The geopolitical challenge for space control

The geopolitical challenge for space control

Space is not only a place to be explored for mere scientific research purposes, but has a profound geopolitical significance.”America will always seek peace in the space. But history shows us that peace comes only with power, and the American Space Force will turn into power in the years to come.” So American Vice President Mike Pence commented on the decision to establish a Space Force, or a sixth armed force entirely dedicated to space affairs. This initiative follows the creation of the US Space Command, the new unified combat command that is part of the US military. The US feels his spatial dominance is under threat and is running for cover.

At the end of the Second World War, the United States welcomed a group of scientists and engineers from Nazi Germany, led by Werner von Braun. Von Braun’s “Rocket Team” was crucial to allow Washington to learn the secrets of the technology behind the famous V2 rocket, to guarantee US space supremacy in the bipolar context. It was von Braun’s team that launched the Explorer satellite in 1958, drawing the match with the Soviet Union, which had just launched its Sputnik. The latter event, closely followed by the launch of the first military pilot in orbit, seemed to project Moscow at the head of the so-called space race. Washington was called upon to react to make the country proud, amaze its allies and intimidate its enemies, and it did so in style. Thus, the Apollo program was born, the aim of which was much more geopolitical than scientific.

Later, in the 1980s, during the Reagan presidency, the intention was announced to build a “space shield” around the Earth to make the Soviet nuclear threat obsolete. The Space Defense Initiative (SDI) was, however, a purely military initiative, therefore difficult for the public to digest: the project for the construction of a Space Station to be shared with the allies, today’s International Space Station (ISS), was born. In the vision of the engineer Spagnuolo, the never completed initiative of the Space Shield was crucial for the birth of the start-ups that today dominate the world from Silicon Valley, which has benefited from the technological fallout deriving from investments in the SDI.

“China and Russia have created space weapon systems and have transformed Earth’s orbit into a possible operational scenario of war,” said Stephen Kitay, US deputy secretary of defense with responsibility for space policy. According to the non-governmental Union of Concerned Scientists, in 2017 there were 1,783 satellites in orbit, including 803 Americans, and 310 of these militaries. China and Russia, on the other hand, had 346 satellites, which is little more than the Pentagon alone.The spatial gap between the US and the rest of the contenders is still widespread today. For this, China and Russia are investing in the qualitative dimension of their offensive tools, in particular on ASAT anti-satellite weapons.

In 2007, a Chinese missile shot down an old satellite in orbit, demonstrating Beijing’s ability to hit spy satellites in low orbits. In 2013, however, China launched a space rocket that reached geostationary orbit, an orbit hitherto considered inaccessible to ASAT missiles.Furthermore, a close confrontation between the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union on satellite navigation systems is underway. The current global standard is GPS made in the USA. But Moscow launched Glonass into operation. The European Union wants to become more independent thanks to Galileo, while China is building Beidou. Beijing completed its constellation on June 22.

GPS is an essential tool for the military and economic supremacy of the USA: many are unaware that, in addition to ballistic missiles and strategic bombers, almost all industries depend on GPS, from finance to telecommunications, from airlines to banks, from logistics to televisions.

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