Collision, deconfliction, and the potential threat of deliberate attacks on satellites.
In March US Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron observed the break-up of Chinese satellite Yunhai-1-02. At the time it wasn't clear whether the incident was a collision or an internal malfunction (perhaps a propellant explosion). But another object being tracked, Object 48078, a fragment left behind in orbit by a Russian Zenit-2 that carried the Tselina-2 reconnaissance satellite, was listed this month in Space-Track.org' database as having "collided with satellite." Space-Track didn't say what satellite it had hit, but Space.com reports that the likely candidate for the collision was Yunhai-1-02.
Object 48078 wasn't (isn't?) very big, just a chunk of old hardware thought to be somewhere between ten and fifty centimetres wide, but that was large enough to make an impression on Yunhai-1-02, which remains in orbit, although whether it's able to function remains unknown. The collision spawned thirty-seven new "debris objects" that are now currently being tracked, with the possibility of an indeterminate number of other chunks not yet cataloged.
"Collisions are proportional to the square of the number of things in orbit," Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Space.com. "That is to say, if you have 10 times as many satellites, you're going to get 100 times as many collisions. So, as the traffic density goes up, collisions are going to go from being a minor constituent of the space junk problem to being the major constituent. That's just math."
There's concern, as low-earth orbit becomes increasingly crowded (Space.com observes that more than half of the near misses today involve Starlink satellites, and those craft are actively managed for deconfliction), that a cascade of collisions, each one spawning dozens, hundreds, or thousands of pieces of debris, could realize the Kessler syndrome. In that situation the debris fields would become so extensive as to effectively deny low-earth orbit to new spacecraft.
There's also the concern that space infrastructure, particularly GPS, are also dangerously vulnerable to deliberate kinetic attack, C4ISRNet reports. The US Senate's version of the 2022 Intelligence Community authorization bill requires that the Director of National Intelligence "in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Commerce, conduct a study on the vulnerability of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to hostile actions, as well as any actions being undertaken by the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, and any other elements of the Federal Government to mitigate any risks stemming from the potential unavailability of the Global 7 Positioning System."
The report, due within one-hundred-eighty days of the act's passage, would have four elements: a vulnerability assessment, a study of the consequences of the loss or degradation of GPS, an inventory of alternative systems that could back up GPS, and an assessment of available risk mitigations.
Missile warning satellite update.
US Space Force's Space Systems Command says the first launch of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR, Block 0 GEO) missile warning satellites remains on track for 2025. Breaking Defense reports that the announcement comes as some in Congress have expressed concern that Space Force is overly optimistic about the program's schedule.
C4ISRNet reports that the Space Development Agency on August 10th also launched an experimental sensor package aboard a Cygnus NG-16 spacecraft on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Prototype Infrared Payload (PIRPL) will serve the development of the Tracking Layer, designed to detect missile launches from low-earth orbit. PIRPL's sensor package includes a multispectral sensor.
Fortunes of the launch industry, and the businesses it supports.
Boeing had hoped for a flight test of its Starliner spacecraft in August, but had to postpone its test indefinitely. The Wall Street Journal estimates the delay as likely to last at least several months. Boeing has removed the capsule from the launch vehicle and returned the capsule to the factory for what it calls "deeper-level troubleshooting" of stuck valves.
Rival SpaceX is proceeding with its own plans for an orbital test flight of its heavy-lifting Starship, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweets could take place in a "matter of weeks." (Space.com has an interesting brief history of Starship's development.) TechCrunch reports that SpaceX has shipped a hundred-thousand Starlink terminals to users, and that the company intends to add more Starlink satellites to its constellation aboard future Starship flights.
Mr. Musk has bigger plans for Starship. He told Space.com that SpaceX could mount a moon mission as early as 2024. (NASA has expressed doubts that this is feasible, with, as DefenseOne puts it, "spacesuits and lawsuits" as the big obstacles.)
Space Force acquisition.
On August 13th Space Force replaced the Space and Missile Systems Center it inherited from the Air Force with Space Systems Command, C4ISRNet reports. The Command's first leader, Lieutenant General Michael Guetlein, who says the new name represents more than a nominal, cosmetic change. It represents "a change in mindset, a change in culture, and driving a unity of effort across not only the Space Force but across the DoD," he told C4ISRNet.
Part of that new mindset is a determination to stay close to the commercial space industry, and the reputation for rapid innovation that typically sticks to the private sector. "The commercial space sector is driving the market, and Space Systems commanders are eager to facilitate these companies and bring their unique solutions into our programs of record," Joy White, Space Systems Command's executive director, told Breaking Defense.
Thus as Space Force matures as a military service, it's considering ways of managing acquisition that would escape the familiar complaints that arise elsewhere in Defense acquisition. C4ISRNet reports that Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Shawn Barnes believes Space Force has enough flexibility in how it issues contracts to meet its operational needs. But he does think that conceiving of procurement in terms of portfolios as opposed to platforms would yield better results.
Should Space Force consider adopting portfolios as a management technique, they have at least one current and proven model to consider: the US Navy's science and technology programs have long been managed and assessed as portfolios. Space Force might consider talking to program officers at the Office of Naval Research to ask them about their experience assembling, running, and defending their research portfolios.
Training and recruiting the Guardians.
Space Force's third and final field command, the one charged with responsibility for training the Guardians, was formally established in a ceremony at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado on August 23rd. C4ISRNet reports that the Space Training and Readiness Command, inevitably to be known as "STARCOM," will be headquartered at Vandeberg Space Force Base in California, as will all but one of the training Deltas. Brigadier General Shawn Bratton, who came from the National Guard Bureau, will be STARCOM"s first commanding general.
So far Space Force has been an active duty Service, but members of Colorado's Congressional delegation are advocating giving it a National Guard component.
A new recruiting campaign, with well-produced videos, has been launched to attract recruits to the ranks of the Guardians. It features General Raymond, and he challenges potential recruits with the slogan, "Space is hard." The campaign seeks to inspire potential Guardians with science, and with the highly specialized role Space Force plays in national defense. And the videos make full use of a range of appealing young Guardians who explain the Service and the role they play in it.
International norms in space, and a new space race.
With the US, Russia, and China all planning to establish bases on the moon, Breaking Defense suggests that it's now received wisdom in the US Congress that we're in a "new space race." This raises fresh questions of international law, DefenseOne notes: if two powers both want a base in the same location, how would the dispute be resolved? On a first-come, first-served basis?
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting .
US, UK and Israel blame Iran for ship attack; Tehran denies(Washington Post) The United States and the United Kingdom joined Israel on Sunday in alleging Iran carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.
Iran faces condemnation over attack on Israeli-owned ship(TheHill) Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers of Group of Seven (G-7) nations and the European Union on Friday issued a joint statement condemning Iran for carrying out a "deliberate and targeted attack" on an Israeli-owned shipping vess
Thales to sell signalling business to Hitachi in $2 bln deal(Reuters) Thales (TCFP.PA), Europe's largest defence electronics company, said it was in advanced talks to sell its GTS railway signalling business to Japan's Hitachi (6501.T) in a deal that values the division at 1.66 billion euros ($2 billion).
What Does Sudden Lockheed CFO Departure Mean For Prime?(Aviation Week) Lockheed Martin surprised stakeholders late Aug. 3 when it announced the sudden departure of its chief financial officer, the second in almost as many years, as well as lower earnings per share guidance for the year, albeit due to a one-time financial transaction.
Graham Robinson Joins Northrop Grumman Board of Directors(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Aug. 12, 2021 – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced it has elected Graham Robinson to its board of directors. Robinson is the senior vice president and president of STANLEY Industrial, a business segment of Stanley...
Boeing to return Starliner to factory, launch delayed(Reuters) Boeing Co (BA.N) will return its CST-100 Starliner to the factory to resolve a valve issue, the company said on Friday, delaying the launch date of the space capsule to the International Space Station until at least mid-October if not later.
Arianespace Launches Pléiades Neo 4 Satellite for Airbus(Via Satellite) Arianespace launched the second high-resolution satellite in the new Airbus Defence and Space constellation on Monday on a Vega rocket, along with four rideshare cubesats. The Vega launch vehicle took off from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on Monday at 10:47 p.m. Kourou time. The Airbus satellite, Pléiades Neo
Russian cosmonauts find new cracks in ISS module(Reuters) Russian cosmonauts have discovered new cracks in a segment of the International Space Station that could widen, a senior space official said on Monday, the latest in a series of setbacks.
Spire Pivots Weather CubeSats To SIGINT Missions(Breaking Defense) Detecting interference with Global Positioning System sat signals in conflict zones actually is "low hanging fruit," says Spire's Conor Brown. "We're picking them up accidentally with our weather satellites."
Lockheed Martin LINUSS smallsats ready for 2021 launch(Intelligent Aerospace) LINUSS is a pair of LM 50 12U CubeSats -- each about the size of a four-slice toaster -- designed to demonstrate how small satellites can serve an essential role in sustaining critical space architectures in any orbit.
Raytheon Helps Space Force Design Data Analysis Tool via Digital Engineering Method(ExecutiveBiz) Raytheon Technologies has applied a digital engineering approach to help the U.S. Space Force design a ground system for processing and analyzing military satellite data.The company said its intelligence and space business developed virtual models using a digital thread to understand small design changes as the team worked on the Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution
SPACECOM Head Touts Space, High Seas Parallels(Breaking Defense) "The behavior of some of our adversaries in space is surprising. If similar actions had been taken in other domains, they'd likely be considered provocative, aggressive, or maybe even irresponsible," said SPACECOM Commander Gen. Jim Dickinson.
New Space Systems Command Gears Up Commercial Engagement(Breaking Defense) "The commercial space sector is driving the market, and "Space Systems commanders are eager to facilitate these companies and bring their unique solutions into our programs of record," says Joy White, executive director of the new Space Systems Command.