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When Congress passed legislation establishing the United States Space Force (USSF), SpaceX CEO Elon Musk famously tweeted, “Star Fleet begins.”

Musk was more than a little premature in his announcement. Three and a half years later, Space Force Guardians are still many years away from tooling around in spaceships, and the Space Force is still a work in progress. That fact is one reason why the military branch is having trouble coming up with a coherent and easy-to-remember mission statement.

MATT HARTMAN/AFP via Getty ImagesMATT HARTMAN/AFP via Getty Images

According to Politico, the Space Force rolled out its mission statement around the same time it was established. It reads, “The USSF is responsible for organizing, training, and equipping Guardians to conduct global space operations that enhance the way our joint and coalition forces fight, while also offering decision makers military options to achieve national objectives.”

As written, the Space Force’s mission statement does not roll off the tongue very well. It is certainly not “… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

This statement, of course, is meant to convey its mission and its purpose for being in simple enough terms that anyone can understand it. The statement should inform both the Space Force Guardians and the American people whose taxes pay for the military branch, what it does, how it does it and why it does it.

Keeping in mind that the Space Force’s current mission statement lacks clarity, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman is crowd-sourcing ideas among the service’s guardians to develop a new Space Force mission statement that more clearly defines why the service branch exists.

The secret to devising a mission statement for the Space Force is understanding what it does and what it will do 10 years from now, 20 years from now and even farther in the future.

The Space Force currently launches and operates military satellites, as well as communications, weather, global positioning and reconnaissance satellites in support of the other military branches. It is currently developing a war-fighting doctrine for when future conflict occurs in space. The Space Force is also in the process of acquiring technology for warfighting in space. Additionally, it is routinely training its personnel in new technology and techniques.

The Space Force is currently dependent on commercial space companies such as SpaceX and ULA to launch its satellites. It is constantly looking to the private sector for new technology to support its activities.

Finally, the Space Force operates the uncrewed, reusable X-37B space plane, the exact purpose of which is classified. The X-37B robotic test vehicle has conducted a number of clandestine missions and has clocked in at least 900 days in orbit.

No one outside of military circles knows what war-fighting capabilities the Space Force is developing. The defense of America’s satellite constellations, both military and civilian (think SpaceX’s Starlink system) constitutes a complicated problem. China and, to a certain extent, Russia are developing anti-satellite capabilities designed to deny the United States and its allies their space-based assets in the event of conflict. The Space Force must not only defend against such attacks but must also strike against an enemy’s space assets. It has to do so without filling near-Earth space with debris that would make it inaccessible.

Despite partnerships with commercial space exploration companies, space exploration is currently not in the Space Force’s purview. NASA will do that for the foreseeable future.

What else the Space Force could do — including operating a space-based missile defense, defending the Earth against asteroid impacts, cleaning up space junk and providing security for a future moon base — are subjects for future discussion. As capabilities and threats increase, so will the Space Force’s mission.

Given all the above facts, what should the Space Force’s mission statement be? It could look something like this:

“The Space Force’s mission is to defend the United States from threats in space and to use space assets to assist the other military service branches to conduct operations from land, sea, sky or space. It will do so with technology, ingenuity and courage. The Space Force will help to keep the peace and, in the event of conflict, fight and win against any enemy of the United States.”

When rewriting the Space Force’s mission statement, perhaps Saltzman can take these words into consideration.

Mark R. Whittington, who writes frequently about space policy, has published political studies on space exploration, including “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond” and “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. 

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