Although the phrase “Space Race” brings to mind the Cold War-era struggle between the United States and Soviet Union for supremacy in spaceflight capabilities, it may begin to develop new, more modern connotations. There is a new space race brewing amongst U.S. corporations, with the finish line located 255 million kilometers away: on Mars. This new competition, however, isn’t limited to just the private sector. The federal government is intensely interested in remaining a space superpower and cementing U.S. superiority in all space-related industries.
The Trump administration has already expressed its desire for NASA to focus less on studying Earth and instead redirect its efforts to better understand planets beyond our own. In theadministration’s proposed space spending plan, NASA is directed to use its resources to “focus on deep space exploration… and develop technologies that would achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy.” President Trump has declared his intention to put U.S. astronauts on Mars by 2030, but the road to U.S. space superiority will be paved by more than just reaching the Red Planet first.
Heather Wilson, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, spoke at the Strategic National Security Space FY18 Budget Forum about how the Air Force will support efforts of U.S. space superiority. “We are heavily dependent on space, and our adversaries know it. In any future conflict, space will be contested,” she said. Her comments coincided with the House Armed Services Committee vote on the National Defense Authorization Act. The HASC strategic forces subcommittee, whose purview includes military space matters, proposed additions to the NDAA. The subcommittee’s additions call for the creation of a “Space Corps” within the U.S. Air Force.
The Air Force’s “Space Corps” would function similarly to the U.S. Marine Corps. Lawmakers decided that the Space Corps would operate “as a separate military service within the Department of the Air Force and under the civilian leadership of the Secretary of the Air Force.”
According to the subcommittee’s additions to the NDAA, the Space Corps would have its own chief, who would also have a six-year term on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Space Corps Chief would be an equal position to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and would answer to the Secretary of the Air Force.
The subcommittee’s action on the NDAA, the Trump administration’s interest in space, and Heather Wilson’s remarks, all indicate that the creation of a Space Corps is a very real possibility.
Assuming that the Space Corps is approved, the federal government will need considerable help from the private sector to make this dream a reality. In order to cement the United States as the preeminent space military power there will be a myriad of logistical, engineering, infrastructural and industrial obstacles that will need to be overcome.
Even if the Space Corps does not gain approval, there is a high probability that other space-related opportunities will occur in the near future. Small satellite technology has become both cheaper and more reliable, and smallsat advocates are positing that such systems are capable of providing a “layer of resiliency” for national security space applications. Other opportunities may occur within the rocket engineering field, as the industry moves away from the larger, single use rockets of the past.
It is very likely that we will see an uptick in innovative satellite, rocket and telescope technologies, as well as other peripheral space technologies and products.
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