SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (August 19, 2022) – Imagine traveling from the continental United States to anywhere in the Pacific region and measuring your transit time in minutes. Picture the U.S. delivering assistance to an ally needing disaster relief, or combatting an adversary planning provocative actions against U.S. national interests at rocket-speed. This is exactly what innovators at U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) are looking to make a reality with a group of industry partners pioneering space travel.
“We must continue to provide our leaders options below the threshold of war and prevent logistics from being the limiting factor on the battlefield,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John P. Sullivan, deputy commander at USTRANSCOM. “We are encouraged by the advancements being made by the space transportation industry as an emerging option.”
Tasked with projecting and sustaining combat credible forces across the globe, USTRANSCOM is testing the use of space transportation for point-to-point terrestrial delivery of cargo and personnel, with the possibility of it being leveraged in the next decade.
The command recently initiated three new Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with industry partners, adding to ongoing partnerships with SpaceX and Blue Origin, to independently explore the opportunities for industry-provided rocket cargo as a new mode of global transportation for Department of Defense (DoD) logistics. These agreements with Sierra Space Corporation, Virgin Orbit National Systems, and Rocket Lab USA will further assess the possibilities for a wider variety of space launch capabilities providing speed and access for expanded logistics operations.
Virgin Orbit National Systems is developing an aircraft-launched rocket that will need less prepared infrastructure than vertical takeoff systems. Rocket Lab USA is developing a family of differently-sized launch vehicles with vertical launch/landing capabilities and ability to insert payloads into orbit. Sierra Space is creating and building space transportation and infrastructure for launch on multiple rockets, prepositioning supplies in orbit, and multiple precision delivery platforms to sites around the globe, including on traditional runways.
These new agreements are expected to add new dimensions of information to USTRANSCOM’s ongoing research into the heavy cargo lift capabilities of commercial partners at SpaceX and Blue Origin.
USTRANSCOM is also partnered with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to explore commercial capabilities in the field of space travel for global logistics.
These CRADAs reinforce and complement research about space transportation as a fundamental shift in the way the DOD could respond to contingencies and disasters by potentially reducing the number of days required for planning, coordination, and execution. In conjunction with capacity, the speed of space transportation allows the potential to offer leaders more options for global access with greater decision space, adding a new tool to existing air, land and sea delivery.
USTRANSCOM exists as a warfighting combatant command to project and sustain military power at a time and place of the nation’s choosing. Powered by dedicated men and women, USTRANSCOM underwrites the lethality of the Joint Force, advances American interests around the globe, and provides our nation's leaders with strategic flexibility to select from multiple options, while creating multiple dilemmas for our adversaries.
Mr. Mark Surina, contractor, LMI Government Consulting within USTRANSCOM’s Office of Research and Technology Applications contributed to this article.