Trump promises “Space Force,” takes on space debris

President opens meeting of National Space Council at the White House

THE WHITE HOUSE — President Donald Trump on Monday opened the third meeting of his administration’s National Space Council, this one in the ornate East Room of the White House, telling the assembled U.S. space luminaries about his vision for cutting regulations and creating a U.S. Space Force “separate but equal” from the U.S. Air Force, among other topics. Here is a rundown:

Space debris directive

Trump signed Space Policy Directive-3 in front of the audience on a tiny desk that awaited him. The directive aims to make it easier for companies to avoid collisions between their satellites and space debris by ordering the Commerce Department to improve public access to a Defense Department catalog of objects in space. The directive also orders NASA to create best practices to reduce the creation of new debris and for the State Department to push the international space community to take similar steps to reduce debris.

Space Force

Trump echoed his previous call for creation of a branch of the military that would be focused on matters of space, and announced: “I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force.” This new branch of the U.S. armed forces would be “separate but equal” from the Air Force, he said, turning toward the table of council members seated behind him, and asking Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to carry out that effort.

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said.

The White House press office followed up in an email saying that “the National Space Council and other White House offices will work closely with the Department of Defense on successful implementation of the president’s direction” to create a Space Force. Trump first called for a Space Force in March during a speech at a Marine Corps Base in California. Congress in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act ordered the Pentagon to commission and complete an interim report by August about options to reorganize space within the military, including the possibility of creating a Space Force or a Space Corps within the Air Force.

Razzing the luminaries

Trump riffed to the business executives, scholars, lawmakers and administration officials about how they fit into his administration’s vision or, in some cases, how they could do better in his view. The audience laughed when he told NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “You better do a good job” or “I’ll say your fired in two minutes. You have a lot of support, and you’ve loved this right from the beginning.” Trump rattled off job titles of others in attendance, and when he came to “CEO of United Launch Alliance,” he teased CEO Tory Bruno who was seated in the audience: “I don’t like when Boeing and Lockheed get together because the pricing only goes up,” referring to the joint venture that builds the Delta and Atlas rockets. He also teased Boeing and Lockheed Martin executives for sitting together.

Cutting prices and regulations

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said during the meeting that interagency discussions will begin next week on easing export controls on space technology. U.S. companies have, for instance, been limited in their ability to export Earth imaging technology including satellites with a certain aperture size in an attempt to protect U.S. space surveillance advantage.

The Trump administration appointed high-ranking members to the space council to give momentum to the executive board of presidential advisers created in 1958 that had been defunct since 1993.

“I am instructing my administration to embrace the budding commercial space industry,” Trump said. “We’ll be setting aggressive timelines, challenging old ways of doing business, and we will be expecting real results.”

Photo credit: Associated Press

Trump promises “Space Force,” takes on space debris