A call for leadership: New report details security concerns in outer space

Jessica West Research in Action, Space Security

November 6, 2018

Key findings of a new report point to deteriorating security conditions in outer space in the absence of renewed governance efforts.

Space Security Index 2018 tracks developments under 18 indicators related to four aspects of the security of outer space: environmental sustainability, access to and use of space, technologies for space security, and space governance.

Project manager Dr. Jessica West of the Canadian peace-and-security think tank Project Ploughshares describes the newly released 15th volume of the annual report as “striking” for its illustration of the growing gap between governance and the types of activities taking place in outer space.

Among the topics explored are:

  • Plans for mega-constellations of satellites that outpace sustainability rules;
  • A drive toward next-generation space exploration and resource extraction by private actors;
  • The emergence of dual-use technologies such as debris removal, satellite servicing, and maneuvering capabilities;
  • Continuing development and demonstration of anti-satellite capabilities;
  • U.S. plans for space-based ballistic missile interceptors that could mark the first deployment of space-based weapons.

There is some good news. The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) reached consensus on 21 voluntary guidelines to enhance the long-term sustainability of space activities. And as the number of countries and industries with a stake in outer space increases, more of the world’s people are able to benefit from access to space-based data and services. But so, too, does the need for cooperation and regulation.

In the report’s Global Assessment, Dr. Raji Rajagopalan observes that “there is little question that the international community recognizes the need for new efforts in space governance, though this recognition has not yet compelled them to reach an agreement.” Participants at the official release of the report at the United Nations in October echoed this view.

Growing geostrategic tension and mistrust discourage the development of constraints on the use of force in outer space. This lack of regulation has serious repercussions. West asserts that space security is global security. Every facet of well-being – military security, humanitarian security, socioeconomic security, and environmental security – depends on the ability to access and use services from outer space. Dangerous activities could pollute the outer-space environment beyond repair through the production of space debris, limiting or ending such services.

The maintenance of security in outer space is in everyone’s interest. Rajagopalan asserts that “space is truly a global commons and also a limited commodity; hence it is incumbent upon every state to join in preserving it for future generations.” Such preservation requires a new global narrative and  global leaders who will champion the cause.

Consider these compelling facts. There are currently

  • more than 1,800 active satellites
  • 70 civil space programs
  • government space programs that spend a total of $62.6-billion a year
  • 62 states that own satellites
  • 2,000 lives saved annually through Cospas-Sarsat
  • satellite-industry revenues of $268-billion
  • annual private investments of $2.5-billion in space startups.

Space Security Index 2018 was produced by civil society and academic organizations under the leadership of Canadian nonprofit organization Project Ploughshares. Partners include The Simons Foundation Canada; the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec; the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University in Washington, DC; the Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics at the University of Adelaide Law School in Australia; and the School of Law at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China.

For more information contact:

Jessica West, Managing Editor

Project Ploughshares

140 Westmount Road North, Waterloo, ON



In the photograph (from left): Peter Martinez (Secure World Foundation), Rosemary McCarney (Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva)Jessica West (Project Ploughshares), Theresa Hitchens (Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland), Jeroen Cooreman (Deputy Permanent Representative of Belgium to the UN).

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