NASA, U.S. Space Force establish foundation for broad collaboration

A Falcon 9 GPS III rocket launches from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., June 30, 2020. (Space Force photograph by Space Force Airman Thomas Sjoberg)

While advancing plans for unprecedented lunar exploration under the Artemis program, NASA also is building on a longstanding partnership with the Department of Defense with a new memorandum of understanding signed today by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.

The agreement, announced during a Sept. 22 Mitchell Institute virtual event, commits the two organizations to broad collaboration in areas including human spaceflight, U.S. space policy, space transportation, standards and best practices for safe operations in space, scientific research, and planetary defense.

“NASA’s partnerships are vital to ensuring America continues to lead the world in the peaceful uses of outer space,” Bridenstine said. “This agreement with the U.S. Space Force reaffirms and continues our rich legacy of collaboration with the Defense Department and provides a critical foundation to investigate areas of mutual interest for our distinct civil and defense roles in space.”

An Encapsulated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle sits ready for United States Space Force-7 mission in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2020. (Boeing photograph)

The memorandum replaces an agreement signed 14 years ago between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Space Command, under which the two organizations exchanged research and development information, sought to reduce duplication of system development, and collaborated in the long-term planning of each organization’s space roadmaps.

“NASA and the military share a long history dating back to the late 1950s; there is power in our partnership,” Raymond said. “A secure, stable, and accessible space domain underpins our nation’s security, prosperity and scientific achievement. Space Force looks forward to future collaboration, as NASA pushes farther into the universe for the benefit of all.” 

Freedom of action in space provides NASA and allied-nation space agencies the ability to explore and discover, and will enable America’s return to the Moon and subsequent exploration of Mars. The U.S. Space Force will secure the peaceful use of space, free for any who seek to expand their understanding of the universe, by organizing, training and equipping forces to protect U.S. and allied interests in space.

The security of the space domain has become more challenging with competitor nations able to jam, spoof, hack and use lasers to attack satellites and communications systems, Bridenstine said.

A Falcon 9 Starlink rocket successfully launches from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Aug. 18, 2020. Starlink is a satellite constellation targeted to provide high-speed internet across the globe. (Space Force photograph by Joshua Conti)

“We want to see behaviors improved in space,” he said, “and the Space Force will be an important partner in ensuring space is secure and is used peacefully for the benefit of all of humanity.”

Raymond said the Space Force will defend assets in space including GPS satellites, weather satellites, communications satellites, missile warning satellites, space domain awareness satellites, rockets and the International Space Station.

Those assets are vital to the joint force and those capabilities are shared with allies and partners, he added.

NASA, on the other hand, is in science, technology and exploration missions, which are distinct from what the Space Force does, Raymond said.

But besides operating together in the space domain, the two organizations share the space industrial base, research and development and science and technology that benefit both, he said.

This MOU reiterates the close collaboration that DOD has had with NASA since its founding in 1958, Raymond said, mentioning that most of the astronauts leading up to the moon landings were military personnel.

Bridenstine mentioned that as part of its Artemis program, NASA plans to send the first astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024 and establish a sustainable presence there by the end of the decade. The agency will then use the Moon to prepare for its next giant leap — human exploration of Mars.
Raymond said the Space Force will support those missions as well.

Learn more about how NASA is returning to the Moon to prepare for Mars, go to

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon spacecraft launches from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 30, 2020. (Coast Guard photograph by PO2 Mason Cambridge)


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