Top Space Force general says 'America owns space' in part due to companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX

Gen. John Raymond, U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command commander, speaks at the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 16, 2019.
Tech. Sgt. Armando Schwier-Morales | U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON – The nation’s top general leading the U.S. military mission in space said Wednesday that he is excited about Wall Street and billionaire investment in the space industry, which has sparked renewed interest in space among Americans and strong recruitment at the Pentagon’s youngest branch.

“America owns space in all sectors,” said Gen. John Raymond, the U.S. Space Force’s chief of operations, when asked by CNBC about the strides made by private space companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

“I’ve talked about people knocking on our door wanting to come into the Space Force in numbers greater than what we have slots to fill. I’ve talked in the past about how universities are seeing more students apply for space STEM degrees, which I think is going to be great for our nation,” Raymond added.

“I’m excited about all of it, both what we’re doing here on national security and what’s going on in the commercial industry that we can leverage the advantage,” the four-star general said without specifically naming any companies.

“The U.S. has always, has long understood that we are stronger with a secure and stable space domain and all of those sectors play into that,” Raymond said.

The U.S. Space Force, the Pentagon’s youngest branch, has increasingly looked to partner with the private sector as companies and investors pour into the space industry. The Pentagon is closely watching the progress of rocket builders like Rocket Lab, Astra and Virgin Orbit in addition to SpaceX.

Raymond’s comments came on the heels of SpaceX announcing this week that it will fly its first all-civilian crew to orbit later this year, a mission known as Inspiration 4. 

The landmark flight, led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, is aimed at using high-profile space tourism to raise support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Three yet-to-be-announced passengers will accompany Isaacman on the multi-day journey around the Earth, with two of the seats to be decided in public online competitions this month.

Raymond also called out NASA’s Crew-1 mission, which was the first operational launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“If you look at what’s going on in the civil sector with the launch of U.S. astronauts, and in this last launch a Japanese astronaut from U.S. soil on a commercial launch vehicle, there’s a ton of excitement there,” Raymond said.

Raymond did not provide a reaction to SpaceX’s Starship rocket test flight on Tuesday, which resulted in another explosive landing attempt.

Starship prototype SN9 launched successfully to about 33,000 feet but, like the previous prototype flight in December, the rocket smashed into the ground while attempting to land.

Private investment in space companies last year set a new annual record, despite industry fears that the Covid-19 pandemic would end the past decade’s momentum, according to a report by Space Capital last month. Builders of rockets and satellites brought in $8.9 billion in 2020, with venture capital and angel investors continuing to pour funds into space businesses.

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