The following is a guest post by Heather Flynn, an intern/volunteer with the Digital Resources Division of the Law Library of Congress. She recently completed her master’s in museum studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Today marks the third anniversary of the establishment of the United States Space Force. The Space Force current has approximately 16,000 military and civilian personnel. This branch of the Armed Forces has six locations: Buckley, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; Patrick, Florida; Peterson, Colorado; Schriever, Colorado; and Vandenberg, California.
Origins of U.S. Space Force
The United States has had an eye to space since at least 1915 when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was founded to catch up with the European airplane technology. NACA was incorporated into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. The Space Force is unique to U.S. history, however, as it is the first independent service within the U.S. military, though it frequently collaborates with NASA and private industries like SpaceX.
The U.S. Space Force was established on December 20, 2019, with the passage of Public Law 116-92, for Fiscal Year 2020. The Space Force is the sixth military service branch of the Department of Defense and functions under the umbrella of the U.S. Air Force.
The U.S. Space Force is not the first space defense organization established by the U.S. government. As space exploration and technology advanced in the 1960s and 70s, space systems technologies were adopted by the Department of Defense’s weather, communications, navigation, surveillance, and early warning missions. Many of these new responsibilities were performed by various groups within the U.S Air Force until the early 80’s when the Air Force established the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) to carry out these responsibilities. Initially, the AFSPC focused on space operations during the Cold War, which included duties related to “missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command.”
The U.S. Space Force absorbed AFSPC and gained the authority and responsibilities outlined in 10 USC 101 and 10 USC Chapter 908. It took over the Air Force’s role of organizing, training, and equipping space operators who fly GPS satellites, track space debris, oversee satellite communications, and more.
U.S. Space Force in a Global Context
The United States is not the first country to create a military branch devoted to space. China and Russia also have aerospace and strategic forces overseeing their military activities in space. Russia had a separate branch of the military called Russian Space Force, but as of 2015, they merged Russian Space Force, Russian Air Force, and Missile Defense Forces into a single branch called Aerospace Forces. Similarly, in 2015, China’s People’s Liberation Army established a new branch of the military called the Strategic Support Force that oversees space capabilities, cyberspace, and electronic warfare operations. Many countries and regions have developed space agencies.
How different countries operate in space has been a key concern since space exploration began. The United Nations has had an Office for Outer Space Affairs that addresses space law since 1958. On January 27, 1967, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the former Soviet Union drafted the Outer Space Treaty which formed the basis for international space law. Since then, 110 countries have joined the treaty. The Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework for international space law and outlines principles detailing each nations’ freedom to explore, use, and access outer space and its celestial bodies. According to Article IV of the Treaty, that freedom granted to countries is not without restrictions, and does not allow nations “to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.”
For more information on International Space law, check out other In Custodia Legis posts:
- How the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 Influenced the Outer Space Treaty of 1967
- Looking into the Past: Space Telescopes and the Law of Outer Space
- Billionaires Are Going to Space! Or Are They?
- Anniversary of First American Space Walk
- Happy International Day of Human Space Flight!
And see our Global Legal Monitor articles about space too!
Happy third birthday, Space Force!
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