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Launch of Space Force Largely Unaffected by Coronavirus, Top Space Officer Says

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 27, 2020) -- The Space Force launched in late December and, as it approaches its 100th day, its forward momentum is unabated by the coronavirus pandemic, the chief of space operations said.

"The men and women in U.S. Space Command and the U.S. Space Force are executing our 24/7, no-fail missions to protect and defend our nation's space centers," Space Force Gen. John W. Raymond, who also serves as commander of U.S. Space Command, said during a telephone news conference today at the Pentagon.

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"Whether it's operating in an increasingly competitive, congested or contested space domain hundreds of thousands of miles above us or continuing to provide space-enabling capabilities to the joint and allied force, mission partners and commercial sector, we're safely and effectively conducting our missions," he said.

An "advanced, extremely high frequency" military communications satellite launched into orbit for the Space Force yesterday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is the nation's sixth such satellite.

Raymond said Spacecom has worked to provide additional communications bandwidth in response to requests from the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy as it heads to Los Angeles to handle trauma patients, freeing up civilian hospitals to handle more COVID-19 patients.

"We optimize the constellation or the payloads to be able to provide that support," he said. "We're doing that for every request that we may get."

Raymond currently is the only member of the Space Force, but he said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, his senior enlisted advisor, has been identified as the second person who will be sworn into the Space Force. That swearing-in will be delayed until a ceremony can be held to welcome him into the new service, the general said.

In May, 64 cadets enrolled at the Air Force Academy are expected to graduate and be direct-commissioned into the Space Force, Raymond said. Additionally, he said, the Space Force is "on track" with plans for transferring as many as 16,000 people attached to the Space Force from other services into the Space Force as permanent members.

The Space Force is "moving out at full speed" to make announcements on a variety of topics that will be of interest to future Space Force members and the entire Defense Department, the general said.

"We have our first flag, for example, and we'll do a presentation on that flag," he said. "We've got the naming of our space professionals -- we did a crowdsourcing." Officials received more than 700 responses to a call for suggestions, he added.

"We're narrowing down that list, and I think you'll be hearing an announcement on that in the very near future," Raymond said.

Also, he said, some Air Force installations that have mostly space-related missions will be renamed. Some of those bases that will eventually be renamed are Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, and three bases in Colorado: Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base and Buckley Air Force Base.

"That requires a ceremony," Raymond said. "We want to do that right. We want to do that safely, so we'll schedule those when we can do that in an appropriate manner and keeping everybody that would attend that ceremony safe."

When it comes to protecting Space Command personnel from coronavirus to ensure continuation of the mission, Raymond said appropriate guidelines are being followed.

"We have enhanced our disinfectant consistent with the national guidelines," he said. "We have done the social distancing; we spread our crews out. We have monitored them before they come into the operations floor to make sure that they don't have temperatures, for example. We have taken some pretty significant steps to make sure that those airmen that are absolutely critical to our nation are protected, that their families are protected, and that we can continue to provide those capabilities for a nation."

The general also said that if members of critical mission crews contract COVID-19, there are "backup crews" segregated from other crews who could fill in.

"We have multiple layers of defense to protect the remaining crews," he said.

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