Tapping Elon Musk's SpaceX to launch some of its satellites is only the beginning in a larger top-to-bottom rethink of the way the U.S. Air Force approaches its operations in space. Air Force officials want to move faster when addressing emerging threats and future missions in orbit, and it's increasingly looking to start-ups to address a deepening sense that America's dominance in space is eroding.
The goal: to protect our satellites and spacecraft from cyberwarfare and missile attack. This is critical, since space weapons could be used to compromise navigation, surveillance, communications and other functions in wartime or during a national emergency.
The shift comes as the space domain is already receiving increased attention from lawmakers and the Department of Defense and, in the years ahead, likely more defense dollars as well. The Pentagon's Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center — known by the unwieldy acronym JICSPOC — was recently rebranded the National Space Defense Center, and under pressure from Congress, the Air Force this month created a new position for a three-star general that will serve as a kind of space czar, advising the Air Force Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
That general will "come to work every day focused on this: making sure we can organize, train and equip our forces to meet the challenges in this domain," Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, said last week at the National Space Symposium in Colorado.