2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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Russia Tests Direct-ascent Anti-satellite Missile — U.S. Space Command

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Dec. 16, 2020 (US Space Command PR) — Russia has conducted a test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile.

“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander.

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Chief of Space Operations Discusses Need for Outreach to Partners, State of Space Force

 

Gen. John “Jay” Raymond. Chief of Space Operations, U.S. Space Force, Commander, U.S. Space Command, provides remarks at the USSPACECOM Change of Command. (Credit: Lewis Carlyle)

By Jim Garamone
DOD News

The importance of space to the modern world cannot be underestimated, and the U.S. Space Force will be key to defending the ultimate “high ground,” said Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the chief of space operations for the new service.

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Defence Secretary Announces Plans for UK Space Command

Ben Wallace

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace Speech at Defence Space Conference 2020
18 November 2020

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace talks about transforming in the new Space Age.

Good afternoon, it’s a great pleasure to speak to you at the end of what has clearly been a fascinating and wide-ranging conference.

The variety of speakers – over 45, from the UK and overseas, and military and civilian sectors, as well as academia and private industry – shows just how important space is, right across today’s society.

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SWF Releases New Fact Sheets on Anti-satellite Testing in Space by Multiple Countries

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (SWF PR) — Over the last fifteen years there has been a resurgence of anti-satellite (ASAT) testing in space by multiple countries. During the Cold War between 1960 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted dozens of tests of both direct ascent and co-orbital ASAT weapons, some of which destroyed satellites and created hundreds of pieces of orbital debris.

After a brief pause, ASAT testing in space resumed in the mid-2000s and since then China, India, Russia, and the United States have all tested either direct ascent or co-orbital ASAT weapons, some of which again have destroyed satellites and created thousands of pieces of orbital debris.

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An Overview of Japan’s Counterspace Strategy

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpts from the report summarize Japan’s counterspace capabilities.

Country Summary

Japan has long been a well-established space actor and its space activities have historically been entirely non-military in nature. In 2008, Japan made a change to its constitution to enable national security-related activities in space and more recently, government officials have begun to publicly speak about developing various counterspace capabilities or developing military SSA capacity.

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An Overview of France’s Counterspace Capabilities

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpt from the report summarizes France’s counterspace capabilities.

Country Summary

While France has long had a space program, as well as military satellites, it was not until very recently that France had an explicit focus on offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities.

The major change occurred in July 2019 with the release of the first French Space Defense Strategy, which elevated French military space organization and reassigned control of French military satellites from the French space agency to the military.

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An Overview of India’s Counterspace Strategy and ASAT Tests

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpts from the report summarize India”s growing counterspace programs and its anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests in 2019.

Country Summary

India has over five decades of experience with space capabilities, but most of that has been civil in focus. It is only in the past several years that India has started organizationally making way for its military to become active users and creating explicit military space capabilities.

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A Summary of China’s Counterspace Capabilities

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)

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpt from the report summarizes China’s counterspace capabilities.

The evidence strongly indicates that China has a sustained effort to develop a broad range of counterspace capabilities. China has conducted multiple tests of technologies for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in both low earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous orbit (GEO) that could lead to a co-orbital ASAT capability.

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A Summary of Russia’s Counterspace Capabilities

In 2009, the defunct Cosmos 2251 satellite and the Iridium 33 satellite collided in Earth’s orbit. A Livermore visualization shows the orbits of the two satellites prior to the collision among the thousands of other satellites in low-Earth orbit. The collision occurred where the two orbital paths cross near the North Pole. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpt from the report summarizes Russia’s counterspace capabilities.

There is strong evidence that Russia has embarked on a set of programs over the last decade to regain many of its Cold War-era counterspace capabilities. Since 2010, Russia has been testing technologies for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in both low Earth orbit 9LEO) and geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) that could lead to or support a co-orbital anti-satellite (ASAT) capability. Evidence suggests at least two active programs: a new co-orbital ASAT program called Burevestnik that is potentially supported by a surveillance and tracking program called Nivelir.

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Report: Counterspace Capabilities Continue to Proliferate with Growing Implications for Space Security

by Director of Program Planning Brian Weeden and Washington Office Director Victoria Samson
Secure World Foundation

Over the last several years, there has been growing concern from multiple governments over the reliance on vulnerable space capabilities for national security, and the corresponding proliferation of offensive counterspace capabilities that could be used to disrupt, deny the use of, degrade, or destroy space systems.

This in turn has led to increased rhetoric from some countries about the need to prepare for future conflicts on Earth to extend into space, and calls from some corners to increase the development of offensive counterspace capabilities and put in place more aggressive policies and postures.

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Russia Tests Direct-ascent Anti-satellite Missile

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., April 15, 2020 (U.S. Space Command PR) — U.S. Space Command is aware and tracking Russia’s direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile test April 15.

“Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, USSPACECOM commander and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations. “The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space.”

Russia’s missile system is capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and comes on the heels of Russia’s on-orbit testing the U.S. highlighted in February, namely COSMOS 2542 and COSMOS 2543. These satellites, which behaved similar to previous Russian satellites that exhibited characteristics of a space weapon, conducted maneuvers near a U.S. Government satellite that would be interpreted as irresponsible and potentially threatening in any other domain.

“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,” Raymond said. “Space is critical to all nations and our way of life. The demands on space systems continue in this time of crisis where global logistics, transportation and communication are key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a shared interest and responsibility of all spacefaring nations to create safe, stable and operationally sustainable conditions for space activities, including commercial, civil and national security activities,” Raymond concluded.

DIA: China Has Ground-based ASAT Missile, Likely Working on Laser Weapon

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)

Challenges to Security in Space
Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2019

Full Report (PDF)

Excerpt on China

China’s Military Strategy

In 2015, Beijing directed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be able to win “informatized local wars” with an emphasis on “maritime military struggle.” Chinese military strategy documents also emphasize the growing importance of offensive air, long-distance mobility, and space and cyberspace operations. China expects that its future wars mostly will be fought outside its borders and will involve conflict in the maritime domain. China promulgated this through its most recent update to its “military strategic guidelines,” the top-level directives that Beijing uses to define concepts, assess threats, and set priorities for planning, force posture, and modernization. The PLA uses “informatized” warfare to describe the process of acquiring, transmitting, processing, and using information to conduct joint military operations across the domains of land, sea, air, space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum during a conflict. PLA writings highlight the benefit of near-real-time shared awareness of the battlefield in enabling quick, unified effort to seize tactical opportunities.

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DIA: Russia Sees Reliance on Space as U.S. Military’s Achilles’ Heel

Russia has focused on maintaining its own military and civil satellites on orbit and selling launch services commercially. Russia usually launches small satellites as multiple payloads on heavier rockets but sometimes uses the Rokot light-lift vehicle to launch smaller payloads into LEO. Russia’s heavy-lift vehicles are mostly used for launching into GEO or HEO. The developmental Energia SLV, designed to boost the Russian space shuttle into orbit, was discontinued in the 1980s and revived in 2016 to support proposed lunar missions. (Visualization: DIA, D3 Design)

Challenges to Security in Space
Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2019

Full Report (PDF)

Excerpts on Russia

Strategy, Doctrine, and Intent

Russian military doctrine and authoritative writings clearly articulate that Russia views space as a warfighting domain and that achieving supremacy in space will be a decisive factor in winning future conflicts. Russian military thinkers believe the importance of space will continue to expand because of the growing role of precision weapons and satellite-supported information networks in all types of conflict. Meanwhile, Russia regularly expresses concern over the weaponization of space and is pursuing legal, binding space arms control agreements to curb what it sees as U.S. weaponization of outer space.

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Report: China Making Rapid Progress on Anti-Satellite Systems

China has developed a number of weapons designed to jam and destroy enemy satellites in the event of a war while publicly opposing weapons in space, according to a new Pentagon report.

“In addition to the development of directed energy weapons and satellite jammers, China is also developing direct-ascent and co-orbital kinetic kill capabilities and has probably made progress on the anti-satellite missile system it tested in July 2014,” the report stated. “China is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions.

The claims come in a document from the Secretary of Defense titled, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018.”

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