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The Era Of Space Expansion Influences And The Threats To The U.S. Presence In Space

By Jennifer Hesterman and Alexandra Sosa

Space-based capabilities play a critical role in our everyday lives. They control our virtual finances, transportation systems, home electronics, global communications, and more. The applications of these new assets are equally relevant in both the civilian and military sectors. As such, we are becoming more dependent on yearly exploration and expansion of the cosmos. Subsequently, new threats have emerged in the latest iteration of “the space race.”

The new era of recognition compelled many countries to create or improve their space capabilities. In addition to state actors, many companies are involved in cosmos commercialization. Nations are separating their space agencies into civil and military, creating specific goals and resources for militarization. The race to become the most substantial presence has placed a target on the United States' back, resulting in the development of new resources to assist with foreign counter-space missions. As space presence develops, state and non-state agencies aid each other in meeting aligned goals. The growth of the aerospace market will boost the development of military and civilian capabilities, allowing for better technology, communications, and prevention. Following the lead of the United States, China and Russia are heavily invested in strengthening their space programs for military purposes. Both countries are engaged in the moon and Mars exploration missions, intending to exploit new natural resources. Other countries like North Korea and Iran will keep working to create new assets and strengthen their current ones. As a result, space will become more crowded, and the world will face unique risks.

Dr. Jennifer Hesterman is a retired Air Force colonel and counterterrorism expert with over 36 years of experience in national and homeland security. She specializes in emergent threats and, as an operator and leader in the analog astronaut community, is uniquely positioned to examine opportunities and risks related to space operations and exploration. The following interview with Dr. Hesterman expands on the topics of space security, militarization, commercialization, the civilian astronaut program, and the risks that may come with overcrowding.

Q & A
Why is space security important?

Space is a vital resource which impacts national and homeland security, facilitates the ability to communicate and navigate, and has a direct and significant impact on our economy and prosperity. Activities in near space with the International Space Station, and soon, on the Moon and beyond, make unique and inimitable contributions to science which help solve daunting problems here on Earth. Space also sparks our sense of discovery and exploration, pushing us to tackle difficult challenges and work together on solutions through international partnerships. Most importantly, space is for all nations and people. Therefore, we need to protect access to space and ensure it is not exclusive or exploited. There are five international treaties that underpin space law, overseen by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). The Outer Space Treaty was the first and most foundational legal instrument of space law. The agreement entered into force on October 10, 1967 and 112 countries, including all major spacefaring nations, are signatories.

The treaty contains several increasingly important provisions, namely that space will be freely explored and used by all nations and it bans the placement of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in Earth’s orbit. The treaty also limits the use of the Moon and all other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and states no country can claim sovereignty over outer space or any celestial body. Similar to international treaties related to the protection of the environment and the use of cyberspace, the Outer Space Treaty mainly relies on cooperation of the signatories. The only framework for enforcement or punitive activities falls under UNCOPUOS, which can convene a tribunal, or court of justice, to address activities counter to the treaty’s intent. A potential challenge to the “space for all” concept relates to the Tragedy of Commons theory, which asserts that when resources are available to all people they could be hoarded and depleted. This is another compelling reason for governing bodies, treaties and laws related to space business exploration. At the micro-level, we should be concerned about securing space facilities, operations, proprietary information and personnel similar to other sectors. For example, we need a robust insider threat program to prevent espionage, sabotage, theft, and nefarious cyber acts.

Could you speak about the militarization of space and the need of a Space Force?
Why is having space dominance such a milestone for global powers like United States, China, and Russia?

When considering the present situation, we should remember the historical context of space dominance, rooted in the ballistic missile-based nuclear arms race between the U.S and the Soviet Union following World War II. When the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1 on October 4, 1957, the beach-ball sized craft incited concern among U.S. policymakers that the country had fallen behind. This led to an acceleration of space and arm-related programs, or the “Space Race,” a competition to launch satellites and humans into space and be the first to land on the moon. Perhaps the current force behind space militarization lies in a key tenet and strategy of warfare - for the military to “control the high ground.” In battle, air forces seek to achieve air supremacy for complete control of the skies over the battlefield or desired area, and the opposing air force is incapable of interfering. If supremacy is not achievable, air superiority permits the conduct of operations by the air, land and sea components without prohibitive interference by opposing air forces. As other countries move to achieve space dominance, the need for a military branch dedicated to the defense of space became necessary, just as there are branches of the military dedicated to protecting and securing the air, land, and sea. The US Space Force is responsible for organizing, training, and equipping Guardians to conduct global space operations that enhance the way our joint and coalition forces fight, while also offering decision makers military options to achieve national objectives. Access to space is vital to our national defense and prosperity.

About the Authors
Alexandra Sosa is a Junior Research Associate at Security Management International and a graduate student at the University of South Florida. Dr Jennifer Hesterman is a retired USAF Colonel. Her last assignment was as Vice Commander of Andrews Air Force Base where she oversaw security for Air Force One. 



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