Is outer space turning into a battlefield?

There’s a significant chance of misperception about dual use space technology leading to a space Cold War

The 2022 US “State of the Space Industrial Base Report” has categorically suggested that China was the main threat to America both in space, and as a world power, raising curtains about a potential Space Cold War.

The 2022 report said, “China’s many achievements in space are the result of Xi Jinping’s “Space Dream,” a long-term strategy that galvanizes a whole-of-nation approach toward a singular objective: displace the US as the dominant space power both militarily and economically by 2045.”

Read: New Graphene method revives hopes of Space Elevator (August 16, 2022)

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning was quick to react to the US Department of Defense report, which recognized space as a “priority domain of national military power,” and even suggested that the two nations were participating in a new space race.

“For a long time, the US has openly defined space as a war-fighting domain. It has built the US Space Force and Space Command, developed and deployed space-based offensive weapons, conducted offensive and defensive military exercises and technology tests, and intensified military cooperation with its allies,” said Ning.

When it comes to China and Russia, the US has been stonewalling their initiative for a legal instrument on arms control in space, said the Chinese spokesperson.

Currently, warfare in space is confined to jamming satellite communications, laser dazzling of photo-snapping satellites, hacking systems to selectively block or eavesdrop on phone or data streams.

Because of the dual nature of space technology with utmost secrecy involved, there’s a significant chance of misperception leading to a space cold war, notwithstanding the United Nations Outer Space Treaty that entails restrictions on outer space activities meant for peaceful exploration.

The creation of the US Space Force by the Trump Administration has evoked strong contests by China and Russia which seek transparency in sharing information on space exploration that the US is not inclined to.

As the space is already weaponized by dual-use robotic spacecraft serving as weapons to disable satellites, there is a possibility that these activities potentially escalate into risks on the Moon and Mars, eventually leading to a Space Cold War.

Since the flourishing commercialization of space has made many global economies to depend on space-based systems, Whitman Cobb, author of “Privatizing Peace: How Commerce Can Reduce Conflict in Space” is confident that a potential conflict in space would be very costly.

“There should be both strategic and economic considerations that restrain countries in their use of weapons in space.”

Moon, the first point of clash?
The US Department of Defense’s report has come at a time when both China and the US are vying for the moon, choosing sites on the Moon’s South Pole. China’s Chang’e-7, is set to land in 2024 while NASA is planning to send its Artemis 3 crewed mission in 2025.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson is apprehensive that once landing on the moon, China might say, “It’s ours now and you stay out.”

Beyond the moon, a former NASA official Doug Loverro made a similar speculation when he suggested that the so-called New Space Race will involve a race to get to Mars first.

“The real race is who is going to be the first nation on Mars. Just as leadership of the 20th century was framed by who was first on the moon, I believe the leadership of the 21st century will be framed by who is first on Mars.”

Read: China Accuses U.S. Of Trying to Turn Outer Space Into a Battlefield (September 8, 2022)

However, China says the American Report officially “recognizes space as a priority domain of national military power” and aggravates the trend of turning outer space into a weapon and a battlefield.

It remains to be seen whether the two nations take the Cold War to the South Pole of the Moon where they have marked landing sites for their crewed missions in 2024 and 2025.

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