Space Logistics and the United States Space Force – A Quick Overview

In 2020, the US Space Force published “The Space Capstone Publication”, which is the inaugural doctrine manual for the United States Space Force. The document provides a basis for training and education, and informs decision-making, mission analysis, objectives, and the development of military space strategy in support of national security, national defense, and national military strategies.

Document scope

The document identifies US Space Force spacepower core competencies – 2 of the 5 core competencies are directly related to space logistics:

  • Space Mobility and Logistics (SML) enables movement and support of military equipment and personnel in the space domain, from the space domain back to Earth, and to the space domain.
  • Space Domain Awareness (SDA) encompasses the effective identification, characterization and understanding of any factor associated with the space domain that could affect space operations and thereby impact the security, safety, economy, or environment of our Nation.

The following sections provide more details.

Note: While any object in orbit is generically referred to as a satellite, the term spacecraft refers to an object which has been engineered to be controlled and deliberately employed in order to perform a useful purpose while traveling in, from, and to the space domain. Small natural objects are referred to as satellites while large natural objects that constitute a significant source of gravity are referred to as celestial bodies. Debris refers to any spacecraft or artificial satellite (e.g., a rocket body) in orbit that no longer serves a useful purpose.

Space Mobility and Logistics

The ability to control and exploit the space domain always begins with physical access to orbit. SML starts with the ability to launch military equipment into the proper orbit in a safe, secure, and reliable manner. During conflict, space launch must be dynamic and responsive, providing the ability to augment or reconstitute capability gaps from multiple locations. Today, SML is largely uncontested, though the history of warfare highlights that this condition will not last. Military forces must therefore prepare to defend physical access to the space domain – a key focus of defensive operations and the need for military space forces to be prepared to project combat power.

Orbital sustainment and recovery is another important application of SML. Already demonstrated in the commercial sector, orbital sustainment will allow military space forces to replenish consumables and expendables on spacecraft that cannot be recovered back to Earth Orbital sustainment will also enable spacecraft inspection, anomaly resolution, hardware maintenance, and technology upgrades. Orbital recovery allows for the recovery of personnel or military equipment from the space domain. This includes objects such as reusable spacecraft or launch boosters

Space Domain Awareness

SDA leverages the unique subset of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, environmental monitoring, and data sharing arrangements that provide operators and decision makers with a timely depiction of all factors and actors – including friendly, adversary, and third party-impacting domain operations. Furthermore, SDA must be predictive, synthesizing facts and evidence into an assessment of possible and probable future outcomes.

Fundamentally, SDA is a big data challenge. The United States Space Force must have the ability to collect, synthesize, fuse, and make sense of extremely large volumes of data from all sources to ensure the United States Space Force’s ability to have domain awareness. As a digital service, the United States Space Force must leverage its personnel, allies, civil and industry partners, and big data toolsets to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions that provide the required SDA.

SDA extends across the physical, network, and cognitive dimensions of space operations. Operating in the physical environment of space requires a timely awareness of space weather, lighting conditions, and gravitational topology. In addition to these natural phenomenon, military space forces must also maintain awareness of spacecraft orbiting in the domain. This includes active spacecraft and debris. Moreover, when tracking active spacecraft, SDA captures more than orbital trajectory. Complete SDA also includes mission related details such as missions, intentions, system capabilities, patterns-of-life, and the status of consumables and expendables.

Awareness of the network dimension must encompass the links and nodes that enable orbital fight and the movement of information in, from, and to the domain. This includes the frequency, location, access, and power of electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) links along with the physical and logical pathways required to transmit information across space architectures. SDA provides insight into key redundancies and chokepoints in the network dimension.

Awareness in the space domain’s cognitive dimension encompasses the actors who operate or rely on space systems, along with their decision-making processes, biases, cultural values, and psychological tendencies. Importantly, military space forces must also maintain an awareness of their own decision processes and any associated personal or institutional biases. SDA of the cognitive dimension allows commanders to detect deceit, determine adversary intentions, and act within an adversary’s decision cycle.

The practical reality of SDA is that we will not have all possible information all the time. Instead, SDA must be deliberately planned and maintained to ensure the right information is delivered to the right decision maker at the right time. Thus, SDA can be viewed as a self-reinforcing process: SDA helps predict future outcomes and conditions, which in turn drives future requirements for domain awareness.

Additional information for the curious