Minimize USSF

USSF (United States Space Force)

USSF News and Developments    References

The USSF is a new branch of the Armed Forces. It was established on December 20, 2019 with enactment of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The USSF was established within the Department of the Air Force, meaning the Secretary of the Air Force has overall responsibility for the USSF, under the guidance and direction of the Secretary of Defense. — The USSF is a military service that organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. USSF responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands. 1)

Some background: While the launch of the U.S. Space Force propels the United States into a new era, the Department of the Air Force has a proud history and long-standing record of providing the best space capabilities in the world. 2)

On Sept. 1, 1982, the Air Force established Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), with space operations as its primary mission. Cold War-era space operations focused on missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command and control for national leadership. In 1991, Operation DESERT STORM validated the command's continuing focus on support to the warfighter through the use of GPS to enable the famous “Left Hook,” proving the value of space-based capabilities to joint military operations.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (in 2001), the President directed military action against Afghanistan and Iraq. AFSPC provided extensive space-based support to the U.S. Central Command commander in areas of communications; positioning, navigation and timing; meteorology; and warning. In 2005, the Air Force expanded its mission areas to include cyberspace. In concert with this, the Air Staff assigned responsibility for conducting cyberspace operations to AFSPC through Twenty-Fourth Air Force, which was activated in August 2009.

In July 2018, the Air Force cyber mission transferred to Air Combat Command, which generated the greatest capacity for an integrated Information Warfare capability within the Air Force. This move allowed AFSPC to focus on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing our adversaries in the space domain.

With the enactment of the FY20 (Fiscal Year 2020) NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), AFSPC was re-designated the U.S. Space Force on December 20, 2019, granting Title 10 authorization to the U.S. Space Force, established under the Department of the Air Force.

Figure 1: U.S. Space Force Firsts (video credit: USSF)

Along with the new name USSF, there was also some renaming of locations, like VSFB (Vandenberg Space Force Base) for former VAFB (Vandenberg Air Force Base).


The Space Force operates six primary bases, seven smaller stations, and one air base in Greenland. Currently, three of the bases and four of the stations formerly under the control of Air Force Space Command have transitioned to the United States Space Force, however the Space Force has already assumed operational control of the remaining bases through its garrisons. On 9 December 2020, Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida were the first Space Force installations renamed, becoming Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. 3)

On May 14, 2021, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was renamed Vandenberg Space Force Base. It also has ten units based outside the contiguous United States in Greenland, the United Kingdom, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia atoll, Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam. During the transition from Air Force control, only one facility renaming has gone beyond replacing the Air Force designation, that of Kaena Point Space Force Station in Hawaii, which the Air Force called Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station. 4)


Figure 2: Vice President Mike Pence announced 9 December 2020, that Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base are being renamed as Space Force installations (image credit: U.S. Space Force)

USSF News and Developments

• September 15, 2021: A Space Force general endorsed the development of commercial systems for removing space debris, saying they can address congestion in Earth orbit without the policy concerns a government-run alternative might have. 5)

- Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt, vice commander of the Space Force’s Space Operations Command, told an audience of space traffic management experts that active debris removal is essential to address the growing population of objects in low Earth orbit that pose a threat to government and commercial satellites.

- “We need to pick up debris. We need trash trucks. We need things to go make debris go away,” she said in a keynote at the AMOS (Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies) Conference here Sept. 15. “I think there is a use case for industry to go after that as a service-based opportunity.”


Figure 3: Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt said a commercial orbital debris removal capability would be "very valuable" since it would avoid concerns that one developed by the military would also be used as a weapon (image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)

- Burt, who is also commander of the Combined Force Space Component Command of U.S. Space Command, said that concern was driven by the inability to do anything if there is a threat of a collision between two non-maneuverable objects, like debris. “Those are bad days,” she said, within nothing to do other than hope that the predicted conjunction passes without any new debris objects tracked.

- Later in her presentation, she emphasized that orbital debris removal was not only important, but also should be done by the private sector. “Absolutely there’s a business case for debris removal for industry,” she said.

- Orbital debris is a job for companies, she said, because a government-led effort would cause some to believe the technology would also used as a weapon to disable active satellites. “When you say the military is going to develop a capability to pick up trash or pick up debris, it’s automatically seen as dual use,” she said.

- A company, or consortium of companies, that attempted orbital debris removal would be “very valuable,” she concluded. “It is a growing discussion on the international stage as well. I think it will get solved in the next few years, but we definitely want to see more of that technology.”

- Several companies have expressed an interest in orbital debris removal, including projects to demonstrate technologies needed to capture and deorbit objects. However, they face other stumbling blocks, from uncertain regulatory regimes for removing debris to identifying who will pay for debris removal, and how much.

- Debris removal fits into a broader picture of space traffic management or, as she described it, space traffic awareness. The difference is that, unlike air traffic management, where there are clear authorities and regulations for directing aircraft, the Space Force has little ability to direct operational, or live, satellites to maneuver if it identifies a potential collision.

- “If that live object is a DOD capability, then absolutely I have the authority to tell them, ‘you need to move and here’s direction you’re moving,’” she said. “If that object is anything other than a U.S.-flagged Department of Defense asset, I am making them aware there is a collision, but it’s their choice what they do.”

- She supported efforts to transfer civil space traffic management to the Commerce Department. “We, as the Department of Defense, look forward to the Department of Commerce taking on this mission and standing up,” she said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder to help them to do that and to be successful.”

- Handing those responsibilities to Commerce Department, she argued, would better separate civil and military roles, allowing Space Command to focus on “battlespace awareness” including fighting a war that extended to space.

- “We will continue to do the space traffic awareness mission until we are told not to and the Department of Commerce is fully up and capable,” she said. “But we want them to be successful because we need to get out of that business because the threat is growing. It is critical that, to normalize this domain, we continue to work in that direction.”

• August 24, 2021: The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) recently declared the eighth GPS III satellite as “Available for Launch.” This significant accomplishment officially marks the third space vehicle within the GPS III program to be declared available for launch in the past three months. 6)

- GPS III SV06, SV07, and SV08 are now awaiting official call up for launch in Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility in Waterton, Colorado.


Figure 4: Photo of the three recently completed GPS III satellites at the Lockheed Martin Facility (image credit: USSF SSC)

- “SV06, SV07, and SV08 AFL milestones in just three months prove that GPS III production continues to benefit from efficiencies with each satellite delivery,” said Col. Edward Byrne, chief of SSC’s Space Production Corps’ Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division.

- The first of the three recently completed satellites, SV06, is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will join the operational constellation of 31 GPS satellites.

- GPS III satellites deliver enhanced performance and accuracy through a variety of improvements, including increased signal protection and improved accuracy. GPS III also expands the civilian L5 signal, dubbed the “safety-of-life” signal, currently broadcast by the 12 GPS IIF satellites, but not yet operational, and delivers a new L1C signal designed to grant interoperability to similar international space-based position, navigation and timing systems around the world. As a crucial technological foundation for internet, financial, transportation, and agricultural operations, GPS delivers the gold standard in positioning, navigation, and timing services supporting U.S. and allied operations worldwide.

- Space Systems Command, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the U.S. Space Force’s Center of Excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SSC’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning systems, military satellite communications, a defense meteorological satellite control network, range systems, space-based infrared systems, and space domain awareness capabilities.

• August 24, 2021: The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency is all about lower costs and getting the best bang for its buck. So when it needed to procure launch services to deploy a batch of 28 satellites in late 2022, it sought competitive bids and SpaceX won the contract. 7)

- That decision did not go over well with the U.S. Space Force office that oversees the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program, which needs DoD to use its services to make the program cost competitive. United Launch Alliance and SpaceX are the NSSL Phase 2 launch providers and missions are split 60/40 between the two.

- The Space Development Agency (SDA) — which is building a large constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit — last month announced that it will no longer procure launches commercially and will buy launch services through the NSSL program.


Figure 5: Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear speaks with reporters at the 36th Space Symposium (image credit: Sandra Erwin/ SpaceNews)

- SDA Director Derek Tournear said initially he did not want to use NSSL because it’s significantly more expensive than commercial launches. The NSSL customers pay for additional administrative cost, mission assurance and other markups.

- But after extensive negotiations, the Space Force agreed to remove some of those additional markups and gave SDA a better deal, Tournear said Aug. 24.

- During a news conference at the 36th Space Symposium, Tournear said SDA did get pushback for booking a commercial launch with SpaceX outside the NSSL program. He said SDA argued that there was a “significant difference” between commercial pricing and NSSL Phase 2 costs and that it made sense to save taxpayer money.

- In response, the NSSL program office under the Space Force’s Space Systems Command agreed to negotiate a better deal for SDA, Tournear said. “They worked very well with us and we worked closely [to identify] things that are included in those NSSL costs that don’t necessarily need to be included for our launch, and they were actually able to remove a lot of those.”

- Tournear said he could not provide specifics of what costs were taken out but said it amounted to “multiple tens of millions of dollars per launch” off what would be typically charged for NSSL launches. “They removed a lot of activities that we didn’t require.”

- With the reductions, the difference between what SDA would pay for commercial launches and for NSSL is “marginal,” said Tournear. There is a difference, but it’s justified because it helps NSSL book more rockets and get better pricing from providers. “Now the department has more rockets in total that is buying under NSSL, so they can use that to shift things around within that 60/40 split they’re bound to.”

- As a customer of the NSSL program, SDA will have to work with the rocket providers and integrators “to make sure that we can match the spacecraft vendors with the launch vehicles,” said Tournear. “That is something we can certainly do” but was hoping to not have to take on.

• August 13, 2021: The U.S. Space Force on Aug. 13 official renamed the SMC ( Space and Missile Systems Center) as the Space Systems Command (SSC). The new command will be based at SMC’s campus at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. It will oversee the development of next-generation technologies, the procurement of satellites and launch services. 8)

- At a ceremony on Friday, Space Systems Command’s first commander, Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, said SSC will play a central role in the future of the Space Force. “I am honored and humbled to be charged with the responsibility of leading Space Systems Command at this exciting time.” Guetlein said.


Figure 6: U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, right, accepts the Space Systems Command flag from U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, left, during the SSC activation ceremony at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, Aug. 13, 2021 (photo credit: U.S. Space Force photo by Van Ha)

- “In 10 years, warfighting as we know it will have changed drastically and we must be postured and empowered to keep pace with this change,” he said. “We cannot let this be a nameplate change from SMC to SSC. We must be bold, and we must get after the threat.”

- SSC has a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors.

- The standup of SSC is the latest redesignation of the storied Space and Missile Systems Center, first established as the Western Development Division in 1954, making it the oldest space organization in the U.S. military. In 1967 it was renamed the Space and Missiles Systems Organization and in 1992 the Space and Missile Systems Center. In 2001, it was transferred from Air Force Materiel Command to Air Force Space Command, becoming part of the U.S. Space Force at its formation in 2019.

- U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond presided over the ceremony.

- “As we unfurl the Space Systems Command flag and begin a new chapter in space history, let’s reflect on the parallels between past and present,” Raymond said. “The great team here at SMC has already been changing the culture and moving faster, so I know SSC will rise to the challenge and continue this trend.”

- “To sustain and build our relative advantage, we must outpace our competitors,” Raymond said. “This is the challenge for the new Space Systems Command. You can’t let our capabilities reach their expiration date. The clock is ticking and you must deliver on time.”

• July 28, 2021: The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has selected ASTRA, LLC to develop and demonstrate an Electro-Optical / Infrared (EO/IR) LEO-based cloud characterization solution that supports U.S. warfighter operations. 9)

- Striving to bridge gaps and improve functionality of Space-Based Environmental Monitoring (SBEM) systems, USSF SMC sought a commercial prototype EO/IR Weather System (EWS) mission capable of characterizing global clouds in near real-time to support Department of Defense operations.

- "An industry leader in space science technology and research, ASTRA is proud to be chosen by the U.S. Space Force to provide our Rapid Revisit Optical Cloud Imager (RROCI) system to deliver near-real time cloud characterization data in support of the warfighter," says Bill Baker, ASTRA Sr. Vice President of Data Solutions.

- SMC selected ASTRA, in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, Science and Technology Corporation, Pumpkin Inc., and Atmospheric & Environmental Research (AER), for the first phase of the EWS mission to design, develop, and demonstrate its 8-channel RROCI prototype. ASTRA’s imager will utilize commercial off-the-shelf systems to produce cloud characterization, mitigate weather risk, provide theater weather, and comparison of payload outputs to existing satellite data from a 12U satellite that meets USSF mission requirements.

- “USSF SMC seeks an agile, cost-effective technology to provide timely, mission-critical information to the warfighter – ASTRA’s proposed prototype will achieve this,” explains Dr. Scott Jensen, the project’s principal investigator and ASTRA Sr. Vice President for Technology. “Our solution assures easy implementation and rapid refresh of new technology into the architecture as required, and will meet both government and commercial SBEM requirements.”

- ASTRA’s proposed solution will provide a cost-effective and agile demonstration mission, reducing risk and demonstrating readily available commercial technology that meets USSF’s required operational mission capabilities.

- ASTRA (Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates) LLC of Louisville, CO, was born out of the vision for applying fundamental space physics knowledge to address real-world problems. Founded in 2005, ASTRA is a leader in the “New Space” small satellite industry. We leverage our scientific and engineering expertise to develop unique solutions to address complex space physics disciplines, instrumentation, modeling capabilities, and data analytics; ASTRA turns science into data, data into knowledge.

• July 26, 2021: A set of guidelines issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for responsible space operations should be part of a wider conversation about how to maintain safety and security in space, a senior Pentagon official said July 26. 10)


Figure 7: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on July 24, 2021, began a seven-day trip to Asia to conducting bilateral meetings with senior officials 8image credit: DoD)

- Austin in a July 7 memo said DoD should operate in space “with due regard to others and in a professional manner.” The memo also listed five “tenets” of responsible behavior: Limit the generation of long-lived debris, avoid the creation of harmful interference, maintain safe separation and safe trajectory, communicate and make notifications about space activities.

- John Hill, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said these guidelines are only intended for DoD space operators but also are meant to contribute to a broader dialogue to encourage civilian, commercial and other organizations that do business in space to adopt a common set of rules.

- “This is something that’s very important to understand: the Department Defense has no regulatory authority, no oversight authority. That’s not our competence, it’s not our strength,” Hill said in an interview with SpaceNews.

- In response to Chinese and Russian advancements in anti-satellite weapons, leaders of the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command have called for the adoption of international norms of behavior to deter testing and deployment of such weapons.

- Hill said anti-satellite weapons developments are concerning but this is not an issue that can be handled like traditional arms control. The conversation has to be about voluntary adherence rather than rigid rules because of the complexity of space operations and the number of actors that have stakes in the space domain, said Hill.

- “The U.S. government’s view is that we should be pursuing voluntary, non-binding norms,” he said.

- “We would likely make more progress by engaging with other space operators, be they government, civil, military, commercial, universities, whatever field they come from,” said Hill. “We will make more progress through efforts to share views on what we think are the best practices and encourage each other to adopt those best practices.”

- International discussions on space security for years have been at a standstill in part because countries and agencies have focused on “what should we all agree that we should prohibit,” said Hill. “That type of ‘arms control’ approach can be unending before you reach agreement and meantime space operations will continue to proliferate.”

- With many more governments and commercial players now having access to space, he said, “We think that a voluntary, non-binding approach is simply more productive for all space operators”

What's next

- The United States along with other UN member states in May submitted comments for a report on “Reducing Space Threats Through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviors” that will be unveiled this fall during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

- This initiative is important, said Hill, but it’s not policy. “What the United States government submitted to the United Nations is a ‘thought piece,’ it’s not a binding policy document.”

- Austin’s memo directs U.S. Space Command to turn the five tenets into more specific guidance.

- A spokesperson for U.S. Space Command said the next step is to “define responsible military space behavior similar to what we seen in the air and sea domains.”

- Hill said Space Command will coordinate this effort with civilian and commercial space organizations. The National Space Policy issued by the Trump administration in 2020 says the private sector is “encouraged to continue defining responsible commercial behavior and develop the technology to ensure a sustainable space environment.”

- “We asked Space Command to think about what are more specific next level types of behaviors that we might want to incorporate in Department of Defense guidance,” said Hill. “They will of course, look at and probably interact with civil and commercial operators, and they will take ideas and suggestions and thoughts from those operators.”

- Hill said DoD welcomes feedback and further discussions on Austin’s memo. “It’s entirely unclassified. We posted it on the web and shared it with others because we like to be transparent about what we’re doing,” he said. “If others find this to be useful, they’re more than welcome to use it, but this is only guidance for the Department of Defense.”

- A caveat in Austin’s guidance is that the tenets should be followed “unless otherwise directed.”

- This means all bets would be off during a conflict if the United States came under attack. “Think of these tenets as the day-to day-practices,” said Hill. “Now of course we’re a military organization,” he added. “The United States has an inherent right of self defense.”

• July 22, 2021: U.S. Space Force officials have begun discussions with the U.K. government about the possibility of building a deep-space radar site in the United Kingdom, a spokesman confirmed July 22. 11)

- The Space Force plans to develop a network of sensors known as the Deep Space Advanced Radar Concept (DARC) to track active satellites and debris beyond geostationary orbit 35,786 kilometers above the Earth.

- The DARC project was started by the U.S. Air Force in 2017. The Space Force describes it as a 24/7, all-weather ground-based radar system for space domain awareness.

- The Space Force recently issued a request for design concepts from contractors. Up to three radar sites could be built in the coming years. One would be in the United States and the other two in other parts of the world.

- Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston, head of the U.K. Royal Air Force, was recently in the United States for talks over the plans, the Guardian newspaper reported. He said the British were “very interested” in the project and in hosting a U.S. radar station.

- A U.S. Space Force spokesman told SpaceNews that no decision has yet been made.

- “We have recently started exploratory discussions with the U.K. to determine the potential collaboration opportunities with the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability,” said the spokesman.

- DARC will have three geographically separated sites around the world, “that will play a key role in moving towards a resilient space enterprise able to deter aggression,” he said. “The DARC program office is working site selection of all three sites in parallel, and has not finalized the location of any sites at this time.”

• July 7, 2021: The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) transferred Satellite Control Authority of the GPS III SV05 to the 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever (2 SOPS) Air Force Base on June 28. The fifth GPS III satellite — nicknamed Armstrong —was launched into space on June 17, 2021. 12)

- On June 29, GPS III SV05 received Operational Acceptance approval, marking the first GPS III SV to receive SCA handover and Operational Acceptance within 24 hours and decreasing the time from launch to on-orbit operational capability by 97 percent.

- In 2020, the GPS enterprise launched two GPS III SVs in the midst of a global pandemic. According to Los Angeles Air Force Base, home of SMC, the delivery time from launch to Operational Acceptance approval has continued to shrink, with innovation and teamwork across the GPS enterprise enhancing rapid identification and elimination of redundant on-orbit verification steps.

- Launch of SV05 was the first National Security Space Launch on a previously flown Falcon 9 booster, reusing the same booster that delivered GPS III SV04 to orbit in November 2020.

- GPS III SV05 joins a constellation of 31 operational satellites. “The inclusion of GPS III SV05 into the operational constellation marks another significant milestone for the enterprise with 24 M-code capable satellites,” said Colonel Heather J. Anderson, transition director.

- The Lockheed Martin-built GPS III SVs provide improved accuracy, advanced anti-jam capabilities, and increased resiliency for the GPS constellation and 4 billion users worldwide. GPS III SV05 will be set healthy to all global users in September, following the completion of on-orbit testing.

• June 25, 2021: The U.S. Space Force is eager to tap into the vibrant commercial market for space services enabled by increasingly capable small satellites and cheaper access to orbit. 13)

- Commercial services of particular interest to the military include imagery, analytics, weather data and broadband from low-Earth orbit constellations.

- “It’s really crucial that we figure out how to successfully integrate commercial data and services into our architectures and concepts of operations,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, head of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the procurement arm of the Space Force.

- The Space Force already is a major consumer of commercial space launch services and geostationary satellite communications but it is now looking to “go bigger and bolder,” Thompson said, calling this a matter of national security.

- The military’s modernization plans increasingly depend on technologies funded by the private sector, Thompson noted. The Space Force is responsible for providing satellite-enabled capabilities to the entire Defense Department, and the acquisition of new space services will be a central piece of that effort.

- The next step will be to organize a new office focused on the procurement of commercial space services. This office will be part of the future Space Systems Command, said Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force vice chief of space operations.

- Space Systems Command will be established in Los Angeles later this year and will replace SMC. Thompson said the plan is to expand SMC’s existing commercial satellite communications services office so it can acquire other types of commercial capabilities.

- One of those services will be “tactical ISR,” short for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Tactical ISR would support military units in the field that currently don’t have direct access to satellite imagery. Field commanders want visual imagery but also radar, radio-frequency and other types of data collected by Earth observation satellites that capture images in short time intervals.

Change in Mindset

- Col. Timothy Sejba, program executive officer for space development at SMC, said procuring commercial space services is a departure from the traditional business model where the military dictates requirements and contractors are paid to build systems owned by the government.

- Buying commercial services means the Defense Department doesn’t have to finance the cost of building and operating a constellation, and simply acquires the data. This is a huge benefit, said Sejba, but there are risks that also have to be weighed.

- To be sure, the Pentagon does not want to become entirely dependent on commercial providers that may or may not be able to support the military during an armed conflict. Sejba said the Space Force will not outsource critical “no fail” capabilities like satellite-based missile warning or Global Positioning System navigation.

- The priority for SMC, he said, is to figure out a business model for how to access commercial services that would not replace, but supplement, government-owned capabilities.

- Tactical ISR, weather data and broadband from low-orbiting constellations are the low-hanging fruit, he said. “We know there is an extensive commercial industry base we have to tap into, and augment with government unique capabilities only when commercial can’t fulfill.”

- As plans move forward to stand up the new Space Systems Command, the most likely path to establish a commercial space services office will be to follow the model now used to acquire satellite communications.

- CSCO (Commercial Satellite Communications Office) that reports to SMC but is located near Washington, is viewed as a template for how other services could be acquired but there are still many details to be worked out, Sejba said.

- The satcom office buys $1 billion a year in commercial services and has built strong relationships with providers, he said. “We want to leverage that expertise.”

- As the Space Force looks to buy more commercial services, Sejba said, one of the challenges will be market research, as SMC is not familiar with many of the new space ventures entering the field. Further, the government has to figure out how to use its buying power to incentivize companies that want the Defense Department as a customer but also have to prioritize the needs of a broader market.

- Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit firm that provides technical services to DoD and other government agencies, plans to help SMC establish connections with space startups and new entrants, said Randy Kendall, vice president of launch and enterprise operations at Aerospace.

- Before the Space Force commits to buying critical services from a new commercial provider, it will want to know, for example, who is funding the company and whether their systems are adequately protected against cyber threats, Kendall said. Aerospace would help screen potential suppliers to make sure they are technically and financially sound.

- Aerospace also would facilitate SMC’s communications with venture investors to give them greater insight into the government’s wish lists so they can better target their investments, he said.

• June 15, 2021: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of the Air Force signed an agreement June 15 aimed at eliminating red tape while protecting public safety during commercial space activities at ranges operated by the U.S. Space Force. 14)

- The agreement recognizes common safety standards for FAA-licensed launch and reentry activities that occur on, originate from, or return to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It also removes duplicative processes and approvals for the U.S. commercial space sector.

- “Assured access to space is vital to our national security,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth. “The launch licensing standards provided in the agreement will support a rapidly expanding commercial launch sector and strengthen our space industrial base, bolstering our economy and enhancing our security as a nation.”

- “Building a streamlined regulatory approach for commercial space activities at these federal launch sites is the right thing to do for public safety and U.S. competitiveness,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “This agreement will help the burgeoning U.S. commercial space industry grow even faster and continue to lead the world in safety and innovation.”

- Under the agreement, the FAA will accept the Department of the Air Force’s ground safety rules and other safety processes, analyses, and products as long as they satisfy FAA regulations. The Department of the Air Force will accept FAA licensing decisions and generally will not impose its own requirements for the flight portion of a launch or reentry.

- In addition, the two agencies will consult before responding to commercial space operator requests for relief from safety requirements and on the development of hazard areas. Both also will coordinate prior to publication of materials related to ground safety and launch or reentry activities and collaborate on environmental reviews to ensure the government’s response is prompt and consistent.

- The two ranges each have four FAA-licensed commercial space transportation companies authorized to conduct launch operations. In 2020, the FAA licensed 39 commercial space launches, the most in the agency’s history. Of those, 24 occurred at, and were supported by, these two U.S. Space Force ranges.

• June 13, 2021: The U. S. Space Force successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) on June 13 at 4:11 a.m. EDT, delivering a technology demonstration satellite to Low Earth Orbit. 15)


Figure 8: The USSF air-launched the TacRL-2 mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13, 2021 (image credit: USSF)

- Pegasus, the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, is an air-launched threestaged rocket carried aloft by Northrop Grumman’s specially modified “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft. Shortly after its release from Stargazer, at approximately 40,000 feet (~12 km) above the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus ignited its first stage, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.

- Tactically responsive launch, as a concept, seeks to introduce speed, agility, and flexibility into the launch enterprise in order to respond to dynamic changes in the space domain or an operational theater and insert or replace assets on orbit much faster than standard timelines to meet emerging combatant command requirements.

- “Today’s successful launch is a clear signal to our strategic competitors that we will not cede access to space,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “When I challenged the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) about a year ago to demonstrate a responsive space capability, they accepted and delivered! The team presented an integrated Space Domain Awareness satellite ready for launch in record time; what normally would have required two to five years, took 11 months.

- “The space domain is defined by speed,” Raymond said. “And with this effort, we demonstrated the kind of speed it will take to win. We executed a ‘21-day call-up’ to get a satellite on orbit – pulling the payload, mating it with the rocket and integrating the combined package onto the aircraft. Agile, responsive capability development, combined with our ability to rapidly launch and insert capabilities into space where we want, when we want, will deny our competitors the perceived benefits of beginning a conflict in, or extending a conflict to, space.”

- The TacRL-2 mission was executed by the Small Launch and Targets Division within the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, in partnership with SMC’s Space Safari Office, and launched a satellite built and operated by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory.

- During a six-month standby period, a notice to launch was executed and the satellite launched several weeks later, exercising Concept of Operations, tactics, techniques and procedures required of a responsive launch.

- “I am very pleased with the success of this tactical launch demonstrating rapid and responsive technologies, and what it means for the continuous Space Force support to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief, Small Launch and Targets Division. “The team completed the launch vehicle design, build, integration and testing in only four months from contract award, and then executed the launch within a few weeks of call-up.”

- TacRL-2 was the first mission supported by SMC’s new Space Safari Program Office. Space Safari rapidly integrates mature technology and systems to quickly respond to specialized space needs.

- For TacRL-2, Space Safari successfully demonstrated their end-to-end approach to tactically responsive missions by acquiring and integrating the space vehicle, launch vehicle, payloads and ground elements in record time, as well as conducting on-orbit planning and operator training.

- This mission was a first-of-its-kind effort that has already identified several constraints and lessons learned. The USSF will use this information to improve upcoming TacRL missions with the Space Safari office planned to launch in 2022 and 2023. Tactically Responsive Launch is the first step toward the USSF acquiring a tactical space mobility and logistics capability to support combatant command’s future requirements for tactical spacepower.

• April 8, 2021: The U.S. Space Force on April 8 unveiled new details of its plan to establish a Space Systems Command in Los Angeles to oversee the development of next-generation technologies, and the procurement of satellites and launch services. 16)

- The SCC (Space Systems Command) will take over responsibilities currently performed by the Space and Missile Systems Center and by the Space Force launch wings in Florida and California that currently are not part of SMC. Altogether SSC will oversee a workforce of about 10,000 people.

- The Space Force will re-designate the Space and Missile Systems Center as SSC headquarters. SMC, based at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, California, has a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors.

- About 4,000 people who work for the space launch units at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California will be reassigned to SSC. Both space launch wings currently report to the Space Force’s Space Operations Command.

- Officials said the new command is more than just a rebranding of the Space and Missile Systems Center. SSC will have broader responsibilities to coordinate space programs across the U.S. military.

- The proposal to stand up SSC is the result of a “deliberate year-long process to plan the Space Systems Command and specifically the organizational design,” the commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center Lt. Gen. John Thompson, told SpaceNews.

- SSC will be one of three Space Force field commands the service announced in June. The Space Operations Command was established in October and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A Space Training and Readiness Command is projected to open later this year.

- All three field commands are led by three-star generals who answer to Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations. The commands operate under the authority of the secretary of the Air Force, the civilian leader of the Space Force.

- Thompson said the Space Force is confident SSC can be stood up this summer but the exact timeline depends on when a three-star commander is nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate.

- The acquisition arm of the Space Force is a high priority of Raymond, who has called for the service to speed up the procurement of cutting-edge technology to stay ahead of adversaries like China and Russia. He also has argued that the Space Force has to be more agile in order to tap into the innovation coming out of the private sector.

- “Space Systems Command’s organizational structure was purpose-built to anticipate and be responsive to the challenges presented by a contested space domain,” Raymond told reporters April 8.

- Raymond said having a field command for acquisition will bring “unity of effort” in the development and acquisition of space capabilities for warfighters and “get people rolling in the right direction.”


Figure 9: The Space Force announced April 8. 2021, that the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) will be re-designated Space Systems Command (SSC), image credit: SMC

It’s not just a name change

- Thompson said the new command is not simply a re-labeling of existing activities done by SMC. As the organization in charge of space acquisitions, SSC will build on changes that SMC started two years ago in an effort known as SMC 2.0., he said. For example, SMC realigned program offices that operated in vertical organizations into a horizontal enterprise so there is more coordination and sharing of resources.

- “We really built a lot of momentum here on SMC 2.0 and we felt it was absolutely essential to be able to leverage that work going into the stand up of the Space Systems Command,” Thompson said.

- SMC has a three-star commander and a one-star deputy commander. The SSC also will have a three-star chief but a two-star deputy instead, who will have broader responsibilities for space launch activities.

- Thompson said the reorganization will not require adding more people as units are just being realigned. “This will be resource neutral,” he said.

- Two space procurement organizations that are not part of SMC — the Space Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency — will not be part of the SSC but will work closely with the new command, Thompson said.

- Under the plan, the commander of Space Systems Command has “limited administrative control” of Space RCO and SDA, he said.

- “What this means is that we will have a memorandum of understanding between the Space Systems Command commander and the leaders of those organizations for what support the Space Systems Command can provide to those organizations,” Thompson explained.

- “The commander of SSC is not going to get into the day-to-day nuts and bolts of what’s going on in the Space Development Agency or Space RCO portfolios,” said Thompson. The new command is “not going to “slow them down or inhibit their contractual awards in any way shape or form. We value the unique acquisition authorities and unique acquisition constructs of all of those organizations.”

- Thompson said he has already started discussion with the Space RCO on what administrative support it might need from SSC. The Space Development Agency by law has to move from the Defense Department to the Space Force by October 2022. How SSC would support SDA (Space Development Agency) has not yet been defined, said Thompson.

- The Space Development Agency, only in existence since 2019, has disrupted the military space business with plans to deploy a network of low-orbiting satellites by 2022 using commercial products from nontraditional suppliers. Thompson said what the agency has accomplished in “commercially enabled disruption is really remarkable. We like having them as teammates in this space acquisition ecosystem.”

- The SSC will have a “space systems architect” office overseeing next-generation designs and concepts, and also focus on outreach to the private sector.

- A new organization called SpaceWERX — formed recently under the Air Force technology accelerator AFWERX to work with space entrepreneurs and venture investors — will be under the SSC space systems architect.

- “They will continue to expand their mission, making our pitch day events, making our technology accelerators and our outreach to startups even more aggressive than we have in the past,” Thompson said.

- The SSC also will look at opportunities to buy “space as a service,” a catchphrase for the procurement of data or broadband connectivity from commercial providers.

- “I think you can envision a future where commercial services for space is expanded beyond the satellite communications enterprise and into things like weather or space domain awareness or even tactical ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],” Thompson said.

- As part of the proposed establishment of Space Systems Command, several units will be renamed or realigned:

a) The 61st Air Base Group at Los Angeles Air Force Base — which provides installation support — will become the Los Angeles Garrison.

b) The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, will be re-designated as Space Launch Delta 30.

c) The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, will be re-designated as Space Launch Delta 45.

d) Air Force Research Laboratory units that perform space science and technology functions will be under the administrative control of SSC but will remain aligned to AFRL. These units include Space Vehicles Directorate, Space Electro-Optics Division, Rocket Propulsion Division, and the Space Systems Technology Division.

e) The Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems Division that manages ground-based radars and missile warning systems will transfer from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to SSC.

f) The Space Force Commercial Satellite Communications Office is currently under SMC and will remain in the SSC.

• March 16, 2021: Gen. David Thompson: “The more we can depend on commercial space for routine activities like transportation and debris removal, the more we can focus on national security." - Vice Chief of Space Operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson said it would make sense for the government to pay companies to clean up space junk if such services existed. 17)

- Orbital debris represents a risk to spacecraft and to safe operations in space, Thompson said March 16 in an interview with national security analyst John Nagl, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

- “I’ll pay by the ton if they can remove debris,” Thompson said, noting that there are no companies that can do that today.

- Nagl said someone in the audience asked if Thompson has heard of Astroscale, a Japan-based company with operations in Denver, Colorado, that plans to launch a debris-removal mission later this week.


Figure 10: Artist rendering of Astroscale's End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d), image credit: Astroscale)

- Thompson said he was not aware of the company. “I’m going to have to go Google that,” he said.

- Regardless of which companies in the space industry end up successfully providing space junk cleaning services, the Space Force would be a customer, Thompson said.

- “The more we can depend on commercial space for routine activities like transportation and debris removal, the more we can focus on national security,” he said.

- Space debris includes human-made objects like nonfunctional spacecraft and abandoned launch vehicle stages, and fragments from the breakup of rocket bodies and spacecraft.

- The European Space Agency estimates there are 3,600 working satellites in orbit and 28,200 debris objects. More than 10,000 satellites are scheduled to launch to low Earth orbit over the next decade.

- Astroscale on Saturday will fly the first commercial mission to demonstrate space debris docking and removal technologies. The company will launch a satellite called End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration (ELSA-d) on a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

- The ELSA-d spacecraft has a a servicer and a client satellite that will be launched together. The servicer will use proximity rendezvous technologies to dock with the client satellite that will simulate a piece of debris.

1) ”U.S. Space Force Fact sheet,” USSF, 20 December 2019, URL:

2) ”United States Space Force History,” URL:

3) Sandra Erwin, ”Cape Canaveral, Patrick Air Force Base renamed as Space Force bases,” SpaceNews, 9 December 2020, URL:

4) ”United States Space Force,” Wikipedia, Accessed on 18 July 2021, URL:

5) Jeff Foust, ”Space Force backs development of commercial orbital debris removal systems,” SpaceNews, 15 September 2021, URL:

6) ”Space Systems Command declares three GPS III space vehicles “Available for Launch”,” SSC, 24 August 2021, URL:

7) Sandra Erwin, ”After negotiations, Space Development Agency was able to get reduced pricing for national security launch,” SpaceNews, 24 August 2021, URL:

8) Sandra Erwin, ”End of an era: Space and Missile Systems Center is now Space Systems Command,” SpaceNews, 13 August 2021, URL:

9) ”U.S. Space Force SMC awards ASTRA EO/IR mission to support US warfighter,” ASTRA, 28 July 2021, URL:

10) Sandra Erwin, ”DoD calls for broader dialogue on space rules of behavior,” SpaceNews, 26 July 2021, URL:

11) Sandra Erwin, ”United Kingdom a potential site for future U.S. space surveillance radar,” SpaceNews, 22 July 2021, URL:

12) ”Control of GPS III SV05 transferred to 2 SOPS,” GPS World, 7 July 2021, URL:

13) Sandra Erwin, ”Military building an appetite for commercial space services,” SpaceNews, 25 June 2021, URL:

14) ”FAA, Department of the Air Force sign commercial space agreement,” USSF News, 21 June 2021, URL:

15) ”U.S. Space Force successfully launches first tactically responsive launch mission,” USSF News, 13 June 2021, URL:

16) Sandra Erwin, ”Space Force to establish a new command to oversee technology development and acquisition,” SpaceNews, 8 April 2021, URL:

17) Sandra Erwin, ”U.S. Space Force would support commercial services to remove orbital debris,” SpaceNews, 16 March 2021, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

USSF News and Developments    References    Back to top