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The Cape, Chapter 3, Section 10

Medium and Light Military Space Operations

U.S. Air Force and NASA Leadership in Space

In Chapter II, we began our discussion of military space operations with some of the largest and most sophisticated space boosters in the world. In Chapter III, we concluded with some of the smallest and simplest suborbital vehicles. Whatever their size and shape, military space operations were-and are-an important part of the nation's space effort at Cape Canaveral. As we have seen, some Defense Department missions and space launch vehicles are distinctly military. Others are intertwined with NASA's space initiatives in fundamental ways. While almost nothing in space can be accomplished without the steadfast support of scientists, laboratories, spacecraft companies and launch contractors, it is fair to say that NASA and the Department of Defense have been partners in providing the driving force behind America's space effort from the late 1950s onward.

One of the spin-offs from the U.S. Government's leadership in space was the development of domestic commercial space launch operations. The U.S. commercial space industry grew out of the technological seeds spread by government contracts, and the Defense Department was one of the largest government sponsors for those contracts. While the Air Force and NASA are not allowed to subsidize commercial space efforts at the Cape, unused government facilities may be operated by commercial contractors as long as the government is reimbursed for the direct costs associated with their operation. (Commercial contractors run their own services, but they are at least partially dependent on government facilities for their spacecraft processing and launch operations.) While we may hope the commercial space industry will be able to "go it alone" in the 21st Century, American spacecraft and launch vehicle contractors still look to NASA and the Department of Defense to sponsor new directions in space vehicle and launch facility architecture in the waning years of the 20th Century.

It is logical, therefore, to pay serious attention to the government's long-term proposals for new space boosters and launch infrastructures even if the concepts seem somewhat grandiose and impractical in the short term. In the final chapter, we will look at government-sponsored space vehicle and launch facility studies in the mid-to-late 1980s and 1990 and the fiscal and political realities that toned down their ultimate effect. The reader is cautioned: the studies describe space operations at the Cape only as they might be. They should not be construed as an endorsed blueprint for the future or a coordinated plan. At best, they may be thought of as a direction-a new way military and civilian space operations could be launched from the Cape in the 21st Century, based on emerging technologies rooted in the 20th.

The Cape: Miltary Space Operations 1971-1992
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925

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