Army cadets at West Point learn how to build small satellites and rockets. Some also are considering competing to be a NASA astronaut.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army wants more of its officers to specialize in space operations, science and technology. A key step in that direction was to start a new space-focused program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, said academy professor Chalie Galliand.
Galliant, a major in the U.S. Air Force, serves as a junior rotating faculty in the Physics and Nuclear Engineering department at West Point. He spoke about the program in a video presentation at the 2020 Small Satellite Conference, a virtual event underway this week.
“For the first time in 2020 cadets graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in space science,” said Galliant. He noted that West Point’s newly established space and missile defense program has been 12 years in the making.
Many West Point graduates go on to join the Army’s cadre of space operations officers — known as functional area 40 or FA-40— after serving in their core branch like armor, infantry, aviation or engineers. FA-40s advise commanders on the battlefield on how to best employ space capabilities like communications, remote sensing and navigation.
Cadets at West Point are enthusiastic about space, Galliant said. In some course they get to build small satellites and rockets. Some also are considering competing to be part of the NASA astronaut corps.
There are currently three Army astronauts. Col. Andrew Morgan and Lt. Col. Anne McClain were both selected for the astronaut program in 2013, and Lt. Col. Frank Rubio was selected in 2017.
The Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama, is where Army space officers develop their careers. SMDC is investing in technologies like small imaging satellites to support to troops in the field.
Two of SMDC’s small satellite projects are Gunsmoke-J and Lonestar. Gunsmoke-J is a remote sensing technology demonstration. The Lonestar project consists of two satellites that will be used to demonstrate space situational awareness technologies.