WASHINGTON – The problem with space is that there are only so much of this one. There are, according to the late great Carl Sagan, “billions and billions” of stars out there.
Even on a relatively tiny scale, cislunar space – the vast expanses between the orbits of Earth and the Moon that space operators around the world are eager to exploit – implies a distance of around 500,000 kilometers, and more. important still because spacecraft do not travel in a straight line, a volume of about 2 million miles, according to the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 2021 primer [PDF] on the region.
And just like in 2021, there were far too many stories this year in the small corner of the Breaking Defense universe to make a list of the top five. So find below instead a very subjective roundup of which were the most interesting, or just fun to write about and hopefully read.
[This article is one of many in a series in which Breaking Defense reporters look back on the most significant (and entertaining) news stories of 2022 and look forward to what 2023 may hold.]
1. The Next Energy Frontier: A Race for Solar Power from Space?
Almost everyone who has met me knows that I am a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic. So, I have a serious soft spot for game-changing space tech ideas, even ones that are, well, fantastic. Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) is such an idea, and one that the Pentagon has been tossing about half-heartedly for about fifteen years.
But people can look back to 2022 as the year SPSP research finally stopped raising skeptical eyebrows and took a small step toward reality. This story reviewed multiple efforts by governments around the world – some with a strong military interest – to demonstrate the feasibility of solar radiation. Indeed, since the publication of this story, the Council of Ministers of the European Space Agency has approved a feasibility study for its SOLARIS SBSP project.
2. Seeing in the dark: Space Force is working, slowly, to improve surveillance of the skies and Major space surveillance sensors still rely on outdated CAVENet computer system
The decades-long saga of the Joint Space Operations Center’s (JSpOC) failed Mission System (JMS) program to upgrade the complex computer systems and models used by Space Command operators to keep tabs on satellites and hazardous space waste is epic. Much like the journey that led to this bundle of stories attempting to explain (as well as possible) the follow-on Space Force effort to pick up the pieces and implement a state-of-the-art hardware system and, most importantly, software to analyze data from skyward-pointing telescopes and radar. It’s a huge undertaking, and no one should envy Space Systems Command.
3. To protect and maybe defend: NRO and SPACECOM consider commercial satellite defense options
Since the Space Force was created in December 2019, there has been debate about what role it should have, if any, in protecting space commerce. The complex political and legal issues involved have only worsened as the US military and intelligence community’s reliance on commercial vendors and capabilities has grown. The issue has become particularly relevant this year due to the war in Ukraine and the extent to which commercial communications and remote sensing capabilities have proven indispensable to the defense of Kyiv. This story took a deep dive into the core issues, most of which remain unresolved.
4. EXCLUSIVE: US Strategic Space Review offline, but no unclassified version arrives
For years there has been a concerted campaign by senior leaders in the national security space, particularly the top brass, for the US government to address what almost everyone agrees is an overclassification issue regarding anything space-related — one that is increasingly having negative effects on the United States’ ability to stay ahead of and deter adversaries. How’s it going? Not so well, as this title alone makes clear.
5. UN committee endorses US call for moratorium on ASAT destructive missile testing
Last year’s “five stories” included the Biden administration’s initial promise to develop new international norms and rules for national security space activities designed to reduce the risk of “inadvertent conflict.” At the time, the prospect of a UN ban on destructive anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) was just a twinkle in the starry eyes of optimists. But on November 1, the United Nations First Committee, responsible for peace and security issues, took a step towards making that dream come true – backing a US resolution calling on all nations to impose a moratorium on testing. debris-generating ASAT missiles. (The entire United Nations General Assembly followed suit on Dec. 7.) By the end of the year, nine more countries had joined Washington in making such a pledge.
Of course, ground-launched ASATs are not the only type of weapon that can create dangerous space debris. And the moratorium focuses on peacetime essaynot in wartime use, the latter of which the Pentagon has not completely ruled out. Moreover, only nine other countries have so far made a similar unilateral pledge – with US adversaries Russia and China actively deriding the effort.
Still, for supporters, the UN decision is a welcome holiday gift, hope for progress in preventing military competition in space from sparking war on Earth, and safeguarding the space environment for the future. . Here’s more good news for next year!
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