Friday, March 24, 2023

NASA seeks property to build Mars Sample Receiving Facility

NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) is soliciting information for a potential site location (real estate) in the United States for the construction of a Mars Sample Receiving Facility (SRF). The facility would manage handling samples returned from future Mars missions. A "Request For Information" document released Thursday details how the Mars samples will be handled.

Mars Sample Return Campaign Background

The planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign will collect and retrieve samples from the Red Planet and transport them back to Earth for detailed investigation. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have created an international partnership for MSR.

While the extent and scope of this partnership continue to be defined under a formal Memorandum of Understanding, substantial planning work has been initiated. The current baseline campaign includes three flight missions and one ground mission component.

Perseverance rover

NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the planet in early 2021 and is currently collecting samples of Mars for potential future return to Earth. The samples that have been and will be acquired by the Perseverance rover vary in type and character and may include regolith/dust and breccias, sediments, carbonates and hydrated minerals, crater floor material, igneous rocks, and the Martian atmosphere.

Although more will be collected, the baseline sample return recovery and flight systems are capable of transporting about 30 Martian sample tubes back to Earth, containing a total of 500 grams of Martian material.

After launching into Martian orbit via a lander that collects and packages the sample tubes on a Mars ascent vehicle, and a series of sterilization and isolation steps to meet planetary protection requirements for Earth Return missions, the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) would then return to the vicinity of Earth.

It is anticipated that the ERO would approach Earth no earlier than 2033 and release the Earth Entry System (EES) for ballistic reentry through Earth’s atmosphere and landing, tentatively at the Utah Test and Training Range. Upon recovery, the EES would be placed in biosafety containment and transferred to the SRF.

SRF Goals and Requirements

As part of the initial investigation, a sample safety assessment will be performed to determine whether the samples are free of potential biological hazards, prior to the release of samples to analytical and curation facilities outside of containment.

The SRF must offer both cleanroom and high-containment capabilities. Activities in the SRF would include receiving the EES, accessing the samples, conducting a sample safety assessment, and performing initial characterization and cataloging. Potential further activities would also include executing select scientific analyses and providing for a transition to long-term curation and storage.

Traditional curation of extraterrestrial samples has previously been completed using cleanroom conditions; the MSR curation would additionally require biosafety containment at a high level of confidence.

Due to planetary protection requirements and the possibility that these samples could contain an unknown biohazard that poses a potential public health or environmental concern, the facility in which these samples are initially examined is provisionally thought to be Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) or BSL-4 equivalent.

If these samples are deemed abiotic (i.e., absent of life) and safe for release, a more traditional clean (uncontained) curation facility could be used for long-term handling and storage. If the samples are not deemed safe for release after the initial sample safety assessment (or the test results are not definitive), then a subset of the samples could be sterilized (and transferred to a traditional clean uncontained curation facility) and/or a subset could remain in biosafety containment until determined safe for release or conserved for future study.

In addition to providing high containment, the SRF would need to provide protection from contamination by terrestrial materials. Contamination control requirements for both organic and inorganic materials have not yet been finalized.

If samples are deemed safe for release, or rendered sterilized by an approved technique, the SRF would also be utilized to prepare samples for allocation to outside investigators as well as sample storage (until a long-term curation facility is constructed).

“This facility is intended to support the work of international collaborators and as such would require access capabilities to accommodate this personnel,” NASA said in the document.

NASA would like to have the SRF ready by 2031 to support two years of preparation for a 2033 return of samples.

The SRF requires both high containment and cleanliness/contamination control capabilities for all Martian material. This is to ensure that the materials are not released until demonstrated to be safe, and the samples kept pristine, free of terrestrial contamination, to allow for accurate scientific analysis.

NASA Invites Responses

NASA/JSC is seeking information and responses to questions from all interested parties with existing or planned high-containment facilities within the U.S., the agency said. Interested parties having the required real estate necessary to execute the requirements described/attached herein are encouraged to provide responses.” All responses must be submitted no later than April 7.

“This request for information will be used solely for information planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation,” NASA said.

NASA announces Wallops Range Contract

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), plans to issue a Draft Request for Proposal (DRFP) for a Wallops Range Contract (WRC).

The principal purpose of the WRC contract is to acquire Wallops Range operations and maintenance; support services; training; command, control, communications, information, and computer systems services; testing, modifying, and installing communications and electronic systems at launch facilities, launch control centers, and test facilities; range sustaining engineering services, and ground operations support for the Range and Mission Management Office.

The space agency announced the WRC on Friday in a Presolicitation contract document.

“WRC services will be performed at multiple locations including NASA WFF, Poker Flat, Alaska, Bermuda, and additional locations as specified in individual task orders,” NASA officials said in the Presolicitation. “The WRC is a follow-on to the Range Operations Contract II.”

The contract will have a period of performance/effective ordering period of five years from the contract's effective date. The anticipated contract award date is June 2024. A 60-day Phase-In is anticipated and will be accomplished via a separate Firm Fixed Price Contract.

The current planned release date for the Draft Request for Proposal (RFP) will be in April. The Final RFP is anticipated to be released in July, with proposals being due 45 calendar days after the Final RFP is released.

An Industry Day meeting with potential offerors is anticipated two-three weeks after the release of the Draft RFP.

Project Heisenberg enters phase 3 testing of upgraded F-35 electronic warfare system

The program office for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter is ready to award BAE Systems a sole-source contract to conduct phase 3 flight trials of the aircraft’s future electronic warfare and countermeasures suite.

Known as Project Heisenberg. the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) said that BAE Systems will conduct tests of a modified version of its AN/ASQ-239A suite aboard the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, a highly modified Boeing 737 test aircraft.

NAVAIR released a Sources Sought contract document on Thursday announcing the award.

“The F-35 Joint Program Office intends to award a contract in support of Project Heisenberg Phase 3 to BAE Systems under a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with a period of performance of two years and five months,” the Navy said in the Sources Sought document.

The AN/ASQ-239A system is a component of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Electronic Warfare (EW)/Countermeasure Suite associated with Continuous Capability Development and Delivery/Block 4 EW capabilities and evaluation of associated Mission Data Files.

“BAE Systems will conduct analysis of flight test/demonstration data required to ensure the ASQ-239A system is performing in the operational environment as designed,” the Navy said.

BAE Systems are the sole developer and manufacturer of the AN/ASQ-239A system, the advanced EW suite for the F-35.

“Our AN/ASQ-239 system is a next-generation electronic warfare suite providing offensive and defensive options for the pilot and aircraft to counter current and emerging threats,” BAE Systems said in describing the system on their website. “Its advanced technology optimizes situational awareness while helping to identify, monitor, analyze, and respond to threats. Advanced avionics and sensors provide a real-time, 360º view of the battlespace, maximizing detection ranges and giving pilots evasion, engagement, countermeasure, and jamming options.”

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Preliminary report investigating plane crash in Hillsville, Va., released by NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report on Thursday investigating the Feb. 27 crash of a single-engine Cessna 150G in Hillsville, Va.

The aircraft (registration N2991J) was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Hillsville, Va. The pilot was fatally injured.

A friend of the pilot said the plane was flying from Twin County Airport, Hillsville, Va., to Burlington/Alamance Regional Airport, Burlington, N.C., to pick up parts for an engine the pilot was working on.

A witness reported speaking to the owner of the maintenance shop, where the pilot was going to pick up the engine parts, who confirmed that the pilot arrived to pick up the parts and departed.

According to preliminary Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar data, the plane departed Burlington/Alamance Regional at 4:12 p.m. EST. The pilot flew a nearly direct route toward Twin County Airport. About 15 miles from the destination, at 4:53 p.m., the pilot made a left 180-degree turn. The last radar return was at 4:54 p.m. and was about one mile from the accident site.

An alert notice was issued by the FAA at 7:46 p.m. after family and friends reported the airplane missing. The plane was located by a private citizen at about 10:30 a.m. EST on the following day. The plane came to rest in a wooded area at an elevation of 2,776 feet. The aircraft impacted a tree about 205 ft prior to the final resting place.

“There was no evidence of fire,” the NTSB said in their report, “and all major components of the airplane were located in the vicinity of the main wreckage.” The left-wing, outboard of the flap, was impact separated and located 60 ft prior to the main wreckage. The remainder of the left wing remained attached to the fuselage. The fuselage remained intact.

After examination, “there were no anomalies found with the engine that would have precluded normal operation,” the NTSB said.

An emergency locator transmitter aboard the plane remained secure in the fuselage and was in the off position.

A Garmin Aera 660 GPS was retained and sent to Washington, D.C., for data download at the NTSB Recorders Laboratory.

The NTSB will continue to investigate the accident and file a final report later.

This is the third fatal plane crash in Virginia under investigation by the NTSB in 2023. Two fatal plane crashes were reported near Suffork and Dayton in January.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Satellite 2023 Government and Military Forum

“Our job at the Commerce Department is to improve America’s competitiveness so that our companies can succeed in the global economy. We want to ensure the United States remains the flag of choice for businesses operating in space. That means engaging with industry to support innovation, expand business opportunities, and provide the clarity, consistency, and transparency that you need to invest and compete.

“A year ago, I addressed the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) Leadership Dinner and announced that the Commerce Department was prioritizing the commercial space industry in our new strategic plan. Today, I am happy to report we have made significant progress.

“In the past year, we established a new Commercial Space Coordination Committee, which I chair. It includes the heads of nearly every commerce bureau and offers a forum to engage the ‘whole of Commerce’ on key space-related issues. This reflects the reality that our work expanding space commerce isn’t confined to one office or bureau, but involves international trade, economic development, broadband-expansion efforts, National Institute of Standards and Technology cybersecurity expertise, and even minority business outreach to expand our supplier base.

“We also appointed a director to run our Office of Space Commerce: Richard DalBello, whom many of you know from his decades of service to this industry, including several years as president of SIA. Richard serves as vice chair on the Coordination Committee, and we meet regularly to discuss issues impacting the commercial space industry and how each bureau can further the U.S. space industry. As I mentioned last year, I have a strong personal interest in space matters and seek to engage wherever I can.

“The department’s strategic plan on space commerce outlines five areas of focus:

  • Coordinating regulatory functions;
  • Growing the customer base for U.S. commercial space goods and services;
  • Improving space safety and sustainability;
  • Promoting commercial space innovation;
  • Advancing Earth observation capabilities to empower better decision-making.

“Let me update you on our progress across these strategic objectives.

Coordinating Regulatory Functions

“First, our work to coordinate regulatory functions cuts across domestic and international stakeholders and is designed to promote competitiveness and increase legal certainty, transparency, and consistency for commercial space businesses.

"Today, private capital is funding traditional space investments such as communications, remote sensing satellites, and new business concepts such as in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing; active debris removal; and asteroid mining. These ventures don’t necessarily fit under existing regulatory frameworks, which creates new opportunities and challenges when it comes to federal oversight.

“We are working toward better coordination among federal agencies to simplify the process for commercial space licensing for stakeholders, including incumbent corporations and startup space innovators.

“Commerce is uniquely positioned to help address the situation, as we lead or co-lead three of the four major regulatory processes affecting space. Through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we have the lead for licensing commercial remote sensing satellites. Through National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), we manage the nation’s use of radio frequency spectrum along with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). And through our Bureau of Industry and Security or BIS, we regulate space export controls along with the State Department. We recently reorganized NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office as part of our effort to raise the focus of space regulation in the department. We consolidated it into the Office of Space Commerce and elevated the combined organization to become part of the Office of the NOAA Under Secretary. This has raised the office’s visibility and allowed it to advance its commercial agenda. My office also works directly with the Office of Space Commerce to ensure that it’s getting the attention it deserves at the highest levels in our department.

“You may recall that, in 2020, NOAA rewrote its regulations on commercial remote sensing to take future innovation into account. As a result, the majority of Earth imaging satellites need only simple licenses.

“Over the past year, NOAA’s licensing has improved in speed and efficiency, even as we’ve seen an increase in the number of applications. In 2022, the average time to process a new license application was 22 days – a 20% improvement over the previous year.

“Export control is another area where we have made progress recently. Due to the United States’ obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR, we have policies about providing support or encouragement to foreign space launch vehicles, as the technology is the same used in missile programs. Implementing those policies has often led to restrictions being applied to commercial satellites and satellite components planned for launch on space launch vehicles we did not support or encourage.

“In recognition of the growing space cooperation environment, the U.S. government undertook a careful review of how MTCR policy was being interpreted. Today, I am happy to announce a clarification to the policy. License applications for the export of satellites and satellite components to MTCR Partners will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis – not with a presumption of denial – even if the launch vehicle is one that the United States does not encourage.

“That may seem like a subtle distinction. But for those of you who have been denied satellite exports to certain MTCR countries due to the choice of launch vehicle, this change of interpretation will have major business implications. It will open the door to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new exports of U.S. satellites and satellite components. Please reach out to BIS for details on how this may affect your license applications.

Growing the Customer Base

“Moving on to our second area of focus, we are growing the customer base for U.S. commercial space goods and services.

“Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) works with U.S. commercial space companies to help them win business overseas. If you are a U.S. company and you have not yet taken advantage of their services, I encourage you to reach out to the ITA Advocacy Center and learn what they have to offer.

“Over the past year, the Advocacy Center has contributed to seven international space contract wins with a total value of about $406 million. They are currently working on 29 cases involving the space industry, with a total estimated value of $8.9 billion.

“Our Office of Space Commerce is also leading efforts to facilitate international space business collaboration. Last November, as part of the inaugural U.S.-France Comprehensive Space Dialogue held in Paris, the office organized a special session involving government and industry representatives from both nations. This “Track 1.5” event focused on increasing U.S.-France business partnerships by identifying barriers that could be removed through governmental cooperation.

“The Track 1.5 event was very successful – so much so, that when President Macron came to Washington for his state visit later in the month, I personally briefed him on this activity. In our meeting and in the industry roundtable I co-hosted at NASA headquarters, he took a clear interest in increasing business between our two space industries.

“Based on that success, we are now planning a Track 1.5 engagement as part of the next U.S.-Japan Comprehensive Space Dialogue. We will be taking a delegation of American space companies with us to Tokyo next week to hold similar discussions with our Japanese counterparts from government and industry.

“At the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in December, I moderated a Space Forum session to discuss the private sector’s role in supporting a U.S.-Africa partnership. I believe space technologies and space commerce, aided by the U.S. private sector, can play an important role in driving technological and private sector development in Africa. We are actively planning further commercial space engagements with African nations later this year.

“Another aspect of our efforts is promoting the availability, security, and resilience of our space industrial base and supply chains. As a first step, last week BIS launched an assessment of our industrial base in partnership with NASA and NOAA.

“BIS is now deploying a survey instrument to hundreds of U.S. space companies and suppliers. The data collected will help identify the structure and interdependencies of organizations that support NASA and NOAA systems and subsystems. Please look for these surveys in the mail.

Improving Space Safety/Sustainability

“Our third area of focus is improving space safety and sustainability.

“This is a top priority for us. With thousands of satellites being launched each year, we must act quickly to prevent catastrophic collisions that could render Earth’s orbits useless.

“Congress recognizes this as a priority as well. Our Office of Space Commerce received a $70 million appropriation for fiscal year 2023 – a huge increase over prior years. The majority of that funding is going into the space situational awareness, or SSA, system that the Commerce Department was tasked to develop under Space Policy Directive 3, the National Space Traffic Management Policy.

“Commerce is taking over responsibility to provide SSA data and services to commercial and civil space operators from the Department of Defense (DoD), so DoD can focus its resources on national security matters.

“The congressional funding came with a deadline of September 2024 to field the initial operating capability of our SSA system, and we are working hard to meet that deadline. Our initial capability will only provide a subset of the services we envision, but it will provide meaningful traffic safety coordination to the public.

“We recently rebranded our system to be called ‘TraCSS’ – the Traffic Coordination System for Space. I hope you agree that ‘TraCSS’ is an improvement on the original name, ‘Open Architecture Data Repository.’ To build TraCSS, the Office of Space Commerce is leveraging NOAA’s experience in acquiring and managing large data systems for weather observations and forecasting. We are going to partner with industry to the maximum extent possible to minimize disruption to the existing commercial market for advanced SSA services.

“Input from leaders in SSA is crucial, which is why I have had continued conversations with industry on this topic. We are seeking to strike the right balance between providing too many services, which might overlap with industry, and providing too few services, which might drive users toward competing, foreign SSA systems.

“Last month, the Office of Space Commerce and DoD wrapped up a two-month pilot project to demonstrate the capability of U.S. commercial data and commercial analytics services to provide SSA to about 100 spacecraft. The pilot involved GEO space object tracking data obtained through five commercial contracts, plus SSA data analysis performed under seven additional contracts.

“The Commercial GEO Pilot appears to have been a success, providing satellite operators with spaceflight safety services comparable to what they normally get from DoD. The pilot also provided valuable insights that have been incorporated into the planning for TraCSS. The Office of Space Commerce is now considering options for additional pilots while the operational TraCSS system is in development.

Promoting Innovation

“Our fourth area of focus is about promoting innovation, which is foundational to everything we do at the Commerce Department.

“In practice, this can take many forms, from research and development at NIST and NOAA to intellectual property protections by the Patent and Trademark Office.

“One program that has made notable progress in the past year is NOAA’s Commercial Data Program.

“For the past couple of years, NOAA has been buying commercial radio occultation satellite data and using it to improve operational weather forecasts. But until recently, that data could only be shared with other federal agencies and international weather bureaus or shared after a 24-hour delay. Beginning in January, NOAA has been obtaining this data with the most liberal distribution rights, so that anyone in the world can freely access it in near real-time, and use it for scientific or commercial purposes. NOAA is only buying a subset of the vendor’s full daily output, so the unlimited sharing does not prevent the company from selling its services to other customers.

“NOAA also awarded contracts last summer for a pilot study in support of space weather, and they are currently reviewing other commercially available satellite data that could benefit NOAA in the future.

“We’re also promoting commercial space innovation by expanding spectrum availability. We know that next-generation satellite systems – and new space enterprises built to service and work with those systems – are going to need spectrum to develop to their full potential. We will do all that we can to ensure that spectrum is available both for federal and private sector missions.

“The department is committed to allocating this valuable resource thoughtfully and judiciously, considering commercial sector needs while reaffirming our commitment to protect critical federal missions.

“To that end, NTIA just kicked off the development of a National Spectrum Strategy that will, we hope, create a process that can satisfy the nation’s spectrum needs for the next decade. We are seeking feedback from industry, our federal agency partners and all spectrum stakeholders.

“NTIA also oversees the administration’s broadband deployment efforts. Innovative space-based operations are key to enabling connectivity for all, not just in our country, but around the world, where billions of people still lack basic connectivity.

“And we have been working through the ITU to improve global connectivity.

“I invite all of you to continue to work with us in the pursuit of innovative strategies for connecting those in America and around the world.

Advancing Earth Observation

“Our fifth area of focus is advancing our Earth observation capabilities to empower more informed decision-making by the public and private sectors.

“To collect observations for weather forecasting and climate monitoring, NOAA flies the nation’s fleet of operational, civilian satellites.

“At the beginning of this year, NOAA declared it's new GOES-18 satellite operational and designated it as GOES-West. GOES-West observes weather and climate conditions over the western United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Ocean. Even before becoming GOES-West, GOES-18 proved its value, providing operational data from its Advanced Baseline Imager, or ‘ABI,’ to augment GOES-17 during the 2022 hurricane season. With design improvements to the ABI loop heat pipe, GOES-18 will be a persistent ‘eye in the sky’ for years to come.

“And just two days ago, NOAA and NASA announced the award of a $765 million contract [to L3 Harris] to develop the next-generation ‘GXI’ imager for the GOES-R follow-on satellites, known as ‘GeoXO.’ GeoXO’s advanced capabilities will help address our changing planet and the evolving needs of NOAA’s data users. NOAA and NASA are working to ensure these critical observations are in place by the early 2030s.

“Over the last few years, NOAA has been reimagining what its future satellite architecture could look like. NOAA has been engaging with the community and issued study contracts to develop a more advanced and agile architecture in Low Earth Orbit and for space weather. We are building in on-ramps for new technology and opening the door to more data purchases, rideshares, and hosted payloads.

“As a pathfinder demonstration toward a potentially disaggregated LEO constellation, NOAA is developing the QuickSounder mission. QuickSounder will be a small satellite carrying an existing, proven microwave sounder to measure vertical temperature and moisture profiles. But the instrument is not what’s important here – it’s the architecture, and the test of NOAA’s ability to quickly react to an on-orbit need. What they are pathfinding is NOAA’s ability to purchase and develop small form factor satellite buses and small launch services – with a timeline of a few years, rather than a decade or more.

“The QuickSounder mission passed its Milestone 2 – the authority to proceed – in December and is moving forward to launch in three years.

“To be clear, QuickSounder is one small satellite in LEO. If it is successful, then the next step is to develop a group of LEO smallsats and test how that goes. Ultimately, if all goes well, NOAA could potentially replace large multi-instrument satellites for some of NOAA’s core observations.

“So that may have seemed like a firehose of information, and I didn’t even get to talk about semiconductors and CHIPS for America.

“What I hope you’ll take away from my remarks today is that the Department of Commerce is fully engaged with our commercial space industry. We are pursuing new avenues for business, promoting innovation, and providing regulatory clarity, consistency and transparency that will allow the U.S. to remain the flag of choice in commercial space business.

“America’s commercial space industry is vital to our country’s continued global competitiveness. The satellite industry is advancing new technologies, creating good-paying jobs, combating climate change, and keeping Americans and the world connected.

“All of us at the Department of Commerce are eager to deepen our partnership with you and ensure that the U.S. remains the global leader in space. I hope you’ll continue to partner with us in the months and weeks ahead.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Amazon unveils more details about broadband Internet satellite service

Amazon shared a few announcements and updates on its planned Project Kuiper satellite Internet service at an annual space conference in Washington, D.C., this week.

Amazon’s Dave Limp, Senior Vice President, Devices and Services, shared details about Project Kuiper on Tuesday during a general session at the Satellite 2023 Conference.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with just a piece of paper with an idea on it four years ago,” Limp said. “Amazon has never put anything into space. We didn’t know how to do it. We had to build a team.”

After years of development and testing, Limp was happy to report on Tuesday that the first two prototype satellites for Project Kuiper were put on a truck a couple days ago and are on their way to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for launch.

The satellites will be launched aboard the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, currently scheduled for May 4. The constellation will grow to 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit once complete. Amazon has reserved 77 launch vehicles for placing the constellation in orbit piece by piece.

The company said they will begin mass-producing the satellites by the end of the year. Production launches will begin next year, and customers will have access to the service by late 2024.

Project Kuiper will provide fast, affordable broadband Internet service to communities unserved or underserved by traditional communications technologies.

“Go 100 miles away from where we are right now and there are still people living on copper [wire] that was laid into the ground in the 50s and 60s and running at DSL [Internet] speeds,” Limp said. Project Kuiper sets out to provide much faster broadband Internet service to customers.

To use the service, customers will install an outdoor antenna—called a customer terminal—to communicate with satellites passing overhead. Traditionally, this equipment has been too large, too complex, and too expensive for many customers, making it difficult for low Earth orbit constellations to bridge the digital divide in a meaningful way.

At the conference, Limp provided a first look at three different-engineering models that would be provided to different customers of the service. One terminal is seven-inch square and slightly bigger than an Amazon Kindle. The largest terminal comes in at 11 inches square costing less than $400.

Amazon plans to invest over $10 billion in the project.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Satellite 2023 Conference: Cyber warfare on US space systems

The growth rate of new cyber threats and vulnerabilities in space will remain a weakness for the United States if the country continues down the same traditional path used today. That was the message kicking off an annual satellite conference in Washington, D.C., this week.

Monday’s keynote speaker Charles Beames, co-founder and chairman of the SmallSat Alliance and executive chairman of SpiderOak Mission Systems, said the U.S. must do better, “and we can.”

Beames said the U.S. must pivot toward a comprehensive cybersecurity plan immediately. The first step would be to implement a Zero Trust architecture (ZTA) across networks and at the data level where possible.

What is Zero Trust

Zero Trust was created based on the realization that traditional security models operate on the outdated assumption that everything inside an organization’s network should be implicitly trusted. This implicit trust means that once on the network, users – including threat actors and malicious insiders – are free to move laterally and access or exfiltrate sensitive data due to a lack of granular security controls.

Zero Trust is a design philosophy that begins with a “trust no one” mindset and heavily secures individual data records, With Zero Trust, it wouldn’t matter if your router was corrupted, or satellite was corrupted, each “data packet” would be heavily secure in a ZTA network.

Attacking satellites

There has always been a concern about a space war breaking out where countries would attack and destroy satellites in orbit.

China, India, Russia, and the U.S. have all demonstrated the ability to shoot down satellites in Earth's orbit. But that’s not the biggest threat to space assets, Beames said.

“The big threat is actually cyber security,” he said. “It’s our most vulnerable thing.”

Beames continued, “A week does not go by without another [data] breach being mentioned in the press. Even though a lot of things are becoming declassified, there is still a mountain of things that they're not talking about publicity that scares the crap out of people. It’s a dire situation.”

He explained that computer networks are becoming integrated into networks of networks, and every time that happens the very thing that needs to be protected, what he calls “the data record,” is exposed to increasingly more attack surfaces. “And it’s only gonna get worse,” he added.

“If I sound like I’m being ridiculously over the top about this, I cannot exaggerate this enough. It’s a scary, scary situation,” Beames said.

The good news is that the government is addressing the issue. “We have to move to a Zero Trust network,” Beames said.

The government is writing rather broad guidelines for the Zero Trust network because they really want to encourage commercial solutions to the problem. They don’t want to pinpoint a specific solution yet.

Beamer made it clear this is not just a Department of Defense problem, an Air Force problem, or a Space Force problem. “It’s a problem for the nation,” he added.

Beames classified satellites as being just computers in orbit, that are handling data, collecting data, and transmitting data.

“The space war is really a cyber [war],” Beames said, “and space is the backbone of our warfighting capability. It is the fight of the 21st Century for the United States. It will decide whether we win or lose the space race.

“Every single thing that we do today relies on space systems.

“What we’re seeing over the weekend with Silicon Valley Bank is nothing compared to the devastation that could happen if GPS satellites were to be taken over through a cyber-attack. And it would not be difficult. Our economy could collapse.”

Thursday, March 9, 2023

NASA delays Artemis Lunar Terrain Vehicle request for proposal

NASA is delaying the release of the final request for proposal (RFP) for the development of a Lunar Terrain Vehicle that will be used on future manned missions to the moon.

As astronauts explore the South Pole region of the Moon during future Artemis missions, they will be able to go farther and conduct more science than ever before thanks to a new Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV). Instead of owning the vehicle, NASA plans to contract it as a service from the industry.

The agency released a draft RFP for the LTV Services (LTVS) in November and invited companies to review the document and provide feedback until Dec. 1. The draft RFP outlines NASA’s expectation for use of the LTV on the lunar surface in the 2028 timeframe.

“The LTV is currently needed on the lunar surface no later than August 2028,” NASA said during an Industry Day meeting in August.

“The government is still reviewing and answering questions received in response to the LTVS Draft RFP,” NASA said in contract documents released Wednesday. The space agency now intends to issue an updated draft RFP by April 14 to capture changes because of industry feedback and questions.

“Amendments to the LTVS Draft RFP are anticipated after all currently received questions are answered and interested parties have had an opportunity to ask additional questions,” NASA said. “As a result, it is anticipated that the LTVS Final RFP release will be delayed until no later than May 26.”

The industry will have another opportunity to submit questions and comments after the release of the Final RFP, space agency officials said in contract documents.

“Thank you for your patience and your continued interest in this procurement,” officials added.

The LTVS contract will provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective LTV services to meet NASA’s need for a human-class rover that will extend the exploration range of EVA-suited crewmembers on the surface of the Moon. Mobility will enable the crew members to traverse greater distances to better explore the lunar surface.

“This draft [RFP] is one of the first important steps in this exciting project that will allow astronauts to explore farther on the Moon than ever before,” says Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) and Human Surface Mobility Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Gaining industry feedback is crucial as we move forward in issuing a final request for proposal.”

Because Artemis missions will be targeting the lunar South Pole area, the new LTV must be able to withstand and operate in cold and unique lighting conditions.

The Artemis LTV is also expected to be able to cover a range of hundreds of miles per year, enabling access to diverse locations that will facilitate scientific discoveries, resource prospecting, and exploration. It will also be capable of remote operation and will be available for other commercial uses when not carrying out NASA research and operations.

Electron rocket scheduled for launch from Virginia’s Wallops Island

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia will support the launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket on Thursday. A two-hour launch window is set to open at 6 p.m. EST.

The 59-foot-tall Electron rocket will lift off from Launch Complex 2 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island.

The mission, named “Stronger Together,” will be the second Rocket Lab launch from Wallops. The first Electron launch from Wallops occurred in January.

Thursday’s launch will carry two observation satellites into low Earth orbit for the company Capella Space.

A pioneer in the Earth observation industry, Capella is the first U.S. company with a constellation of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites delivering high-quality SAR imagery of Earth. Headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., the company has additional locations in Denver, Colo., and Washington, D.C.

In February, Rocket Lab and Capella Space secured a multi-launch deal of four Electron missions. Each Electron mission will deploy a single Earth-imaging Acadia satellite.

“We delivered mission success for Capella in our first mission for them in 2020 and now we’re thrilled they’ve entrusted us with a further five missions to help expand their growing SAR constellation,” Rocket Lab CEO and Founder Peter Beck said in a company press release.

“We are experiencing increased market demand for our highest-quality SAR data, and this announcement underscores Capella’s strong commitment to our global customers across the defense and intelligence and commercial markets,” said Capella Space CEO and Founder Payam Banazadeh.

Capella Space joins a growing list of commercial constellation operators who have entrusted Rocket Lab to deploy their spacecraft. Companies include BlackSky Global, Hawkeye 360, Synspective, Kineis, Planet, Spire, Fleet Space, and more.

For those interested in viewing the launch in person, viewing locations on Chincoteague Island include Robert Reed Park, Curtis Merritt Harbor, and the Beach Road causeway between Chincoteague and Assateague islands.

Weather permitting, the launch may be visible along much of the U.S. East Coast.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

NASA awards $400,000 contract to Russian agency for launch support services

NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, released contract documents on Wednesday showing the agency intends to award a contract to Roscosmos for launch support services at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Roscosmos is a state corporation of the Russian Federation responsible for the country’s space program.

The contract award notice released Wednesday states NASA intends “to award a new work modification to contract number NAS15-10110 with State Space Corporation Roscosmos,” The new work will provide support services for NASA personnel with regard to their participation in the launch and their support of NASA cargo loading for the Soyuz 68s vehicle.

The total estimated value of this action is estimated to be around $400,000, NASA said in contract documents. “Roscosmos will provide transportation from Moscow, Russia, to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, as well as providing security services, document clearances, lodging, and meals for NASA personnel.”

These services address logistic requirements for NASA personnel to be present in an administratively closed city in Kazakhstan whereby “Roscosmos is the only authority that can allow access,” NASA said.

The documents continued, “In order for NASA personnel to travel to Baikonur and perform the necessary launch and cargo loading support services detailed herein, they require these logistic support services. Given that Baikonur is an administratively closed city, the only possible source for these services is Roscosmos.”

NASA stated in the documents “the agency will continue to examine the market in the future for alternative solutions or new sources before executing any subsequent acquisitions for the same requirements.”

After the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has relied heavily on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for sending American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon capsule has also been added to transport astronauts to ISS.

First space-based instrument to monitor major air pollutants hourly

A new space-based instrument developed by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory scientists will soon begin delivering detailed data and analysis of air pollution over greater North America.

Known as TEMPO, short for Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution, the instrument will be the first space-based device to observe major air pollutants hourly in high-spatial-resolution—down to four square miles—in a region that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Canadian oil sands to below Mexico City.

Launching aboard the Intelsat 40E communications satellite as early as April, TEMPO will observe major air pollutants in near real-time. This will allow scientists at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and NASA to analyze and report emissions information faster and with more detail than ever before to the American public and those in Canada and Mexico as well.

The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace and integrated into the Intelsat 40E satellite by Maxar.

JUICE, the first European spacecraft to visit Jupiter

European-based company Airbus is ready to take on a key role in another important new space venture: a flight to Jupiter that is set to start this spring.

Known as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, the mission will be the first European spacecraft to visit the gas giant planet. Its primary goal is to understand whether the oceans of Jupiter’s icy moons could sustain life.

JUICE will spend over eight years traveling 600 million kilometers to reach our solar system’s largest planet. Its instruments will focus on three of Jupiter’s biggest moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.

To reveal more about this fascinating planet and its natural satellites, JUICE’s “eyes” and “ears” are composed of 10 state-of-the-art scientific instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, a radio-science experiment, and sensors.

Once in the vicinity of Jupiter, JUICE will spend four years gathering data – including nine months orbiting Ganymede. This will mark the first time a spacecraft orbits a moon other than our own. JUICE will investigate this icy Jovian moon’s nature and evolution, characterizing its subsurface ocean, and investigating potential habitability.

JUICE will also focus on Jupiter itself, gathering data on the gas giant planet’s atmosphere, from its cloudy layers to the ionosphere and auroras. The spacecraft’s instruments will look at different wavelengths of light to provide new insights into how temperatures, wind patterns, and chemistry are changing in this never-before-seen part of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The JUICE team

Bringing together 80 partners across 23 countries and harnessing the brainpower of 2,000+ people, Airbus has designed and built JUICE under contract with the European Space Agency. There are close to 500 team members in Airbus alone.

One of the key spacecraft features is its solar arrays, made by Airbus’ site in Leiden, the Netherlands. Covering a total surface area of 85 square meters, these are one of the largest solar arrays of its type ever built. This phenomenal size - a bit larger than a badminton court - is essential because Jupiter is so far from the sun that large arrays are needed to deliver the power necessary for the spacecraft and its instruments.

Ready for launch

JUICE was shipped from the Airbus production site in Toulouse, France, to South America, where it is now undergoing final preparations by our engineers before launch on April 13 by an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Special mission Cessna aircraft delivered to Belize Ministry of National Defense

Textron Aviation Inc. announced Thursday it has delivered a special mission Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircraft to the Belize Ministry of National Defense and Border Security. The Foreign Military Sale (FMS) contract was executed by the U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala.

The Cessna Grand Caravan EX is designed and manufactured by Textron Aviation.

“The Grand Caravan EX delivered to the Belize Ministry of National Defense and Border Security will be used as a multi-mission platform for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, casualty evacuation, search and rescue, air mobility, light airdrop, and other operations as necessary,” said Bob Gibbs, vice president, Special Mission Sales.

This is the first Caravan EX in service with the Belize Ministry of National Defense and Border Security. The aircraft is fitted with an Electro-Optical/Infra-Red sensor, operator mission console, tactical radios, and data link. Textron Aviation will provide pilot, mission operator, and maintenance training, as well as an in-country field service representative.

Certified worldwide

The Cessna Caravan platform has seen more than 3,000 aircraft delivered that are certified in 100 countries.

In May 2020, the Cessna Grand Caravan, fitted with Hellfire missiles, was considered “appropriate technology” for the Afghanistan Air Force.

King Air turbo-props ordered under FMS

Just last month, the U.S. Army announced they intend to award a contract to Textron Aviation for the FMS sale of two Beechcraft King Air 360 aircraft to Peru.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

DCNewsroom most popular posts February 2023

1.) NTSB releases preliminary report on plane crash in Rockingham County, Va. – The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report last month that provided details on a single-engine plane crash that killed a pilot after departing Winchester, Va., on Jan. 11 [Full story]

2.) Navy awards contract for up to 64 King Air 260 aircraft – Textron Aviation was awarded the Multi-Engine Training System (METS) contract by Naval Air Systems Command for up to 64 King Air 260 aircraft. [Full story]

3.) Thermal testing for NASA X-57 electric plane before first flight – NASA’s X-57 Maxwell all-electric aircraft reached another milestone recently toward its first flight with the successful thermal testing of its cruise motor controllers. [Full story]

4.) Army sets up sale of the King Air 360 aircraft to Peru – The U.S. Army Contracting Command-Redstone in Huntsville, Ala., plans to award a sole source five-year contract to Textron Aviation, Inc. in Wichita, Kan., for the initial purchase of two King Air aircraft for the country of Peru. [Full story]

5.) Applications to operate skill games in Louisa, Virginia, voted down – Two applications that would have brought skill games to the small town of Louisa, Va., were voted down last month during a joint meeting between the town’s planning commission and council. [Full story]

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

NTSB investigating Cessna 150 plane crash in Virginia

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash of a Cessna 150G single-engine plane near Hillsville, Va.

According to news reports, the aircraft departed Twin County Airport in Virginia on Monday morning bound for Burlington Alamance Regional Airport in North Carolina.

The Virginia State Police started search efforts to find the small plane after it never reached its destination.

Search operations began around the Carroll County and Patrick County line Monday evening and resumed by air and on the ground Tuesday morning, WFXR reported.

At approximately 1:30 p.m. EST Tuesday, the NTSB announced on Twitter they were investigating “the Feb. 27 crash” of a Cessna 150G near Hillsville, Va.

Two people have been found dead in the wreckage. According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the aircraft (registration N2991J) was manufactured in 1966 and registered to Gregory Campbell of Austinville, Va.

The Cessna 150 is single-engine two-seat general aviation aircraft. The aircraft is one of the most produced aircraft, with over 23,000 manufactured.

This is the third reported fatal plane accident in Virginia under investigation by the NTSB in 2023. Two fatal plane crashes were reported in January near Suffork and Dayton, Va.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Gaming Realms plans release of classic SPACE INVADERS game for real money gambling

Mobile gaming content developer Gaming Realms announced Tuesday that it has signed a licensing agreement with TAITO Corp. to create a real-money Slingo SPACE INVADERS game. TAITO is Japan’s internationally renowned video games and arcade company.

TAITO developed and released SPACE INVADERS in 1978, one of the most influential video games of all time. Gaming Realms will combine Slingo’s unique game format with SPACE INVADERS’ iconic pixelated Invader characters, creating one of its most exciting new launches to date. The game will be available as a social media and real money gambling game.

SPACE INVADERS is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

Tsuyoshi Nishiwaki, executive officer of TAITO Corp., commented: “We are overjoyed that it still brings fresh experiences to new audiences and gaming formats. We feel that Slingo and SPACE INVADERS will make a great partnership, and we are excited to see our iconic pixelated Invader characters manifest in this established platform.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Applications to operate skill games in Louisa, Virginia, voted down

Two applications that would have brought skill games to the small town of Louisa, Va., were voted down on Tuesday during a joint meeting between the town’s planning commission and council.

The Sappington Revocable Living Trust and Central Virginia Property Holdings, LLC, submitted Special Use Permits (SUP) applications to operate skill games at their businesses in the town of 1,555 people. The Sappington Revocable Living Trust operates the Louisa BP gas station in town.

The machines, also known as gray machines, are like standard casino slot machines, but operate in a different way and are known as skill games. The machines have come under fire from the state as being a form of gambling since 2020. A judge in Greenville, Va., stopped the state’s attempt to ban them in July 2021. They still operate in the commonwealth today.

Applications fail

The Louisa BP gas station was already operating skill games. The station changed ownership twice in 2022, once in February, and then in September. Sumata Das, the current operator, had to submit a SUP application when it was discovered the gas station was already operating skill games.

“He was unaware a SUP was required,” one council member explained during the meeting Tuesday.

The second SUP submitted by Central Virginia Property Holdings LLC was for the Court Café and Pub building across from the Louisa post office.

Both SUP applications failed to pass during a joint vote before the Louisa planning commission and town council meeting.

The town is currently in a rebuilding effort to move forward as a vibrant community of small businesses.

“A lot of people enjoy these games,” said Melissa Chisholm with Central Virginia Property Holdings, LLC. “They do it for entertainment and they do it to relax and unwind after a day of work. I’ve had them in my business for three years down in Bumpass. We’re excited about coming to the Town of Louisa. We just didn’t know we had to go over this hurdle.”

Chisholm’s business partner, Mike Rasswallia, told the council, “People come and play $20. Nobody is losing their house. Nobody is losing rent money. It's more of a place where you come and enjoy and have a good time.”

Before voting on the applications, council members opened up the meeting for public comment.

“Once we open those doors, more is gonna happen. We’re just gonna bring in more gambling,” a resident said during public comments. “How do they know that no one has lost rent? Or money for food? Or for child support, or anything like that, by gambling with that $20, that turns into $30, $40, $50, etc…”

The games continue to operate in Virginia in a "gray area" throughout the Commonwealth. A legislative effort to regulate and tax the games failed earlier this month in the Virginia State Capitol.

Meanwhile, thieves have targeted the gaming machines in six 7-Eleven stores in Fairfax County during a four-week period in January. Surveillance cameras show thieves casually carrying the machines out of stores with ease.

Monday, February 20, 2023

International reaction to North Korea missile launches, 'what has to be done is clear'

According to news reports, North Korea launched two more ballistic missiles off its east coast on Monday.

The two ballistic missiles were fired around 5 p.m. EST on Sunday and went into waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. The first missile reached an altitude of 100 kilometers and the second, launched 10 minutes later, reached 50 km.

The launches come just two days after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into the sea off Japan's west coast.

The action met a strong reaction from congressional members in Washington.

“The recent North Korean ICBM test is a stark reminder that Kim Jong Un is an unstable dictator with a growing nuclear arsenal capable of ranging the U.S. homeland,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

“Protecting the U.S. homeland must be paramount as we develop our 2024 budget, and this includes fully-funding homeland missile defense assets,” he continued. “What has to be done is clear – we must accelerate our missile defense development to outpace the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) threat. This includes speeding up the Next Generation Interceptor, putting more interceptors in the ground, and looking to space-based missile defenses.”

The German Federal Foreign Office said the launch endangers international security.

“North Korea is obliged to completely, irreversibly, and verifiably end its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” said the Federal Foreign Office in a statement on Sunday.

“North Korea’s continued violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions are deeply worrying,” the office continued. “We call on North Korea to fully implement the decisions of the United Nations Security Council and to take up the offers put forward by the United States and South Korea to engage in serious dialogue.

Referring to the ballistic missile test by North Korea, the Foreign Ministers of the G7 on Feb. 18 stated that North Korea’s reckless behavior demands a unified response by the international community, including further significant measures taken by the UN Security Council.