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Telling the difference: Space Command v Space Force

Redstone Arsenal was announced as the "preferred location" for the headquarters of U.S. Space Command on Wednesday.

Posted: Jan 14, 2021 8:45 PM

With Wednesday's announcement that U.S. Space Command is set to make its new home at Redstone Arsenal, it lead to a common couple of questions: what is U.S. Space Command and is it different from Space Force?

The answer to the second question is yes, Space Command and Space Force are not interchangeable. 

U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander, talks about his vision for the combatant command and the role of noncommissioned officers Dec. 9 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman) U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander, talks about his vision for the combatant command and the role of noncommissioned officers Dec. 9 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman)

Space Force was stood up in December 2019, several months after Space Command was stood up on August 19, 2019. Space Force is under the command of Gen. John W. Raymond

Originally called the "Air Force Space Command," Space Force is a military service that has about 2,000 uniformed personnel as of late 2020, according to the Department of Defense. There are also about 6,000 civilian professionals in the service as well.

It's mandate, according to the DoD is to be a "'pathfinder and protector' of America's interests."

Comparatively, Space Command is designed to protect the interests of the United States in space. It operates in the area 60 miles above the Earth's surface and beyond. 

"The space economy of the United States gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And I think we'll see the day when it's like 10-20 percent of our economy will be based on what we have in orbit and beyond," said Homer Hickam, a member of the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group.

According to the DoD, the mission of Space Command is as follows:

  1. Deter aggression
  2. Defeat the nation's enemies through posture and preparedness
  3. Deliver space combat power 
  4. Defend U.S., allied and partner interests 

"They're not the folks who launch astronauts into orbit or anything like that. But they're very much aware of any enemies out there who may try to impact our space assets, like all the communications and satellites that we have up there and so on," Hickam said.

Space Command also has the ability to call upon service components from the various military branches. For instance, it works with the Army through the Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) and it works with the Space Force through Space Operations Command (SpOC).

Once at Redstone, Space Command will be in direct proximity to SMDC, which is currently headquartered at Redstone. 

With the arrival of Space Command at Redstone will come the return of a familiar face. On August 20, 2020, Gen. James H. Dickinson was appointed as the commander of Space Command. 

He previously served as the commander of the SMDC as well as the Director of Test for the Missile Defense Agency. An Air Force spokesperson said it's too early to determine when Dickinson will make a return visit to Redstone following the announcement of the headquarters moving.

That spokesperson also said that even when Space Command moves to Redstone, it will continue to function as it has been.

"U.S. Space Command’s way of life relies on the services and capabilities provided by the critical space assets it protects and defends—no matter where it is based."

The transition could take up to six years to move from Peterson Air Force Base to Redstone Arsenal. According to the Air Force, Redstone rose above the other five competing sites "based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and cost to the Department of Defense. Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs."

Some in Colorado are challenging the decision and argued that it was politically motivated. 

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