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War in space: U.S. officials debating rules for a conflict in orbit

Christian Davenport, The Washington Post, Wed, March 8, 2023

Ukraine’s use of commercial satellites to help repel the Russian invasion has bolstered the U.S. Space Force’s interest in exploiting the capabilities of the private sector to develop new technologies for fighting a war in space.

But the possible reliance on private companies, and the revolution in technology that has made satellites smaller and more powerful, is forcing the Defense Department to wrestle with difficult questions about what to do if those privately owned satellites are targeted by an adversary.

White House and Pentagon officials have been trying to determine what the policy should be since a top Russian official said in October that Russia could target the growing fleet of commercial satellites if they are used to help Ukraine.

Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department for nonproliferation and arms, called the growth of privately operated satellites “an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer-space technologies and has become apparent during the latest developments in Ukraine.”

He warned that “quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation.”

In response, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated earlier comments from her counterpart at the Pentagon that “any attack on U.S. infrastructure will be met with a response, as you’ve heard from my colleague, in a time and manner of our choosing.”

But what that response will be is unknown, as officials from a number of agencies try to lay out a policy framework on how to react if a commercial company is targeted…………………………………

The discussions come as the Pentagon is investing in more systems that were originally developed for civilian use but also have military applications. In the National Defense Strategy released late last year, the Pentagon vowed to “increase collaboration with the private sector in priority areas, especially with the commercial space industry,

leveraging its technological advancements and entrepreneurial spirit to enable new capabilities.”

Several companies are developing small rockets that would launch inexpensively, and with little notice. SpaceX, meanwhile, has launched its Falcon 9 rocket at a record cadence, firing it off 61 times last year

The company is on track for even more launches this year.

“We think in a few years we’ll be in the 200, 300, 400 range,” Space Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy Jr. said during a conference this month, referring to total space launches. “There’s a massive increase in commercial launch.”

He said the Space Force would like to get to the point where “we’re constantly launching, and there’s a schedule. There’s a launch in two hours, and there’s launch in 20 hours. Your satellite is not ready? Okay, get on the next one.”

For its next round of national security launch contracts, the Space Force has proposed an approach specifically designed to help small launch companies compete.

One track of contracts will be reserved for the most capable rockets – those able to hoist heavy payloads to every orbit the Pentagon wants to plant a satellite. Stalwarts such as SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, would probably compete for those. Blue Origin, the venture owned by Jeff Bezos, could also potentially bid its New Glenn rocket, though it has yet to fly. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

But the Space Force has proposed offering a second track for smaller rockets, allowing start-ups to enter one of the most reputable and lucrative space marketplaces that could be worth billions of dollars over several years. Those companies include Rocket Lab, which has recently christened its launch site on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, adding to its facility in New Zealand, and Relativity, which is scheduled to launch the world’s first 3D printed rocket on Wednesday…………..


March 10, 2023 - Posted by | space travel, USA, weapons and war

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