As the world faces an ever-growing need for mineral resources and companies such as SpaceX continue to push the boundaries of spaceflight, there is a growing concern about how to ensure the safety of future missions. Nations’ ability to put defense systems in orbit, orbital congestion and satellite presence are all up for debate.
With so much at stake, it’s imperative world powers set rules and boundaries for governing and regulating space activities. Unfortunately, not all nations agree on what form these rules should take and how far their legal reach should be. Eventually, we may be forced to develop a roster of space cops who enforce whatever guidelines end up emerging.
The United Nations Weighs In
In October 2016, the United Nations First Committee debated just these issues, highlighting different viewpoints on the issues. A representative of the European Union suggested nations should agree to cooperate in ventures and set legal measures in place to prevent the placement of orbital weapons systems.
In response, a United States representative argued measures should not be legally binding and instead hinge on transparency. Still others referenced a preexisting agreement between Russia and China, suggesting similar treaties could apply to the situation.
What the meeting made clear is that while everyone has different views on space security, no one denies that there is a need for it in. So what might these space enforcement programs look like?
Space Security: The Dawn of Space Cops
While the UN debate was peaceful in nature, there’s no denying there could be a space arms race in motion between the U.S. and other global powers. The potential for nations to sabotage each other’s satellite arrays — used for communications and defense — is staggering.
One of the ideas floated to protect U.S. interests in space is through the Air Force. Thanks in part to pressure from Congress, it has created a new position dedicated to organizing and outfitting forces to combat space disturbances of all types. In this new position, a general will also serve as an advisor for the Air Force Secretary and chief of staff on matters relating to orbital concerns.
Looking toward the future, it’s possible this and other Air Force initiatives could lead to a space cop-like job. These officers would work to protect strategic areas like lunar ice deposits and Lagrange points. This group would also have its work cut out for it if humanity ever establishes lunar colonies.
Other Orbital Threats Space Cops Could Address
Besides the looming threat of satellite-based space warfare and future space colonies, a space cop task force may also govern more seemingly “mundane” issues, like the ever-growing presence of space junk.
Space junk — usually bits and pieces of manmade objects and other debris — poses a major threat to satellites. This is apparent as these errant pieces of junk have already caused satellite collisions and threatened the International Space Station. Our planet can only hold so many objects in orbit before they start colliding, which would spell disaster for global communications systems.
In this setting, a “space cop” could serve more of a regulatory function — monitoring the presence of satellites and debris, and offering advice about safely removing them.
Soon enough, space may once again become the final frontier. As companies and governments explore more ways to utilize extraterrestrial resources, it’s imperative we develop the means to regulate the ventures. Though it’s clear each global power has its own idea of what form the restrictions should take, there is universal acknowledgment it needs to happen quickly. The future may become quite grim otherwise.
Image Source: BelleDeesse