The United States Space Force is a branch of the United States Armed Forces that was officially established on December 20, 2019, when President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 into law.
Many assume the Space Force is a relatively new concept. In fact, its roots can be traced back to the 1940s, with the first Army Air Forces space programs starting in 1945. Military space forces were organized under several different Air Force commands until they were unified with the establishment of Air Force Space Command in 1982.
U.S. space forces began conducting combat support operations in the Vietnam War and continued providing satellite communications, weather, and navigation support during many subsequent military campaigns.
Several factors that led to the establishment of the Space Force:
- Recognition that the United States’ military and intelligence capabilities heavily relied on space-based assets, including satellites for communication, reconnaissance, and navigation.
- Concern that other nations were developing sophisticated anti-satellite capabilities that could threaten U.S. interests in space.
- Acknowledgment of the need to streamline and improve the U.S. government’s space-related activities, which were previously spread across multiple agencies, including the Department of Defense, NASA, and the National Reconnaissance Office.
Today, the United States Space Force and the United States Air Force are co-equal sister service branches under the United States Department of the Air Force, a civilian-led military department under the Department of Defense.
The Space Force’s mission is to organize, train, and equip military personnel to conduct space operations and “provide freedom of operation for the United States in, from, and to space.” The Space Force is responsible for maintaining the United States’ military and intelligence capabilities in space and protecting U.S. and allied interests in space.
As of January 2023, the Space Force had approximately 8,600 active-duty military personnel and a small number of civilian employees. The Space Force is still building its workforce and is expected to grow over the next several years.
The Space Force is led by a Chief of Space Operations, who serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and reports directly to the Secretary of the Air Force.
The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado is the premier undergraduate commissioning source for the Space Force.
The Space Force is headquartered at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and operates six primary bases (in Colorado, California, and Florida), seven smaller stations, and one air base in Greenland. In December 2020, Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were the first Space Force installations renamed, becoming Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Over time, the remaining Air Force facilities were renamed.
- After a yearlong process that produced hundreds of submissions and research involving space professionals and members of the general public, a name was chosen for the members of the USSF: Guardians. While it may appear to be a play on the Marvel superhero film “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Guardians is a name with a long history in space operations, tracing back to the original command motto of Air Force Space Command in 1983, “Guardians of the High Frontier.”
- The USSF’s motto, “Semper supra,” is Latin for “Always above,” a phrase that encapsulates the Space Force’s mission.
- In 2022 their official anthem, the “Semper Supra” march, was unveiled.
- The Space Force has a canine corps, which includes military working dogs trained to support Space Force security forces in protecting launch and landing sites.
Overall, the Space Force is a relatively new organization still building its capabilities and workforce. However, the Space Force will play an increasingly important role in the United States’ military and intelligence operations in space. In a future article, we’ll be digging into some of the USSF projects currently underway to protect U.S. and allied interests in space.