Today’s Tidbits: May 6, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: May 6, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for May 6, 2019:  no news from Pence today, Robert Lightfoot joins Lockheed Martin, DOD’s new China military power report. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Nice Speech, But No News From Pence Today

Vice President Mike Pence gave a keynote address at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. today, the first Vice President to speak at the conference in its 38-year history.  It was a fine speech, but disappointing for those eagerly awaiting news on how much Moon 2024 will cost and where the money will come from or whether a deal has been struck with Congress on creating the Space Force.

Pence spoke glowingly of American leadership in space — civil, commercial, and national security — but shed no light.

His March 26 directive to return astronauts to the Moon in 5 years got a one-sentence mention, with no details on cost. (NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was scheduled to speak on Wednesday, cancelled his appearance according to conference organizers, so that’s another opportunity that will be missed to share those details.)  Pence asserted that American astronauts will be launched on American rockets from American soil (i.e., commercial crew) “before the year is out,” avoiding any mention of the recent schedule delays for SpaceX and Boeing.

The conference is about the commercial satellite sector, especially communications satellites.  In that vein, he vowed that America will win the race to 5G, yet assure that commercial satellite operators have all the spectrum THEY need, without explaining how that balance will be struck, a very thorny issue.  Moving on to national security space, he reiterated warnings about other countries developing capabilities to attack U.S. satellites from the ground and “even working on bringing new weapons of war into space.”  Thus the United States Space Force is needed, but he provided no update on how negotiations are going with Congress, which must approve that proposal.

Basically he covered all the bases and painted an upbeat picture of the future.

And I have to tell you, I’m absolutely confident, when I look at all the great companies represented here, that the best days for America, the best days for American leadership in space, and the best days for extraordinary technological advances, far beyond anything we could ask or imagine, are still ahead. — Vice President Mike Pence

Robert Lightfoot Joins Lockheed Martin

Robert Lightfoot. Credit: NASA

Robert Lightfoot, whose nearly 30-year career at NASA ended with a record-setting 15-month tenure as Acting Administrator one year ago, joined Lockheed Martin Space today.  He is Vice President, Strategy and Business Development.

Lockheed Martin Space, based in Colorado, is a $9 billion, 18,000-person enterprise whose business areas include GPS and missile warning and communications satellites for DOD, human and robotic exploration systems for NASA, weather and commercial communications satellites, and strategic missile and missile defense systems.

Lightfoot will lead strategic planning, advanced technology concepts, and new business strategy.  For the past year he has been President of LSINC in Huntsville, AL.  A native Alabamian, he was Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center there in Huntsville before moving to NASA Headquarters.

High ranking government employees have limitations on interactions with their former agencies after they leave, with one-year, two-year, and permanent restrictions, but it requires a lawyer to sort them out.  It is not clear what Lightfoot will be able to do with regard to NASA, specifically, in his new role, just one-year after leaving government service.  But the company is clearly happy to have him join the team.  Lockheed Martin Space Executive Vice President Rick Ambrose said: “Robert is a universally-respected leader with an exceptional understanding of space technology, operations and strategy. … He will shape and drive a strategy that will help us deliver the breakthrough innovations and capabilities our customers need as we enter a new space age.”

DOD Issues New China Military Power Report

DOD is required by Congress to submit an annual report on China’s military and security developments.  It is informally known as the “China Military Power” report and this year’s version was released by DOD last Thursday.  []

The report includes space capabilities, but it is a minor portion.  At a DOD press conference releasing the report on Friday, space barely got a mention.

As in previous years, what little is said about space focuses on counterspace activities, but this time the report has more about China’s lunar aspirations, which even get their own bullet. After noting the launch of the Chang’e-4 farside lander and its Queqiao communications relay satellite, the report states:

“China plans to assemble a lunar research station on the Moon around 2025 and a lunar research and development base around 2050.”  — DOD’s 2019 China Military Power Report

It is silent on whether it expects those to be robotic or involve astronauts, but we don’t know of any suggestions that China might land people on the Moon by 2025. Right now it is intent on building a three-module space station in Earth orbit by 2022, but that must wait until the Long March 5 rocket returns to flight after a 2017 failure.  A recent report by Alexander Bowe of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission estimates that a Chinese crewed lunar mission will take place in the mid-2030s. []

As for counterspace activities, the new DOD report says China “probably has made progress” on the antisatellite (ASAT) system it tested in 2014 and is “probably testing dual-use technologies in space that could be applied to counterspace missions.”  The report goes into more detail this year about China’s Strategic Support Force (SSF), created in 2016 “to centralize strategic space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare missions.”  The SSF Space Systems Department is responsible for “nearly all” space operations.

The formation of the Space Systems Department seeks to resolve the bureaucratic power struggles that existed over the PLA space mission, as elements of the mission had been dispersed across several national and service-subordinate organizations. China officially designated space as a new domain of warfare in its 2015 defense white paper, highlighting the importance of the space domain in strategic military competition. — DOD’s 2019 China Military Report

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