Starlink constellation gets its first sixty satellites.
A Falcon 9 attempted to put sixty of SpaceX's Starlink satellites into low earth orbit on May 15th, but the launch was scrubbed twice, once for weather, once for possible software issues (Ars Technica). The company finally succeeded in getting its satellites up on Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 (Ars Technica).
The Starlink satellites are "production design," but still test articles, SpaceX said, and they joined two prototypes (Tintin A and Tintin B) already in orbit. The spacecraft lack intersatellite links but are otherwise functional. At an altitude of 550 kilometers, the satellites' orbits will decay within a few years. They'll ultimately be joined by a planned 12,000 other comsats. SpaceX has competitors for the space-based Internet commercial market: OneWeb flew the first six of its planned six-hundred-fifty back in March, Amazon plans a 3236-satellite constellation (Project Kuiper), and Ubiquitilink intends to operate a comsat constellation that will be backward compatible with legacy cell phones (TechCrunch).
Not all are enthralled by the prospect of large numbers of commercial satellites in low earth orbit. There's the potential for collisions, of course (C4ISRNET), but there are other issues as well. Some astronomers complain that constellations on the scale being talked about have the potential to change "what a natural sky looks like," and to make it more difficult to observe stars from earth. The Starlink satellites, for example, were easily visible and had the apparent brightness of Polaris. SpaceX says the satellites will get darker as they move to higher orbits, but astronomers aren't so sure (New York Times).
Ground-based competition for satellite spectrum.
The FCC has begun auctioning off spectrum for 5G providers, despite concerns that the coming IoT-heavy networks are likely to interfere with meteorological satellites' communication with their ground stations (Ars Technica).
Securing satellite-based networks.
The Air Force has taken possession of the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite. The jam-resistant AEHF constellation replaces the legacy Milstar system (C4ISRNET).
Jam resistance is of course important to mission assurance, but Defense and industry leaders are concerned about the implications of growing dependence on satellites as an Internet-connected communications backbone. Viasat has received a contract to deliver the first Link-16-capable satellite, which suggests how compelling the pull of satellite networks for tactical operations can be (C4ISRNET). The challenge the community faces is determining how to move large quantities of information among satellites and ground stations without dramatically increasing their attack surface (Breaking Defense).
Securing satellites is attracting more concern as the satellites themselves become more generally reprogrammable. What can be reprogrammed can also be hacked, and that's a concern industry is warning about (ExecutiveBiz). Think of satellites as Internet-of-things devices in earth orbit. Resilience is clearly important; how to achieve it is problematic (Help Net Security).
Commercial and military satellite communications: finding the right mix.
The satellite networks that appear to be emerging seem likely to represent a mix of commercial and military assets. Air Force Space Command and the vendors who supply commercial satcom (Eutelsat, Hughes, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Iridium Communications, SES, Viasat, and Xtar) hope that hybrid network will be "seamless" (Space News).
DARPA this past month announced a funding opportunity that would support integration of military payloads into commercial satellite buses: project Blackjack (ExecutiveBiz). The Broad Agency Announcement for Blackjack was issued on May 25th. DARPA plans to award $117.5 million over the course of the program.
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Drone threats and drone proliferation.
Small drones have of course become commercial commodities. Larger ones, capable of carrying military significant payloads, or long-endurance drones capable of maintaining surveillance for significant periods of time, are also being widely proliferated. Their low cost and relative deniability, to say nothing of the difficulty of defending against them, represent a growing problem.
To illustrate, tensions between the US and Iran remain high, both over US allegations of Iranian cheating on its nuclear nonproliferation undertakings and over well-attested reports of Iranian cyber operations (Military Times). The US has also objected to Iranian regional actions. Washington says, for example, that it has conclusive evidence Iran is behind sabotage attacks against tankers in the Arabian Gulf (Foreign Policy). Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of responsibility for drone attacks against oil production infrastructure in the Kingdom, and particularly of attacks against pipelines. The Saudis have called for US retaliation against Tehran (Military Times).
Other powers continue to enhance their drone arsenals. China is fielding a truck-borne drone-launching and control system (C4ISRNET). And the surest sign that drones are now perceived as a routine capability and a routine threat is the US Army's integration of drone swarms into training rotations at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California (Military.com). The National Training Center is not a testing or research and development center, but units have operated there with capabilities procured in limited quantities and integrated into those units' particular missions and organizations.
Acquisition by US Cyber Command.
US Cyber Command has established a Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture (JCWA) to guide the formation of its capabilities development processes. The JCWA, as its name suggests, is designed to be inherently joint. It's seen less as a non-traditional acquisition framework than it is a means of advocacay and deconfliction. It's hoped these will make their own contribution to agile development in a domain where threats and needs shift rapidly (Fifth Domain).
Software acquisition: a perennial problem.
The Defense Innovation Board, in what amounts to a dog-bites-man report, says that the Department of Defense continues to procure software using systems developed to buy complex, big-ticket, long-lead-time items. That may be appropriate if you're buying, say, an aircraft carrier, but not a software tool. As Defense One puts it, "the Pentagon still buys software like it's 1987." And even in 1987 that approach was already seen as too slow.
ODNI is looking to industry for innovation.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has asked industry to provide innovative technologies that could address the urgent and rapidly developing needs of the Intelligence Community. The ODNI has put out a Request for Information concerning technologies that can meet the six objectives specified in the Intelligence Community's Strategic Initiatives:
Augmenting Intelligence Using Machines.
Right, Trusted, Agile Workforce.
Modern Data Management and Infrastructure.
Private Sector Partnerships.
Comprehensive Cyber Posture.
Replies to the RFI are due by July 26th. These topics are of particular interest: Artificial Intelligence, Communications, Computing, Cyber, Data, Electronics, Horizon Scanning, Innovation Management, Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT), Sensors, and, of course, Space (SIGNAL).
OPIR sticker shock.
The Air Force has expected to fly its Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) satellites using funds moving through rapid acquisition channels. House appropriators, however, may be regretting the procurement authorities Congress granted the Air Force through those channels, and is considering a significant cut to the OPIR appropriation, perhaps as great as $200 million (Inside Defense).
The first OPIR satellite is expected to fly by FY 2025. OPIR's predecessor missile warning system, SBIRS, also experienced cost creep during its lifecycle, and concerns based on that record, coupled with the Air Force's reliance on reprogramming funds to pay for OPIR, have made appropriators skittish (C4ISRNET).
And Space Force sticker shock.
The Congressional Budget Office puts the annual cost of running Space Force at between $1 billion and $2 billion. One-time start-up costs, the CBO thinks, would range between $2 billion and $5 billion (TheHill).
Senate advances Space Force; the House isn't so sure.
Senate authorizors (not, it's worth noting, appropriators, at least not yet) are on board with Space Force, and advocate funding it at the levels the President's Budget has requrested (Defense News). Their counterpart in the House are less enthusiastic, preferring not to give the Pentagon the $72 million it's asked for to get Space Force off the ground. Instead, it would rather appropriate $15 million for the Defense Department to study the whole idea (Defense News).
Space National Guard?
Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice thinks Space Force should include a National Guard component. That would actually not represent a major departure from existing force structure. Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Arkansas and Ohio already has Air Guard units with space missions, and two more states are under consideration for space control squadrons in the Pacific region. Lt. Gen. Rice declined to name those states. There is a general consensus within Air Force leadership that Space Force would require some reserve component; that component may well come from the Guard (Federal News Network).
Space Command updates.
Alabama, California, and Colorado are finalists to host the new headquarters of Space Command (Colorado Springs Gazette). The short list of possible locations numerically favors Colorado: Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Peterson AFB, and Schriever AFB are all in Colorado. The other two sites under investigation are Alabama's Redstone Arsenal and California's Vandenberg AFB (US Air Force). Note that the headquarters search is being conducted for the existing Combatant Command, not for the projected Space Force.
Securing supply chains by vetting vendors (and investors).
As concerns about the security of the software supply chain mount, the Defense Innovation Board has recommended providing the Defense Industrial Base a blacklist of untrustworthy vendors. What such a blacklist might look like is suggested by the companies, all of them Chinese, called out in the 2019 Defense appropriations bill: Huawei, ZTE, Hytera Communications, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology (FCW).
Such security concerns will probably affect not only what companies may sell to the Defense Industrial Base, but what companies can invest in them. Ellen Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, is working toward a "Trusted Capital Marketplace" that would warn companies against taking on foreign investors who themselves pose a security risk (ExecutiveGov). The program is, like proposed blacklists of vendors, aimed initially at Chinese money, which is thought to have been used to gain access to US-developed military technology. The Trusted Capital Marketplace is as much a carrot to American firms as it is a stick to Chinese investors: it would actively seek to link US companies with trustworthy sources of capital (Defense News)
A renewed moonrace.
As the US plans a return to the moon and China intends to go there, too, a third and predictable contestant in a new moonrace has announced itself. Russia also intends to head for the moon with crewed spacecraft, with plans to deliver cosmonauts to the lunar surface by 2030 (Computing). In the US the shape of NASA's plans are growing clearer. The space agency has ordered the first major component of the Lunar Gateway space station it intends to put in a "high, elliptical orbit balanced between the Earth and Moon" to serve as, essentially, a permanent, reusable Command Module. Maxar Technologies has been given a contract to produce power and propulsion modules for the Lunar Gateway (Ars Technica).
As for getting back to the moon in 2024, NASA this past month ruled out using SpaceX boosters to fly its craft. The agency will return to its own launch vehicles (CNET), at least for the crewed missions. But some planned uncrewed missions that will attempt soft landings (for which NASA announced commercial contracts at the end of May) will ride Falcons (Ars Technica).
Technical difficulties may be smaller than budgetary ones: the Government Accountability Office reports that NASA's big ticket items, specifically human spaceflight and the James Webb Space Telescope, are proving expensive enough to put both at risk. NASA told Congress in May that, to reach the moon by 2024, it would need $1.6 billion in addition to the President's Budget request of $21 billion (Ars Technica).
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Pentagon chief: Threat from Iran 'on hold'(TheHill) Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday said the threat from Iran is “on hold,” after the deployment of additional U.S. military forces to the Persian Gulf region.
Saudis blame Iran for drone attack amid calls for US strikes(Military Times) Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of being behind a drone strike that shut down a key oil pipeline in the kingdom, and a newspaper close to the palace called for Washington to launch “surgical” strikes on Iran, raising the specter of escalating tensions as the U.S. boosts its military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Why North Korea Is Testing Missiles Again(Foreign Affairs) In the wake of the Hanoi summit’s failure, Pyongyang’s renewed commitment to testing missiles could portend a turn back to a confrontation between the United States and North Korea.
Iran Withdraws From Certain Aspects of the Nuclear Agreement(Atlantic Council) A year after the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and six months after it re-imposed sanctions, Iran has said it would reduce its compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement in sixty days unless the...
World watches warily as Iran scales back nuclear deal(Deutsche Welle) European powers responded with caution to Tehran's decision to abandon parts of the 2015 nuclear deal. In the US, President Trump imposed fresh sanctions on Iran's crucial metal exports, but he also hinted at a deal.
Is this a JEDI mind trick?(Federal Times) I don’t question industry’s ability to develop a secure, capable cloud infrastructure for the Pentagon. I do question how on earth the Pentagon screwed up the competition so badly.
Virgin Galactic is ‘coming home’ to Spaceport America in New Mexico(TechCrunch) Aspiring space tourism outfit Virgin Galactic has just announced its readiness to shift its operations to New Mexico's Spaceport America, from which the company's first commercial flights will take off. "Virgin Galactic is coming home to New Mexico where together we will open space to change the wo…
Former NGA director joins a pair of advisory boards(C4ISRNET) Although former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo left the agency in February, his decision to join two organizations in the broader intelligence community signal his intention to stay involved in the national security community.
SpaceX postpones Starlink launch to update satellite software(Spaceflight Now) For the second consecutive day, SpaceX called off a Falcon 9 launch attempt at Cape Canaveral on Thursday evening, this time to complete a software update on the first 60 satellites for the company’s Starlink network to provide high-speed Internet service from orbit.
The Army wants C5ISR systems on demand(C4ISRNET) The Army is focusing on global hot spots where it thinks it might have to respond with soldiers by sending the proper technicians ahead first. Army staffers are also making sure they configure systems as much as possible in advance of competition, however, but forward technicians can assist if systems break or need to be tweaked.
Army network kit empowers soldiers like never before(C4ISRNET) Tactical network modernization allows soldiers to take control of their environment, a critical attribute for future operations as the Army prepares troops to operate on sophisticated and evolving battlefields.
Thales CEO on Drone Security, Data Protection(Yahoo) May.17 -- Patrice Caine, chief executive officer at Thales, discusses protecting against the threat of drone attacks in Saudi Arabia and securing data privacy. He speaks with Bloomberg's Caroline Connan on "Bloomberg Surveillance."
Securing The Space Cloud: It’s Really Hard(Breaking Defense) "Security in space is different than security on Earth," says Jeb Linton of IBM Watson. "If you lose command and control for even five minutes, your satellite could be completely shut down."
DISA Seeks Info on Quantum-Resistance Cryptography(ExecutiveBiz) The Defense Information Systems Agency is in need of industry-based information regarding the use of quantum-safe algorithms for cybersecurity. DISA said Monday in a FedBizOpps notice that it intends to evaluate the use of these algorithms and cryptographic approaches to protect the Department of De
Failure IS An Option: Army Gen. Murray(Breaking Defense) The Army must take risks to modernize, the Futures Command chief said, and the modernization effort will survive the inevitable failures along the way.
The Pentagon AI center wants to solve these 4 problems(C4ISRNET) Though relatively new and secretive, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center has revealed it is working to improve predictive maintenance, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, cyberspace and robotic process automation initiatives.
Saudi Arabia asks nations to respond to Iran with ‘firmness’(Military Times) Saudi Arabia hastily called for the meetings in response to the spike in tensions with its key rival, Iran. That King Salman could quickly bring regional leaders and heads of state to Mecca so rapidly reflects the kingdom’s weight in the region and its desire to project a unified position on Iran.
The New Space Race(Foreign Policy) The latest front in a return to Cold War rivalry is the effort to build an all-American rocket for military launches.
FCC Debates Space Debris Rules(Breaking Defense) "It is rocket science, after all," says Trump-appointed FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who questions the commission's mandate on orbital debris mitigation oversight for commercial space companies.
Space Force: It’s Not Dead, But…(Breaking Defense) CSIS's Todd Harrison, who supports the proposal, says his odds on the Space Force being fully approved by Congress this year are currently "slightly less than 50 percent."
CBO confirms nearly $2 billion Space Force price tag(TheHill) The Trump administration’s proposed plan to create a new Space Force could increase annual Pentagon costs by $1 billion to nearly $2 billion and require one-time startup costs of $2 billion to nearly $5 billion,
NGA’s new deputy director is a familiar face(C4ISRNET) A leader that's no stranger to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has been named to replace current Deputy Director Justin Poole, who announced in April that he would resign June 11.
Could an advisory board help intel innovation?(C4ISRNET) The latest Intelligence Authorization Act, which was approved by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on May 14, would establish an advisory board for the National Reconnaissance Office.