NASA, Space Force Sign MOU For Future Collaboration

NASA, Space Force Sign MOU For Future Collaboration

NASA and the U.S. Space Force have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining areas where the two agencies will collaborate. Created 9 months ago, the Space Force is in the process of standing up its organization and cementing relationships with U.S. and allied partners. The MOU replaces one signed in 2006 between the Air Force and NASA and has a strong focus on synergies between NASA’s planetary defense and Space Force’s Space Domain Awareness responsibilities.

During an event sponsored by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies this morning, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Space Force Chief of Space Operations (CSO) Gen. Jay Raymond stressed that the two agencies have different mission sets, but also areas of common interest.

The new MOU lists 11 areas of partnership.

NASA and DOD have collaborated throughout the Space Age. What is changing now is growing threats in space from Russia and China, which led to last year’s creation of Space Force and reestablishment of U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) after a 17 year hiatus, and NASA’s efforts to expand human presence to the Moon and Mars.

The realm beyond the highest Earth orbiting satellites in the geosynchronous belt at 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) altitude historically has been for scientific probes, and briefly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Apollo lunar landings. But that is changing. The Space Force’s recently released Space Doctrine has an expansive view of its dominion.  Its mandate is to organize, train and equip personnel to support USSPACECOM, one of the 11 unified combatant commands in charge of warfighting. USSPACECOM’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) begins at 100 kilometers altitude above mean sea level and extends indefinitely beyond.

As NASA and its commercial partners move out into cislunar space, the Moon and someday Mars, Space Force and USSPACECOM will be right there with them as Bridenstine expressed today.

I think this is a unique time in American history where we can go sustainably to the Moon. I will tell you that given the challenges that exist in space, it is necessary to have security. And that’s why it is so important for NASA to work side by side with the Space Force.  — Jim Bridenstine

Raymond agreed this is a “defining time in the United States, especially as it relates to space” and there should be “an expansive push for American leadership in all sectors” — national security, civil, and commercial.  “Our nation is strongest when all of those sectors are leading the way.”

One focus of the NASA/Space Force collaboration is keeping track of everything that is happening in Earth orbit and beyond. Space Force and USSPACECOM track satellites and space debris in Earth orbit as part of their Space Domain Awareness (SDA) task.  NASA is responsible for planetary defense, detecting and tracking Near Earth Objects (NEOs) — asteroids and comets — that might impact Earth. They are both looking in the same expanse.

NASA already has incorporated algorithms into a Space Force space surveillance telescope in Australia to help in its NEO search. Bridenstine and Raymond see that as just the beginning. The 5-page MOU devotes two paragraphs to planetary defense/SDA collaboration especially in developing and sharing technologies.

There is a considerable overlap between the technologies required to enable NEO detection and for SDA beyond geosynchronous orbit. … While the Parties’ domains, missions, and operational cadence remain distinct and different, the benefits of shared technologies and observational data are of increasing interest to both communities.  — NASA/USSF Memorandum of Understanding

The MOU does not involve any obligation of funds or personnel. Each party is responsible for its own expenses.

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