Space force

There you go, it’s official: Space Force. Seriously, why couldn’t they call it Star Fleet?

Space Force is here. For real. The president said he was going to create it, and now the White House has released some details about this new branch of the US armed forces.

The US Space Force will be the 6th branch of the armed forces, after the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines and Coast Guard. According to the White House, the Space Force will “safeguard American dominance in space”.

The United States is the quintessential space nation. They are the technological, scientific and exploration leader. According to the statement released by the White House, the creation of a Space Force is the president’s follow-up to his “promise to restore America’s legacy of leadership in space.”

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“…to protect our nation and preserve our freedom to operate in, from, and to space.” – Statement from the White House

The implementation of the Space Force is guided by six recommendations from the National Space Council. This council is an intermittent council originally established in 1989 under George Bush Sr. It was disbanded in 1993 and then reinstated by the current president in 2017.

According to information released by the White House, the six recommendations call for:

  • Form a United States Space Command to control our space forces and develop tactics, techniques, and procedures for military space operations.
  • To establish the Space Force as a separate and distinct branch of the military whose mission will be to organize, train and equip combat space forces.
  • Calling on Congress to authorize the creation of a Space Force and fund United States Space Command.
  • Initiated a joint review by the National Space Council and the National Security Council of existing space operational authorities to achieve national security objectives, informed by DOD’s assessment of required authorities.
  • Create a space development agency to ensure America’s Space Force has cutting-edge combat capabilities.
  • Create collaborative mechanisms with the intelligence community to enhance unity of effort for capability development and space operations.

The president’s stated goal is to prepare the military for the challenges faced in space today and in the future. The White House says space is now a “combat domain,” though it’s unclear what that means. There have been no wars in space.

The president has many detractors who will no doubt decry this announcement. They can cite the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the United States and 106 other countries, as a reason not to pursue military activities in space. But this treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in space, only weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In any case, the current president has shown no reluctance to break the treaties that previous American governments have signed.

Critics might also say that for a country armed to the teeth, everything looks like a potential battlefield. But the United States have real opponents, and they are not playing well. They showed no reluctance to influence elections, steal technology and engage in espionage. It is not unreasonable for a nation like the United States to protect its extremely important space assets from damage.

The White House recognizes the vulnerability of their assets in space, and they say “President Trump is taking steps to ensure that the United States military is equipped to protect our nation and preserve our freedom to operate in, ever since and to space”.

There are larger goals attached to the creation of the Space Force, according to the White House statement. The president wants to reinvigorate American activities in space. Three policies frame this revitalization:

  • Reorient our space program towards human exploration of deep space.
  • Unleash the power of America’s commercial space enterprise.
  • Protect our vital space assets by improving space traffic management.
One of the purposes of Space Force is to
One of Space Force’s goals is to “reorient our space program toward human exploration of deep space.” But NASA has been working on this for a while. An artist’s rendition of NASA’s Space Launch System Block 1 configuration with an Orion vehicle. Image: NASA

Universe Today readers will be particularly interested in the first policy. The momentum behind human deep space exploration missions has been building for a long time. There is a repressed desire. But NASA is way ahead of President Trump on this one. They are already developing the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft, a system that promises to deliver humans to the surface of Mars. Perhaps the Space Force announcement will create more momentum toward NASA’s deep space goals.

“There are hostile actors in the world, some of whom have already launched direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles…” – NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

Space is becoming a very commercialized place, at least in low Earth orbit (LEO). NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says space saves $383 billion a year, and that’s set to grow. NASA itself has hundreds of billions of dollars in space assets. Space is the next frontier not only for exploration and discovery, but also for capitalism. And this economic activity must be protected against rivals and accidents.

In the following interview, Bridenstine states that there are “hostile actors in the world”, some of whom have already launched anti-satellite missiles. In this context, the creation of a Space Force is a reasonable response.

But Space Force is not just about military readiness. This will allow the United States to reorganize its activities in space under one umbrella. Currently, personnel working on space-related activities often come from other organizations and branches of the armed forces. Once a mission or program ends, they are dispersed. Space Force will allow professionals to stay in one organization for their entire career.

The Space Force has yet to be established. It still needs to be approved by Congress. The president revived the National Space Council with an executive order, but funding for that council must also be approved by Congress. So for now, it’s still just an idea. But it’s hard to imagine politicians in the United States opposing it, no matter how big the federal deficit.

America has acted as the world’s police force for several decades, with varying results. It is clear that with increased activity in space by more nations, some of which may have goals other than exploration and discovery, some sort of forceful presence is needed to deter unwanted activity. Maybe Space Force can provide that, and maybe their presence in LEO can prevent any illegal activity from happening.