Scientists, generals, policy experts ponder future role of Space Force

Chief scientist Joel Mozer: ‘We are trying to anticipate what’s coming and prepare for an uncertain future’

WASHINGTON — A group of senior military leaders, scientists and other space professionals met this week in Colorado Springs to discuss the future of the U.S. Space Force.

“We are trying to anticipate what’s coming and prepare for an uncertain future,” said Joel Mozer, chief scientist of the Space Operations Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

The command hosted a three-day  “U.S. Space Force Space Futures Workshop” that wraps up on Friday.

In an interview with SpaceNews, Mozer said Space Force leaders face tough questions and decisions about how the service will position itself to protect U.S. space assets and support what could become a booming civilian space economy. 

The workshop set a 2040 time horizon, Mozer said. The participants offered different views on how future government policies and industry investments could impact the nation’s role as a space power, and how the military would fit in the picture. 

The Air Force Space Command hosted a similar workshop in 2018 that looked at 2060 scenarios. The findings were published in a report released in September 2019. 

Mozer said he expects a report on this year’s workshop to be out in a few months. 

The language in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that established the  Space Force makes it clear that the role of the military space branch it to defend U.S. assets in space and provide satellite-based services to U.S. armed forces and allies. 

By 2040 the nation is likely to be dealing with a much more congested space environment as NASA, commercial players and more countries expand activities in Earth’s orbit and beyond, said Mozer. 

That could have significant implications for the Space Force, he said. “Over the next 20 years there’s potentially a bigger strategic purpose for the Space Force, perhaps to support all elements of national power, not just the military.”

“If we believe the predictions that there will be lots of activity, the diplomatic and economic elements of national power will be just as important as the military,” said Mozer. For the Space Force, that could entail a “bigger strategic role than just preparing for war fighting.”

Victoria Coleman, chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force, participated in the workshop. One of her takeaways is that the Space Force may have to rethink how it works with the private sector.

The expected growth of the space economy and what that could mean for national security “moves the conversation to a different level,” Coleman said. The Space Force would have to decide, for example, what its role would be providing security for space commerce, and whether it should be involved in incentivizing development and innovation. 

Mozer said workshop participants see a future where the United States will be challenged by other countries seeking to develop space and exploit is resources. “Is the Space Force going to have to make sure our strategic competitors don’t beat us?” Mozer asked. 

One of the conclusions of the workshop, he said, is that “we have to pay attention to war fighting but we also have to pay attention to our larger strategic purpose.”

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