New missile defense plans depend upon the success or failure of one thing: a new layer of space-based sensors.
The Trump administration released a new presidential memorandum on August 20, 2019, that details its new policy on the “Launch of Spacecraft Containing Space Nuclear Systems.” From the title, some may assume this policy concerns the placement of nuclear weapons in space, which would violate the Outer Space Treaty, but in fact, it is a move to restructure how the U.S. government regulates and approves space-based nuclear power systems—particularly nuclear propulsion systems.
Space Threat Assessment 2019 reviews the open-source information available on the counterspace capabilities that can threaten U.S. space systems. The report is intended to raise awareness and understanding of the threats, debunk myths and misinformation, and highlight areas in which senior leaders and policymakers should focus their attention.
This report analyzes ground-based space launches from 1957 to 2018, including brief histories of all active and inactive orbital spaceports, 10 year launch records for the 22 spaceports still in use today, and the current status of several proposals to create new facilities capable of supporting orbital space launches.
As the administration moves forward with establishing a new military service focused on space, leaders should keep their language clear and use this opportunity to educate the public about both civil and national security space. Keeping NASA and the Space Force separate rhetorically and organizationally is best for national security and for space exploration.
Although the Trump administration has not yet released its Missile Defense Review, as mandated by Congress, it is considering the possible deployment of space-based interceptors. At a time of growing budgetary pressures as well as increased competition with other great powers, the United States can ill afford to waste precious dollars on space-based missile defenses and a new arms race that will make us less, rather than more, secure.
The proposed creation of a new military service for space, known as the Space Force, is likely to be a hotly debated issue in the FY 2020 legislative cycle. This brief provides rough estimates for the number of military and civilian personnel, the number and locations of bases, the budget lines that would transfer to the new organization, and the additional personnel and headquarters organization that would be needed for the new military service.
Space capabilities are already an indispensable component of U.S. military power, and the threats posed to U.S. space systems by China, Russia, and others are growing by the day. A Space Force is needed to consolidate authority and responsibility for national security space in a single chain of command; to build a robust cadre of space professionals who can develop space-centric strategy and doctrine; and to avoid the conflicts of interest inherent in the other Services that have short-changed space programs for decades.