Grand Forks Air Force Base has been assigned a future satellite mission, it was announced late Friday morning.
Word first came from the offices of U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
According to Cramer's office, the Defense Department's Space Development Agency was approved by the Air Force to operate the satellite mission out of Grand Forks Air Force base. The Space Development Agency will use GFAFB as a center to monitor and maneuver low-earth-orbit satellites.
"Congratulations to Grand Forks Air Force Base for taking on more responsibility in defending our country by bolstering our presence in space,” Cramer said in a statement. “I thank the agency’s director Dr. Tournear for visiting the base and the University of North Dakota with me last year and for acting on what he learned, and I appreciate Air Force Secretary Kendall’s recognition of the great capabilities North Dakota brings to the table. I look forward to working with them to ensure this effort is successful.”
Friday's news of the future satellite mission comes just a few weeks after an announcement on Aug. 26 that Grand Forks Air Force Base has been selected to develop and train crews in support of future intelligence surveillance reconnaissance missions. That announcement meant the base will play a central role in the Air Force's ISR efforts in the coming years.
"Grand Forks Air Force Base will be one of the Air Force's premier locations for Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for years to come," Hoeven said shortly after last month's ISR announcement.
Friday, Hoeven said “Grand Forks is the ideal location to house this new Space Networking Center."
He added: "We’ve been working with SDA and Air Force to secure this new mission, which provides essential support for our national security and will help our nation stay ahead of our adversaries in developing critical new technologies."
Hoeven, in a Friday phone call with the Herald, said GFAFB will be one of two military bases operating the low-earth-atmosphere satellite mission. The other base is Redstone, an Army base in Huntsville, Ala.
The mission comes about as all U.S. military branches are beginning to transition toward a laser-based communication system, from a system based on radio waves. Satellites are, in part, designed by defense and technology company, General Atomics, which is one of the anchor tenants at the Grand Sky drone technology park near GFAFB.
“It's about staying ahead of our near-peer adversaries like Russia and China, so they can’t intercept our communications,” said Hoeven.
Friday’s announcement comes after the Air Force conducted an expedited review of GFAFB’s capabilities, to see if the base could support the satellite mission. The other option, Hoeven said, was to house the mission at Grand Sky.
Hoeven added that laser-based communication systems will eventually have commercial uses as well.
Hoeven and Cramer both noted their efforts working with SDA, including Director Derek Tournear, to identify funding priorities to help advance the new satellite networking center. They also discussed it with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. when the general visited Grand Forks last winter.
Adding the satellite mission further strengthens the base to future Air Force efforts, Cramer said Friday.
"The satellite operations center will be vital in improving our space-based defense capabilities, and it further establishes Grand Forks as an important player in America’s national security," he said.