Weaponizing Space for the Future of Humanity


Major A. Nicholas Parsai

The United States has a moral obligation to weaponize space to protect its interests and provide freedom of exploration and operations in the space domain. Each nation has a very different strategic approach to space. The top two current space powers, the United States and China, have very different cultural perspectives and strategy, and require a frame for understanding. The easiest conceptual frame to understand the two nations is in their recreational games involving strategy. This strategy effects how the nations respond regarding the space domain and their interactions with other nations. Specifically, how they affect the space domain. All nations with operations in space follow the current Space Law. The basis of the majority of modern Space Law is in a document that is over a half a century old.1 According to a newer document that makes up Space Law, the launching nation is responsible for any damage from whatever objects launched into space to include terrestrial effects on re-entry.2 The development of Space Law has refined slowly over time by the United Nations, but with heavy influence by those nations with the preponderance of space assets and capabilities. 3 In the last few years, several changes to the space domain have evolved that are necessitating revising Space Law. China has been posturing to weaponize the revision of Space Law to limit the spectrum of operations the United States can execute in the Space Domain. The United States must weaponize the space domain as a matter of self-defense. Currently the United States, with its Western way of thought, is ill prepared for the multi-faceted advance of China and its Eastern way of thought.

The incomprehensible Eastern mind was the Western view of the Eastern thought process for years.4 However, a simple analogy grounded in each culture’s perspective on entertainment may add clarity; chess for the west and go for the east. Chess aptly and succinctly encapsulates the Western way of thought. In chess, there are different types of pieces, and the power or influence rests in the piece. The expectation is that the opponent must have an equivalent piece to be a peer, lacking one is a disadvantage, and removing one provides an advantage. With chess, each piece has its own function that is unique to the piece, and nothing else can replicate it besides another piece of the same type. Any one piece can capture another piece. The game looks imposing and complicated at first, but over time, the mastery becomes a sequence of moves that adds simplicity with experience.5 However, in Eastern cultures the strategy game of choice is go. Go is contrary to chess in many respects. In go, there is only one type of piece, the advantage does not rest in a single piece, but in the pattern and interlinking of multiple pieces to create ‘positions of advantage’ the initial concept of the game seems simplistic, but becomes much more complex with a multitude of options that develop as the game is played. It takes a minimum of four pieces in a certain pattern to capture a single enemy piece. The basis of the power and influence of the game is in the strategy each player chooses to play.6 The most dangerous aspect of western thought regarding space is the chess-like approach to strategy, when a go-like approach seeks to gain advantage in multiple avenues, while mitigating the opponent’s advantage simultaneously at a time when the United Nations is considering rewriting current space law.

Current Space Law operates on a treaty created in the nascent days of space exploration, with the 1966 “Outer Space Treaty” as it is commonly referred. The United Nations called for the creation of Space Law, primarily by the nations with interest in space, and the two nations with the preponderance of space capabilities heavily influenced it; the United States and Russia. Both Russia and the United States subscribe to the Western Way of thought, and the Chess influence to clearly define capabilities and limitations of a piece are evident in the policy. It outlines the responsibility of nations operating in space with a few basic tenants. The treaty restricts weapons in space, but the United States interprets it as weapons of mass destruction. The treaty restricts space from sovereignty claims.7 The 1972 Liability convention declared a nation that launches a spacecraft remains responsible for it, including all components, launched satellites, the activities of the spacecraft and satellites, and any damage inflicted to terrestrial assets on re-entry.8 However, in the increasingly congested space environment the concept of ownership remains with the spacecraft, and its intended operation. This limited concept of sovereignty leaves increasing tension as seen with the Luch satellite. As a spacecraft neighbor, another satellite could come within inches of another nation’s satellite, gather intelligence, and even arguably attach something to it for later use. In the case of the Luch satellite, it operated in the geostationary orbit near communications satellites, with an unknown intent and purpose. What is certain is the country of origin for the Luch satellite is the Russian Federation.9 The limitations of the current Space Law as they apply modern space issues with over a half a century since the law’s last revision, add ambiguity that provides maneuver space to adversaries. Maneuver space that requires weaponization. Currently there are questions regarding Space Law’s validity in the modern era.

The modern space era is complex because of a very different geo-political climate and space capability from 1966. There is a concept of globalism spurred by the advent of the internet with rapid and readily available information sharing. Take for example the earliest stage the average child met a foreign national and the frequency of conversations in 1966. Now consider today’s children are exposed at an early age to foreign nationals through video gaming using international massive online roleplaying games, video game marketplaces like steam, and voice communications driven by commercialization.10 Even international business is much more commonplace than it was in 1966. Similar and opposing cultures meet on a near-daily basis.11 In the last decade the commercialization of space has created the scenario where SpaceX launches from the United States, but services satellites owned by European companies.12 According to the aging law, the United States is responsible for the European satellites. However, the law itself has no enforcing mechanism or repercussions for those who either violate the law, or inflict damage to another nation’s assets. Both the China and the Russian Federation have experienced this.

In 2007, China wanted to demonstrate an anti-satellite missile to the world, and targeted one of their aging satellites as it flew over their territory. A go-like establishment of a position of advantage. However, the demonstration did not go as planned. Upon the satellite’s destruction, a moment that should have been a great accomplishment, China created a debris field that covered half of the satellite’s low earth orbital plane. There were no repercussions levied against China beyond a strongly worded letter, international influence, and maybe a bit of pride. Little to the chess-like perspective of the west, but significant to the go-like perspective of the East. Yet it affected the operations and maneuvers of many other satellites, and required the International Space Station move to a different altitude to avoid the debris.13 The largest singular source of debris to date is the Cosmos and Iridium satellite collision, and due to its altitude, scientists expect the debris to remain in orbit for up to 100 years. The Cosmos satellite, owned by the Russian Federation was unresponsive, and collided with a United States owned Iridium satellite. The unique aspect was the Russian Federation launched the United States owned Iridium satellite with their launch vehicle. Therefore, the aggrieved parties for responsibility were both the Russian Federation.14 Bringing the aging Space Law and its relevance into the international community’s crosshairs. Yet avoiding the event with a deorbiting attachment weapon on the derelict Cosmos satellite could have prevented this. The United Nations increasingly questions Space Law for its validity in the face of developing advancements, the commercialization of space, and the lack of enforcement.

Space Law follows the adage, “whoever gets there first makes the rules.”15 Along with this, the preponderance of assets and period since last revision has been the United Nation’s precedent for making policy. Which makes the current international community rumblings to revise Space Law a crucial first battleground in weaponizing space. China has increased its number of launch sites,16 has increased its international influence with Association of Southeast Asian Nations,17 is increasingly involved in civil space research initiatives,18 has increased its technical manufacturing capability,19 is one of two nations capable of manned space flight,20 and proliferates ballistic missile technology to many nations.21 China has even supplanted the Russian Federation as the number two space power with 250 satellites on orbit.22 China is approaching the developing space policy like a game of go. Maneuvering a myriad of pieces in concert to create positions of advantage while mitigating, through proliferation, any attempt to thwart their advance. Expect China to use the revision of Space Law as the first weapon against the United States to limit its operations within the space domain. With China’s proliferation of ballistic missiles extending space launch capability to other nations at bargain prices, the greatest threat to space becomes a rogue state or corporation with no regard for other nations and relatively little to lose. A California based communications company demonstrated this concept in December of 2017 when a satellite company launched their satellites after the FCC specifically denied their launch.23 Without weapons and recourses that are more significant these unauthorized breaches of protocol could become the new normal. A single misstep in this arena could lock all of humanity on earth, and remove many modern conveniences from Satellite phones, weather monitoring, GPS, and beyond line of site data transfer from remote areas with no infrastructure. Fundamentally changing the landscape of the modern world, and preventing any future expansion for thousands of years.24 The history of ‘space firsts’ and the current number of nations in space will provide a greater perspective in understanding the need to weaponize space for self-defense.

The V2 rocket, developed during WWII, opened the door to space, but the United States and Russia recruited the scientists who worked on the V2, the ensuing chess game to defeat the other in space lasted decades. Just prior to the end of WWII, the United States captured the V2 rocket materials at its production plant, providing the early material and testing advantage to the United States.25 Russia then provided a rapid succession brow-beating to the United States in space with a myriad of firsts: the first orbital space flight of Sputnik, the first man in Space, the first woman in space, the first spacewalk, first unmanned spacecraft to land on another planet, and the first unmanned spacecraft to land on the moon. Soviet Russia attained a series of firsts, all before the United States put the first man on the moon, and then the firsts all transferred to the United States.26 However, the restriction to operate in space was directly proportional to technical capacity and National gross domestic product. Space exploration was a national endeavor. As space is becoming commercialized with many more avenues to space, it is transitioning from a game of chess to a game of go. At the last count in 2018, 72 different nations have space agencies, 14 of which have launch capability, and only two of which are capable of human space flight.27 The United States is not one of those two. With 72 nations operating in space it emphasizes a need to weaponize in order to protect space for all of humanity.

Historical examples of weapon advancement upset the status quo, and lead to the nation championing the advance as the new power in the world. The most recent in the last century was the atomic bomb. Its use was so devastating and effective, that no nation has pushed full-scale war out of fear thanks in part to the concept of peace through deterrence. Astonishingly all this relative peace was possible from a weapon only used twice in conflict.28 Thus becoming the single greatest self-defense of the United States, and its interests abroad.29 Demonstrating the need to weaponize space for self-defense. The current projections of launching a space capability from identified need or capability gap until “on orbit” is an average of 7.5 years, and can be as short as 3.5 years, but as long as 14.5 years.30 With the dependence of the world economy on space, one example stands out as a vulnerability. If the United States lost the GPS constellation to an aggressor, it would affect every derivative system that relies on position, navigation, and timing. Especially considering GPS is for more than navigation, but additionally are the basis of a common timing for the world’s economic transactions,31 and even the power grid for phasing and delivering on demand alternating electric current.32 Add the aspect of position that it provides for applications from business to commercial airlines, with a dwindling backup navigation infrastructure after the retiring both of the terrestrial airspace navigation systems of non-directional beacons and VHF Omnidirectional Range facilities in favor of GPS.33 Essentially GPS built all of modern technology and even internet connectivity upon a ‘house of cards.’ There was even a theoretical concept of war specifically targeting technologically dependent nations to abruptly cut off the nation from that technology, and allow the internal disorder and time to facilitate invasion for ‘peacekeeping’ purposes.34 Consider this potential situation, where a weapon is needed to avert conflict or protect an asset, and it would follow the same timeline as any other space asset from concept to delivery, while the populace remains cut off from the capabilities they depend on. For the United States to cede space for 3.5-14.5 years in unacceptable. We are either playing a game of chess without an appropriate piece to make a move, or we are playing a game of go and allowing the opponent to create positions of advantage. Neither option is acceptable, making the requirement to weaponize space quite clear.

The United States has a moral obligation to weaponize space to protect its interests and provide freedom of exploration and operations in the Space domain. Examining a metaphor to western versus eastern ways of thought through the games of Go and Chess assist in understanding the need to weaponize. Understanding current A.

1 United Nations, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, United Nations, December 19, 1966, http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/outerspacetreaty.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

2 United Nations, “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects,” United Nations, November 29, 1971, http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/gares/ARES_26_2777E.pdf, (accessed September 1, 2018).

3 United Nations, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, United Nations, December 19, 1966, http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/outerspacetreaty.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

4 Bercot, David W., “Common Sense a New Approach to Understanding Scripture,” Library of Congress, 1992.

5 Harding, Tim, “Better Chess for Average Players,” New York: Courier Dover Publications, 2003.

Space Law, its history, and limitations in the current environment, add clarity to the United Nations consideration for rewriting. In preparation for this policy, China has increased its influence in the world, as well as the number of space-based assets it controls, supplanting the Russian Federation into the number two spot. Due to the effects provided by United States’ space based assets, the lead-time it takes to reconstitute space assets, and the number of countries with a space program, the solution is simple and clear: weaponization for self-defense is necessary. Should the United States rest on the laurels of past space success, it will find its positions of advantage diminished, and the effectiveness of its chess pieces on a go board ineffective. Ultimately resulting in the United States ceding control and maneuver within the space domain to another power.

End Notes

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7 United Nations, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, December 19, 1966, http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/outerspacetreaty.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

8 United Nations, “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects,” United Nations, November 29, 1971, http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/gares/ARES_26_2777E.pdf, (accessed September 1, 2018).

9 Gruss, Mike, “Russian Luch Satellite Relocates – Next to Another Intelsat Craft,” Spacenews, October 16, 2015, https://spacenews.com/russian-luch-satellite-relocates-next-to-another-intelsat-craft/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

10 Soper, Taylor, “Valve reveals Steam’s monthly active user count and game sales by region,” Geekwire, August 3, 2017, https://www.geekwire.com/2017/valve-reveals-steams-monthly-active-user-count-game-sales-region/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

11 WTO, “World Trade Report 2008,” World Trade Organization, 2008, https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/anrep_e/wtr08-2b_e.pdf, (accessed September 1, 2018).

12 Hull, Dana, “SpaceX Deploys European Satellite on Hawthorne Company’s 11th Launch This Year,” Bloomberg, Orange County Register, June 4, 2018, https://www.ocregister.com/2018/06/04/spacex-launches-satellite-for-ses-in-its-11th-mission-this-year/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

13 David, Leonard, “China’s Anti-Satellite Test: Worrisome Debris Cloud Circles Earth,” Space.com, February 2, 2007, https://www.space.com/3415-china-anti-satellite-test-worrisome-debris-cloud-circles-earth.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

14 Weeden, Brian, “2009 Iridium-Cosmos Collision Fact Sheet,” Space World Foundation, November 10, 2010, https://swfound.org/media/6575/swf_iridium_cosmos_collision_fact_sheet_updated_2012.pdf, (accessed September 1, 2018).

15 Krizanovich, Karen, “Kevin Costner in Hidden Figures: You can call me Al,” The Telegraph, January 26, 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/hidden-figures/kevin-costner-on-al-harrison/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

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17 Yeo, George, “ASEAN and the Art of Living with China,” South China Morning Post, April 12, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2141235/asean-and-art-living-china, (accessed September 1, 2018).

18 Clark, Stuart, “China: The New Space Superpower,” The Guardian, August 28, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/28/china-new-space-superpower-lunar-mars-missions, (accessed September 1, 2018).

19 Byrnes, Nanette, “Competing with the Chinese Factory of 2017,” MIT Tecnology Review, March 16, 2017, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603848/competing-with-the-chinese-factory-of-2017/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

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22 Statista, “Number of satellites on orbit by country as of April 30 2018,” The Statistics Portal, April 30, 2018, https://www.statista.com/statistics/264472/number-of-satellites-in-orbit-by-operating-country/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

23 Koren, Marina, “The Mystery of the ‘SpaceBees’ Just Got Even Weirder,” Technology, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/05/rogue-satellites-launch-fcc/555482/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

24 LaVone, Michelle, “The Kessler Syndrome: 10 Interesting and Disturbing Facts,” Space Safety Magazine, http://www.spacesafetymagazine.com/space-debris/kessler-syndrome/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

25 History, “V2 Rocket Technology,” Internet Archive Way Back Machine, https://web.archive.org/web/20131214234047/http://v2.x-factorial.com/, (accessed September 1, 2018).

26 Space History, “Space Firsts- Space Milestones,” Aerospaceguide.net, http://www.aerospaceguide.net/milestones.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

27 “List of Government Space Agencies,” Wikipedia, August 22, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_government_space_agencies, (accessed September 1, 2018).

28 “Nuclear Warfare,” Wikipedia, September 3, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_warfare, (accessed September 1, 2018).

29 Colglazier, William E., “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” Science and Diplomacy, January 19, 2018, http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/editorial/2018/war-and-peace-in-nuclear-age, (accessed September 1, 2018).

30 Aerospace, “How Long Does it Take to Develop and Launch Government Satellite Systems?” Aerospace report number ATR-2015-00535, 2015, http://www.iceaaonline.com/ready/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Davis-Satellite-ICEAASoCal-090915.pdf, (accessed September 1, 2018).

31 Ingram, David, “What Are the Benefits of Using GPS in Business?” Chron, https://smallbusiness.chron.com/benefits-using-gps-business-25324.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

32 Electric Light and Power, “GPS in the Nick of Time for Electric Power Distribution,” December 1, 1999, https://www.elp.com/articles/powergrid_international/print/volume-4/issue-6/features/feature/gps-in-the-nick-of-time-for-electric-power-distribution.html, (accessed September 1, 2018).

33 Ward, Ken, “Discontinuation of VOR service,” Federal Aviation Administration, April 2012, https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/acf/media/Presentations/12-01_Discon-of-VOR-update.pdf, (accessed September 1, 2018).

34 Parsai, Nick MS., “Parsaian Doctrine,” LinkedIn, February 15, 2018, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/parsaian-doctrine-nick-parsai-ms/, (accessed September 1, 2018).