Masters of Space - Second Edition

Welcome to the second edition of MASTERS IN SPACE! Come on, you know that, by the eighth season, Jack Bauer is gonna end up battling some weaponized satellite with his bare-and-against-protocol-hands.


01. First West Coast launch for EELV program
Boeing held the first launch of its Delta 4 rocket for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program on June 27, 2006, from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. This was the first time an EELV rocket was launched from the West Coast: previously, it had been done entirely from Cape Canaveral, Fla. However, the launches were split between the two coasts as a punishment for Boeing’s misuse of competitor Lockheed Martin’s proprietary information when first bidding on the EELV contract in 1998. Tuesday’s launch was carrying undefined cargo for the National Reconnaissance Organization. Its orbit is unknown, but it is thought to be heading toward a highly elliptical Molniya orbit.
(, June 28, 2006)

02. China to build Galileo-type satellite system
China has announced plans to build the Compass satellite navigation system, believed to be similar in form to the European Galileo satellite. Compass’s use of GPS and Galileo communications frequencies has European and American authorities concerned about potential signal jamming— accidental or otherwise— within their own networks as a result. It is not clear whether the Compass program is slated only for military use or could become a commercial competitor to Galileo. Swiss firm Temex Neuchatel Time has confirmed a Chinese order of 18-20 rubidium atomic clocks of sufficient quality and precision for satellite navigation use. The announcement of Compass comes after the European Union’s decision to exclude China from the new Galileo Supervisory Authority, membership in which is open only to E.U. states. As a result, China, along with India and Israel, now has no legal standing with Galileo despite its previous financial investments into the Galileo Joint Undertaking.
(Space News, June 14, 2006)

03. DARPA microsatellites launched to GEO
On June 18, a Delta II 7925 rocket launched a pair of MiTEx mirosatellites to geostationary orbit. The MiTEx program, a joint program between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force, is to demonstrate new technologies. The specific roles of these satellites, each weighing 225 kilograms, have not been disclosed. Their specific orbital slots in GEO are also not known. Details have been released about the new upper stage built by the Naval Research Lab. The upper stage is equipped with solar panels, a star tracker, and thrusters using a special long life alloy. Combined with the potential for additional fuel to be carried high-volume, Inconel-composite wrapped tanks, the upper stage is designed to last a lot longer, and do a lot more, than simply take the microsatellites from their transfer orbit to GEO.
(Space Daily, June 20, 2006; Air Force Print News, June 22, 2006)

04. China demonstrates lunar communications
China successfully tracked Europe’s SMART-1 lunar spacecraft in a practice run for its own future lunar missions. A network of four radio telescopes, the primary of which is in Shanghai, enabled the Chinese to track and communicate with spacecraft much further away than what was previously possible. The first of such spacecraft, Chang’e-1, is slated to launch next April. Chang’e-1 paves the way for a volley of Chinese lunar missions, with a robotic sample return mission in 2017 and manned landings by 2024. The practice session with SMART-1 couldn’t have come sooner – with its xenon propellant depleted, SMART-1 is to crash into the lunar surface on Sep. 3,2006. The impact will be on the near side in the southern hemisphere, and observatories are hoping to glean some scientific insight from the impact.
(Space Daily, June 14, 2006; AP, June 20, 2006)

05. Air Force & NRO improve coordination of space assets
Additional liaisons between the Air Force Space Command and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have been created. According to the statement of intent, the new arrangement also improves ties to U.S. Strategic Command so that space assets can respond “in a more unified real-time manner” to emerging threats. An example of this real-time response is the Joint Space Operations Center, which can take over both Air Force and NRO satellites in the event of an emergency. Lastly, best practices and operational lessons learned will be shared between the two agencies, which traditionally do not collaborate on such matters.
(Defense Daily, June 20, 2006)

06. Not ruling out space weapons?
The United States has again opposed attempts to ban space weapons by the UN Conference of Disarmament. Strong international support for the ban exists including countries with space assets, like China and Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is especially concerned, stating, “It would be difficult to imagine the consequences of their possible deployment.” While asserting that “the United States does not have any weapons in space, nor do we have plans to build such weapons,” John Mohanco of the State Department insists that “as long as the potential for such attacks remains, our government will continue to consider the possible role that space-related weapons may play in protecting our assets.” Information regarding the potential for attacks, and potential attackers, were not provided. Mohanco concluded, “There is no – repeat, no – problem in outer space for arms control to solve.”
(Reuters, June 13, 2006; UPI, June 6, 2006)

07. Asteroid to miss Earth
Scientists are anxiously awaiting the July 3, 2006, flyby of asteroid 2004 XP14. Somewhere between 410 and 920 meters in diameter, the “potentially hazardous asteroid” will be only 10 percent further away from the Earth than the Moon is. Its closest approach will be at 4:25 a.m. Universal Time at a distance of 432,308 kilometers, making observation impossible to the naked eye. NASA’s Goldstone facility will use radar to get more precise information on its orbit, allowing for more accurate predictions of future flyby distances. The asteroids mass and density can also be inferred from the radar data, providing insight into XP14’s structure.
(, June 26, 2006)

08. New Russian military satellite
A Tsiklon-2 rocket successfully launched a new Russian military satellite on June 23,2006. The Tsiklon rocket family almost exclusively launches naval signal intelligence satellites, of which 60 are currently on orbit. Through the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, Alexei Kuznetsov, a military spokesperson, reports that “Stable telemeter communication was established and is maintained with the spacecraft. Solar panels unfolded, while onboard systems of the satellite were put into a working condition and are functioning normally.”
(Space Daily, June 25, 2006; UPI, June 25, 2006)

09. Orbital laser communications test a success
The Japanese Kirari satellite successfully maintained a laser communications downlink on June 7, 2006. While space-borne laser communications have been conducted before, this test is the first with a mobile ground station. The German ground station, built by DLR, held communication for three minutes at a distance of 600 kilometers from the Kirari satellite. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has more tests in the works, including a laser uplink and a satellite-to-satellite link with the European Advanced Relay and Technology Mission.
(Space Daily, June 12, 2006)

10. Mitsubishi begins development of H-IIB rocket
Japan is taking the next evolutionary step in their domestic rocketry family. The H-IIB will be 14 percent taller (56 meters) and 25 percent wider (5 meters) than the H-IIA currently in use. The HII-B will also use domestic manufacturing facilities for the domes of the fuel tanks, one of the last remaining critical components that are imported for the H-IIA. The increased fuel capacity will allow for double the payload capacity and yet only cost an estimated $114 million per launch, about 30 percent more than the H-IIA. The new rocket will also feature the ability to launch two satellites at the same time, finally allowing launch costs to drop to U.S. and European levels. This is the first time that Japanese rockets will be able to provide commercially competitive launch services.
(Space Daily, June 14, 2006)

11. FALCON drop test of Small Launch Vehicle
The Small Launch Vehicle program, part of DARPA’s FALCON program, plans to drop rockets out of the back of a C-17. The goal is to quickly launch small satellites into LEO, and mockups of the rocket are being tested to verify whether it s even possible. The test on June 14, 2006, dropped a full size mockup that weighed 80 percent of the actual rocket’s mass. At 65,000 pounds, “This is the heaviest single item airdropped from a C-17 to date,” according to FALCON program manager Kristen Pearson. Future tests will drop the full weight of the rocket from the C-17’s max service ceiling of 31,600 feet.
(Defense Daily, June 20, 2006)

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