Tag Archives: United States

Explorer 1, the First US Satellite

Explorer 1 photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

January 31st, 1958.  56 years ago, and the United States had finally succeeded in launching its own satellite, the Explorer 1.  According to this Yahoo! Travel post, the launch of Explorer 1 was linked to the International Geophysical Year (IGY).  The big deal about that, as explained in this wiki entry, is the IGY marked the beginning of scientific interchange between the western and eastern countries.  Sputnik 1, the very first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth, was also launched by the Soviet Union (USSR) for IGY in late 1957.  The US hurried with a response and, 4 months after Sputnik 1’s debut, launched Explorer 1 into a slightly eccentric Medium Earth Orbit.  The “Space Race” between the USSR and the US was on.

Explorer 1 was the satellite to first detect the Van Allen radiation belts.  It’s not surprising, since it had a few instruments on board to specifically detect radiation, micro-meteoroid impacts, and cosmic rays.  Explorer 1 wasn’t shaped like the satellites we work with today.  It looked like a very large rifle bullet with dimensions of about six feet in length, and six inches in diameter.  High tech for the time, the US used solid state transistors on the satellite—a whopping 29 of them (for those not raised in a nerdery, Intel’s most current Core i7 processor contains 1.16 billion transistors).

The operational life of Explorer 1 wasn’t very long.  It took only four months after the Explorer 1’s launch for the satellite’s batteries to die.  It remained in orbit, though, until 1970, when it finally reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.  Just look at the Yahoo post to see a diagram of Explorer 1.  Even better, just click on this link to see the Explorer 1 launch video.  It’s hard to believe such dramatic music was needed for news!

Even now, we’re still learning more about those Van Allen radiation belts in spite of the 56 years of time since Explorer 1’s launch.  Explorer 1 was the start of the United States Explorer satellite program.  That space phenomena data-collecting satellite program is still active today.  IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph), a satellite built to observe the chromosphere of the Sun, was launched in June 2013.  About 90 satellites have been fabricated and deployed under the Explorer program’s auspices.

Leaving Military Space Operations

Of course, I did leave the military some time ago.  And I haven’t looked back.  Mistakes were made during my transition from military space operations to contractor.  Some of those mistakes are what this Clearancejobs.com post is all about.  Just click on the following link to read the post:  “Lost in Military Transition:  Considerations Before “Getting Out.””

Reserved Perceptions in Military Space operations

The Military/Contractor swinger

The Military/Contractor swinger

The United States Air Force (USAF) space operations corps. has a problem.  I know, there are several (put your hands down!), but I will be talking about a specific one, one which is insidious.  One which military personnel and contractors are somewhat blurring the ethical line.

First, let’s talk about the concepts of impartiality and perception of bias.  “HOLD ON!!” I’m sure you’re thinking, “THIS ISN’T SPACE.”  I understand your confusion and hope to clear it all up with the following paragraphs.  And then you’ll see it very much involves not only space, but space operators and possibly future space systems.

But first, a few words about impartiality.  Impartiality is pretty easy.  It’s a description of a state of not being influenced, as humanly as possible, by the circumstances a person is in or has to observe.  A federal judge, for example, could be viewed as somewhat impartial.

But here’s an example related to space:  when I was an instructor and evaluator of future space operators, we observed certain rules to make sure our students were fairly judged as qualified to operate nuclear weapons systems.  But one rule in particular was followed without exception:  an instructor could not evaluate his/her own students during an evaluation.  Other instructors would evaluate the students’ proficiency, because, other instructors could conduct the evaluation with a somewhat even-handed eye.  And this system was set up not because the students’ instructor was dishonest or untrustworthy.

It was set up to avoid a perception the students’ instructor might be a little more forgiving, a little more lenient to their own students during the evaluation.  Which describes the perception of bias.  If a person has a vested interest in the success of something being judged, that person may look the other way as problems with that something arise.

A similar scenario, but bigger, is going on between the USAF and the contracting world.  Please understand the situation I will be describing probably isn’t intentional or malicious–it’s just the way it is.  But it might be contributing to some of the problems both parties are facing as they slowly acquire space systems.  Surely it’s something the Government Accountability Office (GAO) should consider when they look at these programs.

As you might imagine, space systems can be very specialized in the military.  There’s GPS, there’s DMSP, DSP, SBIRS, etc., etc.  So, what does a contracting company, such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin, do when they want to win a government contract?  They obtain the subject matter experts, the operators, the ones who know these systems.  They get these people to work for them, so the company can tell the government “Yes, we have the expertise.  We have ** many years of GPS experience.”  It’s a natural response, right?  And it would only be natural for the company to specifically ask for experienced GPS personnel whenever they are hiring.

Here’s an example of a hiring listing for a Military Program Analyst II (SBIRS):

Military Program Analyst II (SBIRS)
EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS
Bachelor’s Degree in related field. Master’s highly desired.
EXPERIENCE REQUIRED
Minimum of 15 years work related experience or 8 years specifically related in space operations
Standardization/evaluation and training program experience relevant to space operations required
Experience with Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) required
Minimum of an active Top Secret/SCI clearance required
Air Force background in the following fields: OPIR systems operations, Standardization and Evaluation, training, DT&E and OT&E
Excellent interpersonal, oral and written communications skills
Proficient with MS Office Suite
SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS
PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS:
Recent AFSPC assignment within the 460th Space Wing standardization/evaluation and training offices
1C6 or 13S AFSC
Military active duty background in DSP, SBIRS or related operational unit
Combatant Command (COCOM) experience related to MW/MD
Prior AETC assignment with space operations instructor qualifications
Legacy DSP and SBIRS certified operator experience
Operational testing and/or transition background relative to OPIR mission

Seems innocent enough.  Keep in mind the contracting company listing this position isn’t making up all of these qualifications.  They are hiring based on the criteria the customer has asked for (and probably defined).

So, this is fine.  But notice the company’s listing also asks for “Recent” assignments and “Military active duty background in DSP, SBIRS, or related operational unit?”  Such descriptions may prompt some companies to start looking really closely at the Air Force reservists.  The ethical line starts getting a little blurry when reserve personnel start getting involved (and no, not because they are of shady character).  I’ve worked with reserve personnel who worked in a reserve unit, like the 8th Space Warning Squadron (SWS).  I’ve noticed that once they are done with their “military tour”, they then put on their contractor “hat” and work on SBIRS HEO or GEO programs.  Why’s this a problem?

For one thing, it LOOKS like these reservists/contractors have a vested interest in the success of the company they’re working for with systems they’ll eventually work with as reservists (perception of bias).    We’ll explain more of this next week.

Broken American Space Policy exclamation point…

I wrote a longer than anticipated series about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA–and darn it, I just noticed it’s Oceanic and not Oceanographic) problems in getting just one satellite up into space.  The NOAA’s problems are so bad, they had to have an Independent Review Team get into their business, note the problems, and come up with some suggestions (you can go here to read their assessment).

The thing is, this problem is a recurring theme, for at least the past two decades.  Whether it’s the NOAA, the United States Air Force, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)–all of them seem to have extreme difficulty with just building their space systems.  If a program does get finished, it’s extremely over budget and not as capable as proposed.

Just to hammer home this point, I happened upon, and am linking to, a Breaking Defense article written last year by Mr. Bob Butterworth.  His article, “Doing More with Less Much Scarier Than Budget Cuts,” is a great historical summary of all of the government agencies’ fumbling of space.

For those who can’t be bothered to read it, here’s a very short take:  doing more with less wasn’t within ANY federal government space agency capability and it hurt our space capabilities in a big way.  We’re still not able to do the things we need to do to be secure in space.

My opinion:  our confusion and fumbling with space is obvious to our friends and not-so-friendly governments.  Because of this, the Chinese are being quite bold, the Russians are talking of militarizing space, and our own Congress and Senators are quite willing to keep chopping the nose off of the face representing US space defense.

There needs to be a story–not a lie, not a jingoistic panic–but a cohesive, relevant story.  Americans care about eating, sleeping, loving, and working in peace.  Why space matters to the United States and its citizens needs to be tied into those qualities.  It’s quite possible the United States citizenry don’t care about being #1 in space, so we should quit depicting this as a race.  But they do care about those other things.

I think I know an answer for this, but if you ask any of our politicians why space, the moon, and Mars, are important to US security AND prosperity policy (not just for NSA spying), you’d probably get confused looks.  This needs to change.

First a Chinese moon, now Russian, um, space weapons?

This December 6 article from the website “Russian Beyond the Headlines” is a little confusing.  And I’m not sure if it’s confusing because the translators got it wrong or because there’s not much knowledge with how space assets work–or maybe even the Russians aren’t sure what they want.

The article finally gets to its point about “passive” satellites being involved with precision guided weapons for the Russians.  Well, I have news for them–that happened a while ago.  Desert Storm and such, right?  GPS (Global Positioning Satellites for you SatNav boffins) was used extensively then, right?

But the post does seem to also point out the facts that Russia wants to beef up its ground infrastructure (so likely the satellite ground system–you can go here to read what that does–scroll down to part 6 and 7), and the precision guided weapons, too (such as perhaps installing GPS/GLONASS modules on their Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles).  So that might be something to worry about if they can do it.

Between China’s moon activities, and Russia’s boasting then, there seems to be a threat of space militarization growing.  In the meantime, the United States is fiddling with cutting down its space corps. (here and here), and adding things, such as Cyber to it.  Why cyber?  Well, someone had to come up with an idea to get promoted, I suppose.  Not only cyber, though–it also takes forever for the US to even build and launch new satellites…

Maybe our military and political management is being clever and attempting subterfuge and misdirection?  That might be just giving them too much credit.