U.S. military adds Blue Origin to its point-to-point space cargo development program

Capitalism in space: The U.S. military on December 17th signed an agreement with Blue Origin to add it to its point-to-point space cargo development program.

The command last year signed similar agreements with SpaceX and with Exploration Architecture Corp. (XArc). Blue Origin is the third company to ink a CRADA [as these development contracts are called] for the rocket cargo program.

Under CRADAs, companies agree to share information about their products and capabilities but the government does not commit to buying anything. U.S. TRANSCOM’s analysis of industry data will inform the newly created “rocket cargo” program led by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Space Force. The Air Force in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 is seeking $47.9 million to conduct studies and rocket cargo demonstrations. [emphasis mine]

I highlight the total budget of this program to show that this is a very small government program. The cash it provides these three companies is nice, but it is chicken feed when compared with the total cost of development. It certainly will not result in a faster pace at Blue Origin in developing its New Glenn rocket, which is presently two years behind schedule with further delays almost certain because its BE-4 rocket engine is not yet ready for mass production.

Whether the program itself is a good thing, or merely another example of government crony capitalism, is open to question. The practicality of using either Starship or New Glenn for cargo transport remains very unproven, especially for New Glenn, which was not designed with such a purpose in mind and cannot land its upper stage on Earth as Starship can.

Military considering using Starship for point-to-point transportaion

Capitalism in space: The U.S. military has begun a study in partnership with SpaceX on whether it will be possible to use Starship as a cargo ship for moving large shipments from point-to-point on the Earth.

Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, announced the agreement Oct. 7 at a National Defense Transportation Association virtual conference. “Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Lyons said. The C-17 is a very large military cargo plane capable of transporting a 70-ton main battle tank.

Makes sense. This decision also suggests the military is impressed with SpaceX’s progress on Starship, and has also largely abandoned its earlier skepticism of the company.

Computer researchers have found that the microprocessor used by the U.S. military but made in China contains secret remote access capability.

You can’t make this stuff up: Computer researchers have found that the microprocessor used by the U.S. military but made in China contains secret remote access capability.

The unnamed chip, which the researchers claim is widely used in military and industrial applications, is “wide open to intellectual property theft, fraud and reverse engineering of the design to allow the introduction of a backdoor or Trojan”, they said. … The “bug” is in the actual chip itself, rather than the firmware installed on the devices that use it. This means there is no way to fix it than to replace the chip altogether.

How stupid can our government be to buy microprocessors from the Chinese, a country that is definitely not our friend? Pretty stupid, it appears.

In a break from standard practice, U.S. military has removed the links to its tracking data of Phobos-Grunt.

Could the Russians be right!? In a break from standard practice, U.S. military has removed the links to its tracking data of Phobos-Grunt.

On Jan. 12, the Space Track website originally published information on the estimated re-entry track for Phobos-Grunt, a Russian probe that malfunctioned shortly after its November 2011 launch and was stuck in low-Earth orbit for more than two months.

After routine updates and revised estimates over the course of the next two days, the military removed links to these re-entry predictions and did not publish final confirmation data on the spacecraft’s fall on Jan. 15, according to Aviation Week.

A careful analysis of recent activities by U.S. radar show that it could not have affected Phobos-Grunt. Yet, the U.S. military has now taken actions that not only break with standard procedures, they draw attention to the issue. All very astonishing.

Russia is now claiming that a U.S. military radar might have disabled Phobos-Grunt.

Looking for scapegoats: Russia is now investigating whether a U.S. military radar signal might have disabled Phobos-Grunt.

The state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Yury Koptev, former head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, as saying investigators will conduct tests to check if a U.S. radar emissions could have impacted the Phobos-Ground space probe, which became stuck in Earth’s obit for two months before crashing down. “The results of the experiment will allow us to prove or dismiss the possibility of the radar’s impact,” said Koptev, who is heading the government commission charged with investigating causes of the probe’s failure.

The current Roscosmos head, Vladimir Popovkin, previously said the craft’s malfunction could have been caused by foreign interference. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin acknowledged U.S. radar interference as a possible cause but said it was too early to make any conclusions. “This version has the right to exist,” Rogozin said Tuesday. “There is evidence indicating that frequent disruptions in the operation of our space technologies occur in that part of the flight path that is not visible to Roscosmos and is beyond its control.”

Though this might be technically possible, it is incredibly unlikely. For Russian politicians to focus on this issue indicates serious problems in both their space engineering community and their political culture.