In July, Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, cited the U.S. “retreat from principles of cooperation and mutual support” to justify Russia’s refusal to join the latest U.S. space initiative: to build lunar bases. Rogozin was likely referring to the U.S. refusal to renew the Intermediate-range Forces Treaty and its intention to back out of the Open Skies Treaty.
Russia responded by declaring that Venus is a “Russian planet.” The U.S. continues to reject Sino-Russian efforts to strengthen the Outer Space Treaty 1967, to prohibit the weaponization of space. Doing so would interfere with U.S. plans for “full spectrum dominance.”
MOON LANDING 2.0
Last week on 22 September, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) signed a memorandum with the Department of Defense (DOD). The signers were NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, and the U.S. Space Force Chief of Operations General, John Raymond.
The signing of the memo took place in the broader context of NASA’s Artemis program. In December 2017, Donald Trump signed the Presidential Memorandum on Reinvigorating America’s Human Space Exploration Program. It was an update of Obama’s space policy, adding that the U.S. will: “Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”
NASA’s Artemis program oversees the U.S. mission to exploit the moon, including the construction of the Artemis Base Camp at the lunar South Pole, probably near the Shackleton Crater. This will serve as a forerunner to building a base on Mars. It “builds on a half-century of experience and preparation to establish a robust human-robotic presence on and around the Moon,” says NASA. Artemis includes a Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft. These operations will enable “U.S. commercial companies and international partners to further contribute to the exploration and development of the Moon.”
International partners, at present, include Canada, Japan, and the EU. Though, as we shall see, weaponization and competition remain serious threats to international peace and human survival. Other elements of the program include a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), which Artemis hopes to finalize by 2023. The international efforts include deploying “science payloads” and CubeSats, as well as refueling the Gateway: an orbiting lunar outpost.
Contracts for the Human Landing System (HLS) have gone to Blue Origin, Dynetics (Leidos), and SpaceX. The HLS team includes Draper, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Draper will provide avionics, guidance, navigation, and software. The Integrated Lander Vehicle will launch on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan heavy-lift rocket. Maxar Technologies will develop the PPE. HALO is an initial crew cabin for astronauts visiting the Gateway and will likely be built by Northrop. Pressurized and unpressurized cargo, including space instruments and food, will be delivered by SpaceX.
The recent NASA-DOD memorandum of understanding references the proposed lunar base and says that NASA and the Space Force “reaffirm and continue their rich legacy of collaboration in space launch, in-space operations, and space research activities, all of which contribute to the Parties’ separate and distinct civil and defense endeavors”—the latter are classified. The Space Force will act as the NASA’s guarantor. Space Force’s responsibilities “include developing military space systems and doctrine, as well as presenting space forces to support the warfighting Combatant Commands.” The memo reiterates common NASA-DOD interests.
The memo also seeks to establish a Foundation for Broad Collaboration. General Raymond says: “A secure, stable, and accessible space domain underpins our nation’s security, prosperity and scientific achievement. Space Force looks forward to future collaboration, as NASA pushes farther into the universe for the benefit of all.” The Space Force states that it “will secure the peaceful use of space, free for any who seek to expand their understanding of the universe, by organizing, training and equipping forces to protect U.S. and allied interests in space.” “Peace” means U.S. dominance unimpeded by commercial rivals, like China, India, and Russia.
NASA AS STIMULUS FOR HI-TECH
As the BBC acknowledges: “Many practical products developed by NASA during the Apollo years are well known: cordless drills, PV (solar) panels, freeze-dried food, thermal insulation material, heat coatings and so on.” Having learned their craft at the Fairchild Semiconductor company, NASA scientists formed Intel, which later worked on personal computers with Microsoft. The so-called Apollo Effect, in reference to the first moon landing, indirectly and reportedly inspired Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with creating the World Wide Web, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Elon Musk of SpaceX, which is now contracted to work on the latest program.
NASA says of the future that taxpayer dollars will fund research and development for corporate, hi-tech innovation: “Space Technology investments will stimulate the economy and build our Nation’s global economic competitiveness through the creation of new products and services, new business and industries, and high-quality, sustainable jobs,” like those above. It notes more broadly:
“Knowledge provided by weather and navigational spacecraft, efficiency improvements in both ground and air transportation, super computers, solar- and wind-generated energy, the cameras found in many of today’s cell phones, improved biomedical applications including advanced medical imaging and even more nutritious infant formula, as well as the protective gear that keeps our military, firefighters and police safe, have all benefitted from our nation’s investments in aerospace technology.”
Colonel Eric Felt, Director of the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate, says: “The space renaissance happening on the commercial side is fantastic, there is innovation we can use.” Felt also notes the link between civilian-commercial and military technology: “We have limited funding in our budget for science and technology … We have to leverage dual-use technologies”—which means weaponized civilian and commercial products.
As pundits analyze what was arguably the lowest point of U.S. electoral politics in the mont of September, namely the “debate” between The Donald and Creepy Joe, Sky News reports on the Space Command’s first foreign deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar: “Their mission is to confront new threats in the region from Iran’s missile programme – as well as attempts to jam, hack and blind satellites.” Confront threats means maintain dominance.
The Space Force has also seen the transfer of Air Force personnel to the Marine Expeditionary Unit, indicating that the Force will integrate into all levels of the U.S. military, realizing the U.S. elite dream of “full spectrum dominance.”