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Mason professors explain the positives and negatives of a proposed Space Force

August 16, 2018

Harold Geller

Saying the United States should establish a Space Force (as President Donald Trump wants to do) is one thing, but actually creating a new military branch is quite another, according to two George Mason University professors.

“As far as problems, it’s all logistics,” said Harold Geller, an associate professor in Mason’s College of Science and a former senior systems engineer in NASA’s former Space Physics Division. “You have space operations in various units already. It’s going to consist of portions of the other services brought together under a single umbrella, so what are you gaining?”

“Organizational and possible duplication of efforts can be an issue,” said Arnauld Nicogossian, a Distinguished Research Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government, former associate administrator for life and microgravity sciences at NASA, and senior editor of the textbook “Space Physiology and Medicine.” “The Department of Defense proposes to consolidate the existing efforts but requires the president and Congress to approve legislation and a budget establishing a sixth military branch by 2020, which can face political challenges.”

Vice President Mike Pence recently called for Congress to allocate $8 billion for space security systems over the next five years.

Nicogossian said the threats to U.S. military and civilian space assets are real.

Arnauld Nicogossian

The United States, Russia and China are all developing in-space defense systems that rely on data relayed by satellites. Offensive measures against those satellites could also disrupt military operations and critical infrastructure.

And while the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967 outlaws “nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies,” Nicogossian points out it does not preclude conventional weapons.

Nicogossian said that the requested Space Force resources could also spur research and development and training at universities and in the private sector.

Nicogossian said military schools are already gearing up to train Space Force ground specialists. Resources for that training could come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which could also spur research and development that would harden the country’s information and communication systems tied to satellites, perhaps harden the satellites themselves and “reestablish a robust U.S. access to space,” he said.

But “where are the boundaries?” Geller asked. “Even though you are consolidating what we control in space [through the Space Force], there will be more organizational levels to go through for troops to get their information. The Army, for example, doesn’t want to go through someone else to control a satellite if it is supporting their services.”

“If you have a separate Space Force,” Geller said, “the Army would have to communicate with the Space Force, which would have to go back through the Army to get [instructions] to the troops on the ground. You are adding an interface there.”

Harold Geller can be reached at 703-993-1276 or hgeller@gmu.edu.

Arnauld Nicogossian can be reached at 703-993-8217 or anicogos@gmu.edu

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.