The Department of Defense designated First Air Force as ‘Air Forces Space’ (AFSPACE), and the fifth service component to U.S. Space Command May 3, 2022.
The change postures First Air Force to provide airpower expertise and advocacy in support of USSPACECOM’s mission to conduct operations in, from and to space while integrating spacepower into the support of First Air Force’s homeland defense mission.
“As USSPACECOM continues to achieve key milestones towards reaching Full Operational Capability, the designation of AFSPACE and the realignment of Human Space Flight Support activities under AFSPACE demonstrates the rapid pace at which the command and components are moving to provide a safe and secure space environment,” said U.S. Army Gen. James H. Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander. “AFSPACE has achieved an Initial Operating Capability (IOC), and like USSPACECOM, is at a point where it can credibly claim to be organized and effective for employing our enduring, no-fail supporting functions to the joint force and civil partners.”
Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff, named First Air Force as the USSPACECOM air component in February 2021. Following that, Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Combat Command commander, established an Operational Planning Team to determine the resources required to meet the short and long-term demands for this new mission.
ACC is the force provider for AFSPACE, and existing Continental United States NORAD Region and Air Forces Northern roles, responsibilities and authorities.
On July 15, 2021, First Air Force, now AFSPACE, assumed the operational command and control of the Human Space Flight Support, or HSFS, mission, which was previously executed by the Combined Force Space Component Command at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. This First Air Force mission is executed through its assigned Detachment 3 (Det. 3) based at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla.
Det. 3, formerly commanded by Space Launch Delta 45, realigned under First Air Force during a redesignation and change of command ceremony held at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla, also that day. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force, Continental U.S. NORAD Region, AFNORTH, and now AFSPACE, affirmed his team’s commitment to USSPACECOM.
“Space-based capabilities enable virtually every element of our national power, including diplomatic, information, military and economic,” said Pierce. “It’s an honor to support that larger picture with our actions at a personal level. This includes our new responsibility to plan, train and execute worldwide rescue and recovery of NASA astronauts during contingency operations.”
Human Space Flight Support operations are conducted by the Department of Defense when requested by NASA, and validated by the DOD. These operations include the contingency search and rescue of NASA and NASA-sponsored astronauts.
For all crewed space flights, Det. 3 oversees the training and posturing of rescue forces on alert at Patrick Space Force Base, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Additionally, Det. 3 is responsible for coordinating astronaut rescue and recovery, contingency landing site support, payload security, medical support, coordination of airlift/sealift for contingency operations, as well as other support services required in the event of a spacecraft emergency.
Det. 3 has a long and distinguished history working closely with NASA to plan and coordinate DoD rescue, recover, and retrieval support for their crewed space missions.
“It’s immensely satisfying to take another step forward in the larger leap in our role as the Air Force component to U.S. Space Command,” said Pierce. “The First Air Force team appreciates being a valued joint partner in the defense of the Homeland in the air and space domains.”