As the military’s youngest branch, U.S. Space Force is still finding its footing. That includes everything from trying to get its uniforms right (a work in progress) to laying out its specific doctrine on topics. This month Space Training and Readiness Command (also known as the aptly named STARCOM) published a new bit of space doctrine: SDP 3-100, Space Domain Awareness, which the command called “the first operational level doctrine publication developed by STARCOM for the U.S. Space Force.”

The overall document is straightforward, explaining how Space Force plans to operate its own satellites and take into account other nations’ space craft, satellites both national and commercial and generally plan for what happens in orbit. But as the team at noticed, buried in the wider document is a look at the unknown abnormal phenomena, what the military calls UAPs (and are more widely known as UFOs). 

“It requires the ability to rapidly identify and respond to threats and hazards, including objects that exhibit abnormal observables and patterns of life and cannot [be] correlated to any owner or point of origin,” the document notes.

This is where the UFO jokes kick in. 

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However, there are more terrestrial answers (apologies to everyone who wants to believe). The truth is, space is becoming increasingly busy and the U.S. military does not have eyes everywhere. Several objects can suddenly appear in space — or crash into the Moon as a rocket, likely a Chinese one, did last year — without any clear origin. So Space Force is trying to better identify these errant phenomena and at a quicker pace. 

The hunt for anomalies and other unidentified phenomena has become a serious matter for the Department of Defense. Last year the Pentagon opened the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, meant to track these unidentified objects or sightings across land, sea, sky and elsewhere. The AARO has received hundreds of reported cases from military branches and intelligence services; its inaugural director, Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick announced that he is stepping down from the role at the end of November. 

As Kirkpatrick has noted this year, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to identifying anomalies is that there is not enough data. Space Force, meanwhile, has been laying out and testing procedures for putting more satellites into orbit and bringing sensors online, both for missile defense and to better collect an array of data from orbit. The widening array of sensors serve mostly defensive and intelligence purposes, but they also provide the tools needed to help identify these unidentified objects. 

So far, Space Force is not sending commandos into orbit to attack UFOs — although the branch does want space planes that can go after enemy satellites — but it is hoping to keep an eye on them. 

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