On December 20, 2019, Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020, effectively creating the sixth branch of the country’s armed forces, the United States Space Force (USSF). Yet despite its formidable name, the Space Force is not so much an entirely new division of the military as it is a re-designation of what was previously known as the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).

The establishment of the AFSPC goes back to September, 1982, when U.S. tensions with the Soviet Union ran especially high. The organization was tasked with keeping one eye on missiles while overseeing spacecraft launch operations, and keeping the other eye on satellites while surveilling space. Over the decades, the AFSPC became the go-to military unit for the latest technological breakthroughs in satellite communications, meteorology, and GPS, eventually expanding its mission areas to include cyberspace.

A Period of Transition

Now, about 16,000 military and civilian personnel in the AFSPC are being re-assigned to the brand-new USSF. The emergent organization’s first Chief of Space Operations is General Jay Raymond, leader of the U.S. Space Command, one of the United States Department of Defense’s unified combatant commands. The Space Force defines itself as “a military service that organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.” Its responsibilities include “developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands.”

While those assigned to the AFSPC will be technically re-assigned to the United States Space Force, the Air Force will contact everybody “to inform them whether their specialty code is organic to the Space Force, organic to the Air Force, or shared between Air Force and Space Forces,” according to a Space Force document.

Meanwhile, there are plans to turn some existing Air Force bases into ones that are devoted exclusively to the USSF, as well as possible plans for new uniforms down the line. For now, however, the Space Force will look a lot like the Air Force. Service members in the other branches of the military can request transfers if they’d like to be a part of the United States Space Force, too.

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