House Members Ask FCC To Delay Action on Orbital Debris Rules

Distribution of space debris around Earth (Credit: ESA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three leaders of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay action on new orbital debris mitigation rules planned for Thursday.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, the immense effort undertaken to recover from the pandemic, and the potential for the FCC’s proposal to exacerbate impacts on U.S. industry and international competitiveness at a critical period in our nation’s history, we hope that you will agree to postpone future action,” the letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai read.

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Numerica Tackles Growing Space Debris, Satellite Protection Problem

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Numerica PR) — Numerica is working on five contracts for the Air Force, worth more than $3.3 million, to provide state-of-the-art algorithms for improved space situational awareness (SSA). SSA involves the detection, cataloging and ongoing tracking of all space objects orbiting the Earth, and the prediction of events, threats and activities in space.

In the late 1950s, there were only a few satellites orbiting the Earth. In September 2011, the National Research Council reported there is so much government and commercial “space junk” in orbit that the debris could cause spacecraft collisions or destroy valuable communication satellites.

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Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather

Diagram of DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Tne failures of three aging satellites the United States relies upon to forecast space weather could leave the nation partially blind to electromagnetic storms that could severely disrupt electrical grids, communications systems, aviation and Global Positioning System (GPS) dependent navigation.

“The observations that we rely on to provide alerts and warnings are critical. Should we lose some of the key spacecraft that we talk about, I won’t say we’re blind but we’re darn close. It will impact our ability to support this nation’s need for space weather services. And I don’t want to see that happen,” said William Murtagh, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

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Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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Space Commerce Office Seeks Major Budget Increase

Wilbur Ross

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is seeking a major boost in its budget from $2.3 million to $15 million for fiscal year 2021.

The office’s director, Kevin O’Connell, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the bulk of the increase would go toward improving space situational awareness (SSA) so objects in Earth orbit can be accurately tracked and collisions that increase space debris can be avoided.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants OSC to be elevated from an office within NOAA to a higher profile bureau that would be headed by an assistant secretary. The new bureau would be in charge of non-military SSA activities and a host of other activities.

Congress has not approved either the creation of the bureau nor giving the Commerce Department authority over SSA. Different bills are pending in the Senate and House that address Ross’ plan and which government agency will oversee SAA activities.

Congress is now considering the FY 2021 budget proposal, which the Trump Administration unveiled last Monday.

Astroscale Selected as Commercial Partner for JAXA’s Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration Project

TOKYO, February 12, 2020 (Astroscale PR) – Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), the market-leader in developing technology and services to remove space debris and secure long-term orbital sustainability, today announced it has been selected as the commercial partner for Phase I of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) first debris removal project, a groundbreaking step by Japan to commercialize space debris removal.

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Tethers Unlimited Announces Successful Operation of Space-Debris Removal Device

The Terminator Tape Deorbit Module interacts with the space environment to rapidly drag a satellite out of orbit. (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

BOTHELL, Wa. (Tethers Unlimited PR) – Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has successfully demonstrated on-orbit operation of the Terminator Tape, an affordable, lightweight solution for removing space debris from on orbit.

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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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Luxembourg, NorthStar Create Centre of Excellence for Clean Space

Luxembourg (Luxembourg Government PR) — The Luxembourg Government and NorthStar Earth & Space signed a Letter of Intent to create a Centre of Excellence for Clean Space in Luxembourg and to consider a contribution to NorthStar and its innovation activities in order to promote the safe and sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of all humanity.

The Centre will be operated by NorthStar in Luxembourg, it will deliver highly accurate Space Traffic Management and Space Situational Awareness information services. The Centre of Excellence for Clean Space will enable collaboration and cooperation with the international academic, industrial and governmental partners from the space and data analytics sectors already established in Luxembourg. This will promote an open, safe and sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of all mankind, common goals shared by Luxembourg and NorthStar.

Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy stated: “The establishment of this Centre in the Grand-Duchy is in line with the country’s efforts to stimulate innovation and technological development in the data space sector. The project fits perfectly into our national data-based innovation strategy that aims at building a sustainable and reliable digital economy in general and the sustainable commercialization of space activities in particular.”

“The world faces global challenges which require technology companies and governments to innovate together,” said Stewart Bain, CEO and Co-Founder of NorthStar Earth & Space. “NorthStar is dedicated to developing solutions critical to space governance, security and sustainability.  As we move into the year 2020 and beyond, we are proud to have Luxembourg as our partner.”

ESA Commissions World’s First Space Debris Removal

ClearSpace-1 (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ClearSpace-1 will be the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit, planned for launch in 2025. The mission is being procured as a service contract with a startup-led commercial consortium, to help establish a new market for in-orbit servicing, as well as debris removal.

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Germany Invests 3.3 Billion Euros in European Space Exploration, Becomes ESA’s Largest Contributor

  • Three years after the last ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, government representatives from the 22 Member States met in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019 and committed a total of almost 14.4 billion euro [$15.87 billion] for space programmes over the next few years.
  • Germany is contributing 3.3 billion euro [$3.6 billion] to ESA programmes focusing on Earth observation, telecommunications, technological advancement and commercialisation / NewSpace.
  • At 22.9 percent, Germany is now ESA’s largest contributor, followed by France (18.5 percent, 2.66 billion euro), Italy (15.9 percent, 2.28 billion euro) and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent, 1.65 billion euro).
  • The ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level is the highest political decision-making body, and it defines the content and financial framework for ESA’s space programmes every two to three years.
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UK Invests in European Space Agency Programs

SEVILLE, Spain (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency has today (28 November) announced it will invest £374m [$411.75 million] per year with the European Space Agency (ESA) to deliver international space programmes over the next five years.

The UK is one of the founding members of ESA, an inter-governmental organisation established in 1975 to promote cooperation in space research, technology and applications development. ESA is independent of the EU, bringing together countries across Europe and around the world.

Membership enables the UK to collaborate with space agencies across the world on projects like the International Space Station and the ExoMars programme to send a UK-built rover to search for signs of life on Mars.

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ESA Ministers Commit to Biggest Ever Budget of $15.84 Billion

Credit: ESA

Ministers approved funding lunar Gateway, space station operations until 2030, Mars Sample Return and Hera asteroid missions

SEVILLE, Spain (ESA PR) — ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, has concluded in Seville, Spain, with the endorsement of the most ambitious plan to date for the future of ESA and the whole European space sector. The meeting brought together ministers with responsibility for space activities in Europe, along with Canada and observers from the EU.

The Member States were asked to approve a comprehensive set of programmes to secure Europe’s independent access to and use of space in the 2020s, boost Europe’s growing space economy, and make breakthrough discoveries about Earth, our Solar System and the Universe beyond, all the while making the responsible choice to strengthen the efforts we are making to secure and protect our planet.

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Surrey Satellite Ships Target Satellite for Astroscale End of Life Mission

Target satellite for the ELSA-d mission. (Credit: Surrey Satellite Technology)

GUILDFORD, UK (Surrey Satellite PR) — Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has shipped a 16kg Target satellite for Astroscale’s End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d) mission to Tokyo, where it will be bolted to the Chaser satellite for environmental testing ahead of launch in 2020. 

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ESA Looks to Automate Orbital Collision Avoidance

A satellite mega-constellation (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA is preparing to use machine learning to protect satellites from the very real and growing danger of space debris.

The Agency is developing a collision avoidance system that will automatically assess the risk and likelihood of in-space collisions, improve the decision making process on whether or not a manoeuvre is needed, and may even send the orders to at-risk satellites to get out of the way.

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