SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket (Starship)
SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket (Starship)

US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) Considers Next Steps for Potential Space Logistics

Transporting cargo in the cosmos may seem unimaginable now, but the innovative capability could become a reality in the not too distant future. U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) certainly thinks so. Think about moving 80 short tons, the equivalent of a C-17 payload, anywhere on the globe in less than an hour. The combatant command’s commitment in partnering with industry as they develop – within the next 5 to 10 years – a space transportation prototype that may allow the command to complement its air, sea, and land logistics operations. The organization’s interest in investigating space’s potential to rapidly move cargo during time-critical contingencies or transport humanitarian aid.

USTRANSCOM’s next steps in assessing a potential space logistics capability commences next year. First, the command plans to continue leveraging collaborations with industry and fellow combatant commands to enable a long-range, point-to-point, proof of concept trial in 2021. Testing will allow USTRANSCOM and the Department of Defense (DOD) to evaluate the capabilities, limitations, and technical/policy gaps, as well as exercise current policies and procedures. Second, doctrinal, diplomatic, statutory, and organizational issues will be addressed to facilitate the standardization of high-frequency, commercial, point-to-point, space launches.

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On March 3, 2020, USTRANSCOM signed a CRADA with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), titled Space Transportation Capability for the Joint Force. The two-year collaborative arrangement helps the command assess space launch capability and capacity. It also allows for the collaborative investigation of using commercial space transportation mode to expedite global delivery of DOD materiel and personnel. Five weeks after signing the SpaceX CRADA, on April 10, 2020, the command executed another one with Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc), titled Space Transportation Basing and Support Concepts for the Defense Transportation System (DTS).

This two-year agreement assists the command in understanding the requirements to leverage space transportation systems-basing and support DTS concepts. In addition, the CRADA enables the collaborative investigation of supporting technologies and infrastructure interfaces of ground and orbit facilities to support space transportation to expedite delivery of DOD materiel and personnel. The partnership with industry allows USTRANSCOM to assess the business case for both government and commercial parties to enter into long-term space transportation surge capability agreements, similar to the current Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) agreement.

The CRAF is a cooperative, voluntary program involving the Department of Transportation, DOD, and the U.S. civil air carrier industry in a partnership to augment DOD aircraft capability during a national defense-related crisis where air carriers volunteer their aircraft to the CRAF program through contractual agreements with USTRANSCOM. USTRANSCOM exists as a warfighting combatant command to project and sustain military power at a time and place of the nation’s choosing. Powered by dedicated men and women, USTRANSCOM underwrites the lethality of the U.S. Joint Force, advances American interests around the globe.

SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket (Starship)
The Pentagon is considering the use of space launchers like SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket to move the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour.
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