The week before last, a UN panel approved the creation of a working group to discuss next-generation laws to prevent the militarisation of space. The move comes as space 2.0 seems to be going into hyper-drive, with countries and corporations racing to claim their stake in the final frontier.
It’s timely, as the potential for friction is gathering by the day, with China, India, Russia and the US testing anti-satellite missiles on their own satellites and creating worrisome clouds of debris.
This week’s destruction by Russia of its “dead” satellite, Cosmos 1408, underlined the issue.
Meanwhile, the orbital space around Earth is becoming jammed with machinery; currently, there are 3,372 active satellites whizzing around Earth, but in one or two decades that number is set to leap to potentially 100,000 or more. And that’s ignoring the space stations, telescopes and spyware already in orbit as countries flex their aerospace muscles.
It’s a cosmic fracas. And contested territory is prime fodder for international disputes, as we know. It’s these kinds of disputes the group of UK diplomats who proposed the UN motion want to prevent, by coming to an agreed-upon set of norms for behaviour in space.