Space Security 2008—Preview

John Siebert

Jessica West and John Siebert

Autumn 2008 Volume 29 Issue 3

For the full Space Security 2008 report, click here.

Space Security 2008 is the fifth annual report on trends and developments in space, covering the period from January to December 2007. It is part of a wider Space Security Index (SSI) project that facilitates dialogue among space experts on space security challenges. The project and its publications result from the collaborative efforts of the partners of the McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law, Project Ploughshares, the Secure World Foundation, the Simons Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research, the Space Generation Foundation, and The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Editing and production of Space Security 2008 were based at Project Ploughshares, under the direction of Managing Editor Jessica West.

In keeping with the intent expressed in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that space is a global commons to be used for peaceful purposes, the definition of space security guiding Space Security 2008 is “the secure and sustainable access to, and use of, space and freedom from space-based threats.” The primary consideration is not the interests or the security of specific actors operating in space, but the security of space as an environment that can be sustained for use by all actors.

The Space Security Index aims to improve transparency with respect to space activities and provide a common, comprehensive knowledge base to support the development of national and international policies that ensure secure space access for all nations. This is critical because outer space is an environment distinctly different from the terrestrial environment, but intimately connected. Human activities such as debris creation require special caution and attention because their impact on space and on Earth can be extreme and far-reaching. Military security on Earth has become intertwined with the security of space assets. Conflicts in space between states can reflect but also aggravate existing tensions. While space activities are a strategic focus for national security, the pervasive dual military and civilian uses of space assets also contribute to global human security by, for example, tracking weather patterns to support agriculture, assisting responses to natural calamities, and interdicting criminal activities and human rights violations. And yet technologies that better enable the use of space for some purposes and actors may deny the secure use of space for other legitimate purposes and actors as technological developments outstrip the existing governance framework for outer space.

In Space Security 2008, space security is assessed according to the following eight indicators:

  • The space environment
  • Space laws, policies, and doctrines
  • Civil space programs and global utilities
  • Commercial space
  • Space support for terrestrial military operations
  • Space systems protection
  • Space systems negation
  • Space-based strike capabilities

Each chapter provides a description of a specific indicator and its impact on space security. A discussion of the prevailing trends associated with each indicator is followed by an overview of key developments throughout the year, and an assessment of the short-term effects on established trends and the broader security of outer space. Longer-term changes are also sometimes observed and noted. For example, a prolonged decline in the annual production of new space debris has reversed and rates are once again increasing.

Several developments in 2007, captured under different indicators in this volume, highlight the contradictions and complexities intrinsic to outer space activity. As described under the space environment indicator in chapter 1, the year 2007 marked the greatest annual increase in space debris, largely attributed to the intercept and destruction of a redundant weather satellite in low Earth orbit by China and the explosion of a failed Russian Briz-M rocket body. Yet 2007 also witnessed the adoption of debris mitigation guidelines by the United Nations, described in chapter 2 on laws, policies, and doctrines. Chapter 7 on space support for terrestrial military operations describes the use of missile and anti-missile technologies to threaten space assets and collective security in outer space. Such use sparked renewed efforts to regulate deployments and activities in outer space, as indicated in chapter 2. Despite what may be viewed as growing military tensions in space, 2007 also marked the creation of a “Global Exploration Strategy,” described in chapter 3 on civil space programs—a vision produced by the 14 largest national civil space agencies to coordinate future space exploration activities.

Space Security 2008 does not seek to provide an absolutely positive or negative assessment of all outer space activities conducted in 2007. The contradictions and complexities do not allow it. Instead, it aims to assess the range of implications that developments could have on the security of space across the various indicators. Such an assessment reflects the real-life challenge faced by policymakers in determining the multiple effects of their potential and actual decisions across the range of indicators.

Expert participation in the Space Security Index is a key component of the project. The primary research is reviewed prior to publication through three processes. The annual Space Security E-Consultation is done online, with comments provided by participants representing all sectors (commercial, military, civil, etc.). This consultation provides invaluable insights into the perceptions, concerns, and priorities of space stakeholders around the world, as well as critical feedback on the research. The Space Security Working Group consultation is held each spring for two days and the text is reviewed chapter by chapter for corrections and gaps. The Working Group meeting also provides an important forum for dialogue. Finally, the Advisory Group to the Space Security Index provides its comments in the penultimate step before publication.

Space Security 2008 is based solely on open source information. Great effort is made to ensure a complete and factually accurate description of events, based on a critical appraisal of the available information and consultation with international experts. Strategic and commercial secrecy with respect to space activities inevitably poses a challenge to the comprehensive nature of this report, particularly when reporting on proposed research or future activities. It should be noted, however, that space assets and activities by their very nature are generally in plain view to those with the technology to observe them. Such technology is increasingly available at low cost.

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