The proposed Space Corps, highly anticipated by some and contested by others, will not be on the agenda of the next defense budget.
Congress recently reached a compromised defense budget, totaling $700 billion, but minus the Space Corps, which would have become a sixth branch of the United States armed forces.
The proposal to set up a corps devoted to space defense originated in July, when the House of Representatives passed bill H.R.2810 to amend the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Supporters of Space Corps point to the ever-growing need to secure space. In fact, the US military already has a command within the Air Force dedicated to space-related projects stationed on Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain Base. In the end however, the nay-sayers in Congress won the day, pointing out that creating a new military branch would be premature and could just add more bureaucracy that would only hinder development in the area.
However, far from killing the idea, Congress already has the groundwork for the set up of a future Space Corps. According to Todd Harrison, defense budget analyst and director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the issue of Space Corps “is not dead at all” and that the groundwork within NDAA exists for it to “come back up in the future.” According to Harrison, Space Corps is “inevitable” within the coming years.
Why is space becoming the next frontier of the US defense?
There are several ways in which space is an important environment for the military. Space has long been important for intelligence collection in the deployment of satellites equipped with cameras and other signal reception equipment. In the past several years reports have indicated that the US government is ramping up efforts in intelligence from space, by deploying new space vehicles capable of launch, landing and reuse.
Bringing weapons to space has also been an emerging trend, not just in the United States, but around the world. The first instance of a weaponized spacecraft seems to have been the Soviet Almaz space station in the early 1970’s. The station was decked out with a 20mm cannon to defend itself against forced boarding by foreign craft. Since then other nations have followed suit. The US is reportedly investigating a range of space-to-ground weapons such the Rods from God device that would drop tungsten rods with precision onto targets on Earth. Various models of ground-to-space weapons have already been in use by America’s military for a while. The MX missile system program, for instance, was designed to launch a missile into high orbit and then deploy a set of re-entry vehicles armed with warheads.
In addition to this nearly endless possibility of deadly deployments, space is becoming an arena that the US will be interested in securing for the sake of its citizens' safety.
Commercial ventures into space may soon be a reality with tech giants such as Elon Musk and his SpaceX program. Activities of other international programs such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and the Dutch company Xcor highlight just how close the world may be to regular space travel by the civilians.
If this does end up happening, the need to protect space travelers will fall on the shoulders of their respective governments.
With the technological development pushing the world increasingly toward space activity, it is only it seems only a matter of time before US defense equips itself for the challenge as well.