Today’s Tidbits: January 9, 2018 – UPDATE

Today’s Tidbits: January 9, 2018 – UPDATE

Here are our tidbits for January 9, 2018:  China’s quantum communications satellite sparks interest at HASC hearing; Japanese astronaut grows 3.5 inches in 3 weeks on ISS [but note the update below].  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

China’s Quantum Communications Satellite Sparks Interest at HASC Hearing

Witnesses at the January 9, 2018 HASC subcommitte hearing on China’s Pursuit of Emerging and Exponential Technologies (L-R): Dean Cheng, Heritage Foundation; Paul Scharre, Center for a New American Security; William Carter, CSIS. Screengrab.

China’s 2016 launch of a communications satellite that utilizes quantum computing was one of the many topics discussed at a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee hearing today on China’s pursuit of emerging and exponential technologies. The three witnesses were Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation, Paul Scharre from Center for a New American Security, and William Carter from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The hearing was before the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, not the Strategic Forces Subcommittee that oversees most national security space issues.  Space activities were not a focus of this hearing, but were mentioned.

  • Chief among them was China’s quantum communications satellite, Micius, launched in August 2016.  Cheng said that the satellite was used to transmit data 120 kilometers in August 2017, and a month later was used for a “videophone call from Beijing to Vienna, which was encrypted using keys generated on the satellite.”  Quantum computing more generally was raised by each of the witnesses and several of the subcommittee members.  Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) recounted being told by an unnamed four star general that whatever country develops the first quantum computer will hold the “keys to the kingdom.”  Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) likened it to the 1960s US-Soviet space race.  Unfortunately none of the witnesses could provide an assessment of whether China or the United States is ahead because of the classified nature of the technology, but all agreed it was critical for the United States to lead.
  • In response to a question from Langevin about China’s development of directed energy (DE) technology, Cheng said that China views DE as a potential solution for antisatellite (ASAT) purposes because they can render satellites useless without creating debris like kinetic kill weapons.
  • Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked if the witnesses were concerned that President Trump has not appointed anyone to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which she said is responsible for U.S. policy regarding emerging and exponential technologies.  Cheng complained that the head of President Obama’s OSTP (John Holdren) wanted to promote U.S.-China space cooperation and he would prefer a vacant seat than to have someone pushing for more interaction with China in high technology.  Scharre and Carter, however, said they think White House leadership on these technology issues is critical.
  • Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) asked a long series of questions premised on his assertion that China is subsidizing the manufacture of communication satellites to the detriment of U.S. satellite manufacturers.  He asked how China’s unfair trade practices could affect the prices the U.S. pays for national security satellites.  Cheng replied that manufacture of those types of satellites is not open for competition from other countries, but there could be an impact on commercial satellites, especially for proposed constellations of 1,000 to 4,000 small satellites. “We expect to see the Chinese start moving into that arena, but that is dealing with private companies not the government.” He added that one can expect China to begin offering data — “from imaging to sigint” — not just physical hardware at very competitive prices as they deploy their own constellations.
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) asked about the growing U.S. dependence on satellites for military operations and whether more emphasis should be placed on defensive space capabilities.  Carter replied that what is needed is resilience — a more survivable space architecture.  He noted that the conflicts in which the United States is engaged today are not ones that threaten space assets and “leadership from Congress can be really meaningful” in pointing DOD to the “next era of threats.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Credit: Stefanik congressional website.

Subcommittee chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (at 30) and already chairing a HASC subcommittee in just her second term in Congress, used part of her opening statement to lay out what she sees as the role of the new Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD/R&E).  Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has been nominated for the job and is awaiting a confirmation hearing.  Stefanik said:

“I firmly believe the [USD/R&E] needs to be the prime mover to drive change and foster innovation within the Department. … If properly empowered and resourced, I also believe the [USD/R&E] will be in a unique position to drive a national level dialogue for Science and Technology policy that will — in addition to helping maintain a battlefield advantage — energize our domestic Industrial Base and provide technology jobs and opportunities across many of the sectors we will talk about today.  We have significant expectations of Dr. Mike Griffin … because the threats we face from China and others demand that we energize and organize our government to ensure that Policy keeps pace with Technology in order to define a National Science & Technology strategy, and to close the gap with China.”

Her full statement is posted on the committee’s website. []

Japanese Astronaut Grows 3.5 Inches in Three Weeks – UPDATED

Kanai later apologized for making an error when measuring his height.  After repeating the measurement, he found he grew only 2 cm (just under an inch) rather than 9 cm (3.5 inches.)  Read more here. 

Original Story:  Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishige Kanai reports that he grew 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) in just three weeks after arriving aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  Astronauts typically gain height in microgravity — and lose it as soon as they return to the 1g environment on Earth — as the lack of gravity allows the spine to expand.  One consequence is that spacesuits will fit differently and astronauts traveling to and from the ISS in Russian Soyuz spacecraft may not conform to their customized seat liners on the way home.

Kanai tweeted (@astro_kanai) the news, which was picked up by Alex Horton of the Washington Post who published an interesting story about the experience of Kanai and other astronauts in this regard.[] It should be noted that the tweet the Post published along with the article is not the one where Kanai talks about his height gain.  The correct tweet follows.

Kanai launched on Soyuz MS-07 on December 17, 2017 along with NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.

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