Pentagon: SpaceX effectively blocking Russian illegal use of Starlink

According to one Pentagon official, SpaceX has effectively blocked Russia’s illegal use of captured or illegally purchased Starlink terminals.

Plumb declined to elaborate on what tactics, techniques or procedures are being used to stem Russia’s use of the highly portable communications terminals that connect to SpaceX’s fleet of low-orbiting satellites. Ukrainian government officials had no immediate comment.

Starlink terminals continue to be advertised for sale in Russia on platforms such as e-commerce site Ozon. Their sellers say they function through subscriptions taken out in the name of residents of European countries where the technology is licensed, and they say that connections work — not within Russia’s heartlands but near border regions such as Ukraine’s occupied territories.

This week, however, users complained of unprecedented connectivity issues. On the messaging app Telegram one of the sellers recommended transferring onto a more expensive global service plan. Bloomberg hasn’t been able to independently verify whether those workarounds restore connectivity for illicit Starlink use in Russia.

The official tried to make it sound as if the Pentagon was an equal partner with SpaceX in accomplishing this work, but that’s absurd. The military is without doubt helping SpaceX anyway it can, but the bulk of the technical work is almost certainly being done by SpaceX.

Two Democrats in Congress go after SpaceX for the alleged Russian theft of Starlink terminals

Two of the more radical Democrats in Congress, Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) and Robert Garcia (D-California), have issued a public letter [pdf] to SpaceX, accusing the company of not having the “appropriate guardrails and policies in place to ensure your technology is neither acquired nor used illegally by Russia.”

The letter then demands SpaceX answer a number of detailed questions, such as the number of thefts SpaceX has detected, what does the company do to prevent such thefts, and how the company is acting to adhere to the present federal sanctions against Russia. It demands answers by March 20, 2024.

SpaceX has made it very clear it is doing what it can to prevent the use of stolen Starlink terminals, not only in the war situation in the Ukraine but elsewhere. It is not in the company’s interest to allow such thefts.

This letter therefore is just another effort by the Democrats to harass Elon Musk, because Musk has also made it clear he personally no longer supports the agenda of today’s Democratic Party. These two politicians likely intend to use whatever answer they get from SpaceX to further attack the company, and even institute sanctions against it.

Welcome to the new America, where politicians can routinely abuse their power to harass any private citizen who disagrees with them.

Despite big bucks from the U.S., the stalemate in the Ukraine continues, with only minor Russian gains

With the passage by the Senate yesterday of a major foreign aid bill that includes $60 billion in aid to the Ukraine war effort, despite strong public opposition and a House Republican leadership unwilling to approve it, it seems that this might be a good time to look at the actual situation on the ground in the Ukraine. Have the front lines changed in any major way since my last update on the Ukraine war in September, 2023? And will that aid make any difference, should House Republicans break their word and approve it in the end?

Based on what has happened in the past six months, the answer to these questions is “Not much”, and “No”. Note the map below, adapted from maps produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), comparing the territory occupied by the Russians in November 2022 with what it presently occupies in February 2024.
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Ukraine: Russia using Starlink; Musk: No we don’t allow it

Over the weekend Ukrainain officials reiterated the claim from last week that Russia soldiers are using Starlink terminals illegally in occupied territories.

Earlier on Sunday, Ukrainian military intelligence said Russia is using Musk’s satellites to facilitate communications on the battlefield. The intelligence agency posted audio of an exchange between two Russian soldiers from the 83rd Assault Brigade in the Donetsk region, claiming that the Russians were speaking over Starlink.

Ukraine intelligence did not specify how many terminals it believed Russia had or how they might have been obtained. Still, Ukrainian Military Intelligence Spokesperson Andriy Yusov said that the use of Starlink by Russians was becoming “systemic.”

Musk soon responded on X, stating that SpaceX does not sell any of its terminals in Russia, and it immediately blocks use of stolen terminals in Russia once detected.

Musk however was very careful to say nothing about what happens in the occupied territories of the Ukraine where Russia troops operate. In the recent slow gains of territory that the Russians have achieved it could have captured terminals and begun using them, in their correct location. SpaceX would have no way to knowing who the user is.

I expect SpaceX will now take actions to deal with this issue, using information provided by the Ukrainians.

SpaceX denies Russian claim that Starlink terminals sold illegally will work in the Ukraine

Russian media sources have recently claimed that Starlink terminals are being sold illegally to Russians for use in the Ukraine and in Russia near the Ukraine border, where they will supposedly work. SpaceX has now denied that claim.

[A]ccording to a report from Russian media outlet ComNews, vendors have been selling the equipment because it allegedly works near the country’s borders and in Ukraine, including the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, along with Crimea.

That’s contrary to the official Starlink map, which shows the internet access restricted in Russian-occupied areas. Still, as evidence, ComNews cites the online pages of several vendors, including one that notes the Starlink dish can be used in the “CBO,” a reference to Russian military operation in Ukraine. Although the Russian military has a ban on using Starlink equipment, some volunteer military troops have been buying it up.

The terminals are supposedly obtained secretly through Dubai. The SpaceX denial on X noted that they would deactivate any unauthorized terminal and that…

Starlink also does not operate in Dubai. Starlink cannot be purchased in Dubai nor does SpaceX ship there. Additionally, Starlink has not authorized any third-party intermediaries, resellers or distributors of any kind to sell Starlink in Dubai.

This story however does raise the long-standing question of how SpaceX can control the use and ownership of its terminals. Once shipped to a legal customer, what is to stop that customer from selling that terminal to anyone who can then ship it and sell it to some third party in a blocked region? SpaceX can probably identify the location of its terminals, and if one is found not to be where it should be, deactivate it. But could smugglers eventually block SpaceX from getting this location data?

The emerging long term ramifications of the Ukraine War

With the war in the Ukraine now in the second half of its second year, with no clear outcome on the horizon, I thought it might be a good time to step back and look at what Russia’s invasion has wrought, not just on Russia and the Ukraine, but on the rest of the world, now and possibly into the long term future.

My goal in this essay is to look at the forest, not the trees, and to do so in very broad strokes, based on my experience as a historian who has taken this approach in all my histories.

First however it is necessary to give a short update on the war itself. In my previous two updates in April and July I concluded that the war was devolving into a stalemate, much like the ugly trench warfare of World War I. Nothing has changed that conclusion in the two months since July, a fact that is starkly illustrated by the two maps below, originally created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and modified and annotated by me to highlight the most significant take-aways.
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The trench war continues in the Ukraine

The continuing trench war in Ukraine
For the original maps, go here (April 16, 2023)
and here (July 23, 2023).

My last full update on the Ukraine War, on April 17, 2023, was written about the time that the Russian winter offensive had ended (with generally empty results) and a counter-offensive by the Ukrainians was expected to begin.

At that time I concluded as follows:

The Ukrainians have no hope of getting [sufficient] military aid from the rest of the world. Unless the Russians can bring [vastly larger] numbers to this battlefield, something that seems unlikely based on the present political situation in Russia, it now appears that this war is devolving into a World War I-style trench war. Neither side can make any significant gains militarily, and neither side is willing to negotiate a settlement.

Based on that assessment, I expected the Ukrainian spring/summer offensive to be as ineffective as the Russian winter campaign. This has proven true. The map above, adapted from maps created by the Institute for the Study of War, illustrates the general lack of change in either direction along the entire northern frontline. Though the Ukraine has made some minor gains north and south of Bakmut (as noted in ISW’s July 23, 2023 update), it has not succeeded in recapturing the city. Meanwhile, the Russians have made some minor gains to the north, west of the cities Svatova and Kreminna.

Similarly, though the Ukraine has made some small gains along the southern frontline (compare this April 16th map with this July 23rd map), none of those gains have been of any great significance. The Ukraine’s long pause in offensive operations, from November 2022 until April 2023, allowed the Russians to build a deep and extensive defensive set-up, including many minefields that have slowed Ukrainian advances to barely a crawl.

In addition, it appears that the flooding from the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in the south has almost entirely benefited the Russians, blocking what appears to have been a major Ukrainian plan to invade across the Dneiper River. Since the dam break, the Ukraine has been pushing at the one major bridge still standing, but with no real success. Since the Ukrainians do not appear to have the ability to make an amphibious assault, the Russians need only defend this one bridge, and have so far been able to.

In its June 14, 2023 update, ISW noted the following about the Russian defensive setup:
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Who blew up the dam in the Ukraine?

section of ISW map
Taken from ISW’s report on June 6, 2023. Click for original.

Since the news broke yesterday that someone had blown up the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, there has been endless speculation by numerous pundits attempting to pin the blame. It seems that half say Russia, and half say the Ukraine.

Let me provide my readers the answer right up front: We as yet haven’t got the foggiest idea who did it.

Why am I so sure? Because in reviewing all the information I can glean from many different sources, it appears both sides had good reasons to do it, as well as good reasons to not want it to happen at all. Let’s list those reasons.
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The developing trench war in Ukraine

The developing trench war in Ukraine
For the original maps, go here (November 16, 2022) and here (April 16, 2023)

In my last update on the Ukraine War on November 16, 2022, I concluded that the stream of territorial gains by the Ukraine in the previous two months suggested that it was on the march and that in the coming months it would slowly and steadily regain territory from the Russians.

That analysis was wrong, at least in the short run. First, I failed to recognize that the Ukraine would need time to consolidate its large gains in September and October. Continuing the push apparently was beyond its capabilities without significant restocking of its troops and their equipment.

Second, by mid-November the Russians managed to halt the panicked retreat of its army, and forced it to re-establish reasonable lines of defense. It soon announced plans for a winter offensive, with the goal of capturing, at a minimum, the remaining territory of both the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts that either had never been taken or had been lost during the Ukraine’s successful fall offensive.

In the subsequent five months, the Russians have pushed hard, and gotten little for their effort. The map above, clipped from detailed maps produced daily by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), compares the frontlines on November 16, 2022 with the present lines on April 16, 2022. Russian-held territory is indicated in pink, Ukrainian territory is either white or blue, blue indicating territory recaptured from Russia. The striped region is territory Russia grabbed in 2014.

Except for some gains in the south, the Russians have moved that frontline almost not at all.
» Read more

ESA attributes Vega-C launch failure to faulty nozzle from the Ukraine

The European Space Agency (ESA) has concluded that the launch failure of the second stage of Arianespace’s Vega-C rocket on December 20, 2022 was caused by a faulty nozzle produced by a company in the Ukraine.

[T]he Commission confirmed that the cause was an unexpected thermo-mechanical over-erosion of the carbon-carbon (C-C) throat insert of the nozzle, procured by Avio in Ukraine. Additional investigations led to the conclusion that this was likely due to a flaw in the homogeneity of the material.

The anomaly also revealed that the criteria used to accept the C-C throat insert were not sufficient to demonstrate its flightworthiness. The Commission has therefore concluded that this specific C-C material can no longer be used for flight. No weakness in the design of Zefiro 40 has been revealed. Avio is implementing an immediate alternative solution for the Zefiro 40’s nozzle with another C-C material, manufactured by ArianeGroup, already in use for Vega’s Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9 nozzles.

The press release goes to great length to reassure everyone that these Ukrainian nozzles are still flightworthy, that the fix is merely changing the material used in the nozzle’s throat insert.

Attack that injured Rogozin in the Ukraine also killed two

Dmitry Rogozin playing soldier in the Ukraine
Dmitry Rogozin playing make-believe soldier
recently in the Ukraine

More details have now emerged about the explosion that injured former Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, including the fact that the attack, in Ukrainian occupied territory in Donetsk, also killed two.

The former head of Russia’s space agency was wounded when an artillery shell exploded as he celebrated his birthday in a hotel near the front line in Ukraine. Dmitry Rogozin, a flamboyant Russian politician who was once a deputy prime minister, was reportedly hit in the buttocks, head and back by shrapnel.

Two people were killed in the attack and several others were wounded, authorities in Donetsk said on Thursday, and Mr Rogozin said he was due to be operated on. Russian state news channel Rossiya 24 TV said the former space chief was celebrating his 59th birthday at the Shesh-Besh hotel and restaurant with several other separatist officials.

But Mr Rogozin insisted the incident took place during a “work meeting”.

Russian investigators think the shell came from a French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzer.

The criticism of Rogozin concerning this story has been quite ugly.

“A party 10 kilometres away from the front line with the Ceasar’s range of 40 kilometres? I would reprimand him for being childish,” [wrote Yuri Podolyaka, a prominent pro-Kremlin blogger.] “Two people have died in that restaurant, which, I think, is on his conscience.”

Rogozin’s path has been steadily downward since he was deputy prime minister of Russia’s defense department from 2011 to 2018. First he was demoted to head of Roscosmos, where he ended up losing Russia more than a half billion in income by his cancellation of the launch contract with OneWeb. Worse, that cancellation, and Rogozin’s confiscation of 36 OneWeb satellites, ended any chance of Russia getting any international business for years to come.

These actions caused him to be fired from Roscosmos in July, and shipped to the Ukraine (the modern equivalent of Siberia) to act as an envoy in the Russian-occupied territories. Once there, he did nothing to enhance his reputation. By holding this very public birthday party, at a public place so close to the front lines, was almost guaranteeing he and his party would be attacked.

I wish he quickly recovers from his injuries, but I also think Putin would be foolish to give this guy any further positions of authority.

SpaceX and the Ukraine resolve funding issues for Starlink terminals

According to a Ukrainian official, the Ukraine has worked out a method to pay for another 10,000 Starlink terminals by obtaining funding from several European nations.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov has announced that over 10,000 additional Starlink terminals will be sent to Ukraine in the coming months, confirming that issues regarding how to fund the country’s critical satellite internet service have been resolved.

The governments of several European Union countries are ready to share payment said Fedorov (who is also Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation) in an interview with Bloomberg, affirming that “As of now all financial issues have been resolved.” Fedorov did not publicly identify which governments are contributing towards the payments but confirmed that there’s currently no contract in place and that Ukraine will need to find additional funding by spring 2023.

Elon Musk had threatened to end Starlink support without some form of payment. It appears his threat, which was almost immediately retracted, forced some action by these governments.

Ukrainian rocket startup targets ’23 for first launch

The new colonial movement: A Ukrainian rocket startup, Promin Aerospace, now expects to complete the first suborbital launch of a test rocket in 2023, despite the Russian invasion and its regular bombing the city of Dnipro, where the company is based.

On Feb. 22, two days before the Russian invasion, Rudominski sent the first batch of emails seeking seed investment. When the war started, Promin executives realized their investment plans would need to be put on hold while their focus shifted to the safety of employees, families and friends, plus support for Ukrainian defense and humanitarian relief efforts.

By early April, most employees were back working full time.

The company does not reveal its location out of fear of further Russian bombing.

As for its planned rocket launch, though it wishes to do the test from the Ukraine, it also has a deal with one of the new spaceports in Scotland and could launch from there if necessary.

Rogozin returns, playing a soldier in the Ukraine!

Dmitry Rogozin, about to go into battle!
Dmitry Rogozin, about to go into battle!

Fired from his job as head of Roscosmos and exiled to the Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozin has returned to the news! He was recently interviewed on Russian television, during which the broadcast showed clips of Rogozin getting a tour from Russian troops.

The screen capture to the left show Rogozin during that tour, dressed in military gear, though most of that gear is apparently Western in make, not Russian. Go Dmitry!

According to Antoly Zak, Rogozin during the interview promised that Russia will soon occupy Kiev, Vienna, Berlin and Budapest. As I say, go Dmitry!

Since Rogozin was sent to the Ukraine in July his work there has mirrored his “successes” at Roscosmos. At Roscosmos he was instrumental in ending Russia’s deal with OneWeb, costing Putin several billion dollars in launch income while destroying any chance for years of Russia getting any international rocket business. In the four-plus months since he arrived in the Ukraine, Russia has been on a steady retreat, losing vast areas it had previously conquered.

Hat tip to BtB’s stringer Jay, who says of Rogozin, “This guy is worse than Baghdad Bob!”

Ukraine officials in direct negotiations with Musk about Starlink

According to the Ukraine’s defense minister, they are now conducting direct negotiations with Elon Musk concerning the cost of using SpaceX’s Starlink constellation as part of its war against Russia.

In an interview, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said “I know that we will not have a problem” keeping the service active, citing the “personal communication” between Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov and Musk.

Fedorov “is responsible for the digitalization and he has a direct connection with Elon Musk. They have a personal communication, and Mykhailo was really positive” about the situation in their last discussion of the issue, Reznikov said.

I suspect that at some point, the Ukraine will start paying SpaceX some money out of the $20 million per month Musk says it costs. And it will likely draw the cash for those payments from the approximately $50 billion the U.S. has sent it in aid.

Government to Musk: “Nice business you got here, shame if something happened to it.”

The government to Elon Musk: Nice business you got here.
The press and the feds negotiate with Elon Musk

Over the past week a series of events relating to the Ukraine War, Elon Musk, and Starlink illustrated starkly the growing corrupt, aggressive, and unrestrained power of our federal government and the administration state and press that supports it.

Our story begins in early October when Elon Musk put forth his own proposed solution to the Ukraine War, suggesting that to end the war the Ukraine should cede the Crimea to Russia and forgo its attempts to join NATO, making itself a neutral power instead.

Not surprisingly, Ukrainian officials responded to this somewhat naive though sincere proposal with great hostility. So did the press, the Biden administration, and many in social media.

Then, on October 14, 2022 Elon Musk said that his company Starlink cannot continue indefinitely providing service to the Ukraine, without some reimbursement. At the beginning of the war Musk had made Starlink available for no charge, and it has been an important factor to the Ukrainians in their recent military successes.
» Read more

The Ukraine’s big victory this past week was no accident

The Ukraine War as of August 30, 2022
The Ukraine War as of August 30, 2022. Click for full map.

The Ukraine War as of September 11, 2022
The Ukraine War as of September 11, 2022. Click for full map.

In the past week the Ukraine has scored a major victory in its effort to drive Russia from its territory, pushing the Russians back across a wide swath in the areas north and east of the city of Kharkiv. The two maps to the right, created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and simplified, reduced, and annotated to post here, show these gains, with the top map from their August 30, 2022 analysis and the bottom from their September 11, 2022 update. Red or pink areas are regions controlled by the Russians. Blue areas are regions retaken by the Ukraine. Red-striped areas are regions captured by Russian in its 2014 invasion. Blue-striped areas are regions inside Russian-occupied territories that have seen strong partisan resistance.

The green lines on both maps mark rivers that act as important military barriers. The blue arrows on the lower map east of Kharkiv show the Ukrainian military push this past week, first to the east to the river Oskil. From there the forces moved north and south. To the south the Ukrainians used the Oskil river to their left as a wall protecting them from Russian forces. That same river acted to pin the Russians down in the south, forcing them in the past day to quickly retreat to the east across the one remaining bridge under their control, but in the process abandoning large amounts of armaments that the Ukrainians can now use.

In the south, the Dnipro River also acts as a barrier for the Russian occupying forces north of Kherson.
The Ukrainians have spent the last month or so aggressively attacking the handful of bridges that cross this river, thus restricting Russian transport to and from its northern forces. As the Ukrainians made these attacks, they were remarkably public about their plans to follow up with a major campaign in the south to retake Kherson and all territory north of the Dnipro.

In that public campaign lies the key to this whole counter-offensive. As ISW noted in its update of September 11, 2022:
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The Ukrainian War: After Six Months

The Ukraine War as of May 5, 2022
The Ukraine War as of June 6, 2022. Click for full map.

The Ukraine War as of August 30, 2022
The Ukraine War as of August 30, 2022. Click for full map.

It is now more than three months since my June update on the war in the Ukraine. It is also six months since Russia first invaded.

No new updates were necessary because little had changed, as indicated by the two maps to the right, adapted from maps created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). For their full interactive version go here.

On both maps red indicates territory controlled by Russia, light pink areas that Russia only tentatively controlled, light blue areas recovered by the Ukraine from Russia, and blue-striped areas regions of documented Ukrainian resistance within Russian-controlled territories. The red-striped regions were regions grabbed by Russia during its 2014 invasion.

The top map is from ISW’s June 6th assessment. The bottom map comes from its August 28th assessment.

Though I don’t solely rely on ISW for information (it tends to favor the Ukraine in most of its analysis), its maps have repeatedly appeared reliable and accurate, which is why I use them here.

As you can see, in three months not much has changed. Russia continues to grind away in the middle regions, gaining territory slowly but steadily. The Ukraine meanwhile has either stopped any further Russian advance in the north or south, or has chipped away slightly at Russian holdings in these regions.
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An armored manta-ray-shaped small submarine for commercial and military applications

Kronos sub

A private company, Highland Systems, that was founded in the Ukraine but now is based both in the UK and the UAE, appears to be building an armored manta-ray-shaped small submarine for both commercial and military applications.

It’s designed for a mix of commercial, military and allegedly rescue operations – and from the looks of the stark, largely windowless interior, it certainly doesn’t seem interested in tourism or luxury. A little over 9 m (29.6 ft) long, Kronos will weigh somewhere around 10,000 kg (22,000 lb). Its fat wings will fold upward, allowing you to tow it on a trailer if you wish to cause a series of gawking-related accidents among oncoming traffic.

Plonk it in the water, and it’ll seat 10 passengers plus a driver. The hybrid powertrain marries a diesel generator to a 1,200-horsepower, 2,400-Nm (1,770-lb-ft) electric motor driving a waterjet propulsion system. It can dive to a working depth of 100 m (328 ft), or a max critical depth of 250 m (820 ft), which is pretty decent in the scheme of things. The air supply is good for around 36 hours.

The performance figures are nuts. Highland says it’ll do 80 km/h (50 mph) on top of the water, or 50 km/h (31 mph) underwater; that’s seriously fast through water, just ask Michael Phelps. It carries enough battery on board for a 36-hour all-electric mission, or you can fire up the diesel generator to add a further 18, taking total range up to a very impressive 54 hours of autonomy. There’s adaptive lighting, an automated life support system and air-con – and the schematics show spots for torpedoes as well.

Nor is this entirely a fantasy of the company. It has already built the submarine’s main shell.

As the quote notes, though the company claims this submarine will have civilian uses, the submarine being built now seems entirely military in nature, especially because there is no information at all about the customer paying for its construction. Also, note the torpedoes shown in the schematic above, as well as the packed passengers. Since the company has its roots in the Ukraine, I can just imagine it being used by the Ukraine to transport soldiers to the Crimea on an undercover sabotage mission to destroy Russian assets.

Northrop Grumman partners with Firefly to make Antares entirely U.S. made

Capitalism in space: Because the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, Northrop Grumman yesterday announced that it has signed a deal with the rocket startup Firefly to replace the Russian engines and Ukrainian-built first stages on its Antares rocket.

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The Antares 330 will utilize seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks, while Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

The press release made no mention of launch dates. However, according to Reuters Northrop Grumman has purchased three SpaceX Falcon 9 launches in ’23 and ’24 to get its Cygnus cargo freighter into orbit in the interim and thus fulfill its ISS resupply contract with NASA.

After an earlier Antares failure the company (then Orbital ATK) had hired ULA’s Atlas-5 to launch Cygnus. ULA however is retiring the Atlas-5 after it completes its present full manifest, so this rocket was no longer available. ULA is replacing it with the Vulcan rocket, but that rocket is not yet operational due to delays in the delivery of its Blue Origin first stage engines. Thus, SpaceX was Northrop Grumman’s only viable option.

There is also a certain irony in the hiring of Firefly to replace the Ukrainian first stage. Firefly was saved from bankruptcy by a Ukrainian billionaire, Max Polykov. Though he has been forced to sell off his ownership in the company by the State Department, Firefly would not now exist to take this business from a Ukrainian company had Polykov not provided his financial help.

The Ukraine War: After a third month of fighting the battlelines clarify

The Ukraine War as of May 5, 2022
The Ukraine War as of May 5, 2022. Click for full map.

The Ukraine War as of May 5, 2022
The Ukraine War as of June 6, 2022. Click for full map.

With more than three months of fighting since Russian began its unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine in late February and a full month since my last update on May 6th, it is time to do another follow-up to get a clear assessment of the war.

The two maps to the right are simplified versions of those produced daily by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). For their full interactive version go here. The top map comes from its May 5th assessment, while the bottom map comes from its assessment on June 6th. The red hatched areas are regions Russia captured in 2014. The red areas are regions the Russians have captured in this invasion and now fully control. The pink areas are regions they have occupied but do not fully control. Blue regions are areas the Ukraine has recaptured. The blue hatched area is where local Ukrainians have had some success resisting Russian occupation.

Though the changes since early May are small, they make clear that the war’s battlelines have now become very clear. While Russia is very slowly but successfully taking ground in the center regions of its invasion, the Ukraine has been just as slowly but successfully retaking territory at the invasion’s outer edges.
» Read more

The Ukraine War: Reassessing the situation after another month

The Ukraine War as of April 9, 2022
The Ukraine War as of April 9, 2022. Click for full map.

The Ukraine War as of May 5, 2022
The Ukraine War as of May 5, 2022. Click for full map.

Since my last look at the state of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine on April 7, 2022, not much as happened, as indicated by the two maps to the right, both simplified versions of maps created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The red hatched areas are regions Russia captured in 2014. The red areas are regions the Russians have captured in this invasion and now fully control. The pink areas are regions they have occupied but do not fully control. The tan areas the Russians claim to control but the control remains unconfirmed. Blue regions are areas the Ukraine has recaptured. The blue hatched area is where local Ukrainians have had some success resisting Russian occupation.

Russia has now completely shifted its military resources from the north to the eastern parts of the Ukraine. As a result it has had some success firming up its control over the regions it had invaded to the north and east of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions it had grabbed in 2014. Yet, these gains were only in areas Russia had already occupied. In the past month it has almost entirely failed to invade or capture any additional territory.

Meanwhile, the Ukraine has begun to have some success in retaking territory around the city of Kharkiv. It also successfully pushed back an advance Russia attempted to the west of Donetsk. Moreover, despite repeated expectations that the full occupation of the city of Maripol would be completed a month ago, that occupation is still not complete, with resistant forces still fighting heavily in one area and thus tying up Russia forces for far longer than expected.

The May 5th assessment by ISW said this:

Russian forces continued ineffectual offensive operations in southern Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk Oblasts without securing any significant territorial gains in the past 24 hours. The Pentagon assessed that Russian forces have not been able to make further advances due to their inability to conduct offensive operations far from their ground lines of communication (GLOCs) along highways, as ISW previously assessed, and muddy terrain. … Russian forces are reportedly suffering losses in stalled attacks along the Izyum axis, with the Ukrainian General Staff reporting that elements of the 4th Tank Division and the 106th Airborne Division withdrew to Russia after sustaining heavy losses in the past several days.

Russian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks in Lyman, Severodonetsk, and Popasna, and maintained shelling along the line of contact in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Russian forces also used thermobaric munitions against Ukrainian positions in Lyman and are unsuccessfully attempting to leverage massed artillery fire to break through Ukrainian defenses.

The overall trend seems to favor the Russians. Whether it can gain more territory is unclear, but it seems that except for one area near Kharkiv it is firming up its control on the territories grabbed in early March. The question now remains: Can Russia expand its invasion, or can the Ukraine push back and force the Russians back?

Right now it looks like neither can do either, and the situation shall remain bogged down for the near future.

Ukrainian rocket for Nova Scotia spaceport so far unaffected by war

Capitalism in space: According to the CEO of Maritime Launch Services, the Canadian company that is building a spaceport in Nova Scotia, work on the Ukrainian Cyclone-4M rocket that the spaceport wants to offer customers has as yet not been impacted by the invasion by Russia.

Steve Matier, CEO of Maritime Launch Services, says daily planning work continues with the makers of the Cyclone-4M rocket, who are based in Dnipro, Ukraine. Matier said in an interview Tuesday his company still hopes to conduct its first launch sometime in 2023, once it gets final construction and environmental approval from the province for its proposed facilities near Canso, N.S.

However, Matier also said the first launches from the spaceport will not use the Cyclone. Instead, these launches would use smaller unnamed rockets putting smaller payloads in lower orbit. Since the company’s initial business model had been to offer to satellite customers not only the spaceport but the rocket, this statement suggests the company has changed that business model and is now marketing the spaceport to other rocket companies.

Matier’s comments were in connection with the announcement that Maritime has now become a publicly traded company.

Two space companies fight in the Ukraine war

Two stories yesterday illustrate how Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has forced two different space companies, one American and the other Ukrainian, to adapt and change in order to help the Ukraine.

First, SpaceX once again demonstrated its ability to adapt, revise, and even redesign its products with lightning speed, based on unexpected facts on the ground.

After SpaceX sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine in February in an apparent effort to help Ukraine maintain its internet connection amid war with Russia, SpaceX founder Elon Musk claimed that Russia had jammed Starlink terminals in the country for hours at a time. After a software update, Starlink was operating normally, said Musk, who added on March 25 that the constellation had “resisted all hacking & jamming attempts” in Ukraine.

The speed in which SpaceX overcame Russia’s jamming was so fast that the American military was gob-smacked.

“From an EW technologist perspective, that is fantastic. That paradigm and how they did that is kind of eyewatering to me,” said Dave Tremper, director of electronic warfare for the Pentagon’s acquisition office. “The way that Starlink was able to upgrade when a threat showed up, we need to be able to have that ability. We have to be able to change our electromagnetic posture, to be able to change very dynamically what we’re trying to do without losing capability along the way.”

In other words, the Pentagon is incapable at present of doing the same thing, and now realizes it should be. The real lesson this government entity should take from this however is to stop trying to build anything at all. Hire the private sector. Let it do the work. Competing privately owned companies can always beat the government at this game. Always.

The second story involves the Ukrainian company Lunar Research Service, which until the war had used its 3D-printing technology to build components for a number of space missions, including lunar rovers. That changed immediately with the invasion.

The start-up was just about to ship its first batch of nanosatellites to their Kickstarter backers, but priorities changed within days, the company’s chief technology officer Dmytro Khmara told Space.com in an email. Instead of going to the customers, the nanosatellites were taken apart and the components handed over to the military.

Since then the company has reprogrammed its 3D printers to build parts for the Ukrainian military, including gun parts.

Though company officials say they hope to return to building components for space, circumstances might not allow it. As long as the war grinds on, the company’s profits will be found in helping the Ukriane’s military.

The Ukraine War: Little change in the past week

The Ukraine War as of April 7, 2022
The Ukraine War as of April 7, 2022. Click for full map.

Since my last weekly report on the Ukraine War, so little has changed that I am not bothering posting a new map. The one to the right is from April 7th, and other than some minor changes, including the completion of Russia’s full withdrawal from the entire northern regions, the front line in the east remains essentially the same. The most recent map from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) can be found here for comparison. In one place Russia appears to have pushed forward, while in another it has pulled back. Meanwhile, ISW reports increased Ukrainian resistance efforts in one large area.

Overall, the Russians appear bogged down, while the Ukrainians show renewed military strength.

The Institute today also published its weekly summary of the entire war situation. The most important takeaway is that it appears all negotiations between the two nations have collapsed.

Ukraine and Russia are both unlikely to advance ceasefire negotiations until the ongoing Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine develops further. The Kremlin likely seeks to capture at minimum the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, while Kyiv seeks to further degrade the Russian military and potentially conduct major counteroffensives.

This fact suggests strongly to me that the Ukraine has concluded its military situation is excellent, and that negotiations serve it no purpose. While Russia has been focusing its invasion effort entirely in the east in the hope it might make more gains that way, it has also made very little progress. While it continues to slowly take control of Mariupol street-by-street, the city has remained unconquered now many weeks longer than expected. This failure of Russia to quickly take the city not only ties up a large part of their military, it sows morale issues in its own army while the Ukraine resistance is enlivened by it.

The next few weeks will reveal whether Russia will be able to harness the necessary forces to make further gains in the east, or whether the Ukraine will begin to retake territory back from Russia. Right now it is difficult to predict which way the war will go.

Europe removes its science instruments from future Russian lunar missions

The Europe Space Agency (ESA) yesterday announced that because of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine it will no longer fly any science instruments on three upcoming Russian unmanned lunar probes.

ESA will discontinue cooperative activities with Russia on Luna-25, -26 and -27. As with ExoMars, the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting sanctions put in place represent a fundamental change of circumstances and make it impossible for ESA to implement the planned lunar cooperation. However, ESA’s science and technology for these missions remains of vital importance. A second flight opportunity has already been secured on board a NASA-led Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission for the PROSPECT lunar drill and volatile analysis package (originally planned for Luna-27). An alternative flight opportunity to test the ESA navigation camera known as PILOT-D (originally planned for Luna-25) is already being procured from a commercial service provider.

In other words, Europe is switching to the many private American companies that are developing lunar landers for NASA science instruments. It has also signed onto a Japanese lunar mission. All have payload space, and all are willing to take the cash of a new customer.

Meanwhile, this is how Dmitry Rogozin responded to this decision:

“Good riddance! One less European dame off our backs, so Russia should go far with a lighter load,”

To sum this all up, when it comes to space, the Ukraine invasion has been Russia’s loss, and everyone else’s gain. Even if the invasion were to end today, it will take at least a decade to re-establish Russia’s business ties with the west.

Unfortunately, the invasion will cost the Ukraine as well. In making the above announcement ESA officials also said that it is looking for alternatives to the Ukrainian rocket engines used in its Vega-C upper stage.

At the news conference, ESA also discussed the future of its small Vega rocket, which relies on Ukraine-built engines in its upper stage. The engines are manufactured by the Ukrainian company Yuzhmash, which is based in the tech city of Dnipro. Although Dnipro has been under heavy bombardment, there have been no official reports so far about damage to Yuzhmash. It is, however, clear that ESA doesn’t expect to continue its partnership with the company in the future. “We now have sufficient engines for 2022 and 2023,” Aschbacher said. “We are working on options for 2024 and onwards based on different technologies.”

Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, added: “We are working on engine opportunities within Europe and outside of Europe, which are either tested or, even better, already existing and fully qualified.”

Whether ESA completely breaks off its partnership with the Ukraine however is not certain. Should the war continue to favor the Ukraine, then it could be that partnership will continue. Only time will tell. Right now, it is simply prudent for ESA to look for more stable alternatives.

Ukrainian rocket development for Nova Scotia spaceport unhindered by war

Capitalism in space: The development of a Ukrainian rocket dubbed Cyclone 4M for of any satellite customers who choose to launch from a planned Nova Scotia spaceport has not been delayed by the Ukraine war.

“Everything is stable with respect to our team in Ukraine,” said Steve Matier, president of Maritime Launch Services. “The facility there is fine, the staff is fine and at work. . . . We’re continuing to finance their development of the launch vehicle.”

The Cyclone 4M rocket Maritime Launch Services plans to use is designed and built by Ukrainian state corporations Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash in Dnipro. Known as Space City, Dnipro is located in central Ukraine. The city of about a million people was shelled in mid-March by Russian forces and the airport runways and terminal were hit by missile strikes, according to Ukrainian government statements.

This story illustrates the strong possibility that the recent success the Ukraine has had on the battlefield has served to prevented any serious long term damage to its aerospace industry and its partners in the west. Those partnerships if anything look stronger, with the work in the Ukraine apparently able to continue as planned, with only slight delays.

The Ukraine War: Another week, little change

The Ukraine War as of March 17, 2022
The Ukraine War as of March 17, 2022. Click for full map.

The Ukraine War as of March 24, 2022
The Ukraine War as of March 24, 2022. Click for full map.

Since my last post on the state of the Ukraine war one week ago, on March 17, very little has changed, with tiny gains and losses in territory by both sides.

The two maps to the right, the top from last week, the bottom from today, both created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and simplified, annotated, reduced by me to post here, illustrate the somewhat static situation. The three green arrows in the bottom map point to the regions where the most significant changes have occurred. The red areas of regions under Russian control. The light red regions are areas the Russian claim control, but have not been confirmed. The blue dots and areas indicate Ukrainian advances or resistance.

For the Russians, the biggest territorial gains took place in the northeast, solidly linking two different fronts. The Russians also made minor gains near Chernihiv, northwest of Kiev, and near Donetsk.

Meanwhile, the Russians have still not taken the besieged city of Mariupol, though their forces have finally made some inroads into the city’s center.

For the Ukrainians, a Russian push beyond Mykolaiv in the south was completely defeated and forced to retreat. More importantly, Ukrainian forces have pushed the Russians back on the western outskirts of Kiev.

The primary question remains: Is this situation indicating that Russia is bogged down and facing a long protracted quagmire? Or does it more resemble the American situation shortly after D-Day, when Allied forces were stymied somewhat close to the beaches for almost two months before suddenly breaking out and overrunning much of France in the next two months.
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Roscosmos to only accept future payments in rubles

Shooting yourself in the foot: Dmitry Rogozin today announced that Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos — which controls its entire aerospace industry — will from now on only accept future payments in rubles for foreign companies and countries.

First, because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine, Roscosmos no longer has much business outside of Russia. There are only a very tiny handful of foreign companies or countries left having contracts with Roscosmos, so this new rule won’t affect many.

Second, this order will guarantee that the last few will flee, and that there will be not any new foreign contracts to follow. The ruble these days is worthless. No one will want to buy rubles to pay Russia. And if they do, it will be a fake paper transaction created only seconds before payment, merely to meet the rule. Why should anyone bother, even China?

Rogozin: Lift sanctions by end of March or else!

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation that runs all of that nations aerospace industry, yesterday demanded that Europe and the U.S. lift its sanctions against Russia by end of March or he would take further action against them.

“We will wait until the end of March. The lack of response or a negative response would be a basis for our decision,” he said, without specifying what kind of decision it would be.

According to the official, the space corporation was not going to yield to the sanctions.

One immediately asks, what happens at the end of March? Why time further space-related actions then?

Well, the only area in which Russia is still cooperating with the west in space is on ISS. At the end of March, Russia will bring home American astronaut Mark Vande Hei using its Soyuz capsule. This suggests that once Vande Hei comes home, Rogozin will announce that Russia will no longer fly any western astronauts to ISS on its rockets or capsules. He might also further announce actions that will accelerate the end of the ISS partnership, including laying out Russia’s schedule for adding modules to its half of ISS and then detaching it from the station.

If so, good. Such an action will bring clarity to the station’s remaining days, forcing NASA to make sure the station can function after the Russian half is gone. It will probably quicken the development of Axiom’s modules to the station, and might encourage the private construction of other modules to pick up the slack left by the Russian exit.

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