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Outer Space at Risk: New Study Spotlights Anti-satellite and Space Debris Threats

A new report flags the increasing threats to the security of outer space due to anti-satellite weapons and space debris. The study points out that it is in all nations’ self-interest to safeguard use of the space environment, but there is a widening impasse on how to do this.

Anti-satellite weapons and space debris are increasing threats to the security of outer space. This is a key finding from the newly released Space Security 2008, a study by Project Ploughshares which coordinated and published the report.

While space debris caused by routine space operations is an issue, the fragments spewed out into space from China’s January 2007 anti-satellite test has created a serious problem for the routine and safe operations of all nations’ spacecraft, the report points out. That action by China is gauged as the worst debris-creating event in the history of the space age.

Weapons programs also threaten stability in outer space, demonstrated by the Chinese anti-satellite experiment in 2007 and the U.S. intercept of an American failed satellite using its missile defense system in February 2008.

It is in all nations’ self-interest to safeguard use of the space environment, but there is a widening impasse on how to do this.

“There is growing tension between the U.S. and China over the security of outer space, largely driven by mistrust and suspicions over weapons programs,” says

Dr. Ray Williamson, Executive Director of Secure World Foundation (SWF), a contributor to the report.

SWF’s Williamson saluted the Space Security 2008 report’s flagging of issues that need watching, to assure that the space environment can be of beneficial use to all nations.

Space Security 2008 is the fifth annual report on trends and developments in space, covering the period January to December 2007. It is part of a wider Space Security Index (SSI) project that facilitates dialog among space experts on space security challenges.

Space Security 2008 is the only comprehensive source of data and analysis on space activities and their cumulative impact on the security of outer space.

Each report chapter provides a description of a specific indicator and its impact on space security. In this year’s report, space security is assessed according to the following eight indicators:

• The space environment
• Space laws, policies and doctrines
• Civil space programs and global utilities
• Commercial space
• Space support for terrestrial military operations
• Space systems protection
• Space systems negation
• Space-based strike systems
Major trends
The just-issued report underscores a number of trends, such as:
-- Growing debris threats to spacecraft as rate of debris production increases. There is increasing awareness of space debris threats and continued efforts to develop guidelines for debris mitigation.

-- Space surveillance capabilities to support collision avoidance are slowly improving.

-- There is a growing focus within national military doctrines on the security
uses of outer space.
-- The number of actors gaining access to space is increasing in number and there is growth in global utilities as states seek to expand applications and accessibility.

-- U.S. and Russia continue to lead in deploying military space systems. More actors are developing military space capabilities.

-- There is an ongoing proliferation of ground-based capabilities to attack satellites.

-- An expanding number of countries are developing more advanced space-based strike-enabling technologies through other civil, commercial, and military programs.

The report and executive summary are available at:
Delicate balance
Jessica West, Program Manager for the Space Security Index at Project Ploughshares said: “Space issues generate a lot of interest and information…but not always accurate information. We aim to make these issues clear and transparent for everyone, thus providing a common knowledge base for all policymakers with a stake in space.”

The project also seeks to determine how policies and actions affect space security, which, West adds, is becoming more complex. “Space Security 2008 reflects the real-life challenges faced by policymakers in determining the manifold effects of their decisions. There is a delicate balance in outer space - if you mess up one thing, you risk messing up a lot of things.”

Space Security 2008 joins its predecessors as “a trustworthy interdisciplinary source of information for policymakers required to understand and balance the competing demands and resulting tensions of commercial, military and civil uses of space,” pointed out John Siebert, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares based in Waterloo, Ontario.

Project partners include Project Ploughshares, the Secure World Foundation, the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, the Simons Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research at the University of British Columbia, the Cypress Fund for Peace and Security, and the Space Generation Foundation.

The project is supported by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Secure World Foundation and the Ploughshares Fund.

Jessica West | Newswise Science News
Further information:

Further reports about: Anti-satellite Debris Foundation Ploughshares Security Space Spotlights Threats

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