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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Officials Provide Details on Building, Structuring and Operating Space Force

ARLINGTON, Va. (Space Force PR) — Senior officials from the Department of Defense and U.S. Space Force provided the most specific details to date Feb. 5 for how the newly born Space Force is constructed, its structure and the philosophy guiding decisions for bringing the first new military service since 1947 into full reality.

In broad terms, the Space Force must ensure the U.S. continues its superiority in space. Getting there, however, demands that the Space Force be “lean and agile” and mission-focused, said Lt. Gen. David Thompson, U.S. Space Force vice commander.

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SMC, NASA Deploy DoD’s STPSat-4 From ISS

Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat-4) reaches its final orbit after deploying from the International Space Station, Jan. 28, 2020. (Credit: NASA)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF SMC PR) — The United States Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and its mission partner, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), successfully deployed the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat‑4) from the International Space Station at 11:20 p.m., Jan. 28, 2020.   

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Space Development Agency Releases Solicitations for New Technology

The Defense Department’s new Space Development Agency (SDA) has recently issued several solicitations as it looks to create a large satellite constellation and other systems.

On Jan. 21, SDA issued a broad agency announcement seeking “executive summaries, proposal abstracts and proposals for novel architecture concepts, systems, technologies, and capabilities that enable leap-ahead improvements” in military space systems covering the areas of transportation, tracking, battle management, navigation, deterrence and support.

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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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USAF Seeks SBIR Proposals for Cislunar Space Operations

In what might be a reaction to China’s ambitious space program, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will award funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to proposals for commercial technology that will allow it to operate in cislunar space.

“As the space beyond geosynchronous orbit becomes more crowded and competitive, it is important for the Air Force to extend its space domain awareness responsibilities to include this new regime.. To support this new body of work, the Air Force is seeking commercial innovation in support of space domain awareness for future cislunar operations,” the service said in a pre-solicitation notice.

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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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NASA Funds Research into Food Production on Deep Space Missions

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield maintaining Biolab in Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station. Biolab is an experiment workstation tailored for research on biological samples such as micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, plants and small invertebrates. The unit features a centrifuge that creates simulated gravity to compare how samples react to weightlessness and artificial gravity. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

As NASA contemplates deep space missions to the moon and Mars, the space agency faces increasing challenges in keeping its astronauts physically and mentally healthy.

One of the key elements in that challenge is fresh food. Currently, fresh produce is supplied periodically to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on resupply ships. Crew members have also grown small quantities of vegetables on board.

Resupply becomes a more difficult task on deep space missions due to distance. Thus, astronauts will need to grow more of their own food. Last week, NASA announced three Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards to advance that goal.

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USAF Awards Launch Contract Formerly Held by Vector to Aveum

Aveum rocket launching drome. (Credit: Aveum)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (USAF PR) — The U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) office, part of the Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise, awarded a $4.9 million contract to Aevum, Inc. today for the Agile Small Launch Operational Normalizer (ASLON)-45 space lift mission via RSLP’s Small Rocket Program-Orbital (SRP-O) framework. 

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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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Griffin Taps DARPA Official to Head New Space Development Agency

Fred Kennedy

SpaceNews reports that Dr. Fred Kennedy, who is director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), has been tapped to run the Defense Department’s new Space Development Agency.

Kennedy was tapped for the post by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. The new agency will attempt to cut through Pentagon bureaucracy and red tape to develop and procure next generation military space systems more rapidly and less expensively.

According to his biography, Kennedy joined DARPA as TTO deputy director in January 2017. He had previously served as the senior policy advisor for national security space and aviation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
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AIA: National Security Space Industrial Base in Grave Danger

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.

AIA PRESS RELEASE

The national security space industrial base faces a tipping point beyond which irreparable harm to our nation’s defense and economy could occur, according to a new report released by AIA.

“Our national leaders, the military and our economic well-being all rely on our space assets more than at any point since the dawn of the space age,” said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey. “It’s critical that policy be backed by strong leadership, integrated strategy and the long-term funding and stability needed to maintain cutting-edge, cost-effective space programs.”

The report, Tipping Point: Maintaining the Health of the National Security Space Industrial Base, lays out several challenges faced by the national security space industrial base, including overly restrictive export control policies, a shrinking, aging workforce and budget instability.

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