contributed by Sylvia Trein
The United States Space Force was created on December 20th, 2019. Just as the fifth independent military branch—the Air Force—was born from the Army in 1947, the Space Force was designed to serve an advancing technological frontier of warfare. What is the US Space Force? Quite simply, a space branch of the military.
The Space Force may be the first US space military branch, but it’s not the first time US forces have directed their attention toward space as a battlefield. Previously, the US Space Command (often called SPACECOM or USSPACECOM) was inaugurated in 1985 by the Department of Defense as a unified combatant command, joining and coordinating various service components. It was dissolved in 2002, but relaunched in 2019, now including this new, sixth military branch.
The US and China are currently the only two countries with an independent space force, but many other countries—including Russia, India, Japan, France, Iran, the UK, and others—have either an air-and-space force or a type of national space command.
Here, we cover the purpose of Space Force, its structure, its reception, and other vital facts you may not know about this new military branch.
The Space Force branch of the military is tasked with defense of US and allied interests in orbit around the Earth. In practice, this means the defense of satellites and their ground stations. Since these satellites and their crews make communication, navigation, and missile detection possible, these important operations fall under Space Force responsibilities.
Space Force mission objectives also include providing tactical support to combat units on the ground or in the water or air via surveillance and geopositioning data—all while interfering with their adversaries’ advantages of the same kind.
Lastly, the Space Force addresses the occasional problem of “space junk,” damaged or decommissioned equipment that could present a threat to working satellites or even NASA astronauts.
(Read more about the purpose of the other five military branches here.)
The Space Force Logo is a delta, which the branch explained has been used since 1961 in space organizations. In the middle is a four-pointed star. A version of this logo is used as insignia for each of the Space Force enlisted ranks.
Space Force officer ranks will sound familiar, as the higher ranks mirror those of other military branches. More junior ranks include Specialists and Non-Commissioned or Senior Non-Commissioned Officers, along with Company Grade, Field Grade, and General Officers. Space Force rank then increases from Second Lieutenant all the way to General, with ranks for Captains, Majors, and Colonels along the way.
The highest rank in Space Force is the Chief of Space Operations (CSO), who advises the Secretary of the Air Force and is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The CSO is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. The first CSO of the Space Force was General John W. Raymond, who took office on the first day of the branch’s creation. He was succeeded on November 2nd, 2022, by General B. Chance Saltzman.
Directly under the CSO is the Vice Chief of Space Operations, and then, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force.
The Space Force was first staffed by transferred Air Force personnel, but quickly garnered much interest from other service members as well as civilians. The smallest military branch, it is comprised of about 16,000 members. It is on track to be the most gender-balanced of the military branches, thanks to policies and benefits of interest and advantage to female service members. In 2021, the first Air Force Academy cadets were commissioned directly into the Space Force.
Upon its one-year anniversary, the Space Force announced that its personnel would be known as Guardians. In 2022, it also revealed its official anthem, “Semper Supra,” Latin for “Always Above” (the Space Force’s motto).
When the Space Force was first announced, there was some public confusion over its relationship to NASA. Though a federal agency, NASA is not a branch of the military, and its goals are vastly different. As a civil space program, it is focused on space and aeronautics research, expanding our knowledge of the universe and everything in it through a scientific lens.
In contrast, the purpose of the Space Force is defense and military operations. In response to our wider frontiers and rapidly advancing technology, the US Space Force is our newest adaptation to evolving defense needs as humans reach farther than ever into space.
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