Is the universe becoming the new wild west?

An increasing number of countries and private companies are developing and expanding their space programs. What does it mean to have so many new actors with extraterrestrial ambitions?

The UAE Hope mission returned its first photograph of Mars this week, a beautiful image of dusty red marble in high resolution. The spacecraft will study the planet’s weather and climate systems and send data to Earth to be studied by scientists around the world.

The Chinese Tianwen-1 mission has joined in orbit, and NASA’s perseverance is due to reach the red planet this week. Their mechanical brothers, the Russian-European mission ExoMars, will arrive in 2022.

While scientists are waiting for new information that could further reveal the possibilities and potential outside the country, some analysts are looking beyond the common ties of scientific kinship and have already announced a new era of space races.

The space industry is experiencing a kind of renaissance after more than half a century, with new players including developing countries and private companies; and more ambition than before, the shift of international prestige with geopolitical competition, economics, and the commercial potential that shapes the actions of actors.

What will this new era of space competition bring?

“No goal”

The first “space race” during the Cold War was the competition between the US and the USSR in reaching the Moon and exploiting space technology for their military advantage. Today, there are more than 80 countries in space that operate satellites and a dozen countries with space programs with launch capabilities.

“I wouldn’t call it a‘ space race ’because there is no finish line for one or more competing entities,” says John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute and emeritus professor at George Washington University. “So it’s competition – for economic payoff, for political prestige, for military power.”

Traditional space powers, the US, Russia and Europe remain key players, but as the world becomes increasingly dependent on space services – from telecommunications technology and education, weather forecasts for agriculture, disaster monitoring and management, and other civilian and military needs, it is no surprise that joined by others, such as China, India, Japan, UAE, Brazil, Pakistan, Turkey, Israel, and Luxembourg.

The Mars program is part of the UAE’s efforts to develop its scientific and technological capabilities and reduce its reliance on oil. The UAE space agency is the fifth in the world to reach the planet and has a plan to populate Mars by 2117. (Reuters)

As more and more states engage in space exploration, disagreements over rules, regulations, and governance may arise more frequently. The rules for space were set out in the 1967 Space Outer Space Treaty and several associated treaties, when there were only a few satellites and two players.

“The governance structure for space activities is outdated and does not reflect today’s reality in space,” Logston says. “There are no rules. There is no regime or control of space traffic. [There are] thousands of objects in space – satellites and space debris. Upstairs is a wild environment with things shooting around and no traffic control to ensure they don’t collide with each other. ”

Space ‘gold rush’

In addition to space transport, the extraction and use of resources is a new area for which legal and management mechanisms are lacking, and which will become an increasingly important issue in the coming years.

Led by companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus, which support government efforts, as well as newer companies like US Blue Origin and SpaceX, New Zealand’s Rocket Lab and China’s OneSpace, which have their own visions, “Space Entrepreneurs” are looking for profit from businesses, from satellites to travel, from logistics to the biosphere and education.

The space industry is estimated at 420 billion dollars in 2020, and it is expected to reach one billion dollars and more in the next decade.

In 2015, US President Obama signed a law that allows companies to own resources they have excavated from space, and in 2017, Luxembourg passed a new law that creates property rights on planets and asteroids and manages the exploration and use of space resources.

In 2015, US President Obama signed a law that allows companies to own resources they have excavated from space, and in 2017, Luxembourg passed a new law that creates property rights on planets and asteroids and manages the exploration and use of space resources. “Luxembourg is the first adopter of a legal and regulatory framework in Europe that recognizes that space resources can be owned by private companies,” said Economy Minister Etienne Schneider. (Reuters)

Moreover, prospects for mining raw materials such as metals, minerals and chemicals; and water extraction are closely monitored by governments and private firms.

The United States and Luxembourg have enacted laws recognizing the ownership of extracted space materials, although many scholars believe that these approaches are contrary to international treaties and customary international law and run counter to the principle of space as a global common age and “common heritage of mankind.” . ”. A comprehensive global legal and policy framework has yet to be developed.

Geopolitics of space

Legal and political gaps are further complicated by contemporary geopolitical competition.

Part of the problem is that space technologies often have a dual purpose – for military and civilian purposes. States cannot say whether these technological efforts in space threaten them or not, says Saadia Pekkanen, co-director of space policy and research center at the University of Washington.

“[T]”Today, he has shifted from a mere awareness of the space situation to an awareness of the battlefield,” she wrote. “As a result, countries face an increasing danger of aggression or even open conflict in space.”

So far, this global competition has primarily been shaped in terms of US-China rivalry. Where is this (militarized) space program of other countries?

In 2008, the Japanese parliament lifted the ban on the use of space for national security. South Korea’s program arose from the need to monitor North Korea’s missile activities. The Indian space program, motivated by concerns for sovereignty in the 1980s and 1990s, refocused its program on greater military use, even though it had a long-standing non-weapons space policy. India has launched military satellites to support its navy and armed forces in navigation and intelligence, tested an anti-satellite missile and made institutional changes to integrate and use space in military operations.

“All the actors involved are in a race to achieve superiority or domination and are so panicked that before you know it, everyone is armed to the teeth, and you have set a place with weapons that should be a global good,” Mai’a Cross, professor of Political Science from Northeastern University, she said in an interview. (Reuters)

“Today, India’s approach to space policy is much more driven by national security concerns,” writes Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, who heads the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation. “There are genuine considerations guided by the security of India and other Asian powers in shaping their space programs. The universe becomes an extension of the earth’s geopolitical competition, with all participants. “

Does this turn into a threat to star wars? Not necessarily, according to Logsdon, who emphasizes the importance of examining space activities in the context of overall political relations.

“Space activities are not threatened in any way, as long as they are not embedded in an economic or military threat from another country,” he said.

Source: TRT World