Development of international norms in space, and a strategy consistent with them.
Military education for Space Force.
Space junk, and a market for orbital trash collection.
UFOs back in the news.
Connectivity delivered from low-earth orbit.
SpaceX continues to build out its constellation of StarLink satellites with the aim of delivering Internet connectivity to remote or otherwise underserved regions. It put sixty new StarLink satellites up in a March 11th launch, Space.com reports. According to the Verge, the company intends to deliver mobile service as well, and has applied to the FCC for permission to do so. On March 5th SpaceX applied filed for "a blanket license authorizing operation" of Starlink terminals on what the filing called "Earth Stations in Motion," that is, vehicles: cars, trucks, ships, boats, and aircraft. The company summarized its motivation for developing the service as follows: "No longer are users willing to forego connectivity while on the move, whether driving a truck across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a U.S. port, or while on a domestic or international flight." The SpaceX constellation now has more than a thousand satellites.
The Wall Street Journal reports that SpaceX has some competitors in this market, including Amazon, OneWeb, and Telesat. OneWeb, which has emerged from bankruptcy, tells Space News that its focus will be on delivering connectivity to the Arctic, and that it sees the US Government as its principal customer. And one of the big defense integrators, Lockheed Martin, apparently also intends to enter the market, having announced its plans to deliver 5G service from earth orbit. The Motley Fool looks at the investment implications of the move and wonders if this will disrupt terrestrial cell tower technology (and the REITs people buy to invest in the towers).
Multidomain operations and training.
Multidomain operations, including specifically the fourth and fifth domains of cyber and space, have increasingly become a normal part of major tactical training events. The US Air Force's Red Flag 2021, for example, is paying particular attention to developing agile, cross-domain proficiency and data integration in participating units.
Development of international norms in space, and balancing restraint with pursuit of superiority.
Great power competition in space continues to intensify. A study published by King's College London outlines the scope and ambitions of China's strategy for space, and they are indeed expansive. Among Beijing's plans is the establishment of a lunar base some time during the 2030s. Ars Technica reports that Russia, turning away during a period of increased tension with the US from such partnership as it's established with NASA, has signed on to cooperate with China's effort to set up an installation on the moon. Robots will go first, to be followed by human taikonauts.
The Sino-Russian plans are proceeding outside of the Artemis Accords, which represent an attempt to negotiate international norms for lunar exploration and, possibly, exploitation. The international norms governing space operations remain immature, even after several decades of thought and negotiation. Recent strategic discussions have tended to focus on how to achieve dominance, or at least superiority, in the space domain, but observers think the Biden Administration likely to take a less assertive stance than its predecessor. Breaking Defense reports that the young Administration is likely to emphasize delivery of combat support and service support from space, which is a more traditional understanding of the domain than the previous emphasis on development of space warfighting capabilities.
One particularly difficult strategic task the US faces in the near- and mid-term will be reconceptualizing what deterrence would look like in the space domain. On the tactical level, Space Force chief General Raymond tells Air Force Magazine that there's no "one-size fits all" response to hostile activity in space.
This discussion isn't confined to the US defense establishment. The Independent reports that the UK is trying to evolve a space strategy, and according to ABC, the Royal Australian Air Force used the occasion of its hundredth anniversary to announce the formation of a Space Command. Such considerations extend beyond the Anglophone powers, too: the Diplomat describes how Taiwan increasingly sees its space capabilities as affording it an essential advantage in its very asymmetrical competition with China.
Military education for Space Force.
As more military personnel transition into Space Force (and are consulted on what they'd like their enlisted members' insignia of rank to look like) the youngest Service is considering what its professional military education will look like. For senior professional development, an opinion piece in War on the Rocks argues that officers preparing for senior commands and promotion to general officer rank should be educated in Space Force's own war college. The domain in which it operates is radically different from those where the other Services are at home and is subject to markedly different legal and strategic regimes. And besides, Space Force is going to remain relatively small, and its senior personnel will be in such demand that an institution dedicated to their formation is in order.
At the other end of the professional military education continuum, the early, pre-career section, Space Force Junior ROTC units will open at ten high schools in the coming academic year. Air Force Magazine reports that the first ten detachments will be established at Arlington Career Center (Arlington, Virginia), Del Norte High School (Albuquerque, New Mexico), Durango High School (Las Vegas, Nevada), Falcon High School (Peyton, Colorado), Huntsville High School (Huntsville, Alabama), Klein High School (Spring, Texas), Shadow Mountain High School (Phoenix, Arizona), Space Coast Junior/Senior High School (Cocoa, Florida), the Academy for Academic Excellence (Apple Valley, California), and Warren County High School (Warrenton, North Carolina).
A War on the Rocks op-ed disputes what it sees as conventional Washington wisdom about Space Force, that the Service is in some way troubled, facing headwinds in public opinion. The essay sees none of that, and argues that in fact the public generally gets the point of Space Force and values its mission. "A recent Morning Consult poll showed that 61 percent of American adults support the recent Biden White House statement that the Space Force has the "full support of the Biden administration." Perhaps more notably, more adults (23 percent) had no opinion about the Space Force than those who oppose it (15 percent)."
How will Space Force approach recruiting? Defense One thinks the Service has a natural advantage, what it characterizes as the "natural inclusivity of space nerds." Apparently if General Raymond wants to build diversity into the Service, he should pay attention to the Roddenberryesque imagination of the science fiction fans Defense One sees as his natural recruiting pool.
Quartz reports that special purpose acquisition companies, "SPACs," or "blank-check acquisitions," are coming to the space sector as an alternative to the traditional initial public offering (IPO) as a way of taking a company public. Virgin Galactic was a leader, merging with a SPAC as its way of going public in 2019.
Space junk, and a market for orbital trash collection.
NOAA-17, a US weather satellite decommissioned eight years ago, broke up in orbit on March 10th. The 18th Space Control Squadron tweeted that the spacecraft's disintegration did not appear to have been the result of a collision, and Space News reported that the debris did not pose a threat to the International Space Station or other assets in orbit.
On March 11th the International Space Station itself jettisoned almost three tons of used batteries. Space.com says that NASA has reassured everyone that the junk, being tracked as EP9 (Exposed Pallet 9) will decay from orbit and burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere in two to four years. Some tweeted commentary points with concern to the dump, albeit with acknowledgements that it probably doesn't represent a major threat.
The space sector sees a business opportunity in cleaning up debris in low earth orbit. Quartz describes how one company, Astroscale, hopes to deploy a system, ELSA-d, as a "robot garbage collector." WIRED explains the spacecraft's name as an acronym, "End of Life Services by Astroscale demonstration," and says that the ELSA-d consists of two spacecraft. One is "a 386-pound mini-fridge-sized servicing satellite armed with a magnet. The other is a smaller, 37-pound client satellite" that will serve as a target for the larger craft. The project is a proof-of-concept intended to demonstrate the feasibility of pursuing, catching, and magnetically capturing an object in space. The program is being conducted in cooperation with JAXA, Japan's space agency. ELSA-d was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 22nd.
Flying saucers are back in the news.
The Guardian and others are looking forward to the soon-expected release of US Government UFO files. A former senior member of the US Intelligence Community teased that some of the material is "difficult to explain," Space.com says. POLITICO reports that intelligence agencies are being accused of "stiff-arming" (or "ignoring," which in some ways seems more reasonable) requests from UFO researchers and enthusiasts for assistance cataloging sightings. Realistically, those interested in seeing the files are unlikely to be satisfied by anything short of a full acknowledgement of a Government cover-up, accompanied by unambiguous photographic evidence of alien spacecraft. But in any case, live long and prosper, ufologists.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Australia, China, Iran, Japan, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, NATO/OTAN, Russia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
'Warning Signs Are Flashing Red' On Chinese Dominance Over Semiconductors, Shipbuilding(Breaking Defense) "We dealt with this in the 5G debate and to me it wasn't just a matter of Huawei and ZTE technology allowing [China] to spy on people around the world," Rep. Mike Gallagher said. "It was them being able to use that dominant market position in 5G in order to either shut down networks or coerce other countries into doing their bidding."
Boeing's Defense Unit Dealt Setback by Pentagon(Wall Street Journal) Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, instead of Boeing, were selected to compete to provide a new system aimed at knocking out long-range missiles fired by adversaries, estimated to cost $12 billion.
Rocket Lab could be SpaceX's biggest rival(MIT Technology Review) With the announcement of a brand-new rocket called Neutron, the private space company is challenging Blue Origin as the main competition to SpaceX.
Satellogic Partners With Four Major Space Organizations(Satnews) Satellogic has announced new partnerships with four, major, US-based space organizations: The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), SmallSat Alliance and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).
Why Boeing's Starliner Test Launch Is Mission Critical(Wall Street Journal) After years of cost overruns, errors and delays, Boeing's space program is facing a major test: Later this year it will likely make its second attempt to launch its Starliner crew capsule to the International Space Station. WSJ looks at the company's path to this crucial moment, and what's riding on the test flight's success. Illustration: Alex Kuzoian/WSJ
Boeing Moon Rocket Passes NASA Test(Wall Street Journal) Engines for Artemis mission, which encountered a setback in January, complete an eight-minute run, paving the way for lunar flight this year.
Army, Air Force 'Squarely Focused' on Project Convergence 21 Wargame: Generals(Breaking Defense) The task is mammoth and entails integrating "millions of lines of code," according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffery Valenzia. But "with innovation comes opportunity," Army Brig. Gen. Robert Collins observed. "Speed is what will really give us that overmatch against adversaries," said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher.
DARPA builds AI to avoid Army and USAF fratricide(Intelligent Aerospace) JADC2 will need to navigate how to ensure that Air Force and Army weapons developed for long-range precision fires are not redundant or incompatible, reports Theresa Hitchens for Breaking Defense.
SDA & DARPA: June Demos To Prove Optical Sat Link Capability(Breaking Defense) "Getting a laser beam on a spacecraft to point to a laser receiver on another spacecraft accurately enough with the right power levels, the right waveforms, etc.,-- it's not an easy thing," said General Atomics VP Nick Bucci.
The Space Rush: New US Strategy Must Bring Order, Regulation(Breaking Defense) While visionary corporate leaders may be willing to take high risks on space, a space economy will rely on markets to price risk and insure space activity. Normalizing business in space will require the United States to provide the public good of security in Earth orbit, just as the US Navy instills confidence in maritime commerce on the high seas.
DoD's Own Bureaucracy Top Barrier To Winning Spectrum Back(Breaking Defense) America's inability to progress beyond "Cold War capabilities" in this "most important environment to modern warfare" follows three EMS strategies over eight years. "They weren't bad strategies," experts agreed, but DoD simply failed to fully implement them. Now GAO is warning the latest strategy, just months old, may face the same fate.
Biden Admin Expected To Rein In 'Space Power' Push(Breaking Defense) Instead of focusing on the pressing need to shore up vulnerabilities in current and near-term space capabilities, says one critic, Space Force and SPACECOM are "all off trying to train for how they're going to go fight a space war."
DoD Faces Tough Decisions On Space Rules(Breaking Defense) "The understanding of what deterrence is has been misinterpreted, reinterpreted, run through a ringer, chopped up and turned into a hamburger. I mean, it's just that nobody there [at DoD] seems to understand what it means exactly," one former government official said.
INDOPACOM Drafts Regional Strategy For All-Domain Ops(Breaking Defense) The emerging Indo-Pacific Warfighting Concept has been drafted, but still has "a ways to go as far as working through the Department of Defense," says INDOPACOM's head of requirements, George Ka'iliwai.
SPACECOM To Tighten Ties To Japan(Breaking Defense) "The US doesn't go anywhere alone, we don't do it alone around the world, and we certainly don't do it alone in space," Lt. Gen. Nina M. Armagno, Space Force staff director said yesterday.
First Air Force to Become SPACECOM's Air Component(Air Force Magazine) First Air Force will provide Air Force support to the recently re-established U.S. Space Command, making the organization responsible for both protecting the homeland and now supporting operations in space. The numbered Air Force also will continue to support U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. Air Combat Command is working out how to organize, train, and equip First Air Force for the new mission, with initial operational capability expected by the end of calendar year 2021.
Space Force JROTC to Get First Units Starting This Fall(Air Force Magazine) The Space Force and the national Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps announced the first 10 JROTC units to convert their affiliation from the Air Force to the Space Force. All 10 schools converting volunteered. Selections were based on proximity to Space Force or related government agencies, including Space Force bases, facilities, and centers of influence, such as U.S. Space Command Headquarters, or NASA, Missile Defense Agency, and other locations, or where the current instructor cadre had prior space operations experience.
GAO to review Space Command headquarters decision(C4ISRNET) The Government Accountability Office will look into the Air Force's decision to move Space Command's headquarters to Huntsville, Alabama, following a request from a Colorado congressman.
Why Space Command should stay in Colorado Springs(Air Force Times) In this commentary, a former commander of NORAD and NORTHCOM argues why he supports reviewing the process that selected Huntsville, Alabama, over Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base for U.S. Space Command's headquarters.