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Astronauts fly with SpaceX in landmark launch for commercial spaceflight

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A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday (0027 GMT Monday) with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

A Crew Dragon capsule ferried four astronauts into space Sunday night after a rumbling departure from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, setting off on a 27-hour pursuit of the International Space Station on SpaceX’s first operational crew rotation flight to the orbiting outpost.

The commercial crew capsule, named “Resilience” by its four-person crew, rocketed off pad 39A at the Florida spaceport at 7:27:17 p.m. EST Sunday (0027:17 GMT Monday). A 215-foot-tall (65-meter) Falcon 9 rocket gave the Crew Dragon spacecraft a fiery ride into orbit.

NASA commander Mike Hopkins was joined inside the crew capsule by pilot Victor Glover, mission specialist Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The four-person team is heading for a nearly six-month expedition on the space station, where the Dragon spaceship is due to dock at 11 p.m. EST Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday).

The Falcon 9 launcher streaked into a clear evening sky, taking aim on the International Space Station as it flew northeast from Florida’s Space Coast powered by nine Merlin 1D engines generating 1.7 million pounds of ground-shaking thrust.

Two-and-a-half minutes into the mission, the Falcon 9’s 15-story-tall first stage shut down and separated to begin falling toward a controlled propulsive landing on a SpaceX drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket’s upper stage ignited its single Merlin-Vacuum engine and accelerated into orbit with Hopkins and his crewmates. SpaceX mission control regularly radioed status reports to the Dragon crew as the rocket headed up U.S. East Coast, then crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a course toward the British Isles.

The Falcon 9 shut down its upper stage engine around nine minutes after liftoff, and the rocket deployed the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft about three minutes later. The rocket’s first stage booster, meanwhile, nailed an on-target landing on SpaceX’s offshore recovery platform for reuse on SpaceX’s next crew mission in 2021.

“To the entire Falcon 9 team, well done, that was one heck of a ride,” Hopkins said shortly after launch. “There was a lot of smiles (up here) … Making history is definitely hard and you guys all made it look easy. Again, congratulations to everyone. Resilience is in orbit.”

Astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi wave to their families, media, and VIPs outside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The successful blastoff marked the start of the first human spaceflight mission to Earth orbit operated as a commercial service.

SpaceX, working under contract to NASA, built the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, own both vehicles, and control the mission from its corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles.

The first “operational” Crew Dragon mission, known as Crew-1, will pave the way for more commercial flights to orbit carrying professional astronauts and paying passengers.

The Crew-1 mission is the first of at least six space station crew rotation flights NASA has contracted to SpaceX, following a successful demonstration mission to the space station earlier this year.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launched May 30 on the Crew Dragon’s final developmental test flight, ending a nearly nine-year gap in independent human spaceflight capability to low Earth orbit after the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet.

Hurley and Behnken spent two months on the space station before returning to Earth for a parachute-assisted splashdown on their Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 2.

After reviewing data from the test flight, SpaceX engineers reinforced part of the Crew Dragon’s heat shield and made several other adjustments before managers cleared the Crew-1 mission for launch.

NASA officials formally certified the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for operational flights during a two-day Flight Readiness Review last week.

“The big milestone here is we are now moving from development and test and into operational flights,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

NASA has spent $6 billion over the last decade helping companies develop new commercial human-rated spacecraft. In 2014, the space agency selected SpaceX and Boeing as partners to complete development of the Crew Dragon and Starliner crew capsules.

SpaceX has signed agreements with NASA valued at more than $3.1 billion to cover design, testing, and six operational flights of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The launch Sunday night was licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration — the first time that agency has licensed a crew launch into Earth orbit. The FAA regularly licenses commercial satellite launches by U.S. companies.

“I believe 20 years from now, we’re going to look back at this time as a major turning point in our exploration and utilization of space,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters. “It’s not an exaggeration to state that with this milestone, NASA and SpaceX have changed the historical arc of human space transportation.”

“Not only can NASA transport our astronauts to and from the International Space Station with U.S. systems, but now, for the first time in history, there is a commercial capability from a private sector entity to safely and reliably transport people to space,” McAlister said in a pre-launch conference call with reporters.

The Crew-1 astronauts strapped into their seats before launch Sunday. Credit: SpaceX

The Commercial Crew Program has its roots in the Obama administration, which canceled NASA’s Constellation moon program in 2010 after the George W. Bush administration’s lunar exploration initiative suffered delays and cost overruns.

An independent commission found in 2009 that it would cost more than $34 billion to complete the first phase of the Constellation program, which would have fielded the Ares 1 rocket and an Orion crew capsule capable of flights to the International Space Station.

McAlister said the Commercial Crew Program saved taxpayers between $20 billion and $30 billion, and will result in two independent crew transportation systems for low Earth orbit missions, once the Crew Dragon and Starliner spaceships are both cleared for operational flights.

Boeing’s Starliner has not yet flown with astronauts, and the aerospace contractor plans a second unpiloted test flight in early 2021 after software problems cut short the Starliner’s first orbital demonstration mission last year.

The Crew Dragon and Starliner could fly private astronauts on standalone missions without going to the International Space Station. Eventually, the commercial capsules could transport researchers, space tourists, and professional astronauts to privately-owned outposts in orbit.

Although officials hailed the Crew-1 mission as a milestone toward making human spaceflight more affordable and routine, NASA and SpaceX officials said they would stay vigilant in assessing technical risks on future commercial crew launches.

“Make no mistake, every flight is a test flight when it comes to space travel, but it’s also true that we need to routinely be able to go the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said.

Hopkins, commander of the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, said one of the goals of his flight is to “put the vehicle through its operational paces.”

The Crew-1 mission is the first time four astronauts have flown on a Crew Dragon spacecraft — and the first time a four-person crew have been inside any capsule in orbit. Past space missions flying on crew capsules have carried no more than three astronauts, while NASA’s space shuttle accommodated as many as eight astronauts.

Hopkins and his crewmates will fly nearly three times longer then the Crew Dragon test flight earlier this year, pushing the capsule close to its 210-day maximum mission duration.

“Bob and Doug’s mission was the developmental test mission,” Glover said in a pre-flight press conference, referring to Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission. “As soon as we hit Day 64, that’s going to be the first time that a Crew Dragon at the space station his hit that milestone, and every day after that will be new territory.”

“In general, I think it’s more of an operational checkout than development testing,” Hopkins said.

The start of commercial Crew Dragon service ends NASA’s sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft rockets off pad 39A atop a 215-foot-tall Falcon 9 launcher. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Hopkins, 51, is a native of Missouri and a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a flight test engineer before his selection as a NASA astronaut in 2009, then completed a 166-day expedition on the space station in 2013 and 2014. NASA named him to command the first operational Crew Dragon mission in 2018.

Glover is the mission’s rookie, and he is set to become the first Black astronaut to live and work on the space station for a long-duration expedition. The 44-year-old U.S. Navy test pilot was born and raised in Southern California, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cal Poly, then flew F/A-18 fighter jets before joining NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013.

Shannon Walker was born in Houston and earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and a PhD in space physics from Rice University. Walker, 55, was a flight controller and integration engineer on the space shuttle and space station before NASA selected her as an astronaut in 2004. She logged 163 days in orbit on the space station in 2010.

Noguchi, 55, is the most experienced astronaut on the Dragon crew. With Sunday night’s launch, Noguchi became the third person to blast off from Earth and fly into orbit on three different types of spacecraft, joining a small club with legendary NASA astronauts Wally Schirra and John Young.

He previously flew on a space shuttle mission and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket to the space station. The Crew-1 mission is Noguchi’s third spaceflight.

After docking Monday night, the four Dragon astronauts will join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov on the International Space Station, raising the size of the lab’s long-term crew to seven people for the first time.

Rubins, Ryzhikov, and Kud-Sverchkov launched Oct. 14 on a Soyuz spacecraft.

The space station has typically operated with six people on-board. The addition of a seventh crew member will increase the pace of scientific experiments on the orbiting lab, NASA officials said.

The seven-person crew will also perform a series of spacewalks, oversee arrivals and departures of cargo freighters, and perform maintenance tasks on the space station.

The next Crew Dragon mission is tentatively scheduled to launch March 30 with an all-veteran crew consisting of NASA commander Shane Kimbrough, pilot Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. They will ride the same Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule that Hurley and Behnken flew earlier this year.

A fresh three-man team of Russian cosmonauts will launch around April 10 to replace Rubins, Ryzhikov, and Kud-Sverchkov, who are slated to land in their Soyuz capsule in mid-April. Then Hopkins and his crewmates will leave the complex and head splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico some time around May 1.

But first, the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft has to link up with the International Space Station Monday night. The capsule accomplished its first major rocket firing around 45 minutes after liftoff Sunday, setting the stage for additional maneuvers Monday to approach the station.

Ground controllers at SpaceX’s operations center in Hawthorne tracked several technical problems on the spacecraft soon after launch Sunday night.

One of the issues involved thermal control loops on the crew capsule. Automated sensors detected a pressure spike in the spacecraft’s cooling system, but engineers on the ground restored the coolant loops to full capability.

Then mission control studied “high resistance” readings that temporarily disabled three of four propellant line heaters associated with a group of Draco thrusters on the spacecraft. Flight rules require at least two of four propellant line heaters be working, briefly raising concerns that the heater glitch might impact the capsule’s journey to the space station.

Ground teams determined the issue was triggered by a software limit that was set too conservatively, causing the three heaters to be taken offline. After relaxing the resistance limit, all four heaters in the Draco thruster quad were reactivated, restoring the system to full redundancy.

“That is excellent news,” Hopkins said. “Good to hear — back to full fault tolerance for the prop manifold heaters,” Hopkins said.

Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/11/16/astronauts-ride-spacex-crew-capsule-in-landmark-launch-for-commercial-spaceflight/

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GridRaster achieves millimeter accuracy in Mixed Reality overlays using 3D Artificial Intelligence

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In Mixed Reality News

January 21, 2021 – GridRaster Inc., a provider of cloud-based XR platforms that power high-performance and scalable augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR) experiences on mobile devices for enterprises, has announced that it has achieved millimeter accuracy in mixed reality overlays using three-dimensional Artificial Intelligence (3D AI).

GridRaster offers its 3D AI solutions for virtual overlays in design/build environments, allowing businesses and enterprises to leverage the technology for applications such as design overlays to design and build airlines and automobiles, for example. 

The company stated that much of this immersive MR experience has traditionally been used by leveraging two-dimensional (2D) virtual technology. However, GridRaster now leverages deep learning-based 3D computer vision for more accurate spatial mapping. One of the key requirements for MR applications is to precisely overlay on an object its 3D model or digital twin. This helps in providing work instructions for assembly, training, and also catch any errors or defects in manufacturing. 

According to GridRaster, most on-device object tracking systems use a 2D image and/or marker-based tracking. This limits overlay accuracy in a 3D environment because 2D tracking cannot estimate depth with high accuracy, and consequently the scale, and the pose of an object. This means that even though users can achieve what looks like a good match when looking from one angle and/or position, the overlay can lose proper accuracy during alignment.

Deep learning-based 3D AI therefore allows users to identify 3D objects of arbitrary shape and size in various orientations with high accuracy in the 3D space. The company added that this approach is scalable with any arbitrary shape and is amenable to use in enterprise use cases requiring rendering overlay of complex 3D models and digital twins with their real world counterparts. 

The method can also be scaled to register partially completed structures with complete 3D models, allowing for on-going construction and assembly. GridRaster states that its module can achieve an accuracy of up to 1mm in the object registration and rendering through its platform. The company also noted that rendering accuracy is primarily limited by the device capability. 

“This sophisticated and unique approach to 3D object tracking will allow our enterprise clients to truly fuse the real and virtual worlds, opening up many applications,” said Rishi Ranjan, CEO of GridRaster. “With 3D AI our clients can leverage cutting-edge virtual design/build applications that include training with work instructions, defect and error detection in construction and assembly environments, and 3D design and engineering with life-size 3D rendering and overlay.”

For a demo or to learn more about GridRaster’s 3D AI Mixed Reality module, please visit the company’s website.

Image credit: GridRaster

About the author

Sam Sprigg

Sam is the Founder and Managing Editor of Auganix. With a background in research and report writing, he covers news articles on both the AR and VR industries. He also has an interest in human augmentation technology as a whole, and does not just limit his learning specifically to the visual experience side of things.

Source: https://www.auganix.org/gridraster-achieves-millimeter-accuracy-in-mixed-reality-overlays-using-3d-artificial-intelligence/

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Satellogic signs multi-launch contract with SpaceX

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WASHINGTON — Earth observation company Satellogic announced Jan. 19 it signed a contract with SpaceX covering several rideshare launches of its satellites through next year.

The multiple launch services agreement makes SpaceX Satellogic’s preferred provider for launching its constellation of microsatellites, after previously relying on Chinese, European and Russian vehicles, including a launch of 10 satellites as the primary payload on a Long March 6 Nov. 5.

In an interview, Emiliano Kargieman, chief executive of Satellogic, said the low prices and frequent launch opportunities that SpaceX offered led his company to sign up. “The new rideshare program that SpaceX has put together has reduced the price on the order of four or five times on a per-kilogram basis,” he said. “That really made the rideshare program compete very well in the market and it caused us to start having conversations with SpaceX.”

Satellogic plans to conduct its next four launches with SpaceX, starting in June. Additional launches will take place in December and in March and June of 2022. All will be rideshare missions going to sun-synchronous orbits, with at least four satellites on the June launch. The company, which has 13 operational satellites currently, projects having a constellation of about 60 satellites by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

The company also has the option of flying satellites as rideshare payloads on Starlink missions. Those would go to mid-inclination orbits, which Kargieman said would complement the bulk of the constellation in sun-synchronous orbits. “They give us more diversity in times for revisits for points of interest,” he said, noting the company has one satellite in such an orbit. “We are looking into deploying more mid-inclination satellites over the next 12–18 months, but we have not yet decided exactly when those launches are going to be.”

Another benefit of the agreement, he said, is the flexibility it offers in determining how many satellites to fly, as well as options for flying satellites on Starlink missions. “It gives us the possibility of making those decisions closer to the launch date.”

While SpaceX is Satellogic’s preferred launch provider, Kargieman did not rule out occasionally using other providers. “Because we might need some particular orbit, we might still decide to launch a dedicated rocket every once in a while to make sure we have the satellites where we want them,” he said.

Satellogic is seeing strong demand for the high-resolution imagery its satellites produce, he said, with that demand accelerating in the last year from government customers in particular. “On the government side it’s very clear that there is significant unsatisfied demand,” he said. “The pandemic has accelerated the demand for Earth observation data and geospatial analytics.”

That demand was a key factor in the decision to select SpaceX, with its launch services allowing Satellogic to accelerate deployment of its constellation. “That’s a good point to invest more,” Kargieman said. “We’re feeling strongly that this is a time for us to double down, scale and continue to bring this data to market at an affordable cost.”

Source: https://spacenews.com/satellogic-signs-multi-launch-contract-with-spacex/

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Space challenges for President Biden: Four issues for the next four years

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As Joe Biden begins the first year of his presidency, there is still much we don’t know about where he and his vice president, Kamala Harris, stand on major issues in civil and national security space. The pandemic and economic recovery are sure to drive Biden’s initial agenda.

There are, nonetheless, several key space issues the new administration will have to address. NASA’s Artemis program is now unlikely to meet its 2024 human landing goal, giving the administration the opportunity to revisit the program while enhancing the agency’s Earth science work. The growing population of satellites and debris may lead the administration to reexamine the Trump administration’s approach to civil space traffic management. The Space Force will continue to mature but faces growing pains. The Pentagon will also finish programs, from new launch vehicles to LEO constellations, started under the Trump administration.


NASA was expected to select a company this spring to proceed into full development of a crewed lunar lander but budget setbacks and a change in administration could alter those plans. Credit: NASA Human Landing System concept

The future of Artemis

Ever since Biden won the presidential election in November, the space industry has speculated what his administration will mean for NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the moon in 2024. The Democratic Party platform in August endorsed in general terms “NASA’s work to return Americans to the moon,” but made no mention of either retaining or changing the 2024 goal.

That decision may already have been made for him. In December, Congress passed a fiscal year 2021 spending bill that included $850 million for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) program, just a quarter of what the agency requested. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had warned for months that keeping a 2024 human landing on schedule would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, without full funding for HLS.

There was, even before Congress passed the bill, widespread skepticism that a 2024 landing was feasible. “It was a long shot to begin with,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, shortly after the election. She speculated that the new administration would defer a human lunar landing to “slightly later than 2024.”

A new approach might look something like what NASA was pursuing in the first half of the Trump administration, when it was focused on first building out the lunar Gateway, followed by human lunar landings around 2028. NASA has continued to make agreements with Canada, Europe and Japan on elements of the Gateway, so broader changes to human spaceflight plans that do away with the Gateway could be geopolitically costly for the Biden administration.

NASA may have to make decisions on the future of Artemis soon, perhaps before a new administrator is in place. The three companies that received HLS contracts last year — Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX — are waiting on NASA to select who will proceed into full development. The agency previously said it would make decisions in the spring, but both the limited funding and the change in administrations could alter those plans.

At the same time, the Biden administration is widely expected to put greater resources into Earth science programs at NASA, as part of a broader emphasis on climate change. The party platform called for “strengthening” NASA and NOAA Earth observation missions “to better understand how climate change is impacting our home planet.”

That could create opportunities not just for Earth scientists but developers of spacecraft and related technologies. “With the administration’s planned focus on climate change, we expect growth in spacecraft and information systems related to understanding weather and climate change,” Eileen Drake, president and chief executive of Aerojet Rocketdyne, said at the AIAA SciTech Forum Jan. 11.

Exactly what form that new emphasis on Earth science will take is not yet clear. NASA already has a lengthy list of recommended missions from the previous Earth science decadal survey published in 2018 but has been slow to implement them because of limited budgets. Additional funding could accelerate those missions and feed into a broader climate change initiative.

Some have bolder expectations. “Managing the Earth’s ability to sustain human life and biodiversity will likely, in my view, dominate a civil space agenda for a Biden-Harris administration,” said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator during the Obama administration, shortly after the election.

However that climate change initiative develops, it likely means that boots on the moon will have to wait.


While the incoming administration has offered no hints of its views on the subject, there is nothing that would stop it from moving civil space traffic management to the FAA or authorizing the Commerce Department to perform STM, making it easy for the White House to change its mind. Credit: SpaceNews illustration

Space traffic management

At the end of the Obama administration four years ago, the outlines of a civil space traffic management (STM) system were beginning to take shape. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation was starting preparations to take on that work from the U.S. Air Force after a consensus by the White House and other government agencies that it was the best agency for the job.

That changed in June 2018, when the Trump administration issued Space Policy Directive 3 on civil STM. The administration directed the Air Force to transition civil STM activities to the Commerce Department, specifically its Office of Space Commerce. It concluded that the office could take on space traffic management, freeing up the FAA to oversee increasing commercial launch activity.

Two and a half years later, the office was finally ready to take on that challenge. Congress provided the office with $10 million in the fiscal year 2021 omnibus spending bill in December — less than the $15 million it requested but the first time it received any funding for STM work. Up until then, the Office of Space Commerce was laying the groundwork for STM, including coordination with the Space Force and meetings with industry, but needed funding to hire staff and develop systems.

“Next year will be largely what I’ll call a ‘building block’ year,” Kevin O’Connell, director of the Office of Space Commerce, predicted in October during a 0SpaceNews webinar. If his office got its requested funding, he projected that by the end of 2021 “we will have an initial architecture that is up and running.”

That assumes the Biden administration continues on that path. While the incoming administration has offered no hints of its views on the subject, there is nothing that would stop it from moving civil STM to the FAA or authorizing the Commerce Department to perform space traffic management, making it easy for the White House to change its mind.

However, there is now a consensus in the public and private sector that Commerce is the best place — or, at least, a good enough place — to handle civil STM. A congressionally mandated report by the National Academy of Public Administration, released in August, concluded Commerce was a better agency for civil STM than the FAA, NASA, or Defense Department.

With the growing amount of debris in orbit, along with emergence of megaconstellations like Starlink, most just want the government to move ahead as fast as it can. “In the end, it doesn’t really matter who does it, just that it gets done,” said Chris Kunstadter, global head of space for insurer AXA XL.

Another question will be how much attention Commerce gives to civil STM. Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, hasn’t been involved in space in any way or shown an interest in the subject. However, the same was true for Trump’s nominee, financier Wilbur Ross, who never attended a launch before 2018. Yet he became a vocal advocate for the department’s work on space, including STM.


Credit: U.S. Space Force

Next steps for U.S. Space Force

Among the final acts of the Trump administration was a celebration at the White House of the U.S. Space Force’s first anniversary, where Vice President Mike Pence announced the members of the service would be called guardians. The sixth branch of the armed forces was a darling of President Trump and no detail about the Space Force was too trivial to trumpet.

The Space Force will now enter its formative years with bipartisan support in Congress but under a new commander in chief with a different worldview. Biden is not expected to undo his predecessor’s prized achievement, but the Space Force will be lower on the totem pole.

“I don’t think the Space Force is in any danger of going away, but I don’t think it will be politically favored the way it was under Trump,” said David Burbach, associate professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College.

Over the next four years, the Space Force will stay busy building the service. In 2020, more than 2,200 former members of Air Force Space Command formally transferred to the Space Force. Another 3,600 are projected to transfer in 2021. The long-term goal is a Space Force of about 6,000 military members and 8,000 civilians. The service will be standing up a Space Systems Command to oversee acquisitions and plans to build a space intelligence center. The Biden administration later this year will have to provide recommendations to Congress on what space units from the Army and the Navy could be realigned under the Space Force.

More broadly, political appointees and military officials will continue to have to address questions on the Space Force’s role and reason for being.

“There is still a lot of confusion about the role of the Space Force,” said Burbach, noting that he does not speak for the government. Even though the space service’s job is to operate and defend U.S. satellites, “they run commercials showing astronauts going to the moon and exploring other planets. That’s not what the Space Force is going to do. They are not fighting laser battles in space.”

“The primary job for the Space Force right now is really focused on Earth,” said Scott Pace, former executive secretary of the National Space Council, during a recent National Security Space Association webinar. He noted the service has its hands full just carrying out its basic responsibilities to provide space-based services to U.S. military forces and allies.

A criticism often lobbed at the Space Force is that it created an expensive new bureaucracy to do the same work that the Air Force Space Command used to do, with the same people. But critics need to move on, said Deborah Lee James, former secretary of the Air Force during the Obama administration. “It’s not worth the bureaucratic churn to put it back the way it was,” she said last month at the Mitchell Institute’s West Coast Aerospace Forum.

Congress has made similar points and directed the Department of the Air Force and the Space Force to propose by May a revamped space acquisition process, a responsibility that will fall on Biden’s appointees. The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act asks for specific recommendations for making space acquisitions move faster, in ways that capture innovations from the private sector.


The U.S. Space Force is counting on a smooth transition to ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket to help ensure the reliable delivery of national security satellites to orbit. Credit: United Launch Alliance

National security space modernization

During the Trump administration, the Pentagon took important steps to modernize key national security space programs. For now, there is nothing to suggest Biden’s appointees — many of them veterans of the Obama administration — will reverse course on major programs, at least until they have a chance to dig through budgets and submit new proposals.

“We see no reason to think it won’t be full steam ahead,” said Mike Tierney, industry analyst at the defense and space consulting firm Velos. In 2021, “we’re going to get a lot of the same” simply because the incoming leaders are not going to have time to substantially amend Trump’s budgets until their second year in office.

Over the next four years, Biden’s Pentagon will oversee the transition of the National Security Space Launch program to a new phase where SpaceX will have a more prominent role flying military satellites to orbit and longtime incumbent United Launch Alliance will be tested to introduce a new launch vehicle, Vulcan, that the company promised will be ready in 2021. It will fall on the Space Force and the Biden administration to help SpaceX and ULA clear this hurdle and assure Congress the nation has the domestic launch vehicles it needs to reliably deliver critical national security satellites to orbit.

Sometime in 2024, the Space Force will start planning for a new heavy-lift launch competition. Biden’s administration could be in a position to evaluate whether emerging players like Blue Origin, which tried and lost in 2020, can win a spot in Space Force’s stable of launch providers.

Another item on the space agenda is the resiliency — or lack thereof — of U.S. space systems. This has been a much-discussed issue during the Trump administration amid warnings that U.S. satellites are vulnerable to jamming, cyberattacks and threats from anti-satellite weapons.

Former undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Mike Griffin pushed the Pentagon to invest in proliferated low-Earth orbit constellations, like those being built by private companies, to provide resiliency. Under Griffin, the Pentagon stood up the Space Development Agency to take on the design and early development of military systems in LEO. The young agency, which was opposed by the Air Force Association and others, is preparing to launch its first 28 satellites in 2022.

“SDA will get a fresh look,” Tierney said, but there’s no sign that the Biden team will be opposed to it. Once the SDA shows it can deliver on its promise to field a constellation in just two years, he expects it will be seen as the “agile, innovative new arm of the Space Force focused on proliferated LEO.”

The large “exquisite” satellites that have been the bread and butter of Pentagon space programs will not go away even if the SDA’s proliferated systems come to fruition. Under Biden, the Space Force will continue to acquire multibillion-dollar systems for missile warning, secure communications, and navigation. But there will also be parallel efforts to diversify the space architecture and use cheaper, smaller platforms as the private sector continues to drive down the cost of satellites and launch.

How the military leverages commercial space technology for national security will remain an issue over the next four years. A recent Aerospace Corp. space policy paper aimed at the Biden administration noted that the “increasing commercialization of space is presenting new opportunities for national security acquisition.” A trend to watch will be whether U.S. intelligence and defense agencies begin to seriously consider alternatives to the traditional model of hiring contractors to develop bespoke capabilities.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 18, 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Source: https://spacenews.com/space-challenges-for-president-biden-four-issues-for-the-next-four-years/

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Policy experts named for DoD space, missile defense posts

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David Zikusoka will serve as special assistant at the office of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Leonor Tomero will be deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs.

WASHINGTON — David Zikusoka, aerospace research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, will serve as special assistant at the office of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy, CSBA announced Jan. 20. 

The assistant secretary of defense for space policy is a new post under the undersecretary of defense for policy that Congress directed in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The Biden administration’s nominee for that position will have to be confirmed by the Senate. DoD said this position will provide “civilian oversight of the space enterprise.”

Zikusoka’s research work at CSBA focused on the military applications of space, information technology and cyberspace. Before joining CSBA, Zikusoka was policy director of the U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a panel directed by Congress to examine the nation’s vulnerability to cyber attacks. 

Biden also named Leonor Tomero deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs, a position within the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy that does not require Senate confirmation. Tomero was sworn in Jan. 20 at the Pentagon.

Tomero for the past decade served as a senior staff member of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. She was a key voice in drafting legislative provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act dealing with strategic weapons and military space programs.

DoD overseen by acting secretaries

As soon as President Biden was sworn in on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that David Norquist assumed the duties of acting secretary of defense until a defense secretary is confirmed. Norquist has served as deputy secretary of defense since July 2019. Biden’s nominee Lloyd Austin is expected to be confirmed as defense secretary in the coming days.

The acting civilian leader for the Air Force and the Space Force is John Roth, who has served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management and comptroller since January 2018. 

Source: https://spacenews.com/policy-experts-named-for-dod-space-missile-defense-posts/

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