November 21, 2015

"Space, military officials like to say, is the ultimate higher ground."

Financial Times Since the cold war ended, however, it has been a largely uncontested territory. by Sam Jones

'In January 1967, the US, UK and USSR became the first signatories to the Outer Space Treaty. In it, they committed to keeping the moon free of military testing and not putting weapons of mass destruction into orbit. China joined the pact in 1984. Another 100 states are now signed up.

'As a result, for three decades, space powers have been able to operate their own satellites with impunity. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are at least 1,300 satellites now orbiting the Earth. Some have military purposes. Some are for civilian and commercial use. Most — 549 — are American. European powers are big players too. Russia has 131, the UK 40. But growing numbers are from rising countries. China now has 142 in orbit, India 33.

'With all this activity, the pax caelestis is unlikely to hold for much longer. Sixty years after the space race began, an orbital arms race is again in development.

'Military officials from the US, Europe and Asia spoken to by the Financial Times confirm in private what the Kettering Group and other amateur stargazers have been watching publicly. Almost every country with strategically important satellite constellations and its own launch facilities is considering how to defend — and weaponise — their extraterrestrial assets. “I don’t think there is a single G7 nation that isn’t now looking at space security as one of its highest military priorities and areas of strategic concern,” says one senior European intelligence official.

'“The threat is increasing and this is a major concern,” says Frank Rose, US assistant secretary of state for arms control. “Both Russia and China are developing ASAT [anti-satellite weapon] capabilities to hold US systems at risk. Now, we don’t believe it’s in anyone’s interest to engage in a space arms race . . . We don’t want conflict in outer space. But be assured, we will be able to operate in a degraded space environment. We’ve made it clear that we will do what is necessary to protect the space assets of the US and our allies against potential attack.”'

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