REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- A new program at America's most historic military college trains future officers in space-related fields and connects research opportunities between cadets and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Space and Missile Defense, or SMD, program was initiated in 2015 after significant upgrades to research facilities that will be used for space-related research.

The SMD program comprises: the space science major, the space science minor, and the astronautics track. The SMD program is also supported significantly by the Space and Missile Defense Command Research and Analysis Center, or SMDC-RAC.

The current members of the SMD program at West Point include Lt. Col. Stacy H. Godshall, an assistant professor for USMA Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering and USMA SMD program director, and Lt. Col. (Dr.) Todd Book, a Functional Area 40, or FA40, space operations officer, who is assigned to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center with duty at USMA as the research director for SMDC-RAC.

"The SMDC-RAC serves as the interface between SMDC and USMA to connect research that directly supports SMDC with the intellectual capital of cadets and facility at the academy," Book said. "Since participation by cadets through independent research programs is voluntary, not part of their degree requirements except for engineering programs, the SMDC-RAC seeks research topics that provide inspiration for cadets to apply both the basics of science and their creativity to develop innovative solutions for complex problems for SMDC.

"Some of the current research projects undertaken by the SMDC-RAC include radiation testing of commercial off-the-shelf nanosat components, and the design and development of a payload for the integration with the USMA cubesat program, Black Knight II," he added.

Godshall said many academy faculty members over the past five years identified a need for a program like the SMD program to meet the needs of the society, including the military, in the form of more citizens knowledgeable in space-related fields of study.

Godshall added that this echoed the need identified by the 2001 Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, a.k.a. the 2001 Space Commission, which indicated a need for space cadre in the Department of Defense.

"Now for the first time in Army history, the USMA will be able to supply space-knowledgeable second lieutenants to the force in the form of graduates who have earned a space-related degree or space-related minor," Godshall said. "The SMD program is fully implemented as of 2016 with the creation of the space science major and space science minor."

An astronautics track was a pilot portion of the SMD program in 2016 to gauge cadet interest in space-related academics and research. It was offered only to the cadets who will graduate in the Class of 2019.

The full title of their degree will be Interdisciplinary Science -- Astronautics track. That degree includes upper-division courses as follows: four space-related courses; one physics elective; four courses in either chemistry, computer science, life science, mathematics or physics; and a science and policy course.

It was successful enough to justify the creation of a stand-alone major in 2017.

That stand-alone major is the space science major, which will produce graduates in 2020. The space science major comprises upper-division courses as follows: electrical engineering, remote sensing, military geospatial operations, optics, lasers, electrodynamics, space physics, astronautics, astronomy, astrophysics, a physics elective, engineering mathematics and a science and policy course.

The space science minor comprises five courses: space physics, astronautics, astronomy, and two electives from the major a cadet is pursuing. Those two electives can come from a number of majors ranging from mechanical engineering, to law, to defensive strategic studies, to engineering management, to geospatial information science.

There are currently nine astronautics track cadets from the Class of 2019, 23 space science majors from Class 2020 and 12 space science minors from Class 2020. They are joined by 21 other cadets who will graduate in the Classes of 2017 and 2018 who have taken space-related electives and conducted space-related research.

"That makes 65 Cadets who will qualify to be a part of the Army space cadre between now and 2020," Godshall said. "They gained interest in space via a variety of experiences. Some became interested in space in childhood by TV, movies, books, etc., and carried that passion with them until now. Some became interested in high school through outstanding science programs on that educational tier. Others became interested in space once they came to West Point and heard that we offered the SMD program."

Godshall added that one of the best parts of the SMD program is the way in which the academy will leverage some of the research capabilities to inspire cadets to pursue life-long learning related to space.

"This includes new, state-of-the-art cleanroom and observatory equipment," Godshall said. "Everything from designing and building cubesat payloads to conducting space situational awareness type activities. In addition, we received input from all USMA academic departments and the FA40 community to ensure we designed the curriculum correctly to address the needs of all associated stakeholders.

"This process enabled a truly collaborative effort and also disseminated the news of the new major very quickly throughout all levels of West Point," he continued. "Thus, by the academy being very supportive in the creation of this SMD program and associated space science major and space science minor, we are providing a new wave of inspired leaders of character who will be incredibly passionate about space science and space operations.

"Thus, we understand that the implications of creating this SMD program are profoundly positive in contributing to the space operations community and space cadre for generations to come," Godshall added.

And according to Book, that contribution will impact the Army tremendously.

"The partnership between USMA and SMDC provides numerous benefits," Book said. "The Army gains future leaders of character who are cognizant of the space domain and its subsequent impacts on the warfighting functions. SMDC is able to leverage the intellectual capital and facilities at USMA to support development of the SMDC science and technology portfolio and mentor future leaders on the impacts of the space domain on modern warfare.

"As future leaders of character, cadets' leadership and problem solving abilities are further developed through personal mentorship and hands-on research experiences, which contributes to a growth in space awareness across the greater operating force as they are commissioned and assigned throughout the Army," Book added.

One of SMDC and the Army's senior space operators said he appreciates the academy's efforts to take the lead in creating a space curriculum.

"As a cadet, I was educated on the concepts of Air-Land Battle," said Col. Richard L. Zellmann, 1st Space Brigade commander. "Today's cadets are receiving an education to prepare them for Multi-Domain Battle: space has to be part of their education. The creation of a space studies major will help ensure that our officer corps has leaders conversant on the implications of our space dependence. To understand the impact to warfighting functions and how this manifests during the military decision making process is crucial to success against an adversary that employs an anti-access strategy.

"Getting an opportunity to provide cadets and faculty a glimpse into the operations of the 1st Space Brigade will pay dividends in the future," Zellmann added. "Who knows, one of the cadets I spoke to may one day have my job."