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Atlantic Council Report: The Future of Security in Space: A Thirty-Year US Strategy

Status Report From:
Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2021

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Some national strategies are designed to endure for a few years, a single administration at most—but such an approach will not suffice for outer space.

Security and prosperity in space are too important to life on Earth, and too sensitive to long-term trends, to address with short-term strategies. The security of assets in space will have a defining impact on future terrestrial conflicts. Economic prosperity on Earth increasingly depends on data transmitted through space. Even more so than many domains on Earth, security and prosperity in space depend on long-term technology developments. That is why the authors of this strategy paper call for the United States, in concert with its allies and partners, to implement a thirty-year strategy for space.

The ambitions of this strategy paper are bold enough to merit such a timeframe. The authors call for an overhaul of the body of international law governing space. They make a compelling case to replace the 1967 Outer Space Treaty with a new, foundational space treaty that addresses the security and commercial realities of space in the twenty-first century. The authors call for a new coalition of the willing to push back on recent destabilizing Russian and Chinese activities in space. New alliances—and existing ones—need to step up their commitments to security in outer space. An attack in outer space could have devastating consequences on Earth, and no ally should be left without support because existing treaties do not yet fully recognize the consequences of space attacks. Finally, the legal, security, and physical architectures that the United States develops over the coming decades must explore opportunities for the commercial sector to plug in, or even take over, elements. Not only will commercial firms be crucial to developing the technologies that will define space activity, but there will also, by 2050, be a range of profit-making activities in space that one can only begin to imagine today. The United States can develop plans for space now in a way that enables it to benefit later.

Crucially, the authors of this strategy paper take on two developments in space that require deep thinking now because of their impact in coming decades. First, this paper considers point-to-point transportation around the Earth transiting space. As space-launch costs continue to plummet, the military is already conceiving the use of space ports for thirty-minute transportation to any point on Earth.3 Clever commercial applications will be only a few years behind. Work must begin on legal and diplomatic frameworks now. Second, this strategy explores the development of the Lagrange points—orbits in the Earth-Sun and Earth-Moon systems with advantageous, stable gravitational attraction. Space agencies already understand the benefits of placing satellites at these points. Will these become chokepoints over which spacefaring nations battle, or oases of future space commerce? This strategy suggests that the United States must work for the latter, while being prepared for the former.

The bold, forward-looking recommendations of this strategy call for the kind of long-term thinking and practical actions that the United States needs today if it is to secure the commanding heights of security and prosperity a generation hence. Our hope is that space, foreign policy, and national security policy makers are inspired to act based on this landmark strategy paper. We are.

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