House Science Committee Approves Space Weather Bill

Space weather effects. (Credit: ESA/Science Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Science Committee has unanimously approved a bill designed to enable the federal government to coordinate its monitoring of and response to space weather events.

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Report: China Could Follow South China Sea Strategy in Seeking Space Resources

Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization (Credits: Joel Sercel)

Continuing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine how China is seeking to shape the governance of space activities. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China’s actions in asserting sovereignty over the disputed South China Sea could serve as a model by which that nation would claim extraterrestrial resources and consolidate its control over key space assets, a new report to the U.S. Congress warned.

“Contrary to international norms governing the exploration and commercial exploitation of space, statements from senior Chinese officials signal Beijing’s belief in its right to claim use of space-based resources in the absence of a clear legal framework specifically regulating mining in space,” according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 report.

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U.S. Space Force Officially Established as Sixth Branch of Armed Services

ARLINGTON, Va., December 20, 2019 (AFNS) — Today the President signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and with it, directed the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.

“We are at the dawn of a new era for our Nation’s Armed Forces. The establishment of the U.S. Space Force is an historic event and a strategic imperative for our Nation. Space has become so important to our way of life, our economy, and our national security that we must be prepared as a Nation to protect it from hostile actions,” said Secretary of Defense, Mark T. Esper. “Our Military Services have created the world’s best space capabilities. Now is the time for the U.S. Space Force to lead our Nation in preparing for emerging threats in an evolving space environment. This new service will help ensure we are postured to deter aggression, defend our national interests and outpace potential adversaries.”

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International Space Station Adds a Powerful New Camera

Orange County, Calif. (Credit: The Aerospace Corporation)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — Aerospace’s new infrared camera is now obtaining unique high-contrast, nighttime images from its home on the International Space Station (ISS). The 45-kilogram instrument, known as the Near Infrared Airglow Camera (NIRAC), will provide detailed observations of clouds at night for weather prediction, among other applications.  

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China Aims to Knock Out U.S. Space Systems in Conflict

China’s 2007 test of its ground-based ASAT missile destroyed one of its own defunct satellites in LEO. The graphic depicts the orbits of trackable debris generated by the test 1 month after the event. The white line represents the International Space Station’s orbit. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Continuing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine the growing threat from China’s military space systems. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China has spent the last 15 years testing kinetic kill, directed energy, electromagnetic, cyber and other systems in an effort to develop methods for crippling American satellites during a conflict.

“China’s development of offensive space capabilities may now be outstripping the United States’ ability to defend against them, increasing the possibility that U.S. vulnerability combined with a lack of a credible deterrence posture could invite Chinese aggression,” according to a new report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

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USAF Space and Missile Systems Center Payloads Arrive at Space Station

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (SMSC PR) — The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners successfully delivered the Aerospace Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSats and Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat-4) to the International Space Station.

The mission, designated NG-12, started with the on-time launch of an upgraded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Antares 230+ rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A Nov. 2 at 9:59 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

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GAO: USAF’s Space Command and Control Program Needs Better Oversight

The U.S. Air Force’s effort to modernize and consolidate its space command and control systems into a single comprehensive platform has made progress, but it will need comprehensive planning and oversight to succeed, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The Space C2 program is facing a number of challenges and unknowns, from management issues to technical complexity,” the report to Congressional committees stated. “Additionally, DOD officials have not yet determined what level of detail is appropriate for acquisition planning documentation for Agile software programs. They are also not certain about the best way to provide oversight of these programs but are considering using assessments by external experts….

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DOD Awards Iridium 5-Year Gateway Evolution Contract Worth Up to $76 Million

MCLEAN, Va., Oct. 1, 2019 (Iridium PR) — Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) today announced that it has been awarded a 5-year, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract from the Defense Information Systems Agency on behalf of the United States Air Force Space Command (AFSpC) with potential revenues up to $76 million.  

Known as the Gateway Evolution Contract (GEC), this contract enables ongoing innovation and critical enhancements for the U.S. Government’s dedicated Iridium gateway.  It will enable adoption of the latest technology upgrades, both hardware and software, necessary to address emerging warfighter requirements and to ensure continued operations with the latest state-of-the-art satcom-based capabilities.

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DOD Awards 7-Year, $738.5 Million Contract to Iridium

MCLEAN, Va., Sept. 16, 2019  (Iridium PR) –Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) today announced that it has been awarded a $738.5 million, seven-year, fixed-price contract with the United States Department of Defense through the U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSpC) to provide unlimited satellite services from its unique Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation.

Through what is known as the AFSpC’s Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services (EMSS) program, Iridium will continue to deliver access to global secure and unsecure voice, broadcast, netted or Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS) and select other services for an unlimited number of DoD and associated DoD-approved subscribers. 

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Report: NOAA Errors Led to Diminished Weather Satellites

GOES-17 satellite during processing by Astrotech. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA’s poor management of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R (GOES-R) program has resulted in less accurate meteorological data from the GOES-16 and GOES-17 weather satellites now in orbit, according to an audit by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General (IG). [Full Report]

NOAA’s failure to properly address an overheating problem discovered during ground testing in 2017 led to the degraded performance of GOES-17’s main instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The GOES-16 satellite, which was already in orbit at the time, is also suffering from overheating of its ABI to a lesser degree, the report found.

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U.S. Space Command Established

White House Announcement

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”

President Donald J. Trump

ESTABLISHING SPACE COMMAND: Today, at the direction of President Donald J. Trump, the Secretary of Defense established the United States Space Command to ensure space superiority.

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Mike Griffin Alienating Friends & Enemies Alike, Firing Scientists at New Pentagon Job

Mike Griffin

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has had a tumultuous time since taking over as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in February.

In his role as the Defense Department’s chief technology officer, Griffin has been criticized for his efforts to overhaul the Pentagon’s costly and time-consuming development and procurement of new systems through the newly established Space Development Agency (SDA).

Key personnel have departed as critics have attacked Griffin for what they view as his erratic management and decision making. In addition to SDA, he is in charge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

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Space Development Agency Seeks Next-Gen Architecture in First RFI

Figure 1: Notional architecture from SDA 60-day study. (Credit: Space Development Agency)

Space Development Agency
Next-Generation Space Architecture
Request for Information
SDA-SN-19-0001
July 1, 2019
[Full Solicitation]

SDA requests information from industry related to satellite bus, payload, applique, and launch concepts that can contribute to an agile, responsive next-generation space architecture. SDA has developed a notional suite of capabilities, as depicted in Figure 1, to include multiple constellations (or “layers”) addressing the eight priorities listed above. Each layer provides an integral and integrated capability to the overall architecture.

The SDA’s notional architecture is predicated on the availability of a ubiquitous data and communications transport layer and assumes the use of small, mass-produced satellites (50-500 kg) and associated payload hardware and software. The SDA is considering the use of transport layer spacecraft as substrates for other layers, allowing for the integration of appropriate payloads based on each layer’s needs.

Seven layers are proposed:

  1. Space Transport Layer: Global, persistent, low-latency data and communications proliferated “mesh” network to provide 24×7 global communications.
  2. Tracking Layer: Indications, warning, targeting, and tracking of advanced missile threats.
  3. Custody Layer: 24×7, all-weather custody of all identified time-critical targets.
  4. Deterrence Layer: Space Situational Awareness (SSA) of, and rapid access to, the cislunar volume.
  5. Navigation Layer: Alternate Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) for GPS-denied environments.
  6. Battle Management Layer: Distributed, artificial intelligence-enabled Battle Management Command, Control and Communications (BMC3), to include self-tasking, self-prioritization (for collection), on-board processing, and dissemination, supporting delivery of perishable space sensor-derived data products directly to tactical users.
  7. Support Layer: Mass-producible ground command and control capabilities, user terminals, and rapid-response launch services (small- to medium-class).

Proposed concepts should align to one or more of the layers described above. SDA prefers comprehensive solutions that include open architectures (e.g., buses that support multiple payloads and software appliques, and payloads/software capable of integration aboard multiple buses) and leverage commercial capabilities, existing or planned.