Space Matters #2

The Great Game for Space:

The Artemis Accords have been signed:

Eight countries (the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom) have penned their consent to a seven-page agreement which outlines principles that signatory nations in NASA’s Artemis programme are expected to adhere to. These principles include interoperability, release of scientific data to use of space resources and preserving space heritage.

The use of the term “preserving space heritage” is interesting if one considers how the term is prevalent in the discourse around deep sea mining. The International Seabed Authority, the UN body that administers and grants licences for deep sea mining, endeavours to regulate sustainable mining of polymetallic nodules from the seabed in the high seas. Drawing another parallel to the extrapolatable utility of maritime domain knowledge to the space domain is the prospect of asteroid mining, which can one day be a serviceable solution to humanity’s need for mineral resources.

However the absence of China, Russia and India from the list of signatories could be an Achilles heel for the agreement, which aspires to be the de-facto framework for a truly global cooperative space organisation that enforces and administers it.

As things stand, this will relegate the Artemis Accords to nothing more than a block under the US umbrella or a regional or a set of regional cooperation accords going forward.

The scepticism of Russia and China has been a predictable but still interesting development. Their major issue with the agreement is its perceived US-centric goals and strategic logic that are part of the Artemis program, which doesn’t benefit Russia or China in any explicit way that either country’s own endeavours with their thriving space programmes can’t achieve on their own (or with the cooperation between them and their respective and mutual allies).

Why it makes more strategic sense for space forces to emerge out of a naval service than an airforce.

In an interesting article analysing the role, strategic thinking and progress of the US Space force to the national security of the United States, the author observes “The Space Force sees a role for itself akin to the US Navy, serving to protect the nation’s interests across a vast domain.”

 The argument rings true when we compare the capabilities and mission mandates of traditional Air Forces, which are constrained by their operational requirements to only field a select a few aircrew in combat operations per aircraft as well as only being charged with the security of the airspace that extends to the limit of their platform’s combat radius.

The naval aviation forces of the world however have an advantage of operating in a truly synchronised fashion with up to thousands of integral crews onboard aircraft carriers.

Besides these, the inherent area of responsibility for naval forces to patrol and secure extends far beyond, into the blue seas, which, if extrapolated is far more applicable as a paradigm to adopt for operations in the vast swathes of space.

Launches, New Gear and Plans:

US startup Slingshot Aerospace and Hollywood studio The Third Floor will develop a Space Simulation tool for U.S. military.

A Space Simulator will be developed and funded with a $1 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 contract from the Space Force and an additional $1 million from a private venture investor ATX Venture Partners.

India’s ISRO and Japan’s JAXA on path to develop a joint polar lunar mission.

The planned Lunar Polar Exploration Mission that will see cooperation between Japan and India, aims to send a lander and rover to the lunar south pole at some point around the year 2024. The main objective for the planned mission will be searching for reserves of water ice in the lunar south pole.

NASA and Boeing are trying to keep to the scheduled date for a hotfire test of the core stage of the Space Launch System(SLS) which will be used for Artemis-I.

US’s Northrop Grumman has launched its Cygnus cargo spacecraft to resupply the ISS, while also furthering NASA’s push for commercial use of space and to fulfil the high tech plumbing needs aboard ISS.

The mission is carrying an interesting payloads including 1) A Universal Waste Management System that includes a $23 million next-generation space toilet that will be installed on the International Space Station 2) Ten bottles of a cosmetic product the manufacturer of which is paying to take pictures onboard ISS for a social media advertising campaign.

Interesting New Publications and Resources:

  • The Wilson Centre hosted a webinar exploring Geopolitical Space Competition and Cooperation.
  • A recently published article about US Coast Guard’s interest in the space domain
  • A blog post exploring a brokered deal to supply Coffee beans that came together with the help of space based remote sensing and geo spatial imagery capturing capabilities.
  • A weekly podcast exploring the technical side of spaceflight engineering with news, interviews and discussions. 

    “These are the author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the Takshashila Institution.”