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The Perils and Promise of LEO Constellations

Article by Sandra Erwin                                 July 4, 2020                              (spacenews.com)

• Mike Griffin, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, says that the Pentagon must reduce its dependence on large, billion-dollar satellites in geosynchronous orbit that are vulnerable to anti-satellite weapons. As an alternative, the DoD’s Space Development Agency plans to deploy satellites in ‘proliferated low Earth orbit’ constellations, or ‘PLEO’, to put up a communications transport layer and a surveillance and tracking layer of satellites for hypersonic missile defense.

• The smaller satellites comprising the PLEO constellations provide a resilient space infrastructure that is cheaper and easier to replace than geostationary systems, should they be destroyed by anti-satellite weapons. A key question is whether satellites and launch vehicles can be made cheap enough to make the cost of taking down a LEO system not worth it. “Changing the “cost equation” for an enemy will be a key challenge for DoD and the U.S. Space Force,” said Michael Martindale, the Director of Space Education for Space Force.

• ‘Low Earth orbit’ (LEO) satellites are easier to hit from ground-based anti-satellite weapons. Sophisticated in-space weaponry is not required for LEO satellites, as it would be to take down satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO).

• A recent study by Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows that China and Russia, despite their rhetoric about wanting to ban weapons in space, are building arsenals of ground-based anti-satellite weaponry. This sends a message to other countries that ground-based anti-satellite weapons are fair game. Says Harrison, “With its 2019 ASAT test, India made clear that it believes kinetic Earth-to-space ASAT weapons are a legitimate means of self-defense by deterrence.”

• In their respective space-arms control proposals, China and Russia do not prohibit ground-based weapons. “Their behavior says they’re only interested in banning the capabilities that they don’t already have,” says Martindale. With more LEO systems about to be deployed by the DoD, which are vulnerable to the ground-based anti-satellite missiles, American space superiority is now being contested.

• Space Force can’t possibly protect every satellite in Earth’s orbit, so it must figure out ways to deter countries from even attempting to take one down. The United States has more to lose than anyone else if satellites become targets in a war. The key is to make it too costly for an enemy to mount an attack. “You have to reduce the value of each individual target.” Says Martindale, “[I]f there are hundreds of targets, and the enemy knows that the U.S. can replenish those assets quickly, the cost equation changes and using missiles is not as effective.”

• Such a deterrent strategy would require a ready supply of replacement satellites and rapid access to launch services so constellations can be replenished quickly and inexpensively. Right now, it generally takes years to get a DoD satellite off the ground. Space Force needs to bring this equation down to days or weeks to launch and replace a LEO positioned satellite.

 

                        Mike Griffin

The Pentagon has already created an acronym — PLEO — for its plans to deploy satellites in proliferated low Earth orbit constellations.

DoD’s Space Development Agency is leading the way as it prepares to put up a communications transport layer and a surveillance and tracking layer for hypersonic missile defense.

The Pentagon’s staunchest proponent of PLEO, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Mike Griffin, has argued that the Pentagon must reduce its dependence on large, billion-dollar satellites in geosynchronous orbit that are vulnerable to anti-satellite weapons.

              Todd Harrison

The case for proliferated constellations in low Earth orbit is based on the idea that it provides a resilient space infrastructure. Smaller satellites would be cheaper and easier to replace than geostationary systems if they were destroyed by anti-satellite weapons. That approach should work in theory. A key question is whether satellites and launch vehicles can be made cheap enough to make the cost of taking down a LEO system not worth it.

Changing the “cost equation” for an enemy will be a key challenge for DoD and the U.S. Space Force, says Michael Martindale, a former U.S. Air Force space operator and currently the director of space education for the Space Force Association.

As much as DoD worries about GEO satellites becoming targets of China’s orbital weapons, LEO systems are much easier to hit — no sophisticated in-space weapons required. So-called direct-ascent weapon such as ordinary surface-to-air missiles and anti-ballistic missile interceptors are far more likely to be used against low-orbiting satellites than space-based weapons, Martindale says.

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New Pentagon Strategy to Defend U.S. Dominance in Space

Article by Sandra Erwin                             June 17, 2020                          (spacenews.com)

• On June 17th at a Pentagon news conference, the DoD’s unveiled a ten-year Defense Space Strategy to replace an Obama-era 2011 space strategy based upon the Trump administration’s 2018 national defense strategy that calls for the U.S. military to prepare to compete with rising military powers such as China and Russia.

• China and Russia have developed capabilities to challenge U.S. access to space and “present the most immediate and serious threats to U.S. space operations.” “Both countries consider space access and denial as critical components of their national and military strategies.” Threats from North Korea and Iran are also growing, the document states.

• “DoD has to confront the new reality that adversaries have more advanced weapons designed to target U.S. military satellites and deny the United States a key military advantage,” according to the new strategy paper. “Now we have to defend U.S. and allies to secure the domain.” The DoD will work with allies and with the private sector to ensure space superiority.

• Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Steve Kitay said that the DoD has taken significant actions to stay ahead of other powers, such as the establishment of a) the U.S. Space Force as a new military service; b) the U.S. Space Command as a unified combatant command; and c) the Space Development Agency to help accelerate the acquisition of new technologies. The DoD recognizes there’s a space technology race underway and the United States has to accelerate the pace of innovation. Part of the strategy will be to “leverage commercial technological advancements and acquisition processes.”

• The DoD will focus on these key priorities: a) to protect and defend U.S. and commercial space capabilities; b) to deter and defeat adversary hostile use of space; c) to deliver advanced operational space capabilities; d) to bolster the domestic civil and commercial space industry; and e) to uphold internationally accepted standards of responsible behavior.

 

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has released an updated space strategy that replaces the 2011 document issued by the Obama

                   Steve Kitay

administration.

The Defense Space Strategy unveiled June 17 provides broad guidance to DoD for “achieving desired conditions in space over the next 10 years,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Steve Kitay said at a Pentagon news conference.

The space strategy builds on the Trump administration’s 2018 national defense strategy that calls for the U.S. military to prepare to compete with rising military powers such as China and Russia.

DoD will work to maintain space superiority, provide space capabilities to U.S. and allied forces, and ensure stability in space, the strategy says.

“DoD has to confront the new reality that adversaries have more advanced weapons designed to target U.S. military satellites and deny the United States a key military advantage,” says the strategy. “Now we have to defend U.S. and allies to secure the domain.”

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

The Pentagon’s Plan to Pepper Space With Surveillance Satellites Takes Shape

 

Article by George Dvorsky January 22, 2020 (gizmodo.com)

• The first major initiative from the DoD’s new Space Development Agency (SDA) to to build the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA). The NDSA will consist of seven layers, or “constellations” of the U.S. military. Launched in March 2019, the stated mission of the SDA is to unify and integrate the military space capabilities necessary to ensure U.S. technological and military advantages in space, and to detect and knock out surface-to-air and hypersonic missiles on the Earth below. The SDA will become a part of the US Space Force in 2022.

• Speaking at a Pentagon briefing on January 21st, the director of the Space Development Agency, Derek Tournear., announced that the first layer of the NDSA, the ‘Transport Layer’, will consist of hundreds of surveillance satellites that will attain full global coverage by 2026. By as early as 2022, however, the Transport Layer should be capable of ‘regional coverage’, pinpointing targets on the ground or at sea and tracking advanced missiles.

• The seven NDSA ‘constellations’ are described as follows:
       • Transport Layer: to coordinate global military data and create a full range of “warfighter platforms”
       • Battle Management Layer: to facilitate mission command and data control
       • Tracking Layer: to provide global-tracking and targeting of missile threats
       • Custody Layer: to constantly track enemy missiles and missile launchers
       • Navigation Layer: to provide an alternative back-up to GPS navigation
       • Deterrence Layer: to deter hostile actions up to lunar distances
       • Support Layer: to enable integration between ground and space-based assets

• Under the plan, one new satellite will be constructed per week. Each satellite will be relatively small, weigh a “few hundred kilograms,” cost around $10 million, and have a life expectancy of around five years. To that end, the SDA issued a broad agency announcement that it is looking for commercial partners to help develop and implement these technologies. The SDA will be soliciting bids for the first batch of satellites in late spring 2020 and awarding contracts in the summer.

• The entire National Defense Space Architecture system will eventually involve thousands of satellites. Each layer will perform a different function, such as detecting incoming missiles, alerting ground forces of potential threats, keeping tabs on potentially hostile weapons systems, and augmenting navigational capabilities, among other important defense roles. Considering that Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink megaconstellation may deploy up to 45,000 internet satellites, low Earth-orbital space is quickly becoming cluttered.

 

New details have emerged about the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to build seven different defense constellations, the first of which will include hundreds of surveillance satellites that are expected to attain full global coverage in just six years.

Known as the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA), it’s the first major initiative from the newly hatched Space Development Agency (SDA), a part of the Department of Defense.

             Derek Tournear

Once it’s built, the NDSA will consist of seven constellations, or “layers” in the parlance of the U.S. military. Each layer will perform a different function, such as detecting incoming missiles, alerting ground forces of potential threats, keeping tabs on potentially hostile weapons systems, and augmenting navigational capabilities, among other important defense roles.

Launched in March 2019, the SDA is “responsible for unifying and integrating [the Department of Defense’s] space development efforts, monitoring the department’s threat-driven future space architecture and accelerating the fielding of new military space capabilities necessary to ensure U.S. technological and military advantages in space,” according to a press release from the DoD. The agency is on track to become part of the U.S. Space Force in 2022.

Speaking at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Derek Tournear, who was appointed director of the SDA in October 2019, said the first of these layers, the Transport Layer, will consist of several dozen satellites by the end of 2022, reported SpaceNews. Once at this early threshold, the system will “show that we can operate a proliferated constellation and that the constellation can talk to weapon systems,” said Tournear.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

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