When President Trump announced plans for a Space Force, it triggered a legal debate on the justification for such a force. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — The status of proposals to create a separate branch of the U.S. military devoted to space will be the subject of the next meeting of the National Space Council on Oct. 23.

Vice President Mike Pence, in an Oct. 12 tweet, said that the interagency group will discuss “progress made and next steps” on the formation of a Space Force, a plan formally announced by President Trump at the council’s last meeting in June

The president “has rightly called for the creation of a 6th branch of the Armed Forces to advance US dominance in space,” Pence wrote. “#SpaceForce is an idea whose time has come. On 10/23, the National Space Council will meet [at National Defense University] to discuss progress made & next steps to implement POTUS’ vision.”

.@POTUS has rightly called for the creation of a 6th branch of the Armed Forces to advance US dominance in space. #SpaceForce is an idea whose time has come. On 10/23, the National Space Council will meet @NDU_EDU to discuss progress made & next steps to implement POTUS’ vision.

— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 12, 2018

In an interview after a panel discussion Oct. 15 at the ScienceWriters 2018 conference here, Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, confirmed that the status of planning for the Space Force will be the main focus of the meeting.

“It’s mostly going to be about the Space Force,” he said of the upcoming meeting. More details about the meeting will come soon, he added.

The meeting will be the fourth public meeting of the council since it was formally reestablished by President Trump in a June 2017 executive order. The council held its first public meeting in October 2017 at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington and the second in February at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It was at the third public meeting, held June 18 at the White House, where President Trump announced his intent to create a Space Force. “We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something,” he said in remarks at the beginning of the meeting. “I’m hereby directing the department of Defense and the Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.” That process would ultimately require congressional approval.

That announcement, while not necessarily a surprise — Trump had mused about creating a separate military branch for space in some previous speeches — nonetheless upended the military space community, forcing the Pentagon to respond with its proposals for establishing a Space Force. One such plan, in a memo last month by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, estimated it would cost $13 billion over five years to stand up the Space Force as a separate branch.

That estimate, which Wilson described as “conservative,” led to criticism that Wilson was revisiting the formation of a Space Force. A report earlier this month in Foreign Policy claimed that President Trump was considering firing Wilson, which a Pentagon spokesperson dismissed as “nonsense.”

That report said that Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and a staunch proponent of the Space Force proposal, was being considered as a potential replacement for Wilson. In a recent interview with an Alabama newspaper, the Opelika-Auburn News, Rogers appeared to allude to that report while stating that Wilson had become more supportive of the Space Force.

“The White House found out she was working against it. It was a shot across the bow, and my name was part of the signal to her,” he said, adding he prefers to stay in Congress and seek to become chairman of the full committee, a path that depends on Republicans maintaining their currently majority in the House.

On a separate issue, Pace said that last week’s Soyuz MS-10 launch failure, and the impact it has on operations of the International Space Station, had not yet risen to the level of the council. “We’re getting informed pretty good,” he said, with NASA providing updates. “They seem pretty on top of it.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...