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Military / National Security News

What's Happening in Space Policy August 18-29, 2014 - UPDATED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Aug-2014 (Updated: 17-Aug-2014 11:30 PM)

UPDATE:  We've added the Ancient Earth, Ancient Aliens event on August 20, which we just found out about..

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the next TWO weeks, August 18-29, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress returns on September 8.

During the Weeks

At last, things have quieted down for these last two weeks of August.   Perhaps what is most interesting is what's NOT on the calendar -- two U.S. spacewalks from the ISS that were supposed to take place in addition to the Russian spacewalk tomorrow.   NASA is still recovering from the alarming failure last summer when water filled Luca Parmitano's spacesuit helmet while he was out on a spacewalk.  NASA determined that a blocked filter caused the problem and replaced the filters on the spacesuits and added other safety features, but still has not approved routine U.S. spacewalks.  Only contingency spacewalks required to address specific issues are allowed.  Two were scheduled for August 21 and August 29, but NASA postponed them because of concerns about the spacesuit batteries.  The next SpaceX cargo resupply flight on September 19 will deliver replacements and the spacewalks will be rescheduled.  NASA officials reportedly met last week to review whether to resume routine spacewalks, but the agency has not issued any press statements to that effect yet.

The Russians have their own spacesuits, Orlan, and are not affected by the concerns about the U.S. suits.   Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov will perform a 6.5 hour spacewalk -- or extravehicular activity (EVA) -- to retrieve two experiments on the exterior of the ISS and install two new ones, and deploy a nanosatellite.  NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 am ET.

That and other events during the next two weeks that we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.

Monday, August 18

Tuesday, August 19

Wednesday, August 20

Monday-Wednesday, August 25-27

Air Force Space Command Gets New Commander

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Aug-2014 (Updated: 15-Aug-2014 07:07 PM)

Gen. John E. Hyten became the 16th commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) today (August 15), replacing Gen. William Shelton.  He has a long career in Air Force space units in the United States and overseas and has been serving as AFSPC's vice commander.

Hyten takes over at a challenging time for the Air Force in the space launch business, at least.  SpaceX filed suit against the U.S. government for issuing a sole source contract to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for 36 launch vehicle cores instead of opening the contract to competition.  That lawsuit is pending before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Separately, the government is reassessing its dependence on Russian RD-180 engines for ULA's Atlas V launch vehicle and what it will take to develop a U.S.-built engine to replace it.

Shelton testified to a joint hearing of two Senate committees last month on those very topics.  In that testimony and other speeches, Shelton came across as defensive of ULA and less than enthusiastic about SpaceX.  He was rebuked by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) over comments he made earlier in the year criticizing SpaceX for filing the lawsuit. McCain made it clear that he thinks there were improprieties in the sole source award.  As for the RD-180 engine issue, Shelton acknowledged at the hearing that it is time for the United States to develop its own liquid rocket engine to replace dependence on the RD-180, but almost seemed regretful about it.  He talked about "dire" consequences for national security satellite launches if the supply of RD-180 engines is cut off before an American engine is available.

Hyten's career includes serving as commander of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, which has responsibility for command and control, launch and early orbit operations, and operational support for more than 150 satellites, which should give him keen insight into the launch vehicle issues.   After graduating from Harvard with a B.A. in engineering and applied sciences through an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, his career reflects a long history in space acquisition and operations, including senior engineering positions on Air Force and Army anti-satellite weapons programs.  He served as Director of Space Forces for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In addition to commanding the 50th Space Wing, he also commanded the 595th Space Group and was Director, Space Programs, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition before becoming Vice Commander of AFSPC.   His promotion to General was confirmed by the Senate on April 9, 2014.

General John E. Hyten.  Photo Credit:  Air Force Space Command

Hyten spoke at the Space and Missile Defense (SMD) Symposium in Huntsville, AL this week.  As reported by Space News, Hyten characterized the Atlas V as "the most beautiful rocket ever built by man" but agreed that the United States should not be dependent on Russia for access to space.

State Department's Frank Rose Presses Case on Chinese ASAT Test

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Aug-2014 (Updated: 14-Aug-2014 11:58 PM)

State Department official Frank Rose pressed the case yesterday that the Chinese conducted another antisatellite (ASAT) test on July 23.  This is only the second time the U.S. Government has accused China of conducting an ASAT test -- other analysts insist there have been others -- and Rose's comments reemphasized a statement released by the State Department on July 25 perhaps to raise the visibility of the U.S. government's concern.

The July 25 statement  from the State Department asserted that China conducted a non-destructive ASAT test on July 23 and called on China to "refrain from destabilizing actions."   China announced it was a missile intercept test.

Rose said yesterday at U.S. Strategic Command's Deterrence Symposium that "Despite China's claims that this was not an ASAT test; let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment, that the event was indeed an ASAT test."  Russia also has ASAT weapons, he continued, citing congressional testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.  Rose, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, said ASAT systems are "both destabilizing and threaten the long-term security and sustainability of the outer space environment."

Rose's remarks then returned to the familiar themes that space is congested and contested and in need of  voluntary, non-legally binding Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) such as those to which China and Russia agreed last year through the United Nations (U.N.) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).  He also cited the "important multilateral initiative" being pursued through development of an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities as well as efforts within the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The key point was his public, official insistence that China conducted another ASAT test.   There is no disagreement that China conducted an ASAT test in 2007, destroying one of its own satellites and earning international condemnation because of the resulting cloud of orbital debris that will imperil satellites in low Earth orbit indefinitely.  China conducted "missile intercept" tests in 2010 and 2013 that some Western analysts also assert were ASAT tests, but the U.S. Government has not publicly placed them in that category.   This is only the second time that the U.S. Government has accused China of an ASAT test.  Rose allowed that this was a "non-destructive" test even though the rest of his comments stressed the grave consequences of debris-generating ASAT systems.

Bruno Replaces Gass as President of ULA Effective Immediately

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Aug-2014 (Updated: 12-Aug-2014 09:43 PM)

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today (August 12) that Lockheed Martin's Tory Bruno is replacing Michael Gass as its President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), effective immediately.  Gass has been President and CEO since ULA was created in 2006.  ULA said the two men would work "collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition."

ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that builds and launches the Delta and Atlas rockets.  Gass has an extensive career in the launch vehicle business, but that business is changing with the entrance of SpaceX's Falcon 9 into the marketplace and deteriorating geopolitical relationships between the United States and Russia that pose challenges for ULA's acquisition of the Russian RD-180 rocket engines that power the Atlas V.  The announcement said that he is retiring.

Bruno comes to his new job from serving as vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems.  Both men won praise from Lockheed Martin and Boeing executives in today's press release.  Lockheed Martin's Rick Ambrose pointed out that "Mike's track record speaks for itself: 86 successful launches in a row."  As for Bruno, Ambrose called him "an ideal leader to take the reins of ULA" who will "apply his proven track record of driving customer focus, innovation and affordability to shape ULA's future."  Boeing's Craig Cooning expressed gratitude for Gass's leadership and said Bruno is "well-qualified to ensure ULA keeps pace with changing customer needs and launch industry dynamics."

ULA recently initiated a marketing campaign focusing on ULA's reliability and experience in launching satellites, especially for national security purposes.  It is getting ready to launch a commercial satellite, Worldview-3, tomorrow and conducted two successful launches -- AFSPC-4 and a GPS navigation satellite -- in one week in late July-early August. 

But SpaceX is nipping at its heels, accusing the Air Force of illegally awarding a sole-source contract to ULA last year.  The case is pending before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.  Pressure is building to allow "new entrants" like SpaceX to compete for government launches to reduce launch costs.

Editor's note:  The ULA press release states that Bruno was most recently "vice president and general manager" of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems.  However, his LinkedIn profile states that he is President of that part of the company. 

Space Data Association and USSTRATCOM Reach Data Sharing Agreement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Aug-2014 (Updated: 11-Aug-2014 11:25 PM)

The Space Data Association (SDA) has reached a data sharing agreement with U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to enhance space situational awareness.  SDA's members include several of the world's major commercial satellite operators who share certain data with each other to avoid in-orbit collisions.  USSTRATCOM is the first non-satellite operator to sign an agreement with the group.

SDA was founded by three of the largest commercial communications satellite operators -- Intelsat, Inmarsat and SES -- after the 2009 collision between an operating Iridium communications satellite (Iridium 33) and a defunct Russian military communications satellite (Cosmos 2251).  The collision added to the population of space debris in low Earth orbit, which had increased significantly two years earlier following a Chinese antisatellite (ASAT) test that created about 3,000 pieces of debris. 

The Chinese ASAT test and the Iridium-Cosmos collision raised the profile of the problems posed by space debris and the need for countries and companies to work together to ensure that Earth orbit will remain usable in the future.  Space Situational Awareness (SSA) refers to the goal of knowing where everything is in Earth orbit and where it's going. (Some definitions add the goal of knowing what each satellite is doing).  It is one element of President Obama's 2010 National Space Policy. 

SDA created a mechanism for its members to share data on the locations of their satellites and any plans to reposition them that avoids revealing sensitive information yet contributes to SSA and the broader goal of "space sustainability."   For several years it has been seeking agreement with the Department of Defense to access data from the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC), which tracks objects in Earth orbit for the U.S. government, predicts when they will decay from orbit, and conducts "conjunction analyses" to determine if a collision is likely.  JSPoC is part of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC Space) under USSTRATCOM.  It is currently tracking more than 17,000 objects in Earth orbit of which approximately 4,000 are functioning payloads or satellites, 2,000 are rocket bodies, and 11,000 are debris/inactive satellites according to its space-track.org website.  

In addition to concern about physical collisions between space objects, there is growing concern about electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radiofrequency interference (RFI), particularly intentional jamming of satellite frequencies by countries that object to certain programming or otherwise choose to interfere with the transmissions.

SDA called the agreement a "critical milestone" that allows the two organizations to formally collaborate on SSA issues including EMI and RFI.  The agreement creates "a framework to exchange data," SDA President Ron Busch said in an August 8 press release, and is an acknowledgment by USSTRATCOM that "collaboration can enhance" SSA.

The Secure World Foundation (SWF) is a champion of SSA and space sustainability.  Brian Weeden, SWF's technical advisor and a former Air Force officer who worked at JSPoC, said via email that "This agreement could be a major step forward, but as always the devil is in the details and right now we don't have many details."  

SDA announced the agreement in a press release; USSTRATCOM does not appear to have made a public announcement.

 

 

What's Happening in Space Policy August 11-15, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Aug-2014 (Updated: 10-Aug-2014 05:19 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for August 11-15, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress will return on September 8.

During the Week

Lots going on this week, even though it's August and everyone should be on vacation or getting the kids ready to go back to school (smile)!  Tough to say what's of greatest interest.  The Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) workshop is definitely on the list.   (Siding Spring is the name of the observatory in Australia where the comet was discovered.)Thanks to the organizers for arranging for it to be livestreamed so anyone can tune in.  The comet will fly within 130,000 kilometers of the Martian surface on October 19 and spacecraft in orbit around or on the surface of Mars should be able to get a close look and  the workshop is to discuss those opportunities. Not TOO close of course!  There's a bit of concern that systems on orbiting spacecraft could potentially be damaged by the comet's dust.  NASA's Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are in orbit already along with ESA's Mars Express.  NASA's newest Mars probe, MAVEN, will arrive just before the comet, as will India's Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM).  NASA already has been adjusting the orbits of its spacecraft so they will be on the opposite side of Mars during the 20 minute period when the dust is expected to be most intense. 

Michael Lopez-Alegria's talk at the ISU-DC Space Café on Tuesday evening also should be good.   A former astronaut, he has been President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) for the past two years and is about to move on to new horizons.  His insights comparing the commercial and government space sectors and dealing with the White House and Congress should be thought provoking.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, August 11

Monday-Tuesday, August 11-12

Monday-Thursday, August 11-14

Tuesday, August 12

Wednesday-Thursday, August 13-14

Russian Sanctions Against US and EU Steer Clear of Space Cooperation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Aug-2014 (Updated: 07-Aug-2014 09:44 PM)

Russia's decision to retaliate against the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries that have imposed sanctions because of Russia's activities in Ukraine does not, at this time, seem to have any impact on existing space cooperation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier this week that he would impose his own sanctions in a tit-for-tat response.  Details were released today (August 7) and all are in the agricultural sector.   For one year, Russia will prohibit imports of beef, pork, poultry, meat, fish, cheese, milk, vegetables and fruit from the United States, EU, Canada, Australia and Norway.  Alcohol imports from the United States and the EU are not affected.  Russia plans to increase imports from other countries to compensate.  Russia reportedly is considering additional sanctions, such as banning American and European airline flights to pass through Russian airspace as well as sanctions in the automobile, shipbuilding and aircraft production industries, but there is no indication at this time that space cooperation is jeopardized.

The deterioration of relationships this year between the United States and Russia since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula has raised concern in the space policy community because of U.S. reliance on Russia for crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian RD-180 engines for the U.S. Atlas V launch vehicle.  The United States has issued sanctions against Russia several times, but they do not appear to be having any negative impact on space cooperation.

Putin stridently complained against the sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries and warned they can "boomerang."  In announcing his retaliatory sanctions, he said "Naturally, this has to be done very accurately so as to support domestic producers and not harm consumers."   If his desire to support domestic producers applies broadly and not only to the agricultural sector, that could suggest that he will try to avoid harming companies like Energomash, which produces the RD-180 engines, or the enterprises that build and launch Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.  NASA pays Russia roughly $450 million a year for U.S. and other non-Russian crew members to fly to and from the ISS.  The two countries jointly operate the ISS. 

NASA insists that nothing has changed in ISS operations because of the geopolitical strains, and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds and launch the Atlas V, and its Air Force customer also say that it is "business as usual" with the Russians.  How much ULA pays for the RD-180s is not public and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) requested that information from the Department of Defense in June.  Presumably, however, it is revenue Russia would not want to forego.

What's Happening In Space Policy August 3-10, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2014 (Updated: 03-Aug-2014 06:23 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of August 3-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.   Congress is in recess until September 8.

During the Week

It may be a little quiet in Washington this week with Congress gone and many people on vacation, but there's a lot going in space policy elsewhere in the country, world, and the depths of outer space.

Three annual conferences are taking place -- Utah State University's Smallsat Conference in Logan, Utah;  AIAA's Space 2014 in San Diego; and the Mars Society's international convention in League City, Texas -- and the biennial COSPAR meeting is in Moscow.  Two of them -- Smallsat and COSPAR -- actually began yesterday.

NASA participation in the COSPAR conference, where the world's space scientists get together to share results and plans for the future, was one of the activities exempted from the White House's directive to government agencies to limit their cooperative activities with Russia because of the geopolitical situation.  According to an April memo from NASA's Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations to NASA Center Directors, NASA employees are allowed to participate in multilateral meetings that may involve Russians as long as the meeting takes place outside Russia.   COSPAR and the upcoming International Council of Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS) both are in Russia this year, however:  COSPAR in Moscow and ICAS in St. Petersburg in September.

COSPAR was almost immediately exempted from that restriction, though, apparently thanks to the efforts of the National Academy of Sciences' Space Studies Board (SSB) and especially its former chair Len Fisk, who is now the official U.S. representative to COSPAR.  COSPAR is part of the International Council of Science and the SSB is the U.S. National Committee to COSPAR.  NASA reports that 35 NASA employees are attending COSPAR, but that a decision on whether any may attend ICAS next month has not yet been made.  ICAS is where aeronautical engineers get together to "facilitate collaboration in aeronautics."

Meanwhile, in the depths of space, this week will see at long last the end of Rosetta's 10-year journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  The European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft will orbit the 4-kilometer diameter comet and, in November, send a lander (named Philae) to the surface, a first-time feat.  ESA's Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany is expected to confirm Rosetta's arrival at about 11:45 Central European Summer Time (CEST), or 09:45 GMT (5.45 am ET) on August 6.  It began its journey on March 2, 2004 and has travelled more than 6.4 billion kilometers to reach the comet, which is currently about 404 million kilometers from Earth (Rosetta made three passes by Earth and one by Mars to get gravity-assist boosts).  The one-way signal travel time is 22 minutes 27 seconds.  A day-long series of press briefings is planned on August 6 that will be livestreamed.

Those events and everything else we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 2-7

Saturday, August 2 - Sunday, August 10

  •  COSPAR (Committee on Space Research of the International Council of Science), Moscow, Russia

Monday-Thursday, August 4-7

Tuesday, August 5

Wednesday, August 6

Thursday-Sunday, August 7-10

Bipartisan House Intelligence Committee Report Concludes NRO Buys Excess Satellites

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jul-2014 (Updated: 31-Jul-2014 05:31 PM)

As the House readies to adjourn for the August recess, the House Intelligence Committee today released a bipartisan report on how to save money in the procurement of intelligence satellites.  The report is the result of a one-and-a-half year committee review of the Intelligence Community's (IC's) satellite acquisition processes and was delivered to National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) today (July 31).

NRO designs, builds, launches and maintains the nation's intelligence satellites and is headed by Director Betty Sapp.  It is one of 17 members of the IC, which is coordinated by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper.

In a press release, committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) said the report "pinpoints specific areas where the IC can improve its purchase of these important systems."

The report is classified, but the committee released a 9-page unclassified summary.  The bottom line of the report is that NRO buys satellites "faster than necessary to meet mission requirements in order to stabilize the industrial base," but has not "sufficiently scrutinized" its assumptions on what is needed to achieve industrial base stability.  Its assumptions are based on information from the prime contractor and "NRO lacks sufficient visibility" to verify that information. 

"NRO assumes it must buy satellites at a relatively fast pace because a slower pace would lead to an increased cost per satellite. .... Unless the higher cost of slower production exceeds the cost of an excess satellite, the assumption that slower paces are too costly is flawed," the report concludes. 

In the committee's view, the burden is on the Office of the DNI (ODNI) and the NRO to ensure assumptions are correct and they are not paying more than necessary.  Among its five recommendations, the report calls for the ODNI to verify NRO's assumptions externally, not using contractor-supplied information.  Specifically, it says ODNI should create a plan for using data from the Department of Commerce's ongoing "Space Industrial Base Deep Dive" study to verify assumptions and start exploring alternative studies in case those data are inadequate.

U.S. Readies More Sanctions, Accuses Russia of INF Treaty Violation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jul-2014 (Updated: 29-Jul-2014 12:16 AM)

The United States and its major European allies announced on Monday they are finalizing more sanctions against Russia in the wake of the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine on July 17.  The United States also reportedly formally accused Russia of violating a treaty prohibiting development of new medium range cruise missiles.  The extent to which these developments might impact U.S.–Russian space relationships is unclear.

Sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration over the past several months following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula have largely skirted civil space cooperation.  The United States relies on Russia for transporting American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian rocket engines are used to power two U.S. launch vehicles – Atlas 5 with its Russian RD-180 engines, and Antares and its Russian AJ-26 (NK-33) engines.

Although NASA, along with other government agencies, was directed to limit cooperation with Russia, the ISS was specifically exempted and other NASA programs were given waivers.  Three Russian cosmonauts, two American astronauts and one German astronaut are currently living together aboard the ISS, which is jointly operated by the United States and Russia.

The shoot-down of the commercial Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) airliner as it transited Ukrainian airspace at 33,000 feet on July 17, 2014, and Russia’s refusal to accept responsibility despite Western insistence that Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine used a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile system in that horrific tragedy, pushed the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy to announce today (July 28) they will impose new sanctions imminently.  Specifics were not released.  The New York Times said Europe will finalize its sanctions package tomorrow (Tuesday), with the United States following suit thereafter.

The White House released a read-out of a telecom among the leaders of the five countries discussing several global hot spots including Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Libya.  On this topic, it said only that all agreed on the need for “coordinated sanctions measures on Russia for its continued transfer of arms, equipment, and fighters into eastern Ukraine, including since the crash, and to press Russia to end its efforts to destabilize the country…”

At the same time, also according to the New York Times, President Obama formally notified Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States has concluded Russia violated the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers.  Multiple sources reported the news this evening, with most citing the New York Times as breaking the story.  President Obama’s letter to Putin is not yet posted on the White House Web site.

Check back here as more details of these actions are made public.