Should we be worried about a space arms race?

InSpace ANU

The U.S. Space Force says that Russia launched a direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile test. Should we be concerned about a space arms race? Professor Anna Moore, Director of ANU InSpace, asked two InSpace Mission Specialists, world-leading space situational awareness expert Associate Professor Moriba Jah of the ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science, and international space lawyer Dr Cassandra Steer of the ANU College of Law what they think:


Associate Professor Moriba Jah says we need data monitoring around the world.

I’d like to set up ASTRIAGRAPH (an open, transparent, crowdsourced space traffic and environment monitoring and awareness system) at ANU and get this multi-source information flowing into it. Additionally, I’d want to get satellite imagery on all launch sites and factor this source into predictive analytics for launch activity and tie that in with on orbit observations to keep a chain of custody on resident space objects from “cradle to grave.”

Space safety, security, and sustainability become manifest as we make space transparent, predictable, and assemble a body of evidence to hold space actors accountable for their behaviour. Compliance and lack thereof are things we need to measure because we cannot manage what we don’t know and don’t know what we don’t measure. An example of leveraging ASTRIAGRAPH for monitoring and assessing compliance can be found here:


Dr Cassandra Steer says that as an international lawyer, she is concerned about the way these activities are framed.

Unfortunately, nothing in international space law prevents such tests, and we should certainly be concerned about an ongoing space arms race. But it’s highly likely that Russia launched this test as a demonstration of its capabilities as a direct answer to the fact that the U.S. Space Force is now established and the rhetoric that is used in justifying this new military force. Media reports also consistently fail to mention the space weapons tests done in the past and capabilities tested presently by the U.S.

That said, Russia’s test should receive international condemnation, especially under our current COVID-19 circumstances when space-based technologies have become even more critical to our daily activities, communications, health systems etc. As my colleague Moriba Jah points out, space safety, security and sustainability are our greatest concerns, because of how dependent we all are on space-based technologies. Any space arms race brings international security under threat, and destabilises an environment which is a global commons, the sustainable use of which we need to protect now and in the future.







Kathleen Sweetapple
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