Test Center, Space Force provide critical link to the future of space test

Major changes to the way systems are designed, tested and fielded are necessary if space capabilities are to survive and operate in a warfighting domain.

Because of this, the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and U.S. Space Force are dedicated partners in leveraging Test Center resources, plans, and processes to help build the space test enterprise of the recently created U.S. Space Force.

Gen. David D. Thompson, vice chief of Space Operations for the Space Force, gained first-hand knowledge of AFTC’s test partnership with USSF during a visit to Edwards Oct. 4-5, 2021.

“The Air Force Test Center has a tremendous history, legacy, body of knowledge, and expertise in executing rigorous, reliable and repeatable test programs,” Thompson said. “Opting for a partnership with AFTC was the easy answer in terms of where to go to get the training and education expertise we need to build an effective space test enterprise.”

One key partnership between Space Force and AFTC is the USAF Test Pilot School’s Space Test Fundamentals Course, which officially launched January 2021. The course is now in its third iteration.

“Our Test Pilot School has partnered with the USSF, bringing them the foundation of TPS curriculum to help build their cadre of space test professionals with the Space Test Fundamentals course,” said Maj. Gen. Evan Dertien, AFTC commander.

While the USAF TPS is where the top pilots, navigators and engineers learn how to conduct flight test and generate the data needed to field the world’s best aircraft in support of the National Defense Strategy, the creation of the STF course aims to do the same for the complex systems of the space domain.

According to Dr. Andrew Freeborn, STF course director, the course recently stood up a curriculum working group with the intent to create an accredited space test long course for students in the future. The curriculum will work in tandem with their mission to “produce adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space weapon systems.”

“While we’ve done test over the years in space, the focus was on ensuring that the systems performed as required in the harsh natural environment of space. There’s so much we can and must learn from Test Pilot School about testing system performance, survivability and effectiveness against counterpace weapons currently being fielded by potential adversaries,” Thompson said.

In recent months, AFTC and USSF have also partnered up to create memorandums of agreement, specifically between the Space Training and Readiness Command, or STARCOM, and AFTC in the areas of workforce management and digital engineering.

STARCOM exists to prepare combat-ready USSF forces to fight and win in a contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environment through the deliberate development, education and training of space professionals; development of space warfighting doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures; and the operational test and evaluation of USSF capabilities.

“The Test Center is focused on the interoperability of air, space, and cyber systems as demonstrated by our Large Force Test Events like Orange Flag and Emerald Flag- which may be one way the USSF can collaborate with AFTC to test and deliver future capabilities,” said Dertien.

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