GRAPEVINE, Texas — The U.S. Air Force is exploring the logistics of space-based cargo operations under the purview of Air Mobility Command, even as the impact of a new Space Force on the mobility community remains to be seen.
“I don’t know how it will affect mobility, but most of you know space affects mobility every day,” Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday at the 2018 Airlift/Tanker Symposium outside Dallas, Texas.
“Whatever the Space Force is or does, it has to protect our national interest in space,” he said, adding that GPS is critical to the air mobility community.
As for what space cargo operations could look like, the previous head of Air Mobility Command, Gen. Carlton Everhart, espoused the possibility of moving cargo using rockets during a Defense Writers Group breakfast in August.
“Think about this. Thirty minutes, 150 metric tons [and] less than the cost of a C-5,” he said at the time.
Apart from cargo operations, such a focuses space presence could help with pre-positioning equipment and supplies in orbit, ready to be dropped to Earth.
But in a roundtable with reporters Friday, the new commander of AMC, Gen. Maryanne Miller, said while the command continues to study the possibility, space cargo operations remain at the conceptual stage.
“We’re continuing, our [planning] community is going to continue to have discussions with the space companies, and we have agreed to just sit with them and just stay up to date with where they’re going with their future plans, to just be at the table with them” she said. “We won’t commit any resources, but we’ve committed to work with them to see how quickly they progress through that."
One potential would be SpaceX’s next-generation reusable BFR rocket, currently under development. During the roundtable, Miller confirmed that the Air Force had spoken to SpaceX about the idea.
“They have talked about moving cargo in space, and we’ve sat down with SpaceX and had that discussion. But it’s really just discussion at this point," she said. “Our connection with space is really just going to be at the table with them, to look at how much progress they’re making.”
As for what type of cargo could possibly be moved, that’s still being discussed. But in August, Everhart said he’d be willing to stick “anything” in space.