(Rich Cooper/HSToday)

PERSPECTIVE: ‘Space Force’ Comes Down to Earth in Homeland Applications

Part 3 of a three-part series on a U.S. space force. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

It’s not unusual if you are in a plane either during takeoff or landing to look outside the aircraft windows to see if you can capture a look of your home from above. That view from above is something we have always appreciated, but how we get that image today is dramatically different than how it happened just over a decade ago. Where government and military satellites once held dominance in capturing what is happening on the Earth’s surface, commercial satellites now operate bringing full-color imagery to our laptops and mobile phones in an instant. The rise of geospatial imagery, as well as the companies and researchers who continue to pioneer new uses and applications of it, have become one of the greatest resources the homeland security community has today.

Everything from weather prediction, flood mapping, community evacuations, revising supply chain routes, infrastructure protection and more have been dramatically refined over the past decade. The old phrase of “a picture is worth a thousand words” no longer applies when a single image captured by a space-based satellite or space industry refined drone or camera can lead to millions of different uses and opportunities.

If you think back to the natural disasters of 2017 (hurricanes including Harvey and Maria, California wildfires, etc.), it was not at all unusual for us to see these deadly acts of Mother Nature captured in real-time by government or commercially owned space assets. As effective as these captured images may have been to help the news media share what was happening, the use of these same images to assist first responders, supply chains and emergency managers, as well as help the public adapt and overcome what is happening, is even more amazing.

In today’s digital and data-driven world, our dependence on these types of images and the resources and capabilities that produce them is growing exponentially. From the FEMA administrator to a small-town emergency manager, to a supply-chain leader, to a CERT volunteer, the ability to hold in your hands the nearly real-time higher ground view is transformative for planning, preparedness, response and recovery efforts.

Every risk, every environment and every condition can not only be observed but modeled, forecasted and prepared for in ways that were once imagined as impossible. Space for the homeland makes that possible.

The same holds true for power and communications reliability. If you’ve heard or read any of the challenges that the people of Puerto Rico have endured in the months following Hurricane Maria’s wrath, you know that access to reliable communications and power are at the top of the problems list.  Even backup satellite communications networks and portable generators used by military, first responders and other public and private sectors proved to be “spotty” and unreliable.

In these areas, it is the space community that again rises to the challenge. With a decimated and severely out-of-date power grid unable to restore electricity to many of the island’s communities, Elon Musk, this time with his company Tesla, deployed his solar-powered Powerwall battery packs to get the lights back on in affected communities. With power now in place, communications architectures could be rebuilt allowing critical supplies and recovery operations to occur faster.

While the deployment of solar-powered batteries may be a cursory patch to address a larger wounded system of infrastructures, the demonstration of these new technologies shows an evolution that is occurring in what new tools, solutions and means are accessible to serve all of our communities from the range of risks they may encounter. The causes for many of these disasters is often up for debate but the reality is weather-related disasters are increasing. The only thing bigger than some of these disasters is the cost in lives, property and way of life.

Developing, refining and demonstrating complex and deployable solutions is something the space community has done for 60+ years in the most dynamic and hostile of environments. It’s also required this community to be constantly adaptable to unforeseen conditions if a mission is to ultimately succeed.

That adaptability for dynamic and hostile environments is something the homeland community and space community both share in common, which is why the relationships and partnerships between the two sectors has such enormous potential.

It is also why the Space Force that President Trump has envisioned is not something that he or his administration needs to create. The truth is America’s Space Force is already in operation today and it’s getting bigger, smarter and stronger every day.

And that is to everyone’s benefit. Especially the homeland’s.

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Rich Cooper is Editor-at-Large for HSToday. A former senior member of DHS’ Private Sector Office (PSO), Cooper has been a frequent writer and contributor to numerous media outlets. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications & Outreach for the Space Foundation and a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC. Cooper is also a former Senior Fellow with GWU’s Cyber and Homeland Security Institute and has also served in senior positions at NASA, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, SAS and several other profit and not-for-profit enterprises.

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