Boots on the Moon may be closer that you would think.
A recent report from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate says United States military interests will increase tenfold to 272,000 miles from Earth’s surface and beyond as private and public sectors move into space – and could be the next war front, as military officials try to protect American assets.
The report, entitled ‘A Primer on Cislunar Space,’ says that the Space Force was tasked with ‘defending and protecting U.S. interests in space’ when it was first established in December 2019.’ But with more ‘public and private sector operations’ extending into ‘cislunar space,’ – the area surrounding the moon – the reach of the Space Force’s influence will extend into the region to ‘protect and defend vital U.S. interests in and beyond Earth-orbit.’
It comes as other countries, like China, are finding ways into cislunar space, typically defined as the region that contains the Earth, Moon and so-called Lagrange points where spacecrafts can be deployed, according to Futurism.com.
A recent military report said the Space Force should prepare for wars on and around the Moon. Here, the lunar module for the Apollo 14 mission stands on the Moon’s surface
Cislunar space is typically as the region that contains the Earth, Moon and so-called Lagrange points where spacecrafts can be deployed. Here, the Earth rises above the Moon’s horizon
In 2018, Jeff Gossel, senior intelligence engineer in the Space and Missile Analysis Group at the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center said he had seen reports ‘in open press… that say the Chinese have a relay satellite flying around the flipside of the Moon. That’s very telling to us.
‘You could fly some sort of a weapon around the Moon and it comes back,’ he continued. ‘It could literally come at [objects] in Geo, and we would never know because there is nothing watching in that direction.’
The AFRL has since developed spaceflight experiments known as the Cislunar Highway Patrol System designed to demonstrate ‘foundational space domain awareness capabilities in the cislunar regime’ by testing object detection and tracking in the region, according to The Drive.
It is just the first attempt to better understand physics in cislunar space, but military professionals remain wary of the new venture and are uncertain about a future of space warfare.
At a Defense One Tech Summit on June 22, The Drive reports, Felt told the audience: ‘Space war is going to look a lot like the Cold War in a couple of different ways.
‘First of all, we hope nobody’s actually exchanging destructive weapons with each other, and that we don’t just hope, but we take active actions to deter that from happening,’ he said.
‘The nature of conflict in space is that there is an offensive advantage, or first-mover advantage, in that it is a lot easier to attack somebody else than to defend your own stuff,’ Felt continued. ‘And we’ve seen that before – that’s the same thing with nuclear weapons.’
Military researchers would have to develop new ways to track objects in cislunar space, as trajectory equations would be different in the region. Here, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the U.S. Space Force’s fifth third-generation navigation satellite for he Global Positioning System launched from a pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
The June 22 report details how the military is planning to develop spacecraft for missions beyond Earth’s orbit, travelling all the way to the area that surrounds the Moon.
It was written for military space professionals who may have to develop spacecraft for that uncharted territory, providing them with a better understanding of what cislunar space is and what challenges it presents.
Getting into cislunar space, the researchers report, will require new models for planning and tracking the trajectories of spacecrafts and satellites and military and civilian space agencies will have to alter their ‘intuition and sense of distance and time’ and ‘further expand the volume of space [they] consider when discussing cislunar topics.’
Trajectory calculation, for example, would be different in cislunar space, and ‘even the slightest deviation in the objects’ current position or velocity could cause very large differences in its future propagated position and velocity.’
To combat that, the scientists recommend setting up a network of censors, but even those on the ground will have trouble tracking objects in cislunar space. That is due to the massive distance cislunar space encompasses and because the relative differences in motion between the Earth and cislunar space makes it difficult to detect objects from the Earth, The Drive reports.
‘Operating spacecraft beyond geosynchronous (in sync with) Earth orbit poses unique challenges,’ Space Vehicles Directorate director and Air Force Colonel Eric Felt said in a statement to SpaceNews.
‘As commerce extends to the Moon and beyond, it is vital we understand and solve those unique challenges so that we can provide space domain awareness and security.’
President Donald Trump announced the creation of the Space Force in 2019. The official U.S. Space Force flag was unveiled in May 2020
General John Raymond, chief of space operations with the U.S. Space Force and commander of the U.S. Space Command, points to the newly designed rank insignia of the U.S. Space Force during a presentation in the Oval Office in May 2020
The Space Force was first created in 2019, when then-President Donald Trump announced there would be a new division of the United States military devoted to threats in outer space.
‘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.
He added: ‘We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important.’
Trump signed the Space Force into law with a $738 billion defense spending bill that December, and last May the first Air Force academy graduates commissioned directly into the Space Force.
The Space Force has signed a cooperative agreement with NASA last year to collaborate on future cislunar space research and technologies, and on June 13, the Space Force successfully launched into obit a ‘space domain awareness’ military satellite.