At a glance.
- Artemis gets off the ground and around to the moon.
- US announces a strategy for cislunar space.
- A cyber vulnerability that threatens spacecraft.
- Lines between civilian and military space infrastructure aren't clear.
- Communications resilience through space systems.
- Space Force at three evolves its approach to training.
Artemis gets off the ground and around to the moon.
The Artemis I mission finally flew at 1:47 AM on November 16th, after a series of technical and weather-induced delays. The heavy-lift SLS booster carried an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into space for lunar orbit and subsequent return to earth. "The mission’s objective is to demonstrate the performance of both Orion and the SLS rocket," according to Via Satellite. The Washington Post describes Orion's arrival at the moon five days later, on November 21st, as a success. The AP described the mood in Mission Control as elated. “Just smiles across the board,” the AP quoted Orion program manager Howard Hu as saying. There was some anticipated tension as the Orion capsule crossed behind the moon. The AP explains, "The close approach of 81 miles (130 kilometers) occurred as the crew capsule and its three wired-up dummies were on the far side of the moon. Because of a half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers in Houston did not know if the critical engine firing went well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. The capsule’s cameras sent back a picture of the Earth — a tiny blue dot surrounded by blackness."
The return trip to earth won't be short or direct. Rather, Orion will travel more than 40,000 miles beyond the moon in looping path home, farther, CNN notes, than a spacecraft designed to carry humans has ever gone from earth. Return and splashown is scheduled for December 11th, off the California coast, the Telegraph reports. If all goes as planned, a crewed Orion ship will return astronauts to the moon in 2024. Northrop Grumman, which makes the SLS solid-rocket boosters, says that the motors for Artemis II and Artemis III (the mission that will bring humans back to the moon) are assembled and ready.
US announces a strategy for cislunar space.
On November 17th the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy issued the National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy, outlining an approach to science and technology conducted in the region of space between the geosynchronous earth orbit and the orbit of the moon. The strategy's announced purpose is to help the US achieve a leading position in this "new sphere of human activity." The goal is the "responsible, peaceful, and sustainable exploration and utilization of Cislunar space, including the Moon." The strategy has four stated objectives:
- "Objective 1: Support research and development to enable long-term growth in Cislunar space. American technological endeavors begin with a positive, expansive vision of the future, led by a highly diverse science and engineering workforce. The Moon is a driver of scientific advances and potential economic growth. Research and development opportunities in Cislunar space range from novel discoveries in space science to the development of new Cislunar technologies to new breakthroughs in understanding the effects of the space environment on humans."
- "Objective 2: Expand international S&T cooperation in Cislunar space. International S&T cooperation can foster peace, develop responsible practices, and create the foundations for new institutions to enable enduring human and robotic presence in Cislunar space. New international cooperation can also amplify U.S. objectives being achieved with the Artemis Accords by demonstrating how activities can be carried out for the benefit of and in the interests of all nations, including developing countries, while enhancing transparency and building confidence and cooperation among Moon-faring entities during this important decade for Cislunar development."
- "Objective 3: Extend U.S. space situational awareness capabilities into Cislunar space. Space situational awareness is the necessary foundation to enable transparency and safe operations for all entities operating in Cislunar space. As activities in Cislunar space increase, the U.S. government will define requirements for new space situational awareness capabilities, including associated reference systems and data-sharing approaches. The United States will pursue new cost-effective capabilities while improving existing capabilities as necessary. This objective has synergies with efforts to provide early warning for potentially hazardous asteroids."
- "Objective 4: Implement Cislunar communications and positioning, navigation, and timing capabilities with scalable and interoperable approaches. Communications and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) are the common information infrastructure needed for all activities in Cislunar space, including in Lunar orbit and on the Lunar surface. This objective will ensure that infrastructure deployed for NASA’s Artemis program can also help enable a cooperative and sustainable ecosystem in Cislunar space. Implementing needed Cislunar communications and PNT capabilities with scalable and interoperable approaches can foster new commercial development and lower barriers to entry while advancing responsible and safe spaceflight practices. U.S. Departments and government agencies will leverage and promote the use of commercial services in Cislunar space."
A cyber vulnerability that threatens spacecraft.
Dark Reading reports that University of Michigan researchers have discovered a vulnerability in the networking protocol used for securely sharing critical messages in spacecraft, airplanes, and critical infrastructure software. The vulnerability exists in the time-triggered ethernet (TTE) protocol, which allows multiple critical infrastructure devices to share the same network without impacts to other devices. The researchers conducted multiple attack experiments, called PCSPOOF, that showed that a single device can use electromagnetic interference against the protocol, and result in potential failures.
Lines between civilian and military space infrastructure aren't clear.
An article in The Hill discusses the lack of a “bright-line rule” in the targeting of dual-use commercial satellites. Russian foreign ministry official Konstantin Vorontsov said in October that “quasi-civil infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliation strike,” giving the possible implication of increased targeting of Ukrainian commercial space satellites by Russia. Targeting dual-use commercial space satellites, the writer says, “implicates an array of legal regimes, including international telecommunications law, international space law — such as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 — and even non-binding guidelines regarding space debris mitigation.” In reference to the war in Ukraine, international humanitarian law has some governance over conduct between hostile entities, and says that military force can be applied against “military objectives” in armed conflict if specific criteria are met. Even if Russia’s targeting of Ukrainian communication satellites satisfied the criteria, the dual-use nature complicates things, as Article 57(1) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions says that “constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.”
Discrimination (of combatants from noncombatants), proportionality (not doing more damage than is appropriate to the military benefit achieved), and military necessity (avoiding gratuitous destruction) are touchstones of the lawful conduct of war. There's an ambiguity surrounding critical infrastructure, including space-borne communications systems, which under some circumstances might be considered "war sustaining," and thus a legitimate military target set, but even this is controversial (see the Lieber Institute for a discussion).
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov sees no shades of grey, however. The Guardian quotes him as accusing NATO of full involvement in the war, and of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure as essential to stopping the flow of NATO supplies to Ukraine. He's talking specifically about Ukraine's power grid, but the same thinking would apply to satellites. “'You shouldn’t say that the US and Nato aren’t taking part in this war, you are directly participating in it,' Lavrov said in a video call with reporters.'And not just by providing weapons but also by training personnel. You are training their military on your territory, on the territories of Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries.' He said that the barrage of Russian missile strikes was intended to 'knock out energy facilities that allow you to keep pumping deadly weapons into Ukraine in order to kill the Russians. The infrastructure that is targeted by those attacks is used to ensure the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces and the nationalist battalions,' he said." Indeed, one of the few successful cyber operations of Russia's war against Ukraine was its disabling of Viasat ground stations in the early hours of the invasion.
Communications resilience through space systems.
Ukraine has benefited greatly from the resilience Starlink has provided its command, control, and communications since the early days of the war, but following Elon Musk's post-Twitter-acquisition public remarks suggesting on-again-off-again commitment to continued provision of Starlink service, Ukrainian authorities have been looking, Breaking Defense reports, for a backup to Starlink.
On November 17, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament announced that they had reached a provisional agreement for the EU’s secure connectivity programme. The program intends to deploy a satellite constellation called “IRIS 2” (Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite). The program will enable secure communications services, affordable internet access across Europe and other areas said to be “of strategic interest,” and increase the EU’s resilience and its strategic autonomy. “Safe and reliable communication is a cornerstone of the EU's strategic autonomy. The secure connectivity programme will build a multi-orbital constellation of hundreds of satellites, which will cover the EU's need for secure communication services and will underpin our position as one of the main players in space. More importantly, it will bring many benefits to citizens and their daily lives,” said Martin Kupka, Czech minister for transport, in the press release.
Space Force, at three, evolves its approach to training.
The Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM is its inevitable but nonetheless pleasing acronym) is evaluating approaches to individual and collective training that would do justice to the needs of the Guardians. The coming approach to individual training is expected to make heavy use of immersive simulations. As far as collective training is concerned, the Air Force Times reports that STARCOM chief Major General Shawn Bratton, looking at collective training in particular, thinks, according to the Air Force Times, that Space Force has some things to learn from the Navy. “I think we need to really, probably, go spend some time with the Navy. How do you train as a crew that operates a single vehicle or, in our case, a constellation of spacecraft? … None of our spacecraft are operated by a single individual.” (Somewhere Admiral Kirk is smiling.)