WASHINGTON — The SpaceX launch of Starlink satellites scheduled for Jan. 6 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Florida Space Coast will be the first launch of 2020 and also the 45th Space Wing’s inaugural launch as part of the U.S. Space Force.
The 45th Space Wing, headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., oversees the preparation and launching of U.S. government and commercial satellites from Cape Canaveral and operates the Eastern Range. It is one of five Air Force space wings that have been assigned to the U.S. Space Force effective Dec. 20, when President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act that created the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.
“I’m excited for the 45th Space Wing to be a part of the U.S. Space Force,” wing commander Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess said in a statement Jan. 3.
The 45th Space Wing will continue to do what it has been doing and the transition to the Space Force will not change that, Schiess said.
The details of how the U.S. Space Force will be structured and staffed will take at least 18 months to sort out. For now the Space Force will be composed of uniformed and civilian personnel who worked under the Air Force Space Command. AFSPC personnel have been assigned to the Space Force but still remain airmen within the U.S. Air Force. Over the next year, the Air Force will figure out a process to allow service members to leave the Air Force and officially transfer into the Space Force.
There are about 16,000 Air Force personnel that support the five space wings and are now part of the new branch. Besides the 45th Space Wing in Florida is the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force, Colorado; the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado; and the 460th Space Wing at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.
The organization that oversees the five wings — the 14th Air Force, headquartered at Vandenberg — on Dec. 27 was renamed Space Operations Command. Maj. Gen. John Shaw, former commander of the 14th Air Force, is now the commander of the Space Operations Command, or SpOC.
“The effects the new Space Force will have on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base has not been announced yet, but continuing to successfully accomplish the mission without interruption is our top priority,” Schiess said.
Space Force report due to Congress
The NDAA directs the secretary of the Air Force to submit by February 1 a report on how the Space Force will be organized and its anticipated funding requirements.
The details are being hashed out by a team known as Task Force Tang-O (a play on American astronauts’ preferred beverage in space). DoD sources told SpaceNews that the report that is being prepared for Congress will lay out a proposed structure but that some pieces of the puzzle will be missing until a year or 18 months from now.
The acting chief of the Space Force, Air Force Gen. John Raymond, told reporters Dec. 20 that there are still “thousands of actions will have to take place” over the coming months and years. “The uniforms, the patch, the song, the culture of a service, that work will continue,” Raymond said. “We’re not going to be in a rush. That’s not something that we’re going to roll out on day one.”
Raymond, who is commander of U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, is overseeing the Task Force Tang-O from Colorado Springs. He is working in coordination with a team at the Pentagon, led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier.
A DoD source said one of the central questions being debated by Tang-O is whether the Space Force should follow the traditional Air Force structure or should be something completely different. The way the Air Force organizes its headquarters staff and field units was tailored for aviation, and some argue that it doesn’t fit space operations that are mostly conducted in garrison.
Briefing slides prepared by the Tang-O group in June proposed organizing the Space Force into a Space Operations Command and a Space Force Materiel Command. The latter would bring under a unified command the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Development Agency and other space-focused laboratories such as the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.
The team also suggested standing up a Space Training and Readiness Command. But bringing these ideas to fruition depends on how many “billets” (military-speak for specific positions or assignments) the Air Force turns over to the Space Force. In the NDAA Congress did not authorize the hiring of new people for the space branch.