U.S. Air Force Academy to expand space education curriculum

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In addition to astronautical engineering, cadets will be offered courses in space law, strategy and operations.

WASHINGTON — Cadets in the U.S. Air Force Academy’s space program learn how to build and operate satellites. Starting this year they will also take courses in space law, strategy and operations.

The Colorado Springs-based academy is beefing up the content of its space program to support the needs of the U.S. Space Force.

“We now have responsibility to two services,” the academy’s superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said Aug. 17 in a webcast hosted by the Mitchell Institute.

Every cadet in the past commissioned into the Air Force. But that changed in 2020 when 86 from the 967 graduating cadets commissioned into the U.S. Space Force. A similar number of cadets is projected to join the space service next spring. “We don’t have the exact requirements from the Space Force on how many they’ll need,” Silveria said. A rough estimate is it will be anywhere from 80 to 100, he said.

The academy’s space program’s motto is “learning space by doing space,” with emphasis on astronautical engineering. A satellite built by cadets flew to space in May aboard the X-37B spaceplane. The FalconSAT-8 carried five experimental payloads, and members of the Cadet Space Operations Squadron operate the satellite.

The program is being expanded, said Silveria. “We needed to add military strategy, legal, focus on operations,” he said. New this year is a space warfighting minor.

The academy also stood up a Space Force office on campus to promote the new service and counsel students who might be considering joining.

“The Space Force will need space operators, scientists, intelligence officers, acquisition officers,” said Silveria. “The Space Force can now begin to shape the curriculum.”

“We’ve always been in a position to provide space operators to the Air Force,” he said. “We want to retain the position as the premier path to joining the Space Force as a commissioned officer.”