn't do a fair evaluation of each individual activity," Mark Lewis, director of modernization in the Research and Engineering office, said today.
China’s Cislunar Space Ambitions Draw Scrutiny(National Defense) Some members of the space community are sounding the alarm as China indicates it may seek to establish a commanding position in cislunar space, to include the area near the Moon’s orbit.
Russia says US leaving Open Skies Treaty will hurt security(Military Times) Russia said Tuesday that the U.S. decision to withdraw from an international treaty allowing observation flights over military facilities would erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations.
Donald Trump Is Right To Dump the Open Skies Treaty(The National Interest) The United States is well within its rights to begin the six-month withdrawal process from the OST — and the White House’s decision to do so rests squarely on the Kremlin’s willful violations of the nearly three-decades-old treaty.
US Should Start Space Security Talks With Russia, China(Breaking Defense) The Trump administration should declare a U.S. moratorium on destructive ASAT testing and work with like-minded countries to begin laying the groundwork for an eventual legal prohibition. These would be an immense step forward on limiting future ASAT testing and enhancing space security for both the United States and the world.
Space Force's Plan for Cyber Warriors(Air Force Magazine) The Space Force is hashing out how to incorporate offensive cyber operations into its future combat plans, as the service charts a path for cyber Airmen.
30 senators to urge FCC to reverse Ligado decision(C4ISRNET) A bipartisan group of 30 senators are expected to send the Federal Communications Commission a letter urging it to reverse course on its decision to allow Ligado to deploy a nationwide mobile broadband network, saying it may disrupt GPS signals.
CMMC: A strategic perspective(Federal News Network) Exostar’s Stuart Itkin he gives a nuanced perspective on several aspects of Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification.
New Cyber Office Will Unify NAVSEA's Digital Efforts(USNI News) Vice Adm. Tom Moore has listed “cyber” as a top priority for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) since assuming command four years ago, but despite the emphasis, the organization hadn’t found a way to define and pursue cyber and digital issues in any kind of unified way. Even after nudging from former Chief of Naval …
With new standards, the time to prepare is now(Fifth Domain) While it remains unclear what the full impact of COVID-19 will be on the CMMC process, defense contractors have no time to waste in preparing for this new certification.
The Lawfare Podcast: The SpaceX Launch and the Future of Space Law(Lawfare) On Wednesday, NASA and the SpaceX Corporation are scheduled to send astronauts back into outer space from U.S. soil for the first time since the U.S. space shuttle program ended in 2011. The launch promises to kick off a new era in space exploration, one that will see the increased use of outer space for both public and private purposes, as well as greater involvement by private corporations and other unconventional actors in space exploration. To discuss the legal and policy challenges of this new era, Scott R.
AWS files a second JEDI protest with the DOD(Washington Business Journal) Amazon Web Services has fired the latest salvo in the drawn-out legal war over the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative (JEDI) contract, filing a second protest of the potential $10 billion cloud infrastructure procurement with the Department of Defense.
Bid high, lose, try again. Amazon continues to push for a JEDI re-do(Microsoft on the Issues) Amazon may make a lot of noise about bias and interference in their JEDI bid, but the DoD’s independent Inspector General made it clear that the department established and followed a proper procurement process. Amazon alone made the choice to bid high, but now wants to find a way to avoid the consequences of its own bad business decisions.