Copyright © 2021
When Russia blew up one of its aging satellites with an anti-satellite missile on November 15, it sent shock waves around the world, highlighting the international dangers posed by today’s chaotic global race for space supremacy.
Thousands of new debris are now racing through low-earth orbit, increasing the risk of collision that current satellites are already exposed to by space debris and that future spaceships will have to navigate in for years to come.
The incident underscored the need for the U.S. and its allies to work together to establish common global standards for space operations, said Col. Eric Felt, director of the spacecraft division of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base. It also demonstrated the vital need for the US to strengthen its leadership role to defend national interests as governments and corporations around the world compete for supremacy in the burgeoning commercial space industry of the 21st century.
“Russia’s anti-satellite testing has been incredibly irresponsible and created a huge amount of debris in low-earth orbit that threatens sustainable space operations,” Felt told the Journal. “It showed that the US must lead the way in setting frameworks and norms for the responsible use of space and that there is a need to develop effective technologies to contain space debris.”
Felt co-authored a new report, released Nov. 18, that included analysis by the US military, government leaders and industry leaders on the critical role of space in daily life, with comprehensive recommendations on actions the US is taking to protect it must advance national interests. The document contains collective contributions from more than 230 experts.
It is the third annual State of the Space Industrial Base report since industry leaders first came together in 2019 to discuss global efforts to harness the economic potential of space and the threats posed by rival nations, particularly China and Russia .
New Mexico played a key role in preparing and disseminating the reports. New Space NM, an industry alliance, hosted two conferences in spring 2020 and summer 2021 to collect participant contributions for last year’s and this year’s reports. It also hosted open online conferences with report authors in the Fall of 2020 and December 13, attended by Felt and other top military and industry leaders.
US Air Force Col. Eric J Felt (Source: Kirtland Air Force Base)
It now helps monitor progress in the adoption of recommendations by public and private entities, said Casey DeRaad, New Space CEO.
“We have been following the recommendations over the past two years and helping plan the next steps in what needs to be done,” DeRaad told the Journal. “To this end, New Space works with other organizations.”
Critical role of space
This year’s report doubles last year’s key recommendation for an intergovernmental approach to the industrial development of the space industry with a presidential task force to implement it. It is said that the country’s space industry is currently “tactically strong, but strategically weak” and warns that the current rate of innovation and investment is at “an all-time high”, but that the dynamics will not be sustainable without a strategic orientation through a national “north star” may be. Vision as a guideline and energetic public-private partnerships to move it forward.
Space is “the key to winning the future,” the report said.
“More needs to be done to highlight space as a national priority and make it part of the national strategy,” the report said. “… A new public discourse is required to shape space as an economic sector, the main source of industry and jobs in the 21st century.”
The economies of the United States and the world are already fundamentally dependent on space technology and operations to maintain basic social functions, keep industries and governments running at all levels, and properly maintain and manage military defense in the modern world.
Thousands of satellites placed in orbit over the past 50 years now provide the basic infrastructure to manage life on Earth. And tens of thousands more will be launched in the coming years as technology advances radically lowers costs and increases satellite capacity to meet human needs.
“Space resources underpin almost every sector of our society,” the report said. “They synchronize our power grid. They synchronize, coordinate and secure our financial institutions. They connect our cities and rural areas and provide long-distance communication for television, radio, telephony and broadband internet. They provide weather, traffic and logistics data to enable urban planning, agriculture, public health and transport. “
They also warn in advance of extreme weather events and other dangers.
And now, with technology developing at a rapid pace, the government and private sector are laying the foundations to conquer the final frontier from earth to moon and beyond.
Further growth ahead
The Space Foundation estimates that the space economy has grown 55% over the past decade, reaching $ 447 billion in 2020. Governments and various financial institutions plan that it will grow to between $ 1 trillion and $ 3 trillion in the next 20 to 30 years.
“More than 100 lunar missions and 40,000 satellites are expected to be launched over the next ten years,” the report said.
These investments will form a transformative bridge that will enable humanity to develop major mineral exploration and mining operations on the moon and on asteroids. It will open space for low gravity and vacuum manufacturing with artificial intelligence, autonomous control and robotics for 3D printing in space of things like biotechnological products that require special conditions like retina, heart and other organs.
It could transform space into an immense energy producing frontier, supplying vital minerals needed for the development of renewable technologies on Earth, while also harnessing solar energy in space to continuously power not only spacecraft but also photovoltaic electricity to shine on the earth. In fact, the AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate in Albuquerque is well advanced in its efforts to put the first experimental solar platform into near-Earth orbit in the next few years.
Space resources will also help address some of humankind’s most pressing problems such as climate change. According to the report, improved route planning with GPS already reduces global transport emissions by 15 to 21%. It recommends that US and international leaders incorporate space development as a central tool in all future efforts to combat climate change.
To harness the immense economic potential of space, the government must make space development a national priority and highlight it as “critical infrastructure” in all future policies. This means developing a nationwide consensus to build and protect the cislunar zone, which encompasses the entire space between the earth and the moon, as a “space highway”, with the same focus and resources as in the development of the continental railroad, the interstate highway system and that of the country’s aviation and maritime infrastructure.
And that requires strong public-private partnerships, said Col. Felt.
“In order to develop space, we have to set up the logistics for it,” Felt told the Journal.
The government needs to budget a lot more money for space development, with most of it going to private industry to do the heavy lifting by unlocking innovation, ingenuity and agility from the private sector, the report said.
Maintaining US leadership in space is vital, not only to the country’s future economic and social development, but also to protecting national security at all levels as China and Russia seek to overtake the US for the first time to dominate emerging global space industry. And a North Star national vision and strategy is urgently needed as these countries work to gain a “first mover advantage” by staking competing claims to space resources on the Moon and elsewhere that can help them to control future development in the cislunar sphere, Brig said. General John Olson of the US Space Force.
A nationwide approach will bring tremendous returns to government and quality of life for all, Olson said during an online conference on November 30th that unveiled the report.
“We need this national vision as we build and expand US leadership in space,” said Olson. “Now is the moment. We are all forced to act. This is absolutely the right time. “