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News | Nov. 9, 2023

USSPACECOM AEE Symposium: Collaboration Key to Solving Space Challenges

U.S. Space Command

U.S. Space Command held its third annual Academic Engagement Enterprise Symposium November 2-3, at the Penrose House in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The symposium brought together USSPACECOM leadership and AEE members from 15 academic institutions to engage in discussions about educational partnerships; workforce developments and internships; research and technology; space operations; and space conflict theory and policy.

U.S. Army GEN. James Dickinson, USSPACECOM commander, spoke about the value of experience and knowledge USSPACECOM’s workforce of service members, civilians, and contractors bring to the command, both in space and non-STEM fields, while emphasizing how academia can help USSPACECOM in its mission.

“I want to highlight to this group how important the relationship between (USSPACECOM) and academia is,” Dickinson said. “We've got some brilliant minds in your respective institutions that can really bring a lot of intellectual power to solving some of the hard problems within U.S. Space Command.”

USSPACECOM has the largest area of responsibility compared to other combatant commands – its territory extends from 100 kilometers above the Earth into space. The space domain is congested, contested, and competitive with China and Russia continuing to advance their space capabilities and commercial activities growing exceedingly in the last five years.

Collaborating with academic partners fosters unique competencies, capacities, and expertise, and increases space-applied research and technology.

“We want this symposium to be a forum for dialogue, both between (USSPACECOM) and (AEE members), and between yourselves as well. So, please challenge us,” said Brig. Gen. Samuel Keener, director of USSPACECOM’s Joint Forces Development and Training Directorate. “Our national leadership understands that we can't maintain a competitive advantage against our adversaries without a whole of nation approach … we turn to you, the nation's academic community, to help us lead the way.”

The AEE program currently has 38 proposed research topics created by senior leaders across USSPACECOM’s directorates. Amanda Mullins, AEE joint training program manager, said that after talking with current AEE members the team is looking at adding approximately four to five more broad topics to the list.

“We want to provide (AEE members) with these broad topics so that you have the flexibility to pursue a specific topic under those (focus) areas,” Mullins said. The AEE program began in September 2022 with four goals: to shape the future workforce; increase space applied research and innovation; expand space-focused academic partnerships; and enrich strategic space dialogue.

Keener praised AEE members for their proactive stance on “providing unique and creative solutions” in the space domain, on the diverse experiences and background their students and faculty bring to the program, and their agility to adapt their programs to meet the needs of USSPACECOM’s goals by establishing certificate programs and targeted training.  

“We've also noticed that there's a ton of graduate certificate programs that (AEE members’) universities are offering, and those are of utmost interest to us because what it allows the student to do is professionally develop themselves, but also continue on with their full-time job and support their family at the same time … but gain a valuable skill set from that program,” Keener said.

Service members are typically assigned to USSPACECOM for 3-5 years and come from a variety of backgrounds. These varying backgrounds mean that personnel have different levels of education and understanding of the space domain and need diverse options to pursue further training and education.

During the symposium, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s President, P. Barry Butler, shared what degrees, certifications, programs, and clubs the university offers to its students, including its worldwide online campus where he said 50 percent of the student population is active-duty military personnel.

The university has created certifications based on the needs of industry and its student population. Butler highlighted one certification the university created to ensure the aerospace industry’s electrical and mechanical engineers, who are designing avionics systems for new aircraft, have the knowledge to ensure the systems are “Federal Aviation Administration air worthy.”

“We put together, not a full program, but a certificate in air-worthiness engineering for people who already had engineering degrees, but needed to know all the hoops you have to jump through to get something air worthy,” Butler said.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University and other AEE members’ programs, which provide a combination of short-term training programs and education programs, are valuable to USSPACECOM personnel looking to grow their career paths.

While AEE members bring a multitude of opportunities to USSPACECOM, the AEE program is a collaborative relationship that USSPACECOM is looking to continue to develop. The command has and will continue to provide guest speakers and panel participants for discussions on defense and research, providing both technical expertise while also raising awareness and educating students on opportunities in space-related fields, to include the Department of Defense.

While previous symposiums focused on building AEE members and partnerships, this symposium focused on current members and how to increase collaboration and coordination.

“Through the symposium, Embry-Riddle gained a better understanding of how we can continue to work with U.S. Space Command to solve research problems and to collaborate on training the next generation of civilian and military leaders in space-related careers,” said Dr. Rob Kelly, executive director, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

USSPACECOM’s AEE program currently has 30 members, including its 10 new members added since April 2023: Kansas State University (Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus); Penn State; Idaho State University; University of Montana; Boise State University; National Security Policy Center at the University of Virginia; Naval Post Graduate School; Florida Institute of Technology; Colorado State University; and San Diego State University.