Disarming Space Will Have to Wait

Source/Credit: Satellite imagery showing the military buildup in Yelnya, Russia as of November 1, 2021 from Maxar Technologies/Getty Images.

Politico reported this week that Russia has asked that next week’s discussion at the United Nations (U.N.) about arms in space be delayed. It is possible the Russians are busy preparing for war in Ukraine and have little time to look up. But it should be possible to resolve matters here on the surface and in space.

The  U.N. Committee on Disarmament established a working group after seeking member input on the “…development and implementation of norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours and on the reduction of the risks of misunderstanding and miscalculations with respect to outer space.” Sounds like a good idea to me. You can find the report with the members’ input here.

Here is part of what the United States submitted in its response to the U.N. query:

Some States are developing, operationalizing, and stockpiling a variety of [anti-satellite] weapons that could be used to, or have the potential to, deny, disrupt, degrade, or destroy civil, commercial, or national security space capabilities and services. Some of these anti-satellite weapons could be used to deny or disrupt space services temporarily, while others are designed to permanently degrade or destroy satellites.

These threats against satellites and their supporting systems can generally be divided into four categories: 1) ground-space; 2) space-space; 3) ground-ground; and 4) space-ground. Within these categories, the threats can be described as 1) reversible, which include temporary effects such as interference with radiofrequency signals or dazzling of remote sensing systems, or 2) irreversible, which include measures that degrade or destroy a satellite. The consequences of all categories of threats could include loss of mission data; decreased lifespan or capability of space systems or constellations; the loss of positive control of space vehicles, potentially resulting in collisions that could impair systems or generate harmful orbital debris; or damage to or destruction of the space system.

The working group should have plenty to discuss if it can get everyone together. Let’s hope the Ukrainian matter can be resolved peacefully to allow work to start on a stable peace in space as well.

Note: The dates on the article and U.N. schedule do not align, but the main point about the Russians being too busy to worry about a space war remains the same.