The uncharted territory of outer space
Growth of the space industry
Decline in price
- The price tag for reaching low Earth orbit has declined by a factor of 20 in a decade which enhances human space travel possibilities by leveraging new commercial capabilities.
- NASA’s space shuttle cost about $54,500 per kg; now, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 advertises a cost of $2,720 per kg.
- According to a Bank of America Report, the $350 billion space market today will touch $2.7 trillion by 2050.
Growing private players
- Starlink, the constellation being constructed by SpaceX to provide global Internet access, plans more than 10,000 mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit.
- Amazon’s Project Kuiper received U.S. Federal Communications Commission approvals for more than 3,000 micro-satellites.
- Companies such as Planet, Spire Global and Iceye are using orbital vantage points to collect and analyse data to deliver fresh insights in weather forecasting, global logistics, crop harvesting and disaster response.
Challenges in fulfilling potential
- What is technologically feasible is not easily achievable and the challenges to fulfilling the potential of space are as follows.
- As outer space becomes democratised, commercialised and crowded, the multilateral framework for its governance is becoming outdated.
- The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 enshrines the idea that space should be “the province of all mankind” and “not subject to national appropriation by claims of sovereignty”.
- The Rescue Agreement, Space Liability Convention, and the Space Registration Convention expanded provisions of the Outer Space Treaty.
- However there exists gaps in the space laws that heighten the potential for conflict in an era of congested orbits and breakneck technological change.
- The Moon Treaty of 1979 was not ratified by major space-faring nations.
- Space law does not have a dispute settlement mechanism
- They offer insufficient guidance on interference with others’ space assets.
- Though non-state entities are now in the fray for commercial space exploration and utilisation, the legal framework is state-centric, placing responsibility on states alone.
- The lack of alignment of domestic and international normative frameworks risks a damaging free-for-all competition for celestial resources involving actors outside the space framework.
Space arms race
- States are investing in military space systems for communications, navigation, and reconnaissance purposes, so as to ensure operability of a range of capabilities.
- Reliance of militaries on satellite systems means that space assets become potential targets. So investment in technologies that can disrupt or destroy space-based capabilities is under way.
- The space arms race is difficult to curb, especially since almost all space technologies have military applications.
- For example, satellite constellations are commercial but governments could acquire their data to monitor military movements.
India’s ambitious plans in Space
- Landing on the Moon
- The first Indian solar observatory
- The first crewed orbital spaceflight mission
- Installation of a modular space station in 2030.
- A new space legislation enabling coherence across technical, legal, commercial, diplomatic and defence goals is needed of the hour.
- Our space vision also needs to address global governance, regulatory and arms control issues.
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