The United States Space Force, the sixth and newest branch of the United States military, is now watching the heavens above. That could be for mysterious objects and determining where they came from and whether they could be a threat.
Last month, the service’s Space Training and Readiness Command (STAR Command or STARCOM) released its Space Doctrine Publication (SDP), which outlines what space domain awareness (SDA) is and how it will be established and maintained.
SDP 3-100, Space Domain Awareness – the first operational level doctrine publication developed by STARCOM for the U.S. Space Force – presents the U.S. Space Force’s approach to establishing and maintaining SDA as part of unified action to support the freedom to operate in, from, and to space.
According to the Space Force, the publication is meant to articulate the importance of SDA for operations in all domains; characterize the space environment, to include the natural operating environment, space debris, threats, adversary use of space, and commercial space; discuss space capabilities and the orbital, terrestrial, and link segments of space systems; and address roles and responsibilities of organizations that conduct SDA.
Space Delta 10’s doctrine team worked with Space Force Guardians from across the service to formulate the best practices, and authoritative guidance regarding SDA.
“Effective SDA is foundational for space forces to conduct prompt and sustained operations that fulfill the cornerstone responsibilities of the Space Force, preserving freedom of action in the space domain, enabling joint lethality and effectiveness, and providing independent options capable of achieving national objectives,” stated U.S. Space Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Sejba, commander of STARCOM, in SDP 3-100’s foreword. “Space Force commanders and their staffs rely on timely and actionable SDA to satisfy these responsibilities.”
STARCOM is the United States Space Force’s education, training, doctrine, and test field command. It is headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado
Space Force is Watching – But For What
It would be easy to believe that Space Force is now scanning earth’s orbit for UFOs, but the new doctrine publication is actually seeking to monitor and track objects such as space debris, an ever-growing number of commercial satellites, and even spacecraft operated by the country’s adversaries.
“Some of the spacecraft on orbit now possess capabilities and sensors that could threaten US, allied, or partner operations in space or terrestrially,” the report warned. “It is now feasible for proliferated constellations comprised of thousands of small spacecraft to provide persistent, global coverage across a variety of mission sets.”
It further noted that the population of objects on orbit continues to rise exponentially. It cited data from SpaceTrack.org, which reported that in July 2023 there were approximately 8,400 operational payloads and approximately 44,900 total other objects, including debris, being tracked in the space domain.
In other words, the space around the Earth is vast but it is not empty.
Moreover, Space Force will serve to monitor for potential natural hazards that could include meteoroids and solar flares.
“Naturally occurring space objects, which range in size from micrometeoroids to asteroids and comets spanning multiple kilometers, are also part of the space environment. These natural aspects and phenomena of the space environment can present as hazards that impact space operations,” the publication noted.
Watching the Skies
Space Force will rely on a variety of systems – including ground-based radar, infrared and optical sensors, radio frequency monitoring, orbital space weather stations – to monitor and track the movement of objects in orbit.
The service will further call upon the Intelligence Community (IC). Its “assets contribute to SDA by providing a wide range of data and assessments, including information about planned launches, adversary space capabilities, and other activities that could indicate a potential threat to space operations. Space-based Intelligence Community assets contribute intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance sensor data to support identification and characterization of threats, and to support Guardians in protecting and defending US, allied, and partner space capabilities,” the report added.
Data sharing between the Department of Defense (DoD), IC, intragovernmental agencies, international bodies, civil agencies, allies, partners, academic, and commercial entities, was also noted to be key to space security in that it improves SDA for all parties.
There is a lot of sky to watch and Space Force can’t do it alone.