USC to partner with the U.S. Space Force

The Air Force program at USC will start collaborating with the Space Force as a part of their academic partnership program.

USC President Carol Folt signing an agreement document to have USC join the U.S. Space Force's University Partnership Program.

USC President Carol Folt announced a partnership with the United States Space Force on Feb. 28, making USC the only West Coast school in the select group of academic partners.

The two-year-old Space Force launched their academic partnership program in August 2021 at the University of North Dakota. Now, the University Partnership has expanded to 14 Space Force academic partners, including Howard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University.

Folt said she was excited to extend the university’s partnership with the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Our agreement with the U.S. Space Force creates a new way for members of the Trojan community to serve our country and will leverage USC’s strengths in aerospace research and education to help build a diverse force of scientists and engineers who are focused on operating in a new realm,” Folt said at the University Partnership Program ceremony.

The National Defense Authorization Act established the U.S. Space Force in December 2019 with bipartisan support. The $738 billion defense spending bill brought the creation of the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed forces – the newest since the creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.

Though created under the Trump administration in 2019, the current Biden administration has supported its growth and expansion. Its mission is to organize and train the “Guardians,” the official title for Space Force personnel, to conduct global space missions and prioritize national security.

Despite garnering controversy about the sci-fi connotations many made from former President Trump’s announcements, the main goal of the Trump administration’s Space Force was to expand existing Air Force missions in space, a plan that the Biden administration’s Space Force will carry forward.

Lynn Kirby, Space Force spokesperson explained the process through which USC was selected.

“USC and all partner universities were selected based on the quality of their STEM degree offerings and their space-related research laboratories and initiatives; robust ROTC programs; diverse student populations; and degrees and academic programs designed to support military, veterans and their families in pursuing higher education,” Kirby said.

Kirby added that this partnership will open USC students to collaborations, “with our nation’s brightest minds.” She said, “It will also provide a consistent pipeline of STEM talent via scholarship, internship and mentorship opportunities for ROTC cadets, university students and faculty.”

Josiah Yim, a senior studying civil engineering and a four-year long member of the Air Force ROTC, clarified what the new partnership will mean for members of ROTC at USC.

“In terms of commissioning towards becoming officers in the Air Force, [USC ROTC students] are now open to becoming officers in the Space Force,” Yim said. “[But] in terms of actual training, that may or may not occur.”

Lt. Gen. Michael A. Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command, attended the ceremony held on the USC campus to commemorate the partnership.

“In order to succeed in our mission, the U.S. Space Force needs a highly-educated and diverse group of military and civilian guardians who have the technical expertise and problem-solving skills to develop, advance and operate the world’s most advanced space systems today and into the future of our congested and contested space domain,” Guetlein said.

USC Viterbi Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Fokion Egolfopoulous echoed Guetlein’s sentiments, describing USC as a great place where the Space Force can look for future engineers.

“That’s why we train the students,” Egolfopoulos said, “to be hired by the Space Force and also [within] the space industry.”

Egolfopoulous also said USC Space Force understands the importance of the location of USC because of its proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, and it “is at the center of — I would use a metaphor — the Silicon Valley of aerospace science and engineering.”

Egolfopoulous voiced his excitement about this new program and the opportunities it will bring to USC students and the greater community.

“The stars have been aligned for USC. We have tremendous faculty here. We have excellent students and the location is unbelievable. We’re in the middle of the rocket industry, aerospace industry, space industry, you name it,” Egolfopoulous said, “And Space Force was smart enough to choose USC as their partner.”

For more information about the Space Force Academic Partnership Program, visit the official website.