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Publicly available data suggests that a Russian inspector satellite has shifted its position in orbit to bring it relatively close to a U.S. KH-11 spy satellite. Russia has a number of what it calls "space apparatus inspectors" in orbit, which the U.S. government and others warn the Kremlin could use to gather intelligence on other satellites or function as "killer satellites," using various means to damage, disable, or destroy those targets.

On Jan. 30, 2020, Michael Thompson, a graduate student at Purdue University focusing on astrodynamics, posted a detailed thread on Twitter about the Russian inspector satellite Cosmos 2542, also written Kosmos 2542, appearing to synchronize its orbit with a U.S. satellite known as USA 245, which is understood be one of the National Reconnaissance Office's KH-11 image gathering spy satellites. Russia launched this particular satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Nov. 25, 2019, according to Space-Track.org, a U.S. government website that provides public data on space launches from the U.S. military's Combined Space Operations Center and the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command. This is just one of a number of space apparatus inspectors and other curious satellites that the Kremlin has put into orbit over the past decade.


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In view of the challenges in space such as the increase of orbital debris, militarization of space will be "very bad," Charles Frank Bolden, former administrator of NASA, told Xinhua at the sideline of an international space conference in Israel.

The 15th Ilan Ramon international conference was hosted on Tuesday by the Israel Space Agency, a governmental body affiliated with the country's Ministry of Science and Technology, as part of the 2020 Israeli space week events.

Ilan Ramon is the first Israeli astronaut who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

"It would be very unfortunate for people like me who want to be able to explore space freely," Bolden said, referring to militarization or weaponization of space.

"You can wipe that out in a heartbeat if you actually get engaged in full-blown militarization of space when people can start firing kinetic weapons at each other," he added.

One of the effects of those possible attacks, according to Bolden, is the increased amount of orbital debris which is already critically dense after decades of satellite launch and human missions to space.

To clean up the low Earth orbit of the satellite debris would be "a big challenge," Bolden told Xinhua, warning that it would become a significant problem "if we're not careful."

Other keynote speakers at the conference also pointed to the threat of the massively growing amount of satellites and the resulting debris in space.

However, Pascale Ehrenfreund, president of the International Astronautical Federation, also mentioned a business opportunity for launching services despite the concern of increasing debris.

Besides, the participants in the conference highlighted the role of the private sector in the space industry in recent years when the governmental agencies have started to see themselves as aggregators and regulators.

On the future manned space missions to the moon, keynote speakers said they would be much more sustainable and prolonged with the ultimate goal of setting up permanent bases there.

Landing humans on Mars would be the next biggest challenge in the coming decade, they added.

Meanwhile, the space economy, which has hit about 350 billion U.S. dollars, will top a trillion dollars by 2040, according to Ehrenfreund.

Space activities in the next decade will include commercial space tourism, cheaper satellites for communication, navigation and monitoring, and more services for broader users, she said.


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Patrick Air Force Base in Florida will be the first base to be renamed as a Space Force base within the next 30 days, the commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick said Friday.

"It's exciting, but it is kind of fast. But it's been good," Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess said. He said Space Force leadership was making sure "we are an agile service without a lot of bureaucracy to be able to get after what the nation needs us to do in continuing to be a space power."

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which has overseen the majority of the nation's rocket launches since the 1950s, soon will be renamed Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Schiess said. Patrick is about 20 miles south of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and helps support operations at the station.

President Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act in December 2019, directing the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. It is part of the Department of the Air Force.

Rapid growth in launch activity on Florida's Space Coast has occurred in recent years. Schiess said the 45th Space Wing has demonstrated that it can handle a pace of one rocket launch per week and even support two launches in one day. In 2018, the installation handled 24 launches, and 48 are scheduled for 2020, he said.

The 45th Space Wing provides weather forecasting, communications, security and other launch services, including monitoring the airspace and ocean waters around the launch pads at the Air Force station and Kennedy Space Center to ensure safety during a launch.

Patrick originally was a U.S. Navy seaplane base known as the Banana River Naval Air Station during World War II. It was renamed the Joint Long Range Proving Ground Base in 1949 and again renamed Patrick Air Force Base in August 1950, after Maj. Gen. Mason M. Patrick, chief of the American Expeditionary Force's Air Service in World War I.

Other facilities that host Space Force operations are Buckley, Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases in Colorado and Los Angeles and Vandenberg Air Force bases in California.

The Department of the Air Force released a $169 billion budget proposal Feb. 10, which for the first time includes funding for the newly created U.S. Space Force while also focusing funds to help both services modernize, address threats from Russia and China, and sustain readiness.

The spending plan for fiscal year 2021 carries a $900 million increase from the previous year. But unlike 2020, funding for 2021 is apportioned differently, with $153.6 billion directed to the Air Force and $15.4 billion for the Space Force.

"Our fiscal year '21 budget proposal helps drive irreversible momentum as we implement the National Defense Strategy," said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. "The strategic advantages the Air Force and the Space Force bring to our nation are vital. This budget allows us to meet today's national security challenges while taking important steps toward the Air and Space Forces we need in 2030."

The 2018 National Defense Strategy is an overarching blueprint for the entire U.S. military for defending the nation and its interests. At the heart of the Department of the Air Force's strategy for winning future conflicts is creating a resilient battle network that connects ships, ground forces, planes and satellites to fight together at speeds far surpassing any adversary. This budget provides funds for a rapid experimentation, prototyping and development effort supporting the overall Joint Staff-led initiative to connect every sensor and shooter in land, sea, air, space and cyber.

The budget proposal calls for increased investments in space as well as ensuring sufficient combat power to respond decisively to any attack against the U.S. or allies. The budget proposal also addresses what the service calls "logistics under attack," ensuring equipment, personnel and supplies are available when and where they are needed to sustain high-tempo actions in combat operations.

Specifically, the budget calls for spending $5.8 billion to purchase 48 F-35A Lightning II aircraft. It provides $3 billion to purchase 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers and $1.4 billion for 12 F-15EX fighters.

Research and development will grow by $1.5 billion for the Air Force to a total of $26.9 billion, which includes increased investment in the burgeoning battle network - the Advanced Battle Management System - development and capability demonstrations connecting the joint force. Funding for research and development in the Space Force will grow to $10.3 billion from $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2020.

The budget carries $2.8 billion for continued development of the B-21 Raider, the next generation long-range bomber, and $1.5 billion for upgrading and modernizing the ground-based nuclear force. That figure is nearly $1 billion greater than the previous fiscal year, underscoring the priority attached to modernizing the aging ground-based nuclear deterrent.

"This budget moves us forward toward meeting the missions required under the National Defense Strategy while also providing room to innovate and build for the future," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. "That's the sweet spot we always want to hit. Like every budget, we didn't get everything we put on the table, but we got a lot and the reason is our story resonated in terms of the force that we know we need to build to win."

In order to strike a balance between the capabilities needed to fight today and the capabilities that the two services require for the future, the 2021 spending plan anticipates retiring some planes to free up funding for critical new equipment. The list includes 13 KC-135 Stratotankers and 16 KC-10 Extenders; 24 C-130H Hercules, 17 B-1 Lancers and 24 RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 20/30 aircraft.

The Space Force portion of the budget reflects a continuing shift to address the challenges and threats posed by potential adversaries.

"Space is now a contested domain which is why it is an imperative that we train and equip our forces to ensure freedom of action in space across all phases of conflict," said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond. "This budget provides the resources we need to meet those requirements and to deliver vital space capabilities to our joint and coalition forces."

Reflecting the importance of space, the budget funds the National Security Space Launch program to ensure access to space and achieve independence from relying on launch vehicles from non-allies.

It also funds, at $2.3 billion, rapid development of Next-Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared Space and Ground systems to provide strategic missile warning.

Threaded throughout the entire budget document is a focus on people and readiness.

Funding to pay for flying hours increases in fiscal year 2021 to $6.6 billion. The budget envisions an increase in the Department's force of active duty, Guard and Reserve by 1,500 personnel. That would bring the uniformed force to 512,100.

Since April 2018, the Air Force has increased overall readiness by 16% and increased readiness for frontline units, known as pacing squadrons, by 35%.

In response to challenges with military privatized family housing, the budget provides money to hire 218 additional on-site base housing managers to monitor project owner actions, provide quality assurance and advocacy.

The fiscal 2021 proposal also provides funds to expand resiliency resources and fund programs that promote a culture of dignity and respect, including $51 million for the True North initiative, which embeds mental health professionals, physiologists, physical therapists and religious support teams within high-risk groups of a wing.

While Department of the Air Force officials say the 2021 budget request is the result of rigorous analysis and a series of "tough but necessary choices," it represents only the starting point for the budget process.

The proposal now goes to Congress for its consideration and what is likely to be months of deliberation, debate and revisions. Under the typical schedule, the budget for the new fiscal year must be approved and signed into law by the president by Oct. 1, 2020, when the new fiscal year begins.


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Washington has accused two Russian satellites of tailing a US spy satellite in what it called "disturbing behaviour", prompting a guarded response from Moscow on Tuesday.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed that he had received a message from Washington regarding the satellites, adding that "Moscow will respond after studying it."

"Regarding the manoeuvres of these objects in space, these are practices carried out by many countries," he added, quoted by Russian press agencies.

In an interview with Time magazine published on Monday, General John Raymond, head of the US military's new Space Force, said the Russian craft began manoeuvring towards the American satellite shortly after they launched into orbit in November, closing to within 100 miles (160 kilometres) of it.

"We view this behaviour as unusual and disturbing," Raymond told Time. "It has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space."

He earlier issued a statement to US media saying the Russian satellites were "behaving similar to another set of satellites that Russia deployed in 2017, and which the Russian government characterised as 'inspector satellites'."

The US Space Force, which came into being in December, is the sixth formal force of the US military, after the army, air force, navy, Marines and coastguard.

"There's going to be a lot of things happening in space, because space is the world's newest war-fighting domain," President Donald Trump said at the time.


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The U.S. Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base awarded Lockheed Martin a $240 million contract to develop a prototype payload for its new Protected Tactical SATCOM (PTS) system.

PTS is a next-generation capability connecting warfighters with more agile and jam-resistant satellite communications (SATCOM). The complete system will deploy a constellation of dedicated geostationary satellites, commercially hosted payloads, and coalition partner satellites integrated through a ground control network to provide U.S. and coalition forces protected communications in a data hungry battlespace.

SMC's acquisition begins with a rapid prototyping phase for a new mission payload hosting the Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW). The fully-processed payloads will ensure adaptive, anti-jamming communications channels are available to allied forces in a contested environment.

SMC is leveraging Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contracting mechanisms rather than a traditional Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based acquisition for prototyping to provide agile development, "E.P.I.C. Speed," and an avenue for non-traditional participation. E.P.I.C. Speed is SMC's acronym for Enterprise, Partnership, Innovation, Culture and Speed.

Lockheed Martin is excited to be in a position to rapidly develop protected SATCOM payload technologies that will benefit the warfighter.

"Teaming with non-traditional hardware and software developers has enabled the Lockheed Martin team to leap frog communications payload capabilities," said Erik Daehler, Lockheed Martin's director of Strategic Communications Architectures.

"We are able to 'Go Fast,' both in technology deployment and contracting structure, due to the nature of the OTA acquisition. Our partnership with the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC) has made these non-traditional acquisitions possible."

"Lockheed Martin understands how important protected communications are to our tactical warfighters deployed downrange. We also know that our SATCOM systems have to evolve to stay ahead of the threats, because a space system that can't survive Day 1 of a conflict can't achieve the mission," said Mike Cacheiro, Lockheed Martin's vice president for Protected Military SATCOM.

"Having delivered the nation's essential satellite communications systems, we are uniquely positioned to partner with the U.S. Space Force to develop the next generation's innovative, resilient and modular protected tactical SATCOM architecture."

Lockheed Martin launched the first commercial protected communications payload on Hellas Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 (HS-4/SGS-1) in 2019, featuring the most advanced digital signal processor and protected communications algorithms available. These technologies along with mission expertise and a partnership with the Space Force will dramatically accelerate PTS to the warfighter.

PTS continues Lockheed Martin's legacy of developing resilient protected communications for the military that includes both the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) and the MILSTAR systems.

In 2015, the Air Force awarded the company a contract for Combined Orbital Operations Logistics Sustainment (COOLS), which cost-effectively consolidated the sustainment of the AEHF, MILSTAR and DSCS III constellations in one ground system. In 2019, the COOL\R contract extended that sustainment emphasizing additional resiliency, cyber and mission planning enhancements.

Lockheed Martin has developed and built more than 300 payloads for a variety of missions. The company has more than 50 years of experience as a payload integrator, developing cutting-edge technologies supporting our nation's critical missions.


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4:30pm ET Update: After an issue with ground support equipment, United Launch Alliance got its Atlas V rocket off the ground a little more than an hour after its launch window opened on Thursday. The first phase of the launch was a success, and now the rocket's Centaur upper stage is pushing the AEHF-6 satellite toward a geostationary transfer orbit. The upper stage will release the satellite 5 hours and 40 minutes after the launch.

This is the first time a satellite has flown into space under the auspices of the U.S. Space Force.


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The US Space Force (USSF) has awarded two $500 million contracts to develop and produce satellite communications modems secure from enemy jamming.

On Monday, the USSF's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) announced that L3Harris and Raytheon had each received $500 million contracts to develop Protected Tactical Waveform-capable modems for the US Army and the Department of the Air Force, of which the USSF is a part.

The modems are part of the Air Force and Army Anti-Jam Modem (A3M) program, which provides anti-jamming communications for soldiers on the battlefield, and the contracts are anticipated to also include plugins for the Protected Tactical SATCOM system, commercial satellites and the Air Force's Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, C4ISRNet noted.

"We are very excited to be partnering with Raytheon and L3 Technologies Inc. to bring Protected Tactical Waveform anti-jam capability to both Department of the Air Force and Army users," Shannon Pallone, the senior materiel leader of Tactical SATCOM Division, said in the news release. "This was a joint team from the start, a partnership between the Space Force and the Army, and included support from the [National Security Agency]."

Citing a Space Force spokesperson, Space News noted the initial orders are for design, development, fabrication, integration, certification, technical manuals and testing of Block 1 "pizza box" form-factor modems, of which the Air Force and Army could receive as many as 1,500 in the next five years, which is how long the contract lasts. Air Force Magazine noted this buy could be followed by another for 2,500 Block 2 modems.

The Air Force noted that these contracts were awarded four months ahead of schedule and achieved despite the challenges posed by "social distancing" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"During times like these, we have to execute our mission while ensuring that we are protecting our people," Col. Dennis Bythewood, SMC's program executive officer for space development, said in the release. "Not only did the A3M team complete this source selection and contract award via telework, they beat their plan by over 120 days, continuing SMC's commitment to EPIC Speed."

The coronavirus outbreak has affected Air Force operations in other ways, however, with final certifications for the F-35 stealth aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base effectively being put on hold after the base was closed in response to several detected cases of the virus.

Recent reports on global space threats suggest that at least one of China's direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) programs may be operational and is expected to soon field launchers.

The Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) both released new studies on Monday regarding China's development of ASAT programs - endeavors that have been viewed by the US as a threat to its satellites in low Earth orbit.

"Chinese DA-ASAT capability against [low Earth orbit] targets is likely mature and may be operationally fielded on mobile launchers," read the SWF report.

"Chinese DA-ASAT capability against deep space targets - both [medium Earth orbit and geostationary orbit] - is likely still in the experimental or development phase, and there is not sufficient evidence to conclude whether it will become an operational capability in the near future."

Aviation Week highlighted that the SC-19 kinetic missile that took down the FengYun 1C satellite in 2007 "appears to have been declared operational," according to the March 30 report. Researchers also noted that China has in development "as many as three direct ascent ASAT systems," but it is not clear whether all of them are dedicated to counterspace missions.

The CSIS report makes sense of the inability to determine the programs' purposes, explaining that "missile tests are harder to judge because they could also function as a counterspace capability during times of conflict." Researchers with the CSIS also found that China's Strategic Support Force, established in 2015, has begun training specialized units in ASAT weapons.

The report further notes that China is "spoofing GPS signals" in order to conceal its "illicit activities" occurring in its own ports.

"One should expect that the rate of satellite jamming and spoofing incidents will only increase as these capabilities continue to proliferate and become more sophisticated in the coming years," CSIS senior fellow Todd Harrison noted on page 54 of the release. Harrison, along with three other analysts, co-authored the study.

Sputnik previously reported that the US National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) had claimed that China was attempting to advance counterspace tech in order to "challenge US superiority." Since then, the Trump administration established the US Space Force, the sixth branch of the US military. The move made the US the only nation to have an independent space force.

The SWF report references the same December 2018 NASIC report, noting it explicitly said that "China has military units that have begun training with anti-satellite missiles." Additionally, it highlighted that then-US Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told the US Senate on January 29, 2019, that China "has an operational ground-based ASAT missile intended to target low-Earth-orbit satellites."

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