Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
When Russia detonated one of its aging satellites with an anti-satellite missile on November 15, it sent shockwaves around the world, clearly exposing the international dangers posed by today’s chaotic global race. hui to dominate the space.
As a result, thousands of new debris are rushing into low Earth orbit, increasing the collision threat that current satellites already face from space waste, and that future spacecraft must navigate for years to come.
The incident underscored the need for the United States and its allies to cooperatively establish common global standards for space operations, said Col. Eric Felt, chief of the Space Vehicles Directorate of the Research Laboratory of Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base. It also demonstrated the critical need for the United States to strengthen its leadership role in defending national interests as governments and businesses around the world vie for dominance in the emerging 21st century commercial space industry.
“Russia’s anti-satellite test was incredibly irresponsible, creating an enormous amount of debris in low Earth orbit that threatens sustainable operations in space,” Felt told the Journal. “It showed the need for the United States to be a leader in setting the framework and standards for responsible use of space, and the need to develop effective technology to mitigate space debris.”
Felt is co-author of a new report, released Nov. 18, which includes analysis by senior U.S. military officials, government leaders and industry representatives on the critical role space plays. in everyday life, with detailed recommendations on actions the United States should take to protect national interests in the future. The document includes the collective contribution of over 230 experts.
This is the third annual “State of the Space Industrial Base” report since industry leaders first met in 2019 to discuss global efforts to harness the economic potential of space. and threats posed by competing countries, especially China and Russia.
New Mexico played a key role in the preparation and dissemination of the reports. New Space NM, an industry alliance, hosted two conferences, in spring 2020 and summer 2021, to gather participant feedback for last year’s and year’s reports. He also held open online conferences with the report’s authors in fall 2020, and again on December 13, which included Felt and other key military and industry leaders.
This now helps monitor progress in adopting the recommendations by public and private entities, said Casey DeRaad, CEO of New Space.
“We have been following the recommendations over the past two years and helping put in place the next steps on what needs to be done,” DeRaad told the Journal. “New Space is teaming up with other organizations to do this. “
Critical role of space
This year’s report doubles down on last year’s central recommendation for a “whole-of-government” approach to industrial space development, with a presidential task force to execute it. He says the country’s space industry is currently “tactically strong but strategically weak”, warning that while the current pace of innovation and investment is at “an all time high”, the momentum is not sustainable. without strategic direction through a national “North Star”. vision to guide it and strong public-private partnerships to move it forward.
Space is “the key to winning the future,” according to the report.
“More needs to be done to highlight space as a national priority, to make it part of the national strategy,” the report said. “… A new public discourse is needed to define space as an economic domain, as a major source of industry and jobs in the 21st century. “
The US and global economies already depend fundamentally on space technology and operations to maintain basic societal functions, to keep industry and government running at all levels, and to sustain and properly manage military defense around the world. modern.
Thousands of satellites placed in orbit over the past 50 years now provide basic infrastructure to manage life on Earth. And tens of thousands more will be launched in the coming years, as technological development drastically reduces costs and increases the capacity of satellites to meet human needs.
“Space assets underpin almost every sector of our society,” the report says. “They synchronize our electricity grid. They synchronize, coordinate and secure our financial institutions. They link our cities and rural areas, providing long-distance communications for television, radio, telephony and high-speed Internet. They provide meteorological, traffic and logistics data to enable urban planning, agriculture, public health and transport.
They also provide advance warning of extreme weather events and other hazards.
And now, as technology develops at high speed, government and private industry are laying the groundwork to conquer the last frontier, from Earth to the Moon and beyond.
More growth to come
The Space Foundation estimates that the global space economy has grown 55% over the past decade, reaching $ 447 billion in 2020. Governments and various financial institutions are projecting to reach between $ 1,000 billion and $ 3 trillion in the year. over the next 20 to 30 years.
“More than 100 lunar missions and 40,000 satellites are expected to be launched over the next decade,” the report said.
These investments will provide a transformational bridge that will enable humanity to develop essential mineral exploration and mining operations on the moon and asteroids. It will open up a space for low gravity and vacuum manufacturing with artificial intelligence, autonomous controls and robotics for 3D printing in space of products such as biotechnology products requiring special conditions, such as retinas, hearts and other organs.
It could convert space into a huge energy-producing frontier, providing essential minerals needed for the development of renewable technologies on Earth while harnessing solar energy in space not only to provide continuous power to spacecraft. , but to send photovoltaic electricity to Earth. In fact, the AFRL Space Vehicle Directorate in Albuquerque is already well advanced in its efforts to place the first experimental solar radiation platform in low Earth orbit over the next several years.
Space assets will also help solve some of the most pressing problems facing humanity, such as climate change. Improving route planning using GPS is already reducing global transport emissions by 15 to 21 percent, according to the report. He recommends that US and world leaders include space development as a central tool in all future efforts to address climate change.
Exploit the potential
To harness the immense economic potential of space, the government must make space development a national priority, elevating it to “critical infrastructure” in all future policies. This means developing a national consensus to build and protect the cislunar zone which encompasses all of the space between the Earth and the Moon as a “space highway”, applying the same focus and resources as those used to develop the path. mainland railway, the interstate highway system, and the aeronautical and maritime infrastructure.
And that requires vigorous public-private partnerships, said Col. Felt.
“To develop the space, we have to build the logistics to allow it,” Felt told the Journal.
The government needs to budget significantly more funds for space development, with the bulk going to private industry to do the heavy lifting by harnessing the innovation, ingenuity and agility of the private sector, according to the report.
Maintaining U.S. leadership in space is essential, not only for the country’s future economic and societal development, but also to protect national security at all levels as China and Russia strive to overtake the United States. to dominate the emerging global space industry. And a national North Star vision and strategy is urgently needed as these countries strive for a “first-come advantage”, staking competing claims to space resources on the moon and elsewhere that can help them. to control future development in the cislunar sphere, said the brigadier. . US Space Force General John Olson.
A whole-of-government approach will generate massive returns on investment for government and for the quality of life for all, Olson said at an online conference Nov. 30 presenting the report.
“We need this national vision as we build and develop US leadership in space,” Olson said. “Now is the time. We all have an obligation to act. It is absolutely the moment.