Space Force? Space Corps? Space Guard? Experts study ways to patrol final frontier


Workers in protective suits check out the Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle after its touchdown at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in May 2017. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

(This article first appeared on June 1, 2018)

Two months after President Donald Trump said the United States may create a new military branch to focus on national security space activities, Politico is reporting that CNA Corp., a federally funded research and development center, is studying ways to make it so.

But will it be a separate Space Force, like the Air Force? A Space Corps, like the Marine Corps (which is overseen by the Department of the Navy)? Or something else?

George Nield, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial space transportation office, leans toward the idea of a hybrid civilian/military Space Guard, analogous to the Coast Guard.

During peacetime, the Space Guard could monitor safety issues related to commercial space activities. But during wartime, it would be integrated under the Department of Defense. Such an arrangement would fill a gap in policing the final frontier, Nield said.

“There is, today, no single department or agency that is charged with holistically managing U.S. interests in space,” he said last weekend at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference.

Others on the ISDC panel advocated for a Space Corps — which could be set up under the Air Force’s administrative umbrella, following the Navy-Marine model.

“If I were to wave my magic wand, it would be something like an international police force of some sort, and a U.S. military Space Corps,” said Michael Laine, a former Marine who is currently president and chief strategic officer for the LiftPort Group in Tacoma, Wash. “I think there’s almost no way to not have an international policing-style organization, but for U.S. national interests I think that the Space Corps must be out there, in a military perspective, guarding U.S. interests.”

For many years, U.S. military officials have warned about the potential for a “space Pearl Harbor” that would start with an attack on orbiting satellites. Responsibility for national security in space has traditionally lain with the Air Force, but the Trump administration and its National Space Council have elevated concerns about space security.

Air Force officials have voiced reservations about creating a Space Corps, saying it would introduce more bureaucracy without improving national security.

The Pentagon is scheduled to deliver an updated report on its approach to space security to Congress by Aug. 1. A final report, including recommendations for legislation, is due by the end of the year.

For more about the issue, check out Space News’ report — and for the lighter side, check out this YouTube video from Schmoyoho.

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GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle is an award-winning science writer and veteran space reporter. Formerly of, he is the author of “The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference.” Follow him via, on Twitter @b0yle, and on Facebook and MeWe.

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