Top administration officials are debating whether to create a stand-alone Space Force to handle space defense or a Space Force that falls within the Air Force, officials tell VOA.
Either option requires congressional approval, which could prove difficult with a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate.
An Oct. 26 memo obtained by VOA directs that the Department of Defense create the "optimal organizational construct to meet (the president's) intent."
The memo, signed by Executive Secretary of the National Space Council Scott Pace and National Security Council official Earl Matthews, instructs the Pentagon to focus on whether the Space Force is most efficient as a new independent department or as "a separate service within the Department of the Air Force, along the lines of the U.S. Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard within the Department of Homeland Security."
Support in the House
This latter organizational structure has bipartisan support in the House, but the former has often been seen by Democrats as an expensive solution.
Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan met Thursday to discuss how to build the first new military branch since 1947, as President Donald Trump has directed.
A National Space Council official told VOA Thursday the October memo does not represent a shift in White House guidance.
"The direction to create the U.S. Space Force remains exactly the same, and the Space Council is continuing to work with the departments and agencies responsible for implementing the president's direction to develop the sixth branch of the Armed Forces," the official said.
Space Command next?
Officials say the president also intends to establish a U.S. Space Command, a move already directed by Congress.
The U.S. military is organized into 10 combatant commands based on either geography, such as Indo-Pacific Command and European Command, or unified functions, such a Transportation Command and Cyber Command.
This new, 11th combatant command would oversee space defense much like U.S. Cyber Command oversees cyber defense. Space Command is expected to start in mid-2019 with initial operation capability.
Officials familiar with Space Force deliberations have raised concerns to VOA that a new military branch could duplicate the work of the new combatant command. They say a separate military service may not be needed once the combatant command is fully operational.
"You don't see a Cyber Force in addition to Cyber Command," one official said on condition of anonymity.
Cost estimates for the Space Command have been modeled after the creation of U.S. Strategic Command, which was set up in the early 1990s. The biggest expense will be the creation of a new headquarters for the combatant command in order to make room for providing new capabilities, according to one official.