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Space dangers: Contested orbits and mounting space junk

The 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty prohibits ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in space or on ‘celestial bodies’ like the moon. But currently ‘weapons of selective destruction’ fall outside of the OST. Thus a new treaty is urgently needed.  

By Bruce Gagnon ,

Space orbital parking lots are getting dangerously crowded risking cascading collisions ( Kessler Syndrome) which could become so severe that space flight would be impossible due to the orbiting field of debris. If this was to occur much of life on planet Earth would go dark as our daily activities are enabled by space satellites (GPS, Internet banking, weather prediction, cell phones, air traffic control, etc).

In addition, because of the massive escalation of satellite launches, astronomers are complaining that we are losing the night sky.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX makes rockets and satellites to build Starlink, a broadband Internet system that once completed will cover the entire world. SpaceX has so far put 2,500 satellites into orbit and plans for 42,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) occupying 80% of this space.

The Pentagon funds and tests Starlink to use its military capabilities. Starlink satellites are being utilized by the Ukrainian military to guide drones, artillery shells, and missiles into Russian positions and at civilian targets.

Very recently Musk has begun to slightly restrict the use of Starlink by the Ukrainian military as he feared that Russia might take action against the constellation.

Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) have been tested by India, US, Russia and China. ASAT’s need no explosives, at orbital speeds kinetic energy (one thing smashing into the other) does the job. 

Virtually all warfare on the planet is now enabled by space technology. Thus filling up the increasingly limited parking spaces in various orbital regions will determine which nation has an advantage.

NATO in 2019 announced a new doctrine calling space a ‘fifth operational domain’. NATO maintains that the US-led bloc will use commercial satellites as a military booster. 

The 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty prohibits ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in space or on ‘celestial bodies’ like the moon. But currently ‘weapons of selective destruction’ fall outside of the OST. Thus a new treaty is urgently needed.  

Russia and China have been leading the effort at the UN to create a new treaty to ban all weapons in space for many years. But the US and Israel have been blocking such a step for peace in space. The official US line through Republican and Democratic administrations is ‘there is no problem in space, and no new treaty is needed’.

During recent years the numbers of satellites orbiting the Earth has grown dramatically. Thousands more satellite launches have been approved by the Federal Communications Commission despite legal action by a coalition of groups (including the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space).

Each launch releases toxic agents which are destroying the Earth’s ozone layer. In addition, when satellites fall from lower earth orbit and burn-up on reentry they release a deadly stew of electronic particles into our atmosphere.

Russia has issued a warning to the US-NATO that they are ‘exposing civilian space assets to potential attack by utilizing them for military purposes’.

In early February Ukrainian troops fired rockets from a US-made HIMARS system which hit a hospital in Novoaydar, killing 14 Russian-ethnics and injuring 24. Russia claimed that Kiev used western satellites operated by NATO personnel to target the hospital.

In late February China announced that it was preparing to launch close to 13,000 satellites into LEO in a move to counter Musk’s SpaceX network. China stated that they intended to ‘ensure that our country has a place in low orbit and prevent the Starlink constellation from excessively preempting low-orbit resources.

~ Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space and lives in Brunswick, Maine.


March 4, 2023 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, space travel, weapons and war

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