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Space Force will have a large footprint in New Mexico, which has long been a key player in the space industry because of the national laboratories, White Sands Missile Range and space-related activities at Kirtland Air Force Base. 
Space Force will have a large footprint in New Mexico, which has long been a key player in the space industry because of the national laboratories, White Sands Missile Range and space-related activities at Kirtland Air Force Base.  (U.S. Air Force)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — Kyle Gleichmann’s interest in outer space was piqued as a child from reading about the Apollo missions and watching old television clips of the historic effort.

The son of an airman, Gleichmann, 33, was born overseas and raised in New Mexico after his father was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base. He graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and has worked for the Air Force Research Laboratory in the space field since 2008, first as a student intern and then as an employee. He’s currently the chief engineer on a major yearslong spaceflight experiment.

“It’s always been a lifelong dream to work in the space industry,” he said in an interview. “And for me to be able to do that right away, pretty much working while I’m in college and being able to do it in New Mexico. It’s awesome.”

Last month, Gleichmann and dozens of others who work on base pledged their oath of office as some of the country’s first official Guardians — the moniker of the military service members and civilians who serve in the U.S. Space Force, the newest branch of the armed forces. Since February, there have been several swearing-in ceremonies at Kirtland to transfer space professionals over to the Space Force.

In some ways, Gleichmann is emblematic of a Guardian. Space Force will be a small branch compared to others, and it will be comprised of very highly skilled workforce who, like Gleichmann, are experts in STEM fields, said Col. Eric Felt, the director of the AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, which is based at Kirtland.

“The culture of the Space Force is of course still evolving but some definite themes have emerged,” Felt said in an email. “... The Space Force was ‘born digital’ and is very focused on technology. We must maintain a technology lead in space in order to deter conflict in space.”

New Mexico impact

Space Force will have a large footprint in New Mexico, which has long been a key player in the space industry because of the national laboratories, White Sands Missile Range and space-related activities at Kirtland Air Force Base. In recent years, there’s been a rapid rise in space-related development, in large part because the military here is engaging private companies to help modernize its space-based defense technology. In addition, private companies are building break-through commercial technology for space tourism and rocket and satellite launch capability at Spaceport America.

“I expect the space science and technology excellence at Kirtland to continue to grow, additional commercial space companies to thrive in New Mexico, and that Space Force will be part of increasing the overall STEM expertise of our New Mexico students and workforce,” Felt said. “This will lead to additional high paying jobs and economic diversity with the state.”

An 18-month Department of Defense effort is underway to transition thousands of members of other branches into the Space Force, which will consolidate space missions. Hundreds of those transitions will take place at Kirtland, which is home to the Air Force Research Laboratory. The laboratory’s Space Vehicles and Directed Energy directorates are among the groups that will transfer into the Space Force.

The Space Force will remain under the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps is under the Department of the Navy.

All told, there are expected to be about 4,840 military, enlisted and civilian Space Force Guardians positioned around the globe, who will operate 77 satellites, Felt said. An expected 556 of those positions will be at Kirtland; 417 from Space Vehicles and 139 from Directed Energy, according to AFRL.

“The nation and the DOD depend on services provided from space every day such as GPS, communications, and missile warning,” Felt said. “ China and Russia know how important those space capabilities are and they have developed weapons that threaten our satellites.”

Earning ‘Guardian’ label

Gleichmann is joining the Space Force after having been a part of several high-profile AFRL experiments based out of Kirtland in recent years.

He’s currently a chief engineer on a spaceflight experiment called Arachne, a keystone experiment that is part of an AFRL project that aims to prove and mature the technology needed to create a solar power transmission system. The project envisions a satellite system that can collect solar energy and beam it down to Earth.

Gleichmann was also part of the Demonstration and Science Experiments spacecraft. The DSX project sent the largest unmanned satellite ever into orbit to study radiation belts.

Many of the technologies developed through these space experiments are used by commercial space companies.

“A lot of the technology that gets developed in the military inevitably gets transitioned to the civilian world,” Gleichmann said. “A really good example is GPS that was originally developed just primarily for military use. And now everyone has it in their pocket and it’s hard to imagine everyday life now without Google Maps.”

For that reason, Gleichmann said the name “Guardian” is fitting for those who serve in the Space Force.

“It’s very fitting because a lot of the technologies we’re working on we’re looking to transition to all the military branches,” he said. “So in that sense, as Guardians we’re looking out for everyone. Military and eventually civilians, because technologies transfer over.”

(c)2021 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal at www.abqjournal.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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