Opinion: An arms race in space


An arms race in space

Albert Fisler

As technology develops rapidly here on the ground, scientists and researchers are constantly using this to their advantage when it comes to outer space. The use of satellites has increased exponentially over the past few decades. Most of our Internet and cellular services depend on these satellites that are constantly orbiting Earth. But as they circle the globe, there is not much protection for these hunks of metal floating in space. What do they need protection from, you may ask? It may be this new emerging type of satellite. 

On December 25 of last year, the Russians launched Kosmos 2499, a communications satellite, BBC News reports. Usually these satellites come in sets of three, but this time there were four, which the Russian government had told the UN in May earlier this year, BBC News continues to report. However, Robert Christy, interviewed by BBC News, had been recording the craft’s movements as a satellite observer. He noticed the strange movement patterns it was making, and concluded that it was possible the satellite was an inspector satellite, one designed to move in close to other satellites and potentially photograph or eavesdrop on their communications. 

This technology has the potential be helpful in commercial use; it is possible to use these types of satellites to repair or replace damaged or faulty ones in orbit. However, the threat of misuse of this satellite could be very beneficial in intelligence gathering of different countries or civilians. The test by the Russians was conducted on their own satellites in a harmless way, but the potential of using this technology to disable other satellites is not very far off, although, currently, international treaties prohibit such space weapons, BBC News states. 

“The point is that each side sees that the other can do it,” Christy told BBC News. This seems to reflect the arms race of the Cold War. Is there potential for another Cold War, yet this time above the clouds? If a government was able to disable a satellite that provides Internet to important resources, like the banking system, or water system, it may cause more damage than expected. 

Today, we place a lot of dependence on these new technologies that are barely a decade old. It may be a while before we can perfect them and make them completely secure. It causes a lot of trouble when technology malfunctions or refuses to work. Just think of how inconvenient it is to lose an entire six page paper you may have been working on, let alone the collapse of a regulated system, like banking or street lights. Perhaps treaties will be enough to keep outer space neutral, but it also very easy to imagine another arms race, this time taking place in space. 

Contact Albert Fisler at [email protected].