Tuesday, December 10, 2019

U.S. Space Command chief Raymond: ‘I’m really excited for the Space Force’

Raymond: "Having a Space Force with a singular focus on the space domain will be hugely, hugely helpful to us."

WASHINGTON — After just a few months in existence, U.S. Space Command has grown in size, influence and is about to complete a detailed game plan for how the nation’s space assets will be defended. Its commander Gen. John “Jay” Raymond believes that the establishment of a U.S. Space Force will be a big boost to U.S. SPACECOM and to the nation’s ability to protect its satellites and defeat aggressors.

“I’m really excited for the Space Force,” Raymond said Dec. 9 at the Pentagon during an interview with SpaceNews. “I think it’s going to provide another huge advantage for our nation.”

Congressional defense committee leaders on Dec. 9 unveiled details of the conference agreement for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that authorizes a U.S. Space Force as an independent military branch under the Department of the Air Force.

The NDAA compromise, if it becomes law, would make Raymond a dual-hatted commander of U.S. SPACECOM and Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force during the first year. Raymond currently serves as commander of Air Force Space Command. The NDAA would disestablish Air Force Space Command and realign it under the U.S. Space Force.

Raymond said he had not yet seen or reviewed the details of the agreement. But he was emphatic that the U.S. military should have a space-focused service.

“U.S. Space Command will only be as good as the capabilities that the service provides,” he said. “And just as U.S. Space Command has a singular focus on the war fighting aspect of space, having a Space Force with a singular focus on the space domain will be hugely, hugely helpful to us,” he added. “This is really an exciting time to be in the space business. There’s a lot happening and it’s really an important time for the security of our nation.”

Having both a U.S. Space Command and a U.S. Space Force “elevates both of those functions — the war-fighting function; and the organize, train and equip function. It elevates it to the next higher level,” said Raymond. “And we’re excited.”

New space agreements with allies

Raymond revealed during the interview that U.S. SPACECOM has signed two new space data sharing agreements with Chile and Finland. These two nations are the latest to join the growing international alliance of countries that share information about what’s happening in space.

“I am really proud of that,” Raymond said. Already 100 countries have signed “space situational awareness” agreements with the United States. ”And so we’ve expanded to two more and I think that work is going to continue,” he said.

These pacts are important to keep space secure for everyone, said Raymond. “There’s additional services that we provide with these sharing agreements. And we’re really looking to make this a two-way sharing so it’s not just the U.S. providing information to our partners, but we also want to get information from their capabilities. That’s what I’m really excited about.”

When the U.S. signs a space situational awareness agreement, for example, if a partner country was going to launch a satellite into space, the U.S. would suggest the best time to launch in order to avoid a collision or any incident in space.

Alliances are essential in space, Raymond insisted. “I’ve gone to Europe and engaged with NATO. I briefed the NATO military committee on space and I was really excited to see last week NATO at a a meeting declared space an operational domain. We’re looking to partner very closely with NATO,” he added. “Our desire is to deter conflict. We don’t want a conflict to occur in space or extending into space. So I think there’s a great role in that partnership with NATO.”

Staffing and budgets

U.S. SPACECOM’s temporary headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, has about 400 people. By the time the command reaches full operational status in the next couple of years, it will be “much, much larger … in line with the other combatant commands,” said Raymond.

“We are finalizing our campaign plan for space and we expect that campaign plan will be done in by February,” he said. A campaign plan “governs our day to day activities and how we compete with Russia and China and others.”

Raymond recently submitted to the Pentagon a justification document for additional resources. “We’ve gone through what’s called the joint validation manpower board to determine those resources, and that’s complete,” said. “I think maybe one of the biggest things that we’ve done, we published our first integrated priority list,” which identifies areas that need funding. “We’ve had a stronger voice in the budget process,” he said.

As a combatant commands U.S. SPACECOM can advocate for programs that would have to be funded by the military services. “We published that list and we’ve had a significant influence on the budget that is being built as we speak,” Raymond said. He would not specify what is in his wish list but said the command requested “capabilities to defend our assets in space.”

The permanent location of U.S. SPACECOM has been the source of much speculation after it became clear that other states other than Colorado — notably Alabama and Florida — would be pushing to host the command. Raymond said the Air Force is conducting a study on basing options and he does not know when it will be finished. “When we make those basing decisions, there’s a lot of factors that that play into that.”

Declassifying space

Raymond has been a proponent of a more open dialogue about space security, something that is hard to do today because most of what the U.S. military does in space is classified, as are the existence of many space program. U.S. SPACECOM believes in deterring adversaries from taking hostile actions but that will require being able to talk openly about what the U.S. does, he said.

“We think it’s very important if you’re going to deter, you have to be able to change the calculus of an adversary. And the only way you can do that is to have a discussion and reveal capabilities that you have,” Raymond said. “So I do think there’s going to be a need to reduce classification on certain capabilities and there’s certain capabilities that we won’t, but we’re going to have to develop the strategy to make sure that we can deter effectively.”

“Our desire is not to get into a conflict,” Raymond stressed. “We want to deter. And the way you deter is to do that from a position of strength and to say that we have the ability to protect and defend our capabilities. I think that’s important work going forward.”

Sunday, December 8, 2019

White House, Democrats strike tentative deal to create Space Force in exchange for federal parental leave benefits: report

The White House and House Democrats have reportedly reached a tentative deal to authorize the creation of the Space Force, a priority for the Trump administration first outlined in an executive order by the president earlier this year.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Democrats and White House negotiators had struck a bargain that would authorize the creation of the agency in exchange for a policy establishing 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers.

It isn't clear if the plan will be able to win enough Republican support to pass the Senate, according to the Post, but the plan appears to have the backing of both President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a rare moment of compromise amid the House's impeachment hearings.

“Trump doesn’t like the so-called ‘deep state’ and I doubt that he’s going to bed at night saying, ‘Look what I did for federal workers,’” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) told the Post. “But it was a trade-off for him. And it’s good policy.”

Parental leave applies to all federal workers, including gay, lesbian and transgender parents, because of federal regulations, though the weeks of paid leave reportedly would not be allowed to be used in addition to existing benefits allowing 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time for federal workers per year.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a supporter of expanding paid family leave, told the Post that the deal reached by congressional and White House negotiators was an “incomplete solution, but a significant one.”

“We are one of the only civilized nations in the world that does not provide its workers with paid leave when they have children or care for sick relatives, and I have been working for decades to remedy that,” she added.

Source: https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/473603-white-house-democrats-strike-tentative-deal-to-create-space-force-in

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

NASA shows off stunning new Moon lander concept

As NASA gets ready to return to the Moon in 2024, the space agency is working on new designs for a lunar lander, including a futuristic design it shared on Monday.

NASA showed off concept art of a lander that will use "top-tier technology" in order to not only land on Earth's celestial satellite, but collect data from it as well. One recent study showed that a "mid-sized" lander would have a rover go to the polar regions of the Moon, NASA said in a release on its website.

“This lander was designed with simplicity in mind to deliver a 300 kilogram rover to a lunar pole," said Logan Kennedy, the project's lead systems engineer, in the release. "We used single string systems, minimal mechanisms and existing technology to reduce complexity, though advancements in precision landing were planned to avoid hazards and to benefit rover operations. We keep the rover alive through transit and landing so it can go do its job.”

According to a technical paper on the lander, multiple NASA field centers contributed to the effort.

“As robotic lunar landers grow to accommodate larger payloads, simple but high-performing landers with a contiguous payload volume will be needed,” Kennedy added. “This concept was developed by a diverse team of people over many years and meets that need. We hope that other lander designers can benefit from our work."

The lunar concept is the latest in a line of design ideas as NASA seeks input from public and private partners as it makes headway for its upcoming Artemis Moon program, the successor to the Apollo program.

Earlier this month, Boeing showed off its crewed Moon lander idea, one it says will require the "fewest steps to the Moon." The design will deliver the lander’s Ascent Element and Descent Element to lunar orbit in one rocket, Boeing said.

In July, NASA revealed details of its vision for the Artemis Moon Lander that will return U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. Separately that month, the space agency posted a notice to the Federal Business Opportunities website that it was seeking “proposals from industry for the development of integrated human lunar landers and execution of crewed flight demonstrations to the lunar surface by 2024.”

The Artemis program aims to land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite. Artemis will also make history by landing the first woman on the Moon.

Earlier this month, NASA picked SpaceX's Starship, Blue Origin's Blue Moon and three other commercial lunar lander companies to bid on proposals for the Artemis program.

After Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969, only 10 more men, all Americans, walked on the lunar surface. The last NASA astronaut to set foot on the Moon was Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan on Dec. 14, 1972.

Source: https://www.foxnews.com/science/nasa-shows-off-moon-lander-concept

Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch pad taking shape at Cape Canaveral

New Glenn to launch from Launch Complex 36 in 2021

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The water tower for Blue Origin’s future launch site is beginning to rise above Cape Canaveral as work continues to pick up speed on the facility.

Blue Origin, the company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, plans to begin launching its reusable New Glenn rocket from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in early 2021.

Work has been ongoing on the launch complex preparing for New Glenn’s first launch but recently locals say it’s starting to take shape.

Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham called it a “monster” of a launch pad.

“It is going to be a beast,” Ketcham said.

In 2015, Blue Origin leased the launch site from the Air Force. Two years later it completed construction on its massive blue-and-white rocket factory outside Kennedy Space Center gates in Exploration Park.

Recent photos taken by photographer Greg Scott from Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral show the view from the rocket factory to the launch site.

The top floor of the building on Space Commerce Way will also serve as launch control for New Glenn.

LC-36A was originally completed in 1961 to serve as the launchpad for the Air Force’s Atlas Centaur rocket.

Later, NASA took over the facility and built a second pad, known as 36B. The first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon and take photos of Mars launched from LC-36A, according to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum.

Launch Complexes 36A and 36B were deactivated before Space Florida, Florida’s spaceport authority, took over the lease in 2008.

Big Blue footprint

In addition to the new 750,000-square-foot rocket assembly facility, the company entered an agreement in October 2018 to build an additional rocket testing and refurbishment facility.

The $60 million facilities are being constructed on the same lot as Blue Origin’s rocket facility. It will be the second-largest building in Exploration Park -- the first is Blue Origin’s 750,000-square-foot facility.

And then in March, documents obtained by News 6 partner Florida Today revealed Blue Origin’s plans to develop a 90-acre empty patch of land leased from NASA at Kennedy Space Center to connect its launch facility to the rocket plant. Construction was expected to start in July with completion in March 2020.

As Blue Origin’s footprint on the Space Coast continues to grow so does the number of employees.

According to Blue Origin’s careers page, it currently has 85 openings based out of Merritt Island. Those positions aren’t just rocket engineers either. The company is in need of legal counsel, machinists, welders and more, according to its website.

Blue Origin officials did not respond to News 6's request for an update on LC-36 construction.

Space Florida, though, said the expansion would almost double Blue Origin’s footprint.

Ketcham said that's good for everybody.

“Just driving by every morning, you see new growth,” Ketcham said. “They know what they’re doing and it’s encouraging to see that kind of development.”

SpaceX's Starship provides an opportunity for NASA's Artemis program

Recently NASA announced that five more companies had been added to the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS). One such company, SpaceX, has raised some eyebrows in aerospace circles because Elon Musk’s rocket business is offering the Starship as a lunar lander.

Companies that are included in the CLPS program will be able to bid on missions that will deliver small instrument packages and rovers to the lunar surface. One upcoming mission is a rover called Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which will prospect for ice at the lunar south pole.

The CLPS payloads will mass upwards of about 1,000 kilograms. But Starship is advertised as being able to deliver 100 metric tons to the lunar surface. Using Starship to deliver a CLPS payload to the moon is the equivalent of using a moving van when a pickup truck would suffice.

Ars Technica explains that Starship’s inclusion in the CLPS program offers “SpaceX some validation that if it fully develops the ambitious Starship vehicle, NASA will be a willing customer in the future. This may, in turn, help SpaceX raise development funds from investors.”

Why would NASA want to validate Starship? Thus far, the space agency has barely acknowledged the project’s existence but demurred at any thought of incorporating it in its own programs. That stance has clearly changed and perhaps more extensively than NASA would care to admit.

Currently, NASA plans to land “the first woman and the next man” on the lunar surface by 2024. But that deadline has received considerable skepticism from Congress. The space agency will need about $20 billion or so extra in the next five years, including $1.6 billion in the current fiscal year. So far, the extra money that NASA needs to start letting contracts for a crewed lunar lander has been excluded from the continuing resolutions that Congress has passed. If the money is not forthcoming, the 2024 date will not be achievable.

That is where the SpaceX Starship comes in.

SpaceX has an aggressive development schedule for Starship. The company plans to fly a prototype to Earth orbit in 2020. In 2022, the company plans to land a Starship on the lunar surface. In 2023, the spaceship will fly a group of passengers around the moon, paid for by a Japanese fashion designer. Then, in 2024, SpaceX intends to land people on the lunar surface, coincidentally in the same year NASA intends to achieve the first crewed lunar landing since 1972.

One can envision Elon Musk, as 2024 dawns and the first private lunar expedition looms, calling the NASA administrator and offering him a proposition. “We’re going to the moon. Want to come?”

If NASA is still struggling with its own lunar mission because of inadequate funding, or other possible causes, the head of the space agency would be forgiven if he replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Of course, many things must happen for this happy scenario to occur. NASA is not the only organization to have problems keeping to a development schedule. SpaceX has been late delivering flight hardware, too. The commercial-crew Dragon is one example.

Still, whether the scenario described above happens in 2024 or some later date does not matter if it comes to pass. NASA and SpaceX returning to the moon together would constitute a triumph of the concept of private/public space partnerships that began with the COTS program, which delivers cargo to the International Space Station. The concept has continued with commercial crew, due at last to start next year, and finally with CLPS.

A NASA/SpaceX return to the moon would offer a rebuke to politicians who have mandated that the space agency use expensive, obsolete hardware like the Space Launch System and then refuse to fund landers to get Americans the rest of the way to the moon. The humiliation will be a lesson for the political class.

The question is, will they take the lesson to heart and do better in the future? One can only hope so.