Space Matters #7

At a glance: In an eventful fortnight, the US has released a new planetary protection strategy and a space nuclear power strategy, besides rechristening its Space Force personnel as “Guardians”. The Russian Military wrapped up the year 2020 with 21 satellite launches. The UK will retain access to the  European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation programme despite its exit from the EU. The Chinese Chang-e 5 orbiter received a mission extension. A French military reconnaissance satellite was successfully launched onboard a Soyuz ST-A.

The Great Game for Space: 

Russia’s Military launched 21 satellites into orbit in 2020

According to this report, in 2020, the Russian military launched 21 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) using 15 different spacecraft.

UK to retain access to Copernicus but will lose participation in Galileo and EGNOS

In the last minute deal for Brexit from the EU, the UK will retain access to Copernicus, the European earth observation programme. According to the official website of the British government, the UK will no longer be a part of the Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) programmes, at least at the governmental level.

According to this report, private individuals/consumers will mostly be unaffected, and most smartphones and civilian navigation equipment dependent on the services these programmes provide, will continue to function as before.

The US has come out with a National Planetary Protection Strategy and a Space Nuclear Power Strategy

The planetary protection strategy is meant to provide a framework and scientific guidelines to safeguard other “planetary bodies” and Earth against “biological contamination” from each-other, in light of increasing commercial space activities.

The US has also published a new space policy directive meant to provide guidelines and a rough roadmap for the development of nuclear propulsion and power generation for space applications.

The US has also assigned a new service moniker for its Space Force personnel: they will be called “guardians”.

Launches, New Gear and Plans:

According to this report, A French reconnaissance satellite CSO-2 was launched onboard a Soyuz ST-A rocket.

NASA approves Mars sample return mission and surveys tech and logistics

According to this press release, NASA is moving forward with its Mars sample return mission. At this stage, the program is focused on developing feasible technology including preservation tubes for the samples, and survey possible tie-ups with private industry players and other logistics.

China’s Chang-e 5’s orbiter receives a mission extension

According to this report, the fully functional orbiter from Chang-e 5’s moon sample return mission has been repurposed for further observation and imaging at an Earth-Sun Lagrange point. A Lagrange point is one of the few gravitationally stable spots where a man-made object like an orbiter or a satellite will stay stationary relative to large celestial bodies and their gravitational pulls.

Interesting Publications and Resources:

  • A new website has come up tracking the secretive US spaceplane X-37B.
  • This article examines how the commercial space arena in the US is dominated by SpaceX and how it’s the only bulwark against China’s efficient space programme.
  •  An article about nuclear propelled rockets for space applications. 

The views expressed above are the author’s own and do not represent Takshashila Institution’s recommendations.