US alleges Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon.
US Space Command reported that, on July 15th, Russia's Cosmos 2543 satellite ejected a high-speed object in the vicinity of a second Russian satellite. C4ISRNET said that General John "Jay" Raymond, SPACECOM Commander and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations, characterized the event as the test of an anti-satellite weapon. "The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite," he said. "This is further evidence of Russia's continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin's published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk."
Military Times reported that Russia's Defense Ministry described the test as involving “a small space vehicle” that “inspected one of the national satellites from a close distance using special equipment.” The test's outcome, Moscow said, “provided valuable information about the object that was inspected, which was transmitted to the ground-based control facilities.” Space Command said this explanation was nonsense, that the capability being tested was inconsistent with the stated purpose of Cosmos 2543. Space Command summed up: “The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite.”
The incident came as US and Russian negotiators held bilateral talks on space security. The Wall Street Journal said that the US is looking for voluntary norms whereas the Russians want a formal treaty that would preclude the militarization of space.
Mars probes: Chinese, Emirati, and American.
On July 20th, NASA launched its Perseverance rover to Mars. WIRED explained that the rover is highly autonomous ("a self-driving car") and that it will be significantly involved in looking for signs of alien life that may exist or that may have once existed on Mars. The mission includes a number of firsts: it carries a microphone to record the sounds of the spacecraft's descent to the surface, it carries a "zoomable" camera, it's powered by US-made plutonium, it holds space suit samples for testing on the planet, it will collect samples of Martian soil for return to earth, and it will also host a lightweight drone ("the first extraterrestrial aircraft"). The $2.7 billion mission will also, the Wall Street Journal wrote, conduct experiments relevant to ultimate human occupation of Mars, including testing ways of extracting oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
Perseverance was not the only, or even the first, mission to Mars that departed this past month. On July 23rd China launched Tianwen-1 from Hainan. The mission includes an orbiter, lander, and rover. CNBC said that Tianwen-1 will concentrate on the geological structure of Mars with a view to achieving greater understanding of the planet's environment. The mission is particularly interested in Martian soil, surface material composition, and the distribution of and water-ice on the planet.
And on July 12th, the United Arab Emirates launched Al Amal (“Hope”), a Mars orbiter destined to study the planet's weather patterns, flown aboard a Mitsubishi rocket from Tanegashima, Japan. The mission will last for a full Martian year, roughly six-hundred-eighty-seven earth days, the Telegraph reported. The mission has its obvious scientific purpose, but it's also a step by the UAE toward a high-tech, post-oil economy. There's a US connection to the mission: the UAE enlisted the support of the University of Colorado in development of the craft and management of the mission. WIRED noted that the craft itself was assembled in Boulder.
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Launch and recovery, and commercial space travel.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule, "Endeavor," successfully returned its NASA crew from the International Space Station on August 2nd. It was what the AP called a "retro-style" spashdown in the Gulf of Mexico about forty miles from Pensacola, the first such US return from spaceflight in nearly half a century. A SpaceX recovery ship picked the capsule up within half an hour of splashdown.
The mission director of Lockheed Martin's Orion Artemis II spacecraft expressed skepticism about the competition's prospect of delivering a flight to the moon. POLITICO ran an op-ed from the company's Tony Antonelli, a former astronaut, who applauded SpaceX's round trip to the International Space Station, but questioned the Dragon's suitability for lunar travel.
5G spectrum allocation controversy continues.
According to Breaking Defense, Iridium has expressed its intent to bring a lawsuit against the US Federal Communications Commission's decision to release L-Band spectrum for use by Ligado in its forthcoming terrestrial 5G network. “From our perspective, the record is clear that the Ligado order adopted this spring is detrimental to satellite communications, users, consumers. We are asking the FCC, Congress and — if needed — the courts to change the outcome, to change or modify,” the company said. Iridium emphasized that it's not a Ligado competitor. “So, this isn’t that we’re trying to knock out a potential competitor through counteracting their regulatory arbitrage. This is about harmful interference and legitimate concerns,” the company's counsel explained. “The L-band has always been zoned or licensed exclusively for satellite service.”
The anti-Ligado side has attracted considerable Congressional support as well. C4ISRNET reported that Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has placed a hold on the renomination process of Federal Communications Commission member Michael O’Rielly. Senator Inhofe will remove the hold until Mr. O'Rielly expresses his intention of voting to overturn the FCC's Ligado decision. And an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act would prevent the Department of Defense from doing business with any company whose activities interfered with GPS signals. Ligado isn't of course named, but it's clearly intended.
Satellite market moves.
Bankrupt OneWeb has attracted significant investment, led by the British government with $500 million from the National Security Strategic Investment Fund, but with international participation as well. The satellite-based service is seen as a solution to providing rural broadband service in the UK, the Telegraph reported. US-owned Hughes Network Systems will participate with $50 million.
Space system innovation.
A study led by a panel of experts (Brigadier General Steven J. Butow, Defense Innovation Unit; Dr. Thomas Cooley, Air Force Research Laboratory; Colonel Eric Felt, Air Force Research Laboratory; and Dr. Joel B. Mozer, United States Space Force) called for a US strategy to secure the health and capacity for innovation of the US space industry. The State of the Space Industrial Base 2020 sees the worlds as entering a period of long-term competition for space power. "Success in this long-term strategic competition requires that the US seamlessly integrate multiple elements of national power. This report provides US policymakers and industry leaders comprehensive recommendations on the path forward to address the growing threats to US space power and how to ensure a strong US space industrial base as a foundation to US space leadership." C4ISRNET discusses the implications of this "North Star" approach to the space industrial base.
The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launched four payloads on July 15th from Wallops Island, Virginia, aboard a Northrop Grumman Minotaur rocket. The NRO provided few details on the satellites themselves--the payloads are classified--but it characterized their capabilities are "revolutionary, C4ISRNET reported. The launch is NRO's first from the Wallops Island facility.
The NRO is also devoting increased attention to expanding its use of commercial satellite imagery, C4ISRNET reports, especially since its 2017 assumption of responsibility for acquiring such imagery. Commercial imagery had formerly been the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's job. According to Breaking Defense, language in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act would require both the NRO and the NGA to consider commercial alternatives before developing their own specialized, purpose-built solutions.
Houston-based Hypergiant Industries has received a US Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop a constellation of reprogrammable satellites, "Chameleon Constellation." The new constellation, whose first satellite is expected to be launched in 2021, will be able to be given new missions as needed, a more flexible approach to low-earth orbit spacecraft than the specialized systems that have hitherto been typical, according to C4ISRNET. Hypergiant says that the military will be able to update “functionality and mission profiles on the fly based on real-time emergent scenarios and information.” Chameleon Constellation is expected to eventually have thirty-six satellites.
US Space Force has selected Raytheon to develop the next generation of military weather satellites, C4ISRNET reported. The Next Generation Electro-Optical Infrared Weather Satellite, which Raytheon says previous work will enable the company to design within eight months, will replace the 1960s-era Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).
Sierra Nevada and two other, unnamed, companies have received contracts from the US Defense Innovation Unit to study concepts for a projected Unmanned Orbital Outpost. Sierra Nevada described the Unmanned Orbital Outpost as “essentially a scalable, autonomous space station for experiments and logistics demonstrations,” Space News wrote. The contracts are for studies only, not development or construction.
There are also some satellite surrogates operating in the atmosphere. Google's Loon balloon began delivering Internet service to Kenya on July 7th, the New York Times reported.
US Space Force evolution and reorganization.
TIME magazine visited Buckley Air Force Base to see how the newest US military service is evolving. It highlights the Service's mission of protecting US space assets from threats like the Russian anti-satellite capability mentioned above.
Five Air Force organizations have been transferred to Space Force, where they will form Star Delta Provisional, to be based at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base. This and other reorganizations were announced on July 24th, Air Force Magazine reports. Space Force inactivated three space wings and eight lower echelon commands that had belonged to Air Force Space Command. The Service also activated Space Training and Readiness Delta Provisional, two garrison commands, and eight mission deltas. A "delta" is the Space Force equivalent of an Air Force wing.
Semper supra, Lieutenant, uh Ensign...
...which might be translated as "always above," or "forever on top," or "up there all the time," or "so over this," (our translations) is now the new Space Force motto, according to Military Times. Other miscellaneous bits of Space Force news include descriptions of its new logo, a slim, upward-pointing delta whose use in space-related heraldry goes back, Space Force says, to 1961.
And a proposed amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would require Space Force to use Navy as opposed to Air Force ranks, Military.com reports. Thus second lieutenants would be ensigns, majors would be lieutenant commanders, colonels would be captains, and so on.
Space Force uniforms? FLOTUS may have been consulted, Military.com also reports.
Space Force also has horses, or one at least, an animal named "Ghost" who carries conservation personnel over the rough grounds at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Military Times says that Ghost, a mustang from the Bureau of Land Management, now works for the 30th Space Wing.
All of these items are being reported with an air of whimsy, but there's a serious side to the events they describe. Space Force is creating a new organization, a new acquisition system, and all the other formal aspects of a military Service. But it's also in the process of creating a new Service culture, and that hasn't happened in the US since the Air Force became independent of the Army in 1947. Ranks, uniforms, mottos, and heraldry will all go into the creation of that culture, and are all worth taking seriously. To take the question of rank, for one, the Congressional sponsors of the NDAA amendment think it important that ranks be different from those used by the Air Force. The model for this is the US Marine Corps, administratively part of the Department of the Navy just as Space Force belongs, as a distinct service, to the Department of the Air Force. The Marines use ranks close to those used by the Army, and that, some members of Congress argue, is an important part of the Corps' identity as a distinct service.
So when reading stories of this kind, recall that Space Force is building a new Service, and that such cultural moves are a serious part of doing so, and not just a gag line in the Netflix television series Space Force.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Iran, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
BAE Systems acquires Military GPS business from Raytheon (OTCMKTS:BAESY)(Seeking Alpha) Augmenting its portfolio with technology that enables reliable navigation and guidance for a range of defense missions, BAE Systems (OTCPK:BAESY -1.9%) completed its acquisition of the Collins Aerospace Military Global Positioning System business from Raytheon Technologies (RTX -0.6%).This asset purchase will add GPS anti-jamming and anti-spoofing technology to BAE's portfolio.Being a pioneer in its field for 40-years, Iowa-based Military GPS business has a global installed base in 1.5M+ devices on more than 280 airborne, ground, and weapon system platforms.
Maxar renews four international defense and intelligence contracts(Geospatial World) Maxar Technologies has announced that it has renewed four contracts and expanded a fifth contract in the second quarter of 2020–together valued at more than $120 million–with international defense and intelligence customers for uninterrupted access to Maxar’s current satellite constellation. These contracts, including a one-year agreement and four multi-year agreements, will allow the customers to […]
The Space Review CSI: Rocket Science(Space Review) Every rocket project in history has run into problems. How an engineering team responds to failures, and even plans them, is almost more important than the failures themselves.
China’s first mission to Mars(Nature Astronomy) As the Tianwen-1 spacecraft is scheduled for launch in late July or early August, the mission chief scientist and his team provide an overview focusing on the scientific objectives and instrumentation of China’s first Mars mission.
Space Force Boss's Office Staffs Up(Air Force Magazine) Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper nominated multiple Airmen for promotions July 29 as they head to new leadership positions within the Space Force.