SN Military Space | DoD transition meetings resume after holiday break • Space Force small launch program looks to pick up pace
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Tuesday, January 5, 2021


Today's briefing

  • DoD transition meetings resume after holiday break
  • Space Force small launch program looks to pick up pace

With just over two weeks left until the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, transition activities are picking up at the Pentagon. 

After a two-week holiday break, the Pentagon on Monday resumed meetings with members of the Biden-Harris transition team, a DoD spokesperson said. About 30 interviews have been scheduled this week.

One of the meetings will be with the newly created office of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy. DoD established that office Oct. 29, with Justin Johnson temporarily performing the duties of assistant secretary. Whoever is nominated for that position by the Biden administration will have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

Most of the interviews are being done virtually due to the pandemic. The Pentagon allocated office space for in-person meetings and designated secure facilities where Biden officials can review classified information. 

Transition meetings this week, according to DoD, include the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, the acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, and the Strategic Capabilities Office. Other planned interviews are with four-star combatant commanders who oversee military operations around the world. 

The transition for all government agencies got off to a late start as the Trump administration did not officially acknowledge Biden's win until Nov. 23. That's when the General Services Administration informed Biden that the Trump administration was ready to begin the formal transition process.  DoD says the following transition activities have been completed since Nov. 23:

  • 168 interviews with over 400 DoD officials
  • 194 requests for information fulfilled
  • 6,000 pages of non-public and classified information provided
The Pentagon transition has been a particular point of contention since Biden complained that acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller in December abruptly ordered the department to stop cooperating with the transition team. DoD pushed back, insisting the department has supported transition activities and agreed to conduct three interviews during the holidays: two COVID-related, and one on cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, all 10 living former secretaries of defense, in a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday, urged the Pentagon to cooperate with the Biden transition. 

The secretaries, who served Democratic and Republican presidents, condemned any potential attempt by President Trump to involve the U.S. military in election disputes. The former defense chiefs said this would take the country into "dangerous" territory.

The U.S. Space Force hopes to launch two missions in 2021 aboard Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne. But first the company has to successfully execute an orbital flight. A flight test was scheduled in late December but was delayed to protect workers from COVID-19. More details here on the Space Force's small launch plans for the coming year. Credit: Virgin Orbit


Lockheed Martin received a $4.9 billion contract for the production of three geosynchronous Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites for the U.S. Space Force. These satellites will provide initial warning of a ballistic or tactical missile launch anywhere on the globe. The company in August 2018 was awarded a $2.9 billion contract for the development of the three satellites. The new contract is for manufacturing, assembly, integration, testing and delivery by May 2028. 

China's main space contractor — China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) — has set a goal to conduct more than 40 orbital launches in 2021, including launching a space station module and human spaceflight missions. China launched 39 times in 2020, continuing the accelerated launch rate of the past few years. The space station core module will be launched in the coming months, followed by the Tianzhou-2 cargo vessel and Shenzhou-12 crewed missions. 

Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman K Sivan announced plans to develop reusable and heavy lift launchers, advanced propulsion and foster private space activities across the 2020s. Sivan noted that the "space sector is facing disruption due to the entry of many private players" that seek to provide lower cost and more efficient space services.

Satellite imagery released Jan. 3 by Maxar Technologies shows crowds gathering in Baghdad's Tahrir Square to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani and a top Iraqi militia leader. Soleimani's killing in Baghdad a year ago by a U.S. drone strike ratcheted up tensions in the region and brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. Credit: Maxar

SN Military.Space is published Tuesdays by SpaceNews Staff Writer Sandra Erwin and Editor-in-Chief Brian Berger.

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