The Final Frontier

Outer Space Security & Governance

In 65 years since the first satellite was launched, mankind has evolved from having no presence in outer space to developing a dependence on space assets to power the global economy, support military operations, and further innovation.

In a rapidly digitizing world that is reliant on digital infrastructure, space systems are vital to governments, businesses, and our everyday lives. Space-based assets and data play critical roles in human and national security, touching everything from communication and intelligence to navigation, weather forecasting, monitoring climate change, and disaster mitigation.

As governments and private actors seek to capitalize on the strategic and commercial benefits of space, the domain is becoming increasingly congested and contested. There are 77 countries and multinational organizations today owning and operating satellites, alongside a rapidly growing number of commercial entities similarly engaged in space exploration.

illustration of a orbiting satelite

Since 1957, over 12,870 objects have been launched. 4,852 satellites currently orbit Earth, 60 percent of which are operated by the U.S.

illustration of an office building with a satelite dish attached to the roof

Over 10,000 space technology companies, 150 research and development associations, and over 100 launch companies are active globally.

illustration of a group of satelites orbitting earth from space representing GPS services

A widespread outage of GPS service, while unlikely, could have an estimated economic impact of $1 billion per-day to the U.S. economy.

illustration of a rocket launching from a launchpad

The global space economy will be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040.

However, existing regulatory frameworks have been unable to adapt to evolving challenges and hold accountable those who jeopardize safety and security. The potential for future conflicts in space, or for conflicts on Earth to spill into space, is intensifying as a range of actors develop counterspace weapons, such as laser beams, jamming, surveillance, and anti-satellite capabilities that could incapacitate systems on Earth, or worse.

Amid growing concerns of a space arms race, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) warns that “the destruction, damage, or incapacitation of one or more objects in space, even if temporary, could have serious reverberating effects for militaries and civilians alike.”

The Final Frontier: Outer Space Security & Governance is a powerful tool for policy influencers, decisionmakers, and others seeking to better understand global space governance, including as it relates to military, diplomacy, industry, and humanitarianism.

Key Takeaways

  • Space is a key enabler of all economic and security activities.

    Space plays an essential role in our everyday lives, from enabling security systems, satellite imagery, and internet connectivity to supporting mobile banking and telecommunications and monitoring agriculture production and climate change.

  • Space is an increasingly congested and contested domain, presenting security and sustainability challenges.

    Evolving space capabilities, declining costs, and relatively low barriers to entry have made the space domain and its associated weapons, tools, and technologies increasingly accessible and powerful. China, Russia, India, and the U.S. have conducted anti-satellite weapons tests and there are signs that there may be additional countries exploring or already possessing latent anti-satellite capabilities.

  • States are no longer the only dominant space actors.

    With lines among civil, commercial, and military space blurring, commercial actors are playing a greater role during times of conflict, as evidenced by firms providing satellite imagery, communication, and internet services in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, regulations vary across jurisdictions, leaving firms to largely self-regulate their activities. At present, there are no efforts to coordinate how they may be governed on a global scale.

  • Greater multistakeholder collaboration on space is needed.

    The growing use of space for military purposes, alongside enhancements in cyber and electronic warfare, underscores the imperative to establish clear rules of engagement and enforcement mechanisms to mitigate emergent risks in the space domain.

This Power Map includes a glossary feature developed exclusively for FP Analytics, which defines the key terms used throughout the report. To view definitions, touch on the terms that are underlined in gray.

A 1978 illustration depicts a variety of existing and future satellites, various types of space stations, and astronomical observatories, highlighting that orbital debris must be more carefully considered as space becomes more crowded.

A 1978 illustration depicts a variety of existing and future satellites, various types of space stations, and astronomical observatories, highlighting that orbital debris must be more carefully considered as space becomes more crowded.Space Frontiers/Getty Images

Key Trends and Issues in Space

Four Trends and Issues Defining the Final Frontier

When the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, into orbit in 1957, it marked a turning point in the “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the U.S. against the backdrop of the Cold War. From 1957 to 1990, the two countries accounted for 93 percent of all satellites launched into space, with about 70 percent of their launches for military satellites. Today, the world has become dependent on space systems beyond military uses, relying on space-based services and data to support the global economy and daily life. However, space is a fragile environment, threatened by natural occurrences, such as space weather and human activities, which can generate debris and harm space systems. The proliferation of space actors and new technologies heightens risks to space safety and stability and requires more sophisticated and agile regulatory guardrails.

Emerging Spacefaring States

The current situation:  Countries are increasingly seeking to establish autonomous capabilities to access, operate, and benefit from space activities. Seventy-seven countries and multilateral organizations have at least one satellite orbiting Earth. Nine countries and one regional organization (the European Space Agency) possess launch capabilities. Given the growing presence of space objects in orbit and the entry of new space actors, effective space traffic management (STM) is vital to ensure safe space operations. International STM standards and best practices are necessary, but regulatory progress has stalled due to limited consensus on the content of regulations alongside technical challenges, such as information sharing, data format standardization and integration, and limited object maneuverability in space. Footnote 1

What’s at stake: With more actors developing and deploying new technologies and space systems, competition over the Moon, space resources, and limited orbital slots, such as cislunar Lagrange points, risks the potential for collisions between objects and for conflict in space or for terrestrial-based conflicts to extend there, particularly among great powers. As the world’s dependence on satellites grows, the obstruction or degradation of space-based services could result in severe economic and security losses. Maintaining access to space is critical, particularly for developing countries, which generally do not have the financial or technological means to deploy their own space systems but rely on space-based assets for crucial services.

Graphic 1

Total Number of Objects Launched into Space

Space exploration is expanding—from a select few spacefaring nations to a diverse set of public- and private-sector actors that are pursuing ambitions of varying scale.

Note: Figures include satellites, probes, landers, crewed spacecraft, and space station flight elements launched into Earth’s orbit or beyond. Source: The UN Office of Outer Space Affairs via Our World in Data

Privatization of Space

The current situation: Technological innovations, decreased launch costs, growing availability of space hardware, and increased government support for their domestic commercial space industry has prompted the so-called “New Space Revolution.” Commercial space activity skyrocketed from $110 billion in 2005 to $357 billion in 2020. In 2020, commercial activity accounted for 80 percent of the $447 billion global space economy. Private firms are also increasingly supporting and, in some cases, replacing, government projects in space and becoming leaders in space exploration. For instance, U.S.-based firms SpaceX and Axiom Space are building a commercial space station to replace the International Space Station by 2030.

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What’s at stake: While technological improvements in electronics miniaturization, launching capabilities, and spacecraft reuse are helping to lower operational costs, these developments are leading to increased deployment of smallsats and mega-constellations in low earth orbit (LEO) by private companies. Mega-constellations present challenges for radio-frequency spectrum allocation and orbital safety, since smallsats are typically not equipped with propulsion capacity and cannot perform any collision avoidance or end-of-life disposal maneuvers. Larger constellations and smallsat swarms can improve surveillance capabilities and high-precision data, raising concerns from countries such as Russia that commercial satellites could be used for military purposes. This blurs what constitutes civil, commercial, and military space, making it increasingly difficult to determine when rules of engagement and international humanitarian law apply.

Graphic 2

Space Companies’ Regional Distribution

The “New Space Revolution” is encouraging numerous actors, including private companies, to launch their own space missions. Today, there are over 10,000 space technology companies worldwide.

Note: All figures are as of May 2021. Source: SpaceTech Analytics

Graphic 3

Satellites’ Primary Uses

With more firms launching space projects, most satellites are being used primarily for commercial purposes. SpaceX alone owns 37 percent of the satellites orbiting Earth.

Note: All figures are as of January 2022. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Weaponization of Space

The current situation: Counterspace capabilities, including destructive and non-destructive means, are those developed by one country to counter or neutralize another country’s space capabilities. Since the Cold War, countries have leveraged space for military applications, but as more actors enter space, there are growing concerns about the placement of space-based devices that could have destructive capacities, such as anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) which can damage or destroy satellites. To date, China, Russia, India, and the U.S. have conducted ASAT tests, and there are signs that there may be additional countries that are exploring or already possess latent ASAT capabilities.

What’s at stake: Existing international frameworks have demonstrably failed to prevent countries from developing and launching counterspace capabilities, and discussions surrounding proposed frameworks for governance have stalemated for decades. The U.S. possesses the most robust spacefaring capabilities, and several countries are seeking to leverage the space domain to enhance their military capabilities. For instance, Canada, Norway, Russia, Denmark, and the U.S. have launched military satellites to provide communication and Earth-imaging services in the Arctic. The growing use of space for military purposes, including military satellite communications, missile-warning systems, and reconnaissance, has, in part, incited a resurgence of counterspace capabilities. Enhancements in electronic warfare, cyber, and dual-use technologies have prompted a so-called “new space arms race.”

Graphic 4

Types of Space Weapons

The proliferation of counterspace capabilities has renewed discussions related to kinetic and non-kinetic space weapons used to target space- and terrestrial-based assets

Footnote 2

. Space Situational Awareness (SSA) is key to allow actors to detect, track, identify, and predict space objects’ behavior.

Click plus sign icon to expand

Types of Space Weapons

Direct-ascent ASAT

Direct-ascent ASAT

Missiles with interceptors that are launched from Earth, air, or sea and are used to destroy satellites via a direct strike or to detonate near a target. The warhead can be conventional or nuclear. Earth-to-space weapons can create space debris, can be attributed to an actor, and have been tested by China, Russia, India, and the U.S.

Co-orbital ASAT

Co-orbital ASAT

Weapons are placed into orbit and approach their intended targets by striking them directly or detonating a conventional or nuclear warhead in its vicinity. Such weapons can be attributed to an actor and create space debris.

Spaced-Based Weapons

Spaced-Based Weapons

When commanded, a weapon placed in orbit can deorbit and then re-enter the atmosphere to strike a target on Earth. Space-to-Earth weapons are currently theoretical but have been considered by the U.S. military.

Directed Energy

Directed Energy

Weapons using focused energy (e.g., laser beams) to interfere with or destroy satellite systems. These can have temporary or permanent effects, can be attributed to an actor, Footnote 3 and do not generate space debris.



Weapons using radiofrequency energy to interfere with the communications to and/or from satellites. Examples include jamming (preventing a signal) and spoofing (giving an incorrect signal). Depending on the form of the attack, effects can be temporary or permanent, and they can be difficult to attribute to a specific actor, but do not produce space debris.



Digital techniques that are used to control, compromise, interfere with, or destroy computer systems. Cyberattacks on space systems can result in loss of data or service provided by a satellite, or a bad actor seizing control of a satellite through its command-and-control system. Footnote 4

Types of Space Weapons

Graphic 5

Anti-satellite (ASAT) Weapons Tests by Country

Four countries have demonstrated ASAT capabilities; however, assessments indicate that there are several countries seeking to develop space weapons for their own national security.

Note: All figures are as of February 8, 2022. Source: Secure World Foundation

Space Debris

The current situation: Currently, an estimated 36,500 pieces of orbital debris, including natural meteoroid and artificial (human-made), larger than 10 centimeters exist in Earth’s orbit. Orbital debris, regardless of its mass, can travel at high speeds (15,700 mph/25,267 kmp) and damage spacecraft. If no immediate action is taken, enough debris in orbit could cause a cascade of collisions that would “render certain orbits unusable.” With private firms looking to launch mega-constellations, addressing the risks posed by space debris will be increasingly important, especially as space becomes congested with more satellites and increased space activities.

What’s at stake: While governments recognize the hazards that debris present to the space domain, most efforts focus on preventing the increase of new debris in space rather than the removal of existing debris. After the Russian ASAT test in November 2021, which generated at least 1,500 trackable debris pieces and thousands of untraceable ones, there have been calls to ban ASAT weapons testing that creates debris and for improved space debris management mechanisms. Following the incident, the Paris Peace Forum launched the Net Zero Space initiative, which calls on participants to contain and reduce debris by 2030. However, it does not provide details as to how, or who is responsible for debris removal.

Graphic 6

Space Debris Event Causes

For each fragmentation event, thousands of pieces of dangerous debris could be added to Earth’s orbit. Over the last 20 years, 12 accidental fragmentations have occurred annually, and that number is anticipated to increase.

Note: Figures represent all fragmentation event causes in the history of space flight as of July 2019. Source: European Space Agency Fragmentation Database

Graphic 7

Debris from Anti-satellite (ASAT) Weapons Tests

Depending on the altitude, orbital debris can continue circling Earth for a thousand years or more. To date, there have been 16 destructive ASAT tests, generating over 6,300 pieces of debris. Given the risks that debris poses to future space missions, there have been calls to stop ASAT weapons testing that creates debris.

Note: All figures are as of February 8, 2022. Source: via Secure World Foundation

President Lyndon B. Johnson (right) watches the signing of an international treaty banning weapons in outer space in 1967.

President Lyndon B. Johnson (right) watches the signing of an international treaty banning weapons in outer space in 1967.Corbis via Getty Images

Key International Policy Frameworks

Overview of Global Space Governance Mechanisms

As space increasingly becomes a fundamental part of daily life and modern military operations and weaponry, damages to critical space infrastructure located in space and on Earth can reverberate across the world. Moreover, damages to the space environment are not as easily rectifiable and, instead, require vast sums of money plus hyperspecialized expertise to repair.

Risks to space systems are mounting, but existing international legal and regulatory frameworks, such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST), do not reflect the evolution of the space domain in the last six decades. Indeed, UN General Assembly Resolution 69/32 (2014) reaffirms that “the legal regime applicable to outer space by itself does not guarantee prevention of an arms race in outer space.” Several new issues unresolved by today’s global space governance structure include: the increasingly limited number of radio frequency and orbital slots and configurations, commercial space use, intentional harmful interference to satellites, space-based solar power use, space natural resource mining, and possible future space use by terrorists, among others.

A lack of consensus, however, persists on what international norms to adopt. Experts point out that there is a disagreement as to what space is meant to be used for because existing treaties discuss space being “used for peaceful purposes.” This leads to divergent perceptions on whether “peaceful purposes” means non-military or non-aggressive activities, and by extension, what the threats to space are. More fundamentally, states are reluctant to relinquish their military capabilities in space, because they do not want to limit their own freedom of action in space. As a result, countries fail to follow voluntary norms on what is acceptable in space, presenting acute risks to human security in space and on Earth.

Headshot of Victoria Samson

Victoria Samson

Washington Office Director, Secure World Foundation

International space discussions regarding space norms and responsible behavior have been stagnant for decades. What have been the main points of contention, and what has halted progress on a potential arms control agreement?

“Part of it has been a difference of opinion in terms of what the biggest threat is to space security. Russia, China, and their allies have homed in on the idea that the biggest threat to space security and stability are designated weapons being put in space.”

Part of it has been a difference of opinion in terms of what the biggest threat is to space security. Russia, China, and their allies have homed in on the idea that the biggest threat to space security and stability are designated weapons being put in space. That is to say, space-based missile defense interceptors. Even though, no one’s really looking into that [and] there’s limited military utility, that is what they focus on. When they focus on that, they’re focusing on a technology that they want to have a legally binding option (i.e., a treaty) on.

Whereas the U.S. and its allies have been focusing largely on different aspects, saying that because of the dual-use nature of a lot of these space technologies, it is not necessarily the technology [that’s the biggest threat]. It’s not the thing that you’re worried about, but how you use it. It’s the behavior. So, the U.S. and its allies have very strongly resisted a treaty response, for example, the PPWT, the Russian and Chinese Prevention on the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space. The U.S. and its allies have said [designated weapons being put in space] is not really a threat that we need to focus on. But they have not responded with anything in turn up until just recently [when the U.S. announced that it commits to not conduct destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing].

And so, it’s been hard, because you have this major organization [United Nations] where a lot of the major powers disagree on what the nature of the threat is and how one should go about doing it. But, over the past year and a half, or almost two years now, there’s been a move to shift towards focusing on behavior and shifting away from [a technology-based approach].

And that’s been a tough sell, to be honest, because for a lot of countries in the G77, they’re more comfortable looking at more traditional approaches, right? And these are arms control people. If you don’t like something, you ban it, or you try and prevent people from physically getting hold of it. If you don’t want people using nuclear weapons, you keep fissile material out of their hands, as opposed to saying, “Okay, you can have it. We’re going to monitor your behavior.” That’s not something they do. So, this is different.

But there’s been a recognition that the old ways of doing things, decades of non-action, have demonstrated that the international community needs to rethink how they approach this. And so, there’s an effort to move more towards identifying responsible behavior in space and looking at it from that aspect.

Recognizing the heightened threats to governments and private industries, and the need for renewed action on space security and governance, in 2020, UN Member States submitted reports sharing their views on what the key threat to space security and stability is, such as limiting debris generation; avoiding harmful interference of space activities, like non-consensual close approaches; and communicating activities to enhance safety and stability. A UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) also plans to meet from 2022 to 2023, with the first set of meetings scheduled to take place in May 2022, to consider how discussions might be progressed.

In addition, there are independent, academic efforts to create manuals akin to the Tallin Manuals on cyberspace to answer how laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law apply to space—the Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations and the Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS). Both projects are scheduled to be released later in 2022.

Headshot of Emily Crawford

Emily Crawford

Associate Professor, University of Sydney Law School

What are the elements of international humanitarian law that are transferable to the space domain, and what are some key concerns?

“Nearly all international humanitarian law, except for the provisions that very specifically state that they are to relate to a particular environment—they’re all transferable—the rules on distinction, the rules on proportionality, the rules on indiscriminate attack and things like that.”

Nearly all international humanitarian law, except for the provisions that very specifically state that they are to relate to a particular environment—they’re all transferable—the rules on distinction, the rules on proportionality, the rules on indiscriminate attack and things like that. They’re obviously all applicable. Again, the problem is that they were designed obviously with a terrestrial environment in mind.

If you have a rule on proportionality that talks about, you can only target military objectives and those military objectives still need to be targeted with a mind towards any flow-on effects that they could have in a civilian environment…Well, outer space isn’t necessarily a military environment. It’s always going to have an impact on the civilian environment. Any attack that gets launched is necessarily going to pollute an environment that is used by both civilian and military.

The question becomes, “Is that worth it?” Does that bit of proportionality assessment? It’s been really hard to come to that determination. Part of the expert group that I’ve been with working with on trying to develop a manual [the Woomera Manual] relating to military operations in outer space has really, I won’t say struggled, because everyone’s well across the material, but there’s been a lot of discussion about, “Well, how can you ever possibly have a proportional attack in outer space?” Because if you dazzle a satellite, if you nudge it to knock it off its orbit, it’s very hard to make sure that then that doesn’t careen into another space object, create debris. Even the most seemingly innocuous kind of activity in outer space will necessarily have reverberating effects. That’s been a real concern.

The other concern has also been how you deal with personnel in outer space. Because the Outer Space Treaty clearly recognizes astronauts as being envoys of humankind. That they’re not meant to be considered as nationals of their state. They are instead the representatives of humanity. But at the same time, the moment they fit domestic and international law definitions of a participant in an armed conflict, that then becomes a very different thing. Because there are rules with regards to combatants and civilians in armed conflict that may not necessarily translate so easily into an outer space environment.

1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST)

111 UN Member States ratified; 23 signed on

The 1967 OST promotes peaceful exploration, scientific discovery, and international cooperation in space. Article IV, which prohibits parties from placing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in orbit, on the moon, or on other celestial bodies, is a key provision for maintaining peace and security. It bans the establishment of military bases, weapons testing, and conduct of military maneuvers.

While the placement of WMDs in space is banned, the OST does not forbid the use of WMDs or weapons such as missiles from being launched from Earth to target objects in space. The OST also leaves ambiguous the definitions of key space governance concepts, such as what entails the “peaceful use of outer space” and “use of force.” Moreover, the OST framework does not cover new challenges in space, such as satellite servicing, space debris removal, and space traffic management.

In addition, although Article VI stipulates that any company operating in space does so as an extension of its home government, in practice, regulations vary across jurisdictions as many states seek to encourage the development of their domestic space industries. For instance, Canada, China, Germany, and India are prominent space actors experiencing rapid private-sector participation. While they have licensing requirements and some policies regulating space-related technologies and data for companies, these states have “yet to enact comprehensive space legislation to enforce all aspects of the Outer Space Treaty and other international space-related agreements.” The U.S.’s space regulatory regime is also worryingly fragmented among several federal agencies. Differing interpretations regarding what types of activities, and which agencies are responsible for oversight, have hindered efforts to streamline regulations. As a result, no single federal agency has the authority to authorize and supervise the world’s largest commercial space industry. Footnote 5

Critical treaties that build on the OST include:

  • 1968 Rescue Agreement: All parties must aid astronauts and return them and their spacecraft to the launching state.
  • 1972 Liability Convention: A launching state is liable for damages inflicted on Earth by its spacecraft, and liable if its spacecraft causes harm to another state’s satellite.
  • 1975 Registration Convention: All parties must maintain national registries of objects they launch into space, and report basic information to the UN.
  • 1979 Moon Agreement: Provides guidance concerning the use of natural resources from the moon.

Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities (LTS) Guidelines

95 UN Member States agreed

The 21 LTS Guidelines recommend technical and operational standards, and responsible norms of behavior for both state and non-state actors to mitigate risks associated with space activities and ensure space sustainability. They are not legally binding, and countries voluntarily choose to incorporate them in their national legislation. The LST guidelines’ broad scope, combined with a lack of common understanding of key concepts, contributes to inconsistent implementation across space actors.

UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) Report on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) in Outer Space Activities

The 2013 UN Group of Governmental Experts’ report on TCMBs recommends how states can promote information sharing regarding their national space policies and goals. This can include risk-reduction notices with respect to flight safety and emergencies, launch site and command-and-control center visits, and space and rocket tech demonstrations. The goal is to prevent military confrontation in space by fostering trust between states to reduce misperceptions regarding states’ activities and intentions.

The GGE report could serve as the basis for future legally binding international commitments for global space governance. However, measures in the report are recommendations that are only enforceable if states voluntarily incorporate into their national legislation. Space actors have been slow to adopting the GGE’s recommendations as policy discussions related to space security have stalemated.

Israel and the United States have completed a successful flight test of the Arrow-3 ballistic missile interceptor, launched at a test site in central Israel on Jan. 18.

Israel and the United States have completed a successful flight test of the Arrow-3 ballistic missile interceptor, launched at a test site in central Israel on Jan. 18. Israel Ministry of Defense/Handout via Xinhua

Draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT)

To advance discussions concerning a space arms control agreement, at the 2008 Conference on Disarmament, China and Russia introduced a draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). The PPWT seeks to ban the placement of weapons, specifically the testing or deployment of space-based missile defense interceptors amid concerns that such capabilities could undermine their nuclear deterrent forces and early-warning satellites.

Critics point out that China and Russia’s efforts to militarize space are inconsistent with the principles and objectives proposed in the PPWT. In addition, the PPWT lacks critical verification mechanisms and allows for the development and stockpiling of ground-based ASAT weapons. Victoria Samson from the Secure World Foundation noted that the PPWT is an attempt by China and Russia to limit U.S. space activities despite little evidence to suggest that the U.S. nor any other countries are attempting to put space-based missile defense interceptors in orbit.

The creation and deployment of space-based missile defense interceptors would be a significant escalation that would undermine efforts to promote stability and security in space. A global space-based missile defense system in LEO would require hundreds of interceptors and would be very costly. (For example, 600 interceptors are estimated to cost $300 billion, or almost 40 percent of the U.S. military’s FY2023 budget.)

Despite the PPWT’s shortcomings, the U.S. and its allies have not proposed an alternative to it. However, in April 2022 ahead of the OEWG meetings, the Biden administration announced that the U.S. would no longer conduct direct-ascent ASAT tests, citing China’s 2007 and Russia’s 2021 ASAT tests that caused thousands of pieces of debris and the risks they pose to space security and sustainability.

Key Space Actors

Breaking Down the Foreign-policy Goals and Space Capabilities of 10 Key Actors

Increased reliance on space for national security is incentivizing more countries to develop their own space capabilities from indigenous SSA to the creation of new space military organizations. Overall, states are looking to ensure that they have continued and reliable access to their space assets and data in what they see as an increasingly competitive and possibly hostile space environment.

This section provides a summary analysis of ten key state and non-state space actors. It includes a breakdown of how space fits into their foreign-policy and national security goals, their space capabilities and objectives, the key federal agency responsible for conducting military activities in space, and noteworthy initiatives and partnerships.

Graphic 8

Countries’ Space Program Expenditures

Countries spent over $92 billion on their space programs in 2021. Due to innovations from the private sector, new space actors and established spacefaring countries are increasingly investing in long-term space initiatives.

Note: All figures are as of January 2021, except for Turkey’s, which is as of March 2020. Source: Euroconsult

Graphic 9

Overview of Key Actors in the New Space Race



Space Capability and Strategic Overview: With the goal of becoming a world-leading space power by 2045, China is investing heavily into the space industry and critical research and development (R&D). From 2004 to 2019, China’s space spending increased by 349 percent, making up about a third of global investments in commercial space companies ($52 billion). Increased investments in space capabilities and policy statements from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) indicate that China views space as a core strategic military and economic domain with the U.S. as its primary competitor. Since 2016, China has signed 46 space cooperation agreements with 19 countries and regions, and four international organizations. However, China is the only great geopolitical power without a specialized space law, leaving noticeable regulatory and transparency gaps concerning Chinese space activities.

Despite claims that its space programs are for peaceful purposes, China possesses a wide range of sophisticated counterspace capabilities, from electronic warfare and cyber to co-orbital rendezvous with other satellites. According to assessments from the U.S. Department of Defense, China intends to pursue additional ASAT weapons capable of destroying satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO). The assessments also found that China plans to test and incorporate dual-use technologies, such as AI and autonomous systems, in counterspace operations.

Key Agency: Strategic Support Force

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Beidou Navigation Satellite System. Beidou was developed as an alternative to GPS amid concerns that China would lose access to critical satellite data in the event of a conflict with the U.S. It has 35 satellites servicing more than 100 million users across 120 countries. The satellite system plays a vital role in China’s ability to employ Beidou-guided conventional strike weapons, as well as China’s Space Information Corridor and the Digital Silk Road.
  • Chinese Space Station (CSS). Set to complete in 2022, the CSS would make China the only country to have its own space station. The station contains dual-use capabilities, such as its robotic arm, which could be used to lift heavy objects like space debris but also grab other satellites, presenting security concerns.
  • Sino-Russo space cooperation. Since 2001, China and Russia have collaborated on space programs. In February 2022, space was identified as one area for broader economic and technological partnership between the two countries, including the planned creation of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) by 2035 to rival a similar U.S. lunar research project, the Artemis Accords, announced in 2020.

Chinese astronauts from the China Manned Space Agency wave as they take part in a pre-launch departure ceremony on Oct. 15, 2021 in Jiuquan, China.KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: The EU has identified three space priorities: integrating space into the European economy, fostering a competitive space sector, and ensuring its autonomy in accessing and using space. By 2030, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to develop the capability to protect critical space- and ground-based space infrastructure and become a “fundamental contributor” to global planetary defense by improving space SSA to detect, predict, and assess risks in space.

While the ESA promotes peaceful purposes and cooperation among states in space, some members, notably France, are developing offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities, including ground-based lasers for dazzling and space-based inspection satellites.  Due to varying interests and capabilities across European countries, Europe’s space industry depends on commercial businesses and export sales. Europe is the fourth largest space manufacturing power globally behind the U.S., Russia, and China. In 2018, Europe launched 16 percent of the global space infrastructure.

Key Agency: European Space Agency

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Galileo Satellite Navigation System. Galileo is a 24-satellite global satellite navigation system (GNSS) that provides services for phones, cars, railways, and aviation. It was developed as an alternative to the U.S.’s GPS. No comprehensive strategy exists, however, to promote or assess the impacts of Galileo’s services. In response to EU sanctions applied after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia suspended cooperation with the ESA, delaying the launch of Galileo’s satellites, which was set to complete the constellation in 2022.
  • Union Secure Connectivity Programme. In February 2022, the EU proposed legislation to develop a mega-constellation to strengthen European digital sovereignty, provide secure communications for European and military organizations through quantum encryption technologies, and provide telecommunication services in the Arctic and Africa. The system is estimated to cost $6.8 billion. The European Commission Regulatory Scrutiny Board criticized the lack of funding sources, the timeline, and consideration for potential climate impacts, and questioned the validity of the data cited in the proposal.
  • The Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (“EU Code”). Proposed by the EU in 2008, it is a non-legally binding code that attempts to establish “rules of the road” to enhance the security, safety, and sustainability of space operations. Critics have questioned the confined scope of its ambitions, the extent to which it authorizes the use of force in space, and the process by which the code was presented, which left little room for international negotiation and additional input. Discussions related to the EU Code have not progressed since 2015.

The European launcher Ariane 5 is brought to the launch pad at the Arianespace Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on Nov. 15, 2016.JODY AMIET/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: India seeks to achieve self-sufficiency in launching capabilities, reduce dependence on foreign countries for its space activities, and improve satellite-based communication and navigation systems for rural connectivity by 2025. As the first Asian nation to reach Mars, Footnote 6 India is among the most advanced spacefaring nations. By 2030, India aims to increase its share of the global space economy from two percent to ten percent. To accomplish this, the Indian government announced in 2020 that, for the first time, companies would be allowed to play a more active role in India’s space program.

India is increasingly investing in SSA and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to build up a credible deterrent toward its adversaries, namely China and Pakistan. India’s military has developed indigenous missile defense and long-range ballistic missile programs that experts warn could lead to direct-ascent ASAT capabilities. In 2019, India demonstrated ASAT capabilities when it destroyed one of its own satellites. The explosion resulted in more than 250 debris pieces, undermining space-sustainability efforts.

Key Agency: Defense Space Agency

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • The Navigation Indian Constellation (NavIC). NavIC is a regional satellite navigation system composed of eight satellites. It was developed after the U.S. refused to provide GPS data during the 1999 Kargil war. It plays an essential role in the 2015 Digital India Programme, which seeks to improve digital infrastructure and service access for military and civilian purposes, since 50 percent of people living in India do not have internet access, especially in rural areas.
  • Indo-Russo space cooperation. In December 2021, India and Russia identified space as an area for enhanced cooperation between the two countries, including human spaceflight projects, launch vehicle development, and satellite navigation. Although New Delhi is wary of Moscow’s growing ties with China and Pakistan, it is likely that India will maintain its strategic partnership with Russia concerning space.
  • Indian space diplomacy. As Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region intensifies, the Quad issued a joint statement in 2021 mentioning, for the first time, a partnership related to space. Priorities include standards related to space debris and the use of emerging and critical technologies. In addition to the Quad, India and Japan are cooperating on Earth observation, satellite navigation, and SSA, and are preparing to launch a lunar polar exploration mission by 2024.

Indian security forces keep watch near the launch vehicle carrying the Mars Orbiter probe ahead of its planned launch in Oct. 2013.STRDEL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: Long strategic and economic competitors, Japan is concerned about China’s growing economic and military power in the Indo-Pacific, which could undermine Japan’s national security. As such, Japan plans to invest in and strengthen its space program with the goal of becoming a self-sustained spacefaring nation by 2030 through close collaboration with its allies and partners, particularly the U.S.

While Japan does not have any acknowledged offensive counterspace capabilities, it possesses latent ASAT capabilities via missile defense systems supplied by the U.S. However, Japan has not yet tested these capabilities. It seeks to develop enhanced SSA capabilities and to leverage space systems to improve disaster management, national resilience, and maritime domain awareness. To accomplish this, by 2023, Japan plans to start operating a SSA system and by 2026, deploy its first surveillance satellite. By the early 2030s, Japan aims to double the scale of its space industry to $22 billion.

Key Agency: Japan Air Self-Defense Force

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). QZSS is a regional satellite navigation system covering East Asia and Oceania. Japan plans to expand the system from four to seven satellites by 2023. This expansion is part of a broader effort to improve U.S.-Japanese regional military cooperation. The new satellites will also establish an emergency communications system.
  • Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF). Japan seeks economic and diplomatic engagement with other countries via the APRSAF, which includes 52 countries and 32 non-governmental organizations. The APRSAF has launched several initiatives to support regional satellite services, such as Sentinel Asia, an international disaster management initiative. China sponsors a similar organization called the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) and has sent delegations to Japan’s forum, suggesting potential cooperation between the two countries.
  • U.S.-Japan space cooperation. As world’s largest and third-largest economies, the U.S. and Japan have shared close space relations since the 1970s. In 2015, the U.S. and Japan revised their bilateral defense guidelines to enhance interoperability of their respective militaries and cooperation on key issues such as cybersecurity, the use of space for defense purposes, and ballistic missile defense amid improved North Korean missile capabilities and China’s increasingly aggressive regional posture.

JAXA’s Hayabusa-2 probe’s sample drop to Earth after landing on, and gathering material from, an asteroid is seen from Coober Pedy in South Australia on Dec. 6, 2020.MORGAN SETTE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: Private-sector organizations play vital roles in satellite infrastructure research, development, deployment, and operation. In recent decades, companies have increasingly provided military and civil satellite services for daily life, contributing to the progressively blurred line between military and civilian space. The commercial space industry seeks to advance exploration, tourism, and R&D to improve the cost-effectiveness and efficacy of existing services. The total global value of space-focused companies is estimated to be $4 trillion.

The private sector is concerned about supply chain security and its ability to access space to continue pursuing commercial opportunities. Issues that private firms seek to further public-private sector collaboration includes creating technical and behavioral standards to ensure space’s sustainability; creating a space internet; building a space superhighway for logistics; and leveraging space to support climate change efforts. Absent effective governance and regulation, the private sector has established its own self-regulating mechanisms and standards of behavior such as CONFERS, but those alone are insufficient as threats to space stability mount.

Key Agency: N/A

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • International Norm Setting. The private sector supports establishing norms of behavior in space. For instance, the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, which were accepted by the international community and incorporated into countries’ laws, were developed by the private sector. The International Organization for Standardization similarly works with the private sector to recommend technical standards to enhance space safety. The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Contracts is an example of how the private sector can make effective and meaningful contributions to guidelines on armed conflict.
  • Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC). Space ISAC is an 18-member industry-led organization that facilitates collaboration to improve organizations’ abilities to prepare for and respond to cyber vulnerabilities, incidents, and threats. As the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure sectors and supply chains grows, strengthening space assets’ cybersecurity is a top priority for the global community. Commercial satellites can potentially be more vulnerable to cyberattacks due to aging technology and recent trends of low-cost satellites being launched that use commercial off-the-shelf technology, which typically have open-source operating systems that can be rife with vulnerabilities.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket spacecraft launched to the International Space Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 30, 2020.BILL INGALLS/NASA VIA GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: Russia seeks to regain its space capabilities and prestige that diminished following the end of the Cold War. Although Russia’s Federal Space Program outlines an ambitious agenda to strengthen its space capabilities and programs by 2025, Russia is struggling to meet new technological standards and faces intensifying market competition in the “New Space Age.” Russia and China are cooperating to establish themselves as leading space actors and to establish new norms in space, ultimately challenging U.S. primacy in space Footnote 7.

Russia advocates for a space arms control agreement to prevent the further weaponization of space while simultaneously developing non-destructive and destructive counterspace weapons for use during a potential conflict. It has conducted electronic warfare attacks in military conflicts, including during the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s military doctrine indicates that space assets will become increasingly critical to its modernization efforts to enable precision-strike weapons and satellite-supported information networks. However, Russia faces several hurdles to developing its space program, including corruption, budget constraints, and international sanctions.

Key Agency: Aerospace Forces

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema (GLONASS). GLONASS is a 24-satellite GNSS providing civil and military services. It was developed as an alternative to the U.S.-built GPS. With plans to launch the next generation of GLONASS by 2025, intelligence agencies have raised concerns regarding what data is collected and how it will be used. For example, an installation of electronic sensors into transportation vehicles could allow Russia to use the data against European economies in retaliation for EU sanctions.
  • Russian Space Partnerships Suspended. In response to the invasion in Ukraine, the sanctions imposed on Russia, in part, aim to “degrade [Russia’s] aerospace industry, including their space program.” Cooperative space initiatives have been suspended, with Russia and Belarus’s access to satellite data restricted and the ESA stating the “impossibility” of working with Russia on future Lunar and Mars missions. International collaboration, however, on the ISS is continuing as three Russian cosmonauts started their tour of duty in March 2022.
  • Russian Launch Operations Suspended. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was the third largest contributor to launches, after the U.S. and China. In response to sanctions, Russia suspended operations at its Guiana spaceport. Russia is looking for new partnerships and suppliers for space missions, specifically in Belarus to develop remote sensing capabilities and China to support space exploration projects.

Russia’s Space Station Mir flying over the Pacific Ocean during a rendezvous operation with the Space Shuttle Discovery on Feb. 6, 1995.NASA/SPACE FRONTIERS/GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: As an emerging spacefaring nation, the UAE views its space industry as an opportunity for economic diversification away from its reliance on hydrocarbons and to improve its international prestige. In 2021, the UAE was the first Arab nation to launch a spacecraft to Mars. By 2030, the UAE aims to establish itself as a major regional and global space hub.

The UAE relies on knowledge-transfer programs to obtain expertise and build up its capabilities to reach its ambitious space goals, such as achieving human settlement on Mars by 2117. Partnerships with established spacefaring nations play a key role. For instance, the UAE and the U.S. have signed an SSA data sharing agreement to improve data sharing and analysis among their military and civilian agencies. In 2020, the UAE and Israel also discussed cooperation on military space efforts, with reports indicating that the UAE has sought to purchase a missile defense system from Israel.

Key Agency: UAE Space Agency

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Global Navigation Satellite Augmentation System (GNSSaS). The UAE seeks to become a leader in navigation and positioning augmentation technologies. India signed a $100 billion investment package in February 2022 with the UAE, which identifies ICT as a key area for collaboration. The UAE is particularly interested in India’s low-cost launch vehicles to launch its smallsats.
  • Arab Space Cooperation Group. In 2019, the UAE led the creation of the Arab Space Cooperation Group, which includes 14 countries from across the Middle East and Africa region. Its aim is to establish an international presence by supporting Arab space agencies and programs, talent development, and science and technology research. The group’s first major project is to launch a satellite by 2024 to monitor climate change and improve urban planning in the region.
  • China-UAE Space Partnership. As part of the two countries’ broader “comprehensive strategic partnership,” in 2015, the UAE signed an agreement with China to collaborate in space exploration and research. The partnership aligns with the CCP’s 2016 Arab Policy Paper goals, which aims to improve China’s partnerships with Gulf states, notably on satellites, under the auspices of its Belt and Road Initiative. In addition to other industries such as telecommunications, space is an underdiscussed arena where China seeks to strengthen economic ties and embed Chinese technological infrastructure.

An Emirati walks past a screen displaying the “Hope” Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai on July 19, 2020.GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: As the world’s top investor in space programs, the U.S. seeks to maintain its leadership and competitiveness in the space domain. Three key areas of focus for the U.S. are the long-term sustainability of space exploration, SSA and space traffic coordination, and use of space-based Earth observation capabilities to support climate change efforts. Due to growing cybersecurity concerns, Congress is considering designating space as a critical infrastructure sector, but some skeptics have criticized this approach, calling for cross-sector collaboration rather than the siloing of space.

The U.S. possesses the most robust SSA, ASAT, electronic, and cyber capabilities. In April 2022, it became the first spacefaring nation to state that it will not conduct destructive direct-ascent ASAT missile testing. Footnote 8 The Department of Defense and Congress maintain a growing interest in R&D and in near-term deployment of hypersonic weapons. The Space Development Agency seeks to develop a 28-satellite constellation in LEO to detect and track hypersonic missiles. Footnote 9 This is, in part, due to advancements in development of hypersonic missile technologies by China and Russia.

Key Agency: Space Force

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS). The U.S. was the first country to launch a GNSS. The U.S. shares satellite data, including GPS data, with its allies and partners to improve climate change risk analysis, disaster preparedness, and military missile precision. The U.S. Space Priorities Framework notably points out the need to harmonize export controls with allies and partners related to commercial space technologies that could pose national security risks, such as remote sensing.
  • Artemis Accords. Announced in 2020, 16 countries have signed the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, which aim to establish rules to guide space exploration cooperation. The Accords seek to promote the peaceful uses of outer space and land the first female and next male astronauts on the Moon’s South Pole by 2025. Learnings from this mission will inform future missions to Mars. While cooperation on lunar expeditions among China, Russia, and the U.S. will be challenging due to broader geopolitics, there are opportunities for targeted collaboration on operational and safety matters.
  • Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR). The reduced cost of space access has created new opportunities for the U.S., including space solar power (SSP). The U.S. Air Force plans to launch its SSPIDR system in 2024 to test power conversation and beaming in space. While technological developments are still underway, Footnote 10 other space actors, notably China and the ESA, are pursuing similar efforts to leverage space-based solar power to meet future energy needs.

American astronaut Joseph Tanner waves to the camera during a spacewalk as part of the STS-115 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in Sept. 2006.NASA/GETTY IMAGES


Space Capability and Strategic Overview: The UK seeks to become a science and technology “superpower” by developing resilient space capabilities and services, growing its space sector, and enhancing international collaboration on space issues. The number of space organizations in the UK has, on average, grown about 21 percent annually since 2012, with its space industry contributing $8.97 billion (41 percent of the space industry’s income) to the country’s GDP in 2021. By 2030, the UK aims to capture 10 percent of the global space market.

The UK’s 2022 Defence Space Strategy is, in part, informed by perceived threats posed by Chinese and Russian counterspace, electromagnetic, and cyber capabilities, specifically, the risks they pose to critical space-and terrestrial-based assets, including satellites and ground stations. Currently, the UK neither possesses nor has publicly disclosed plans to develop offensive counterspace capabilities. However, over the next ten years, the Ministry of Defense plans to invest in its ISR satellite program, called ISTARI. Its largest initiative is Skynet, receiving $8.7 billion in funding. There are also plans to develop free-space optical communications capabilities, with experiments scheduled to launch in 2023.

Key Agency: UK Space Command

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • OneWeb Mega-Constellation. Over the next decade, the UK aims to be a leader in satellite broadband operations. To accomplish this, it seeks to develop an alternative satellite system to the EU’s Galileo system via UK-based firm OneWeb, in which the British government is a major stakeholder. Following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the European Commission blocked the UK from being involved in manufacturing security elements for Galileo. In 2021, the UK made its final contribution to Galileo. As of March 2022, OneWeb has launched 66 percent of its 648-satellite system.
  • UN Resolution on Responsible Behaviors in Outer Space. In a first step to spearhead international collaboration on space issues, in 2020, the UK proposed a draft resolution to the UN First Committee to renew discussions related to space weaponization and governance. The resolution passed in 2021 and established an Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats which plans to meet from 2022 to 2023.

British politician Michael Heseltine (center) with four candidates to be the first in space, posing behind a cut-out of Earth, in Leatherhead, Surrey, in 1984.HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES


Organizational Role Overview: The UNOOSA promotes and facilitates the peaceful use and exploration of space. It also assists developing countries in utilizing space science and technology for sustainable development and works to establish new, and strengthen existing, legal, and regulatory frameworks for space activities.

Its duties include maintaining the UN Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space; advising governments and non-governmental organizations on space law; convening forums to discuss various space-related matters; and sponsoring programs that provide developing countries access to space technology. The UNOOSA serves as the Secretariat for the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group, and the International Committee on GNSS.

Notable Initiatives & Partnerships:

  • Access to Space for All: This initiative seeks to bridge gaps in space capabilities across countries, with the goal of making access to space assets and benefits universal. Through partnerships with space agencies, research institutions, and private-sector stakeholders, UNOOSA facilitates access to research and orbital opportunities, particularly for developing countries. The initiative supported satellite launches for Kenya in 2018, Guatemala in 2020, and Mauritius in 2021. One initiative under the Access to Space for All is the Dream Chaser Mission, a partnership between UNOOSA and the Sierra Nevada Corporation. It will allow select countries that lack space capabilities the opportunity to participate in an orbital space mission in 2024.
  • United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER): UNOOSA oversees the UN-SPIDER program, which provides a platform and advisory services for countries to access space data and technologies. To date, UN-SPIDER has carried out 45 advisory missions to help countries institutionalize the use of space-based information and technologies in disaster risk mitigation and response. For example, in 2021, UN-SPIDER supported emergency responses in Indonesia, Oman, and Sri Lanka.

An image of the International Space Station is projected during the public viewing of the deployment of Kenya’s first nanosatellite from the ISS under the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs program at the University of Nairobi on May 11, 2018.YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Looking Ahead

The Future of Space Security & Governance

The proliferation of state and non-state actors in space, alongside the expansion of digital connectivity, warrants closer assessment to anticipate and address emerging risks. To advance the safety and sustainability of space exploration, there is a need to establish norms to guide responsible state and non-state behavior as well as to develop enforceable international policy frameworks.

Governments, the private sector, and international organizations have put forth numerous frameworks and recommendations for international norms regarding space. However, international discussions regarding space security and governance have languished for decades due to disagreements among states regarding how space is meant to be used and what obligations different spacefaring actors have to each other.

Absent effective regulation, the private sector has developed some of its own self-regulating mechanisms but those alone are inadequate, especially as more objects are launched into space, and states seek to develop counterspace capabilities, which heighten the risks of collision and potential conflict. Discussions through the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats from 2022 to 2023 will be important to strengthening and progressing space governance mechanisms, particularly as they relate to the weaponization of space, space debris, and space traffic management, among others.

Beyond the issues, actors, and frameworks covered in this Power Map, further analysis and engagement are needed related to how space shapes economic growth opportunities for developing countries, mineral recovery from asteroids and other celestial bodies, cybersecurity of space assets and data, and space-based solar power, which can potentially help meet future energy needs.

Written by Gahyun Helen You. Edited by Mayesha Alam. Copyedited by David Johnstone. Art direction and design by Sara Stewart. Development by Andy Baughman and Wes Piper. Creative direction by Lori Kelley. Illustration by Colin Hayes for Foreign Policy.

  • Anti-satellite: Space technology and capabilities used to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic or tactical purposes. Such capabilities are usually organized into direct-ascent or co-orbital. ASAT capabilities can also target terrestrial-based space infrastructure such as ground stations.
  • Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO): APSCO was formed in 2005 by China. It includes Bangladesh, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, and Turkey. Its goal is to expand and normalize the use of China’s Beidou satellite navigation system.
  • Command-and-control (C2): A system that gathers data from space- and ground-based sensors and transmits this data to a data repository. It enables commanders to make timely decisions.
  • Co-orbital rendezvous: Also known as “Rendezvous Proximity Operations” (RPO), these are orbital maneuvers in which two spacecraft arrive at the same orbit and approach at a close distance. RPOs support key space activities such as on-orbit servicing and refueling, docking with space stations for human spaceflight. Currently, there is no international consensus regarding which activities are considered RPOs.
  • Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: COPUOS is a UN committee made up of 95 countries. Its goals are to foster international cooperation in peaceful uses of space and to consider legal issues arising from the exploration of space.
  • CONFERS: The Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations is an industry-led initiative that establishes best practices for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs). Thus far, there has been little international engagement on defining what activities constitute RPOs and norms of behavior related to RPOs.
  • Counterspace capabilities: Capabilities developed by a country to counter or neutralize another country’s space capabilities. This can be done through destructive and non-destructive means.
  • Cyber: Digital techniques that are used to control, compromise, interfere, or destroy computer systems. Cyberattacks on space systems can result in loss of data or service provided by a satellite, or a bad actor seizing control of a satellite through its command-and-control system.
  • Dazzling: A non-kinetic form of weaponry in which an actor could blind an imagery satellite by pointing a laser up at it from the ground. To avoid dazzling, satellite operators can install filters to block out specific wavelengths or a lens cover that can snap shut instantly.
  • Digital Silk Road: Announced in 2015, the Digital Silk Road seeks to advance the technological dimensions of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to increase international e-commerce by investing in digital infrastructure abroad and developing advanced technologies, including satellite navigation systems.
  • Dual-use technologies: Technologies that can be used for civilian and military purposes. For instance, a robotic arm that is used to move space debris can also be used to grab another satellite. More dual-use capabilities are expected to be developed as actors continue to develop on-orbit surfacing, on-orbit logistics, and debris-removal capabilities. An estimated 95 percent of space technology is dual-use.
  • Electronic warfare (EW): Weapons using radiofrequency energy to interfere with the communications to and/or from satellites. Examples include jamming (preventing a signal) and spoofing (giving an incorrect signal).
  • European Commission Regulatory Scrutiny Board: An independent body within the European Commission that provides assessments and evaluations of the early stages of the Commission’s legislative process. It acts as a support and quality-assurance body.
  • European Space Agency (ESA): The ESA is an intergovernmental organization composed of 22 European states, not all of which are part of the European Union. It is not an EU body, but it plays a vital role in EU programming, providing technical expertise for Europe’s space projects.
  • Free-space optical communications: The wireless transmission of data via a modulated optical beam, such as a laser, through free space. This can be used to facilitate communication, to, from, and between satellites and is able to resist jamming efforts. FOS can support the creation of a global broadband communication grid.
  • Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO): An orbital sphere located 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the Earth’s equator that allows satellites to match the Earth’s rotation. Critical satellites that monitor weather and provide communication and surveillance services are located there.
  • Global satellite navigation system (GNSS): A satellite constellation that provides positioning, navigation, and timing services on a global or regional basis. GPS is the most prevalent. Other GNSS systems include China’s Beidou, the EU’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, India’s NavIC, and Japan’s QZSS. Accurate PNT is necessary for the functioning of many critical infrastructure sectors. GPS signals are low-power and unencrypted, making them vulnerable to intentional and unintentional disruption.
  • International Committee on GNSS: A UN committee that promotes voluntary cooperation among civil global navigation satellite system providers to work on combability, interoperability, and utilization of satellites for sustainable development purposes.
  • Kessler Syndrome: A theory proposed by NASA scientists Donald Kessler in 1978 that describes a self-sustaining cascading collision of space debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Two colliding objects in space would generate more debris that then collides with other objects, littering LEO, ultimately hindering future space activities.
  • Lagrange points: Areas in space where the gravitational forces of two celestial bodies, such as the Moon and Earth, produce regions of enhanced orbital stability. This can allow spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption needed to remain in position. Fuel is one of the biggest costs of space missions.
  • Launching capabilities: The ability to deliver payloads into space. Many commercial entities are attempting to enter the launch industry with the support from a state that has established launch capabilities.
  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO): Orbit relatively close to Earth at an altitude of less than 1,000 km. Satellites in LEO cover a limited area of Earth and often perform specific missions, such as high-resolution images. LEO provides global coverage, high bandwidth, and low communication latency for small communication satellites. Thus, a mega-constellation can provide continuous coverage of Earth. Satellites in LEO can be reached by ground-based ASATs using missiles.
  • Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space: Launched in 2016, MILAMOS is a parallel effort to the Woomera Manual that seeks to better define the legal structure of space. It is led by scholars at McGill University (Canada), which is partnering with numerous institutions from Australia, China, India, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.
  • Mega-constellations: Satellite constellations that use hundreds to tens of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO), delivering low latency broadband data services, internet access, and other services to civil and military users.
  • Non-reversable: Referring to effects that can cause temporary or permanent effects, such as a kinetic energy attack on a space system, physical attacks on space-related ground infrastructure, or a nuclear detonation in space.
  • OneWeb: A Low Earth Orbit (LEO), commercial satellite communications company based in the UK. The British government is a major shareholder of the company, alongside India-based firm Bharti Global. The Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy notably cautioned against the decision for the British government to invest $500 million in OneWeb in 2020.
  • Quad: The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is a group of four countries (Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S.), whose primary aim is to counter China’s growing influence and military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Remote sensing: Obtaining information about objects or areas from a distance, typically from an aircraft or satellite. The COVID-19 pandemic drove numerous countries to use remote sensing technology to monitor and curb the spread of the virus. The growth of commercial space remote sensing and dual-use applications presents potential national security risks, making them subject to licensing and regulatory requirements by U.S. federal agencies.
  • Reversable: Referring to effects that are nondestructive and temporary; a system can resume normal operations after an incident. This includes space situational awareness systems, electronic warfare, and denial and deception tactics.
  • Skynet: A UK military satellite system that provides strategic communication services.
  • Smallsats: Small satellites that are 600 kg and under. While their size and mass could reduce launch costs, they complicate orbital safety. Eighty-three percent of smallsats launched from 2011 to 2020 are owned by five private companies, with U.S.-based SpaceX contributing 47 percent.
  • Space debris management mechanisms: The mitigation and remediation of space debris.
  • Space debris: Also known as “orbital debris” or “space junk.” This material includes natural meteoroid and artificial (human-made) orbital debris.
  • Space Development Agency: A relatively new agency established in March 2019, the SDA supports the U.S. Department of Defense’s space acquisition process.
  • Space governance: The laws and regulatory institutions responsible for the governance or regulation of space-related affairs or activities.
  • Space Information Corridor: Announced in 2016, the Space Information Corridor seeks to provide space information services to countries participating in the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. OBOR was launched in 2013 to support Chinese efforts to foster closer economic ties with countries in Eurasia and Africa.
  • Space internet: The ability to provide internet services from satellites. China’s StarNet, U.S. SpaceX’s Starlink, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are examples efforts to build a constellation that could beam internet connectivity down to Earth.
  • Space Mission Planning Advisory Group: A UN-endorsed group that facilitates scientific and defense cooperation among the space agencies of UN Member States in case of a near-Earth object threat.
  • Space resources: The moon, other planets, and asteroids contain various minerals, gases, and water that scientists believe could be used to provide raw materials and energy needed to sustain human life and enable exploration deeper into space. For instance, it is estimated that one of two metallic asteroids currently near Earth’s orbit may contain about $11.65 trillion worth of precious metals.
  • Space security: The secure and sustainable access to, and use of, space and freedom from space-based threats, as stated in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
  • Space Situational Awareness (SSA): A global network that continuously tracks objects in orbits and predicts where those objects will be at any given time. Terrestrial and space-based sensors search the sky for satellites and record their orbits, allowing for the prediction of their orbits and determination of their functions and operational status.
  • Space solar power: SSP encompasses orbital systems that collect sunlight and convert that solar energy into microwaves or lasers and transmit that energy to receivers on Earth. The energy is then converted into electricity and delivered to a grid on Earth. With more actors launching lunar missions, there are risks of potential territorial conflict on the moon, as there are only specific areas that are ideal for SSP.
  • Space superhighway: As companies look to further develop space and build up the space economy, there have been calls to develop architecture for in-space mobility and logistics such as hubs to allow spacecraft to refuel.
  • Space sustainability: The ability for humanity to continue to use space for peaceful purposes and socioeconomic benefit over the long term.
  • Space traffic management: The on-orbit coordination of activities to enhance the safety, stability, and sustainability of operations in the space environment. An STM system is vital for avoiding collisions and radiofrequency (RF) interference while facilitating space operations in an increasingly congested space environment.
  • Tallin Manuals: Identifies international law principles applicable to cyber warfare and cyber conflict. It was first published in March 2013 by legal scholars.
  • Terrestrial-based assets: These can include ground stations or command-and-control centers that support satellites on Earth. They are also vulnerable to physical attacks by conventional military weapons, natural disasters, and cyberattacks.
  • UN First Committee: One of the six main committees at the General Assembly of the United Nations. It handles issues related to disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community.
  • UN Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space: A treaty-based mechanism, governed by the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, that identifies the state that is responsible for a space object.
  • Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations: An ongoing research project that aims to answer how international law applies to the space domain, by scholars from the University of Adelaide (Australia), the University of Exeter (UK), the University of Nebraska College of Law (U.S.), and the University of New South Wales in Canberra (Australia).