US Space Force Interests Align With Space Sciences Research at Washington University in St. Louis

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
    The creation of the United States Space Force may seem a little out there for some people, but the newest branch of the U.S. military will have missions that closely align with research on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.  

    “It’s not all about boots in space, so to speak. It’s going to be more about technology in space. We work with the same technology at the university, in our laboratories, as will be done with Space Force,” said Bradley Jolliff, PhD, Director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Space Force will have as primary mission objective security of space borne assets.”

    Jolliff has been a research scientist and Scott Rudolph Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University for many years. His department has built a relationship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). NGA’s western headquarters is in St. Louis. 

    Jolliff explained there is crossover technology and interests between NGA and Space Force that also pertain to research at the university. 

    “Near-Earth space and low-Earth orbit, lots of satellites. But then you could extend that to having an interest in the moon as high ground in the Earth-Moon system or even beyond,” Jolliff said. “Once we get to traveling, say with astronauts to Mars and establishing bases on the moon and Mars, far distant kinds of things that Space Force would be interested in.” 

    Jolliff believes synergy with the U.S. Space Force is a realistic goal for Washington University that can boost university admissions and career development.  

    “The NGA is a great example. I had a PhD student who graduated a few years ago and she now works for the NGA. There are a lot of synergies in what we do on the science side and what U. S. Space Force would do in terms of technology. There are technologies, let’s just take an example, something called remote sensing where we have sensors on a satellite gaining information. And that’s a beautiful crossover between science and Space Force because that’s the kind of thing where somebody who’s trained on the science side could get a job working for the Space Force. So I think there’s great potential for growth of this kind of an interest at Washington University,” said Jolliff. 

    Jolliff is focused on the study of minerals and rocks of the Earth, the moon, Mars and meteorites, and what they reveal about conditions of formation and planetary processes over the past 4.5 billion years. His research includes sample analysis, surface science and remote sensing, as well as laboratory studies.

    Jolliff has also spent the majority of his career studying the moon. He’s part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera science team. He investigates the surface of the moon, relating what can be seen from orbit to what is known about the moon through the study of lunar meteorites and Apollo samples. 

    “I have an appreciation for what the U. S. Space Force is going to be doing. (NASA) Artemis will put astronauts on the moon in the next few years,” he said. “I think this is something that Space Force will be very interested in following. And there’s yet another aspect that’s coming and that’s commercialization of space and what will come with commercialization and the interrelationship with Space Force and science. It’s going to be tens of billions of dollars put in, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, put into these kinds of activities. And it’s a good idea to be thinking about security and protection.”