Battlefield Moon: What Space Exploration Means For Developers
The Final Frontier has opened the door to technology prospectors. Engineers have advanced developments on earth that will have significant use in the heavens. As this happens, the moon comes into central focus as the astral body that is almost within reach.
Developers must meet the demands of technology to reach the stars. Meanwhile, if history is enough for us to speculate from, governments will continue to clash over resource management.
Should they take their conflicts of interest to the stars, and should the guidelines that exist not hold for all nations, then the moon and near asteroids will become battlefields.
And should that happen, developers will be among some of the top players of strategy and security in the field of space tech.
What Drives Tech Revolutions In Space
The World Intellectual Property report notes that a sudden shift in space-driven Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) have grown in number in the last decade.
The space race is no longer dominated by NASA, as it had been in the decades before. Rather, the private sector makes headway in developing technologies used in advancing space exploration. The U.S. space agency lists radio frequency technologies and satellite tech as leading innovations driving space industries forward.
Developing Trends in Space Innovation and the Private Sector
From 2015-to 2019, a rise in private investments in space was reportedly driven by tech innovations in the radio frequency identification (RFID) space, in addition to the private companies and defense contractors of the U.S. Army already using RFID for more universal purposes.
After 2019, trends of SPACs investments in space changed. The Wall Street Journal notes concerns over security for projects such as Momentus’s stalled investments in space-driven SPACs. A shift, following the trade attrition crisis of the Trump administration, and the COVID-19 pandemic, had happened in trust of international tech collaborations. A shadow was cast on international space missions.
Battlelines In International Space Relations?
As relations between the United States, China, and Russia deteriorate, foreign policy makers warn we are now in a New Cold War phase. Although the U.S. State Department announced it “is not seeking” to engage in cold conflict, industry analysts warn that the West and Far East have many contrasting policies that could clash in the near future.
Christopher Johnson, space law Aadvisor at the Secure World Foundation, explained to The New Stack that the real-time downsides to space project cooperation caused by these unraveling relations are difficult to project. This, he said, is because space projects are planned out years at a time.
“The International space situation is seen as so important that it goes beyond any political rivalry,” Johnson said.
With regards to the recent Kremlin incursion into Ukraine, Johnson explained that international space relations were mostly regarded as off the table for sanction considerations, due to their importance to world progress.
“The U.S., however, is looking at post-International Space Station activity, and this post-ISS activity will likely not include a joint mission with Russia,” Johnson said.
Where Space-Tech Risks Bleed Together
Technology advances in space compass a wide field of innovation. The risks from international odds over space technologies range from the production and placement of satellites to the future of deep space mining, to even the way data from satellites is used to train machine-learning projects. Because the breakdown of possible fallout from a space clash is extensive, defense actors look at specific fields of risk.
“One of the main uses for satellites is the propagation of various forms of information. It can be commercial, weather, military, intelligence, etc. if the information does not get to its users, the mission is not possible,” Chris Stone, a senior fellow for space studies at The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told The New Stack, in an emailed response.
Stone explained that satellites can be used for disinformation as well.
“This can be a cyber activity more than a pure space activity, but given the connective tissue between space and cyber, I think it can be thought of as more of a team sport,” Stone wrote.
Advances and Engagement Rules
As space innovation advances and tactical purposes for space tech become more diverse, world powers seek ground rules. Stone explained that there are no current laws explicitly prohibiting the use of space technologies for malicious purposes.
Satellite technology, he notes, has been used in modern combat for warfighting and espionage for “decades.”
Johnson explained that the ground rules of warfighting engagement on earth would be applied to space as well. Forward-moving treaties for space engagement would look at whatever policies govern nuclear and other advanced weapons on the ground.
In principle, if something is prohibited on earth, it is still prohibited in space. You can’t just escape these laws by leaving the atmosphere,” Johnson said.
“So, if there’s a proliferation regime on earth, there’s a proliferation regime in space,” he explained.
Because of deteriorating relations on earth between tech innovation national leaders, NASA has pushed ahead with space cooperation agreements.
Out of this effort comes the Artemis Accords.
What Are The Artemis Accords?
Named for Apollo’s twin sister, NASA’s Artemis Accords have two purposes. To land the first woman, and another man on the moon by 2024. After this, the Accords are intended to build a bridge of lasting cooperation between signing members.
Current founders include the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Many other nations have signed the Accords, with France signing as recently as June 7, according to a U.S. State Department update.
The Artemis Accords seek to enforce peaceful space exploration between members. The Accords provide for transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance in times of distress, as well as space object registration, scientific data release, outer space heritage preservation, sustainable use of space resources, and safe disposal of space debris.
It also calls for Outer Space Treaty “deconfliction” enforcement. (Read the full Artemis Accords through NASA. )
This is not the first treaty that aims to set the behaviors of all nations on earth in regards to space.
The Outer Space Treaty was created by a United Nations process in December 1966, through to January 1967, to govern space exploration. Johnson explained that the treaty was patterned after the Antarctic Treaty to provide some rough guidelines for international rights in space.
But “it doesn’t really give clear guidance,” Johnson explained, when it comes to the context of, say, a national body mining an astral body.
The Outer Space Treaty, he explained, did not go so far as to regulate terms and conditions beyond what could be imagined in 1967, of international multiuse of astral bodies as mine sources.
The lack of clear mining guidance in space may present challenges for Artemis Accords founders. As these nations come together to establish more clear protocols for international space relations, they do so with competitors.
Tech Wars and The Moon
Uncertainty surrounds the legal future of Space exploration. This was the “key impetus” that drove the creation of the Artemis Accords, wrote the American Society of International Law in a 2020 report. Efforts have advanced to make the path forward smoother, with the Accords providing guidelines for “safety zones” in space.
At present, the most obvious conflict over Space comes from the use of satellites and hypersonic technology in warfighting. Yet, in the future, as the mining of near Earth bodies such as the moon and asteroids becomes more feasible, conflict in space may spawn from resource extraction.
The practice of mining the moon and asteroids for resources is called “deep space mining.” It could help industries to generate resources off-atmosphere for greater sustainability, or give industry access to metals that cannot be created in the earth’s atmosphere.
Bloomberg wrote earlier this month that the U.S. and China are racing to dominate the space mining industry, forecast to be worth billions.
Zephyr Benton, a contract specialist training in the Air Force Civilian Service, who has expert knowledge on the current status of deep space mining, is among early advocates of the space mining industry. He explained to TNS over instant message how these safety zones contribute to deep space mining.
“The basic idea of these zones is that they establish a perimeter around space mining operations to prevent interference. This is vital because, without these zones, you would see various parties fighting over one area which could easily lead to conflicts back here on earth,” said Benton.
How Does Deep-Space Mining Work?
“In simple terms, space mining refers to the extraction of resources from celestial objects outside of Earth such as the moon or near-Earth asteroids,” said Benton.
“These resources traditionally include many of the resources that you would find here on Earth such as metals, water, and gasses like Oxygen,” he explained.
Benton explained that the moon and near-Earth asteroids are the most ready-to-reach. Space missions can access them within 10-20 years.
“Going deeper, space mining encompasses a wide range of activities from resource mapping to processing mined materials. In the coming decades, it is very likely that we will begin mining a wide variety of space objects such as other planets, asteroids in the asteroid belt, and comets.” Benton added.
Deep-space mining resource mapping and other navigation will require a host of technology development, and law reviews to pull off.
Wars and Resources: Earth and Sky
The United Nations Peacekeeping provides insights on ground wars fought over natural resources:
“The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests that in the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources,” wrote the UN Peacekeeping, in a published report.
A divide of international space interest becomes clear. While the U.S. State Department recently announced it will not seek “decoupling” of the U.S from China, the west and east Asian interests seem to contradict. This contradiction reflects in space exploration, in what LSE Ideas , a U.S. foreign policy thinktank, referred to as “coordination failure.”
As trade outlooks changed due to political protectionism, technology became a more defense industry adjacent territory.
This is on the track to rise, as leaders in tech innovation continue to call for cooperation between the defense and civilian industries. Larry Meehan wrote a commentary in the Air Force Times, calling for the Defense Department to “partner with industry” to “compete at the speed of relevance.”
Nations That Have Yet To Sign
Some western allies and their counterparts seek clearly defined future lines around the moon, guaranteeing that the moon will not be occupied by adversarial outposts.
Other countries, such as France and Germany, are reportedly riding the fence when it comes to singing the American moon-missions agreement. The Conversation wrote that some nations have preferences for other moon resource governance agreements, causing them to hold out on signing the Artemis Accords.
This Artemis Accords does not, at the time of this report, include China or Russia. Politico wrote in January that the U.S., China, and Russia are engaged in “a new space race.”
The Artemis Accords lobbying happens at the same time as this new race, and Sino-Russian space technologies show no interest in signing on.
Sino-Russian space missions, and their counterparts, appear to prefer direct cooperation with each other. The international space relations status is on a trajectory of Artemis Accords and an East Asia counterpart. Recent reports state that China and Russia are actively working to develop a joint lunar research space station by 2036.
What Does This Mean For Developers?
As part of the broader need to reach an agreement appealing to all Western powers, co-signers will have to establish strong governance protocols for space technologies.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki and the University of Vaasa explored data governance and space. They explored how terms of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), would impact data gathering for space technologies.
While it is reportedly “unclear” if the GDPR will apply in space, Johnson’s explanation of regulations on Earth applying in space gives some insight. If there is data governance on Earth, it will apply to space technologies.
Developers will be impacted by how that data governance advances to meet the speed of space exploration innovation. “unclear” if the GDPR Developers will also have to navigate demands for ever-larger amounts of data.