Space Matters #1

The Great Game for Space:

China loses access to strategically important Satellite Tracking Stations in Sweden and Australia, diminishing their capability for remote sensing in the Pacific and North Sea.

Recently Jonathan Barrett at Reuters reported that the Swedish Space Corporation(SSC) has decided not to conduct any new business with China. Citing changes in geopolitics since early 2000s, when China was seen as a benign partner. Last year Sweden’s State Defence Research Agency released a report which said China could make military use of state-of-the-art antennas at Sweden’s Esrange ground station in the far north. China will also lose access to another strategically important tracking station in Australia owned by SSC. Perhaps foreseeing this move last year, China re-established diplomatic relations with Kiribati, a small island nation that has a mothballed tracking station which the Chinese eye.

Recent reports by India Today also carried Satellite Imagery Analysis that revealed bolstered Satellite Tracking Stations near Laddakh, perhaps with some correlation to the currently ongoing stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces.

India’s Space Defence Agency celebrated its second anniversary on September 28. The agency was set up in 2018 as a Tri-Service element of the Indian Armed Forces and is in charge of operating the Space-Warfare and Satellite Intelligence assets of India. Some analysts have opined that the move was seen as India’s drift away from peaceful use of space.

Launches, New Gear and Plans:

NASA publishes plans for the Artemis Program that is meant to return Astronauts to the moon, seeks full funding from US Senate.

The first phase of the Artemis program scheduled for 2021 will be without a crew and will be to check the navigation and life support systems for further crewed missions.

The second phase of the program will be crewed and will launch by 2023 to demonstrate the feasibility of proximity operations. The Phase three of the program would then finally be the one which is set to return Astronauts to the surface of the moon.

UK will revise its strategy to pursue a new satellite navigation system.
After BREXIT the UK is set to lose access to the EU wide Galileo satellite navigation system without a deal. A feasibility study was initiated in 2018 for a UK owned Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) however the British government will now seek other alternative strategies to bridge this crucial capability gap which may include international as well as private sector cooperation.

China launches experimental reusable spacecraft i.e. a spaceplane.

In a 2017 ‘space transportation roadmap’ released by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC) there was a mention for a Single-Stage-to-Orbit(SSTO) spaceplane to be developed by 2030, a fully reusable launch vehicles around the same time frame and more importantly a nuclear-powered space shuttle by 2045. This launch seems in line with those in the aforementioned roadmap. However, what makes this launch an even more important event is the launch of a mystery object by the spacecraft before de-orbiting and returning to earth this is the latest among many examples that according to some analysts casts doubts on China’s claim to use space technology for peaceful purposes.

China conducts a launch for multiple remote sensing satellites from Barge at sea.

The launch came in the wake of a previous launch vehicle’s upper stage failed which reportedly led to the loss of a high-resolution remote sensing satellite. The new launch at sea has reportedly carried a group of nine high resolution remote sensing units that are part of the Jilin-1 EO satellite constellation.

US Space Force to receive 6th Advance Extremely High Frequency Satellite that can ensure survivable, secure communications after a Nuclear Strike.

The sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency(AEHF) satellite has finished all of the important On-Orbit Tests (OOT) and is due to be handed over to the newly created US Space force. To replace the legacy MILSTAR constellation of hardened and protected anti-jamming communications Satellites the new constellation has more than thrice the capacity and ten times the throughput. It appears that the U.S. will also let its international partners, including Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have access to atleast some parts of this new constellation.

Russia is building a Nuclear-powered space tug with a catch.

Details have emerged about a Nuclear-powered space tug being assembled by Russia however there seems to be a catch, the nuclear power only comes online after the spacecraft reaches a 600 or 800 kilometer orbit, which is far enough from the rarefied atmosphere to stop the natural decay and damage from reentry of a stalled satellite. All the non propulsion and payload systems onboard will have to receive power from solar panels until that moment.

China plans to launch Taiji 2 Satallite before 2024 that will test tech. related to gravitational wave detection in orbit.

The previously successfully launched satellite Taiji 1 is as the name suggests the first in a series of 6 total launches in 3 stages with the first stage providing data and more importantly proof of concept for the feasibility of the entire Taiji program and its Gravitational wave detection in orbit capability goals.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is designing a pathfinder satellite to locate and track objects in cislunar space i.e. all objects within the volume of the Moon’s Orbit.

This system will be instrumental to the US Space force and NASA’s collaboration on the Artemis programme that is to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024. Certainly fair to call it an ambitious tracking system that will require a lot of investment and delays and complexities should be expected.

Important New Publications and other resources.

  • USAF University’s Thinktank released a study about US-China Space relations as portrayed in Chinese media and its implications on US.
  • New Space India, a reoccurring Podcast focused on India’s Space Matters , the most recent episode talks about Mangalyaan and broadening the horizon for space exploration.
  • A Podcast episode about Space Race going increasingly private.

Special Note: Next week is going to be International World Space Week. It will mark the 63rd launch anniversary of Sputnik on October 4 and 53rd anniversary for the signing of the Outer Space Treaty on October 10.

“These are the author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the Takshashila Institution.”