At a Glance:
- US Space Force fields its own military intelligence branch.
- US Space Force leadership acknowledges there is a gap in the US’s in-orbit proximity threat categorisation capability.
- The US Military’s space programmes aren’t self-sufficient for mission-critical hardware components.
- China is building new space rocket engines.
- OneWeb cuts its number of planned satellites and gets new investors.
- Two Russian movies about Cold War era soviet space missions are better than anything Hollywood has to offer.
The Great game for Space:
US Space Force sets up its own branch of Military Intelligence
The US Space Force is seeing a lot of organisational changes. The recent rechristening of certain military facilities to include the name“Space Force” and the assigning of a new service moniker “Guardians” to its members, are now followed by its “Space Delta 7”, officially joining the US Intelligence Community as its eighteenth member. Space Delta 7, according to its official structure, is responsible for maintaining and operating the US’s space -based intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance(ISR) capability.
It is important to note that US Space Force’s ISR assets were put to the test during a retaliatory ballistic missile strike by Iran following the killing of Iranian General Qasim Sulemani in a drone strike. The Space Force’s 2nd Space Warning Squadron incharge of monitoring the Space Based Infrared Satellite Systems(SBIRS) were able to provide early warning and launch detection information to US forces in Iraq on the night of 7January 2020. The SBIRS and Space Based Tracking System(STSS) constellation of both Geostationary and Low Earth Orbit satellites is the US’s primary tool for early warning and launch detection against missile attacks worldwide.
US Space-Based Sensors Can’t Distinguish Between Benign Objects and Grappling Robotic Arms
Another interesting development saw the US Space Force’s senior leadership acknowledge the difficulty in remote sensing “in-orbit” threats, particularly potentially hostile proximity operations carried out by an adversary’s satellites. The statement made by US Space Force Major General Leah Lauderback hinted that the existing suite of space based ISR capability available to the US is not optimal for differentiating between benign objects and threats. She particularly chose to highlight her point by bringing into question the potential of robotic arms being fitted onto satellites that can be used as grappling apparatus capable of damaging other satellites.
The US is not Self-Sufficient for its Military Space Programs
A report by the Pentagon to the US Congress says America’s domestic production facilities supply only a fraction of precision gyroscopes and solar panels used in various launch vehicles and satellites. Majority of these components are supplied by foreign facilities to the US Military.
Launches New Gear and Plans:
China is moving forward with the development of more advanced rocket engines for improved heavy lift capability and reusability.
OneWeb Cuts the Number of Satellites it will Launch and Secures New Investment
Oneweb the company looking to provide satellite broadband Internet services across the globe, has drastically reduced the number of satellites it is planning to launch from 47,844 to a still mind boggling 6,372. SoftBank and Hughes Network are also investing a combined sum of $400 Million in OneWeb. This is in addition to the $1 billion the UK Government and a consortium led by India’s Bharti global had invested previously. It is important to note that the company had a close brush with bankruptcy in early 2020 before the aforementioned investors came onboard.
Space in Media:
Two good Russian movies to watch that cover some of the most iconic yet not cliché moments in the Soviet Space Program are:
Salyut -7(2017) tells the story of the Soyuz T-13 mission, which saw Soviet cosmonauts docking their spacecraft with the titular Salyut-7, an out of control and spinning Low Earth Orbit Soviet Space Station that was at one point thought to be lost and expected to crash onto the Earth. In the movie (and real life),the cosmonauts repair the station and bring it back to operational level.
The Age of Pioneers/Spacewalk/The Spacewalker(2017) which tells the story of the Soviet space mission Voskhod 2, the landmark foray by the Soviet space program that resulted in the first ever successful space walk.
Interesting Publications and Resources:
- A comprehensive and impressively detailed list of expected Russian orbital launches for 2021.
- An oped examining the prospects and background of cooperation in International space regulation.
- An article recounting the most important space security landscape developments in 2020.
- The European Space agency’s official podcast, the latest episode has US and EU officials discussing a future space station around the moon.