The Race To Clean Up Space Is On.

                 by David Parmer / Tokyo

Until recently we thought of space like we used to think of the oceans of the world; vast, uncharted and immune to humankind’s stupidity and greed. But as we have learned from the polluted nature of our oceans, we are not free to dump our trash into the sea; we are now learning that we cannot use space as a dumping ground without serious consequences either. But this is exactly what is happening.

When the first satellite went into orbit in 1958 no one imagined the problem of space junk that we now face. Space junk can be anything from spent rocket boosters to old satellites to nuts and bolts, pieces of spacecraft, and even paint. All circulating and low earth orbit (LEO), and all leading to a potentially-catastrophic tipping point called the Kesler Syndrome, named after former NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler, which states that the amount of space junk will eventually increase to become a debris field disrupting scientific research and prohibiting off-planet exploration.

Reports suggest that there are between 30,000 to 600,000 pieces of space junk in orbit around the Earth as well as 100,000 objects of 1mm in size. Another estimate puts the weight of trash floating in low Earth orbit to be 8,000 tons. The Kesler Syndrome suggests that these discarded spacecraft and related parts will impact each other creating the impenetrable debris field mentioned above.

Moreover, it looks like things will get a lot worse before they get better. Corporations are now planning to launch Mega Constellations of satellites or spacecraft. Corporations?

  • Space X Starlink
  • Amazon Kuiper
  • One Web

These folks plan to launch hundreds, nay thousands of objects into orbit around the Earth in the near future. One Web has a target of 600 satellites and 150 are reported to already be in orbit.

What looks like the answer to the problem? Cleanup is one answer, but the question seems to be which technology will work and be most useful. The European Space Agency has a project called Clear Space-1 to be launched in 2025, but Japanese Astroscale Holdings has gotten a significant jump on the market by launching ESLA-d, and end-of-life satellite removal system on March 22,2021 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket. ELSA-d is to demonstrate the feasibility of capturing and eliminating satellites whose service life has come to an end.

There are other technologies on the drawing board including lasers to destroy defunct objects. One drawback to the Astroscale solution is that there are many different types of debris in space, and not all will be responsive to this technology. Government regulation is also in effect for satellites mandating that they be programmed for a so-called “graveyard orbit” at the end of their service life.

Is there a real commercial opportunity here for the right corporation or consortium? Perhaps there is, but the real problem is to get some effective system or systems to take out the trash before it is too late. Time, it seems, is NOT on our side in this case.

Please let us know what you think about this situation.

Photo: Roscosmos via flickr

Russian Weapons Flood Africa.

Russian arms are flooding into Africa. Reports say between 39% (Global Risk Insights) to 49% (The National Interest) of all weapons exported to Africa are Russian. Weapons include, but are not limited to:

  • Helicopters
  • Tanks
  • Armored vehicles
  • Anti-tank missiles
  • Anti-ship missiles
  • Air defense systems
  • Fighter aircraft
  • Small arms

America, France and now China have been providing weapons to Africa for a long time, but Russia’s offerings have the advantages of being low cost, reliable, and come with liberal financing. That is a hard to beat package, even for China.

A list of countries buying Russian include:

  • Burkina Faso
  • Mali
  • Sudan
  • Suriname
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Angola
  • Egypt
  • Algeria

Moscow Times has reported that Russian arms sales to Africa are somewhere in the $50-$55 billion. This commerce in arms shows a renewed Russian interest in Africa, which went dormant after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Reports suggest that Russian interest in the region is threefold:

  • The importing of raw materials to Russia including diamonds, bauxite and platinum
  • The supplying of sophisticated, reliable and affordable weapons without any human rights baggage
  • The seconding of Russian “contractors” such as the Wagner group to prop up certain regimes and add influence political outcomes where possible throughout Africa.

Russia’s gain, in addition to commercial benefits, is to put Russia back on the African continent as an influencer as it once was in the heyday of revolution and the end of colonialism.

Is that strategy working? It is hard to say what will happen in the long run, but for now, Russian cash registers are ringing, and business is very good.

What do you think about this? Please let us know your thoughts on this topic or on the broader topic of the global arms trade. We are always glad to hear from you.

Photo: Dimitry Terekhov via flickr

Tokyo 2021 – Off Again, On Again, Off Again?

                       by David Parmer /Tokyo

Just when you thought it was safe to make plans for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, it isn’t– or maybe it is. Mid-April 2021 and the bottom line is nobody really knows what will happen.

The problem? The global COVID 19 pandemic still rages. And Japan faces a fourth wave of infections. Japan’s rate of vaccination is S-L-O-W. A very small percentage of the population has been vaccinated or even tested as of mid-April 2021. This does not bode well for the Olympics happening in less than 100 days.

The IOC and Japan Inc. are ready to hold the Olympics. However, most Japanese favor cancelling the 2021 games, and a recent Kyodo news poll supports this. Apparently Japan’s medical community as well does not support the games.

It is not as if the Tokyo Organizing Committee is asleep at the wheel. They are not: their website shows extensive plans to have a safe event. “Playbooks” are downloadable for sponsors, competitors, and journalists laying out a stringent set of guidelines for how to conduct themselves to prevent the spread of COVID 19 during the games. But it seems the cards are stacked against them.

What could turn this situation around? Perhaps a massive and unprecedented drive to get the majority of the population tested and vaccinated. Given enough time, the Japanese could do this. But to move the bureaucracy and to inspire people to cooperate would require the type of dynamic thinking and dynamic leadership that is not native to the Japanese mindset. Given time, Japan could do it. But there is just not enough time, and maybe more importantly, enough will to get it done.

Olympics? See you in Beijing next year. Maybe.

Kyodo News Poll on Vaccine and Olympics

Tokyo 2020 Playbooks

Photo: IOC Facebook Page

 

Post-COVID Air Travel Will Likely Favor LCC.

All indications are that when the post-COVID travel boom takes place, that it will be Low Cost Carriers (LCC) that will lead the way.

Full Service Carriers (FSC) and legacy carriers will eventually figure out how to prosper in the post-COVID world, but the LCCs will be ahead of them. It will be a volatile and interesting business background as the airline industry restructures for the “new world” of travel.

LCC are in a good position for a number of reasons. By nature they are frugal and used to working in a lean manner. It also appears that domestic travel will rebound (is rebounding) faster than international travel. LCC specialize in affordable domestic travel for the most part.

FSC and legacy carriers generally have long-haul international routes. ( Although there is a long-haul LCC model, current COVID and future post-COVID conditions will not favor them initially, and they will basically be in the same situation as the legacy carriers).

Customer base is also different for LCC – they favor leisure travelers. The legacy carriers and flag carriers cater to the business traveller. Until the pandemic is considered over by most countries, long-haul travel with high seat occupancy will remain a thing of the past.

All carriers have one favorable wind behind them, and that is a massive worldwide pent up demand for private and commercial travel. When this demand is allowed to play itself out, not just the airline industry, but the tourist and hospitality industries as well will be collateral benefactors in a worldwide travel and spending frenzy.

So for the industry and its players large and small, it is not wait and see, or wait and pray; boom times will surely come, and it will be those organizations that have restructured, adapted, and survived that will reap the greatest benefits.

US Election Interference 2020 – It was Russia.

A declassified report by the US National Intelligence Council released on 10 March 2021 clearly points the finger at Russia for election meddling in 2020. The report concludes that Russia with the knowledge and probably direction by President Vladimir Putin sought to again influence the US 2020 election and undermine faith in the US election process.

The report also states that there was no evidence at all to support any claims that China was trying to interfere in the US 2020 election despite repeated assertions by Donald Trump himself, Attorney General William Barr and National Security advisor O’Brien.

Russian efforts in the 2020 US presidential election included efforts to:

  • Denigrate Biden’s candidacy
  • Denigrate the Democratic Party
  • Support Trump
  • Undermine the electoral process
  • Heighten sociopolitical division in the US

According to the report, Russia deployed its intelligence services, state media and troll farms to influence and damage the US election, and to influence its outcome. The Russian narrative was embraced by the Trump campaign during and after the election, and by Donald Trump himself with his repeated and baseless claims of election fraud by the Democrats.

Also mentioned in the report are attempts at election influence in 2020 by Iran, Cuba, and Hizballah (In favor of Biden). There is a link to the report below. It is a short 5-10 minute read and provides a summary of the key points in the report. Please let us know your thoughts on this matter.

US DNI Declassifed reprot on 2020 election meddling

Photo: Stuart Rankin via flickr.

 

Person of Interest: Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela New Leader at WTO.

On March 1, 2021 the World Trade Organization got a new boss, Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela. With her election, two precedents were set: the new chief of the WTO is both the first woman and the first African to hold the post.

Okonjo-Iwela served as Nigerian finance minister and has spent 25 years with the World Bank where she was managing director. She is a Harvard graduate who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from MIT.

While the WTO post is a brilliant cap to a distinguished career, the job will also require her skill and experience to revitalize the WTO, make it relevant once again and position it to handle twenty-first century challenges like the COVID pandemic. In her first days in office she said her priority is to work with members to deal with health and economic issues brought about by the pandemic.

Issues on her table include brokering a fisheries deal and expediting vaccine transfer worldwide. World Health Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that his intention to meet the new director of the WTO to discuss with her the question of vaccine production and distribution.

After gridlock and stalemate at the WTO it may be the right time for a new, qualified and ambitious chief to set priorities and lead the way. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela looks like the right person for the job.

Photo: Courtesy of WTO

CATL China, A Company That Should Be On Your Radar.

If you have never heard of Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) or its CEO Dr. Robin Zeng it is not surprising. The company was only listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange in 2017. And Dr. Zeng doesn’t seem to need the spotlight to get his work done.  However, the company that seemingly came from nowhere is one to watch.

First, CATL makes three main categories of products:

  • Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles
  • Energy storage systems
  • Battery management systems

The most important category is the Lithium-ion batteries to power a new generation of electric vehicles. Company headquarters are in Ningde in Fujian province, Zeng’s hometown. Worldwide the company has around 24,000 employees and an impressive list of customers.

Customers include such leading automotive brands such as:

  • Mercedes Benz
  • BMW
  • Volkswagen
  • Geely
  • Honda
  • Toyota
  • Tesla

CATL’s first overseas operation was in Germany in 2018 in a major tie-up with Mercedes Benz. A new $5billion factory in Indonesia was announced last year. In addition to a factory new Shanghai that manufactures batteries for Tesla China, three new domestic factories were announced in 2020 to be located in Sichuan, Jiangsu, and Fujian provinces. So CATL is on the move, and the positive reaction from investors resulting in a sharp rise in stock prices just confirms it.

CATL is said to be producing LFP (Lithium-Iron phosphate) batteries for TESLA which could be up to 20% less, resulting in a significant price reduction for the sticker price on a TESLA Model 3 in China.

CATL is also working on a new, long-life battery for TESLA that could have a 1.2 million mile (2 million KM) life span. This would not only bring prices down, but also move the Electric Vehicle automotive sector forward.

 Batteries that have long life, longer range and shorter charging life with built-in sustainability are on the cards for the near future. Without a doubt, the leader in this field will be Dr. Robin Zeng’s China based CATL, a company to keep an eye on.

Photo: CEO Dr. Robin Zeng, CATL website

India Jails 22-Year-Old Climate Activist.

On February 13, the Modi Administration arrested 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi and charged her with sedition. Disha Ravi’s crime was to promote a toolkit for activists created by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. Ravi’s purpose in spreading the material was to aid Indian farmers in their continuing struggle with the Modi Administration concerning controversial laws passed in September 2020.

The Modi government has refused to repeal the laws to liberalize the farming industry and protests have been ongoing. Disha Ravi is a prominent Indian climate activist and founder of the Indian branch of the Fridays For Future climate movement. Her support of striking farmers and overseas support by celebrities and world figures is seen by conservatives in India as effort to de-stabilize India and to defame India.

Disha Ravi’s initial confinement has been extended, and the charge she faces, sedition, carries heavy penalties in India. Many people see her arrest as just another incident in the crackdown on dissent and the suppression of basic rights within the world’s largest democracy.

What brings shame on India is not democratic dissent but the suppression of such dissent. India may well remember Britain’s attempt to silence one famous activist and the impossibility of doing so and take a lesson therefrom.

Please let us know your thoughs on this story.

 

 

Photo: via facebook

In The African Sahel Of 2021 There is Sand and Heat – But No Easy Solutions.

Since 2014 France has had a military presence in Africa’s Sahel named operation Barkhane. Africa’s Sahel region lies between the sands of the Sahara and the jungle of the savannah and is made up of several countries includes Mauritania, Mali, Niger Burkina Faso, and Chad.

The purpose of operation Barkhane is counter-insurgency, or the suppression of a whole range of Islamic fundamentalists of different stripes. Forces arrayed against the insurgents include:

  • French military forces
  • United Nations Forces (MINUSMA)
  • Forces of the G5 Sahel
  • Task Force Takuba (European Special Forces)

Anti-government and Islamist forces include a wide spectrum of organizations including:

  • Al Qaeda In Islamic Maghreb’s (AQUIM)
  • Jama’at Nursat al Islam (JNIM)
  • Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)
  • Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS)

Fighting has taken its toll on French forces and particularly on the UN’s MINUSA which suffered a reported 200 casualties already. Some high profile Islamist figures have been targeted and eliminated, but the insurgents are by no means finished.

President Macron of France has an unpopular war on his hands with only about 50% support or less at home. In addition, the French are portrayed as neo-colonialists by their many in the region. It seems Macron is trying to energize the G5 Sahel countries to take responsibility for their own security with mixed results.

Recent history has shown clearly what happens when the Islamic State takes power and the misery and suffering it inflicts up its unwilling “citizens.” So were France and the other coalition partners to withdraw, lawlessness would unfold followed by the establishment of the most repressive of regimes if what we have seen when IS held power in the recent past.

Another factor is that Metropolitan France is not that far away, and political chaos and widespread repression by IS would trigger not only mass migration but also the possibility of attacks both on France and other EU states as well by emboldened militants from the Sahel.

History shows us very few examples of where insurgent forces were eliminated or rendered harmless. The question then is what can be done? Would a giant United Nations presence be the answer, allowing France to withdraw? Could the G5 Sahel become efficient enough themselves to handle the situation?

It could be said that France is riding on the back of a tiger with only two choices, to continue to ride, or to get off and face the consequences. There are no easy solutions in the Sahel in 2021, only difficult and complex problems and questions.

Let us know your thoughts on this.

Photo: Minestere des Armees via facebook.