The airspace as we know it is expanding and now includes everything from drones to satellites. At any given moment on any given day, the U.S. Air Force is tracking more than 20,000 objects in space that are bigger than a softball. Last year alone, a team out of Vandenberg Air Force Base kept America and nations across the globe informed of more than 300,000 potential collisions in space.
According to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the Air Force has been at the forefront in information sharing since the beginning of the space age. Wilson said that as the interest in space expands around the globe, so does the need for a National Space Strategy with stronger international partnerships to deter potential adversaries and to marshal cooperative responses to any threat.
Raytheon IIS President, Dave Wajsgras agrees. At the 34th Space Symposium last month, Wajsgras had the opportunity to introduce Wilson at an audience of space leaders in the military, government, industry and academia. He emphasized the need for strong partnerships saying, “Together, we present a strong and united front against those who might challenge us.”
“Space is a contested domain,” according to Wajsgras. “Today we’re facing threats that we couldn’t have imagined only a few years ago. The collaboration of the people and organizations in this room are the same people and organizations that can and will collectively deter, defend and protect our nation, and our allies, against those threats.”
To help support that trend, Wilson pointed out that starting in 2019, the Air Force will expand the opportunities for allies and partners to participate in Air Force space training with two new courses at our National Security Space Institute, including one on space situational awareness, for partners and allies to learn more about collision avoidance, deorbits and reentries.
In addition, there are plans to open more of America’s current advanced courses on national security space to military members of allied countries. This increased education, along with sharing data from monitoring, will strengthen alliances and attract new partners who want to work to preserve the ability to freely and safely operate in space, according to Wilson.
The new National Space Strategy is designed to provide a framework and give guidance to protect our vital interests in space. The United States now has the policy, strategy and resources to aggressively develop more robust and resilient systems, Wilson shared. Smaller, cheaper satellites will cover a range of defense and civilian functions, and new services and capabilities from space will change industries, including farming, transportation, mining and others.
In the past, when the U.S. launched assets into orbit, which it has done both safely and reliably for decades, speed wasn’t a primary concern. The focus was on reliability. With the cost of launches going down, this is changing. Potential adversaries may innovate and modernize faster than the United States, Wilson told the audience at Space Symposium. “We need to expand our thinking to include threats to space systems, and the Administration’s FY19 is accelerating spending in that area.” This will allow for satellites to be more resilient, and defendable, with jam resistant GPS and Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellites.
Wilson shared that she and the Air Force are focused on rapid innovation. To help with that, the Air Force will change the Pentagon rules on how the service buys things so that speed is possible. The Air Force also will drive change in the way it works with American companies, as well as its most innovative engineers and scientists. For example, a $100M Space Enterprise Consortium was set up in January to engage innovative suppliers for space systems, and recently the consortium awarded its first two contracts to rapidly develop prototype microsatellites and send them to geostationary orbit.
Much like it does today, the U.S. Air Force has been at the forefront of weather forecasting, detecting missile launches, fixing communications and monitoring treaty compliance, among other activities in space, for more than 50 years. With the advent of faster procurement, stronger partnerships with companies and other countries, and a push for innovation, the possibilities going forward are boundless.