How Can National Agencies Ensure Defence, Safety And Security: Priorities For National Space Agencies In The Next Five Years
As space exploration and utilisation continue to advance at stellar speeds, national space agencies face critical challenges in ensuring defence, safety, and security.
Following the 16th European Space Conference in January 2024, this blog post aims to highlight the key aspects that agencies must consider over the next five years from both military and civil perspectives. In this period, ‘dual use’ (i.e. technology used for both civilian and military operators) is likely to move from an aspiration to a reality. As we considered the UK’s National Space Strategy, what is being said in ESA, and our own analysis, we think that there are 5 key themes emerging:
Establishing Robust Space Traffic Management:
As the number of satellites and objects in space increases, the risk of collisions and space debris becomes a major concern. National space agencies must collaborate to develop and implement effective space traffic management systems. This includes enhancing tracking capabilities, establishing standardised communication protocols so that mitigations can happen increasingly automatically, and coordinating orbital manoeuvres to mitigate potential risks. From a civil point of view, the use of space technologies has permeated every facet of our lives. Ensuring the ongoing availability, reliability, and safety of these technologies is a significant responsibility for space agencies.
Enhancing Space Situational Awareness:
Closely related to Space Traffic Management, ensuring defence and security, space agencies must invest in advanced space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities. These include radar systems, telescopes, and data analysis tools to detect, track, and identify objects in space: at the moment, a lot of decisions are taken with imperfect data leading to what is probably an over-cautious approach. By enhancing SSA, agencies can monitor potential threats, predict collisions, and respond effectively to unexpected situations while saving operators valuable fuel and resources. We’ve been working extensively with the UK Space Agency on its Monitor your satellites service to deliver collision avoidance alerts to commercial satellite operators and the same technology and information is also needed for military satellites. Increasing this SSA capability and dual military and civil use cases are integral to the UK’s space strategy and in the ESA conference we also heard this from countries across Europe.
Strengthening Cybersecurity Measures:
As space systems become more interconnected and reliant on networks, protecting them from cyber threats is paramount. In a competitive environment this is always true; but as we move towards dual use, our civil operators will need to meet the high standards required for military operation. National space agencies must prioritise the development of robust cybersecurity frameworks to safeguard against potential attacks and help their operators to achieve this. This involves implementing encryption protocols, conducting regular security audits, and establishing international collaborations to share threat intelligence. Cybersecurity challenges can bring physical security challenges too, with unfettered access to satellite data revealing the position of military bases or global peacekeeping operations, there are ethics to consider.
Promoting International Cooperation and Transparency:
In an era of increasing space activities, international cooperation is crucial to address defence, safety, and security concerns. National space agencies should actively engage in diplomatic efforts to establish transparent communication channels, share information, and collaborate on common objectives. This includes participating in international agreements such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and Space Law - and also working hard on initiatives such as ESA’s Zero Debris Charter where progress can be faster than in UN bodies.
Mitigating Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Threats:
With the growing number of countries capable of developing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, national space agencies must work towards mitigating potential threats to their space assets. This involves developing defensive capabilities, investing in resilient satellite architectures and engaging in dialogues to discourage the weaponisation of outer space. ASAT tests risk polluting orbits for a very long time, in some instances forever, potentially negatively impacting the lives of everyone on earth. Even competing nations must find ways to collaborate in this area and it is here that the UN bodies will be crucial.
The coming years will be critical for national space agencies to ensure defence, safety, and security in space. By establishing robust space traffic management, strengthening cybersecurity measures, enhancing space situational awareness, promoting international cooperation, and mitigating ASAT threats, these agencies can protect their national interests while advancing the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space.
It is vital for governments, space agencies, and international organisations to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop comprehensive strategies to address the challenges that lie ahead - and quickly. The pace of innovation and access to space is rapidly increasing, while policy and regulation plays catch up. Space agencies must work together here to ensure the future utilisation of space is safe and sustainable.
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Author Mark Buckley
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