The Space Force has Elon Musk's seal of approval.
SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO said he's onboard with the sixth branch of the U.S. military, which President Donald Trump officially established in December 2019.
"I think it's actually cool that the creation of the Space Force is happening," Musk said Friday (Feb. 28) during a "fireside chat" at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
"It makes sense that there's a major branch for every domain," he told his interviewer at the event, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.
Related: What is the Space Force?
Though the Space Force's detailed duties remain fuzzy, it's safe to assume that the new branch's priorities will include protecting U.S. space assets from potential interference or aggression and helping the nation maintain its long-held dominance in the final frontier.
That dominance is now under serious threat, U.S. military officials have stressed over the past few years, citing Russia and China as the two chief competitors. In response, the U.S. Air Force has begun emphasizing adaptability, flexibility and speed of innovation in its space systems. The old way of doing business — spending 15 years and a billion dollars or so to get a single (highly capable) satellite off the drawing board and into orbit — just won't cut it in today's fast-moving space-tech environment, Air Force officials have said.
Musk sounded similar notes during Friday's fireside chat. He noted that China's economy will eventually grow to two or three times the size of the U.S. economy, giving the Asian nation a huge advantage in the space domain.
The United States can overcome that advantage, Musk said, but only by tapping one of the nation's greatest resources: its innovation engine.
"I have zero doubt that if the United States does not seek great innovations in space, it will be second in space, as sure as night follows day," Musk said. "So, it is a big deal."
The innovation with the greatest potential to transform the space domain, Musk added, is reusability. Completely reusable rockets and spacecraft are game changers, he stressed on Friday, as he has many times before.
SpaceX aims to develop such systems, of course, and has made a great deal of progress so far. The first stages of the California-based company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are reusable, and SpaceX has successfully landed 49 of these boosters during orbital missions to date. Many of these rockets have flown again, often several times. And SpaceX routinely reflies its robotic Dragon cargo capsules on resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA.
But SpaceX is aiming higher: Its Starship Mars-colonizing transportation system is designed to be fully reusable. That system consists of a big spaceship called Starship and a huge rocket known as Super Heavy, both of which are still in development.
Related: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy rocket in pictures
Indeed, Musk wants each Starship component eventually to fly many times, and on a fast turnaround. The billionaire entrepreneur has said he envisions 1,000 Starships heading off to Mars every 26 months, when Earth and the Red Planet align favorably for interplanetary flight.
This is the sort of radical innovation that would keep the United States on top in space, Musk implied Friday. And such tech could put the country on the path toward something even more ambitious, he added — a truly sci-fi future.
"We gotta make Starfleet happen," Musk said, referring to the United Federation of Planets' space force in the "Star Trek" universe. "When the public hears 'Space Force,' that's what they think. It's like, 'OK, we're going to have some sweet spaceships and pretty good uniforms and stuff.'"
We all want these exciting developments to happen within our lifetimes — and that does seem achievable, as long as we push for big innovations in spaceflight tech, Musk said.
"Warp drive and teleportation, probably not," he said. "But big spaceships that can go far places? Definitely. That can be done."
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Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Go for it Musk :)
At the beginning of the space age, president Eisenhower, concerned about the growing power of the military-industrial complex, wisely placed control of our space program in the hands of the civilian NASA. He sought to limit military space efforts to matters such as reconnaissance and communication. Today, the United States and many other countries are heavily dependent on satellites for their military and civilian infrastructure. A space arms race, which the Space Force makes more likely, would place all of those assets at risk. The simplest way to protect them is a treaty banning space weapons. Space weapons might make military contractors even richer, but they won't make anybody more secure. Besides putting our satellites at risk, such programs will suck resources away from the sort of exploratory ventures that Star Trek symbolizes, and will poison the Star Trek-style international cooperation needed to make them happen, though it may give Musk big contracts for hauling weapons into orbit. Trump seeks to supplant Eisenhower's wisdom with his own incompetence. Before taking office Trump remarked that he eagerly sought an arms race because he thought the United States would win. 'We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all", he said. No one "wins" an arms race, all sides lose-- and risk doing so catastrophically. All of this is about deadly serious global security issues, not "sweet spaceships and pretty good uniforms and stuff". Sorry, Elon, but this is the kind of irresponsible thinking that will make the world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, not a Star Trek-style techno-utopia. Grow up.
I'm holding it down for you with Kristin @ Fox News, step up please!
Sonya Wiley here:
Privateers relish the thought of skimming our hard earned tax dollars to occupy space first from a military standpoint and create Star Trek like weapons to sustain perpetual war and maintain a global hold on Mother Earth and its denizens! It's even light years ahead of what Orwell predicted in "1984." That's why Grover Norquist lamented he'd like to, "shrink government small enough to drown it in a bathtub"....sure, that leaves the Spaceport wide open for accruing unlimited wealth with no oversight!
Space will become the Neo-de facto Maytag washer for laundering the 99%'s greenbacks....meanwhile, everyone is dying because we can't afford Medicare for all or education to keep people smart enough to prevent voting these pezzonovantes in! Terraform Mars, HA! We have 30,000+ bridges that are condemned; just waiting to fail here on earth.......hey, but climate change is a chinese hoax!
The USA is playing catch up on that one.
Fortunately, the country that is most actively pursuing an armed space presence stole most of the technology from us 20 years ago and is rumored to be less creative for developing new. I doubt people are any less creative in other countries.
Top leaders tend to become top leaders because they enjoy being in charge. Dictators have little motive to keep people happy, "scared worker-drones" works fine for them. If only from personal habit, dictators expect "scared" to be a universal power effect, and missiles in space are good for threatening neighbors.
Our last three presidents determined excess space money to be unpopular, therefor not worth pushing. We were lucky to get the very few relatively low budget satellites and planetary probes we got.
Pray our Space Force is not too late to the game.