The recent explosion of advancements across all facets of technology has also touched the frontier of Space exploration, bringing both economic and political implications to the fore. While news of SpaceX and Amazon’s Blue Origin’s aspirations to settle Mars capture the headlines, there are going to be real world geopolitical ramifications to matters in our own orbit. In our lifetime there will be conflict over the immediate area around our planet, heralding increased militarization, particularly by countries who are at times hostile to the United States. While Space can be eminently exciting, we’re going to cover some of the trends in Space as it directly relates to security.
In recent news the President and Vice-President have called for the creation of a Space Force (as the Atlantic reports, it will have to wait on Congress’s approval) and political decisions are being made which will have long term consequences for national security (particularly as satellites have become the most reliable communication network the US military uses) in our lifetime. At Interfor, we aim to engage the first adopters and innovators, so when it comes to security as it relates to innovation in Space technologies, we know it will lead in turn to consequences here on planet Earth. As such, the following are a few trends we’d like to highlight for you.
Star Wars: The Apparent Menace
The United States has had a near monopoly on Space for the past half century but other global players are making strides in the arena of late. The 3 trillion dollar opportunity for businesses to profit from (space tourism, asteroid mining, satellite deployment, etc.) is also an environment where bad actors can take advantage. Forget the legality of Elon Musk blasting a Tesla into space, the United States will have to deal with bigger problems and develop a strategy on how to maintain our strategic superiority.
It’s Round Two in the militarization of space is currently in play; previously the US and the Soviet Union spent the better part of last century trying to outspend each other, pouring money into R&D. While Russia’s economy may be weak, that does not mean it won’t invest in future weapons (See CNBC’s report on anti-satellite ballistic missiles ). The more imminent threat is China. Already on a quest to become “Innovation Nation” and cement its role as a global leader, China also has its eyes on our solar system. They’ve successfully tested missiles that can pierce the atmosphere and shoot down US satellites, and are developing lasers that could destroy space debris (the media has made it out to be China’s version of the Death Star, but it’s not quite that). With China’s outsized aspirations we could find ourselves in a situation where China makes an aggressive move (such as downing an American commercial satellite) that would trigger a broader conflict. As an aside, space debris aka space junk could become a real challenge with millions of pieces of this man-made debris floating around the atmosphere. With a 10X increase in the number of satellites by the 2020’s there is going to be a whole lot of trash floating around space potentially hitting satellites, or worse, a space station.
When Silicon Valley and the Pentagon became BFFs
An open secret Silicon Valley does not like to admit is that government research money helped pave the way for the tech boom we enjoy today, the Internet itself being a good example. Not surprisingly, this fact also includes the space race. We can credit Elon Musk and SpaceX for reopening the space race along with other major private sector players spending significant amounts (close to 4 billion dollars in venture capital in 2017). Manageable costs have lowered the barrier to entry and it seems the private and public sectors are going to have to cooperate more closely. The CNBC article quotes Chad Anderson, of investment group Space Angels: “It is undeniable that entrepreneurial space companies are disrupting the launch industry. What we haven’t seen is a revolutionary new class of launch vehicle, developed by incumbents in response. Instead, what we’ve seen is corporate venture arms and efforts to lobby the government for increased subsidies.”
Warfare in space, not just for science fiction anymore
Will a future conflict look like something out of Star Wars or Amazon’s Expanse? It might resemble something like that, or differ from anything science fiction has conceived of yet. Sadly, it seems like no treaty or agreements will slow the development of these weapons, much of which the public is simply not privy to. An idea of what these weapons might look like is quoted in the Epoch Times piece by Robert J Bunker, an adjunct professor at U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute: “I envision at least four types of offensive approaches for space combat: one, kinetic kill derived from conventional and hypersonic [5x speed of sound] guns and missiles; two, directed energy utilizing beam, e.g. thermal, or pulse, such as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons; three, cyber-attacks to take over opposing space assets such as satellites, and four, the physical capture of a space asset.” Scary stuff, and something we’re not prepared for.
Space development is one of the most dynamic fields today, not just politically or from an investment standpoint, but as the next arena for the human spirit to soar. Whether it be a trip around the earth, a visit to the moon, or even Mars, it will ultimately shape mankind’s destiny over the next 100 years and certainly beyond. Those experiences, and the infrastructure around them will need to be kept secure. While it might not happen tomorrow, we are closer than it seems to expanding beyond our atmosphere. Interfor is here to keep you grounded as we enter this brave new world.