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Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson celebrate launch of first passengers into space

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Virgin Galactic has successfully taken its first passengers to space, including its billionaire founder Richard Branson. The event, at Spaceport America in New Mexico, was a field day for press and employees, complete with an early-morning Khalid set and hero walk by Branson and the crew.

“Just imagine a world where people of all ages, all backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity, have equal access to space,” Branson said on returning. “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age!”

The remark is a bit premature, of course — that world is still some distance off, but it’s true that this flight marks a historic moment in the nascent space tourism industry. At present, leisurenauts are still an elite class, but the events of the day suggest we’re closer than ever to seeing that change.

After an incredibly early start to the day (shuttles to the Spaceport left at 2:45 AM from nearby Las Cruces), the festivities began in true space launch style with a delay. A thunderstorm overnight prevented the team from rolling out the spacecraft, which believe it or not can’t get wet. At the speeds and temperatures involved nothing can be left to chance — like ice forming from water in or on the chassis.

Press set up before dawn at Spaceport America.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Soon the sun rose and crowds arrived: VIPs, employees, a bunch of local students, and Branson’s own guest list (reportedly numbering around 150). Elon Musk showed up as well, presumably to congratulate his fellow spaceman personally, billionaire to billionaire.

At 8:30 local time the engines started on VMS Eve, the “mothership” carrying VSS Unity, the rocket-powered spaceplane that Branson, along with Virgin Galactic’s Beth Moses (her second flight), Sirisha Bandla, and Colin Bennett, would ride to the edge of space.

VMS Eve takes off. Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Eve was wheels up at 8:40, commencing a wait on the ground while it climbed to about 36,000 feet. Unity detached and began its rocket-powered climb at about 9:24, reaching Mach 3 and after two minutes reached its peak altitude of about 282,000 feet — about 53 miles, as planned.

The crew and passengers enjoyed a minute or two of microgravity, which they seem to have employed gainfully:

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

A planned mid-air speech by Branson proved impossible as the signal cut in and out, but the craft itself proved more reliable, touching down at 9:38.

In a celebratory stage appearance (following a brief Khalid concert) Branson expanded on the ideas cut short in transmission, beginning with: “It’s hot, I’m sorry,” but quickly moving on to more inspiring words. “I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. We are at the vanguard of a new space age.”

At a press conference following shortly after, Branson fielded questions from elementary schoolers, and the crew described the view from space and whether they saw any planets. (No, just an alien that the pilot shook off during descent, Branson said. At least one kid I saw believed him.)

A long road to space

Virgin Galactic Pilots on their way to the Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System. Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

It’s a triumph long in the making for Virgin Galactic and Branson. The company was ahead of the curve in its space tourism ambitions, but in 2014 a test flight ended in a horrific crash and the death of one of the pilots.

Virgin’s engineers and leaders worked through it, however, and built a stronger, better spacecraft which was christened Unity by Stephen Hawking, who was then still living — and, not surprisingly, hoping to hitch a ride someday.

Pilots flew test flight after test flight over the years, slowly ratcheting up the power and finally, in 2018, touching the edge of space. On that note there is some slight controversy in that the exact altitude where the atmosphere gives way to space isn’t completely agreed upon. Some authorities place the Kármán line, as the imaginary boundary is called, at 100 kilometers above sea level, others at 50 miles, or about 80 kilometers.

Unity 22 spreads its “feathers” during descent. Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Virgin uses the lower estimate, while its arch rival, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, uses the higher. This led Bezos to throw shade on Virgin’s flights, saying he didn’t want his customers to have an “asterisk” on their trip to space. When I asked about this before, a Virgin representative said they use the same standard that NASA and the U.S. Air Force does: pilots are given their “astronaut wings” if they pass the 50-mile mark.

Kármán quibbles aside, the race to send passengers to space has been heating up lately, and Bezos recently announced that he would be flying aboard the first crewed launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on July 22 — with his brother, a mystery passenger who has paid $28M for the privilege, and Wally Funk, among the first women trained to be astronauts in 1961 but who never made it to space.

But Branson rained on his parade by announcing shortly afterward that he would fly aboard Virgin’s first passenger launch to space (crew and pilots have been up several times) about a week earlier.

While Branson has good-naturedly denied any competition between himself and Bezos (“We wish Jeff the absolute best,” he said, adding that Bezos sent over a message of goodwill before the flight) it’s hard to believe that’s completely true. Though neither man has anything to prove at this point, there must surely be some satisfaction in Branson’s not merely going to space (a lifelong dream, as he tells it) but doing so before his upstart rival. However much he denies it, the narrative is too tempting to quash completely.

The direction forward for Virgin Galactic now is, clearly, towards paying customers, of which there are plenty lined up. Of course, they all have a quarter of a million dollars to spare, but you might not, and for you Branson has a special offer. They’ve partnered with Omaze, and donations to the chosen charity will enter you into a raffle of sorts, with the winner receiving two tickets on an upcoming Virgin Galactic flight. “And with my Willy Wonka hat on, a guided tour of Spaceport America, given by yours truly,” Branson added.

Branson expressed hope that this would become an ongoing thing as long as donations continue, so perhaps this is the answer to the question of how they hope to, as he so frequently promises, make space available to everyone.

You can watch the whole day unfold as it happened in Virgin Galactic’s archived livestream below:

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/11/virgin-galactic-and-richard-branson-celebrate-launch-of-first-passengers-into-space/

Aerospace

R3-IoT gets funding for satellite-enabled sensor connectivity solutions

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TAMPA, Fla. — Scottish startup R3-IoT is expanding to North America after raising early funds for connecting sensors and devices with satellite-enabled solutions.

The $4.3 million seed funding led by venture capital firm Space Capital puts R3-IoT on track to launch commercial services in November.

R3-IoT’s gateways link up with nearby sensors and devices, using satellites in multiple orbits and cellular networks to transmit data through the cloud to customers — or to its software platform that translates the information into insights that inform business decisions.

The terminals have a 10-day battery backup and target customers requiring resilient connectivity in markets including aquaculture, utilities, infrastructure, digital health, emergency services and energy.

A growing number of satellite constellations dedicated to connecting Internet of Things (IoT) have been coming online recently, leveraging smallsat technology advances and cheaper, more available launch options.

However, R3-IoT co-founder and chief technical officer Kevin Quillien said demand is also rising for resilient end-to-end data services that “pure connectivity” solutions are not serving.

“For many key industries looking to digitise their operations, pure satellite connectivity alone doesn’t solve their problems,” Quillien said in an email.

“It is essential therefore that satellite connectivity integrate effectively into a technology stack that can use it to solve real customer problems.”

According to Quillien, drawing on multiple connectivity technologies enables the venture to fine-tune its end-to-end services for various needs.

“By wrapping the satellite services in a technology stack that provides end-to-end cybersecurity (from device to platform and back again), simple deployment and commissioning, decentralised management, and seamless integration into business systems, we enable satellites to solve day-to-day problems for companies, allowing them to streamline operations, save cost, improve safety, and reduce environmental impact,” he said.

North America’s vast landscape presents unique connectivity challenges, he added, and “many particularly in rural and remote areas simply do not have access to reliable connectivity.” 

This is despite businesses becoming increasingly reliant on IoT technologies, especially out in the field.

Smart devices can be deployed to monitor equipment, predict issues, warn of problems and reduce the need for humans in remote or dangerous places.

Quillien said its seed round will help fund operations around 12-18 months beyond commercial launch, enabling it to focus on commercializing at scale, establishing North American operations and growing market share in the U.K. and Europe.

He declined to disclose the startup’s satellite partners, although R3-IoT was one of the industrial winners that took part in low-Earth-orbit broadband operator OneWeb’s recent innovation challenge.


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Source: https://spacenews.com/r3-iot-gets-funding-for-satellite-enabled-sensor-connectivity-solutions/

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Op-ed | Peace in the Era of Weaponized Space

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We are on the verge of a new era in space security: the age of diverse and highly capable dual-use space systems that can serve both peaceful and anti-satellite (ASAT) purposes. These new systems, such as spacecraft capable of undertaking rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs), ground-based lasers capable of interacting with space objects, and actions in cyberspace, cannot feasibly be banned; nor should they be, as they promise immense civil and commercial benefits. Instead, we must find ways to maintain peace despite their presence.

“Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems. One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.” — U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, testifying April 20 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Credit: DoD photo by EJ Hersom

The steps currently being taken by the United States to mitigate counterspace threats are necessary but they will not alone be sufficient — the next generation of ASAT weapons will pose a much greater threat than current systems, and require tailored responses. We stand, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, at the brink of poorly understood but potentially catastrophic risks. The solution now is the same as it was then: first, to exploit the United States.’ democratic advantage in untapped intellectual capital; and second, to harness the power of dissent and rigorous contestation to improve predictions, strategic planning, and cost-effective readiness. To that end, the U.S. Department of Defense should establish an open and permanent forum for submission of ideas by all concerned parties, both inside and outside government, and facilitate on-the-record debate regarding their validity and desirability.

Three next-generation ASATs likely to mature during the 2020s — namely rendezvous spacecraft, ground-based lasers, and cyberattacks — illustrate the urgent need for collaboration, critical interrogation of assumptions, and (re-) examination of a wide range of old and new ideas. All three ASAT types can be developed and deployed under the guise of peaceful applications. Each of these threat vectors will, as they advance, enable counterspace operations with substantially greater strategic and operational impact than is currently achievable.

Moreover, all three next-gen ASATs can be used while producing little space debris — a feature clearly important to China, as evidenced by its pivot to non-debris-producing ASAT tests following major international backlash to its 2007 test of a direct-ascent ASAT, namely a ground-launched ballistic missile that generated thousands of pieces of long-lasting space junk when it collided with China’s Fengyun-1C weather satellite.

THE DUAL UTILITY OF SATELLITE-SERVICING SPACECRAFT

Rendezvous spacecraft provide an excellent case study in the challenges plaguing the status quo. These spacecraft are inherently dual-use: if a satellite can remove space debris from orbit or grapple a friendly satellite for servicing (e.g., for repair, refueling, or in situ upgrades), then it can likely also grapple an adversary’s satellite to change its orbit or disable it. Since 2018, at least 11 high-level space officials and organizations (including former Vice President Mike Pence, Gen. John Hyten, and Gen. John Raymond) have expressed concerns that such RPO spacecraft could be used to threaten our critical satellites from close range. Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of U.S. Space Command, is one of the latest voices to join this authoritative group, testifying on April 20 before the Senate Armed Services Committee that:

“Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems. One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.”

It is good news that U.S. government awareness of the rendezvous threat is growing. However, the signs that it is on the horizon have been there for years (China testing began in 2008, if not earlier) and a decade or more is far too long a lag in threat recognition. Worse yet, noticing a serious threat is merely the first step in a chain of traditionally time-consuming moves — e.g., selecting a solution, developing a concept of operations, programming the acquisition, and deploying the measures — to ready our deterrence and defenses. To adequately deal with emerging threat vectors, the U.S. must greatly expedite these processes.

In addition, the solutions required for many next-gen ASATs must be carefully tailored and crosscutting. Three facets of the rendezvous threat illustrate this particularly well.

First, in 2018, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space attempted to establish voluntary “measures for the safe conduct of proximity space operations,” but they were promptly blocked by Russia. This highlights that discussions in decision-by-consensus international forums cannot be relied upon to solve the rendezvous threat unless reinforced by external action. China and Russia have a strong incentive to block any such rules — namely, that they could undercut China and Russia’s ability to hold our critical satellites at risk by positioning rendezvous attackers arbitrarily close to them. There are, however, means by which the U.S. could incentivize agreement and compliance: for example, the U.S. could attach economic incentives (e.g. conditioning market access), or push for the use of lawful countermeasures to enforce international legal obligations such as the Outer Space Treaty’s Article IX requirement of “due regard.” But identifying and implementing the ideal solution will not be easy: this exemplifies an issue on which a range of experts should propose alternatives, debate one another, and synthesize the results.

Second, replacing legacy constellations comprised of small numbers of large and expensive satellites with new proliferated constellations of many small, inexpensive satellites has gathered many proponents as a means of reducing vulnerability. Doing so is indeed necessary, but it cannot adequately counter the rendezvous threat. This is because for certain critical and vulnerable satellites in higher orbits — e.g., SBIRS early missile warning satellites, and AEHF satellites for communications in nuclear-disrupted environment — proliferated constellations are technically infeasible, prohibitively costly, or both. Additionally, as noted by Christopher Scolese, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, there will be “some number of large [and vulnerable] satellites to address questions that only they can.” Thus, these legacy systems and their similar follow-ons are likely to remain vulnerable well into the 2030s, requiring timely warning and defense mechanisms to keep them safe.

Even GPS is likely to be vulnerable by the late 2020s. Thus far, GPS has been broadly resilient to ASAT attack due to various countermeasures and its redundant design. The GPS constellation consists of about three dozen satellites, each orbiting twice daily, only four of which need to be over a given area at once to sustain service. For this reason, degradation is gradual, not catastrophic: even destroying six satellites at once would only deny service to a localized area for about 95 minutes per day. If, however, one could disable most of the constellation, the result would be near-total loss of GPS services worldwide. While this is largely infeasible with current ASATs, by the late 2020s China may have enough RPO-capable small spacecraft to preposition near every GPS satellite, allowing at-will disablement of the entire constellation. These threats underscore the need to carefully examine each next-generation ASAT individually, in order to identify in advance any unique characteristics which might upend prior assumptions. Doing so is the only way to avoid strategic surprise, and would reveal which threats do (and don’t) deserve priority and how solutions should be designed.

Third, the forum would facilitate serious and open debate regarding what capabilities the U.S. should procure and field, and how to do so in time (likely but a few short years). Most counters to the rendezvous threat, for example, will likely require bodyguard spacecraft to implement. This is feasible: both the U.S. government (e.g. DARPA) and the private sector (e.g. Northrop Grumman) have demonstrated increasingly sophisticated RPO capabilities, including the ability to autonomously dock with a target in GEO and make such spacecraft far smaller and cheaper (e.g. via DARPA’s Blackjack program). Despite these advances, however, the U.S. has yet to develop spacecraft for active defense, much less deploy them, and its handful of RPO-capable spacecraft are 10 times as heavy — and, probably, costly — as those under development by Russia and China. The U.S. must quickly develop and deploy bodyguards comparable in quantity and cost to the potential rendezvous ASATs it faces, or it risks adversaries being able to overwhelm our defenses.

LASERS AND CYBERATTACKS

Nor is the need for such a forum limited to rendezvous spacecraft. Two other emergent ASAT threats reveal similar requirements and lack of preparation: ground-based lasers (GBLs) and cyberattacks. As U.S. intelligence agencies including the Defense Intelligence Agency have noted, GBLs will almost certainly become much more capable over the next decade, moving from dazzling or harming sensors to damaging external structures on satellites in LEO. This fundamentally changes the nature of the threat, and requires new solutions — yet, to date, there has been little discussion of such solutions.

Cybersecurity, too, requires swift action and innovative thinking. Many commercial and civilian space systems remain vulnerable. As the U.S. plans to continue increasing military integration with commercial systems, security standards must be improved. Additionally, there is little basis for confidence that military space systems, and particularly their ground segments, are truly cyber-secure now, or that they will remain so going forward.

At the same time, potential adversaries’ cyber capabilities and doctrine are advancing quickly. China’s rapid progress in emerging technology fields could also be a game-changer. One example is Chinese development of quantum communications satellite technology which, as evidenced by the launch of its Micius satellite in 2016, leads all other countries; the result could be that they can hack our space systems but hamstring U.S. response via quantum cryptography.

WHAT’S NEEDED TO KEEP PEACE

As these cases highlight, navigating the era of weaponized space will require a meeting of the minds. For this reason, the Biden administration should establish an institutional mechanism through which a range of ideas can be solicited, exchanged, and directly challenged and defended to filter the signal from the noise.

There is precedent for this. On his first day in office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Open Government, which stated that “executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking.” The ensuing Open Government Directive reaffirmed that “the three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government,” and led DOD to quickly establish its Open Government Plan (OGP).

The Biden administration should direct DoD to build on its OGP by adding an Initiative on Public Collaboration for Peace and Prosperity in Space. The first project should be a series of workshops in which relevant experts from the Pentagon and its partners (e.g., contractors and Federally Funded R&D Centers) collaborate with outside experts to assess, compare, and synthesize different proposals to counter specific, individual ASAT threats emerging in the 2020s and 2030s.

As a democracy, the U.S. naturally generates a diversity of ideas. We can either keep them in silos, as we do now, or we can exchange these ideas and subject them to rigorous cross-examination and potential cross-pollination. Standing now at the brink of a new era of weaponized space, our choice should be clear.


Brian Chow is an independent policy analyst with over 160 publications. He can be reached at [email protected] Brandon Kelley is the Director of Debate at Georgetown University, and a graduate student in the Security Studies Program. He can be reached at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


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Source: https://spacenews.com/op-ed-peace-in-the-era-of-weaponized-space/

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Op-ed | Peace in the Era of Weaponized Space

Published

on

We are on the verge of a new era in space security: the age of diverse and highly capable dual-use space systems that can serve both peaceful and anti-satellite (ASAT) purposes. These new systems, such as spacecraft capable of undertaking rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs), ground-based lasers capable of interacting with space objects, and actions in cyberspace, cannot feasibly be banned; nor should they be, as they promise immense civil and commercial benefits. Instead, we must find ways to maintain peace despite their presence.

“Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems. One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.” — U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, testifying April 20 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Credit: DoD photo by EJ Hersom

The steps currently being taken by the United States to mitigate counterspace threats are necessary but they will not alone be sufficient — the next generation of ASAT weapons will pose a much greater threat than current systems, and require tailored responses. We stand, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, at the brink of poorly understood but potentially catastrophic risks. The solution now is the same as it was then: first, to exploit the United States.’ democratic advantage in untapped intellectual capital; and second, to harness the power of dissent and rigorous contestation to improve predictions, strategic planning, and cost-effective readiness. To that end, the U.S. Department of Defense should establish an open and permanent forum for submission of ideas by all concerned parties, both inside and outside government, and facilitate on-the-record debate regarding their validity and desirability.

Three next-generation ASATs likely to mature during the 2020s — namely rendezvous spacecraft, ground-based lasers, and cyberattacks — illustrate the urgent need for collaboration, critical interrogation of assumptions, and (re-) examination of a wide range of old and new ideas. All three ASAT types can be developed and deployed under the guise of peaceful applications. Each of these threat vectors will, as they advance, enable counterspace operations with substantially greater strategic and operational impact than is currently achievable.

Moreover, all three next-gen ASATs can be used while producing little space debris — a feature clearly important to China, as evidenced by its pivot to non-debris-producing ASAT tests following major international backlash to its 2007 test of a direct-ascent ASAT, namely a ground-launched ballistic missile that generated thousands of pieces of long-lasting space junk when it collided with China’s Fengyun-1C weather satellite.

THE DUAL UTILITY OF SATELLITE-SERVICING SPACECRAFT

Rendezvous spacecraft provide an excellent case study in the challenges plaguing the status quo. These spacecraft are inherently dual-use: if a satellite can remove space debris from orbit or grapple a friendly satellite for servicing (e.g., for repair, refueling, or in situ upgrades), then it can likely also grapple an adversary’s satellite to change its orbit or disable it. Since 2018, at least 11 high-level space officials and organizations (including former Vice President Mike Pence, Gen. John Hyten, and Gen. John Raymond) have expressed concerns that such RPO spacecraft could be used to threaten our critical satellites from close range. Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of U.S. Space Command, is one of the latest voices to join this authoritative group, testifying on April 20 before the Senate Armed Services Committee that:

“Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems. One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.”

It is good news that U.S. government awareness of the rendezvous threat is growing. However, the signs that it is on the horizon have been there for years (China testing began in 2008, if not earlier) and a decade or more is far too long a lag in threat recognition. Worse yet, noticing a serious threat is merely the first step in a chain of traditionally time-consuming moves — e.g., selecting a solution, developing a concept of operations, programming the acquisition, and deploying the measures — to ready our deterrence and defenses. To adequately deal with emerging threat vectors, the U.S. must greatly expedite these processes.

In addition, the solutions required for many next-gen ASATs must be carefully tailored and crosscutting. Three facets of the rendezvous threat illustrate this particularly well.

First, in 2018, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space attempted to establish voluntary “measures for the safe conduct of proximity space operations,” but they were promptly blocked by Russia. This highlights that discussions in decision-by-consensus international forums cannot be relied upon to solve the rendezvous threat unless reinforced by external action. China and Russia have a strong incentive to block any such rules — namely, that they could undercut China and Russia’s ability to hold our critical satellites at risk by positioning rendezvous attackers arbitrarily close to them. There are, however, means by which the U.S. could incentivize agreement and compliance: for example, the U.S. could attach economic incentives (e.g. conditioning market access), or push for the use of lawful countermeasures to enforce international legal obligations such as the Outer Space Treaty’s Article IX requirement of “due regard.” But identifying and implementing the ideal solution will not be easy: this exemplifies an issue on which a range of experts should propose alternatives, debate one another, and synthesize the results.

Second, replacing legacy constellations comprised of small numbers of large and expensive satellites with new proliferated constellations of many small, inexpensive satellites has gathered many proponents as a means of reducing vulnerability. Doing so is indeed necessary, but it cannot adequately counter the rendezvous threat. This is because for certain critical and vulnerable satellites in higher orbits — e.g., SBIRS early missile warning satellites, and AEHF satellites for communications in nuclear-disrupted environment — proliferated constellations are technically infeasible, prohibitively costly, or both. Additionally, as noted by Christopher Scolese, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, there will be “some number of large [and vulnerable] satellites to address questions that only they can.” Thus, these legacy systems and their similar follow-ons are likely to remain vulnerable well into the 2030s, requiring timely warning and defense mechanisms to keep them safe.

Even GPS is likely to be vulnerable by the late 2020s. Thus far, GPS has been broadly resilient to ASAT attack due to various countermeasures and its redundant design. The GPS constellation consists of about three dozen satellites, each orbiting twice daily, only four of which need to be over a given area at once to sustain service. For this reason, degradation is gradual, not catastrophic: even destroying six satellites at once would only deny service to a localized area for about 95 minutes per day. If, however, one could disable most of the constellation, the result would be near-total loss of GPS services worldwide. While this is largely infeasible with current ASATs, by the late 2020s China may have enough RPO-capable small spacecraft to preposition near every GPS satellite, allowing at-will disablement of the entire constellation. These threats underscore the need to carefully examine each next-generation ASAT individually, in order to identify in advance any unique characteristics which might upend prior assumptions. Doing so is the only way to avoid strategic surprise, and would reveal which threats do (and don’t) deserve priority and how solutions should be designed.

Third, the forum would facilitate serious and open debate regarding what capabilities the U.S. should procure and field, and how to do so in time (likely but a few short years). Most counters to the rendezvous threat, for example, will likely require bodyguard spacecraft to implement. This is feasible: both the U.S. government (e.g. DARPA) and the private sector (e.g. Northrop Grumman) have demonstrated increasingly sophisticated RPO capabilities, including the ability to autonomously dock with a target in GEO and make such spacecraft far smaller and cheaper (e.g. via DARPA’s Blackjack program). Despite these advances, however, the U.S. has yet to develop spacecraft for active defense, much less deploy them, and its handful of RPO-capable spacecraft are 10 times as heavy — and, probably, costly — as those under development by Russia and China. The U.S. must quickly develop and deploy bodyguards comparable in quantity and cost to the potential rendezvous ASATs it faces, or it risks adversaries being able to overwhelm our defenses.

LASERS AND CYBERATTACKS

Nor is the need for such a forum limited to rendezvous spacecraft. Two other emergent ASAT threats reveal similar requirements and lack of preparation: ground-based lasers (GBLs) and cyberattacks. As U.S. intelligence agencies including the Defense Intelligence Agency have noted, GBLs will almost certainly become much more capable over the next decade, moving from dazzling or harming sensors to damaging external structures on satellites in LEO. This fundamentally changes the nature of the threat, and requires new solutions — yet, to date, there has been little discussion of such solutions.

Cybersecurity, too, requires swift action and innovative thinking. Many commercial and civilian space systems remain vulnerable. As the U.S. plans to continue increasing military integration with commercial systems, security standards must be improved. Additionally, there is little basis for confidence that military space systems, and particularly their ground segments, are truly cyber-secure now, or that they will remain so going forward.

At the same time, potential adversaries’ cyber capabilities and doctrine are advancing quickly. China’s rapid progress in emerging technology fields could also be a game-changer. One example is Chinese development of quantum communications satellite technology which, as evidenced by the launch of its Micius satellite in 2016, leads all other countries; the result could be that they can hack our space systems but hamstring U.S. response via quantum cryptography.

WHAT’S NEEDED TO KEEP PEACE

As these cases highlight, navigating the era of weaponized space will require a meeting of the minds. For this reason, the Biden administration should establish an institutional mechanism through which a range of ideas can be solicited, exchanged, and directly challenged and defended to filter the signal from the noise.

There is precedent for this. On his first day in office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Open Government, which stated that “executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking.” The ensuing Open Government Directive reaffirmed that “the three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government,” and led DOD to quickly establish its Open Government Plan (OGP).

The Biden administration should direct DoD to build on its OGP by adding an Initiative on Public Collaboration for Peace and Prosperity in Space. The first project should be a series of workshops in which relevant experts from the Pentagon and its partners (e.g., contractors and Federally Funded R&D Centers) collaborate with outside experts to assess, compare, and synthesize different proposals to counter specific, individual ASAT threats emerging in the 2020s and 2030s.

As a democracy, the U.S. naturally generates a diversity of ideas. We can either keep them in silos, as we do now, or we can exchange these ideas and subject them to rigorous cross-examination and potential cross-pollination. Standing now at the brink of a new era of weaponized space, our choice should be clear.


Brian Chow is an independent policy analyst with over 160 publications. He can be reached at [email protected] Brandon Kelley is the Director of Debate at Georgetown University, and a graduate student in the Security Studies Program. He can be reached at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


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Source: https://spacenews.com/op-ed-peace-in-the-era-of-weaponized-space/

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Live coverage: Atlas 5 rocket set to roll out to launch pad with Starliner capsule

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Live coverage of the unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule on the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

Rollout Live Stream

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/07/28/atlas-5-oft-2-mission-status-center/

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