Space and Satellites

What’s in space—and how does it affect global security?


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Latest Space and Satellites Posts

New Update of the UCS Satellite Database

, senior scientist

A fresh version of the UCS Satellite Database has been posted. It includes launches through the end of 2016. Apologies for the delay this time; we will be back on schedule and have a new one shortly.

Here are some of the more interesting satellites new to the database:
Rendezvous and proximity operations
GSSAP 3 and 4, the new pair of Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness satellites (Fig. 1). The four GSSAP satellites, operated by the US Air Force, are built to surveil other GEO satellites using rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs). Satellites that perform rendezvous and proximity operations get a lot of attention, as this technology can be used for surveillance and inspection, repair and refueling, but also for interfering with another satellite as an anti-satellite weapon. While the US appears to be significantly ahead in sophistication, Russia and China continue development of these capabilities.

Fig. 1 (Source: Air Force)

Position, navigation, and timing
The European Union augmented its Galileo position, navigation, and timing constellation with four new satellites, to bring the total on-orbit to 18, enough to move from a test system to one providing initial services (Fig. 2). This was the first time that the Galileo satellites were launched by a European rocket, the Ariane V, rather than a Soyuz. Full operational capability for the constellation is planned by 2020. The Galileo system is meant to provide a civilian and European alternative to the US Global Positioning System and Russian Glonass systems.

Fig. 2 (Source: European Space Agency)

Cutting-edge science and “unhackable” satellite communications
And China launched the Quantum Science Satellite, an experiment to test out quantum entanglement over long distances to better understand basic physics and to potentially develop quantum key distribution-based secure satellite communications (Fig. 3). If initial experiments are successful, the goal is to demonstrate this over long distances, between collaborating (and competing) labs in China and Austria.

Fig. 3 (Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, Vol. 492, Issue 7427. Copyright 2012.)

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Sputnik Revisited

, China project manager and senior analyst

Fifty-nine years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit, setting off a panic in the United States that contributed to the evolution of a “space race” between the two superpowers.

Last week, Congress held a hearing on the question of whether the United States was losing a new space race with China. Unfortunately, the witnesses seemed more interested in re-creating the alarmism of the Sputnik era than in offering Congress an accurate picture of the Chinese space program. This raises doubts about the value of the hearing’s contribution to congressional perspectives on US-China relations in space. Read more >

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The United States, China, and Anti-Satellite Weapons

, China project manager and senior analyst

Many US observers believe anti-satellite (ASAT) attacks could be China’s trump card in a major military confrontation with the United States. But the reality may be exactly the opposite. The United States could have more to gain, and China more to lose, from taking the fight to outer space. A US presidential decision to pursue this advantage would make the United States, not China, the protagonist in a new space arms race that would undermine the security of both nations. Read more >

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Tenth Anniversary Release of UCS Satellite Database

, senior scientist

Happy birthday to the UCS Satellite Database! This month we are marking the 10th anniversary of the UCS Satellite Database. Read more >

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Update on Possible Iranian Simorgh Rocket Launch

, senior scientist

A few days ago, we posted an overview of a possible upcoming Iranian satellite launch, which pointed to launch windows being held open at the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center. Last week’s launch windows (which were signaled by NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen)) expired, but new ones were issued yesterday for two areas. Read more >

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