Reasons for Revisiting: The growing presence of private companies in space, as well as the increase in the number and size of so-called “space junk,” is changing the nature of the last of the global commons. In contrast to the early years of the “space race”—where the ability to put objects into Earth orbit (and beyond) was limited to a few major powers and where the high costs of launches acted to limit the number of satellites and spacecraft—today, not only the great powers, but also a growing range of both state and non-state actors, have more cost-effective access to space. In addition, more of the global economy now depends on assets in near-Earth orbit to facilitate communications, accurate travel, and data transmission.
In particular, the emergence of “small satellites,” which can be developed and launched at ever lower cost, increases the number of objects and raises the probabilities of accidents both in space and returning to impact Earth (the fears most recently seen with the recent uncontrolled re-entry of a Chinese “Long March” booster). Also, because these technologies are often “dual-use” (with both military and civilian uses), the risk of blurring the lines between peaceful and non-peaceful uses of space increases.
In an environment where more entities have access to space, who will set the rules and norms? How will space activity be monitored to ensure compliance?
Follow this link to watch Mariel Borowitz, Everett Carl Dolman, Glenn Lightsey, and Lawrence Rubin discuss these matters at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, on June 1, 2021.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.