WASHINGTON — Much of what the U.S. military does in space is carried out on classified networks, with teams of space operators working in close quarters on computer systems that process data from highly advanced satellites and radar. In short: a potential hotbed for the novel coronavirus.
Three individuals assigned to the Space Force in Colorado have been diagnosed with COVID-19, said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, who leads both the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command.
However, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t slowing down space operations, Raymond told reporters during a teleconference Friday, pointing to ongoing work providing additional bandwidth to the hospital ship USNS Mercy and supporting the GPS satellites, among other mission areas.
“We’re committed to providing those capabilities and we’re continuing to do so without interruption,” he said.
“Operationally, we launched AEHF 6 yesterday,” he said. “This month in March took initial operational capability of the Counter Communications System block 10.2. … The Space Fence we will declare today it reached initial operating capability, and the second GPS III satellite today will be operationally accepted.”
To keep space operations moving forward, troops assigned to the Space Force have had to adopt precautions to ensure crews are insulated from getting COVID-19 and passing it around their squadron. There is no one-size-fits all policy, stressed Raymond, who said that the Space Force has reviewed every mission area and come up with specific directives for each one.
“We have a very diverse mission set and our crews vary in size from two to dozens, and they vary in location from Thule, Greenland, to Colorado Springs. There’s differences,” said Raymond.
Raymond wouldn’t go into details on all the measures being taken, citing operational security reasons, but said that he feels comfortable that the Space Force is doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus.
Some of the precautionary steps include keeping crews separate to avoid exposure to the virus, disinfecting surfaces according to medical guidelines, screening personnel for a fever or other coronavirus symptoms before getting on the operations floor and — when possible — reducing the number of personnel in a workspace. For now, Space Force isn’t proactively testing crews to ensure they are not COVID-19 positive, he said.
“We’ve taken some pretty significant steps to ensure that those airmen that are absolutely critical to our nation are protected,” he said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.