At a glance.
- Responding to space threats.
- US considers implications of space rivalry with China.
- Securing space systems against cyberattack.
- Russia plans a special Soyuz mission to the ISS.
- Launch failure in Cornwall.
Responding to space threats.
US and Japanese negotiations last week extended the two countries' defense treaty to the protection of space assets, Nikkei Asia reports. Specifically, Military.com writes, in its latest form the agreement authorizes a military response to attacks against satellites. The Atlantic Council reviews the various ways in which Western allies might prepare for, and respond to, growing threats in space.
US considers implications of space rivalry with China.
The US led the world in space launches during 2022, but China came in second (and first in terms of military payloads). Thus Beijing has replaced Moscow as the second leading spacefaring power, Breaking Defense reports, citing a study by Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.
Sino-American rivalry isn't confined to launch-counting measures of prestige. It extends to real estate, too. NASA's Director Nelson thinks it likely that China intends to beat the US back to the moon, and in effect lay claim to the moon and its resources. “It is a fact: we’re in a space race,” Nelson told Politico. “And it is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here, this is our territory.’” MIT Technology Review questions whether NASA's Artemis program is up to the competitive challenge.
Competition takes more familiar military forms as well. The war in Ukraine has shown the combat support value of space systems, Breaking Defense reports, most obviously in reconnaissance and communications, and there are growing concerns that space will increasingly become a domain of both cyber and kinetic conflict. The Guardian notes that the US Department of Defense has expressed alarm over what it sees as China's attempts to militarize space.
The Chinese embassy in Washington took exception to the Pentagon on the matter, saying that the US had "spoken irresponsibly to misrepresent the normal and legitimate space endeavors of China." The statement went on to avow China's peaceful intentions. "China always advocates the peaceful use of outer space, opposes the weaponization of and arms race in outer space, and works actively toward building a community with a shared future for mankind in the space domain." The Department of Defense isn't buying the pacific statement, and according to the Wall Street Journal is introducing new requirements that space service providers safeguard their missions from malign foreign interference.
Securing space systems against cyberattack.
NIST has published its framework for securing the ground segment against cyberattack. NISTIR 8401, Satellite Ground Segment: Applying the Cybersecurity Framework to Satellite Command and Control, is intended to guide vendors and operators. The framework's abstract explains:
"Space operations are increasingly important to the national and economic security of the United States. Commercial space’s contribution to the critical infrastructure is growing in both volume and diversity of services as illustrated by the increased use of commercial communications satellite (COMSAT) bandwidth, purchase of commercial imagery, and the hosting of government payloads on commercial satellites. The U.S. government recognizes and supports space resilience as illustrated by numerous space policies, executive orders, and the National Cyber Strategy. The space cyber-ecosystem is an inherently risky, high-cost, and often inaccessible environment consisting of distinct yet interdependent segments. This report applies the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to the ground segment of space operations with an emphasis on the command and control of satellite buses and payloads."
Thus the guidelines are evolutionary, building on NIST's earlier, more general Cybersecurity Framework. NISTIR 8401 represents just one aspect of space system protection. Via Satellite reviews other measures and approaches under consideration. Those range from general, deliberately vague threats of military action to indemnification of space service providers.
Russia plans a special Soyuz mission to the ISS.
The Register reported at the end of last month that a coolant leak in the Soyuz capsule docked with the International Space Station had placed its ability to return the crew to earth in question. The leak had been caused by a micrometeoroid strike. The unavailability of the Soyuz left the International Space Station with only one capsule--a Dragon--docked, and the Dragon carries a crew of four. The ISS currently has seven astronauts and cosmonauts on board. Roscosmos has decided to move up a Soyuz launch to return two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut to earth. The date for the mission has yet to be set, the Guardian notes. The International Space Station represents a now-rare area of Russo-American cooperation that's survived Russia's war against Ukraine and the ensuing strained relations between Moscow and Washington.
Failure to launch (but only for now).
US-based Virgin Orbit’s first international launch did not go according to plan. What was supposed to be the “first orbital satellite launch from the U.K., the first commercial orbital launch from western Europe and Virgin Orbit’s first international launch” did not reach orbit as the company had reported late Monday, Via Satellite said. Virgin Orbit tweeted at 11:46 PM local time Monday, January 9th, 2023. “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information,” following an earlier tweet announcing the rocket had reached orbit at 11:18 PM local time.
Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency (UKSA), Cornwall Council and the Royal Air Force announced the launch of their “Start Me Up” mission on January 6, Via Satellite reported, with the intent to “carry satellites from seven customers to space, including commercial and government payloads from several nations and a collaborative U.S./U.K. mission.” Last Monday’s Cornwall launch, the first of the seven, drew a crowd for the “Cosmic Girl” aircraft, a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, AP reported. The plane was piloted by a Royal Air Force pilot and released the LauncherOne rocket approximately 35,000 feet above the ocean just south of Ireland.
The launch had originally been planned for last year but was postponed for “technical and regulatory issues,” said the AP. Via Satellite noted Thursday that Virgin Orbit still intends to return to Spaceport Cornwall for another launch despite the failure, potentially even within this year. The company continues to look into the anomaly, and says they will complete their investigation before their next launch, scheduled to take place out of California, occurs.
This launch does not spell the end for Western Europe in satellite launches, however, as German launcher Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) has made a deal with Scotland’s SaxaVord Spaceport for exclusive use of its Fredo launch pad, the Telegraph recounted last Wednesday. The site, also selected by the UK Space Agency for their UK Pathfinder launch, is anticipated to see the beginning of RFA’s tests in mid-2023, Via Satellite explained. Last week also saw the inauguration of the European Union’s first mainland orbital launch complex by European officials and Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf on Friday, said Defense News. The complex, located at Esrange Space Center in northern Sweden, is intended to boost the EU’s small satellite launching capabilities. The premiere launch is anticipated to take place next year.