WASHINGTON — While the United States has enjoyed its position at the top of the space industry for decades, U.S. policymakers are now going to have to contend with a much more crowded and level playing field in space, according to the Pentagon’s interim Space Posture Review (SPR) that was sent to Congress in early March.
The SPR is meant to provide lawmakers and policymakers with an accurate snapshot of the “national security space posture and identify potential opportunities for future activities.”
A follow-on report containing a national security space policy is expected to be sent to Congress this summer, according to the review.
“An increasingly congested and contested environment threatens both U.S systems and the ability of the global community to access and use space,” says the report. “Increasing competition in the global marketplace and increasing global expertise in fielding space capabilities also challenge the historical advantages of the U.S. industrial base.”
Dozens of nations and private firms have developed space capabilities while nations with existing space programs — such as China, which has shot down a satellite — are increasingly militarizing the domain, the report warns.
In addition to this, nine new nations, including Iran and North Korea, as well as several private companies are close to fielding their own launch systems, according to the report.
“Given the interchangeability of space launch vehicle (SLV) and ballistic missile technology, this highlights the national security concern with the proliferation of space access technology and some nations, under the guise of SLV programs, developing increasingly longer-range missile systems inherently capable of delivering” weapons of mass destruction, the report says.
At the same time, the private space industry is expanding into new business areas.
“Space has been characterized as a $250 billion per year global business with a wide range of commercial services,” from satellite construction and navigation services to emerging private launch and space tourism companies, it says. “Despite the global economic slowdown, some space market forecasts are optimistic about the space sector.”
The review goes on to list several of the challenges that may arise as a result of the increased access to space.
“The space domain today is becoming increasingly congested and contested, while the international space industry is becoming more competitive,” reads a passage in the report, summarizing the challenges identified by the Pentagon.
While most of the descriptions of potential space challenges the U.S. faces are redacted in the review, one section warns of an increase in man-made threats that can “deny, degrade, disrupt, or destroy” space systems.
The SPR also cautions that an increasing demand for satellite communications could put more pressure on the available radio frequency spectrum, “increasing the probability of interference and [imposing] limitations on power and coverage.”
At the same time, new players in the space game mean that the U.S. government can build partnerships that will reduce the cost of space access through a pooling of resources and sharing of intelligence information, according to the document.
The SPR calls on the U.S. government to increase its partnerships with private space companies as a way of controlling the extremely high costs of doing business in the domain.
“In some mission areas the government has not negotiated the long-term rates for space services, but in others, services are purchased at market rates,” the report reads.
Building better relationships with commercial providers could “enhance U.S. capabilities, strengthen partnerships with private industry and stabilize cost profiles over the long term,” according to the review.
Capabilities that could be affected by these partnerships range from intelligence gathering and tactical warning to spacelift, satellite communications, command and control, and even environmental monitoring, according to the review.