Predictably, in the two months since US Vice President Mike Pence announced White House plans to form a new “Space Force” to police the heavens, much online talk has focused on the supposed hilarity, or horror, of President Donald Trump controlling an army of space soldiers.
This week a leaked Air Force memo estimated the cost of the Space Force to be at least $13 billion over five years. That is far less than the $18.4bn NASA receives each year, and around 0.3% of the annual US federal budget (the 2019 budget request for the Air Force, meanwhile, is $156.3bn).
Space Force will come at a relative snip, therefore – despite concerns it will run over that $13bn figure. And while US Air Force secretary Heather Wilson said, earlier this month, that a Space Force proposal must be “bold”, it is not to be ridiculed.
It may be 52 years since Captain James T. Kirk uttered his fateful words, but space is still at least one of humankind’s final frontiers – the body and deep sea being two others unpeeled by modern science. Patrolling it is a forthcoming inevitability, especially with private ventures like SpaceX and Blue Origin shattering expectations every month.
They are contributing to a commercial space industry already worth $350bn. The US military is already in space with satellites and other projects. Protecting and expanding their operation isn’t just a matter of national security – it’ll make a lot of money.
Depending on your national allegiance, increased US involvement in space could protect against cyber threats from China or Russia or perpetuate American imperialism over the world. The White House, of course, projects the former: Space Force will go a long way to ensuring US tactical dominance on earth, from many miles around it.
If that’s not enough of an economic incentive, consider the impending arrival of moon and asteroid mining, industries set to be worth trillions in rare-earth material discovery. Japan’s Hayabusa 2 module landed on an asteroid two days ago. Private companies are watching with intent. If it wants to take a big chunk of a giant pie, America should prioritize the field. Space Force will enable it.
The US hasn’t fostered a great reputation as a country that saves money, in the past decade. The tech world may just be the apotheosis of American finance, spending in huge quantities and failing often. Space Force is a chance to spend small and win big. Beyond speak of Martians and universal soldiers, there’s a hefty bottom line in play.