Jeffrey LewisSpace Launches of Concern & Wonk Outage is going to be a little neglected over the next couple of days due to a strange confluence of events—a headcold, dead logic board in my laptop, a talk I have to give tomorrow at the Stimson Center and an impending trip to the University of Illinois for a workshop on reinventing multilateralism.

Here is a preview of my talk tomorrow: Michael Krepon at the Stimson Center is rolling out a model Code of Conduct to prevent dangerous military activities in space. I am set to talk about launches to watch—satellites that are part of what Michael calls the “creeping weaponization of space.”

There are three upcoming U.S. “launches of concern”:

  • Experimental Satellite Series-11 (XSS-11) (Launch Date: November 2004): The XSS program is an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) project to demonstrate autonomous proximity operations such as “inspection; rendezvous and docking; repositioning; and techniques for close in proximity maneuvering around on orbit assets.” The XSS program is a “technology pathfinder” to the notional Payload Microsat Imager and Orbit Flexible Counterspace Microsat proposed by Air Force Space Command. The “single strongest recommendation” of the Air Force’s 1999 Microsatellite Technology and Requirements Study, according to an unclassified summary published in 2000, was using technology from the XSS series and the Army’s Kinetic Energy ASAT program to deploy space control micro-satellites.
  • Classified Air Force Satellite (Launch Date: TBD 2005): The Air Force has ordered a Minotaur launch vehicle to “launch a classified payload in 2005.” This launch vehicle has exclusively launched small or micro-satellites such as N-FIRE and XSS-11.
  • Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) (Launch Date: February 2006): NFIRE is an MDA experiment that will “get a close-up view of a burning ICBM at conditions that are truly real world,” according to an MDA official. MDA will launch two ballistic missiles as part of a 20 km “fly-by” test and a 3.7 km fly-by and simulated engagement. The NFIRE payload will include a Generation 2 kill vehicle for the 3.7 km engagement that will reportedly hit to kill. The KV will not include an axial stage that would be necessary for engagements at realistic distances, although the FY 2005 budget requests funding to develop and test such a liquid axial stage.

The other major point that I plan to make is that we shouldn’t think that we can weaponize space without having other countries follow suit. For example, the the basic technology behind the XSS-11 is widely available. University of Surrey developed the Surrey Nanosatellite Applications Platform which can perform XSS-11-type missions. Surrey has research development contracts with Universities in several countries including Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Portugal, Chile, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, China. Surrey is now creating an international “Surrey Space Club” with Algeria, Nigeria and Turkey.