Is The Militarisation Of Space Inevitable?
Over the past few months, and days even, there have been a number of tactics employed by several countries to either further their space military abilities, or to stifle knowledge and free speech about their activities. The question remains, however, is this all ineluctable?
Well, dear reader, it certainly won't be comforting to know that China, Russia, the USA, and, perhaps surprisingly, Rwanda have all made big strides recently in this industry. To keep the headlines brief, Rwanda have filed a request with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to place 327,320 satellites in space (seemingly in an attempt to become the dominant force in Africa in the space industry), Russia has banned its journalists from reporting on the country's space activities (and has even gone as far as to designate those who do not obey as 'Foreign Agents', thereby being able to place heavy restrictions on the accused journalists), Russia has also in recent times acted in an irresponsible manner by (seemingly on purpose) launching a satellite with a trajectory which meant passing American satellites with little more than 1km between them, China has just launched a 'suspected anti-satellite weapon' into space, as well as recently demonstrating abilities for its satellites to detect foreign satellites and move accordingly as a defence, and the USA has had numerous covert surveillance satellite operations this year, including a incident in July in which a US satellite purposely 'shadowed' a Chinese satellite. Brian Weede, who works at the Secure World Foundation and is one of the top experts in the military space field, has since pointed to the 1972 Incidents at Sea bilateral agreement between the US and the Soviet Union as an example of what needs to happen following these recent actions, saying "We need an Incidents in Space agreement". He also seems to read the room very well indeed, stating that there is an urgent need for "the US, Russia and China to talk about norms when it comes to close approaches and military activities in the GEO (Geostationary Orbit) region" [My Italics].
Not only do we need to quell the fire and tension between nations for the good of humanity, but perhaps even more so for the extremely fast-growing problem of space debris. I had the honour of recently attending a YouTube talk by Professor Jonathan McDowell, who highlighted that there is currently 5715 tonnes of junk in space, comprising over 22 thousand known objects and over 1 million pieces of debris which are too small to actively catalogue and keep an eye on. The problem here, other than the vast numbers, is that (as McDowell made clear) whilst satellite debris increases ten fold with the number of satellites in a linear fashion (i.e. ten times as many satellites means ten times as much debris), the amount of collisions is one times bigger (or, in McDowells words, "the rate of collisions goes as the square of the total number of satellites you have". Given the already vast amount of debris in space (there is a real than very soon there will be too much debris for further space exploration and satellites), and the already hostile behaviour between countries, a rapid increase in numbers of collisions and resulting debris is certainly going to stoke the fire, rather than providing the assuagement which is needed.
It certainly doesn't help to quell the fires knowing that the space economy is currently worth US$326 billion annually (three-quarters of which is the private sector), with a forecast for it to be worth US$1.2 trillion by 2040. Furthermore, with China landing a lunar rover on the moon in 2019, the Biden administration saying that a lunar mission will be possible under the Artemis programme some time after 2024, Russia and China making obvious efforts to 'gear up' their arsenals and carry out extremely ambitious space programmes, and now Rwanda joining in, it seems that nations all over the world have realised how lucrative the space economy and resources are, and just how inevitable space militarisation is. It's quite clear that the Outer Space Treaty is now insufficient for preventing this breakout and 'military mania', so the sooner we can reach an agreement for a more substantial agreement, the better for all of us. However, I do wonder, is it too little, too late?