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Space Force Leaders Divulge Inaugural Projects and Priorities

May 11, 2020 by Kate Michael
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the AEHF-6 mission for the U.S. Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center rolls to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on March 25, 2020. (United Launch Alliance/TNS)

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 approved a new, independent Space Force within the Department of the Air Force. As this new military branch takes shape, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond shared updates and details about the current state of the Space Force and its operational priorities at an online briefing conducted by the nonprofit Space Foundation.

Barrett and Raymond shared news of future flights and space missions “previously cloaked in secrecy” (Barrett) as they spoke to space enthusiasts earlier this month. 

Among the information was the public’s first look at the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which has already completed five missions and is scheduled to launch its sixth on May 16, 2020 from  Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.. This flight, dedicated to “the first responders who keep America strong” according to Barrett, “will host more experiments than any prior X-37B flight, including two NASA experiments,” such as a sample plate evaluating the performance of various materials in the space environment, and experiments examining the effects of space radiation on seeds and transforming solar power into radio-frequency microwave energy.

“Investment in space and missions like the X-37B preserve free access to and use of the space domain for all benevolent actors,” said Barrett. “To that end, the Department of the Air Force submitted a dedicated space budget for the first time in history.” The $15.4 billion investment would cover what the secretary called “transformational systems” like next-generation OPIR — replenishment of the nation’s space-based infrared systems — two GPS satellites, and three national security space launches. 

The Space Force is also expanding international partnerships, building coalitions to establish predictability in the new domain of space under alliances with the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, and Germany. These partnerships are mutually beneficial to boost space capabilities and save money.

There will also be inter-agency partnerships with the Department of Commerce, the FAA, FCC, and the National Space Council. “Partnerships are in our DNA,” said Raymond, who anticipates shared intelligence strategies, concept of operations (ConOps) programs, and training exercises. 

“We do not want to get into a conflict in space,” said Raymond. “The way we do that is with strong partners and systems that are dependable, and to train operators to have the warfighting skills necessary to accomplish the mission of keeping the space domain safe for all.”

“Just in the last few months we’ve seen Russia maneuver a satellite with characteristics of a weapons system in proximity to a U.S. satellite. More recently, they’ve tested a direct descent anti-satellite weapon. And just in the past few weeks, Iran attempted to launch an operational satellite and make a claim for becoming a space power,” said Raymond.

Because of aggressive actions by international competitors, Bennett said it was “important to have an entity focused on space defense to partner [with the USAF] to deter aggressive action against malevolent actors.”

The Space Force comes at a critical time in space to promote advancements while protecting from dangers. 

Americans have become increasingly reliant on our space assets, depending on space for navigation, communications, and monitoring weather and climate among other tasks. Space is a critical infrastructure that every citizen and country is connected to and dependent on. “We are at a point when our reliance on space is at an all-time high,” said Raymond. “There are threats… we view this as an opportunity to remain the best in the world — a great way to advance our game.”

According to Raymond, there has been an early avalanche of applicants for the Space Force. The Air Force Academy just graduated its first class of 86 cadets commissioned to the Space Force. Recruiting from the public has primarily been from members with a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) background, but the Space Force will be accepting other diverse fields of study. 

“Some people look at the stars and ask ‘What if?’ Our job is to answer it,” says the Space Force’s first recruitment video. “Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.”

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