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Defending interests in space manifests from a national level, with individual countries invested in keeping the skies free of international turmoil. But a new focus has emerged: keeping our planet safe from forces beyond our own control. The US Space Force has developed plans for patrolling areas surrounding the moon. Before announcing the Cislunar Highway Patrol System in March 2022, the US space mission had only extended 22,000 miles above the Earth; this range will now increase tenfold, extending to the far side of the moon. The US military projects a 2025 launch of a cislunar space satellite with a powerful telescope onboard, purportedly for identifying potential threats to US activities. Pronounced space-related threats exist. During the Ukraine invasion, Russian officials threatened to shoot down commercial Western satellites assisting Ukraine’s war efforts. While unsurprising, it’s concerning given Russia’s significant offensive space capabilities. As capacities grow, the US, Russia, and China will increase space-related defense programs to stay ahead of the competition. Not all threats stem from geopolitics. In 2022, NASA succeeded with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. DART intentionally crashed into the asteroid Dimorphos, analysis revealed that the spacecraft had altered the asteroid’s orbit. In May 2022, the first congressional public hearing on UFOs in several decades saw lawmakers demanded investigations of unidentified aerial phenomena to be investigated and deemed potential threats to national security, after Pentagon officials reported a total of 400 such incidents. While such claims might seem fantastical, fears are not limited to touchdowns by aliens. US experts suspect unknown, next-generation technology from foreign adversaries. Threats from space can come in different forms. They may result from geopolitical tensions and conflicts on Earth, or manifest as celestial objects we can’t control. Territory in space is now viewed as imperative to US national security and modern warfare. In its 2023 budget, the US Department of Defense detailed a strategy recognizing China “as our key strategic competitor and Russia as an acute threat to the interests of the US and allies.” Detection and monitoring of threats from space is so crucial to the US that President Biden allocated $24.5 billion for the US Space Force and Space Development Agency for 2023, almost $5 billion more than in 2022. While these actions could serve the US in protecting itself as a sovereign nation, the danger of provocation to competing nations is real. On a more upbeat note, NASA’s $330 million investment in DART resulted in the first instance of asteroid deflection. Humans can now redirect celestial bodies that threaten to crash into earth.

Space-based defense

KEY TRENDS

The new Space Race