On May 8th an unusually large chunk of debris fell from orbit, apparently harmlessly into the ocean somewhere near the Maldives, Space.com reports. The expended Long March 5B had excited considerable comment and as much popular concern as public awareness of such matters typically permits. The concern reached levels the US Department of Defense felt necessary to address with a denial that it intended to shoot the booster down—the Washington Examiner quoted the DoD as answering a simple "No," when asked, and then offering observations on how the complexity of this kind of reentry made accurate predictions difficult to the point of impossibility. The Guardian writes that the incident lends urgency to the problem of orbital debris generally. Orbital debris includes a great deal of junk, from small parts to defunct satellites, and a great deal of the attention that's been paid to debris recently has focused on the risk of in-orbit collision. The fall of the Long March 5B, however, has aroused concern about the effects the larger pieces of junk can have when they return to earth. Space.com says that some 2033 expended rocket bodies are currently in orbit.
The related challenge of planetary protection coincidentally received some attention at the end of April, when the International Academy of Astronautics' Planetary Defense Conference ran a tabletop exercise on what might be done if a large asteroid were found to be on a collision course with earth. They didn't come up with any good ideas either. Vice quotes NASA's Planetary Defense Officer, Lindley Johnson, who said, "The exercise played out that we basically had to take the hit."
Satellites and satellite surrogates.
Satellites appear to be the winners over balloons and other satellite surrogates in the competition to deliver widespread, affordable, and last-mile Internet connectivity. Alphabet is winding down Google's Loon project, which had successfully experimented with balloon-borne communications packages. Silicon Valley Business Journal reports that one-hundred-fifty-one employees who'd worked on the program will be laid off this summer. In the meantime, according to the Verge, Google Cloud has agreed to put StarLink terminals into its data centers, and, as Space.com reports, SpaceX has continued to add to its StarLink constellation.
StarLink hasn't been without its problems, as early adopters report reliability issues side-by-side with good performance ("a technological marvel—when it works," as the Verge puts it). Still, it seems that the general direction of communications infrastructure is toward low-earth orbit, and StarLink has drawn competitors. Arianespace launched thirty-six OneWeb satellites aboard a Soyuz vehicle, adding to that provider's constellation. And Mynaric and Cloud Constellation signed an agreement to jointly deploy Optical Inter-Satellite Links, SpaceRef reports.
That infrastructure's users won't be entirely civilian. The US Army expects to make considerable use of commercial satellite networks in its future tactical communications, C4ISRNet reports.
CISA takes up space infrastructure protection.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has taken note of the importance of the infrastructure space systems provide. On May 13th CISA announced the formation of a working group to manage space system risk in furtherance of CISA's critical infrastructure protection mission:
"The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) today announced the formation of a Space Systems Critical Infrastructure Working Group, a mix of government and industry members that will identify and develop strategies to minimize risks to space systems that support the nation's critical infrastructure. The Working Group will operate under the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) framework, bringing together space system critical infrastructure stakeholders.
"The critical infrastructure on which the United States depends relies on space systems. Increasing the security and resilience of space systems is essential to supporting the American people, economy, and homeland security.
"'Secure and resilient space-based assets are critical to our economy, prosperity, and our national security,' said CISA Acting Director Brandon Wales. 'This cross sector working group will lay the foundation for our collective defense against the threats we face today and in the future.'
"This working group will serve as an important mechanism to improve the security and resilience of commercial space systems. It will identify and offer solutions to areas that need improvement in both the government and private sectors and will develop recommendations to effectively manage risk to space based assets and critical functions.
"The working group is co-chaired by Jim Platt, Chief, Strategic Defense Initiatives, CISA and John Galer, Assistant Vice President, National Security Space, Aerospace Industries Association. Current members represent government and industry organizations from the communications, critical manufacturing, defense industrial base, information technology, and transportation sectors, including leading-edge satellite and space asset infrastructure firms with expertise in emerging technology areas."
CISA will have partners in this effort. Breaking Defense reports that the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center will partner "on cyber information sharing, awareness, education, and outreach to improve the security of space operations."
Space Force and cyber security.
Space Systems Command intends to make the cybersecurity of the systems it procures a centerpiece of its emerging acquisition process, according to Air Force Magazine. Cordell DeLaPena, Jr., program executive officer for Space Production at the Space and Missile Systems Center, described the threats:
"The types of threats we are looking for [are] things like insertion of rogue components—that's more on the supply side—malicious software, electronic warfare attack—that's jamming, spoofing—and then denying our sensor access. And those threats, the results of those threats, could result in our satellites being degraded, or an outage, or spillage [of sensitive data], or a temporary loss of command control of our satellites. So these are the things that we are worried about."
ExecutiveGov.com reports that the young Service is also interested in building up its own cyber teams, and is working with its Air Force counterparts to do so. The Service's latest vision document outlines Space Force's determination to become the "world's first fully digital service."
Open Skies set to close.
President Biden does not plan to reverse President Trump's decision to exit the US-Russian Open Skies treaty, announcing on May 28th that the US will not return to the treaty. The lower house of Russia's Duma has also voted to leave the Cold War era accord.
President's Budget highlights.
The President's Budget, announced at the end of May, includes substantial cuts in some legacy military programs, but Breaking Defense reports that it offers the prospect of substantial increases in space-related budgets and RDT&E funding. UPI writes that NASA will receive a 6.3% increase, and Space.com sees scientific and commercial space programs as the big winners in that increase.
Notes on innovation and US Federal RDT&E.
The US Naval Institute has published an interview with the Chief of Naval Research who outlines the Office of Naval Research's plans for the basic research, applied research, and advanced technology development in its 6.1/6.2/6.3 portfolio. There's some interest there in lasers and their potential application to space communication.
C4ISRNet reports that some members of the US House of Representatives have already found fault with Space Force's acquisition process, saying that it has fallen short of the promise of rapid technology development and insertion. Representative Betty McCollum, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense chair, commented during virtual hearings that, "while progress has been made on the operations side, progress in addressing long-standing acquisitions issues has been disappointing so far. Too often over the past two decades, the space acquisitions programs have been delivered late, over budget, and sometimes billions of dollars over budget." In fairness to Space Force, it's in the process of shaping its own acquisition system. Nothing it evolves is likely to be entirely from the sort of procurement oversights and checks that have historically encumbered US military acquisition. (For an example of how that encumbrance works in practice, the story of the Pentagon's JEDI cloud contract is instructive.)
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting .
US Intel Chief: Chinese Space Station is a Threat to National Security(Futurism) Low-Orbit Security Threat The US Director of National Intelligence released a report last month claiming China's upcoming space station poses a threat to national security. China intends to launch a space station into low-Earth orbit in order to gain a large foothold in space in order to "gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that […]
Boosting the Space Force(TheHill) For some Americans, the U.S. Space Force is little more than a punchline on Twitter or a Netflix satire with middling reviews.
Tulipmania in Space(Foreign Policy) SPACs are creating a space bubble that will eventually come crashing back to Earth along with cosmic junk launched during the current frenzy.
NGA releases MOJAVE follow-on RFI(Intelligence Community News) This RFI is an opportunity for industry to submit Capability Statements on how they can support NGA's mission for the MOJAVE follow-on contract requirement.
Mercury Systems acquires Pentek(GlobeNewswire News Room) Expands scale and breadth of Company's RFSoC, data recorder and software-defined radio capabilitiesDeepens market penetration in core radar and electronic...
SpaceX Starship Lands on Fifth Attempt(Wall Street Journal) An uncrewed 16-story rocket ship was launched from the company's facility in southern Texas and landed back on its pad after a six-minute flight.
Northrop Grumman Solar Arrays to Power Airbus OneSat Spacecraft(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) was awarded a contract by Airbus Defence and Space for the design, development and production of 24 ship sets of solar arrays to support the OneSat satellite product line. The solar...
Arianespace launches Airbus Pléiades Neo satellite(SatellitePro ME) Arianespace and its Vega rocket are on track to launch another Pléiades Neo satellite this year, and the company expects to use Vega to complete the four-satellite constellation in 2022.
SOCOM Leaders Say 'Digital Spectrum' Key To Next Fight(Breaking Defense) "The future will be won by those who dominate the full digital spectrum," Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, commander of Army Special Operations Command, says. "It will be as important as seizing and holding terrain."
Israeli Multi Domain War Gets First Test In Gaza(Breaking Defense) For the first time, the Israeli Defense Force is using multi-domain operations in the strike against Hamas in Gaza. The air, infantry, armor, artillery and naval forces are finding, fixing and destroying targets in Gaza according to "who has the best shot," an Israeli defense source here says. Key to this is deployment of the "Ghost" unit, created about a year ago as part of the multi-year program known as Tnufa (Swing).
USAF releases CENTAUR RFI(Intelligence Community News) The U.S. Air Force issued a request for information (RFI) for the Cross-Domain Enterprise All-Source User Repository (CENTAUR) requirement. Responses are due by 12:00 p.m. Eastern on June 15.
JUST IN: Space Force Wants More Cyber Teams(National Defense) The Space Force is in talks with Cyber Command and the Air Force to bring more specialized cyber personnel into the fold, said the deputy commander of Space Operations Command May 3.
Space Force Digital Vision Focuses On Speedy Decisions(Breaking Defense) Gen. Jay Raymond, Space Force chief, stressed that the new digital vision applies not just to service acquisition, but to everything the newest military service does, with a bottom-line goal of speeding decision-making.
U.S., Philippine Marines tackle cyber battlefield(United States Marine Corps Flagship) When addressing the subjects of technology and innovation in his 2020 statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding Marine Corps readiness, the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen.
SOFWERX Boosts Small Biz At SOCOM; Faster Turnaround(Breaking Defense) "If you can give me a white paper in three weeks, I'll pay for your white paper in three weeks, if you can give me a prototype in three months, I'll [pay for] your prototype in three months," said James Smith, SOCOM's acquisition chief.
Bring Back the Air Force Battle Lab(War on the Rocks) The U.S. Air Force has established a new, innovative organization whose charter is to "create an environment where innovative ideas are rapidly harvested
What focus areas are key to America's future space capabilities?(Defense News) Increased concentration on space is welcome. However, Pentagon decisions about future priorities, activities and investments should continue to sharpen its focus on the technologies and capabilities required to exploit new architectures and approaches in space.
Game of Drones: What's Next for the MQ-9 Reaper?(The National Interest) The MQ-9 Reaper has a long history of having successful upgrades to include the addition of extra new fuel tanks and a universal weapons interface designed to create the technical infrastructure and IP protocol standards sufficient to accommodate a growing range of weapons.
Solar Power Sats Help Drive DoD Deep Space Push(Breaking Defense) "[W]e don't have a military reason to go to the Moon today, but we do have long term-objectives that include the expansion out to the Moon and beyond," Space Force Chief Scientist Joel Mozer says.
UMBC to receive over $63 million in NASA renewal of CRESST II space science consortium(UMBC NEWS) NASA has committed $178 million to extend support for the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II (CRESST II), a five-institution research consortium, through 2027. The consortium leverages resources at each institution to develop a diverse talent pipeline in space science and answer big questions about the universe.
FAA, NASA collaborating to regulate suborbital space(Federal News Network) The Space Hour spoke to Wayne Monteith, the FAA's Associate Administrator for commercial space transportation, and Mike Gold, who at the time was NASA's Associate Administrator for space policy and…
Biden's Budget Cuts Ships, Planes, But Huge Boost in R&D(Breaking Defense) "Critically, we reallocate resources to fund research and development in advanced technologies such as micro-electronics. This will provide the foundation for fielding a full range of capabilities, such as hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence, and 5G," Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said.
SOCOM Likely To Boost Cyber, EW(Breaking Defense) "Everything we're doing now is going to be hard," SOCOM commander Gen. Richard Clarke said. "It's going to be multi-domain, it's going to be partnered and it's going to be contested in every step...and there are countries that are close on our heels."
Rosen Questions General on U.S. Military Space Operations(Senator Jacky Rosen) Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned General David Thompson, Vice Chief of Space Operations for the United States Space Force, about military space operations, policy, and programs during a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. During her questioning, Senator Rosen asked General Thompson about Space Force's efforts to protect our nation's space program from cyber attacks and their efforts to strengthen the STEM education and workforce pipeline. A transcript of the Senator's full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator's full exchange can be found here.
VP Kamala Harris to Lead National Space Council(Via Satellite) Vice President Kamala Harris will chair the National Space Council, the White House has announced. "As I've said before: In America, when we shoot for the moon, we plant our flag on it. I am honored to lead our National Space Council," the vice president tweeted on May 1, commenting on her role. The National Space
Opinion: We're asking the wrong questions about UFOs(Washington Post) With a government report due in June on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and a recent "60 Minutes" story on U.S. Navy pilots' sightings and videos of mysterious images, prominent people in politics, the military and national intelligence are finally asking: What are we looking at?
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