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The US military is eyeing ‘rocket cargo’ to resupply troops anywhere in the world in under an hour

The idea of space-borne resupply pods may seem like something out of a science-fiction yarn, but it's actually closer to becoming a reality than you might think, according to U.S. Transportation Command officials
Jared Keller Avatar

Imagine this scenario: You’re deployed to some godforsaken hellhole downrange, in desperate need of additional ammo and chow. You call your superior officer for a very special airdrop: with approval from the U.S. Transportation Command, your cargo is launched into low earth orbit in a rocket-assisted payload. Within an hour, voila — fresh 5.56mm rounds and some delicious pizza MRE, ready to refresh your arsenal and renew your spirit. 

The idea of space-borne resupply pods may seem like something out of science-fiction but it could someday be a reality for troops downrange, according to Army officials.

“Think about moving 80 short tons, the equivalent of a C-17 payload, anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, the chief of Transportation Command, recently said during his virtual remarks at the Airlift/Tanker Association’s (A/TA) Conference in late October.

“We should challenge ourselves to think differently about how we will project the force in the future, and how rocket cargo could be part of that.”

Related: SpaceX plans to test a 7,500-mph rocket that could deliver weapons to troops downrange

Lyons’ comments came just weeks after he revealed during a National Defense Transportation Association event that the Pentagon had signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with aerospace pioneer SpaceX to develop potential shipping routes that pass through outer space.

Another aerospace company, Exploration Architecture Corporation, is also part of the research agreement, according to Business Insider.

TransCom “has identified that commercial, point-to-point space transportation may provide a unique capability, enabling the command to better support moving equipment and eventually people quickly around the globe to meet our national objectives, global emergencies, and natural disasters,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Nirav Lad, principal investigator for space transportation CRADAs at the command, said in a statement.

The relevant players in the defense industry are “examining the use cases, technical and business feasibility, and concepts of employing space as a mode of transportation supporting TRANSCOM’s role as the Defense Department’s global logistics provider,” the command said in the release

“Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people,” Lyons said at the time. “There is a lot of potential here.”

Senior Airman Ian Dudley, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, photographs an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile during an operational test at 2:10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The next steps in assessing a potential space logistics capability are scheduled to start next year while Transportation Command “continue[s] leveraging collaborations with industry and fellow combatant commands to enable a long-range, point-to-point, proof of concept trial in 2021,” according to the Army. 

“I’ve seen how fast some commercial space transportation providers are developing game-changing capabilities, and a 2021 proof of principle to deliver, perhaps, humanitarian assistance somewhere around globe, on a rocket transport mission, is well within the realm of possibility,” Lyons recently said.

The long-term goal is to develop a space transportation prototype that may allow TRANSCOM to supplement its air, sea, and land logistics operations within the next five to 10 years. Whether that timeline to achievable under the current research agreement with SpaceX remains to be seen. 

“I had no sense for how fast SpaceX was moving, but I’ve received their update and I can tell you they are moving very rapidly in this area,” Lyons previously said.

One thing is clear, however: rocket cargo is some total Starship Troopers shit and I am here for it

Related: Meet the first and only Air Force pilot to shoot down a satellite