CHANTILLY, Va. — There is continuing interest in what role, if any, the U.S. Space Force will play in support of NASA in cislunar space or across the lunar surface.

Those discussions are worth having but the service for now needs to keep its focus firmly on Earth, building the next generation of satellites for U.S. military operations, the Space Force’s top acquisition executive Frank Calvelli said Jan. 24.

“I think we need to stay focused on our current missions and get those done really well,” he said at the National Security Space Association’s defense and intelligence conference. 

Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, oversees the Space Force’s procurement programs. 

“There’s been talk of what our role in cislunar space is,” he said. “That’s an important talk down the road but right now what’s important is tackling our core mission areas, and making sure the architecture is resilient, making sure the architecture is integrated so that [U.S. military operators] can use it effectively.”

Integration of space systems with air, ground and maritime platforms has emerged as a major challenge for the Space Force as military forces grow more dependent on satellites for critical operations. Connecting space and terrestrial systems is what gives forces a critical advantage, Calvelli said.

Calvelli identified satellite-based communications, space domain awareness, precision navigation and timing, missile warning and tracking as “core mission areas” that the Space Force has to invest in and move forward. “We have really got to take our core mission areas and transform them,” he said.

His remarks are in line with comments made last year by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at an industry conference where he said going to the moon is not currently on the list of national security priorities. “I don’t see a lot of interest from a defense perspective,” Kendall said, noting that the United States today faces big space security challenges within Earth’s orbit.

Calvelli’s emphasis on providing capabilities for military operations also is reflected in the recent decision to rename the Space Development Agency’s planned network of military satellites in low Earth orbit.

The agency’s constellation previously named “National Defense Space Architecture” was rebranded as the “Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.”

Calvelli said the term “national defense” was too broad and he wanted the name to reflect SDA’s focus on providing space-based capabilities for U.S. warfighters.

Experiments planned in cislunar space

The Air Force, nevertheless, is supporting an experiment to study the cislunar region of outer space. The Air Force Research Laboratory plans to launch a demonstration mission to deep space in 2025 to detect and track objects near the moon that cannot be viewed optically from Earth or from satellites in traditional orbits.

Within the Space Force, some argue that the service needs to prepare for possible operations in cislunar space in the next decade, particularly if China or Russia move to establish a presence on the moon to exploit material and energy resources. 

“The United States and China are currently leading competing multi-nation efforts to send robotics and humans to the Lunar South Pole,” wrote Captain Tyler Bates, a planner at the Space Force’s Space Operations Command.​

“Helium-3, iron, titanium, thorium, uranium, potassium, and rare earth elements also exist in significant concentrations across the lunar surface,” Bates wrote in an article published last year in the Department of the Air Force’s Journal of Strategic Airpower & Spacepower.

“The United States should not cede access to this emerging economic zone of activity to nations notorious for claiming territory and resources by force or threat of force such as Russia or China,” Bates argued. To provide security in the lunar region, the Space Force would have to deploy “enabling capabilities including satellite communications, position, navigation, and timing, space domain awareness, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance space systems.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...