What is more scary than the militarization of space?

The militarization of space sounds like a scary prospect. In fact, we have lived with it every day since the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched in 1957. Almost every aspect of space technology and every orbiting space platform has a potential or actual military use. You only have to look at North Korea’s February 5 rocket launch, supposedly to send an earth observation satellite into orbit. This was widely seen as a military advance, enabling Pyongyang to build on its existing nuclear bomb programme.

The World Today
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Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

What is more scary than the militarization of space is the weaponization of space, where orbiting assets are not just used to support the military of space-capable nations but become actual weapons of war.

Since the early days of space exploration, the weaponization of space assets has been constrained by a legal framework. As Jill Stuart writes these laws have both prevented states from putting weapons into space, while offering opportunities through legal loopholes for those same states to exploit the military aspects of space.

Those legal loopholes are getting dangerously large. These days satellites are launched not just by states but by a dizzying variety of actors – commercial companies, universities, wealthy individuals and even some poor ones. And space is getting so crowded that the hacking of a single satellite could leading to mass collisions which would render the low-earth orbit unusable.

For a rundown of all the vulnerabilities of satellites, and how much we rely on them, read Kazuto Suzuki on the floating targets of space.

Finally, there is a lot of dangerous junk in space. Even a piece smaller than a human fist is a threat to the International Space Station or any of the 1,300 satellites currently operating. You can see our graphic of the heavenly junkyard here.