Once the domain of superpowers only, outer space activities now include an expanding set of nations whose numbers continue to grow. Although only 13 of approximately 70 governmental space agencies across the world have actual launch capabilities, many of the other nations are already participating in a wide array of space-related activities, For example:
- Many nations are now operating satellites in outer space performing a wide range of tasks.
- Over the years, an increasing number of nations have been sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
- With its Mars Orbiter Mission in 2014, India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) enabled India to be the first nation to put a space probe in a Martian orbit on its first attempt.
- In 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) probe Rosetta reached the Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and landed on its surface - the first such achievement in human history
- In 2015, the US sponsored Dawn, the first NASA spacecraft to explore the dwarf planets Vesta and Ceres, and provided the world with its first ever fly-by of Pluto and its moons.
- Japan is planning a mission to land-and-return to the asteroid Ryugu.
- The China National Space Administration is undertaking plans for a permanent manned presence in space similar to the International Space Station, and entrepreneurs plan for manned flights to Mars.
|The European Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is expected to reach full operational capability by 2020, significantly advancing global positioning capabilities - operating with greater precision, more global coverage, and at higher latitudes. Galileo will join the US GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, China’s BeiDou, and several other regional satellite systems being put in place by countries like India and Japan.|
Private Sector Activities
As many governments struggle to fund their national Space Agencies programs, the private sector is now stepping up to fill the void and starting to pursue serious programs such as space tourism, asteroid mining, building next generation space craft, and developing space habitats for planned colonies on the moon and the planet Mars. Some of the major players include SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, China Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace, Planetary Resource, and other major spaceflight companies. However, full realization of return-on-investment by these companies are still decades away.
Think of numerous orbiting space stations, private sector manufacturing facilities in space, Interplanetary travel and supply networks, massive space-based solar energy arrays, and the initial colonization of Mars – that’s all becoming a reality.
As the race for space accelerates, a number of major issues and challenges are emerging. For example:
Space-faring nations—in particular the European Union (EU), China, Russia, India, Japan, and the US—need to further refine the existing Outer Space Treaty and agree on a code of conduct and a more detailed set of rules governing outer space activities.
Space debris has become an immediate issue that must be addressed. More than 500,000 pieces of space debris are currently tracked as they orbit the Earth, some traveling as fast as 17,500 mph. Many millions of other pieces of space debris are too small to be tracked but could be hazardous to critical satellites or other spacecraft. International action is necessary to identify and fund the removal of debris most threatening to an expanding global space presence.
With more states and commercial firms stepping up their activities in outer space, existing international agreements and approaches need to be continuously revised and updated to avoid major challenges and potential conflicts down the road.
Militarizing Outer Space
Future conflicts and wars will be fought in multiple domains beyond traditional air, land, sea, and undersea domains. New battlefields will include computer networks, the electromagnetic spectrum, social media, the environment— and Outer Space.
In particular, the immense strategic and commercial value offered by outer space ensures that it will increasingly be an arena in which nations vie for access, use, and control of extraterrestrial assets and resources. At this stage, the militarization of outer space by aggressive nations and other entities may be inevitable.
|The Outer Space Treaty and the SALT II treaty prohibit weapons of mass destruction from being placed in space. However, a variety of other weapons exist that would not violate these treaties. A Space Preservation Treaty has been proposed which would ban the placement of any weaponry in outer space.|
Consider the following examples of planned activities and technologies by various nations related to the potential militarization of outer space. They include:
Anti-satellite weapons have already been developed and tested by the US, Russia, and China.
The US Space Corps has been proposed as a new branch of the US Armed Forces, but has not approved of as yet.
Heightened commercial interest in outer space and development of space-enabled technologies and services will improve efficiency and create new industrial applications with both civil and military purposes. For example:
Low-altitude satellites will bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world’s population that do not currently have online connectivity to information, knowledge, and services many of us are now starting to take for granted.
Satellite systems—smaller, smarter, and cheaper than in the past, e.g. CubeSat—will be bringing new capabilities in remote sensing, communications, environmental monitoring, and global positioning services that will benefit everyone on Earth.
|Health 4.0 by 2050: By 2040, a space-based global artificial intelligence (AI) system and network of satellites will be put in place that will monitor and help provide healthcare to people on Earth and in colonies across our solar system on the Moon, Mars, and other locations. The system will be linked to massive global health data warehouses storing data from a wide range of health IT systems, e.g. Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, Personal Health Records (PHR), Health Information Exchange (HIE) networks, wearable fitness trackers, implantable medical devices, clinical imaging systems, genomic databases and biorepositories, surgical robots, health research knowledge-bases and much more.|
Also, think about the Earth’s planetary defense systems and technologies that are planned and already starting to be put into place, not to mention space-based solar energy power plants.
Transition to Type 1 Civilization
The bottom line is that the Earth is in the process of completing the transition from a Type 0 to a Type 1 Civilization. Billions of people caught up in the massive changes taking place around the world, have never heard about this and don’t yet comprehend what is happening. Outer Space and Space-based Technologies play a key role in this transition.
A Type 0 Civilization extracts its energy, information, raw-materials from crude organic-based sources (e.g. wood/fossil fuel); information is communicated by books, newspapers, oral tradition; natural and man-made disasters coupled with societal conflicts create extreme risk of extinction; it's capable of orbital spaceflight; limited medical and technological advancement; failure to improve social and environmental conditions often lead to their own extinction.
A Type I Civilization extracts its energy and raw-materials from fusion power, hydrogen, solar, and other renewable resources; able to utilize and store energy available from its neighboring star, i.e. the sun; capable of inter-planetary spaceflight, colonization, and communication within its solar system; mega-scale global engineering and trade; regional and world governments; digital access to all known information and knowledge; achieves medical and technological singularity; still vulnerable to possible extinction.
Finally, as spaceflight technologies take a major leap forward allowing for Inter-Planetary travel, millions of humans will make up the first wave of immigrants populating permanent colonies on other planets and moons in our Solar System. Large scale geoengineering construction in support of these steadily growing colonies will begin. Public and private sector organizations will aggressively moving forward to further explore and exploit resources on nearby planets, moons, and asteroids in outer-space well into the 22nd century when we will start the transition to a barely imaginable Type 2 Civilization, when plans for the first unmanned journeys to potentially habitable planets in the nearest solar systems of our Galaxy will be executed.
What an amazing journey lies ahead for future generations!