What Is the Space Force? Exploring America’s Newest Military Branch

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In an era where the final frontier beckons more than ever, the establishment of the Space Force marks a significant milestone in the annals of military and space exploration history. As the newest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, it stands at the forefront of safeguarding America’s interests in the vast expanse beyond our planet. With a mission as boundless as space itself, understanding what the Space Force truly entails captures the imagination and curiosity of many.

The Space Force’s creation reflects a growing recognition of space as a critical domain for national security, akin to land, air, and sea. It’s tasked with protecting the country’s satellites and communication systems, which are indispensable for navigation, weather forecasting, and global communications. The agency’s role in ensuring the U.S. maintains technological and strategic advantages in space cannot be understated. As readers delve into the origins, mission, and future aspirations of the Space Force, they’ll uncover the profound implications this has for both national defense and humanity’s destiny among the stars.

Origins of the Space Force

Historical Context and Space Race Legacy

The Space Force’s origins trace back to the Cold War era, marked by the intense space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. This period saw monumental achievements in space exploration, including the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 and the historic Apollo moon landing by the US in 1969. These events not only showcased the technological prowess of both nations but also highlighted the strategic importance of space in national security and global power dynamics. The rivalry accelerated space technologies and set the foundation for military and civilian applications of space-based assets. As satellites and space technology became integral to navigation, communication, and reconnaissance, the need for a dedicated military branch to protect and advance US interests in space became evident. The legacy of the space race underscored space as a critical domain, leading to the eventual creation of the Space Force.

Establishment and Foundational Goals

The United States Space Force was officially established on December 20, 2019, as the sixth and newest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, marking a significant milestone in the country’s military history. Its creation responded to the growing recognition of space as a vital national security domain that requires dedicated oversight and resources. The foundational goals of the Space Force include organizing, training, and equipping space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space; ensuring American freedom of operation in space; and providing space capabilities to the joint force. Its mission encompasses a range of activities such as satellite protection, missile warning systems, space surveillance, and deployment of space-based navigation and communication systems. By focusing on these objectives, the Space Force aims to maintain and extend U.S. technological and strategic advantages in space, ensuring the country’s position as a leader in space exploration and security.

Mission and Objectives of the Space Force

The Space Force plays a crucial role in protecting and advancing America’s strategic interests in the final frontier. Its missions and objectives are tailored to ensure that the United States remains a dominant power in outer space, thereby securing its assets and operations from potential threats. Focusing on vital areas such as satellite defense, communications security, and the support of both military and civilian operations, the Space Force aims to maintain a secure and accessible space environment.

Defending Satellites and Communications

A primary mission of the Space Force is to defend the United States’ satellite systems, which are integral to national security, global communications, and navigation. Satellites support a wide array of operations, from military communications and surveillance to civilian applications like weather monitoring and GPS services. The Space Force implements advanced technologies and strategies to shield these crucial assets from interference, espionage, and physical attacks. This defense mechanism ensures uninterrupted satellite services, critical for the operational effectiveness of the military and the everyday lives of civilians.

Supporting Military and Civilian Operations

The Space Force extends its support well beyond the realm of traditional defense, playing a vital role in enhancing the capabilities of both military and civilian operations. For military endeavors, it provides critical information for navigation, targeting, and intelligence through its space-based assets. This support is essential for precision in warfare, situational awareness, and strategic planning. Additionally, the Space Force contributes to civilian operations by facilitating disaster response and recovery efforts, improving communications infrastructure, and advancing scientific research. By bolstering both military and civilian activities, the Space Force ensures that the United States leverages its space capabilities to the fullest extent, promoting national security, innovation, and global leadership.

Structure and Components

Following the establishment of the Space Force to safeguard American interests in space, understanding its organizational structure and the components that form its backbone is essential. This section delves into the Space Force’s structural framework and its key divisions, shedding light on how each contributes to fulfilling the branch’s overarching objectives.

Organizational Framework

The organizational framework of the Space Force is designed to ensure flexibility, rapid response capabilities, and innovative approaches to space operations. At its core, the Space Force operates under the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps functions within the Department of the Navy. This structure allows for a streamlined command chain, from the President through the Secretary of Defense and then to the Secretary of the Air Force, who has overall responsibility for the Space Force.

The leadership hierarchy includes the Chief of Space Operations (CSO), who serves as the senior military member of the Space Force. Directly assisting the CSO is the Vice Chief of Space Operations and the Space Staff, tasked with policy development, planning, and the execution of the Space Force’s mission. Below this level, the Space Operations Command, Space Systems Command, and Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM) are pivotal in operationalizing the Space Force’s strategic goals.

Key Divisions and Assignments

The Space Force’s functionality is distributed among several key divisions, each with specific assignments that contribute to its mission:

  • Space Operations Command (SpOC): SpOC is responsible for the operational employment of space capabilities, including satellite communications, missile warnings, and space surveillance. This division ensures that space operations support national security objectives, military operations, and allied forces.
  • Space Systems Command (SSC): SSC oversees the development, acquisition, and sustainment of space systems and technologies. From advanced satellite communication systems to space sensors and vehicles, SSC’s role is crucial in maintaining the technological edge necessary for space superiority.
  • Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM): STARCOM’s focus is on the training and readiness of Space Force personnel. This command develops doctrine, educates space professionals, and conducts exercises to ensure the force is prepared to operate and succeed in the challenging space domain.

Each division within the Space Force has distinct assignments, yet they operate cohesively to protect U.S. interests in space. From pioneering technologies in SSC to conducting sophisticated space operations in SpOC and ensuring the readiness of space professionals in STARCOM, the Space Force’s structure and components are meticulously fashioned to realize its vision of dominance in space.

Training and Recruitment

The Space Force, with its mission to protect U.S. interests in space, requires a highly skilled and dedicated team. Training and recruitment processes are designed to build this team, focusing on rigorous criteria for enlistment and comprehensive educational and skill development programs.

Criteria for Enlistment

For enlistment into the Space Force, candidates must meet specific, stringent criteria that ensure only the most suitable individuals join the ranks. First, candidates must be U.S. citizens and have a high school diploma or equivalent. They undergo a thorough background check, including a review of their criminal history and financial status, to maintain the integrity and trustworthiness of the force. A medical examination confirms their physical fitness and capability to withstand the demands of space-related duties. Additionally, candidates must achieve a qualifying score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a test that assesses a candidate’s suitability for various military occupations. These criteria ensure that the Space Force is composed of individuals who are not only physically and intellectually capable but also embody the values and integrity expected of service members.

Educational and Skill Development Programs

The Space Force places a significant emphasis on the ongoing education and skill development of its personnel. Upon enlistment, members enter an initial training phase, Basic Military Training (BMT), where they learn the fundamentals of military service and acquire the physical and psychological resilience required for their roles. Following BMT, they proceed to technical training to specialize in specific space-related fields, such as satellite operations, space surveillance, and cyber defense.

To stay at the forefront of space technology and operations, the Space Force offers advanced educational opportunities through partnerships with universities and technical institutions. These include degree programs and specialized training in areas critical to space operations and security. Moreover, Space Force members have access to continuous professional development courses that ensure they remain proficient in their current roles and are prepared for future advancements in space technology and exploration. This emphasis on education and training ensures that the Space Force maintains a highly skilled, knowledgeable workforce capable of protecting U.S. interests in the rapidly evolving domain of space.

Technology and Assets

Satellites and Spacecraft

The Space Force operates a sophisticated array of satellites and spacecraft, critical for tasks ranging from communication, navigation, and surveillance to missile warning systems. These assets enable the United States to maintain a strategic advantage in space. Key satellites include the Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides critical navigation data to military and civilian users worldwide, and the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites that monitor the geosynchronous orbit, a valuable band of space frequented by communication, weather, and surveillance satellites. The Space Force’s focus extends to developing and deploying resilient and advanced spacecraft, such as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, an unmanned spaceplane that supports space experimentation and technology development missions.

Ground-Based Infrastructure and Defense Systems

The Space Force’s capabilities are not limited to spaceborne assets; they include extensive ground-based infrastructure and defense systems that play a pivotal role in space operations and the protection of space assets. This infrastructure includes a global network of radar, telescopes, and satellite control stations that monitor space activity, identify potential threats to U.S. and allied satellites, and provide precise tracking data essential for satellite operation. Earth-bound defense systems, such as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, contribute to the deterrence and defense against ballistic missiles, showcasing the Space Force’s commitment to ensuring the safety and security of the nation’s space assets. These ground-based systems, coupled with spaceborne technologies, form a comprehensive approach to space defense, underscoring the Space Force’s readiness to counter space-related threats.

Criticism and Controversy

Public Perception and Media Portrayal

Public perception of the Space Force often reflects a divergence of opinion, exacerbated by its portrayal in media. On one hand, its establishment has been lauded by proponents as a necessary step for national security and maintaining technological supremacy in space. On the other hand, skeptics question its redundancy, given that the Air Force already covered many of its intended roles prior to its inception. Media portrayal varies significantly, from serious discussions on its strategic importance to satirical takes that criticize its cost and perceived lack of clear mission. Notably, the Netflix series “Space Force” contributed to its cultural perception, often focusing on humorous aspects rather than its strategic objectives. This dichotomy in perception challenges the Space Force’s efforts to establish a distinguished and respected identity separate from its entertainment depictions.

Debate Over Funding and Necessity

The debate over the Space Force’s funding and necessity centers on two main issues: budget allocation and its overlap with existing military branches. Critics argue that the billions of dollars allocated to the Space Force could be better spent on terrestrial military needs or other critical areas such as education and healthcare. For fiscal year 2021, the Space Force requested a budget of $15.4 billion, a significant investment in space operations and infrastructure. Detractors also contend that the Space Force’s duties substantially overlap with those of the Air Force Space Command, raising concerns about redundancy and inefficient use of resources. Furthermore, the argument extends to whether a separate military branch is needed to accomplish the United States’ space objectives, or if existing structures could be adapted to meet these goals more cost-effectively. These debates continue to shape discussions on the future and efficacy of the Space Force in achieving its missions while navigating fiscal and operational challenges.

Role in National Security

The Space Force plays a pivotal role in enhancing national security by protecting the United States’ interests and assets in space. This section delves into the strategic importance of collaboration with other military branches and addresses the future challenges and strategies that are crucial for the Space Force’s success in safeguarding American space dominance.

Collaboration with Other Military Branches

The Space Force’s integration with other branches of the U.S. military is essential for a unified defense strategy. It works closely with the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines to ensure a cohesive approach to national security. This collaboration involves sharing intelligence, coordinating satellite operations, and enhancing cyber defense capabilities. For example, the Space Force and the Air Force collaborate extensively in areas like missile warning, navigation, and global surveillance to ensure the seamless operation of satellite communications essential for military operations. The partnership between the Space Force and other branches strengthens the U.S. military’s ability to respond to threats, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.

Future Challenges and Strategies

Facing the future, the Space Force must navigate a rapidly evolving space domain marked by increasing militarization and competition. One of the primary challenges is the threat posed by adversarial nations developing anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities that can disrupt or destroy U.S. satellites, critical for communication, navigation, and surveillance. To counter these threats, the Space Force is investing in resilient satellite networks, such as proliferated low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations, which enhance redundancy and reduce vulnerability. Additionally, the Space Force is focusing on the development of advanced space situational awareness (SSA) tools to better monitor space activities and identify potential threats.

Cybersecurity is another area of concern, with the Space Force working to protect the digital backbone of U.S. space operations from cyber attacks. Strategies include strengthening cybersecurity protocols and collaborating with the private sector and allies to bolster collective space cyber defenses. Partnership with commercial space companies and international allies is also a strategy, enhancing innovation, resource sharing, and setting norms and guidelines for responsible behavior in space.

The Space Force’s role in national security is multifaceted, involving not only protection of space assets but also collaboration with other military branches and anticipation of future challenges. By embracing advanced technologies, fostering partnerships, and developing strategic defense initiatives, the Space Force aims to maintain and extend U.S. dominance in the final frontier.


The Space Force stands as a pivotal arm of the U.S. military, dedicated to ensuring the nation’s interests and security in the rapidly evolving domain of space. Through its comprehensive training programs, cutting-edge technology, and strategic collaborations, it’s poised to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. By safeguarding satellites and enhancing space surveillance, the Space Force ensures the U.S. remains at the forefront of space exploration and security. Its commitment to innovation, combined with its collaborative efforts with other military branches and international partners, underscores the importance of a unified approach in maintaining global leadership in space. As threats in space continue to evolve, the Space Force’s proactive strategies in satellite protection, cybersecurity, and space situational awareness will be crucial in securing a safe and dominant position for the U.S. in the final frontier.


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