You knew this was coming. The U.S. Space Force’s Space Delta 9 unit has officially been given its mission -- orbital warfare. As part of beefing up the Space Force’s weaponry, it has officially taken over control of the mysterious, unmanned experimental X-37B mini space shuttle that has completed a number of secret years-long orbits with undisclosed purposes – the last of which included a secret project for the Space Force. And, to unofficially join the Space Force with NASA, Air Force Col. Michael “Hopper” Hopkins, the commander of NASA’s upcoming SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station, will be commissioned into the U.S. Space Force while onboard the ISS. Is this progress, readiness or the initial steps towards orbital warfare?
“Delta 9 consists of three active duty squadrons headquartered at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado: 1st and 3rd Space Operations Squadrons, 750th Operations Support Squadron, and one operational Detachment. The mission of Delta 9 is to prepare, present, and project assigned and attached forces for the purpose of conducting protect and defend operations and providing national decision authorities with response options to deter and, when necessary, defeat orbital threats. Additionally, Delta 9 supports Space Domain Awareness by conducting space-based battlespace characterization operations and also conducts on-orbit experimentation and technology demonstrations for the U.S. Space Force.”
“The 750th Operations Support Squadron ensures the combat readiness of Delta 9 by building, developing, and equipping space professionals for orbital warfare. The squadron is responsible for training, intelligence, weapons and tactics, and other operational support necessary to enable Delta 9 to conduct its on-orbit protect and defend mission across the spectrum of conflict.”
The Delta 9 website was updated recently to reflect its expanded mission for orbital warfare – an “on orbit protect and defend mission.” To be “on orbit” requires an orbiting spacecraft, and the Air Force has at least on of those that we know of – the X-37B space plane. Built by Boeing for the Air Force, it’s launched from Cape Canaveral and lands at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with Edwards Air Force Base as a backup. Other than that, little is known about its missions, which have lasted from 224 days to 779 days. And now it has its first orbiting warship, which The Drive reports may be used to “carry, or at least be used to test, space-based weapons, including directed energy systems, such as laser or high-power microwaves.”
“If all goes well, we’re looking to swear him into the Space Force from the International Space Station.”
Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force, announced that Col. Hopkins will become the first NASA astronaut to serve in the Space Force. Col. Catie Hague, a spokesperson for the chief of space operations, described to SpaceNews that the transfer on the ISS to SpaceNews will be “a way to spotlight the decades-long partnership between DoD and NASA.” Well, the military has long provided pilots and personnel to NASA, so it’s about time for some moves in the opposite direction. And, with the expansion of Space Force duties to include “orbital warfare,” this is probably regarded as a promotion for Col. Hopkins. Is it possible that he’s being groomed as the first commander of the first manned mission on the X-37B?
If you’re into interesting coincidences, here’s one – Col. Hopkins’ previous trip to the ISS was as part of Expedition 37 and now he’s part of the Space Force, whose space plane is X-37B. Just a lighthearted ending to the heavy news that “orbital warfare” preparations are underway.