Tag Archives: U.S. Space Force

America’s Robot Space Shuttle Returns After 908 Quiet Days

The very low-key X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) returned to Earth after a 908-day sortie when the U.S. Space Force’s unmanned, reusable spaceplane, successfully deorbited and landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on 12 November at 05:22 a.m.

Photos: Boeing

Constructed by Boeing and first launched on OTV-1 in April 2010, the aircraft’s sixth mission began atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in May 2020 and touched down at Space Florida– the Sunshine state’s “aerospace finance and development authority”– which operates the 15,000-foot long Launch and Landing Facility, one of the longest runways in the world, for both military and commercial purposes. It is the craft’s third landing at Space Florida.

Across its first five completed missions, the X-37B spent a total of 2,865 days in orbit with this one bringing that total to 3,773 days or 10.33 space years in orbit– not a bad record for an aircraft that has only been in service for 12 years. Weigh that against the 1,323 total days in space spent during NASA’s 135 Shuttle missions between April 1981 and July 2011– that tragically cost two Orbiter crews.

Note the USAF livery. When sent to space in May 2020, it was still an Air Force project but is now considered a U.S. Space Force asset. Perhaps the aircraft will pick up a USSF logo before its seventh mission.

Powered by Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries, the X-37 is just over nine feet tall over its tail and 29 feet long with a wingspan of just under 15 feet. For reference, the Space Shuttle Orbiter was 122 feet long and had a wingspan of 78 feet, making the latter several times larger.

The 11,000-pound aircraft is carried into orbit by either a United Launch Alliance Atlas V (501) or SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. By comparison, the Orbiter weighed 54,000 pounds.

As detailed by Space Force:

OTV -6 was the first mission to introduce a service module-a ring attached to the rear of the vehicle expanding the number of experiments that can be hosted during a mission. “This mission highlights the Space Force’s focus on collaboration in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside of the Department of the Air Force (DAF),” said Gen. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations.

The service module successfully separated from the OTV before landing, which is a necessary activity due to the aerodynamic forces experienced by the X-37B vehicle upon re-entry. In the coming weeks, the service module will be disposed of in accordance with best practices. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said, “The deliberate manner in which we conduct on­orbit operations-to include the service module disposal-speaks to the United States’ commitment to safe and responsible space practices, particularly as the issue of growing orbital debris threatens to impact global space operations.”

The OTV-6 mission hosted the Naval Research Laboratory’s Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module. This experiment successfully harnessed solar rays outside of Earth’s atmosphere and aimed to transmit power to the ground in the form of radio frequency microwave energy. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force Academy’s FalconSat-8, developed in partnership with Air Force Research Laboratory, was successfully deployed in October 2021. FalconSat-8 remains in orbit, providing Academy cadets unique hands-on experience as space operators prior to entering active duty.

Multiple NASA experiments were deployed on OTV-6. The Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2) included thermal control coatings, printed electronic materials, and candidate radiation shielding materials. METIS-1-which flew on OTV-5-consisted of similar sample plates mounted on the flight vehicle. NASA scientists will leverage data collected after the materials have spent 900+ days in orbit and compare observed effects to ground simulations, validating and improving the precision of space environment models.

Another NASA experiment aims to investigate the effect of long-duration space exposure on seeds. Scientists are interested in the seeds’ resistance and susceptibility to space environment-unique stresses, notably radiation. The seeds experiment will inform space crop production for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanently inhabited bases in space.

So Space Force is Now a Thing

From DOD: “President Donald J. Trump signed into law legislation creating the first new armed service since 1947 — the U.S. Space Force.”

The establishment memo from SECDEF Esper, which specifically mentions China and Russia:

The legislation, the $738B NDAA, also funds 3.1 percent DOD pay raises, new aircraft (20 more F-35s), ship construction (lots of DDGs, SSNs, and carrier dollars), more tanks (that the Army doesn’t want) and armored vehicles (that they do), provides $70.6 billion for overseas contingency operations, and more while raising the minimum age to 21 for buying ciggies (which is sure to rile up the E-1 to E-4 crowd).

The new force, just 16,000 strong for now, will be largely carved off from the Air Force. USAF Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the current commander of USSPACECOM, will direct the effort. The president named Raymond the chief of Space Operations, and the general will be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Space is the world’s newest warfighting domain,” Trump said at a speech Saturday at Andrews AFB. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. We’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot.”

All of this is a good time to recall a 12 May 1962 speech that Gen. Douglas MacArthur delivered to the cadets at West Point on the occasion of his receiving the Sylvanus Thayer Award:

We deal now, not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier. We speak in strange terms of harnessing the cosmic energy, of making winds and tides work for us, of creating unheard of synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify seawater for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundred of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of spaceships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all times.

Maybe old Dugout Doug could read the tea leaves.

Welcome, Space Force

ICYMI, get ready to sign up as Space Shuttle Door Gunners:

Centered around 140 current military satellites and the hardware to support them, the U.S. Space Force is set to become 6th branch of Armed Forces, pending Congressional approval of course.

The Pentagon says about 80 percent of “space-qualified personnel” would come from the Air Force, who are sure to love the proposal, but all services have personnel with space expertise. There are roughly 18,000 people in the services with a space qualifier badge, in addition to civilian personnel “and thousands of contractors” who could be drawn into the new command.

More here.

You have to wonder how much of NASA and the Army’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program would be absorbed into the mix. Then there are SM-3 Aegis ships with a BMD tasking, would they become part of USSF? Further, would Project Blue Book be reborn and SETI get pulled in as a contractor for good measure, just in case “They” arrive?

Anyway, the Presser from DOD as follows:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2018 — The Defense Department will establish a sixth branch of the armed forces, the U.S. Department of the Space Force, by 2020, Vice President Mike Pence announced today.

In a speech at the Pentagon, the vice president also announced plans to establish a new combatant command — U.S. Space Command — as well as a Space Operations Force and a new joint organization called the Space Development Agency.
The announcement follows a seven-week review by DoD, directed by President Donald J. Trump, of “the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”

A report outlining the results of the study will be released later today.

“In his inaugural address to the nation, President Trump declared that the United States stands ‘at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space,’” Pence said.

Space Force

Just as advances in aviation technology drove the emergence of air as a new battlefield in the 20th century, advances in space technology have made it clear that space is the new battlefield for the 21st century, the vice president said. The U.S. will meet the emerging threats on this new battlefield, he said, and carry on the cause of liberty and peace into the next great frontier.

“The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” Pence said.

The new branch will be separate from, but equal to, the five other branches, he said.

“To be clear: the Space Force will not be built from scratch, because the men and women who run and protect our nation’s space programs today are already the best in the world,” the vice president said.

“Across this department and our intelligence agencies, there are literally tens of thousands of military personnel, civilians and contractors operating and supporting our space systems — and together, they are the eyes and ears of America’s warfighters around the globe,” Pence said.

Peace Through Strength

Actions by U.S. adversaries make it clear that space is already a warfighting domain, the vice president said.

“For many years, nations from Russia and China to North Korea and Iran have pursued weapons to jam, blind and disable our navigation and communications satellites via electronic attacks from the ground,” Pence said. “But recently, our adversaries have been working to bring new weapons of war into space itself.”

In 2007, China launched a missile that tracked and destroyed one of its own satellites, the vice president said. And Russia is working on an airborne laser to disrupt space-based systems, he added.

“Both nations are also investing heavily in what are known as hypersonic missiles designed to fly up to 5 miles per second at such low altitudes that they could potentially evade detection by our missile defense radars,” Pence said. “In fact, China claimed to have made its first successful test of a hypersonic vehicle just last week.”

In every domain, America will always seek peace, the vice president said. “But history proves that peace only comes through strength,” he added. “And in the realm of outer space, the United States Space Force will be that strength.”

Action Steps

The report to be released today represents a critical step toward establishing the Space Force, he said. It identifies several actions that DoD will take as the nation evolves its space capabilities, “and they are built on the lessons of the past,” Pence said.

First, the report calls for the creation of the U.S. Space Command, a new unified combatant command for space. “This new command … will establish unified command and control for our Space Force operations, ensure integration across the military, and develop the space warfighting doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures of the future,” he said.

Second, the report calls for the establishment of a Space Operations Force — an elite group of joint warfighters, specializing in the domain of space, who will form the backbone of the nation’s newest armed service. This force will draw from across the military to provide space expertise in times of crisis and conflict, Pence said.

“Third, the report calls for a new joint organization — the Space Development Agency — that will ensure the men and women of the Space Force have the cutting-edge warfighting capabilities that they need and deserve,” he said.

Finally, the report calls for clear lines of responsibility and accountability to manage the process of establishing and growing the Space Force, including the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for space, the vice president said.

“Creating a new branch of the military is not a simple process,” Pence noted. “It will require collaboration, diligence and, above all, leadership. As challenges arise and deadlines approach, there must be someone in charge who can execute, hold others accountable, and be responsible for the results.”

Ultimately, Congress must establish the new department, the vice president said. “Next February, in the president’s budget, we will call on the Congress to marshal the resources we need to stand up the Space Force, and before the end of next year, our administration will work with the congress to enact the statutory authority for the space force in the National Defense Authorization Act,” he said.

I have to confess, when I first heard of the concept, I thought of this