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Agent Orange and the Internet: The Spawn of Project Agile

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COMMENT: In his book–one of the most impor­tant in recent memory–Yasha Levine sets forth vital, rev­e­la­to­ry infor­ma­tion about the devel­op­ment and func­tion­ing of the Inter­net.

Born of the same DARPA project that spawned Agent Orange, the Inter­net was nev­er intend­ed to be some­thing good. Its gen­er­a­tive func­tion and pur­pose is counter-insur­gency. In this land­mark vol­ume, Levine makes numer­ous points, includ­ing:

  1. The har­vest­ing of data by intel­li­gence ser­vices is PRECISELY what the Inter­net was designed to do in the first place.
  2. The har­vest­ing of data engaged in by the major tech cor­po­ra­tions is an exten­sion of the data gathering/surveillance that was–and is–the rai­son d’e­tre for the Inter­net in the first place.
  3. The big tech com­pa­nies all col­lab­o­rate with the var­i­ous intel­li­gence agen­cies they pub­licly scorn and seek to osten­si­bly dis­tance them­selves from.
  4. Edward Snow­den, the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, Jacob Appel­baum and Wik­iLeaks are com­plic­it in the data har­vest­ing and sur­veil­lance.
  5. Snow­den and oth­er pri­va­cy activists are dou­ble agents, con­scious­ly chan­nel­ing peo­ple fear­ful of hav­ing their com­mu­ni­ca­tions mon­i­tored into tech­nolo­gies that will facil­i­tate that sur­veil­lance!

 

Sur­veil­lance Val­ley by Yasha Levine; Pub­lic Affairs Books [HC]; Copy­right 2018 by Yasha Levine; ISBN 978–1‑61039–802‑2; p. 7.

 . . . . In the 1960s, Amer­i­ca was a glob­al pow­er over­see­ing an increas­ing­ly volatile world: con­flicts and region­al insur­gen­cies against US-allied gov­ern­ments from South Amer­i­ca to South­east Asia and the Mid­dle East. These were not tra­di­tion­al wars that involved big armies but gueril­la cam­paigns and local rebel­lions, fre­quent­ly fought in regions where Amer­i­cans had lit­tle pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence. Who were these peo­ple? Why were they rebelling? What could be done to stop them? In mil­i­tary cir­cles, it was believed  that these ques­tions were of vital impor­tance to Amer­i­ca’s paci­fi­ca­tion efforts, and some argued that the only effec­tive way to answer them was to devel­op and lever­age com­put­er-aid­ed infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy.

The Inter­net came out of this effort: an attempt to build com­put­er sys­tems that could col­lect and share intel­li­gence, watch the world in real time, and study and ana­lyze peo­ple and polit­i­cal move­ments with the ulti­mate goal of pre­dict­ing and pre­vent­ing social upheaval. . . .

 Sur­veil­lance Val­ley by Yasha Levine; Pub­lic Affairs Books [HC]; Copy­right 2018 by Yasha Levine; ISBN 978–1‑61039–802‑2; p. 15.

 . . . . Ranch Hand got going in 1962 and last­ed until the war end­ed more than a decade lat­er. In that time, Amer­i­can C‑123 trans­port planes doused an area equal in size to half of South Viet­nam with twen­ty mil­lion gal­lons of tox­ic chem­i­cal defo­liants. Agent Orange was for­ti­fied with oth­er col­ors of the rain­bow: Agent White, Agent Pink, Agent Pur­ple, Agent Blue. The chem­i­cals, pro­duced by Amer­i­can com­pa­nies like Dow and Mon­san­to, turned whole swaths of lush jun­gle into bar­ren moon­scapes, caus­ing death and hor­ri­ble suf­fer­ing for hun­dreds of thou­sands.

Oper­a­tion Ranch Hand was mer­ci­less, and in clear vio­la­tion of the Gene­va Con­ven­tions. It remains one of the most shame­ful episodes of the Viet­nam War. Yet the defo­li­a­tion project is notable for more than just its unimag­in­able cru­el­ty. The gov­ern­ment body at its lead was a Depart­ment of Defense out­fit called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Born in 1958 as a cash pro­gram to pro­tect the Unit­ed  States from a Sovi­et  nuclear threat from space, it launched sev­er­al ground­break­ing ini­tia­tives tasked with devel­op­ing advanced weapons and mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies. Among them were project Agile and Com­mand and Con­trol Research, two over­lap­ping ARPA ini­tia­tives that cre­at­ed the Inter­net. . . .

Discussion

8 comments for “Agent Orange and the Internet: The Spawn of Project Agile”

  1. When Putin called the Inter­net a “CIA project” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/24/vladimir-putin-web-breakup-internet-cia), the only thing he got wrong was the agency (DARPA/DIA).

    Posted by RKW | January 10, 2019, 2:47 pm
  2. @RKW–

    Actu­al­ly, he was only par­tial­ly wrong.

    The Broad­cast­ing Board of Governors–a CIA “derivative”–is deeply involved with all of this, includ­ing: the devel­op­ment and dis­sem­i­na­tion of the U.S. intel­li­gence-cre­at­ed Tor net­work (used by Wik­iLeaks, rec­om­mend­ed by Eddie “The Friend­ly Spoook” Snow­den and Jacob–“I wish Ayn Rand was still alive so I could (exple­tive delet­ed) her”–Applebaum, and the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion).

    The book is REALLY impor­tant. It does­n’t go into the overt­ly fas­cist char­ac­ter and alliances of Snow­den, Assange and Green­wald, but reveals that the so-called “pri­va­cy activists” are dou­ble agents.

    Best,

    Dave Emory

    Posted by Dave Emory | January 10, 2019, 3:07 pm
  3. I want to thank you for your implic­it anti-fas­cist work “Agent Orange and the Inter­net: The Spawn of Project Agile” which is need­ed to inform a large­ly unin­formed pub­lic of just these sorts of threats.

    Posted by Michael K. Larsen | January 10, 2019, 11:07 pm
  4. Here’s a series of sto­ries that a tan­gen­tial­ly relat­ed to DARPA and the­mat­i­cal­ly very relat­ed. It sounds like the push for a Space Force includes a par­al­lel push to a cre­ate a new acqui­si­tion agency for space-relat­ed mil­i­tary spend­ing with a DARPA-like flex­i­bil­i­ty for avoid­ing exten­sive Pen­ta­gon reviews:

    When­ev­er there’s a new US Sec­re­tary of Defense there’s inevitably going to be a num­ber of ques­tions relat­ed to the future of US mil­i­tary spend­ing. But now that Pres­i­dent Trump has nom­i­nat­ed Act­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han to be the new offi­cial Defense Sec­re­tary, those ques­tions about the future of US defense spend­ing sud­den­ly have a futur­is­tic twist because it turns out Shana­han has been the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s point man on the devel­op­ment of Space Force, the new branch of the US mil­i­tary Trump has enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embraced. Oh, and it just hap­pens to be the case that before Shana­han was tapped for the Trump admin­is­tra­tion he spent 30-years work­ing at Boe­ing, one of the biggest ben­e­fi­cia­ries are an explo­sion of mil­i­tary space spend­ing:

    Space News

    Shanahan’s nom­i­na­tion to be defense sec­re­tary gives con­ti­nu­ity to space reor­ga­ni­za­tion

    by San­dra Erwin
    May 9, 2019

    WASHINGTON — Since Con­gress in late 2017 put him in charge of restruc­tur­ing the military’s space orga­ni­za­tions, Act­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han has led the charge to make Pres­i­dent Trump’s Space Force a real­i­ty.

    Trump informed Shana­han on Thurs­day that he wants him to con­tin­ue run­ning the Pen­ta­gon and will nom­i­nate him to be defense sec­re­tary. Shana­han has been act­ing sec­re­tary since Jan­u­ary fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Jim Mat­tis.

    Shana­han joined the admin­is­tra­tion in April 2017 after a 30-year career at Boe­ing. In Novem­ber 2017, he was sud­den­ly thrust into the role of prin­ci­pal space advis­er to then Sec­re­tary Mat­tis after Con­gress in the 2018 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act stripped that job from Air Force Sec­re­tary Heather Wil­son, reas­signed it to Shana­han and direct­ed him to study ways to reor­ga­nize the DoD space enter­prise. After Trump in June 2018 direct­ed DoD to stand up a Space Force as a sep­a­rate mil­i­tary ser­vice, Shana­han led the push to write a leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al and per­suade law­mak­ers to autho­rize the new branch.

    Shana­han told reporters at the Pen­ta­gon on Thurs­day he is “very excit­ed” about the nom­i­na­tion. He said car­ry­ing out the Nation­al Defense Strat­e­gy will be his top pri­or­i­ty “but as you can tell there are real world events that hap­pen every day, and so you have to spin a lot of plates.”

    His nom­i­na­tion seemed in doubt after the Pen­ta­gon Inspec­tor Gen­er­al in March launched an inves­ti­ga­tion into alle­ga­tions that Shana­han took actions to pro­mote his for­mer employ­er, Boe­ing, and dis­par­age its com­peti­tors. The IG on April 25 cleared Shana­han of any ethics vio­la­tions.

    For the past 18 months, the space reor­ga­ni­za­tion has fea­tured promi­nent­ly on Shanahan’s agen­da. After becom­ing act­ing sec­re­tary he del­e­gat­ed some respon­si­bil­i­ties but still kept a con­stant eye on the Space Force leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al and well as efforts to estab­lish a U.S. Space Com­mand and a Space Devel­op­ment Agency. Shana­han has been espe­cial­ly stead­fast about the SDA, which he stood up in March and placed under the port­fo­lio of Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing Mike Grif­fin. When Grif­fin joined the admin­is­tra­tion, Shana­han found a like-mind­ed part­ner who believed a shake up was need­ed in the DoD space busi­ness.

    The space reor­ga­ni­za­tion caused a grow­ing rift between Shana­han and Air Force Sec­re­tary Wil­son. Although she sup­port­ed the Space Force pro­pos­al, Wil­son was fer­vent­ly opposed to the SDA which she saw as dupli­cat­ing what the Air Force is already doing in space tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment.

    Shana­han in recent weeks has run into con­gres­sion­al skep­ti­cism about his Space Force pro­pos­al and acknowl­edged that DoD needs to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate its vision. The most uncon­vinced of the con­gres­sion­al defense com­mit­tees appears to be the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, the same com­mit­tee he will have to face in his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing.

    ...

    ———-

    “Shanahan’s nom­i­na­tion to be defense sec­re­tary gives con­ti­nu­ity to space reor­ga­ni­za­tion” by San­dra Erwin; Space News; 05/09/2019

    “Shana­han joined the admin­is­tra­tion in April 2017 after a 30-year career at Boe­ing. In Novem­ber 2017, he was sud­den­ly thrust into the role of prin­ci­pal space advis­er to then Sec­re­tary Mat­tis after Con­gress in the 2018 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act stripped that job from Air Force Sec­re­tary Heather Wil­son, reas­signed it to Shana­han and direct­ed him to study ways to reor­ga­nize the DoD space enter­prise. After Trump in June 2018 direct­ed DoD to stand up a Space Force as a sep­a­rate mil­i­tary ser­vice, Shana­han led the push to write a leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al and per­suade law­mak­ers to autho­rize the new branch.

    Yep, after Trump direct­ed the Depart­ment of Defense to set up Space Force as a sep­a­rate mil­i­tary ser­vice last June, it was Shana­han who led to the push to per­suade con­gress to autho­rize the new branch. Then he become Act­ing Defense Sec­re­tary and now Shana­han is the Defense Sec­re­tary. That’s good news for the back­ers of Space Force.

    And if it was­n’t clear that a big part of the moti­va­tion for set­ting up Space Force as a sep­a­rate branch of a the mil­i­tary (as opposed to, say, a ranch of the Air Force) is the prospect of eas­i­er space-relat­ed spend­ing, note how one of the oth­er key efforts that Shana­han has cham­pi­oned is the estab­lish­ment of a Space Devel­op­ment Agency. So a Space Force and a new ‘devel­op­ment agency’ for space-relat­ed spend­ing. That’s the plan:

    ...
    For the past 18 months, the space reor­ga­ni­za­tion has fea­tured promi­nent­ly on Shanahan’s agen­da. After becom­ing act­ing sec­re­tary he del­e­gat­ed some respon­si­bil­i­ties but still kept a con­stant eye on the Space Force leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al and well as efforts to estab­lish a U.S. Space Com­mand and a Space Devel­op­ment Agency. Shana­han has been espe­cial­ly stead­fast about the SDA, which he stood up in March and placed under the port­fo­lio of Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing Mike Grif­fin. When Grif­fin joined the admin­is­tra­tion, Shana­han found a like-mind­ed part­ner who believed a shake up was need­ed in the DoD space busi­ness.

    The space reor­ga­ni­za­tion caused a grow­ing rift between Shana­han and Air Force Sec­re­tary Wil­son. Although she sup­port­ed the Space Force pro­pos­al, Wil­son was fer­vent­ly opposed to the SDA which she saw as dupli­cat­ing what the Air Force is already doing in space tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment.
    ...

    What’s going to be so spe­cial about the new Space Devel­op­ment Agency (SDA) agency that can’t be han­dled by cur­rent mil­i­tary acqui­si­tion pro­grams? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, the new SDA is going to be set up for rapid acqui­si­tions from the pri­vate sec­tor. In oth­er words, with the SDA, the Space Force will be able to spend even faster than the Air Force and the rest of the mil­i­tary. No bureau­crat­ic red tape.

    There’s a par­tic­u­lar project the back­ers have in mind that they argue requires the SDA now: a glob­al net­work of clus­tered low earth orbit (LEO) satel­lites using com­mer­cial­ly avail­able tech­nol­o­gy. It’s based on an exist­ing DARPA project called Black­jack. The idea is that these microsatel­lite clus­ters could replace the exist­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works of geo­syn­chro­nous satel­lites which are expen­sive and easy for adver­saries to knock out. It’s kind of like the inter­net for satel­lites: there are so many inter­con­nect­ed satel­lites that if you knock out one or a few the broad­er net­work can still oper­ate. So the solu­tion is DARPA’s Black­jack, a vast swarm of cheap LEO com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lites using com­mer­cial­ly avail­able tech­nol­o­gy.

    And this has to be deployed soon accord­ing to the back­ers of the pro­gram. It’s urgent for the US’s nation­al secu­ri­ty due to threats posed by Chi­na and Rus­sia. That’s the vision of Mike Grif­fin, the recent­ly appoint­ed US Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing who has emerged as the lead­ing advo­cate for the SDA. Patrick Shana­han is one of his key allies. Accord­ing to Grif­fin, the exist­ing com­mer­cial sec­tor that’s already invest­ing bil­lions on dol­lars into devel­op­ment of clus­ters of low orbit microsatel­lites is exact­ly what the DoD needs, but the Pen­ta­gon pro­cure­ment struc­ture can­not han­dle these pri­vate sec­tor acqui­si­tions on the scale required to make Black­jack a real­i­ty, at least not at the pace Grif­fin would like to see. The SDA needs to be cre­at­ed and giv­en author­i­ty to allow projects to move fast using com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy with­out get­ting with Pen­ta­gon reviews, with DARPA’s Black­jack as the show­case exam­ple of how this should be done. Grif­fin even select­ed Fred Kennedy, the direc­tor of DARPA’s Tac­ti­cal Tech­nol­o­gy Office, to lead the SDA. Kennedy was DARPA’s mas­ter­mind behind Black­jack.

    It’s worth not­ing that this space net­work of sen­sor satel­lites sounds con­cep­tu­al­ly remark­ably sim­i­lar to the net­work of ground-based sen­sors devel­oped by DARPA for the Viet­nam war that became the seed of the inter­net, as described in Yasha Levine’s Sur­veil­lance Val­ley.

    And this space net­work of low orbit satel­lites all has to be built NOW because the cre­ation of the LEO net­work of satel­lites is extreme­ly urgent and a nation­al secu­ri­ty issue. So the cre­ation of a pri­vate-sec­tor-sup­ply glob­al net­work of low orbit satel­lites is urgent­ly need­ed now and urgent­ly requires the lift­ing of tra­di­tion­al Pen­ta­gon acqui­si­tion reviews. Those are the core argu­ments being put for­ward by the same peo­ple behind the cre­ation of Space Force:

    Space News

    Space Devel­op­ment Agency a huge win for Grif­fin in his war against the sta­tus quo

    by San­dra Erwin — April 21, 2019

    Dur­ing a speech to a room packed with Pen­ta­gon con­trac­tors last August, Mike Grif­fin, the recent­ly appoint­ed U.S. under­sec­re­tary of defense for research and engi­neer­ing, open­ly fret­ted about how lit­tle time he had left in office and how much he want­ed to get done.

    At the top of his to-do list is what Grif­fin described as a “pro­lif­er­at­ed space sen­sor lay­er, pos­si­bly based off com­mer­cial space devel­op­ments.” He insist­ed that space sen­sors must soon be deployed to fill gaps in the cur­rent mis­sile defense sys­tem that make the Unit­ed States and its allies vul­ner­a­ble to Chi­nese and Russ­ian hyper­son­ic weapons.

    “We know that this can be done,” said Grif­fin of the space sen­sor lay­er. But it could not be done fast. The Pen­ta­gon takes on aver­age 16 years from “stat­ing a need to ini­tial oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty.”

    Grif­fin, an accom­plished tech­no­crat with a half-dozen advanced degrees to his name, was exas­per­at­ed with the Pentagon’s pro­cure­ment bureau­cra­cy long before join­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion in Feb­ru­ary 2018. As the Pentagon’s “space guy,” the for­mer NASA admin­is­tra­tor was espe­cial­ly annoyed by the slow and “process dri­ven” way the mil­i­tary devel­ops and pro­cures satel­lites and oth­er sys­tems.

    He found a like-mind­ed part­ner in then-Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han, a Boe­ing vet­er­an and vocal crit­ic of the defense acqui­si­tion process. They were con­vinced that the tra­di­tion­al pro­cure­ment sys­tem stood in the way of the inno­va­tion that DoD need­ed to stay ahead of rivals Chi­na and Rus­sia — not just in space and hyper­son­ic weapons, but also in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and autonomous vehi­cles.

    To advance in space, Grif­fin argued, DoD need­ed to tap into the vibrant com­mer­cial sec­tor that was invest­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in satel­lite man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nol­o­gy, ground sys­tems and launch vehi­cles to deploy “mega­con­stel­la­tions” in low Earth orbit to pro­vide cheap broad­band to the world. This was a mod­el that also would work for DoD, Grif­fin rea­soned. The Pen­ta­gon could devel­op its own pro­lif­er­at­ed con­stel­la­tion using low-cost com­mer­cial satel­lites not just for com­mu­ni­ca­tions but also for mis­sions like sur­veil­lance, mis­sile warn­ing and glob­al nav­i­ga­tion.

    A large net­work of satel­lites in LEO would give DoD a foun­da­tion to devel­op new capa­bil­i­ties in space and reduce depen­dence on large satel­lites in geo­syn­chro­nous orbit that are vul­ner­a­ble to anti-satel­lite weapons. Grif­fin argued that a pro­lif­er­at­ed con­stel­la­tion would not only give DoD a resilient space infra­struc­ture, but it would be tru­ly joint, shared by all of DoD and the mil­i­tary ser­vices.

    But the big ques­tion was who in DoD would do this.

    The con­cept of a pro­lif­er­at­ed LEO con­stel­la­tion already was being explored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under a pro­gram called Black­jack. But DARPA only does exper­i­ments. It is up to the mil­i­tary ser­vices to devel­op oper­a­tional sys­tems. It was obvi­ous to Grif­fin that a sys­tem based most­ly on com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy was not some­thing the tra­di­tion­al pro­cure­ment orga­ni­za­tions could take on, at least not on a time­line that was accept­able to him.

    Thus was born the idea of the Space Devel­op­ment Agency as a sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion with the sole mis­sion to accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment and field­ing of new mil­i­tary space capa­bil­i­ties. It would have spe­cial acqui­si­tion author­i­ties to allow projects to move fast with­out get­ting bogged down in reviews and Pen­ta­gon bureau­cra­cy.

    Grif­fin recent­ly revealed that plan­ning for the SDA began in March 2018, just weeks after he arrived at the Pen­ta­gon. Unex­pect­ed­ly, Pres­i­dent Trump in June announced he want­ed to cre­ate a Space Force. Shana­han, who over­saw the space reor­ga­ni­za­tion, decid­ed to include the SDA in a broad­er pro­pos­al he unveiled in August that laid out how the Pen­ta­gon would man­age the space enter­prise. It had three key pil­lars: U.S. Space Com­mand, U.S. Space Force and the Space Devel­op­ment Agency. It wasn’t until that report was made pub­lic Aug. 9 that any­one out­side Shanahan’s and Griffin’s inner cir­cles had heard of the SDA.

    Despite high-lev­el sup­port from Shana­han and the White House’s Nation­al Space Coun­cil, the SDA pro­pos­al was dis­con­cert­ing to many. Air Force Sec­re­tary Heather Wil­son reject­ed the new agency as unnec­es­sary and duplica­tive of exist­ing Air Force orga­ni­za­tions. Mem­bers of Con­gress from Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­i­co — wor­ried that SDA would drain resources and jobs from Air Force space orga­ni­za­tions in their dis­tricts — chal­lenged DoD to explain why the new agency was need­ed. Crit­ics also ques­tioned why DoD had to cre­ate a sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion to cir­cum­vent its own pro­cure­ment process. The answer, Shana­han said, was that chang­ing the pro­cure­ment sys­tem would take too long and space inno­va­tion could not wait.

    Despite the push­back, there was no stop­ping the SDA since the Pen­ta­gon did not require con­gres­sion­al autho­riza­tion to cre­ate it. And Wil­son was over­ruled by Shana­han, who became act­ing defense sec­re­tary in Jan­u­ary and signed a March 12 memo that offi­cial­ly cre­at­ed the new agency under the author­i­ty and con­trol of the Office of Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing.

    Grif­fin has scoffed at the naysay­ers. “I’m not per­son­al­ly try­ing to shake up any­body or any­thing,” he said. What SDA will attempt to do — design a pro­lif­er­at­ed LEO sen­sor and com­mu­ni­ca­tions trans­port lay­er — is not being done any­where else in DoD. Exist­ing orga­ni­za­tions like the Air Force Space and Mis­sile Sys­tems Cen­ter in Los Ange­les “have a very impor­tant func­tion to over­see the lega­cy space archi­tec­ture,” Grif­fin said. “What we’re doing is a new thing, to meet known mis­sion require­ments.”

    Team of loy­al allies

    Weeks before Shana­han signed the SDA decree, Space­News report­ed that Grif­fin had picked Fred Kennedy, the direc­tor of DARPA’s Tac­ti­cal Tech­nol­o­gy Office, to lead the new orga­ni­za­tion.

    That came as no sur­prise. Grif­fin had tapped Kennedy in Decem­ber to lead a study on how to orga­nize the SDA. A long­time crit­ic of the Pentagon’s space pro­cure­ment ways, Kennedy was the mas­ter­mind of DARPA’s Black­jack pro­gram, and he under­stood exact­ly what Grif­fin want­ed to do and what it might take to get it done.

    The SDA is now part of the so-called Research & Engi­neer­ing Enter­prise that includes DARPA, the Mis­sile Defense Agency, the Strate­gic Capa­bil­i­ties Office (SCO) and the Defense Inno­va­tion Unit.

    To lead the R&E team, Grif­fin hand­picked trust­ed allies, many with space back­grounds. His deputy Lisa Porter is a long­time col­league who worked with Grif­fin at NASA and the CIA’s tech­nol­o­gy incu­ba­tor In-Q-Tel. SCO Direc­tor Chris Shank, a for­mer Air Force offi­cer with stints at the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office and Space Com­mand, was Griffin’s right-hand man at NASA from 2005 to 2009, serv­ing as direc­tor of strate­gic invest­ments.

    Chris Scolese, NASA’s chief engi­neer under Grif­fin and the agency’s act­ing admin­is­tra­tor when Grif­fin left in 2009, was nom­i­nat­ed by Trump in Feb­ru­ary to be the next direc­tor of the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office. Grif­fin is said to have advo­cat­ed for the selec­tion of Scolese. The NRO is one of the key orga­ni­za­tions that the SDA will turn to for space exper­tise and sup­port.

    ...

    What’s next for SDA

    Grif­fin has been insis­tent that the SDA’s first order of busi­ness will be to design the pro­lif­er­at­ed sen­sor data and com­mu­ni­ca­tions trans­port lay­er in LEO that will con­sist of many mass-pro­duced small satel­lites, each with mul­ti­ple inter-satel­lite crosslinks and redun­dant space-to-ground links. The trans­port lay­er would be used to devel­op mil­i­tary space capa­bil­i­ties such as a posi­tion­ing, nav­i­ga­tion and tim­ing sys­tem; low-laten­cy tar­get­ing; and detec­tion and track­ing of bal­lis­tic and advanced mis­sile threats.

    DoD is request­ing $44.8 mil­lion to staff SDA with an esti­mat­ed 225 peo­ple — a 50/50 split between gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary per­son­nel and sup­port con­trac­tors. The bud­get also seeks $20 mil­lion to devel­op the LEO sen­sor net­work, $85 mil­lion for space tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment and pro­to­typ­ing, $15 mil­lion to devel­op trans­port lay­er archi­tec­ture and stan­dards, $10 mil­lion for com­mer­cial pro­cure­ment of space sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness capa­bil­i­ties and launch­ing LEO small­sats, $30 mil­lion for LEO mis­sile warn­ing ground inte­gra­tion, $15 mil­lion for a space-based inter­cep­tors study and $15 mil­lion for a space-based dis­crim­i­na­tion assess­ment.

    Even with fund­ing and polit­i­cal back­ing in the build­ing, Grif­fin and the SDA might have a rel­a­tive­ly short win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty to prove them­selves. A close Grif­fin asso­ciate who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty said Grif­fin plans to lay the ground­work for SDA and let his suc­ces­sors build it from there. But it took a dis­rupter like Grif­fin to seize the moment when the admin­is­tra­tion and Con­gress are focused on space and in agree­ment that addi­tion­al invest­ment is need­ed to help the Unit­ed States com­pete with Chi­na and Rus­sia. “He is the right per­son at the right time,” the asso­ciate said.

    Dur­ing a Q&A with reporters in March, Grif­fin was pressed to explain why DoD needs a new agency to put up a LEO con­stel­la­tion. Couldn’t an exist­ing orga­ni­za­tion do that? Maybe, Grif­fin said. “I’m not try­ing to be glib here…We’re not solv­ing world hunger.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Space Devel­op­ment Agency a huge win for Grif­fin in his war against the sta­tus quo” by San­dra Erwin; Space News; 04/21/2019

    At the top of his to-do list is what Grif­fin described as a “pro­lif­er­at­ed space sen­sor lay­er, pos­si­bly based off com­mer­cial space devel­op­ments.” He insist­ed that space sen­sors must soon be deployed to fill gaps in the cur­rent mis­sile defense sys­tem that make the Unit­ed States and its allies vul­ner­a­ble to Chi­nese and Russ­ian hyper­son­ic weapons.”

    A “pro­lif­er­at­ed space sen­sor lay­er, pos­si­bly based off com­mer­cial space devel­op­ments,” is urgent­ly need­ed. So urgent­ly that a whole new space-based acqui­si­tion depart­ment needs to be cre­at­ed, now, in order to deploy “mega­con­stel­la­tions” of low orbit satel­lites using com­mer­cial­ly avail­able tech­nol­o­gy:

    ...
    “We know that this can be done,” said Grif­fin of the space sen­sor lay­er. But it could not be done fast. The Pen­ta­gon takes on aver­age 16 years from “stat­ing a need to ini­tial oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty.”

    Grif­fin, an accom­plished tech­no­crat with a half-dozen advanced degrees to his name, was exas­per­at­ed with the Pentagon’s pro­cure­ment bureau­cra­cy long before join­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion in Feb­ru­ary 2018. As the Pentagon’s “space guy,” the for­mer NASA admin­is­tra­tor was espe­cial­ly annoyed by the slow and “process dri­ven” way the mil­i­tary devel­ops and pro­cures satel­lites and oth­er sys­tems.

    He found a like-mind­ed part­ner in then-Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han, a Boe­ing vet­er­an and vocal crit­ic of the defense acqui­si­tion process. They were con­vinced that the tra­di­tion­al pro­cure­ment sys­tem stood in the way of the inno­va­tion that DoD need­ed to stay ahead of rivals Chi­na and Rus­sia — not just in space and hyper­son­ic weapons, but also in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and autonomous vehi­cles.

    To advance in space, Grif­fin argued, DoD need­ed to tap into the vibrant com­mer­cial sec­tor that was invest­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in satel­lite man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nol­o­gy, ground sys­tems and launch vehi­cles to deploy “mega­con­stel­la­tions” in low Earth orbit to pro­vide cheap broad­band to the world. This was a mod­el that also would work for DoD, Grif­fin rea­soned. The Pen­ta­gon could devel­op its own pro­lif­er­at­ed con­stel­la­tion using low-cost com­mer­cial satel­lites not just for com­mu­ni­ca­tions but also for mis­sions like sur­veil­lance, mis­sile warn­ing and glob­al nav­i­ga­tion.

    A large net­work of satel­lites in LEO would give DoD a foun­da­tion to devel­op new capa­bil­i­ties in space and reduce depen­dence on large satel­lites in geo­syn­chro­nous orbit that are vul­ner­a­ble to anti-satel­lite weapons. Grif­fin argued that a pro­lif­er­at­ed con­stel­la­tion would not only give DoD a resilient space infra­struc­ture, but it would be tru­ly joint, shared by all of DoD and the mil­i­tary ser­vices.
    ...

    Impor­tant­ly, this con­cept of clus­ters of low orbit satel­lites was already being devel­oped by DARPA under the Black­jack pro­gram. But accord­ing to Grif­fin, it’s obvi­ous that the Pen­ta­gon sim­ply can’t han­dle the devel­op­ment of a sys­tem that’s pri­mar­i­ly based on com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy. At least not fast enough. Hence, the SDA must be cre­at­ed with new author­i­ties to allow projects to move fast with­out Pen­ta­gon review. Shana­han clear­ly agrees with this assess­ment:

    ...
    But the big ques­tion was who in DoD would do this.

    The con­cept of a pro­lif­er­at­ed LEO con­stel­la­tion already was being explored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under a pro­gram called Black­jack. But DARPA only does exper­i­ments. It is up to the mil­i­tary ser­vices to devel­op oper­a­tional sys­tems. It was obvi­ous to Grif­fin that a sys­tem based most­ly on com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy was not some­thing the tra­di­tion­al pro­cure­ment orga­ni­za­tions could take on, at least not on a time­line that was accept­able to him.

    Thus was born the idea of the Space Devel­op­ment Agency as a sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion with the sole mis­sion to accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment and field­ing of new mil­i­tary space capa­bil­i­ties. It would have spe­cial acqui­si­tion author­i­ties to allow projects to move fast with­out get­ting bogged down in reviews and Pen­ta­gon bureau­cra­cy.

    Grif­fin recent­ly revealed that plan­ning for the SDA began in March 2018, just weeks after he arrived at the Pen­ta­gon. Unex­pect­ed­ly, Pres­i­dent Trump in June announced he want­ed to cre­ate a Space Force. Shana­han, who over­saw the space reor­ga­ni­za­tion, decid­ed to include the SDA in a broad­er pro­pos­al he unveiled in August that laid out how the Pen­ta­gon would man­age the space enter­prise. It had three key pil­lars: U.S. Space Com­mand, U.S. Space Force and the Space Devel­op­ment Agency. It wasn’t until that report was made pub­lic Aug. 9 that any­one out­side Shanahan’s and Griffin’s inner cir­cles had heard of the SDA.

    Despite high-lev­el sup­port from Shana­han and the White House’s Nation­al Space Coun­cil, the SDA pro­pos­al was dis­con­cert­ing to many. Air Force Sec­re­tary Heather Wil­son reject­ed the new agency as unnec­es­sary and duplica­tive of exist­ing Air Force orga­ni­za­tions. Mem­bers of Con­gress from Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­i­co — wor­ried that SDA would drain resources and jobs from Air Force space orga­ni­za­tions in their dis­tricts — chal­lenged DoD to explain why the new agency was need­ed. Crit­ics also ques­tioned why DoD had to cre­ate a sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion to cir­cum­vent its own pro­cure­ment process. The answer, Shana­han said, was that chang­ing the pro­cure­ment sys­tem would take too long and space inno­va­tion could not wait.
    ...

    And note how the direc­tor of DARPA’s Tac­ti­cal Tech­nol­o­gy Office, Fred Kennedy, who was also the mas­ter­mind of DARPA’s Black­jack project, is the guy Grif­fin tapped to lead the SDA. He also brought in Lisa Porter who worked for In-Q-Tel:

    ...
    Weeks before Shana­han signed the SDA decree, Space­News report­ed that Grif­fin had picked Fred Kennedy, the direc­tor of DARPA’s Tac­ti­cal Tech­nol­o­gy Office, to lead the new orga­ni­za­tion.

    That came as no sur­prise. Grif­fin had tapped Kennedy in Decem­ber to lead a study on how to orga­nize the SDA. A long­time crit­ic of the Pentagon’s space pro­cure­ment ways, Kennedy was the mas­ter­mind of DARPA’s Black­jack pro­gram, and he under­stood exact­ly what Grif­fin want­ed to do and what it might take to get it done.

    The SDA is now part of the so-called Research & Engi­neer­ing Enter­prise that includes DARPA, the Mis­sile Defense Agency, the Strate­gic Capa­bil­i­ties Office (SCO) and the Defense Inno­va­tion Unit.

    To lead the R&E team, Grif­fin hand­picked trust­ed allies, many with space back­grounds. His deputy Lisa Porter is a long­time col­league who worked with Grif­fin at NASA and the CIA’s tech­nol­o­gy incu­ba­tor In-Q-Tel. SCO Direc­tor Chris Shank, a for­mer Air Force offi­cer with stints at the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office and Space Com­mand, was Griffin’s right-hand man at NASA from 2005 to 2009, serv­ing as direc­tor of strate­gic invest­ments.

    Chris Scolese, NASA’s chief engi­neer under Grif­fin and the agency’s act­ing admin­is­tra­tor when Grif­fin left in 2009, was nom­i­nat­ed by Trump in Feb­ru­ary to be the next direc­tor of the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office. Grif­fin is said to have advo­cat­ed for the selec­tion of Scolese. The NRO is one of the key orga­ni­za­tions that the SDA will turn to for space exper­tise and sup­port.
    ...

    Also note how it does­n’t appear that the SDA requires con­gres­sion­al autho­riza­tion. It’s a Pen­ta­gon deci­sion:

    ...
    Despite the push­back, there was no stop­ping the SDA since the Pen­ta­gon did not require con­gres­sion­al autho­riza­tion to cre­ate it. And Wil­son was over­ruled by Shana­han, who became act­ing defense sec­re­tary in Jan­u­ary and signed a March 12 memo that offi­cial­ly cre­at­ed the new agency under the author­i­ty and con­trol of the Office of Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing.

    Grif­fin has scoffed at the naysay­ers. “I’m not per­son­al­ly try­ing to shake up any­body or any­thing,” he said. What SDA will attempt to do — design a pro­lif­er­at­ed LEO sen­sor and com­mu­ni­ca­tions trans­port lay­er — is not being done any­where else in DoD. Exist­ing orga­ni­za­tions like the Air Force Space and Mis­sile Sys­tems Cen­ter in Los Ange­les “have a very impor­tant func­tion to over­see the lega­cy space archi­tec­ture,” Grif­fin said. “What we’re doing is a new thing, to meet known mis­sion require­ments.”
    ...

    So it sounds like Space Force isn’t going to be lack­ing in funds. Of course. And that’s why it’s impor­tant to note that the forces behind the cre­ation of Space Force and the SDA aren’t lim­it­ed to fig­ures like Mike Grif­fin or DARPA. The fact that Patrick Shana­han is a for­mer Boe­ing exec­u­tive high­lights this. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, there’s been a small group of cur­rent and for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials who have been push­ing for Space Force since 2016, and they just hap­pen to have deep finan­cial ties to the aero­space indus­try. Sur­prise!:

    Los Ange­les Times

    Trump backed ‘space force’ after months of lob­by­ing by offi­cials with ties to aero­space indus­try

    By David S. Cloud and Noah Bier­man
    Aug 18, 2018 | 3:00 AM
    | Wash­ing­ton

    When Pres­i­dent Trump spoke to Marines at Air Sta­tion Mira­mar in San Diego on March 13, he threw out an idea that he sug­gest­ed had just come to him.

    “You know, I was say­ing it the oth­er day, because we’re doing a tremen­dous amount of work in space — I said maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the ‘space force,’” he told the crowd. “And I was not real­ly seri­ous. And then I said what a great idea — maybe we’ll have to do that.”

    The ori­gin of the space force wasn’t that sim­ple.

    The con­cept had been pushed unsuc­cess­ful­ly since 2016 by a small group of cur­rent and for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials, some with deep finan­cial ties to the aero­space indus­try, who see cre­ation of the sixth mil­i­tary ser­vice as a sure­fire way to hike Pen­ta­gon spend­ing on satel­lite and oth­er space sys­tems.

    The idea of a space force “is not a new thing,” said Stu­art O. Witt, an aero­space exec­u­tive and a mem­ber of the White House’s Nation­al Space Coun­cil Users Advi­so­ry Group. “The pres­i­dent just act­ed upon it.”

    But Rep. Jim Coop­er (D‑Tenn.), one of the ear­ly sup­port­ers of a sep­a­rate ser­vice, com­plained that Trump’s impromp­tu endorse­ment had “hijacked” the issue and could vast­ly inflate the bud­get process. “There are many ven­dors of all types who are excit­ed at the prospect of an explo­sion of new spend­ing, which was not our goal,” he said.

    Still, when Trump abrupt­ly embraced the idea at Mira­mar — and began pro­mot­ing it to wild applause at oth­er ral­lies — a mori­bund notion opposed by much of the Pen­ta­gon hier­ar­chy and senior mem­bers of the Sen­ate became a real pos­si­bil­i­ty.

    A few days after the San Diego speech, Trump took a phone call at his Mar-a-Lago club in Flori­da from Rep. Mike D. Rogers, an Alaba­ma Repub­li­can who is chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee on strate­gic forces. He had been pro­mot­ing the space force to Trump and his advi­sors for months.

    “This is some­thing we have to do,” Rogers said he told Trump. “It’s a nation­al secu­ri­ty imper­a­tive.”

    “I’m all in,” Trump replied, accord­ing to Rogers. “We are going to have a space force.”

    The sto­ry of how that hap­pened is a win­dow into the chaot­ic way Trump some­times makes key deci­sions, often by bypass­ing tra­di­tion­al bureau­cra­cy to tout ideas that work well as applause lines but aren’t ful­ly thought out.

    To be sure, only Con­gress can cre­ate a new mil­i­tary ser­vice, and the admin­is­tra­tion still has not said what the space force would do, what it would look like or what it would cost. The exist­ing ser­vices — the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — not only deploy forces. They also run war col­leges, recruit­ing sta­tions, secu­ri­ty and vast con­tract­ing oper­a­tions, with costs in the bil­lions of dol­lars.

    Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said this month that the admin­is­tra­tion would send a leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al to Capi­tol Hill next year and aims to stand up a space force by 2020. For its part, Con­gress has shown lit­tle appetite for a cost­ly new expan­sion of gov­ern­ment, espe­cial­ly one that would cut the Air Force bud­get, a ser­vice with pow­er­ful back­ing on Capi­tol Hill.

    Those polit­i­cal head­winds could reduce the space force to a pres­i­den­tial ral­ly­ing cry, like his unful­filled vow to build a “big, beau­ti­ful wall” on the bor­der with Mex­i­co. But Trump’s enthu­si­asm has clear­ly pro­vid­ed momen­tum, excit­ing pro­po­nents who see a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to win more atten­tion and resources for space defense.

    They agreed on the threat. Chi­na and Rus­sia were build­ing weapons and cyber capa­bil­i­ties aimed at knock­ing out satel­lites that the Pen­ta­gon relies on for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, pre­cise tar­get­ing of bombs and mis­sile defense, accord­ing to U.S. intel­li­gence.

    Last sum­mer, Rogers and Coop­er insert­ed an amend­ment in the annu­al defense pol­i­cy bill to cre­ate a sep­a­rate ser­vice they called the space corps. It would be part of the Air Force, just as the Marine Corps is tech­ni­cal­ly in the Navy.

    But Rogers wor­ried that putting it in the Air Force might not fly. The Air Force is dom­i­nat­ed by fliers more inter­est­ed in war­planes than in out­er space, he not­ed in a speech last year, explain­ing Air Force oppo­si­tion to a sep­a­rate ser­vice.

    “I mean, this is about mon­ey,” Rogers said. “As long as space is in the [Air Force] port­fo­lio, they can move mon­ey from space to sup­port fight­er jets, bombers or what­ev­er. The Air Force is run by fight­er pilots. Space will always lose.”

    More­over, defense con­trac­tors involved in space “were com­plain­ing to us about how impos­si­ble it was to deal with the Air Force,” Rogers said. “They kept describ­ing this bureau­crat­ic morass in Air Force pro­cure­ment, where nobody had deci­sion-mak­ing author­i­ty.”

    Rogers, who was first elect­ed to Con­gress by a razor-thin mar­gin in 2002, has solid­i­fied con­trol of his rur­al dis­trict, with a cam­paign war chest swelled with mon­ey from the aero­space indus­try. Defense indus­try firms have con­tributed $395,000 to his cam­paign com­mit­tee and lead­er­ship PAC since 2017, becom­ing by far his largest indus­try donor, accord­ing to Open Secrets, a cam­paign spend­ing data­base.

    Also key in push­ing for the space corps was Dou­glas L. Lover­ro, a retired Air Force offi­cer and the for­mer exec­u­tive direc­tor of its Space and Mis­sile Sys­tems Cen­ter in El Segun­do. Lover­ro said in an inter­view that a ded­i­cat­ed corps of space experts would be nec­es­sary to ensure a space force could ful­fill its mis­sion.

    The Air Force focus on con­ven­tion­al air com­bat pre­vents it from “build­ing the best space war fight­ers — the ones who can con­ceive of, imag­ine, pre­pare for, and think doc­tri­nal­ly, oper­a­tional­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly about space,” Lover­ro told an indus­try con­fer­ence in April. “But those are pre­cise­ly the peo­ple we need today.”

    The space corps nev­er got off the ground.

    The Air Force lob­bied to kill it. Defense Sec­re­tary James N. Mat­tis took the unusu­al step of send­ing a let­ter to Con­gress voic­ing his objec­tions.

    “At a time when we are try­ing to inte­grate the Depart­men­t’s joint warfight­ing func­tions, I do not wish to add a sep­a­rate ser­vice that would like­ly present a nar­row­er and even parochial approach to space oper­a­tions,” Mat­tis wrote.

    Even the Trump White House called the idea “pre­ma­ture at this time” in a July 2017 state­ment.

    That was enough to kill the plan in the Sen­ate, though Rogers got oth­er law­mak­ers to agree to order the Pen­ta­gon to study the idea and issue a report on its find­ings.

    He also began try­ing to enlist Trump.

    Last Decem­ber, Rogers said, he arranged for an inter­me­di­ary to give Trump infor­ma­tion his sub­com­mit­tee had col­lect­ed about Russ­ian and Chi­nese devel­op­ment of anti-satel­lite weapons, as well as about the Air Force effort to kill a sep­a­rate mil­i­tary ser­vice. He declined to iden­ti­fy the inter­me­di­ary.

    “With the Air Force hav­ing poi­soned the well, I knew I need­ed to get some ener­gy back in it,” he said. “I knew once I got the word to him about what we’d found, I was cer­tain he’d embrace it.”

    Trump is hard­ly the first pres­i­dent to show space fever. Pres­i­dent Kennedy vowed to put a man on the moon after the Sovi­et Union launched the first man into space in 1961. In the 1980s, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan ini­ti­at­ed the so-called Star Wars mil­i­tary ini­tia­tive in space.

    Trump sel­dom talked about space flight dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. When a 10-year-old boy asked him about space dur­ing a 2015 break­fast in New Hamp­shire, Trump said fix­ing roads was a high­er pri­or­i­ty.

    “In the old days, it was great,” Trump told the boy. “Right now we have big­ger prob­lems. You under­stand that, we’ve got to fix our pot­holes.”

    Once elect­ed, Trump revived the space coun­cil, an advi­so­ry pan­el led by Pence, that had been dor­mant since the ear­ly 2000s. The vice pres­i­dent had attend­ed three space shut­tle launch­es while serv­ing in Con­gress and was deeply inter­est­ed in space.

    When Pence gave an update dur­ing a Cab­i­net meet­ing in March, Trump mar­veled at mod­el rock­et ships dis­played on the table in front of him. He tout­ed the pri­vate space launch com­pa­nies owned by bil­lion­aire busi­ness­men, includ­ing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Microsoft founder Paul Allen.

    “We’re let­ting them use the Kennedy Space Cen­ter for a fee,” Trump said. “And you know, rich guys, they love rock­et ships, and that’s good. That’s bet­ter than us pay­ing for it.”

    But Trump showed no inter­est pub­licly in a space force until his speech in San Diego that month, indi­cat­ing it was his idea. By then, the Pentagon’s atti­tude was begin­ning to shift. A Trump appointee, Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick M. Shana­han, had begun prepar­ing the con­gres­sion­al­ly ordered report on whether to cre­ate an inde­pen­dent space force.

    A for­mer senior Boe­ing exec­u­tive, Shana­han was famil­iar with the cum­ber­some Air Force pro­cure­ment sys­tem. He became the administration’s space force point per­son, con­sult­ing with Pence, Rogers, the Air Force and oth­er Pen­ta­gon play­ers, and the space coun­cil.

    “I can hear my dad kind of whis­per­ing in my ear, ‘Don’t screw any­thing up,’” Shana­han told reporters Aug. 9, adding: “There are exten­sive mil­i­tary oper­a­tions going on through­out the world right now and they’re heav­i­ly reliant on space.”

    Trump began talk­ing up a space force pri­vate­ly, order­ing Pence to take the project on, accord­ing to an admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial who con­firmed report­ing first pub­lished in Axios.

    The aero­space indus­try, which was ini­tial­ly cool to the plan, began to come around as well, see­ing it as a lucra­tive avenue not just for expen­sive new space sys­tems but poten­tial­ly for uni­forms, con­struc­tions projects, sup­port ser­vices and oth­er trap­pings of a new mil­i­tary ser­vice

    ...

    ———–

    “Trump backed ‘space force’ after months of lob­by­ing by offi­cials with ties to aero­space indus­try” by David S. Cloud and Noah Bier­man; Los Ange­les Times; 08/18/2018

    “The con­cept had been pushed unsuc­cess­ful­ly since 2016 by a small group of cur­rent and for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials, some with deep finan­cial ties to the aero­space indus­try, who see cre­ation of the sixth mil­i­tary ser­vice as a sure­fire way to hike Pen­ta­gon spend­ing on satel­lite and oth­er space sys­tems.”

    Yep, a group of aero­space indus­try insid­ers hap­pens to view the cre­ation of Space Force as a sure­fire way to hike Pen­ta­gon spend­ing on satel­lite and oth­er space sys­tems. And boy will it be with a fan­cy new SDA set­up up specif­i­cal­ly for rapid acqui­si­tions with­out Pen­ta­gon review. Even Con­gress­man Jim Coop­er, a sup­port­er of the con­cept of a sep­a­rate Space Force branch, is alarmed by how Space Force is rapid­ly being turned into a ven­dor free-for-all. Con­gress­man Mike Rogers has been the oth­er key dri­ver for Space Force in Con­gress. He does­n’t appear to share Coop­er’s con­cerns over out of con­trol new spend­ing:

    ...
    The idea of a space force “is not a new thing,” said Stu­art O. Witt, an aero­space exec­u­tive and a mem­ber of the White House’s Nation­al Space Coun­cil Users Advi­so­ry Group. “The pres­i­dent just act­ed upon it.”

    But Rep. Jim Coop­er (D‑Tenn.), one of the ear­ly sup­port­ers of a sep­a­rate ser­vice, com­plained that Trump’s impromp­tu endorse­ment had “hijacked” the issue and could vast­ly inflate the bud­get process. “There are many ven­dors of all types who are excit­ed at the prospect of an explo­sion of new spend­ing, which was not our goal,” he said.

    Still, when Trump abrupt­ly embraced the idea at Mira­mar — and began pro­mot­ing it to wild applause at oth­er ral­lies — a mori­bund notion opposed by much of the Pen­ta­gon hier­ar­chy and senior mem­bers of the Sen­ate became a real pos­si­bil­i­ty.

    A few days after the San Diego speech, Trump took a phone call at his Mar-a-Lago club in Flori­da from Rep. Mike D. Rogers, an Alaba­ma Repub­li­can who is chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee on strate­gic forces. He had been pro­mot­ing the space force to Trump and his advi­sors for months.
    ...

    In 2017, Coop­er and Rogers insert­ed an amend­ment into the annu­al defense pol­i­cy bill that effec­tive­ly cre­at­ed the “space corps”, but it was still going to be part of the Air Force. Rogers appar­ent­ly had con­cerns about this and whether or not the Air Force would be focused enough on space. In addi­tion, defense con­trac­tors have appar­ent­ly been com­plain­ing about the Air Force’s pro­cure­ment poli­cies. Rogers just hap­pens to be the House­’s largest recip­i­ent of defense indus­try dona­tions:

    ...
    Last sum­mer, Rogers and Coop­er insert­ed an amend­ment in the annu­al defense pol­i­cy bill to cre­ate a sep­a­rate ser­vice they called the space corps. It would be part of the Air Force, just as the Marine Corps is tech­ni­cal­ly in the Navy.

    But Rogers wor­ried that putting it in the Air Force might not fly. The Air Force is dom­i­nat­ed by fliers more inter­est­ed in war­planes than in out­er space, he not­ed in a speech last year, explain­ing Air Force oppo­si­tion to a sep­a­rate ser­vice.

    “I mean, this is about mon­ey,” Rogers said. “As long as space is in the [Air Force] port­fo­lio, they can move mon­ey from space to sup­port fight­er jets, bombers or what­ev­er. The Air Force is run by fight­er pilots. Space will always lose.”

    More­over, defense con­trac­tors involved in space “were com­plain­ing to us about how impos­si­ble it was to deal with the Air Force,” Rogers said. “They kept describ­ing this bureau­crat­ic morass in Air Force pro­cure­ment, where nobody had deci­sion-mak­ing author­i­ty.”

    Rogers, who was first elect­ed to Con­gress by a razor-thin mar­gin in 2002, has solid­i­fied con­trol of his rur­al dis­trict, with a cam­paign war chest swelled with mon­ey from the aero­space indus­try. Defense indus­try firms have con­tributed $395,000 to his cam­paign com­mit­tee and lead­er­ship PAC since 2017, becom­ing by far his largest indus­try donor, accord­ing to Open Secrets, a cam­paign spend­ing data­base.

    Also key in push­ing for the space corps was Dou­glas L. Lover­ro, a retired Air Force offi­cer and the for­mer exec­u­tive direc­tor of its Space and Mis­sile Sys­tems Cen­ter in El Segun­do. Lover­ro said in an inter­view that a ded­i­cat­ed corps of space experts would be nec­es­sary to ensure a space force could ful­fill its mis­sion.
    ...

    But Coop­er’s and Roger­s’s “space corp” idea was killed in Con­gress after the Air Force lob­bied against it. But then, in Decem­ber of 2017, Rogers enlist­ed an inter­me­di­ary to give Trump infor­ma­tion his con­gres­sion­al sub­com­mit­tee had col­lect­ed about Russ­ian and Chi­nese devel­op­ment of anti-satel­lite weapons. Recall that the idea for cre­ation a glob­al net­work of low earth orbit clus­ters of satel­lites (DARPA’s Black­jack) is specif­i­cal­ly to counter Russ­ian and Chi­nese anti-satel­lite tech­nol­o­gy, so odds are this push to sell Trump on the idea of a Space Force by lob­by­ing him about anti-satel­lite tech­nol­o­gy involved a pro­mo­tion of the Black­jack pro­gram:

    ...
    The Air Force focus on con­ven­tion­al air com­bat pre­vents it from “build­ing the best space war fight­ers — the ones who can con­ceive of, imag­ine, pre­pare for, and think doc­tri­nal­ly, oper­a­tional­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly about space,” Lover­ro told an indus­try con­fer­ence in April. “But those are pre­cise­ly the peo­ple we need today.”

    The space corps nev­er got off the ground.

    The Air Force lob­bied to kill it. Defense Sec­re­tary James N. Mat­tis took the unusu­al step of send­ing a let­ter to Con­gress voic­ing his objec­tions.

    ...

    Even the Trump White House called the idea “pre­ma­ture at this time” in a July 2017 state­ment.

    That was enough to kill the plan in the Sen­ate, though Rogers got oth­er law­mak­ers to agree to order the Pen­ta­gon to study the idea and issue a report on its find­ings.

    He also began try­ing to enlist Trump.

    Last Decem­ber, Rogers said, he arranged for an inter­me­di­ary to give Trump infor­ma­tion his sub­com­mit­tee had col­lect­ed about Russ­ian and Chi­nese devel­op­ment of anti-satel­lite weapons, as well as about the Air Force effort to kill a sep­a­rate mil­i­tary ser­vice. He declined to iden­ti­fy the inter­me­di­ary.
    ...

    Also note how Trump revived the Nation­al Space Coun­cil in June of 2017, so there were already moves in this direc­tion at that point in his term. But it was appar­ent­ly the mod­el rock­ets dis­played dur­ing a Cab­i­net meet­ing in March of 2018 that real­ly wowed Trump and got him enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly on board with the idea:

    ...
    Once elect­ed, Trump revived the space coun­cil, an advi­so­ry pan­el led by Pence, that had been dor­mant since the ear­ly 2000s. The vice pres­i­dent had attend­ed three space shut­tle launch­es while serv­ing in Con­gress and was deeply inter­est­ed in space.

    When Pence gave an update dur­ing a Cab­i­net meet­ing in March, Trump mar­veled at mod­el rock­et ships dis­played on the table in front of him. He tout­ed the pri­vate space launch com­pa­nies owned by bil­lion­aire busi­ness­men, includ­ing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Microsoft founder Paul Allen.

    “We’re let­ting them use the Kennedy Space Cen­ter for a fee,” Trump said. “And you know, rich guys, they love rock­et ships, and that’s good. That’s bet­ter than us pay­ing for it.”

    But Trump showed no inter­est pub­licly in a space force until his speech in San Diego that month, indi­cat­ing it was his idea. By then, the Pentagon’s atti­tude was begin­ning to shift. A Trump appointee, Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick M. Shana­han, had begun prepar­ing the con­gres­sion­al­ly ordered report on whether to cre­ate an inde­pen­dent space force.

    A for­mer senior Boe­ing exec­u­tive, Shana­han was famil­iar with the cum­ber­some Air Force pro­cure­ment sys­tem. He became the administration’s space force point per­son, con­sult­ing with Pence, Rogers, the Air Force and oth­er Pen­ta­gon play­ers, and the space coun­cil.

    ...

    Trump began talk­ing up a space force pri­vate­ly, order­ing Pence to take the project on, accord­ing to an admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial who con­firmed report­ing first pub­lished in Axios.
    ...

    High­light­ing the poten­tial for spend­ing explo­sion is the fact that Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence declared last year that the goal was cre­at­ing some sort of Space Force
    by 2020, pre­sum­ably as part of Trump’s reelec­tion cam­paign. That’s a pret­ty tight time­frame:

    ...
    Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said this month that the admin­is­tra­tion would send a leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al to Capi­tol Hill next year and aims to stand up a space force by 2020. For its part, Con­gress has shown lit­tle appetite for a cost­ly new expan­sion of gov­ern­ment, espe­cial­ly one that would cut the Air Force bud­get, a ser­vice with pow­er­ful back­ing on Capi­tol Hill.

    Those polit­i­cal head­winds could reduce the space force to a pres­i­den­tial ral­ly­ing cry, like his unful­filled vow to build a “big, beau­ti­ful wall” on the bor­der with Mex­i­co. But Trump’s enthu­si­asm has clear­ly pro­vid­ed momen­tum, excit­ing pro­po­nents who see a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to win more atten­tion and resources for space defense.

    They agreed on the threat. Chi­na and Rus­sia were build­ing weapons and cyber capa­bil­i­ties aimed at knock­ing out satel­lites that the Pen­ta­gon relies on for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, pre­cise tar­get­ing of bombs and mis­sile defense, accord­ing to U.S. intel­li­gence.
    ...

    So at this point it looks like the US is on track for not just a new Space Force, but a rapid explo­sion of new space-relat­ed spend­ing, all to be fueled by whole new Space Devel­op­ment Agency that’s going to be autho­rized to fast-track big spend­ing with­out reviews. And a fan­cy new glob­al net­work of low orbit satel­lites, a large num­ber of which will be spy satel­lites.

    But while the SDA can be cre­at­ed by the Pen­ta­gon alone, the cre­ation of Space Force still needs con­gres­sion­al approval. And that’s very much up in the air at this point. For exam­ple, the Con­gress Bud­get Office (CBO) just issue its esti­mate for the pro­posed cost of Space Force. It turns out it’s going to be far more expen­sive than the Trump admin­is­tra­tion sug­gest­ed. Instead of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s pro­ject­ed costs of $2 bil­lion over 5 years to set it up and anoth­er $500 mil­lion annu­al­ly, the CBO is pro­ject­ing a cost of $3 bil­lion up front and $1.3 bil­lion annu­al­ly. So Space Force has­n’t real­ly even start­ed yet and the cost over-runs are already going wild. Sur­prise!

    US News & World Report

    Trump’s Space Force Could Cost Bil­lions More Than Antic­i­pat­ed
    A report from the Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office esti­mates the pro­posed Space Force would cost up to $3 bil­lion up front, which is much high­er than pre­vi­ous cost esti­mates from defense offi­cials.

    By Cecelia Smith-Schoen­walder, Staff Writer
    May 9, 2019

    The Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed Space Force – poten­tial­ly a sixth branch of the mil­i­tary – would cost bil­lions more than pre­vi­ous­ly esti­mat­ed, accord­ing to a Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office analy­sis released Wednes­day.

    Space Force, which would be an inde­pen­dent branch under the Air Force, would cost up to $3 bil­lion up front and increase the Pen­tagon’s annu­al bud­get by up to $1.3 bil­lion, accord­ing to the report.

    Those esti­mates are con­sid­er­ably high­er than pre­vi­ous ones from defense offi­cials, who said a Space Force would cost no more than $2 bil­lion over five years to set up and $500 mil­lion annu­al­ly to run it.

    Patrick Shana­han, the act­ing sec­re­tary for the Depart­ment of Defense, told a Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee on Wednes­day he thinks even the agency esti­mates are too high.

    ...

    CBO did the report at the request of Sens. Jim Inhofe, R‑Okla., and Jack Reed, D‑R.I. The pro­posed Space Force would need to be approved by Con­gress, and cost could be a decid­ing fac­tor for law­mak­ers.

    While the Defense Depart­ment esti­mates the Space Force would be made up of about 15,000 employ­ees, CBO said that num­ber would need to increase to as high as 29,700 posi­tions.

    Still, cre­at­ing the Space Force under the Air Force as opposed to a stand-alone branch of the mil­i­tary would save some mon­ey, accord­ing to CBO. It would require few­er peo­ple than a new depart­ment, and it could take advan­tage of some of the exist­ing depart­men­t’s func­tions.

    The report also looked at costs for a com­bat­ant com­mand and a Space Devel­op­ment Agency, both of which were pro­posed in the Pen­tagon’s fis­cal 2020 bud­get. Details for these pro­pos­als – as well as the Space Force – have been sparse, the report said.

    ...

    Ear­li­er this week Vice Pres­i­dent warned that space will be the next war-fight­ing domain, cheer­ing the Space Force as a way to pro­tect the U.S. from ene­mies in space.

    ———-

    “Trump’s Space Force Could Cost Bil­lions More Than Antic­i­pat­ed” by Cecelia Smith-Schoen­walder; US News & World Report; 05/09/2019

    “CBO did the report at the request of Sens. Jim Inhofe, R‑Okla., and Jack Reed, D‑R.I. The pro­posed Space Force would need to be approved by Con­gress, and cost could be a decid­ing fac­tor for law­mak­ers.

    So costs could be a decid­ing fac­tor con­gress and the CBO just deter­mined that up front costs to set Space Force are 50 per­cent high­er than the Trump admin­is­tra­tion sug­gest­ed and the annu­al costs are 260 per­cent high­er. But cre­at­ing Space Force with­in the Air Force would cut down on those pro­ject­ed costs accord­ing to the CBO:

    ...
    Space Force, which would be an inde­pen­dent branch under the Air Force, would cost up to $3 bil­lion up front and increase the Pen­tagon’s annu­al bud­get by up to $1.3 bil­lion, accord­ing to the report.

    Those esti­mates are con­sid­er­ably high­er than pre­vi­ous ones from defense offi­cials, who said a Space Force would cost no more than $2 bil­lion over five years to set up and $500 mil­lion annu­al­ly to run it.

    ...

    Still, cre­at­ing the Space Force under the Air Force as opposed to a stand-alone branch of the mil­i­tary would save some mon­ey, accord­ing to CBO. It would require few­er peo­ple than a new depart­ment, and it could take advan­tage of some of the exist­ing depart­men­t’s func­tions.
    ...

    It’s going to be inter­est­ing to see how con­gress han­dles the pro­pos­al for an entire new branch of the mil­i­tary.

    But even if Space Force remains a branch of the Air Force, the key fac­tor in terms of pleas­ing the defense con­trac­tors and fig­ures like Mike Grif­fin is the SDA, which would could pay for an explo­sion of new fed­er­al spend­ing on space pro­grams with min­i­mal over­sight. So a big ques­tion is whether or not a Space Force that’s still part of the Air Force will be allowed to use the SDA in place of the Air Force’s reg­u­lar pro­cure­ment agen­cies. At this point that’s very unclear. What is clear is that there’s prob­a­bly going to be a big mar­ket for com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing satel­lite cleanup ser­vices for get­ting bro­ken satel­lites out of orbit:

    Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can

    SpaceX’s Star­link Could Cause Cas­cades of Space Junk

    Plans for thou­sands of new com­mu­ni­ca­tions satel­lites would rev­o­lu­tion­ize glob­al telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions but also raise risks of dis­as­ter in Earth orbit

    By Jonathan O’Callaghan on May 13, 2019

    This Wednes­day SpaceX will launch its first batch of Star­link satellites—a “mega con­stel­la­tion” of thou­sands of space­craft to pro­vide high-speed Inter­net access to bil­lions of peo­ple at any loca­tion on the plan­et. Star­link is only the first of many such projects; there are at least eight more mega con­stel­la­tions in the works from oth­er com­pa­nies. Although they promise to rev­o­lu­tion­ize glob­al telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, these efforts are not free of per­il: as the num­ber of satel­lites inex­orably grows, so, too, does the risk of cre­at­ing dan­ger­ous debris that could threat­en the con­tin­ued safe use of Earth orbit. “This is some­thing we need to pay atten­tion to,” says Glenn Peter­son, a senior engi­neer­ing spe­cial­ist at the Aero­space Cor­po­ra­tion, head­quar­tered in El Segun­do, Calif. “We have to be proac­tive.”

    Today Earth orbit is a busy place. Almost 2,000 active satel­lites whiz around our plan­et, along with near­ly 3,000 dead satel­lites and 34,000 pieces of “space junk” larg­er than 10 cen­time­ters in size. When­ev­er debris or a defunct space­craft gets too close for com­fort to an active satellite—typically when a col­li­sion risk ris­es to one part in sev­er­al thousand—the satellite’s oper­a­tor must per­form a col­li­sion-avoid­ance maneu­ver. The Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, for exam­ple, is moved when the chance of a col­li­sion is greater than one in 10,000.

    These close encoun­ters already occur thou­sands of times each year, but the sheer vast­ness of mega con­stel­la­tions such as Star­link will change the game, result­ing in an esti­mat­ed 67,000 annu­al col­li­sion-avoid­ance maneu­vers if all of them are launched. As Earth orbit becomes jam-packed with satel­lites, the risk increas­es. A worst-case sce­nario would be the Kessler syn­drome, a pos­i­tive feed­back loop in which debris-gen­er­at­ing col­li­sions cre­ate more and more col­li­sions, which in turn cre­ate more and more debris, ren­der­ing parts of Earth orbit essen­tial­ly unus­able.

    Nine com­pa­nies total—including SpaceX, Ama­zon, Tele­sat and LeoSat—have been licensed by the U.S. Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion to launch such con­stel­la­tions. SpaceX alone plans to launch near­ly 12,000 satel­lites by the mid-2020s, which will oper­ate either at an alti­tude about 500 kilo­me­ters in low-Earth orbit (LEO) or a high­er alti­tude of rough­ly 1,200 kilo­me­ters in non­geo­sta­tion­ary orbit (NGSO). It is the first com­pa­ny of the nine to launch any ful­ly func­tion­al satel­lites of its con­stel­la­tion. OneWeb, the next front-run­ner, has plans for a 650-strong con­stel­la­tion in NGSO. Six of its test satel­lites were launched this past Feb­ru­ary, and its first prop­er launch of three dozen or so satel­lites are planned for lat­er this year. Month­ly launch­es of 30 to 36 satel­lites will fol­low, with the ser­vice com­ing online in 2021. Every oth­er com­pa­ny has sim­i­lar plans for incre­men­tal­ly launch­ing hun­dreds to thou­sands of satel­lites of its own.

    ...

    ———-

    “SpaceX’s Star­link Could Cause Cas­cades of Space Junk” by Jonathan O’Callaghan; Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can; 05/13/2019

    “This Wednes­day SpaceX will launch its first batch of Star­link satellites—a “mega con­stel­la­tion” of thou­sands of space­craft to pro­vide high-speed Inter­net access to bil­lions of peo­ple at any loca­tion on the plan­et. Star­link is only the first of many such projects; there are at least eight more mega con­stel­la­tions in the works from oth­er com­pa­nies. Although they promise to rev­o­lu­tion­ize glob­al telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, these efforts are not free of per­il: as the num­ber of satel­lites inex­orably grows, so, too, does the risk of cre­at­ing dan­ger­ous debris that could threat­en the con­tin­ued safe use of Earth orbit. “This is some­thing we need to pay atten­tion to,” says Glenn Peter­son, a senior engi­neer­ing spe­cial­ist at the Aero­space Cor­po­ra­tion, head­quar­tered in El Segun­do, Calif. “We have to be proac­tive.””

    It’s not just a mega­clus­ter of satel­lites. It’s also a giant space debris cat­a­stro­phe wait­ing to hap­pen. That’s one of the key lessons that has to be kept in mind as human­i­ty decides to flood the the plan­et’s orbit with clus­ters of satel­lites. Because the more satel­lites we put up there, the greater the chances of Kessler Syn­drome break­ing out, where debris-gen­er­at­ing col­li­sions lead to more debris-gen­er­at­ing col­li­sions, even­tu­al­ly ren­der­ing the Earth­’s entire orbit unus­able:

    ...
    Today Earth orbit is a busy place. Almost 2,000 active satel­lites whiz around our plan­et, along with near­ly 3,000 dead satel­lites and 34,000 pieces of “space junk” larg­er than 10 cen­time­ters in size. When­ev­er debris or a defunct space­craft gets too close for com­fort to an active satellite—typically when a col­li­sion risk ris­es to one part in sev­er­al thousand—the satellite’s oper­a­tor must per­form a col­li­sion-avoid­ance maneu­ver. The Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, for exam­ple, is moved when the chance of a col­li­sion is greater than one in 10,000.

    These close encoun­ters already occur thou­sands of times each year, but the sheer vast­ness of mega con­stel­la­tions such as Star­link will change the game, result­ing in an esti­mat­ed 67,000 annu­al col­li­sion-avoid­ance maneu­vers if all of them are launched. As Earth orbit becomes jam-packed with satel­lites, the risk increas­es. A worst-case sce­nario would be the Kessler syn­drome, a pos­i­tive feed­back loop in which debris-gen­er­at­ing col­li­sions cre­ate more and more col­li­sions, which in turn cre­ate more and more debris, ren­der­ing parts of Earth orbit essen­tial­ly unus­able.
    ...

    So let’s hope the Mike Griffin’s dreams of an SDA that pro­vides rapid stream­lined reviews of the costs and ben­e­fits of mega­clus­ter satel­lite pro­grams at least include some cost/benefit analy­sis about the risks of induc­ing Kessler Syn­drome, the ulti­mate anti-satel­lite weapon.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 13, 2019, 2:24 pm
  5. Here’s a rather omi­nous set of sto­ries relat­ed to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s push to cre­ate a new Space Force branch of the US mil­i­tary and the par­al­lel push to cre­ate a new Space Devel­op­ment Agency (SDA) that will spe­cial­ize in rapid­ly deploy­ing com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy for the new Space Force. First, recall how the per­son­al dri­ving the cre­ation of the SDA is Mike Grif­fin, the recent­ly appoint­ed US Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing, who feels that the Air Force’s nor­mal pro­cure­ment poli­cies is too slow and requires too many reviews. The SDA sounds like it will have the flex­i­bil­i­ty of DARPA but with the abil­i­ty for large-scale pro­cure­ments.

    So now check this out: last month we learned that the Pen­ta­gon sud­den­ly decid­ed to let its con­tract with the ‘JASONS’ expire. The Jasons, are cov­ered exten­sive­ly in Yasha Levine’s Sur­veil­lance Val­ley, are the the group of acada­demics first hired by the DoD in the 1960 to pro­vide out advice and review to the Pen­ta­gon on a range of dif­fer­ent tech­ni­cal top­ic. And now the Pen­ta­gon sud­den­ly decid­ed that the Jasons are no longer with the mon­ey. Yes, the offi­cial excuse for end the Jasons is because the Pen­ta­gon can’t afford it. Giv­en that this is a laugh­able expla­na­tion, the ques­tion of why the Pen­ta­gon actu­al­ly sud­den­ly decid­ed to end the Jasons looms large. Is there a set of pro­grams that peo­ple in the Pen­ta­gon know the Jasons will pan? Or there’s some­thing scan­dalous in the works that they don’t want out­siders to know about? What’s the real expla­na­tion? Well, it turns out that the con­tract with the Jasons was run though Pen­tagon’s Under­sec­re­tary of Research and Engi­neer­ing. That’s Mike Griffin’s depart­ment. And as we’re going to see, it turns out the Mike Griffin’s depart­ment was behind the move to end the Jasons. In addi­tion, the Office of the Under­sec­re­tary of Defense, Research and Engi­neer­ing, announced that it will require only one study, rather than mul­ti­ple stud­ies, in its announce­ment to end the Jasons. So the guy who wants to cre­ate the SDA so Space Force can make rapid pro­cure­ments with­out the nor­mal lev­els of review is the same guy behind end­ing the con­tract with Jasons. Sur­prise!

    Ok, here’s an arti­cle that describes the end­ing of the Jasons con­tract. Inter­est­ing­ly, the DoD has no ruled out work­ing with the Jasons in the future, rais­ing more ques­tions about what exact­ly Griffin’s plan are in the short run. And as the arti­cle notes, in the Pen­tagon’s offi­cial response to ques­tions about the end­ing of the Jasons they note that Griffin’s Office of the Under­sec­re­tary of Defense, Research and Engi­neer­ing will require only one study, rather than mul­ti­ple stud­ies, going for­ward. The offi­cial response frame the deci­sion as a finan­cial: “The depart­ment remains com­mit­ted to seek­ing inde­pen­dent tech­ni­cal advice and review. This change is in keep­ing with this com­mit­ment while mak­ing the most eco­nom­ic sense for the depart­ment, and it is in line with our efforts to gain full val­ue from every tax­pay­er dol­lar spent on defense.” LOL! So in order to save mon­ey, the Pen­ta­gon is cut­ting one of the groups that would pro­vide out­sider reviews for the fea­si­bil­i­ty of defense projects and lim­it­ing the fea­si­bil­i­ty stud­ies to a sin­gle study:

    Defense News

    Pen­ta­gon con­firms it is end­ing the Jason advi­so­ry con­tract, but group’s work may con­tin­ue

    By: Aaron Mehta
    April 11, 2019

    WASHINGTON — The Depart­ment of Defense has con­firmed it is end­ing a decades-long, open-end­ed agree­ment with a lega­cy sci­ence advi­so­ry board, a move that has set off alarm bells for some ana­lysts. But the depart­ment has not ruled out rely­ing on that office for more infor­ma­tion in the future.

    The Jason pro­gram dates back the 1950s, when the Pen­ta­gon put togeth­er a pan­el of sci­en­tif­ic experts to pro­vide out­side advice. That con­tract is now man­aged by the Mitre group, and run through the Pentagon’s Under­sec­re­tary of Research and Engi­neer­ing.

    Accord­ing to a 2006 book writ­ten about the group, the pan­el played major roles in devel­op­ing, or lam­bast­ing, tech­ni­cal ideas for the depart­ment, includ­ing push­ing to sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons and a con­tro­ver­sial stretch of ideas dur­ing the Viet­nam War. Much of their work, how­ev­er, has been clas­si­fied.

    In response to a request from Defense News, Pen­ta­gon spokesper­son Heather Babb said that the indef­i­nite deliv­ery, indef­i­nite quan­ti­ty con­tract, which allows for an unlim­it­ed num­ber of deliv­er­ies over a fixed time peri­od, expired at the end of March. And while there is an active task order with Mitre cov­er­ing some of the same ground, that is set to expire at the end of April.

    “After the expi­ra­tion of the Pro­gram Man­age­ment Task Order, there will be no active OUSD(R&E) spon­sored con­trac­tu­al vehi­cles with MITRE for the JASON pro­gram,” Babb wrote in a state­ment.

    “The depart­ment has deter­mined that the require­ments pre­vi­ous­ly sup­port­ed through JASON Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Research Stud­ies have changed and that the Office of the Under­sec­re­tary of Defense, Research and Engi­neer­ing will require only one study, rather than mul­ti­ple stud­ies, as pro­ject­ed under the pre­vi­ous solic­i­ta­tion. Because our require­ments have changed, the DoD does not antic­i­pate issu­ing a fol­low-on IDIQ.

    “The depart­ment remains com­mit­ted to seek­ing inde­pen­dent tech­ni­cal advice and review. This change is in keep­ing with this com­mit­ment while mak­ing the most eco­nom­ic sense for the depart­ment, and it is in line with our efforts to gain full val­ue from every tax­pay­er dol­lar spent on defense.”

    In essence, the depart­ment is end­ing its open-end­ed con­tract with the advi­so­ry group, but not look­ing to sev­er its rela­tion­ship entire­ly, instead mov­ing to one-off con­tracts for the future. That could include a con­tract to study issues around elec­tron­ic war­fare in the near-future, Babb con­firmed. Of course, oth­er con­trac­tors would also be able to bid for such work.

    ...

    For some, Jason rep­re­sents a key tech­ni­cal advi­so­ry voice from out­side the build­ing, with Steven After­good of the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists writ­ing that the move is “a star­tling blow to the sys­tem of inde­pen­dent sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy advice.”

    The move appears to be “part of a larg­er trend by fed­er­al agen­cies to lim­it inde­pen­dent sci­en­tif­ic and tech­ni­cal advice,” After­good added.

    Mieke Eoyang, a for­mer Hill staffer now with the Third Way think tank, tweet­ed that “Con­gress has enough dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting unbi­ased sci­en­tif­ic and tech­ni­cal assess­ments. Between this and OTA (shut­tered after the ’94 GOP takeover), Con­gress’ abil­i­ty to under­stand tech­nol­o­gy has got­ten worse even as tech­nol­o­gy becomes more ubiq­ui­tous & com­plex.”

    Oth­ers, how­ev­er, ques­tion how much impact the Jason pan­el actu­al­ly had.

    “Cut­ting off gov­ern­ment access to sen­si­tive sci­en­tif­ic exper­tise is prob­lem­at­ic,” said Loren DeJonge Schul­man, a for­mer Pen­ta­gon and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil staffer now with the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty.

    “But it’s worth explor­ing in more detail how the Jason Advi­so­ry Pan­el was actu­al­ly uti­lized — who tasked them, was their work use­ful, was it trans­lat­able to pol­i­cy­mak­ers in an approach­able way, and is this the best means to access the sort of exper­tise the pan­el his­tor­i­cal­ly brought for­ward,” she said, adding: “There are dozens and dozens of advi­so­ry bod­ies across gov­ern­ment, of high­ly vari­able util­i­ty and cost to tax­pay­ers.”

    A for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial, speak­ing on back­ground, agreed that Jason’s impor­tance may be overblown. They said that the one time in over a decade of intel­li­gence work they encoun­tered a Jason study, the find­ings “didn’t real­ly rep­re­sent real­i­ty.”

    “It seems like most peo­ple talk­ing about it are from the out­side, who view this as a check on gov­ern­ment think­ing. I don’t know where that comes from,” the for­mer offi­cial said. “Every time some­thing hap­pens along these lines with this admin­is­tra­tion, there’s almost a temp­ta­tion to view some nefar­i­ous intent behind it and con­nect dots that don’t real­ly exist. I just don’t think that’s what hap­pened here.”

    ———–

    “Pen­ta­gon con­firms it is end­ing the Jason advi­so­ry con­tract, but group’s work may con­tin­ue” by Aaron Mehta; Defense News; 04/11/2019

    “Accord­ing to a 2006 book writ­ten about the group, the pan­el played major roles in devel­op­ing, or lam­bast­ing, tech­ni­cal ideas for the depart­ment, includ­ing push­ing to sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons and a con­tro­ver­sial stretch of ideas dur­ing the Viet­nam War. Much of their work, how­ev­er, has been clas­si­fied.”

    Sounds like some­one does­n’t like their projects get­ting lam­bast­ed. At least that’s prob­a­bly part of the ratio­nale for the move. It’s cer­tain­ly a much more plau­si­ble ratio­nale than the offi­cial Pen­ta­gon response about the move being “in line with our efforts to gain full val­ue from every tax­pay­er dol­lar spent on defense”. Appar­ent­ly project stud­ies are the main cost dri­vers at the Pen­ta­gon. Or at least that’s the offi­cial expla­na­tion from the Pen­ta­gon:

    ...
    In response to a request from Defense News, Pen­ta­gon spokesper­son Heather Babb said that the indef­i­nite deliv­ery, indef­i­nite quan­ti­ty con­tract, which allows for an unlim­it­ed num­ber of deliv­er­ies over a fixed time peri­od, expired at the end of March. And while there is an active task order with Mitre cov­er­ing some of the same ground, that is set to expire at the end of April.

    “After the expi­ra­tion of the Pro­gram Man­age­ment Task Order, there will be no active OUSD(R&E) spon­sored con­trac­tu­al vehi­cles with MITRE for the JASON pro­gram,” Babb wrote in a state­ment.

    “The depart­ment has deter­mined that the require­ments pre­vi­ous­ly sup­port­ed through JASON Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Research Stud­ies have changed and that the Office of the Under­sec­re­tary of Defense, Research and Engi­neer­ing will require only one study, rather than mul­ti­ple stud­ies, as pro­ject­ed under the pre­vi­ous solic­i­ta­tion. Because our require­ments have changed, the DoD does not antic­i­pate issu­ing a fol­low-on IDIQ.

    “The depart­ment remains com­mit­ted to seek­ing inde­pen­dent tech­ni­cal advice and review. This change is in keep­ing with this com­mit­ment while mak­ing the most eco­nom­ic sense for the depart­ment, and it is in line with our efforts to gain full val­ue from every tax­pay­er dol­lar spent on defense.”
    ...

    But notice how the Jasons still might get con­tracts in the future, although they could be one-off con­tracts. All in all, it’s look­ing like the DoD wants to put on lim­it on out­side tech­ni­cal advice. What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

    ...
    In essence, the depart­ment is end­ing its open-end­ed con­tract with the advi­so­ry group, but not look­ing to sev­er its rela­tion­ship entire­ly, instead mov­ing to one-off con­tracts for the future. That could include a con­tract to study issues around elec­tron­ic war­fare in the near-future, Babb con­firmed. Of course, oth­er con­trac­tors would also be able to bid for such work.

    ...

    For some, Jason rep­re­sents a key tech­ni­cal advi­so­ry voice from out­side the build­ing, with Steven After­good of the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists writ­ing that the move is “a star­tling blow to the sys­tem of inde­pen­dent sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy advice.”

    The move appears to be “part of a larg­er trend by fed­er­al agen­cies to lim­it inde­pen­dent sci­en­tif­ic and tech­ni­cal advice,” After­good added.
    ...

    Ok, now here’s the ini­tial report on the end­ing of the Jasons con­tract. Based on the arti­cle, it kind of sounds like they tried to sneak this past Con­gress because it appears that Con­gress only learned about this after review­ing bud­get requests and notic­ing that there was no request for the Jasons bud­get. The arti­cle also men­tions the par­tic­u­lar depart­ment behind the move: Mike Griffin’s depart­ment:

    Sci­ence

    Update: Leg­is­la­tor asks Pen­ta­gon to restore con­tract for sto­ried Jason sci­ence advi­so­ry group

    By Jef­frey Mervis, Ann Finkbein­er

    Apr. 11, 2019 , 3:30 PM

    *Update, 11 April, 3:30 p.m.: The leg­is­la­tor who revealed the Pentagon’s deci­sion to ter­mi­nate the Jason con­tract dur­ing a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing ear­li­er this week today urged act­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han to reverse that deci­sion. Here’s a state­ment from Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Coop­er (D–TN), who chairs the strate­gic forces sub­com­mit­tee of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

    The abrupt, uni­lat­er­al deci­sion to not renew the long-stand­ing JASON con­tract dam­ages our nation­al secu­ri­ty by depriv­ing not only the Pen­ta­gon, but also oth­er nation­al secu­ri­ty agen­cies, of sober and sound advice in con­fronting some of the nation’s most com­plex threats. Act­ing Sec­re­tary Shana­han should recon­sid­er his deci­sion.

    For more than half a cen­tu­ry, the Nation’s elite sci­en­tists and tech­nol­o­gists, through JASON stud­ies, have pro­vid­ed the exec­u­tive branch and Con­gress with sound, inde­pen­dent expert advice on the most impor­tant and con­se­quen­tial tech­ni­cal issues fac­ing our nation. Mem­bers of Con­gress have long count­ed on their non­par­ti­san, sci­ence-based advice to inform our deci­sions on a range of nation­al secu­ri­ty issues fac­ing our nation, such as nuclear weapons, space, and emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies.

    Here’s our orig­i­nal sto­ry from 9 April:

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Defense (DOD) has sev­ered its 60-year ties to a group of aca­d­e­mics known as Jason, putting in jeop­ardy the group’s abil­i­ty to con­duct stud­ies for the gov­ern­ment on a range of nation­al secu­ri­ty issues.

    Jason, formed dur­ing the ear­ly years of the Cold War to pro­vide the U.S. mil­i­tary with inde­pen­dent tech­ni­cal exper­tise, con­sists of some 50 sci­en­tists who spend part of their sum­mer chew­ing over such knot­ty prob­lems as main­tain­ing the via­bil­i­ty of the nation’s nuclear stock­pile and the tech­ni­cal aspects of pro­posed weapons sys­tems. Over the decades, oth­er orga­ni­za­tions have devel­oped sim­i­lar capa­bil­i­ties. But Jason has main­tained its rep­u­ta­tion for pro­vid­ing blunt and bal­anced advice to pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

    How­ev­er, DOD offi­cials have appar­ent­ly had a change of heart. On 28 March, the MITRE Cor­po­ra­tion, a non­prof­it based in Mclean, Vir­ginia, that man­ages the Jason con­tract, received a let­ter from DOD order­ing it to close up shop by 30 April.

    Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Coop­er (D–TN) broke the news this after­noon dur­ing a hear­ing he was chair­ing in which he ques­tioned the head of the Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (NNSA) in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., about the agency’s 2020 bud­get request. It was a tense exchange.

    “Are you aware that the [Jason] con­tract has been sum­mar­i­ly ter­mi­nat­ed by the Pen­ta­gon?” Coop­er asked NNSA’s Lisa Gor­don-Hager­ty. “It’s my under­stand­ing that the Pen­ta­gon is doing some­thing with the con­tract,” Gor­don-Hager­ty replied.

    “Is that a euphemism for ter­mi­na­tion?” Coop­er per­sist­ed. Gor­don side­stepped the ques­tion, not­ing that Jason was cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing some stud­ies for NNSA and adding that, “if there are some issues with con­tract man­age­ment, we need to make sure that some­body han­dles them.”

    Coop­er could not be reached for com­ment after the hear­ing. But his ques­tion­ing elicit­ed praise for the group from Gor­don-Hager­ty.

    “I can’t speak to their long his­to­ry,” she told Coop­er. “But I can tell you that their tech­ni­cal exper­tise is sound … and that they are very knowl­edge­able about the issues asso­ci­at­ed with NNSA pro­grams.”

    ...

    This is the sec­ond time the Pen­ta­gon has tried to cut its ties to Jason. In 2002, Tony Teth­er, direc­tor of its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, pulled Jason’s con­tract after the group reject­ed his attempt to add three mem­bers. But sev­er­al months lat­er Jason struck a deal with anoth­er DOD enti­ty and stayed in busi­ness.

    That unit, now led by Michael Grif­fin, the under­sec­re­tary of defense for research and engi­neer­ing, is believed to be the dri­ving force behind last month’s deci­sion.

    ————

    “Update: Leg­is­la­tor asks Pen­ta­gon to restore con­tract for sto­ried Jason sci­ence advi­so­ry group” by Jef­frey Mervis, Ann Finkbein­er; Sci­ence; 04/11/2019

    “That unit, now led by Michael Grif­fin, the under­sec­re­tary of defense for research and engi­neer­ing, is believed to be the dri­ving force behind last month’s deci­sion.”

    Yes, all signs are point­ing towards Griffin’s Office of the Under­sec­re­tary of Defense, Research and Engi­neer­ing being behind this move. A move that appears to have caught Con­gress by sur­prise based on the ques­tions posed by Rep. Coop­er:

    ...
    Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Coop­er (D–TN) broke the news this after­noon dur­ing a hear­ing he was chair­ing in which he ques­tioned the head of the Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (NNSA) in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., about the agency’s 2020 bud­get request. It was a tense exchange.

    “Are you aware that the [Jason] con­tract has been sum­mar­i­ly ter­mi­nat­ed by the Pen­ta­gon?” Coop­er asked NNSA’s Lisa Gor­don-Hager­ty. “It’s my under­stand­ing that the Pen­ta­gon is doing some­thing with the con­tract,” Gor­don-Hager­ty replied.

    “Is that a euphemism for ter­mi­na­tion?” Coop­er per­sist­ed. Gor­don side­stepped the ques­tion, not­ing that Jason was cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing some stud­ies for NNSA and adding that, “if there are some issues with con­tract man­age­ment, we need to make sure that some­body han­dles them.”
    ...

    Inter­est­ing­ly, the offi­cial Coop­er was ques­tion­ing there, Lisa Gor­don-Hager­ty of the Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (NNSA), actu­al­ly end­ed up sort of sav­ing the Jasons. Because the NNSA appears to have hired them instead. Start­ing in Jan­u­ary of 2020 the Jasons are work­ing for the NNSA at the Depart­ment of Ener­gy:

    Defense News

    Not dead yet: Nuclear weapons agency moves to save Jason advi­so­ry group

    By: Aaron Mehta April 25, 2019

    WASHINGTON — The Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion is mak­ing a play to save a sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry group, just days before its con­tract with the Pen­ta­gon is set to expire.

    On Thurs­day, the NNSA qui­et­ly put a notice of a sole-source con­tract up on the Fed­Bi­zOps web­site, to “award a short-term sole source con­tract to MITRE Cor­po­ra­tion to pro­vide man­age­ment and logis­tics sup­port to the Jason pro­gram and its mem­bers, referred to as ‘The Jasons.’”

    In essence, NNSA seeks to recre­ate the Pentagon’s con­tract with the advi­so­ry group through the end of next Jan­u­ary, in order to keep key research from falling apart.

    “NNSA has issued a notice of intent to award a short-term sole source con­tract to MITRE Cor­po­ra­tion to pro­vide man­age­ment and logis­tics sup­port to the Jason pro­gram and its mem­bers through Jan­u­ary 31, 2020,” agency spokesman Gre­go­ry Wolf told Defense News.

    “JASON is a group of elite sci­en­tists and engi­neers who advise NNSA and the Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment on mat­ters of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, most­ly of a sen­si­tive nature, and has pro­vid­ed sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to NNSA’s mis­sion of ensur­ing a safe, secure and reli­able nuclear stock­pile and pre­vent­ing nuclear weapon pro­lif­er­a­tion around the world. NNSA can­not afford a con­trac­tu­al gap in the ser­vices MITRE pro­vides.”

    The Jason pro­gram dates back the 1950s, when the Pen­ta­gon put togeth­er a pan­el of sci­en­tif­ic experts to pro­vide out­side advice. That con­tract is now man­aged by the MITRE group, and run through the Pentagon’s under­sec­re­tary of research and engi­neer­ing.

    ...

    How­ev­er, that con­tract was allowed to expire on March 31, with a final task­ing order set to expire at the end of April. The Pen­ta­gon has said the move was made as a cost-sav­ing mea­sure and that the open-end­ed nature of Jason no longer makes sense.

    And while the DoD said it intends to still use JASON for one-off con­tracts, crit­ics have said that the finan­cial set­up for the pan­el requires a con­stant stream of work and that attempt­ing to do piece­meal stud­ies will lead to the clo­sure of the group.

    The NNSA’s plan to keep JASON alive came togeth­er quick­ly, in just the last few weeks. While there will be some sort of gap between when the Pen­ta­gon con­tract expires and NNSA can get theirs off the ground, it is not expect­ed to be a large gap in time.

    The NNSA con­tract would mir­ror the ID/IQ nature of the Pentagon’s lega­cy con­tract. Mean­while, the agency will use the time to “per­form mar­ket research to deter­mine a long term strat­e­gy for obtain­ing JASON sci­en­tif­ic sup­port ser­vices,” an indi­ca­tion that alter­na­tive solu­tions may be an option.

    ...

    The agency cur­rent­ly has three stud­ies being con­sid­ered and planned with Jason, relat­ed to “cyber secu­ri­ty of oper­at­ing equip­ment, nuclear det­o­na­tion detec­tion, and plu­to­ni­um aging,” accord­ing to Wolf.

    ———

    “Not dead yet: Nuclear weapons agency moves to save Jason advi­so­ry group” by Aaron Mehta; Defense News; 04/25/2019

    “In essence, NNSA seeks to recre­ate the Pentagon’s con­tract with the advi­so­ry group through the end of next Jan­u­ary, in order to keep key research from falling apart.”

    So it’s not the end of the Jasons. They’ll still be con­duct­ing stud­ies for the Depart­ment of Ener­gy, which prob­a­bly good tim­ing giv­en the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s plans for nuclear weapons. But it is the end of the Jasons rou­tine­ly review­ing work for the Pen­ta­gon. And this all appears to be dri­ven by Mike Grif­fin, the force behind the Space Devel­op­ment Agency, a new pro­cure­ment agency set up to avoid exten­sive reviews for new projects.

    It seems the Pen­tagon’s new no review agen­da might be in need of a review. Prefer­ably mul­ti­ple exten­sive reviews.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 14, 2019, 10:21 am
  6. Here’s a dis­turb­ing update on the ambi­tions by the US mil­i­tary, SpaceX, and oth­er com­pa­nies and coun­tries to cre­ate “mega­con­stel­la­tions” of thou­sands of low orbit satel­lites: Now that SpaceX has already launched the first batch of 60 satel­lites, astronomers are already report­ing that these satel­lites obstruct­ing their views of the stars. And that’s just the first batch of one com­pa­ny’s mega­con­stel­la­tion plans.

    Giv­en the poten­tial­ly dire con­se­quences of unleash­ing “Kessler Syn­drome” — a chain reac­tion of spain junk that cre­ates more space junk — and mak­ing parts of Earth­’s orbit unusuable, it all rais­es the ques­tion of how exact­ly human­i­ty has decid­ed to col­lec­tive­ly reg­u­late the Earth­’s orbit and address ques­tions of who actu­al­ly ‘owns’ the dif­fer­ent parts of Earth­’s orbit and who can put what where. Sur­prise! It’s all basi­cal­ly vol­un­tary. That’s accord­ing to None of the five exist­ing out­er space treaties men­tion space debris. What coor­di­na­tion does take place hap­pens at the agency lev­el, like the Inter-agency Space Debris Coor­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee cre­at­ed by 13 of the world’s space agen­cies, but there’s no treaty that can pre­vent a nation­al from just flood­ing the Earth­’s orbit with satel­lites. Each nation is respon­si­ble for its own behav­ior and the behav­ior of their pri­vate com­pa­nies. So avoid­ing a cat­a­stro­phe like “Kessler Syn­drome” is basi­cal­ly going to required all par­ties behave respon­si­bly.

    As the arti­cle also notes, the cur­rent track record is any­thing but respon­si­ble. Over the past two decades there have been efforts to estab­lish guide­lines and codes of con­duct, with the goal of hav­ing at least 90% of satel­lites and launch-vehi­cles with lifte­times longer than 25 years take them­selves out of orbit or put them­selves into orbits with life­times of less than 25 years. Cur­rent­ly, the suc­cess rates are clos­er to 5–15%. So it’s look­ing like we might be mak­ing the Kessler Syn­drome inevitable unless the actors involved with launch­ing satel­lites sud­den­ly become much more respon­si­ble than they’ve been so far *gulp*:

    Sky & Tele­scope

    Does Star­link Pose a Space Debris Threat? An Expert Answers

    By: Jan Hat­ten­bach | June 3, 2019

    The Star­link satel­lites launched by SpaceX two weeks ago have come under heavy crit­i­cism for their poten­tial to clut­ter the sky. Author Jan Hat­ten­bach sat down with Sti­jn Lem­mens, Senior Space Debris Mit­i­ga­tion Ana­lyst at the Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA) in Darm­stadt, Ger­many, to talk about how Star­link plays into the space junk prob­lem.

    Editor’s note: This inter­view has been light­ly edit­ed for gram­mar, brevi­ty, and to add rel­e­vant links.

    Jan Hat­ten­bach: The recent launch of the first 60 “Star­link” satel­lites has sparked out­rage on social media. Some crit­ics claim the “mega-con­stel­la­tion” of satel­lites by the U.S. com­pa­ny SpaceX will increase the risk of cre­at­ing more space junk, even call­ing it a threat to space flight itself. What is your opin­ion — is this crit­i­cism jus­ti­fied or exag­ger­at­ed?

    Sti­jn Lem­mens: We’re talk­ing about a con­stel­la­tion that — if it ever comes to full fruition — would include up to 12,000 mem­bers. Sev­er­al nations have launched almost 9,000 satel­lites over the past six decades. Of these, about 5,000 are still in orbit. So we are talk­ing about dou­bling the amount of traf­fic in space over a cou­ple of years, or over a decade at most, com­pared to the last 60 years.

    How­ev­er, the space debris issue is most­ly caused by the fact that we leave objects behind in orbit, which are then a tar­get for col­li­sions either with frag­ments of a pre­vi­ous col­li­sion event or with big, intact objects. Cur­rent­ly, most space debris comes from explo­sive break-up events; in the future, we pre­dict col­li­sions will be the dri­ver. It’s like a cas­cade event: Once you have one col­li­sion, oth­er satel­lites are at risk for fur­ther col­li­sions.

    Over the past two decades, there has been a lot of effort to estab­lish guide­lines and codes of con­duct. For low-Earth orbit (LEO), there is a well-known guide­line to take out your space­craft, satel­lite, or launch vehi­cle upper stage, with­in 25 years after the end of mis­sion.

    To have a rea­son­able shot at hav­ing a sta­ble space envi­ron­ment, the goal is to have at least 90% of the satel­lites and launch-vehi­cle upper stages with life­times longer than 25 years take them­selves out of orbit, or put them­selves into orbits with life­times less than 25 years.

    How­ev­er, we are not real­ly good at doing this at the moment. We’re talk­ing about suc­cess rates of 5% to 15% for satel­lites (launch vehi­cle orbital stages do notably bet­ter, with suc­cess rates of 40–70% in low-Earth orbit). Already with cur­rent traf­fic, we have rea­son­able con­cerns that we’re cre­at­ing a real debris issue out there.

    If we’re now think­ing about putting anoth­er cou­ple of thou­sands of satel­lites up there, with lev­els of com­pli­ance sim­i­lar to what we’ve been doing so far, then we’re talk­ing about a pos­si­ble cat­a­stro­phe.

    Oper­a­tors of any type of large satel­lite con­stel­la­tion would have to behave far bet­ter than most cur­rent actors in space­flight have been doing. And this is the con­cern: Before you launch, oper­a­tors can of course say and demon­strate that they are going to com­ply with all inter­na­tion­al norms and guide­lines. But it’s only after launch that we know how respon­si­ble their behav­ior actu­al­ly was.

    JH: Do you have the impres­sion that SpaceX is aware of their respon­si­bil­i­ty?

    SL: They are cer­tain­ly aware of the prob­lem. For exam­ple, to get a license to launch in the U.S. with a mis­sion like theirs, where they are exchang­ing data between the main­land, space, and oth­er oper­a­tors, you need to request a license, in this case from the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (FCC). To obtain this license, they must demon­strate what they will do with respect to space debris mit­i­ga­tion. So they need­ed to demon­strate a cer­tain adher­ence to the norms.

    But the real ques­tion is whether the cur­rent norms are actu­al­ly suf­fi­cient for large con­stel­la­tions, or if we are putting the bar too low with respect to future sus­tain­abil­i­ty. We are talk­ing about thou­sands of new satel­lites — the risk is that the cumu­la­tive effect is not cap­tured in the cur­rent lev­el of guide­lines. So SpaceX would have to vol­un­tar­i­ly demon­strate high­er lev­els of com­mit­ment.

    JH: When asked about these issues, SpaceX respond­ed that they believe they have the “most advanced sys­tem” for space debris mit­i­ga­tion, e.g. that the Star­link satel­lites are “designed to be capa­ble of ful­ly autonomous col­li­sion avoid­ance – mean­ing zero humans in the loop.” Are you con­fi­dent that such a sys­tem will work, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the num­bers?

    SL: I have no tech­ni­cal vis­i­bil­i­ty on how they imple­ment their sys­tem, so I can­not make a judg­ment if it will work with their satel­lites or not. What I can say is that it will require a cer­tain improve­ment on the cur­rent state-of-the-art. On the oth­er hand, if a pair of Star­link satel­lites does col­lide with­in the oper­a­tion orbit, SpaceX will be the first one who will be bad­ly affect­ed by the frag­men­ta­tion cloud the col­li­sion gen­er­ates. It’s in their own best inter­est to make sure their sys­tem works.

    JH: You men­tioned the launch license issued by the FCC, which is a fed­er­al com­mis­sion of the Unit­ed States. How­ev­er, space is not the prop­er­ty of the U.S. or any oth­er coun­try. Is there an inter­na­tion­al body that has a say in these mat­ters?

    SL: Five out­er space treaties, estab­lished in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, do not men­tion space debris. Instead, there is a lot of coor­di­na­tion, first of all on the agency lev­el. The Inter-agency Space Debris Coor­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee coor­di­nates 13 of the world’s space agen­cies, includ­ing the ESA, NASA, the Chi­na Nation­al Space Admin­is­tra­tion, and Russia’s Roscosmos,to come up with debris mit­i­ga­tion guide­lines, share best prac­tices, and try to address the prob­lem in a way that makes sense to every­one. The Unit­ed Nations Com­mit­tee on the Peace­ful Uses of Out­er Space has tak­en on these guide­lines . This com­mit­tee includes politi­cians from many coun­tries, includ­ing those not cur­rent­ly fly­ing in space. Indus­tries in many coun­tries like­wise dis­cuss these issues with­in the Inter­na­tion­al Orga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion.

    So there is a lot of coor­di­na­tion inter­na­tion­al­ly to make sure that we play by the same rules and imple­ment the same set of stan­dards. But right now there is no way to direct­ly inter­face with any nation’s sov­er­eign­ty over what it launch­es — the out­er space treaties make nation states respon­si­ble for the behav­ior of their indi­vid­u­als or pri­vate com­pa­nies.

    ...

    JH: Pol­i­tics and law aside, is there a phys­i­cal lim­it of how many con­stel­la­tions of thou­sands of satel­lites can oper­ate at the same time. How much space is there in space?

    SL: If we don’t keep the cur­rent guide­lines men­tioned above, we will run into the so-called “Kessler syn­drome,” which is the name of this cas­cad­ing effect. And at that point, there would indeed be regions that even with­out large con­stel­la­tions would become so packed with debris that it would become imprac­ti­cal to put your satel­lites there. This is why we active­ly pro­mote a notion that space is a shared resource, and it’s a lim­it­ed resource. It is not infi­nite when we think about it in terms of how many objects we can put there. Exact­ly where this thresh­old is is in cer­tain cas­es com­putable, but it depends on the behav­ior of oper­a­tors. So you can­not say a pri­ori that sev­er­al thou­sand satel­lites are too much. That amount might be fea­si­ble, but it would need to come with strin­gent require­ments for respon­si­ble behav­ior, which have yet to be demon­strat­ed.

    ———-

    “Does Star­link Pose a Space Debris Threat? An Expert Answers” by Jan Hat­ten­bach; Sky & Tele­scope; 06/03/2019

    “If we’re now think­ing about putting anoth­er cou­ple of thou­sands of satel­lites up there, with lev­els of com­pli­ance sim­i­lar to what we’ve been doing so far, then we’re talk­ing about a pos­si­ble cat­a­stro­phe.”

    Careen­ing towards cat­a­stro­phe. That’s more or less how Sti­jn Lem­mens describes the sit­u­a­tion. Yes, cat­a­stro­phe can be avoid­ed, but only if all par­ties involved sud­den­ly get much, much more respon­si­ble than they have been thus far:

    ...
    Over the past two decades, there has been a lot of effort to estab­lish guide­lines and codes of con­duct. For low-Earth orbit (LEO), there is a well-known guide­line to take out your space­craft, satel­lite, or launch vehi­cle upper stage, with­in 25 years after the end of mis­sion.

    To have a rea­son­able shot at hav­ing a sta­ble space envi­ron­ment, the goal is to have at least 90% of the satel­lites and launch-vehi­cle upper stages with life­times longer than 25 years take them­selves out of orbit, or put them­selves into orbits with life­times less than 25 years.

    How­ev­er, we are not real­ly good at doing this at the moment. We’re talk­ing about suc­cess rates of 5% to 15% for satel­lites (launch vehi­cle orbital stages do notably bet­ter, with suc­cess rates of 40–70% in low-Earth orbit). Already with cur­rent traf­fic, we have rea­son­able con­cerns that we’re cre­at­ing a real debris issue out there.

    ...

    Oper­a­tors of any type of large satel­lite con­stel­la­tion would have to behave far bet­ter than most cur­rent actors in space­flight have been doing. And this is the con­cern: Before you launch, oper­a­tors can of course say and demon­strate that they are going to com­ply with all inter­na­tion­al norms and guide­lines. But it’s only after launch that we know how respon­si­ble their behav­ior actu­al­ly was.
    ...

    And keep in mind that, while Lem­mens sug­gests that SpaceX is going to be extra respon­si­ble because its going to be their own mega­con­stel­la­tions most at risk from a chain reac­tion event, that’s real­ly only going to be the case dur­ing the life­time of those satel­lites. Once the satel­lites are no longer in use we can’t be sure SpaceX is going to feel the same respon­si­bil­i­ty about tak­ing them out of orbit. And while SpaceX’s Star­link satel­lites prob­a­bly aren’t going to be in orbit for more than 25 years giv­en their low orbits (which will make them more sus­cep­ti­ble to orbital decay), SpaceX isn’t going to be the only play­er in this sec­tor. What if some oth­er mega­con­stel­la­tion oper­a­tor goes out of busi­ness and stops active­ly man­ag­ing their con­stel­la­tion? Will some­one else step in for the rest of the planned life­times of those con­stel­la­tions to avoid cat­a­stroph­ic chain reac­tion events? Is there some sort of satel­lite con­stel­la­tion man­age­ment insur­ance pol­i­cy? In addi­tion, as Lem­mens points out, we don’t actu­al­ly know yet if the cur­rent norms are actu­al­ly suf­fi­cient for large con­stel­la­tions of satel­lites:

    ...
    JH: Do you have the impres­sion that SpaceX is aware of their respon­si­bil­i­ty?

    SL: They are cer­tain­ly aware of the prob­lem. For exam­ple, to get a license to launch in the U.S. with a mis­sion like theirs, where they are exchang­ing data between the main­land, space, and oth­er oper­a­tors, you need to request a license, in this case from the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (FCC). To obtain this license, they must demon­strate what they will do with respect to space debris mit­i­ga­tion. So they need­ed to demon­strate a cer­tain adher­ence to the norms.

    But the real ques­tion is whether the cur­rent norms are actu­al­ly suf­fi­cient for large con­stel­la­tions, or if we are putting the bar too low with respect to future sus­tain­abil­i­ty. We are talk­ing about thou­sands of new satel­lites — the risk is that the cumu­la­tive effect is not cap­tured in the cur­rent lev­el of guide­lines. So SpaceX would have to vol­un­tar­i­ly demon­strate high­er lev­els of com­mit­ment.

    JH: When asked about these issues, SpaceX respond­ed that they believe they have the “most advanced sys­tem” for space debris mit­i­ga­tion, e.g. that the Star­link satel­lites are “designed to be capa­ble of ful­ly autonomous col­li­sion avoid­ance – mean­ing zero humans in the loop.” Are you con­fi­dent that such a sys­tem will work, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the num­bers?

    SL: I have no tech­ni­cal vis­i­bil­i­ty on how they imple­ment their sys­tem, so I can­not make a judg­ment if it will work with their satel­lites or not. What I can say is that it will require a cer­tain improve­ment on the cur­rent state-of-the-art. On the oth­er hand, if a pair of Star­link satel­lites does col­lide with­in the oper­a­tion orbit, SpaceX will be the first one who will be bad­ly affect­ed by the frag­men­ta­tion cloud the col­li­sion gen­er­ates. It’s in their own best inter­est to make sure their sys­tem works.
    ...

    So it’s kind of a giant exper­i­ment at this point. A giant exper­i­ment that oth­er coun­tries have no real say over because there’s no glob­al treaty address­ing the man­age­ment of space debris risks or how many satel­lites an indi­vid­ual coun­try or com­pa­ny can launch. It’s up to each gov­ern­ment to man­age their own com­pa­nies which, real­is­ti­cal­ly, means it’s up to each com­pa­ny to lob­by their gov­ern­ment to get per­mis­sion to do what­ev­er they want with promis­es of respon­si­ble stew­ard­ship. In oth­er words, real­is­ti­cal­ly it’s the pow­er­ful indus­tries that are going to be reg­u­lat­ing them­selves:

    ...
    JH: You men­tioned the launch license issued by the FCC, which is a fed­er­al com­mis­sion of the Unit­ed States. How­ev­er, space is not the prop­er­ty of the U.S. or any oth­er coun­try. Is there an inter­na­tion­al body that has a say in these mat­ters?

    SL: Five out­er space treaties, estab­lished in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, do not men­tion space debris. Instead, there is a lot of coor­di­na­tion, first of all on the agency lev­el. The Inter-agency Space Debris Coor­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee coor­di­nates 13 of the world’s space agen­cies, includ­ing the ESA, NASA, the Chi­na Nation­al Space Admin­is­tra­tion, and Russia’s Roscosmos,to come up with debris mit­i­ga­tion guide­lines, share best prac­tices, and try to address the prob­lem in a way that makes sense to every­one. The Unit­ed Nations Com­mit­tee on the Peace­ful Uses of Out­er Space has tak­en on these guide­lines . This com­mit­tee includes politi­cians from many coun­tries, includ­ing those not cur­rent­ly fly­ing in space. Indus­tries in many coun­tries like­wise dis­cuss these issues with­in the Inter­na­tion­al Orga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion.

    So there is a lot of coor­di­na­tion inter­na­tion­al­ly to make sure that we play by the same rules and imple­ment the same set of stan­dards. But right now there is no way to direct­ly inter­face with any nation’s sov­er­eign­ty over what it launch­es — the out­er space treaties make nation states respon­si­ble for the behav­ior of their indi­vid­u­als or pri­vate com­pa­nies.

    ...

    JH: Pol­i­tics and law aside, is there a phys­i­cal lim­it of how many con­stel­la­tions of thou­sands of satel­lites can oper­ate at the same time. How much space is there in space?
    ...

    Final­ly, as Lem­mens notes, human­i­ty needs to accept the real­i­ty that the ‘space’ around Earth is a shared resource and a lim­it­ed resource. There might be a lot of it, but it’s still lim­it­ed:

    ...
    SL: If we don’t keep the cur­rent guide­lines men­tioned above, we will run into the so-called “Kessler syn­drome,” which is the name of this cas­cad­ing effect. And at that point, there would indeed be regions that even with­out large con­stel­la­tions would become so packed with debris that it would become imprac­ti­cal to put your satel­lites there. This is why we active­ly pro­mote a notion that space is a shared resource, and it’s a lim­it­ed resource. It is not infi­nite when we think about it in terms of how many objects we can put there. Exact­ly where this thresh­old is is in cer­tain cas­es com­putable, but it depends on the behav­ior of oper­a­tors. So you can­not say a pri­ori that sev­er­al thou­sand satel­lites are too much. That amount might be fea­si­ble, but it would need to come with strin­gent require­ments for respon­si­ble behav­ior, which have yet to be demon­strat­ed.
    ...

    And that’s per­haps the sad­dest aspect of this issue: With­out a recog­ni­tion that we’re deal­ing with a shared pub­lic good that’s a lim­it­ed resource there’s no chance of us not screw­ing this up. And irre­spon­si­bly man­ag­ing lim­it­ed resources in an unsus­tain­able man­ner is like a human spe­cial­ty. Human­i­ty has­n’t even demon­strat­ed an abil­i­ty to sus­tain­ably share the oceans and the rest of the Earth­’s envi­ron­ment. Rec­og­niz­ing the lim­it­ed nature of vast resources is sim­ply not some­thing human­i­ty has instincts for so we have to learn this ‘glob­al­ly shared pub­lic good man­age­ment’ skill set and we clear­ly aren’t very good at it.

    Space, the final fron­tier the final pub­lic good for us to casu­al­ly trash.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 20, 2019, 2:17 pm
  7. Here’s a sto­ry worth keep­ing an eye on regard­ing the grow­ing inter­est in cre­at­ing swarms of nano-satel­lites and the asso­ci­at­ed risks of pol­lut­ing earth­’s obit with space junk: France has big nano-satel­lite plans of its own. To pro­tect its satel­lites from rival anti-satel­lite tech­nol­o­gy. It’s a big part of Emmanuel Macron’s recent­ly-announced “Space Com­mand” which will focus on satel­lite pro­tec­tion. The vision includes swarms of nano-satel­lites patrolling the regions around France’s main satel­lites. Anoth­er part of France’s new satel­lite pro­tec­tion pro­gram will involve the devel­op­ment of offen­sive anti-satel­lite tech­nol­o­gy, like pow­er­ful ground-based lasers, which can osten­si­bly be used to neu­tral­ize ene­my satel­lites threat­en­ing France’s satel­lites. Some satel­lites might get machine guns too.

    We’ll see how far along France goes with this Space Com­mand ini­tia­tive, but we can add France to the grow­ing list of coun­tries mak­ing major invest­ments in satel­lite-based war­fare which is the lat­est reminder that a satel­lite arms race that promis­es to flood earth­’s orbit with a range of offen­sive and defen­sive satel­lites is already under­way:

    Ars Tech­ni­ca

    To pro­tect its satel­lites, France out­lines ambi­tious space-weapons pro­gram
    “We have to face it, because it is our inde­pen­dence that is at stake.”

    Eric Berg­er — 7/25/2019, 2:22 PM

    After French Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron called for a space high com­mand to pro­tect his nation’s satel­lites ear­li­er this month, mil­i­tary offi­cials on Thurs­day released their plans in more detail.

    As report­ed in the French finan­cial news­pa­per Les Echos, the French Defense Min­is­ter, Flo­rence Par­ly, out­lined a new space weapons pro­gram that would allow the coun­try to move from space sur­veil­lance to the active pro­tec­tion of its satel­lites.

    “France is not embark­ing on a space arms race,” Par­ly said, accord­ing to the pub­li­ca­tion. How­ev­er, the projects out­lined Thurs­day by French offi­cials include swarms of nano-satel­lites that would patrol a few kilo­me­ters around French satel­lites, a ground-based laser sys­tem to blind snoop­ing satel­lites, and per­haps even machine guns on board some satel­lites.

    Par­ly said one of the coun­try’s biggest chal­lenges would be to devel­op these capa­bil­i­ties with about one-tenth of the bud­get that the US spends on civ­il and defense space activ­i­ties.

    Satel­lites spy­ing on satel­lites

    The announce­ment was made at the Lyon-Mont-Ver­dun air­base, and it sets the stage for the cre­ation of a French “space com­mand.” The coun­try is con­cerned about mis­sile tests con­duct­ed against satel­lites by Rus­sia, the Unit­ed States, Chi­na, and more recent­ly India. Par­ly also expressed con­cerns about an attempt by a Russ­ian satel­lite to spy on French space assets.

    “Since then, this intru­sive satel­lite has left its busi­ness card with eight oth­er satel­lites from dif­fer­ent coun­tries that have been spied on, scram­bled or blind­ed,” Par­ly said. “Threats are increas­ing. We have to face it, because it is our inde­pen­dence that is at stake.”

    The 1967 Out­er Space Treaty pro­hibits weapons of mass destruc­tion in orbit, but it does not rule out the place­ment of mil­i­tary assets there, nor the enact­ment of self-defense mea­sures. Par­ly said France’s pri­or­i­ty remains the peace­ful use of space, but the coun­try must pro­tect its assets there.

    Flares and chaff

    Bri­an Wee­den, direc­tor of pro­gram plan­ning for the Secure World Foun­da­tion, told Ars that the French have been telegraph­ing their con­cerns about the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of space by coun­tries like the Unit­ed States, Rus­sia, and Chi­na for some time.

    ...

    Some of the tech­nolo­gies out­lined in the French arti­cle sound some­what fanciful—such as machine guns mount­ed on satellites—but Wee­den said that most of these sys­tems are with­in reach of France and oth­er devel­oped nations.

    For exam­ple, the con­cept of a “swarm” of pro­tec­tive nano-satel­lites is sim­i­lar to the US Air Force’s Geo­syn­chro­nous Space Sit­u­a­tion­al Aware­ness Pro­gram in that it may seek to mon­i­tor activ­i­ties in the geo­sta­tion­ary region of space and to help detect hos­tile approach­es toward French mil­i­tary satel­lites in orbit there.

    “I think there is a con­cert­ed effort by France, and oth­er coun­tries as well, to think of the space equiv­a­lent of ‘flares and chaff’ or elec­tron­ic coun­ter­mea­sures used on air­planes to pro­tect against anti-air­craft mis­siles, and see how such con­cepts might be applied to satel­lites,” Wee­den said.

    ———-

    “To pro­tect its satel­lites, France out­lines ambi­tious space-weapons pro­gram” by Eric Berg­er, Ars Tech­ni­ca, 07/25/2019

    ““France is not embark­ing on a space arms race,” Par­ly said, accord­ing to the pub­li­ca­tion. How­ev­er, the projects out­lined Thurs­day by French offi­cials include swarms of nano-satel­lites that would patrol a few kilo­me­ters around French satel­lites, a ground-based laser sys­tem to blind snoop­ing satel­lites, and per­haps even machine guns on board some satel­lites.

    Swarms of pro­tec­tive nano-satel­lites and machine guns. That’s a peak at what satel­lite war­fare could look like in anoth­er decade. The kind of war­fare that’s pre­sum­ably going to cre­ate quite a bit of space junk if a space con­flict actu­al­ly broke out.

    In relat­ed news, Chi­nese researchers have devel­oped an inno­v­a­tive approach for clean­ing up small pieces of space junk that are large enough to dam­age satel­lites but too small to eas­i­ly cap­ture and clean up: stick a pow­er­ful laser on anoth­er satel­lite and shoot the pieces of space junk with the laser. The idea is that the laser will cause a piece of the junk to heat up and burn off, eject­ing the rest of the junk out of orbit where it will even­tu­al­ly burn up. This laser tech­nol­o­gy, of course, could be used to attack oth­er satel­lites. It’s an exam­ple of how the tech­nol­o­gy for clean­ing debris will often be dual use tech­nol­o­gy with offen­sive capa­bil­i­ties.

    So at the same time we’re see­ing the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of space cre­ate the con­di­tions for gen­er­at­ing mas­sive amounts of space junk, even the space junk-clean­ing tech­nol­o­gy is going to poten­tial­ly be able to gen­er­ate even more space junk...which is going to require the devel­op­ment of even more satel­lite defen­sive tech­nol­o­gy to pro­tect against rogue junk-clean­ing satel­lites. And if a space con­flict does break out and a bunch of satel­lites get blown up, there’s going to be even more space junk float­ing around neces­si­tat­ing the need for even more space junk-clean­ing tech­nolo­gies and more pro­tec­tive nano-satel­lites. Arms races of the past have tend­ed to have ‘tit-for-tat’ self-rein­forc­ing dynam­ics, but when it comes to the satel­lite arms race the space pol­lu­tion from satel­lite con­flicts will lit­er­al­ly linger around in orbit and dri­ve the arms race even more. So that’s an inter­est­ing new trend in arms races. It’s not exact­ly progress.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 12, 2019, 2:40 pm
  8. Here’s a some­what dis­turb­ing update on SpaceX’s new Star­link ‘mega-con­stel­la­tion’ of thou­sands of sat­telites and the grow­ing risk that human­i­ty pol­lutes the Earth­’s orbit so much with space junk that it induces “Kessler syn­drome” , the chain reac­tion that makes the Earth­’s orbit effec­tive­ly unus­able: The Euoro­pean Space Agency (ESA) just revealed that it had to make an emer­gency course cor­rec­tion for one of its satel­lites, the Aeo­lus satel­lite. Why? Because one of SpaceX’s Star­link satel­lites, Starlink44, was recent­ly moved into a low­er orbit to test out de-orbit­ing tech­niques and in the process Starlink44 end­ed up in a pos­si­ble col­li­sion course with the Aeo­lus. That’s not the dis­turb­ing part. The dis­turb­ing part is that after ESA con­tact­ed SpaceX to let them know about this pos­si­ble col­li­sion — which was esti­mat­ed to be a 1 in 1000 chance, ten times high­er than the thresh­old used to decide whether or not eva­sive actions are required — SpaceX decid­ed not to move Starlink44, leav­ing it up to the ESA to decide whether or not the space agency was going to risk a col­li­sion or if they should move Aeo­lus. In addi­tion, SpaceX has been brag­ging about the auto­mat­ed col­li­sion avoid­ance sys­tems it built into these satel­lites, but that sys­tem was­n’t used in this case for unex­plained rea­sons. So the ESA decid­ed to take eva­sive action and move Aeo­lus. And this ambi­gu­i­ty on who would move their satel­lite, if any­one at all, was all per­fect­ly fine and legal because there are no rules for space. While the ESA had the Aeo­lus in that orbit first, there’s no rule that says SpaceX was there­fore oblig­ed to move Starlink44. It’s all based on good will and coop­er­a­tion.

    After the fol­low­ing arti­cle was pub­lic, SpaceX gave an expla­na­tion for why it told the ESA it was­n’t mov­ing the Starlink44. The way SpaceX describes it, when they were first in con­tact with the ESA about a pos­si­ble col­li­sion the esti­mat­ed prob­a­bil­i­ty of a col­li­sion was at 1:in 50k chance, well below the 1 in 10k thresh­old, and that’s when SpaceX told ESA it was­n’t mov­ing its satel­lite. Lat­er, the US Air Force updat­ed the prob­a­bil­i­ty to around a 1 in 1000 chance of a col­li­sion, but a bug in SpaceX’s pag­ing sys­tem pre­vent­ed the Star­link oper­a­tor from see­ing the new mes­sages about this prob­a­bil­i­ty increase and if the oper­a­tor has seen those mes­sages they would have coor­di­nat­ed with the ESA about the best options. That’s SpaceX’s sto­ry. An email bug. Who knows if the ‘bug in the pag­ing sys­tem’ is just pub­lic rela­tions ass cov­er­ing or real­ly hap­pened. ESA asserts in the orig­i­nal arti­cle that the email they received from SpaceX inform­ing them of the deci­sion not to move the satel­lite was the first con­tact they had with SpaceX since the launch of Star­link despite repeat­ed ear­li­er attempts. So it sounds like SpaceX is mak­ing Star­link rather dif­fi­cult to con­tact, which seems insane giv­en the cir­cum­stances. Espe­cial­ly since satel­lite oper­a­tor com­pa­nies direct­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing each oth­er appears to be how these sit­u­a­tions get resolved.

    Adding to the dis­turb­ing nature of the sto­ry is that only a small frac­tion of SpaceX’s planned ‘mega-con­stel­la­tion’ of satel­lites are actu­al­ly in orbit at this point. Only 60 out of the planned 12,000 Star­link satel­lites were launched this year. Beyond that, the vast major­i­ty of those 60 satel­lites were moved to a high­er orbit. Starlink44 was one of the few brought into a low­er orbit to test de-orbit­ing tech­niques. So there was a col­li­sion risk from just a hand­ful of the satel­lites from this grow­ing mega-con­stel­la­tion. How many ‘uh oh’ near miss moments like this are going to hap­pen once the full 12,000 mega-con­stel­la­tion is up and run­ning, along with all the oth­er planned mega-con­stel­la­tions oth­er com­pa­nies and coun­tries have in mind?

    Also keep in mind one of the per­verse dynam­ics at work here: part of the appeal of the mega-con­stel­la­tions of cheap small satel­lites is that oper­a­tion of that sys­tem is resis­tant to los­ing some of the satel­lites. It’s like an inter­net of satel­lites built to be robust to satel­lite loss. So when these poten­tial­ly col­li­sions are dis­cov­ered, the oper­a­tor of a mega-con­stel­la­tion has far more incen­tive to sim­ply risk a col­li­sion and not engage in eva­sive maneu­vers pre­cise­ly because it does­n’t real­ly mat­ter if they lose that one satel­lite. There are thou­sands more to back them up. As a result of this dynam­ic, where there are no rules on who is expect­ed to move their satel­lites in the event of a poten­tial col­li­sion, these mega-con­stel­la­tions are going to be in a posi­tion to sim­ply demand that every­one else move their satel­lites instead. Unless, of course, its the satel­lites from two dif­fer­ent mega-con­stel­la­tions that are head­ing towards each oth­er. We’ll see who ‘blinks’ hap­pens in that case. And it’s just a mat­ter of time before we see such a sce­nario unfold because we’re just at the start of the era of the mega-con­stel­la­tions of satel­lites:

    Forbes

    SpaceX Declined To Move A Star­link Satel­lite At Risk Of Col­li­sion With A Euro­pean Satel­lite

    Jonathan O’Callaghan
    Sep 2, 2019, 03:55pm

    The Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA) says one of its satel­lites was forced to avoid a satel­lite from SpaceX’s Star­link con­stel­la­tion, rais­ing con­cerns about the impact of Star­link on low Earth orbit oper­a­tions, after SpaceX declined to move their satel­lite out of the way.

    At 11.02 A.M. today, Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 2, ESA’s Aeo­lus Earth obser­va­tion satel­lite had to use its thrusters to move itself out of a poten­tial col­li­sion with a Star­link space inter­net satel­lite dubbed “Star­link 44”. The inci­dent took place 320 kilo­me­ters above Earth as the two orbital paths of the two vehi­cles inter­cept­ed each oth­er. Aeo­lus returned to its oper­a­tional orbit after the maneu­ver.

    Accord­ing to Hol­ger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of col­li­sion between the two satel­lites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times high­er than the thresh­old that requires a col­li­sion avoid­ance maneu­ver. How­ev­er, despite Aeo­lus occu­py­ing this region of space nine months before Star­link 44, SpaceX declined to move their satel­lite after the two were alert­ed to the impact risk by the U.S. mil­i­tary, who mon­i­tor space traf­fic.

    “Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,” says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first con­tact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeat­ed attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Star­link launched. “It was at least clear who had to react. So we decid­ed to react because the col­li­sion was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times high­er than our thresh­old.”

    As to why SpaceX refused to move their satel­lite, that is not entire­ly clear (the com­pa­ny did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment). Krag sus­pect­ed it could be some­thing to do with SpaceX’s elec­tric propul­sion sys­tem, which “maybe is not react­ing so fast” as the chem­i­cal propul­sion onboard Aeo­lus.

    The Aeo­lus satel­lite, weigh­ing in at more than 1,300 kilo­grams, was launched on August 22, 2018, where­as SpaceX launched its first batch of 60 Star­link satel­lites on May 23 this year. While most of those had their orbits raised from 440 kilo­me­ters to 550 kilo­me­ters (except at least three that failed), Star­link 44 was low­ered to near 320 kilo­me­ters to prac­tice deor­bit tech­niques.

    Thus Star­link 44 entered a region of space that Aeo­lus had occu­pied first. How­ev­er, there are no rules in space that require one or anoth­er oper­a­tor to move their satel­lite when there is a risk of col­li­sion. This, says Krag, is some­thing that ESA hopes will be addressed in the near future.

    “There are no rules in space,” he says. “Nobody did any­thing wrong. Space is there for every­body to use. There’s no rule that some­body was first here. Basi­cal­ly on every orbit you can encounter oth­er objects. Space is not orga­nized. And so we believe we need tech­nol­o­gy to man­age this traf­fic.”

    SpaceX has tout­ed the auto­mat­ed col­li­sion avoid­ance sys­tems onboard its Star­link satel­lites, which are designed to beam high-speed inter­net around the world. It says that the satel­lites, each weigh­ing 227 kilo­grams, are “capa­ble of track­ing on-orbit debris and autonomous­ly avoid­ing col­li­sion.” But for this inci­dent, this sys­tem does not seem to have been used for some rea­son.

    ESA not­ed that it per­formed 28 col­li­sion avoid­ance maneu­vers in 2018, but it was most­ly to avoid dead satel­lites or bits of space debris. Maneu­vers to avoid active satel­lites were “very rare”, they said, but the arrival of mega con­stel­la­tions like Star­link rais­es con­cerns that many more such maneu­vers will be need­ed in future.

    ...

    Col­li­sions between satel­lites are not unheard of; per­haps the most famous inci­dent was between the US Irid­i­um 33 satel­lite and the defunct Russ­ian Kos­mos-2251 satel­lite in 2009, which result­ed in thou­sands of pieces of debris. And many have not­ed that our sys­tems in place today are sim­ply not ade­quate to cope with upcom­ing mega con­stel­la­tions like Star­link, which will far exceed the num­ber of 2,000 active satel­lites cur­rent­ly in orbit.

    “The Feb­ru­ary 2009 col­li­sion between Irid­i­um 33 and Kos­mos-2251 was actu­al­ly pre­dict­ed, with a miss dis­tance of 584 meters, but that was less than the pre­dic­tion for­mal error, and so eva­sive action was not tak­en,” says Mar­shall Eubanks from Space Ini­tia­tives. “The exist­ing satel­lite track­ing sys­tem is not intend­ed to han­dle the mega con­stel­la­tions being planned and deployed, and new think­ing is going to be required to allow the indus­try to con­tin­ue to grow.”

    SpaceX alone plans to launch a total of 12,000 Star­link satel­lites into orbit in the com­ing years, with con­sid­er­able con­cerns about how busy Earth orbit will become. “As the num­ber of satel­lites in orbit increas­es, due to mega con­stel­la­tions such as Star­link com­pris­ing hun­dreds or even thou­sands of satel­lites, today’s ‘man­u­al’ col­li­sion avoid­ance process will become impos­si­ble...” ESA not­ed in a tweet, adding that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence might be need­ed to han­dle the high vol­ume of maneu­vers in the future.

    And those satel­lites could come thick and fast. Licens­es filed by SpaceX sug­gest they are plan­ning four more Star­link launch­es by the end of 2019, which could total at least an addi­tion­al 240 satel­lites if they con­tin­ue to launch 60 on each Fal­con 9 rock­et. The first launch is expect­ed no ear­li­er than Octo­ber 10, with sub­se­quent launch­es in Octo­ber, Novem­ber, and Decem­ber. Oth­er com­pa­nies like OneWeb, Ama­zon, and Kepler Com­mu­ni­ca­tions also have plans for thou­sands of space inter­net satel­lites.

    “I would say [this inci­dent] under­lines the uncer­tain­ty about the impact of these mega con­stel­la­tions,” says Jonathan McDow­ell from the Har­vard-Smith­son­ian Cen­ter for Astro­physics. “Oper­at­ing in LEO [low Earth orbit] will now require con­stant vig­i­lance by all satel­lite oper­a­tors.”

    SpaceX has so far remained tight-lipped on how it will han­dle the grow­ing con­cerns around its Star­link con­stel­la­tion, includ­ing col­li­sion avoid­ance maneu­vers and con­cerns from the astron­o­my com­mu­ni­ty. As for this most recent inci­dent, Krag and his team just hope that SpaceX will be more respon­sive in the future, so that sit­u­a­tions can be avoid­ed when more Star­link satel­lites are launched, and more strin­gent rules are put in place.

    “We are not upset by them say­ing [they wouldn’t move],” says Krag. “My con­cern is how often will we have such events in the future? These are just two satel­lites. Now they will add sev­er­al thou­sand, and they will also be dis­posed and end up at var­i­ous alti­tudes. And there’s no rule or law on how to react, it’s all good­will.

    “What I want is an orga­nized way of doing space traf­fic. It must be clear when you have such a sit­u­a­tion who has to react. And of course automat­ing the sys­tem. It can­not be when we have 10,000 satel­lites in space that there are oper­a­tors writ­ing the email what to do. This is not how I imag­ine mod­ern space­flight.”

    (Update Tues­day, Sep­tem­ber 3 – SpaceX has now released a state­ment clar­i­fy­ing their actions:

    “Our Star­link team last exchanged an email with the Aeo­lus oper­a­tions team on August 28, when the prob­a­bil­i­ty of col­li­sion was only in the 2.2e‑5 range (or 1 in 50k), well below the 1e‑4 (or 1 in 10k) indus­try stan­dard thresh­old and 75 times low­er than the final esti­mate. At that point, both SpaceX and ESA deter­mined a maneu­ver was not nec­es­sary. Then, the U.S. Air Force’s updates showed the prob­a­bil­i­ty increased to 1.69e‑3 (or more than 1 in 10k) but a bug in our on-call pag­ing sys­tem pre­vent­ed the Star­link oper­a­tor from see­ing the fol­low on cor­re­spon­dence on this prob­a­bil­i­ty increase – SpaceX is still inves­ti­gat­ing the issue and will imple­ment cor­rec­tive actions. How­ev­er, had the Star­link oper­a­tor seen the cor­re­spon­dence, we would have coor­di­nat­ed with ESA to deter­mine best approach with their con­tin­u­ing with their maneu­ver or our per­form­ing a maneu­ver.”)

    ———–

    “SpaceX Declined To Move A Star­link Satel­lite At Risk Of Col­li­sion With A Euro­pean Satel­lite” by Jonathan O’Callaghan; Forbes; 09/02/2019

    ““What I want is an orga­nized way of doing space traf­fic. It must be clear when you have such a sit­u­a­tion who has to react. And of course automat­ing the sys­tem. It can­not be when we have 10,000 satel­lites in space that there are oper­a­tors writ­ing the email what to do. This is not how I imag­ine mod­ern space­flight.””

    It’s all based on cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tion and coop­er­a­tion. That’s the cur­rent sys­tem for how satel­lite col­li­sions are avoid­ed. So it’s extra trou­bling to learn that SpaceX’s Star­link team has appar­ent­ly been extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to con­tact at the same time the com­pa­ny starts its exper­i­ment with mega-con­stel­la­tions. Isn’t that exact­ly the time when the Star­link team should be extreme­ly easy to con­tact? It’s also the kind of sit­u­a­tion that makes the ‘bug in the pag­ing sys­tem’ excuse by SpaceX seem more like­ly to be a pub­lic rela­tion­ship cov­er sto­ry:

    ...
    Accord­ing to Hol­ger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of col­li­sion between the two satel­lites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times high­er than the thresh­old that requires a col­li­sion avoid­ance maneu­ver. How­ev­er, despite Aeo­lus occu­py­ing this region of space nine months before Star­link 44, SpaceX declined to move their satel­lite after the two were alert­ed to the impact risk by the U.S. mil­i­tary, who mon­i­tor space traf­fic.

    “Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,” says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first con­tact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeat­ed attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Star­link launched. “It was at least clear who had to react. So we decid­ed to react because the col­li­sion was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times high­er than our thresh­old.”

    As to why SpaceX refused to move their satel­lite, that is not entire­ly clear (the com­pa­ny did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment). Krag sus­pect­ed it could be some­thing to do with SpaceX’s elec­tric propul­sion sys­tem, which “maybe is not react­ing so fast” as the chem­i­cal propul­sion onboard Aeo­lus.

    ...

    (Update Tues­day, Sep­tem­ber 3 – SpaceX has now released a state­ment clar­i­fy­ing their actions:

    “Our Star­link team last exchanged an email with the Aeo­lus oper­a­tions team on August 28, when the prob­a­bil­i­ty of col­li­sion was only in the 2.2e‑5 range (or 1 in 50k), well below the 1e‑4 (or 1 in 10k) indus­try stan­dard thresh­old and 75 times low­er than the final esti­mate. At that point, both SpaceX and ESA deter­mined a maneu­ver was not nec­es­sary. Then, the U.S. Air Force’s updates showed the prob­a­bil­i­ty increased to 1.69e‑3 (or more than 1 in 10k) but a bug in our on-call pag­ing sys­tem pre­vent­ed the Star­link oper­a­tor from see­ing the fol­low on cor­re­spon­dence on this prob­a­bil­i­ty increase – SpaceX is still inves­ti­gat­ing the issue and will imple­ment cor­rec­tive actions. How­ev­er, had the Star­link oper­a­tor seen the cor­re­spon­dence, we would have coor­di­nat­ed with ESA to deter­mine best approach with their con­tin­u­ing with their maneu­ver or our per­form­ing a maneu­ver.”)
    ...

    And despite the SpaceX plans to rapid­ly get this mega-con­stel­la­tion up to 12,000 satel­lites, the com­pa­ny remains tight-lipped on its plans for how to han­dle a grow­ing num­ber of these kinds of sit­u­a­tions:

    ...
    “I would say [this inci­dent] under­lines the uncer­tain­ty about the impact of these mega con­stel­la­tions,” says Jonathan McDow­ell from the Har­vard-Smith­son­ian Cen­ter for Astro­physics. “Oper­at­ing in LEO [low Earth orbit] will now require con­stant vig­i­lance by all satel­lite oper­a­tors.”

    SpaceX has so far remained tight-lipped on how it will han­dle the grow­ing con­cerns around its Star­link con­stel­la­tion, includ­ing col­li­sion avoid­ance maneu­vers and con­cerns from the astron­o­my com­mu­ni­ty. As for this most recent inci­dent, Krag and his team just hope that SpaceX will be more respon­sive in the future, so that sit­u­a­tions can be avoid­ed when more Star­link satel­lites are launched, and more strin­gent rules are put in place.

    “We are not upset by them say­ing [they wouldn’t move],” says Krag. “My con­cern is how often will we have such events in the future? These are just two satel­lites. Now they will add sev­er­al thou­sand, and they will also be dis­posed and end up at var­i­ous alti­tudes. And there’s no rule or law on how to react, it’s all good­will.
    ...

    And if this inci­dent is a sign of what we should expect from SpaceX, it sounds like their plan is to make it very hard to com­mu­ni­cate with Star­link and just leave it up to the oth­er satel­lite oper­a­tor to move their own satel­lites. It’s a sys­tem based on good­will, with­out the good­will.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 3, 2019, 3:07 pm

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