Since the 80’s the United States has been relying on the Air Force led Space Operations Command to assist in their various missions. The use of spacecraft, including satellites, for everything from weather to communication and surveillance, proved to be invaluable in achieving success in many of the country’s most important missions. During 2019 and 2020, the Department of the United States Air Force re-designated SPACECOM to become Space Force, which made the transition to become its own official military branch.
Although Space Force still works closely with the Air Force, it is a civilian led military department. As of 2019, there are 16,000 members in Space Force and only about half of these are military members. These military members were pulled from SPACECOM and other existing and related Air Force career fields, some were mandatory transfers and some were admitted through an open call for applicants. Other branches of the military will be allowed to apply to transfer to Space Force via another open call in the near future.
Since gaining independence as its own branch, Space Force has been rapidly establishing change and pushing forward new ideas and technologies. Currently, a select number of Air Force bases are in the process of being designated as Space Force bases. Space Force also absorbed almost 80 of SPACECOM’s wide range of spacecraft. The spacecraft now overseen by Space Force include the Boeing X-37B, the Orbital Test Vehicle. The OTV is a reusable robotic spacecraft capable of returning to Earth and landing as a space plane, its first orbital mission was completed in 2010. Another inherited system is the Space Fence, which is a space surveillance system that uses radar to make 1.5 million observations per day in order to track satellites and space debris. In addition to protecting U.S. satellites, Space Force also oversees the National Missile Defense system which protects the U.S. from ballistic missiles.
Many of these technologies currently overseen and utilized by Space Force were created in cooperation with military and civilian entities. Space Force uses essentially the same format for soliciting and accelerating innovation within their branch as the Air Force through a program called SpaceWERX. Although Space Force is now its own branch separate from the Air Force, SpaceWERX is a component of AFWERX and the Air Force Research Lab. It’s business as usual for those interested in taking part in Space Force technologies and innovation initiatives as they would for the Air Force.
Much like AFWERX, SpaceWERX has Space Ventures, Space Spark, and Space Prime. These different programs are respectively responsible for early stage investments in military technology, facilitating collider and challenge events, and accelerating the transition of civilian technologies to be used by Space Force. Space Prime’s initial effort is Orbital Prime, which will focus on technologies used for preserving a sustainable space environment as man-made debris creates congestion and threatens the use of the space domain. Their goal is to have an on-orbit demonstration of this technology by 2024.
ForwardWERX and the CTC are local lines of effort working to connect local small businesses and researchers to bigger opportunities including those offered by Space Force and SpaceWERX. To see if your ideas are a potential fit for SpaceWERX reach out to us at .
To learn more about Space Force and SpaceWERX follow the links below.