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Clyde Lewis | January 9, 2020
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Nearly 40 years ago, when it seemed that conspiracy theory and speculation about corruption was in its adolescence in the United States, there was always a paranoid notion that from the times of the Russian satellite Sputnik until now there was always the unproven notion that somebody, in some government was in space watching us and that ransom individuals would be obliterated where they stand with some laser or particle beam weapon.

In the beginning, we had the conspiracy theory; now we are learning about the cover-ups and secret investigations into UFOs that would generate the idea of an alien threat and create a demand for a space shield or blockade to ward off any kind of alien entanglements—this would have to be a world issue and not just an issue that would be limited to our military alone.

Arms control advocates say it is clearly the beginning of a “weaponization of space” precursor to a precision global strike capability and a full spectrum surveillance apparatus that would allow the US to collect data for months at a time over anywhere it chooses and then unleash firepower without warning anywhere in the world including here at home if necessary.

The story and the conspiracy yarn regarding space weapons and kinetic bombardment have now caught on and it may not be some pipedream but a real apparatus for communications and protection.

In the future, it will be common to see unmanned drones patrolling the skies above us as 30,000 armed drones are expected to fill the sky under the control of an electromagnetic grid system.

In this new year, the rebooting of the Space Age is here and while lofty goals such as putting a man on the moon or on Mars have been put on hold, the privatizing of space has allowed for entrepreneurs to fire their own rockets and startup relationships with military contractors and the newly formed branch of the military called the Space Force.

I have always been a space geek and even though I have expressed doubts about the 1969 moon landing and whether or not the record reflects the reality – I certainly find space exploration a compelling and fascinating topic.

However, with setbacks in manned missions to the moon and Mars – there is always that disappointment that tends to darken my hopes of ever seeing a successful moon or Mars mission in the near future.

We were told back in the era of George W. Bush that by 2020 we would be seeing the construction of a moon base and the reality of Space Tourism

I am having mixed feelings about the space frontier in 2020

The truth about space affairs has always been grim in the 21st century.

 It remains explicit US policy to control near space as part of the doctrine of “full-spectrum dominance” and, further, to be able to deny access to space to all other nations.

We have realized that the Pentagon has stated that it is defense policy to investigate UFOs or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena and from what we have now been told, they are now denying that they ever had an interest.

It appears that the Pentagon seemed to grow tired of fielding all of these questions about UFOs and decided that enough was enough.

However, it also can be seen as a way the Defense Department always seems to find a way to gaslight anyone who has concerns about threats from space whether they be little gray men – or hypersonic weapons that can reduce a major city to a smoldering crater.

More than likely they have a mountain of evidence and they’re withholding it all. And they’re still lying about it.  Now we have to keep in mind that this still doesn’t automatically mean that any of this has anything to do with extraterrestrials. 

However, the whole rush to creating a Space Force goes as far back as 2017, the same year as the revelations about the UFO encounters—it is far from being a bit coincidental and the idea of 21st-century space threats echoes back to the weeks after The Roswell incident when Truman separated the Army and the air force, created the CIA and Project Blue Book and when Eisenhower expressed concerns about Sputnik and how it was imperative to get our own bit of hardware up into space.

This week, SpaceX kicked off 2020 with the record-breaking launch of its third batch of Starlink satellites. Sixty of the internet-beaming satellites launched atop a used Falcon 9 booster.

The successful Starlink launch made Space X the world’s largest Satellite operator and became the first launch to happen under the auspices of Space Force, which was signed into existence on December 20th, 2019 by President Donald Trump as the sixth branch of the armed forces.

Back in October, we learned that Space X has been working with the U.S. Air Force on a program called Global Lightning.

The military is seeking ways to use what are called mega-constellations that bring cheap broadband capabilities all over the world.

Space X in December 2018 received a $28 million contract to test over the next three years in different ways in which the military might use Starlink broadband services. So far, SpaceX has demonstrated data throughput of 610 megabits per second in flight to the cockpit of a U.S. military C-12 twin-engine turboprop aircraft.

Space X received the largest Air Force contract so far from any of the LEO broadband companies under the so-called “Defense Experimentation Using the Commercial Space Internet” program.

Low-cost internet access from LEO constellations is one of the products that the Air Force wants to be able to acquire and use as soon as possible.

The launch is part of the private spaceflight company’s plan to create a constellation of small broadband satellites, each weighing slightly more than 485 lbs.

That will provide internet coverage to the world below. With this launch, it brings Space X’s burgeoning constellation up to 180 satellites, making it the largest satellite fleet in orbit. 

SpaceX is not the one aerospace company with plans of connecting the globe. OneWeb launched its first set of six satellites in 2019, but SpaceX with its own rocket has quickly amassed a sizable constellation. 

Since late December people have been seeing a string of lights in the sky and have mistaken them for UFOs.  Scientists have called them megaconstellations and as competition increases, we will be seeing more of these megaconstellations filling up the sky.

A new and lucrative standard in global connectivity is the impetus for these sprawling swarms of spacecraft. Blanketing our planet in satellites to beam high-speed Internet to any location on Earth around the clock could banish the days of struggling with spotty Wi-Fi and cellular connections, while also transporting the estimated three billion people who are currently offline into the digital age. If these companies are successful, the entire world could be suddenly interlinked as never before, with the Internet becoming truly omnipresent for essentially every human on the planet.

While it all sounds like a great idea – we have to also think about the consequences of having so many of these heavy objects racing above us.

Concerns about preserving the space environment, particularly in low Earth orbit have intensified with the growing interest in new satellite mega-constellations initiatives. Mega-constellations are one of the biggest challenges faced by the satellite communications industry today, calling for changes in manufacturing processes, assembly and testing methods, and a need to implement technologies to minimize the potential impact on the space environment.

 There are concerns that these technologies will create a cascade of increased collisions and debris. The other danger is that what goes up can come down, sometimes over heavily populated areas.

By the end of 2020, SpaceX plans to launch about 1,000 satellites in its Starlink constellation, singlehandedly increasing the number of active satellites in orbit by half. One Web says that they will launch an additional 400 satellites.

Other companies will follow suit which of course raises questions about earth’s orbital environment and the possible risks of having too many satellites not only to navigate but to protect and to keep in space.

How to best manage this massive outpouring of satellites remains an open question. The roughly 2,000 active spacecraft orbiting Earth already have to dodge each other, as well as errant, defunct satellites and smaller pieces of space debris. The advent of megaconstellations will require a huge increase in such “collision avoidance maneuvers.”

While the new space race has the technocrats optimistic – there is really no reason to be.  While we can put all of these satellites in space to ensure better internet connections the question is with all of the risks involved –should we even be doing this?

There are currently no strict international rules or regulations that dictate how a company operates such constellations in orbit, and regulators have struggled to cope with the rapid development of megaconstellations.

What most people do not understand is while all of this sounds amazing and innovative – this is all new territory and at the moment we haven’t heard of any mishaps or monumental failures but there are many scientists that are concerned about what will happen if there is a colossal failure and what dangers it posed to areas on earth that may be hit by dead satellites that cannot be controlled.

SpaceX, in one of its FCC filings, said its active Starlink satellites had at most a risk of collision of just 0.000000303 percent with any objects larger than 10 centimeters if one of them failed immediately after launching into an initial orbital altitude of about 350 kilometers.

They have invested in propulsion for its satellites, collision risk is considered to be zero or near zero,” the company noted in one document sent to the FCC, although it did not provide collision risk analysis for failed satellites at their operational height of 550 kilometers.

SpaceX has touted the automated collision avoidance capabilities of its satellites to dodge other objects, although this system did not operate in September and caused a close call with a European science satellite called Aeolus owing to a “bug” in the Starlink e-mail communication system. That bug, according to a SpaceX spokesperson, “has been fixed.”

A satellite’s malfunction need not only occur shortly after launch, however, a failure could also come at any time in its mission.

We are too caught up in how cool this all is – we forget that when the satellites go up, they can often come down and with the population growing because of competition we also may see the risk of collision or worse, sabotage from adversarial countries like China or Russia.

No one to my knowledge has even issued any information about failure rates of one of these satellites let alone the possibility of a Christmas tree light scenario that if one satellite goes out in the string – they all go out.

In its own filing with the FCC, Amazon was asked to project the potential collision risk of its Project Kuiper constellation if up to 15 percent of its satellites failed a high but not unfathomable number.

U.S.-company Iridium Communications, which launched a constellation of 95 satellites into orbit in the 1990s, found that 30 percent of those satellites failed. If 15 percent of Amazon’s satellites failed in orbit, the company has estimated a 17 percent chance that one of them would collide with a piece of space debris—potentially breaking apart to create more space debris and raise overall collision risks. 

The worst-case scenario, in which satellite collisions create a runaway feedback loop of ever-greater amounts of space debris, is known as the Kessler syndrome. It is kind of like watching the balls on a pool table knock each other around and collide with other satellites, space stations, and space debris.

Think of the worst-case scenario on the highway where one collision causes a 50 car pileup—now think of 100,000 satellites in low earth orbit colliding with a group of failed satellites – the heavens would be on fire causing a Kessler syndrome and who knows what would happen next.

SpaceX, OneWeb and the FCC, which has authorized more than 13,000 satellites in the past two years alone, say they are taking these concerns seriously.

 “The FCC will ensure responsible operations through the licensing process and through regulations, including any new regulations adopted in the orbital debris rule-making proceeding,” a spokesperson for the agency said. SpaceX’s spokesperson, meanwhile, says any of its satellites that fail at lower orbits will “burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere within one to five years.”

The company, however, also has plans to operate satellites at significantly higher altitudes of 1,150 kilometers where orbital lifetimes for failed satellites can be hundreds of years. OneWeb, too, intends to send satellites to such higher altitudes but also says it is working with experts to draw up plans for sustainable practices such as robotic servicing to de-orbit defunct spacecraft.

Astronomers have also raised concerns about constellations on their observations of the universe.  How are astronomers supposed to see through the clutter of all of these satellites?

Although regulators and organizations are already embroiled in discussions of how to cope with megaconstellations, by the time any international agreement emerges, it might be too late. 

Holger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at the European Space Agency, says they are developing an automated system to help satellites avoid collisions, but it will not be ready until 2023, by which time thousands of satellites will likely have already launched. 

Now the question is have we blindly rushed to launch these satellites without thinking of the consequences?  Is the risk worth the reward?

In the event of a Kessler syndrome, parts of Earth orbit could be left essentially unusable for the foreseeable future, burdening our descendants with yet another planet-encompassing mess.

The window to act is now diminishing.

There are more than 2,271 satellites currently in orbit without counting the onslaught of Starlink and One Web. Russia has the most satellites currently in orbit, with 1,324 satellites, followed by the U.S. with 658. They represent four percent of the total number of objects currently cataloged by the U.S. space surveillance network; the rest includes abandoned satellites, spent rocket boosters, and other debris.

Civilian satellites, which perform tasks for the commercial, scientific, and government sectors, make up the majority of U.S. satellites. Russia’s space assets are split nearly evenly between military and civil missions, though there are not separate military and civilian space programs. Only a very small percentage of other countries’ satellites are military in nature.

It is no secret the military wants to own the skies; however it is obvious the domain will eventually be run by Artificial Intelligence and that autonomous satellite killers will be used by aggressive nations creating an excuse for Space warfare.

Arms control advocates say it is clearly the beginning of a “weaponization of space” precursor to a precision global strike capability and a full spectrum surveillance apparatus that would allow the US to collect data for months at a time over anywhere it chooses and then unleash firepower without warning anywhere in the world including here at home if necessary.

In the future, it will be common to see unmanned drones patrolling the skies above us as 30,000 armed drones are expected to fill the sky under the control of an electromagnetic grid system.

This grid system known as the “Space Fence” will record the route and speed of every vehicle on the streets. It will allow the military to observe the movements of individual pedestrians. At night, the space fence will capture the precise moments when the lights in living rooms and bedrooms are turned on and off. The data that the military will acquire, which can be correlated with information from mobile devices and smart meters, will become an important component of the growing digital record of nearly everything we do.

The internet of things is now the train that has left the station and it has now traveled into the sky as we marvel at the string of megaconstellations as man’s latest space achievement.

They will eventually be seen as a space threat. I predict that they will eventually become a nuisance as they crowd out stars, block space events, and collide with other satellites.

Soon, Earth may be blanketed by tens of thousands of satellites, and they’ll greatly outnumber the approximately 9,000 stars that are visible to an unaided human eye.

Every square degree of space you see will have something crawling in it.   I know that we remember the old tale of Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling but with thousands of these satellites in the sky – it will look as if the sky is crawling.

Written by Clyde Lewis

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