Air Force Ponders Basing Cargo in Space
The Air Force is mulling over whether to base cargo in space, the commander of Air Mobility Command said Aug. 2.
Placing military materiel in orbit could help the command more quickly access important items, said Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II.
“If I’m going to go from the East Coast, say to the other side of the globe, that’s an eight to 10-hour flight,” Everhart said. The question is how the Air Force can execute this “game-changing” concept and create an advantage over its adversaries.
Basing a logistics system in space may be one solution, he noted during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C. The concept is feasible with today’s technology, he added.
“I don’t have to use a terrestrial means. I don’t have to use a water means. I can pre-position in space and have a resupply vehicle come up and come back down,” he said. “I don’t have to have people up there, I just have to have cargo there, [using] automated systems.”
“It could be hardware, it could be a Humvee,” Everhart said. “I’m willing to stick anything up there.”
Everhart is looking to industry to come up with solutions, he said. He has already had meeting in California with so-called “new space” companies such as Virgin Galactic and Space X to see how they could potentially help. And he wants to meet with Blue Origin. All three are developing next-generation launch systems.
“I want industry to do it,” he said. “They will come up with innovative ways, and they won’t be encumbered with a long acquisition process.”
The Air Force wants to “piggyback” on the innovation being made in the commercial space industry.
“I want to get to any part of industry who’s going to do this, whether it’s vertical lift, or horizontal to vertical then back down, so I can get around the globe quickest,” he noted.
The Air Force has already drafted white papers examining the possibilities, Everhart noted.
Storing cargo in space will be similar to how Space X and other companies provide cargo service to the international space station, he added.
However, many questions need to be addressed, such as where in space the cargo would reside, he said.
Low-Earth orbit is one option but the number and expected proliferation of spacecraft there could be problematic, he said.
“If the commercial industry is going to launch 5,000 satellites, I don’t think low-Earth orbit is the place to put it. It gets cluttered up there. How do I get up there, and how do I place that? How do you protect it?” he said.