In an era where space has become a contested domain, members of the U.S. Space Force, save for a select few astronauts, find themselves firmly grounded on Earth.
Unlike their counterparts in the Air Force, who engage in training missions up in the sky, or Navy sailors who practice combat drills at sea, Space Force guardians don’t get to directly experience outer space. Their training, instead, is confined to the boundaries of classrooms and traditional simulators designed for repeated practice of a specific skill.
While these established methods sufficed when military operators focused solely on satellite operations, the Space Force now shoulders a broader mandate. This includes safeguarding satellites from hostile actions, necessitating the adoption of more sophisticated training tools.
“The new space domain is far different from the one I grew up with,” said Gen. Chance Saltzman, chief of U.S. space operations. “It has taken on the characteristics of a more dangerous and dynamic security environment,” he said last month at the Air & Space Forces Association’s annual conference.
Satellites have to be protected from traditional threats like electronic jammers and also from cyberattacks and more destabilizing ground-launched missiles, on-orbit grapplers and directed energy weapons.
The very existence of the Space Force underscores the fiercely contested nature of space, he said. However, the formation of the Space Force is just the first step. The next objective, said Saltzman, is to build a dedicated Space Force that excels in the intensified U.S. competition with China and Russia — often referred to as great power competition.
The next phase of space training
To cultivate the requisite skills for competition with spacefaring global powers, the Space Force is exploring the use of technologies capable of making virtual and remote training far more realistic and immersive than previously possible.
“We spend a…