Space and Missiles

U.S. Space Force proposal, commercial crew programs grab interest

The Space Operations and Support Technical Committee focuses on operations and relevant technology developments for crewed and uncrewed missions in Earth orbital and planetary operations.

Proposal of a U.S. Space Force, the nearing completion of demonstration commercial crew flights for SpaceX and Boeing, and an increased interest in servicing, tracking and autonomous satellite systems dominated space operations news.

According to the Satellite Industry Association’s 2018 annual report, the commercial sector saw a 3 percent growth to $269 billion from 2016 to 2017. Worldwide government space budgets and commercial human spaceflight revenues totaled $79.3 billion in 2017.

American policy changes indicated a focus on space with the re-establishment of the National Space Council in February; the Space Policy Directive-2 in May; encouraging growth of America’s commercial satellite industry; President Donald Trump’s proposal in June to create a U.S. Space Force; and the Commercial Crew Program’s first demonstration flight scheduled for 2019.

The Trump administration’s push for a Space Force came after U.S. intelligence agencies warned of the growing capabilities of potential adversaries and the need to protect American assets in space, such as GPS, which provides the timing signal for the New York Stock Exchange and is part of ATMs and location services on smart devices. China added two new satellites to its GPS competitor, Compass Navigation Satellite System, and surpassed previous launch records with its 23rd of the year in August. Also that month, Russian space agency Roscosmos Director Dmitry Rogozin announced development was suspended of its Proton Medium — intended as a competitor with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 — to focus on the Angara launch vehicle program. French Defense Minister Florence Parly, in a speech at CNES, the French space agency, in September said France suspects Russia tried to intercept secret communications when it flew a spy probe close to a European satellite 22,000 miles above the Earth last year. Parly mentioned the suspicions while announcing France’s plans to spend $2.3 billion on space technology in 2019.

The U.S. Air Force announced in October that it had awarded launch service agreement contracts for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The LSA program aims to ensure the United States has access to at least two domestic commercial launch providers meeting national security requirements.

America might soon have the capability to fly astronauts on U.S. rockets again as SpaceX scheduled its first demonstration flight of the Dragon 2 for January 2019. SpaceX and Boeing are working toward crewed demonstration flights of the Dragon 2 and Starliner capsules in 2019. SpaceX was able to edge out Boeing as the first commercial spacecraft because of a propellant leak in Starliner’s emergency abort system during testing in June. NASA announced in August the nine astronauts who will fly aboard the crewed test flights.

In January, an amateur astronomer rediscovered NASA’s Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration, or IMAGE, satellite. IMAGE had been lost since 2005. DARPA reported in August that its Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program will reach a system requirements review milestone in October.

In May, the first meeting of the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations established a self-policing industry group for commercial on-orbit activities. The University of Surrey RemoveDEBRIS mission in June tested methods to remove space junk. There are 2,000 active satellites in orbit.

Two companies launched satellites to provide broadband internet access. SpaceX launched two prototype satellites for its Starlink constellation in February. The company plans to have 4,500 satellites in the constellation. OneWeb’s constellation will be at least 900 satellites and reportedly as many as 1,980. The company’s first launch was scheduled for December.

Photo: The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July. Credit: NASA

U.S. Space Force proposal, commercial crew programs grab interest