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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Space policy of the United States

By M A Athul
In the new era dominated by technology which banks on the mantra  -- information is power -- the latest area which come to prime importance for many countries is the outer space. In the 1960s and 70s there were only a handful of countries who had a presence in outer space. But now there are around 60 countries and non state entities that have entered space due to the potential opportunities. The USA has been the major power in space technology. They were the ones who had pioneered space technology and today they have a well established Space industry.
With the coming of the information age, Space tech is being given more importance. The first documented Space policy of 21st century was formatted by Bush administration in 2006. The goals of space policy are:
1.  Energizing competitive industries
2.  Expand international cooperation
3. Strengthen stability in space, increase assurance and resilience of mission    essential functions  
4.  Pursue human and robotic initiatives
National Security Space Strategy, a document released by Department of Space, reiterates the importance of space dominance which is seen as vital to US national security interest .According to NSSS, current and future strategic environment will be driven by 3 factors . Congestion, competition and contest.
Space debris causes the biggest threat to shuttles and astronauts. More countries are getting involved in space since they have become aware of the utility of space. As of today there are 60 countries involved in space. There are 22000 man-made objects in space of which 1100 are satellites .The debris caused by collusion is a big risk to satellites. The collusion between US and Russian satellites caused 1500 pieces of debris and the ASAT testing of China created 3000 pieces of debris. These can create huge problem for satellites and space shuttle missions. It is estimate that by 2015 the satellites in outer space would number to 9000, increasing the risk of collusions and congestion in space.
US space system faces a variety of man made threats which will deny degrade and deceive their assets. The increasing number of space faring nations and the entry of non state entities have resulted in increasing competitiveness with the US. China is trying to catch up with the US and countries like India is also asserting themselves in space arena, Which will tilt the balance of power against the US .Due to the financial meltdown, the US economy has become weaker and this has affected the budgeting of NASA. The agency is facing budget cuts .February 14th Obama announces an 18.7bn budget.
The US  has started a process of engagement to work towards  countering the menace of space Debris. They  has started to work with the UN on a collective level and with countries on an individual level. Together with EU they are working on the long term sustainability with in COPOUS (Committee on Peaceful Use of Outer Space). Simultaneously, the US is cooperating with other space faring countries in R&D Technology to mitigate the problem of on orbit debris. The US space policy realizes the importance of a robust space situational awareness.The US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) is working on establishing a two way information exchange system to facilitate rapid notifications of space hazards
US policy also reiterates that it will work with other countries to pursue pragmatic Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBM) to mitigate mistrusts and mishaps US, though cautiously has agreed to consider arms control concepts provided they are equitable verifiable and effective .US to built TCBMs has started dialogue with Russia, China Japan, Australia India etc 
The Indo–US space cooperation has increased over the years, through various platforms such as High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) established in 2002 and the Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP), in 2004. These agreements culminated in the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005. Besides cooperation in civil nuclear Arena, operation is envisaged in space arena too. NSSP made technical advances by mapping a road map that would permit India that would acquire a variety of dual use technology needed for developing space technology. In 2004, the ISRO was removed from the entity list and the present administration has promised removal of technological sanctions imposed on ISRO.
In conclusion, we can say that the revised space policy of US is not drastically different from the early ones. Although they are concerned with the increasing number of countries with space ambitions, the US is also concerned about the increasing space debris, collusions etc.
The US have accepted the requirement of TCBMs and are ready to cooperate with countries like India, China, and Russia etc to counter emerging the threats in space sector. But at the mean time they are against any legal obligations which will prevent weaponisation of outer space.
Another main concern of the USA is the rising Chinese capabilities in space.The realization that dominance of space leads to dominance of means of communication and this in turn helps to have the strategic dominance  over other countries has spurred the Chinese to invest heavily in space technology field.  In the mean time there is no indication that US will cease its development and deployment of ballistic missile program.
They are not ready to give up the dominance of space in near future. During the ballistic missile review conducted under the Obama administration it was highlighted that  the threat from short range, medium range and intermediate range ballistic missiles in the region where the US deploy forces and maintain a security relationship is growing at a rapid pace. We can see that threat perceived by the US from ballistic missiles are very much real, and they will keep trying to develop the missile shield and keep the dominance of space intact though this time it would be more based on strategic cooperation.

(The article is the Part-2 impressions of the book Space Security: Need for Global Convergence,published by Pentagon Press. One more part would appear later. (Earlier part here). The writer is a first year P-G student of Defence and Strategic Studies with Madras University currently on a 2-months’ internship with Tarmak007. His write-ups need not be news-breaks and in-depth in nature; hence should be seen as an ab initio effort by a budding defence writer. The views expressed by Athul need not be that of Tarmak007. Email Athul, if you think that his writings and thoughts need further fine-tuning.)

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