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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

6 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

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