WASHINGTON — Unfettered access and freedom to navigate in outer space will be challenged in the coming years and decades, experts predict, as more countries and commercial players pursue new ventures.

“It is not surprising, therefore, that space has become an increasingly important domain for defense and national security operations,” says a new report released Aug. 17 by the Space Foundation and the consulting firm KPMG.

The report “Navigating Space: A Vision for the Space Domain,” drew from interviews with nearly two dozen industry executives and defense officials. 

As more businesses go to space and more countries embark on space exploration, there will be a shift in the role of military forces, the report says. Rather than being the dominant players in space, military organizations will have to partner with allies and with civilians to ensure space remains safe for everyone to use.  “A growing number of countries are realigning their defense organizations to recognize the importance of space,” says the report. “Non-governmental organizations are also crowding into the domain. And that is changing the focus for many military players.”

According to the chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, who is quoted in the report, “In the long term, space is going to become the most vital domain for national security, surpassing air, land and sea.”

“I think that we will see an increase to the human presence in space, and eventually there will be people living on other planets as we do today on the International Space Station,” Raymond adds. “A heightened need to secure the domain will follow that increase in human activity beyond our planet. Additionally, space will become more critical as an economic hub. In the long-term, the level of wealth generated in the space domain will be significant.”

Thomas Dorame, senior vice president of the Space Foundation, says Raymond’s take about space one day becoming the most important domain for national security was echoed by other experts. “We didn’t just hear that from Jay Raymond, I think we heard that from everybody that we spoke with for this report.”

The U.S. Space Force, just like other newly formed military organizations, “is still trying to figure out how best to protect space, how best to secure it and how best to ensure that as a domain, we can operate safely,” says Dorame. “It’s a recognition of how critical space is to everything we do, that there needs to be norms, and there needs to be security within space.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...