The US Space Force is planning toward a future in which rockets are launched to orbit and other locations on Earth with increasing frequency.
This is part of its plan to build a logistical network resembling a "freight train to space". The Space Force's lead for space acquisition provided an update on these plans earlier this week, according to a report by Breaking Defense.
The new US Space Force plans would seemingly turn orbital space into a cargo network for quickly transporting goods around the globe.
Readers may remember SpaceX's Earth to Earth concept, shared by the private space firm in a video (viewable below) on its YouTube channel back in 2017. The Space Force's plan is similar to this concept, though it would utilize spacecraft for constant logistical launches around the globe instead of for human transport, as envisioned by SpaceX.
"We really want to get after that freight train to space. We really want to get to that point where we're constantly launching," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy, the Space Systems Command (SSC) executive program officer for Assured Access to Space, as per the Breaking Defense report. "We can’t do that today, but we want to get to that point."
Purdy made the statement at the SCC's first-ever Space Mobility conference, which included representatives of regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration. The program executive officer also explained that the SCC plans include a rapid turn-around to get things to space quickly. He also suggested that we may see "on-orbit depots" that essentially work as warehouses in space for storing cargo that could be delivered anywhere on Earth.
Meanwhile, Col. James Horne, Purdy’s deputy, explained that the SCC believes a space cargo delivery network could be operational within a few years.
"The Space Force is the lead service for this program. If any of these different offerings groups are successful … we're already starting to activate program plans stand up in the 2026 timeframe with IOC [initial operational capability] moving to full operational capability as the use cases evolve, and the technology and tools," he said.
All of this draws up the question of the environmental footprint of rockets. Last year, a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres highlighted how rockets release tons of black carbon molecules into the stratosphere.
This black carbon can accumulate, resulting in a warmer stratosphere and a thinner ozone layer. Black carbon particles can also stay in the atmosphere for up to four years, leading some scientists to refer to the effect as the black umbrella.
One company aiming to tackle this problem is UK rocket firm Orbex, which will use ultra-low-carbon bio-propane to fuel its rocket launches. The US Space Force will likely have to find a similar solution if it aims to set up a massive space logistics network in the future.
According to Breaking Defense