by Patrick Miller
Gen. James Dickinson, the new commander of the U.S. Space Command, came to UND on Tuesday to examine the possibility of North Dakota’s participation in the University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) program under the U.S. Space Force.
Said UND President Andy Armacost, who met with Dickinson during the commander’s visit, “This is perhaps one of the biggest opportunities we have at UND from a research and educational program perspective.”
Armacost came to UND after a 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, which included a brief stint in what was then known as the Air Force Space Command before the Space Force was officially formed late last year. During his time at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Armacost taught students who are now part of the Space Force. The UARC program is intended to assist the Space Force in technology acquisition and workforce development.
“I know what we offer at UND can support what the Space Force and the U.S. Space Command are looking to accomplish,” he said.
Space Command and Space Force
Dickinson explained that the Space Command – just over one year old – is part of the U.S. government’s warfighting organization, one of 11 such combat commands in the military. He also visited the Cavalier Air Force Station in northeast North Dakota, which uses radar to track objects in space.
“I’ve got the responsibility of doing the warfighting for the Space Command for the United States of America,” Dickinson said. “The Space Force is the newest branch of the military service. It’s the sixth service, and they’re responsible for organizing, training and equipping for Space Command.”
U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who arranged for Dickinson’s visit, described the importance of Space Command’s mission, noting that space is no longer a benign domain in which the U.S. dominates.
“Our adversaries, as well as our allies, are good at it and we need to continue to dominate space, and that includes potential warfighting,” he said.
Cramer noted that within the past year, he has also brought Gen. John Raymond, Space Force commander, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to UND.
Three space leaders in a year
“The reason I have brought in three major space leaders is because I know the assets we have in North Dakota and know that these assets can be maximized and utilized to the benefit of American national security, particularly as it relates to the space domain,” Cramer explained.
According to John Mihelich, UND Interim Vice President of Research & Economic Development, if UND becomes part of a Space Force UARC, it will be through the North Dakota University System (NDUS) with UND as the lead institution, North Dakota State University as a research partner and other higher education institutions in the state involved.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us if we can be part of the UARC, no matter how it unfolds,” he said. “We got a chance to ask the general some thoughts about where they’re at with the potential UARC, and he got to see our capabilities.”
Before meeting with about two dozen UND Air Force and Army ROTC cadets, Dickinson heard brief presentations on a variety of research and education areas relevant to Space Command and UARC. They were made by: Jane Schuh, Vice President for Research and Creative Activity at NDSU; Beth Bjerke, Associate Dean for the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences; Brian Tande, Dean of the College of Engineering & Mines; Pablo De Leon, Chair, Department of Space Studies; Ryan Adams, Director of the School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science; Mark Hoffman, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Arts & Sciences; Charles Gorecki, CEO of the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC); Nick Flom, Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site; and Mark Askelson, Executive Director of the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems (RIAS).
During his hour-long meeting with ROTC cadets, Dickinson outlined the mission of Space Command, discussed opportunities within the organization and answered questions.
Opportunities for ROTC cadets
“I will tell you those young cadets coming through the university here – soon to be officers – we will absolutely look to those types of individuals to be part of not only the U.S. Space Force, but what I’m responsible for, which is the United States Space Command,” he said. “We’re looking for that young, vibrant student or young vibrant adult that’s looking to potentially serve their nation, either in uniform or as a civilian.”
Ultimately, Armacost said the goal is to have North Dakota participation in a Space Force UARC.
“It could be a consortium of likeminded universities that have something to offer,” he said. “What UND offers is not only the research capabilities, but also workforce development opportunities. We provide the education and skills students need to be in the Space Force. There’s a huge opportunity for us to apply all our great educational programs, as well as the research component.”