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Thread: Space Warfare

  1. #21

    Missiles, You’ve Been Warned: New Sat Has Its Orbiting, Infrared Eye on You

    By Mark Brown, Wired.co.uk May 9, 2011 | 3:29 pm

    Over the weekend, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carried the next generation of a satellite designed to detect missile launches into orbit.

    After a rocky start and a delayed launch, the Atlas V blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force station on Saturday morning, hauling the $1.2 billion SBIRS GEO-1 satellite into space.

    The GEO-1 is just one soldier in an army of satellites planned to launch into geostationary orbit throughout 2011. Together they form SBIRS (or Space-Based Infra-Red System), which uses infrared sensors to detect and track missile launches from around the globe.

    The U.S. military considers the SBIRS program one of its most high priority space programs at the moment. Reconnaissance satellites were given a big pat on the back this month when a fleet of navigation, communications and imaging probes helped flush out Osama bin Laden.

    But the current collection of satellites in use just aren’t quite up to snuff when dealing with the threats of 2011. The new GEO-1 satellite will take over from creaky old missile-warning systems, some of which are leftovers from the Cold War.

    Missile-warning satellites go back to the 1960s. The MIDAS (or Missile Defense Alarm System) was a system of low Earth orbit satellites — equipped with infrared sensors — that went up throughout the 60s. The Midas 7, which launched 48 years ago (9 May, 1963), detected the first ever missile launch from space.

    After dodgy launches and shoddy power supplies, the satellites were deemed obsolete within a few years and the MIDAS program was scrapped. In the 70s it was replaced with DSP (or Defense Support Program).

    These new reconnaissance satellites would orbit the Earth from ten times the altitude of MIDAS (floating about in geostationary orbit, meaning they remain above the same spot on the Earth’s surface, rather than low Earth orbit), providing the military with a constant view of the entire planet’s infrared activity. The 23 satellites proved so successful that most of them are still up there now.

    But the SBRIS system is a big upgrade. The satellite’s sensor is rather faster, allowing it to look at one location and then gaze at another rapidly. It’s also more sensitive than DSP, and its revisit time is significantly shorter. With SBRIS, raw, unprocessed data can be downloaded to stations on the ground, so the globe’s radiometric scene can be observed in real time from Earth.

  2. #22

    Next Generation Missile Warning Satellite Successfully Reaches Orbit

    (Source: Lockheed Martin; issued May 24, 2011)

    DENVER --- The first Lockheed Martin-built Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) geosynchronous (GEO-1) spacecraft has successfully reached its intended orbit and is performing as required following its successful May 7 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

    After launch, the U.S. Air Force/Lockheed Martin SBIRS ground team executed a series of six Liquid Apogee Engine (LAE) burns to propel the spacecraft to its geosynchronous orbital slot. The team then deployed the satellite's solar arrays, light shade and antenna wing assemblies in preparation for activating its sophisticated infrared sensors and the start of early orbit testing.

    SBIRS GEO-1 is the most technologically advanced military infrared satellite ever developed and will enhance early warning of missile launches around the globe, support the nation's ballistic missile defense system, greatly expand technical intelligence gathering capability, and bolster situational awareness for warfighters on the battlefield.

    "Successfully reaching orbit and conducting deployments is a tremendous milestone for the SBIRS GEO-1 spacecraft. Thanks to a very talented and dedicated team, this first-of-its-kind spacecraft has performed flawlessly," said Brig Gen (select) Roger W. Teague, the director of the U.S. Air Force's Infrared Space Systems Directorate. "We anticipate continued success as we progress towards payload activation in the near future."

    SBIRS GEO-1 includes highly sophisticated scanning and staring sensors that will deliver improved infrared sensitivity and a reduction in area revisit times over the current constellation. The scanning sensor will provide a wide area surveillance of missile launches and natural phenomena across the earth, while the staring sensor will be used to observe smaller areas of interest with superior sensitivity.

    "We are very pleased with the performance of SBIRS GEO-1 and we are looking forward to delivering unprecedented infrared surveillance capabilities for the nation," said Jeff Smith, vice president of Lockheed Martin's Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) mission area.

    The SBIRS team is led by the Infrared Space Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the SBIRS prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator. Air Force Space Command operates the SBIRS system.

    Lockheed Martin's original SBIRS contract includes HEO payloads, two geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites, as well as ground-based assets to receive and process the infrared data. The team is also under a follow-on production contract to deliver additional HEO payloads and the third and fourth GEO satellites, and associated ground modifications.

    Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 126,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation's 2010 sales from continuing operations were $45.8 billion. (ends)

    The Most Important Military Program You've Never Heard Of Scores A Success In Space

    (Source: Lexington Institute; issued May 24, 2011)

    ((c) Lexington Institute; reproduced by permission)

    One thing's for sure about nuclear deterrence: it isn't likely to work if you don't know you're being attacked. (If you’re being attacked, it’s rather probable that nuclear deterrence hasn’t worked—Ed.)

    That's why Lockheed Martin's disclosure today that the first Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite has reached geosynchronous orbit was so important: because without it, the nation's ability to detect and respond to hostile missile launches would have been very much in question.

    The Pentagon doesn't like to talk about the status of the U.S. satellite constellation that provides early warning of nuclear attacks, but there is good reason to believe that some of the spacecraft are on their last legs. Not only has the new satellite taken longer to reach orbit than expected, but the last of the legacy Defense Support Program satellites was lost in a launch mishap. So although there's no direct evidence of a gap in missile warning, we can reasonably infer that a few of the satellites currently in use are "single-string" spacecraft -- meaning if any more features fail, they will lose their ability to perform the early-warning mission effectively.

    The replacement satellite now in geosynchronous orbit -- which matches its speed to the earth's rotation so it stays above the same spot -- is a big improvement over the legacy birds. In fact, the desire to add new features is a key reason why it took so long to reach orbit. Using both staring and scanning sensors, it will provide vital information for strategic deterrence, missile defense, conventional combat and technical intelligence analysis (like what's going on in North Korea).

    The spacecraft probably could have made it into space a lot sooner if some of the "key performance parameters" were jettisoned, but policymakers elected to keep all 18 intact. So when Lockheed Martin says the new system is "the most technologically advanced military infrared satellite ever developed," that's no exaggeration. There's literally never been anything like it.

    It tells you something about how the news business works that there was almost no coverage earlier in May when the new satellite was launched, because -- no kidding -- if the launch had failed it would have led to a crisis in national security. Like I said, nuclear deterrence doesn't work if you don't know you're being attacked. But with successful launch of the initial Space-Based Infrared System satellite followed by its placement in the correct orbital plane, the margin of safety in national security has been significantly improved.

    The U.S. Air Force deserves credit for keeping this vital program on track, and the industry team that built it -- which includes Northrop Grumman as the payload integrator -- has accomplished an impressive technical feat. It turns out that America still leads the world in some things that matter.


  3. #23

    New U.S. Spy Sat: Fast, Cheap, and Just Good Enough to Launch

    By David Axe June 28, 2011 | 9:43 am

    It was one of the most awe-inspiring rocket launches in recent memory. On January 20, a Delta IV Heavy rocket as tall as a 23-story building blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, apparently carrying a multi-billion-dollar, school bus-size Keyhole spy satellite that took at least five years to fund and build. The noise and vibration from the 1.6-million-pound rocket were so tremendous, that the Air Force had to tell local residents it wasn’t an earthquake.

    Dramatic, yes. But there was something wrong with the picture. “Ponderous,” is how Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former Air Force Space Command boss, described old-school sats last year, as reported by National Defense.

    Compare the January launch to the one scheduled for today. If everything goes as planned, the military will finally get the small, fast, cheap satellite of its dreams … sometime between 8:00 and 11:00 PM EST, weather permitting.

    That’s when the first Operationally Responsive Space mission, codenamed “ORS-1,” is slated to blast off on an 80,000-pound Minotaur rocket (pictured) from Wallops Island, Virginia. The payload is a Senior Year camera, built by Goodrich and based on the model fitted to the U-2 spy plane. Its destination: 250 miles above the earth, in an orbit optimized for Afghanistan. Time from contract to launch: just 30 months. Cost: no more than $100 million.

    For the better part of a decade, the consumer electronics business has been in the middle of a “Good Enough” revolution, where simple and cheap often beats complex and expensive and feature-rich. Now, the Air Force is finally getting on board.

    For years, the Air Force has been trying to make spacecraft smaller, simpler and cheaper, build more of them and shrink the time for purchase, construction and launch. In short, to make spy sats as “operationally responsive” as drones and manned spy planes — even if that means some individual satellites are somewhat less than cutting-edge.

    The new, small satellite doesn’t just share a camera with the U-2. “The very same computer software system that is used to task airborne … assets, airborne imagery systems, they will use those exact same assets to task this spacecraft,” said Peter Wegner, head of the ORS office, tells Aviation Week. That’s another way the Pentagon is trying to shrink, simplify and speed up its spacecraft.

    The drive (.pdf) for faster, cheaper sats began around the same time China started testing satellite-killing rockets. That was no coincidence. One goal of responsive space is to “help us counter threats to our space capabilities,” Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said. “By building systems on small satellites, using modular components, ORS gives us the ability to rapidly augment our space systems.”


    In other words, if China shoots down a satellite, the Pentagon can quickly loft a replacement — or two or three.

    Technologically, it’s not necessarily hard to make satellites smaller, cheaper and more responsive. The problem is managerial. “Something is wrong with the process,” Kehler said.

    The Pentagon officials overseeing space programs aren’t used to accepting anything less than the most sophisticated, complex and expensive solutions to a given problem. “Very rarely do we say, ‘Well gee, this one looks like 60 percent of what we did before, so we’ll just use the 60 percent,’” Raytheon official Tom McDonald told National Defense.

    Besides having fewer capabilities than old-fashioned sats, responsive spacecraft also don’t last as long — just a few years, compared to a decade or more for Keyholes and other big satellites. “If you’re willing to accept short mission lives, and you are a little less risk averse, then you can do things quicker and cheaper,” said Goodrich’s Charles Cox.

    The (hopefully) successful launch of the first responsive satellite should go a long way to building confidence in this new approach to orbital spying. It also helps that the Air Force’s first space plane is itself essentially a small, cheap, nimble and reusable satellite — and that small spacecraft could prove a popular export for the U.S. space industry.

    After all, most nations don’t even have the option of investing more than five years and a billion dollars in a single satellite.

    Photo: Air Force

  4. #24

    China Analyst: U.S. Can’t Win in Space, So Why Bother Racing?

    By David Axe August 31, 2011 | 10:30 am

    With access to more than 400 satellites plus at least two tiny, maneuverable robotic shuttles, the U.S. military is the clear leader in military spacecraft. But with 70 orbiters of its own, China is catching up fast. Last year, Beijing matched Washington in space launches for the first time, boosting no fewer than 15 satellites into orbit. It was the first time any nation kept a celestial pace with the U.S. since the height of the Cold War.

    The new space race is on. But in the view of one influential analyst, the race isn’t worth the prize. Space “is expensive to enter, hard to sustain assets in, contains no defensive ground, and — barring energy-intensive maneuvering – forces assets into predictable orbits,” Andrew Erickson, a Naval War College professor and editor of the new book Chinese Aerospace Power, told me as part of a longer interview over at AOL Defense.

    No one disputes that China is gaining “ground” in space. “The [People's Liberation Army] is acquiring a range of technologies to improve China’s space and counter-space capabilities,” warned the 2011 edition of Congress’ annual report on the Chinese military (.pdf). But the Pentagon’s official response is to dig in deeper in orbit, with newer and better spacecraft costing at least $10 billion a year, in total. Erickson is virtually alone in fundamentally questioning the Pentagon’s space presence — and recommending an orbital retreat.

    “Some of the most debilitating asymmetric tactics could be employed against space and cyberspace targets,” Erickson explained. In other words, spacecraft are highly vulnerable to physical and electronic attack, and so are their control stations. To avoid these “asymmetric” assaults at which China has proved particularly skilled, the Pentagon should take its current space-based equipment and move it downward to the atmosphere. The air is more secure than space, Erickson insisted.

    The Pentagon is already following Erickson’s advice with a handful of new systems. The Air Force’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, a collection of radio relays, is the kind of thing that might normally be installed on a satellite. But for expediency, the Air Force fitted it to small jets and Global Hawk drones. Several types of high-altitude unmanned planes and blimps function essentially as low-altitude satellites, but with added flexibility and, usually, lower cost.

    For a successor to the current, satellite-based GPS navigation system, the Air Force is looking at non-space systems including “cold atoms, pseudolites [satellite surrogates such as drones and blimps], and image-aided inertial navigation systems that use laser radar,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has said.

    This trend should continue, Erickson recommended, with terrestrial robots in particular standing in for orbital hardware. “Less-manned and unmanned systems, which — while they face limitations given current technologies — can already be smaller, cheaper and more disposable; enabling better persistence, maneuverability and tolerance of losses.”

    In Erickson’s perfect world, U.S. forces probably wouldn’t rely on space at all. With no one to beat, China wouldn’t lose the new space race. But it wouldn’t win, either.

    Photo: Chinese space agency

  5. #25

    India and Russia Building Robo-Space Planes

    So NASA’s Space Shuttle has officially retired, leaving only the Air Force’s two X-37Bs as the only reusable space planes in operation. Much speculation is occurring about what this means for the future of space travel. One thought; the two mystery shuttles may be ushering in a new age in space transport around the globe — the era of the unmanned space shuttle.

    Earlier this year, Russia revealed that it is working on a similar, unmanned space plane and India’s space agency has, for some time, been known to be working on its own version (shown above) of the X-37B.

    Apparently, the Indians have already built a tech demonstrator for their space plane that will be used, like the X-37B, as a reusable truck to carry payloads in and out of space. The initial version of the craft will apparently splash down into the ocean in a similar fashion as NASA’s old Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space capsules. However, once India masters “several elements” the spacecraft will lift-off with the help of rockets but land on a runway like an airplane .

    Keep in mind that it was the Soviet Union, not the U.S. who first built and successfully flew an automated, unmanned, reusable space plane in 1988 when the Buran space shuttle flew to space, orbited the Earth and then landed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

    Now, these small unmanned space planes craft may be able to bring the original dream of NASA’s Space Shuttle to life. They’re relatively inexpensive and lack the danger associated with human cargo. This means the craft could be mass produced and used to quickly shuttle all sorts of goods into space. As the X-37B has already proven, such craft can stay in space for months performing a host of (for now, secret) missions. The first X-37B flight lasted 220 days and amateur spotters noticed the craft switched orbital patterns numerous times during this extremely long spaceflight.

    Just like UAVs are permanently changing air warfare, these robo-shuttles may be about to permanently change space operations.

    One hint as to the role of U.S. Air Force’s X-37Bs could have come recently from Gary Payton, the U.S. Air Force’s undesecretary for space who told Flight Global that the service wants to be able to turn the little craft around in 10-to-15 days and operate them much more like the old SR-71 Blackbird spyplanes

    If we were in a surge environment, where we were putting up a whole bunch of satellites over a month or two, I would like to see the X-37B handle much more like a [Lockheed] SR-71.
    The first part of that quote is pretty straightforward. The Air Force no doubt sees the robo shuttles as the embodiment of the space Shuttle’s original promise; cheap, reusable spacecraft that make access to orbit a commodity.

    The last part of his quote makes me wonder if the X-37B is the replacement for the SR-71 in terms of being an untouchable spy plane. It can stay aloft for a long time beyond the reach of any known weapons; it could plant a host of spy satellites on orbit; spy on other satellites; or use its ability to maneuver around the heavens to do its own spying if its equipped with the right cameras and radar equipment.

    Then again, this is all speculation and I could be reading far too much into Payton’s quote. It may just be a simple satellite truck meant to drop off and recovers classified spy sats and nothing more.

    Here’s a little more on India’s space plane program — the document from India’s space agency discusses Indian officials’ longstanding plans to eventually produce a craft that can take-off and land like a standard airplane. Before they can do this, they must build a rocket-launched craft similar to the one described above.


    September 1st, 2011

    Read more: http://defensetech.org/2011/09/01/in...#ixzz1WlReigPc

  6. #26

    DARPA’s MOIRE: Video Scud Hunts from Space

    Sep 06, 2011 20:28 EDT

    MOIRE concept

    In physics, a moire pattern is an interference pattern created, for example, when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes. It’s an appropriate name for DARPA’s Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) project, which aims to use diffractive optic membranes to conduct tactical video surveillance from space. That’s very useful when looking at territory where an intruding UAV is likely to be shot down, or when conducting operations to find, say, mobile SCUD missiles within a large potential area.

    Making that happen involves a 20-meter diameter optic membrane surveying an area of more than 10×10 km at least once a second, with ground resolution better than 2.5 meters, and the ability to detect moving vehicles. Field of regard would be larger, of course, at 10 million square kilometers that could be covered from geosynchronous orbit. Finally, satellite cost also has to come in at under $500 million per copy. How hard could all that be? Hard enough for DARPA, apparently…

    DARPA’s MOIRE Program

    Scientists have believed for over a decade now that diffractive optical membranes have great potential for space telescope applications, given their potential performance and especially their light weight, which lowers launch costs. They’re made by using a lightweight membrane optic that’s held very flat. It’s etched with a diffractive pattern, which is used to focus light on a sensor.

    DARPA believes that a system like that may also have potential for staring through the atmosphere. Despite the $500 million per satellite ceiling, a comparison to the operational costs and risks of conducting that surveillance by other means in hostile territory means that MOIRE could actually be a cost improvement. Nor has the US military forgotten the immense difficulty it had in finding Iraqi SCUD mobile ballistic missiles during the 1991 Desert Storm war, despite its full control of the air.

    In terms of geosynchronous, wide area, medium-to-high resolution imaging, MOIRE would be the only game in town. The size of the optics needed, and the limitations of producing and launching extremely large precision glass optics, make it infeasible to place a conventional optical system with that capability in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO).

    DARPA sees the following as key technical factors for MOIRE:

    1. Large low cost, lightweight, deployable, diffractive membrane optics for geosynchronous orbit imaging systems.
    2. Near real time image stabilization and tactical geolocation knowledge, exploiting exquisitely accurate attitude determination and control systems and ground truth controls.
    3. A telescope design that increases spectral bandwidth
    4. Stability and dynamics of the large MOIRE structure in geosynchronous orbit
    5. Target motion detection capability for highway speeds (later revised to “target motion detection capability at > 0.1 Hz”).
    6. Probability of detection for a SCUD-class [missile] launch of 0.99, with less than one false alarm per month.

    DARPA’s announcement envisioned a pair of $4-5 million awards in Phase 1, which is designed to validate the optical prescription, design and structure, remove major optical risks, and perform testing on a 1 meter diameter primary optic and on “coupons” of key materials used. Ball Aerospace and Nexsolve Corp. appear to have received the awards. Phase 1 ends with a System Concept Design Review and a Payload Preliminary Design Review.

    DARPA expected a $30-40 million award for Phase II, which came to pass in September 2011 with an award to Ball Aerospace. Phase 2 will produce and test a 5 meter brassboard telescope, showing a technological path to flight aboard a satellite. Membrane fabrication must also be traceable to flight in this phase, and phase 2 will incorporate either sub-scale or fractional demonstration of the system’s unfurling in space. Phase 2 will end with a System Preliminary Design Review.

    If there is a Phase III, it would be the subject of a separate solicitation. A Critical Design Review (CDR) will be conducted early in this phase, whichis necessary because DARPA is thinking in terms of designing, building, launching, and demonstrating a deployable 10 meter space telescope, in geosynchronous orbit, using a diffractive optics membrane. This on-orbit demo would validate modeling, simulation and ground testing done in Phases 1 and 2 and show traceability to an operational 20 meter system meeting MOIRE’s final goals. Space launch is not cheap, however, even as a secondary payload on an EELV-M class medium rocket with a 5 meter fairing, and using a launch mass under 1000 kg/ 2,200 pounds.

  7. #27

    Spy Satellites Are On Time, On Budget; NRO Uncloaks Two Old Birds

    By Colin Clark

    Published: September 15, 2011

    The head of America's spy satellites said today said every one of his programs is on time and on budget, completing what to close observers of the intelligence community is an important turnaround from a decade of sometimes botched and grossly over-budget programs.

    "All of our major systems acquisitions are in the green on schedule and on cost," Bruce Carlson, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.

    A former senior intelligence official was surprised and pleased by Carlson's comments, saying it is "of huge significance. It means we're getting the service we deserve and the government is paying what it ought to pay. And from the NRO perspective it builds confidence that the NRO can perform." That confidence was sorely tested over the last decade, with the biggest black eye being a Boeing program called the Future Imagery Architecture.

    The scars from FIA are still pretty raw at the NRO, as Carlson made clear this morning. "That was an incredible waste,"Carlson told me after the breakfast. I asked him if it had actually helped force the NRO to improve how it built requirements and managed programs. "We shouldn't have had to learn that lesson."

    It is very difficult to pin down who deserves the credit for a credit at an agency this secretive, which often will take three to five years to build a satellite. The former senior intelligence official was willing to give Carlson at least some of the credit.

    "I think he's been a good leader," the official said. "He's a good guy to work with but tough. He's got his eye on the ball." Perhaps most important, Carlson has "just the right management instincts."

    One of the main players in this game was Al Munson, the intelligence community's first undersecretary of acquisition and technology, so I asked him what made the difference.

    "The NRO, plus all the other agencies in the IC, tightened it all up. It was the discipline that was essentially enforced by the ODNI," said Munson, who served under Mike McConnell Director of National Intelligence. the intelligence community's first undersecretary of acquisition and technology. "We implemented a whole new set of acquisition processes and we started paying attention, and over time it all got better."

    I asked him about the standard answers that most space experts have offered as fixes for what has ailed the space acquisition community -- stable requirements, increased systems engineering and stable funding. "Most of that stuff is all eye wash," he said. Munson, an advisor to the NRO, is also a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and a member of the Pentagon's Defense Science Board.

    Munson told me the improvements at the NRO are not isolated. The National Security Agency, which struggled mightily with its main modernization program during the first five years of the 21st century, was stripped of its Milestone Decision Authority by Congress. The NRO was stripped of its MDA on at least one program. That authority has been given back to both agencies.

    In a recent op-ed for my former employer, Space News, Munson laid out just how well the intelligence community's acquisition program is now doing.

    In addition to the good news he delivered at the breakfast, Carlson also said the NRO is declassifying two satellites in connection with its 50th birthday this weekend. The two satellites are Hexagon (KH-9) and Gambit (KH 7and 8). Hexagon is 60 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. Much of the satellite is occupied by its camera. Much of the rest of the bird was filled with, as an admiring Carlson put it, thousands and thousands of feet of film. Hexagon will be on display this Saturday at the Smithsonian's Udvar Hazy Center near Dulles Airport.

  8. #28

    Secret Sats, Giant Rockets: U.S. Unveils Space War Arsenal

    By David Axe September 19, 2011 | 3:47 pm

    Uploaded by collectspace on Sep 14, 2011
    Presented by http://collectSPACE.com -- The Source for Space History and Artifacts.
    The Space Launch System will be NASA's first exploration-class vehicle since the Saturn V took American astronauts to the moon over 40 years ago. With its superior lift capability, the SLS will expand our reach in the solar system and allow us to explore cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and its moons and beyond. We will learn more about how the solar system formed, where Earth' water and organics originated and how life might be sustained in places far from our Earth's atmosphere and expand the boundaries of human exploration. These discoveries will change the way we understand ourselves, our planet, and its place in the universe.
    Read more: http://www.collectspace.com/spacelaunchsystem
    When the Space Shuttle flew its 135th and final mission in July and retired without a direct replacement, some critics accused Washington of abandoning America’s 50-year orbital legacy. The Telegraph even called it a “retreat.”

    Then last week, the U.S. government revealed new and formerly secret space initiatives that underscore America’s continuing orbital dominance. NASA announced plans for the biggest-ever rocket, set to launch in six years. Meanwhile, the hush-hush National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), keeper of America’s most secretive surveillance satellites, used the occasion of its 50th birthday to declassify its ongoing orbital eavesdropping campaign over Afghanistan.

    Far from retreating from space, Washington is doubling down on its orbital force structure. The risk is this: with more and more of its critical capabilities packed into Earth’s limited orbit, America is increasingly vulnerable to a space counter-attack by China or Russia.

    At 400 feet tall, NASA’s planned Space Launch System, depicted in the video above, will carry more, higher than the Space Shuttle it will replace. The Shuttle payload to Low Earth Orbit maxed out at around 26 tons. In its ultimate incarnation, the liquid-fueled SLS will haul up to 143 tons, balanced atop five main engines and two bolt-on boosters.

    NASA estimates the gargantuan rocket will cost $18 billion to develop; skeptics say it could cost four times that. When it enters service in the 2017, the SLS will “ensure continued U.S. leadership in space,” NASA chief Charles Bolden said.

    The SLS will be an “exploration-class” rocket with enough oomph to boost a vehicle out of Earth’s orbit. NASA wants to use the SLS to send astronauts to an asteroid no later than 2025 — and Mars after that. But there are possible military applications, as well. Just like the Space Shuttle, the giant rocket will be “dual use,” capable of carrying big military satellites in addition to purely scientific payloads.

    Satellites like those unveiled by NRO boss Bruce Carlson during his agency’s birthday celebrations. The formerly tight-lipped Carlson told reporters that the NRO has launched six new spacecraft in just seven months — “the best we’ve done in about 25 years.”

    The NRO’s secret sats have been busy spying on America’s enemies and rivals. The goal, Carlson said, is to “do sensing … in the daytime, at night, in bad weather, good weather … and sandstorms.”

    To listen in on Taliban radio chatter in Afghanistan, the NRO redirected some of its oldest spacecraft. “Those satellites were designed to collect Soviet long-haul communications that dealt with the Cold War,” Carlson said. “Now they’re collecting phone calls or push-to-talk radio signals out of the war zone.”

    NRO satellites also scan for the distinctive electromagnetic signatures of roadside bombs primed to explode. NRO speeds that data to front-line military forces in as little as a minute. The bombs’ locations show up as red dots on the troops’ digital maps. “I can’t tell you exactly how we do that, but it’s a pretty clever set of technologies,” Carlson quipped.

    But Carlson is worried. The more satellites he puts in to orbit alongside Russian spacecraft and a growing number of Chinese sats, the more crowded it gets up there — and the more potential there is for catastrophic accidents or even a deliberate attack on American satellites. “It’s becoming more competitive,” the NRO chief warned.

    Naval War College analyst Andrew Erickson shares Carlson’s concern. A few weeks back, we reported that Erickson was advocating a U.S. withdrawal from space in favor of better-protected aerial systems. We misunderstood. In fact, Erickson wants Washington to safeguard its spacecraft and also deploy back-up airborne systems. “The United States, and particularly the U.S. military, should … NOT remove assets from space or otherwise decrease its presence there,” Erickson wrote.

    Carlson highlighted the NRO’s work with the Air Force on the so-called “Joint Space Protection Program” — the NRO’s “ace in the hole [should] somebody try to do something.” The protection program is largely classified, but it seems to include modifying spacecraft sensors so they can look around at themselves, as well as down at Earth. That would be a big help, it case our sats unexpectedly come under attack.

    It’s a safe bet the Air Force’s secretive X-37B spaceplane is also part of the space protection plan. The robotic mini-shuttle can maneuver across orbits and, in theory, sneak up on enemy spacecraft, inspecting or even disabling them.

    Secret sats, giant rockets and sneaky robo-shuttles are not the hallmarks of a world power retreating from orbit. With more and bigger U.S. spacecraft blasting into the heavens, the bloodless space war is only escalating.

    Video: NASA

  9. #29

    The X-37’s uncertain fate

    By Philip Ewing Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 6:02 pm

    Air Force Space Command boss Gen. William Shelton gave a space version of the talk that both the chief and secretary of the Air Force have given this week at the big trade show: Everything we do in the space world is basically essential, Shelton said. From missile launch monitoring to GPS to cyber-warfare, you really can’t cut very much without endangering or eliminating some of the planks upon which high-tech life today is built, he said.

    A few things, though, might be open to discussion at budget crunch time, Shelton acknowledged. Maybe SpaceCom could broaden its use of equipment that piggy-backs on third-party commercial satellites, rather than needing a dedicated U.S. government bird — but that’s limited because of security worries. And maybe SpaceCom could get better at cyber-warfare acquisitions; it needs to get faster and more efficient to keep up with the rapidly changing cyber game out there. And maybe SpaceCom doesn’t need its much-discussed, little-known space jet, the X-37B.

    Nobody knows exactly what the X-37 is for — though there are lots of good guesses — though Shelton said Tuesday that it’s a “niche capability,” and that at some point the Air Force might need to have a capital-D Discussion about its future. One reason officials apparently wanted it was to get the ability to put a small satellite in orbit on short notice, and the Air Force or DoD may decide that potential isn’t worth the cost.

    “There are many ways to get a payload into orbit,” Shelton said, including military and commercial vehicles and the X-37. “It’s very flexible, in that you’ve got a payload bay in which you can launch, then it comes down, then you can launch it back – but whether or not it’s cost effective, is the question. Whether or not there’s overriding operational utility that would overcome some of the business case aspects of it, is another question. There’s some work to be done here on the long-term future of that capability, would you want to do, dedicated, hosted, X-37 — it’s one of these optimization questions really.”

    Not quite the same as if Shelton had said, “I hate this thing so let’s get rid of it,” but compared to his other remarks about the importance of the Space Command portfolio, it was telling that he appeared welling to at least discuss it.

    Read more: http://www.dodbuzz.com/2011/09/20/th...#ixzz1YXsC48Bp

  10. #30


    A Defense Technology Blog

    Classified Satellite to Get New Protective Payload

    Posted by Amy Butler at 9/21/2011 2:56 PM CDT

    Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, who oversees satellite procurement for the Air Force at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, says that a classified satellite will carry the so-called Self-Awareness Space Situational Awareness (SASSA) payload on a forthcoming mission. She declined to identify the satellite, its owner or launch date owing to security concerns. She made her comments Sept. 20 during a talk with reporters at the annual Air Force Association conference outside Washington.

    Though a seemingly small step, this could be a sign of a major shift in satellite developments and future ops.

    SASSA is designed to alert operators of potential threats to a satellite. The program grew out of concern that satellites in orbit were effectively flying blind because there is insufficient situational awareness of objects in space and their capabilities. This issue has become more worrisome for leaders in light of the 2007 anti-satellite test by China and occasional radio-frequency interference experienced by operators in orbit.

    “Space protection is a big problem for us,” says Gen. William Shelton, who oversees Air Force Space Command. He notes that because of the vastness of space, offensive operations are easier than defensive ones. Furthermore, he notes that the timelines to act on warnings are tight, limiting the options for operators to take evasive or protective measures.

    Kinetic anti-satellite threats are more prevalent for satellites operating in low-Earth orbit; many of the National Reconnaissance Office’s imagery collectors operate there. However, Air Force leaders worry about a direct-ascent ASAT threatening satellites in the mid-orbits or on the geosynchronous belt.

    Shelton, however, appeared to be disputing the assessment of former National Reconnaissance Director Donald Kerr that at least one U.S. spy satellite’s optics had been temporarily compromised by a laser. “There is some debate on that,” Shelton said.

    The Air Force competed work on a SASSA design, and Assurance Technologies beat out Lockheed Martin for the development program. Gary Payton, former assistant secretary of the Air Force for space, likened the SASSA box to a radar warning receiver for satellites.

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