Archive for the ‘Air Force Space Command’ Category

The New York Times article on the X-37 contains two very weak assertions.

How about this one: “The craft’s payload bay is the size of a pickup truck bed, suggesting that it can not only expose experiments to the void of outer space but also deploy and retrieve small satellites.”  (emphasis added)

I guess you could assert that the shuttle has ‘retrieved’ a satellite regarding the repair missions with the Hubble.  I also suppose you could assert the X-37 could do such a mission as a space debris mitigation effort–a demonstration possibly–but even if it had the energy to maneuver to a spacecraft to retrieve it, how would it get it in the cargo bay?  How would the payload be secured for a return trip to earth, including an airplane-like landing?

The second assertion is the space weaponization thing.  It seems kind of analogous to when people have to explain that they are actually politically correct when accused of a PC-type crime.  Accordingly, the X-37 is associated with the phrase ‘space weaponization’ several times and it is denied several times.  The Times Online article Launch of secret US space ship masks even more secret launch of new weapon is m-u-c-h more ominous.  I’m all for conspiracy theories, but come on…

Really, the idea the X-37 is a space weapon is beyond the pale. First level questions like what weapon(s) does it carry?; what would be its target(s)?; how would the weapon(s) be delivered to the target(s)?, are ignored.

Regarding an X-37 payload, in the past the concept of ‘on-orbit spares’ has come up, but the idea was never compelling.  After all, if you’re going to put something on orbit, it is probably a very capable system and you probably want to use it right away.  As such, you’d be expected to turn the satellite on as soon as you can.

A vehicle like the X-37 could preserve a capability to deploy ‘sleeping’ contingency satellite(s) for an extended period of time.  If there was war here on earth that needed the kind of space capabilities the X-37’s payload could provide, then it could deploy the satellites almost immediately.  Conversely, if they didn’t need to be deployed, the X-37 could be brought back with the payload intact for use on a subsequent mission.  Or they could be deployed just prior to the X-37’s de-orbit to add space capability.

Taking off and landing with the same payload–on a first mission–makes little sense.  The X-37 first needs to show it can deploy a payload after some period of on-orbit storage.  By the way, a payload that could fit into a pickup truck’s bed seems pretty likely to not have new sensors on it.  You would  really expect this would be about employing relatively mature technologies in new ways.

Groan.  Wasn’t the shuttle a reusable booster?  Didn’t EELV promise cost savings?

Here’s the link to the Aviation Week article…

When I read about savings of over 50%, I think about EELV and the cost savings it was asserted to create.  EELV was a massive ‘cost avoidance’ program, that is, by creating and using new families of launch vehicles, the USAF could get away from brutally expensive ‘heritage’ systems like the Titan IV.

Of course, the savings–the cost avoidance–never materialized.  Paper rockets are cheap and things cost more and more as they move further away from Powerpoint.

EELV’s cost problem was rooted in the bogus assumption there would be lots of EELV launches and ergo, plenty of cost sharing and a low per-unit expense. These were, of course, all wrong.  Its advocates didn’t see that foreign launch competitors, with advantageous labor rates, subsidization, and greatly reduced regulatory entanglements, would end up as the  way for commercial users to go.

Give the SpaceX and Microcosms of the world a chance to compete.  Reusable if it makes sense, expendable if it doesn’t.

New Scientist reports that astronomers are concerned about restrictions on the use of lasers.  Astronomers use lasers to focus their telescopes. 

The lasers, which are needed to adjust the adaptive optics of the telescopes, also appear to be capable of disrupting certain satellite sensors.

Air Force Space Command has “restricted when and where US observatories can fire them, and the observatories have voluntarily complied, with little impact on astronomy.”

However, restrictions which started about two years ago may now be more burdensome, increasing from a few blackout periods per night to hundreds.

Astronomers don’t really know what the risk to the spacecraft is.

While the U.S. Air Force takes the heat in the article (and the comments, many of which are quite comical), it is likely Space Command is only the messenger here.  Consider a few of the comments (in paraphrase), with rejoinder:

  • So what of the satellites from other nations, EU, Russia, China etc? They don’t matter?
    • Of course they matter, but the USAF doesn’t control those nations’ communications on this topic with the U.S. observatories
  • If the Air Force feels the need to spy on mountain tops…they should do so at their own risk
    • The Air Force doesn’t fly spy satellites; those belong to the intel community.  Anyway, the U.S. mountain tops are already pretty well understood.
  • Iran can stop worrying and just build thousands of vertically aimed lasers.  They can build what they like then
    • As one commenter points out, a satellite attack can be considered an attack on U.S. sovereignty
  • The government is messed up if it is more important to monitor the globe than to look into the universe
    • Well, that’s your opinion

Have a great day!

Taylor Dinerman runs The Space Review, a highly interesting once-a-week space site. 

This week, he’s come up with a piece that argues the Schriever series of space wargames has not been beneficial, but rather, has led to self-deterring, self-limiting, and ineffective actions.  He writes:

“Instead of inspiring an urgent program of hardening and protecting the satellites and their associated ground stations, the national security establishment has dithered. For the most part they have found excuses as to why such an effort would be unaffordable or destabilizing. In this they have been aided and abetted by arms control enthusiasts who claim that such an effort would undermine international goodwill.”

For lots of stuff on the Schriever wargame, check out Air Force Space Command’s in-house professional journal, High Frontiers, at your leisure.

Air Force Space Command is responding to the on-orbit collision of a dead but still orbiting Russian Cosmos satellite and a functional Iridium satellite back in February 2009. The response includes plussing-up the number of operators working conjunction analysis from five to nine. Eventually AFSPC is looking at a 24-person staff to perform this mission which as currently envisioned, will support collision analysis of 800 maneuverable satellites. At the time of the collision, only about 140 satellites were being monitored for possible collisions.

Enhanced space surveillance will also involve hardware: more servers and computational power, of course, but also the new $1B Space Fence, which is planned to be employed in 2015 and the near-term Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite, which is to surveil each satellite residing in the geosynchronous belt once a day.

The Cosmos-Iridium event was indicative of Space Command’s less-capable-than-desired space surveillance and conjunction analysis capabilities. According to Lt Gen Larry James, AFSPC wants to eventually be able and track everything in space from launch to deorbit. All it takes is time and money