Five weeks before the establishment of the U.S. Space Force on Dec. 20 last year, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond wrote a memorandum to DoD and space industry officials laying out a Range of the Future 2028 initiative to move to all-autonomous launches by the start of fiscal 2026.
Raymond was then the commander of U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and would soon become the first chief of space operations for the sixth military service.
“AFSPC launch ranges remain critical to national security objectives, and demand for this limited resource is increasing,” Raymond wrote in the Nov. 13, 2019 memo–entitled Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) Implementation. “To achieve resiliency and efficiency across the AFSPC launch and test enterprise, our Range of the Future 2028 initiative will build a simplified common range architecture and revise processes essential to match resource demands.”
In a Dec. 17 TechCrunch space forum, Raymond pointed to SpaceX‘s autonomous launches and said that he believed that all of the launch industry would move to such launches (Defense Daily, Dec. 17). The first stages of SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets have returned to earth to be reused, as SpaceX has said that it wants to drive down launch costs by reusing “the most expensive parts of the rocket.”
Last month, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with four NASA astronauts into space for a science mission aboard the International Space Station in what NASA said was the first, successful NASA-certified crewed, commercial spacecraft launch.
The policy letter/memo from November last year went to top DoD officials, such as Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper; National Reconnaissance Office Director Christopher Scolese; Air Force Gen. Timothy Ray–the head of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC); Mike Griffin–who was then the Pentagon undersecretary of defense for research and engineering; Navy Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe–the director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs (SSP); Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill–the director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA); NASA and FAA officials, and industry executives from SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA)–a partnership between Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA], Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman [NOC], Firefly Aerospace, and Rocket Lab.
“Our range architecture will transform by 2023 in order to fully utilize AFSS,” according to Raymond’s memo. “To meet resiliency, cost reduction, and capacity demands, space launch users of the Eastern and Western Ranges must transition to an AFSS by 1 October 2025. The ranges will continue to provide a capability to support command-destruct for existing test programs only until 1 October 2030. Following 1 October 2030, the ranges will utilize AFSS solutions as the primary means to meet public safety responsibilities. Programs requiring command-destruct capability after 2030 will be required to self-provision acceptable solutions.”
The Eastern Range is located at Cape Canaveral, Fla., while the head of the Western Range is Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
Under command-destruct, a Range Safety Officer (RSO) can terminate a rocket or missile flight that poses safety risks.
The Range of the Future Task Force conducted a study of command-destruct alternatives for programs needing a Flight Termination System when the ranges move to AFSS in 2030, and the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., is working with test programs to accelerate the adoption of “qualified” AFSS solutions, Raymond wrote in the memo.