Inside the DoD’s backup space operations center
The U.S. Defense Department is putting a backup space operations center through its paces just months after a top Pentagon official asked for its development. The Joint Integrated Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC, at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado is intended to be a backup center as well as a place to run simulations of attacks on military satellites. Bob Work, the deputy secretary of defense, said in a June speech that the Pentagon needed such a center and, as recently as September, JICSpOC was nothing “but an open floor,” said Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command. JICSpOC now has a staff of 50 and has run two in a series of increasingly complex space warfare scenarios. The center should be fully operational next January.
Third in Satellites, First in Junk
A new study offered two pieces of bad news for Russia’s space program.
The study, prepared for Roscosmos, found that Russia is in third place behind the U.S. and China in its number of operating satellites.
But, the study said, Russia is first in space in another category: orbital debris.
“Today we are not in the best condition,”said former Roscosmos head Yuri Koptev.
NASA held a ceremony Jan. 26 in New Orleans to mark the completion of the pressure vessel of the next Orion spacecraft, slated for launch in late 2018 on the first Space Launch System. The pressure vessel will now go to the Kennedy Space Center to be outfitted with its various subsystems, with the full crew module ready to be powered up and tested in about a year.
Orion’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, is confident its work on Orion will remain on schedule. “I think we’re making the progress that we need to in order to be ready,” Mike Hawes, Lockheed’s program manager for Orion, said in an interview. “We’re running hard. It’s still an aggressive schedule.”
Hawes made that assessment despite concerns raised in a recent report by an independent safety group on issues such as the spacecraft’s heat shield and European developed service module. “There’s an awful lot of work that’s going on… to mitigate those concerns,” he said.
Asteriod impact? There’s a flow chart for that
If NASA discovers an asteroid heading towards the Earth, rest assured it has a process in place for spreading the word.
Lindley Johnson, head of NASA’s newly created Planetary Defense Coordination Office, shared a flowchart Jan. 27 with the Small Bodies Assessment Group showing how NASA would share info about any near Earth object that poses a risk of hitting Earth.
The chain of communication would go up through NASA and then to the White House, who would then inform FEMA if the threatened impact was in U.S. territory, or the State Department if outside the country. Informing Congress would be left to NASA’s legislative affairs office.
But Johnson acknowledged that this carefully crafted process might not work.
“One of the challenges of this whole process is getting this information up to the powers that be before they start to see it on the Internet,” he said. “That’s probably an impossible thing to achieve in this day and age.”
For Shelby, Russian engines a question of great import
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) introduced a bill Jan. 28 to reinstate curbs on United Launch Alliance’s use of the RD-180 engine to launch national security satellites.
Congress temporarily lifted the ban in December by enacting a spending bill Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) amended to provide the RD-180 relief sought by ULA, which builds its rockets in his state.
The way Shelby sees it, restricting ULA’s use of the RD-180 engines that power its Atlas 5 rocket “is clearly more about squelching true competition in the military launch sector than actually banning the use of Russian products in America.”
Shelby, citing figures provided by the Congressional Resarch Service, says rocket engines accounted for just $88 million, or 0.325%, of the $27 billion in Russian goods the U.S. imported in 2013.
Oil, metals, and enriched uranium accounted for more than 85% of Russian goods imported that year.
Among the other biggies:
- Fertilizers ($796 million)
- Seafood ($326 million)
- Plastics & rubber ($238 million)
- Nuclear reactors, boilers, & machinery ($158 million)
- Arms & ammo ($151 million)
- Wood ($143 million)
- Organic chemicals ($117 million)