Emerging technology in space and the battle for the ultimate frontier

By Girish Linganna

When former US President Donald Trump announced funding for the country’s “space force”, there was a collective sigh of relief around the world. Let’s deal; The Space Force failed to deliver on Mr. Trump’s style and promises as he declared space the world’s newest “war-fighting domain.” The latest branch of the U.S. military has been transformed into a real military service over the years – a service that primarily oversees satellite operations. When the first personnel of the Middle East (instead of space) were deployed to support space-dependent combat operations, we realized the real role of a defense department like the space force.

Space technology and data are important for the global economic and financial system. They play an important role in scientific progress and the advancement of global climate and natural disaster management. Over the next two decades, the industry is set to become a trillion-dollar market, and security activities will be a big part of the industry.

The rapid advancement of space technology has created new opportunities for many countries around the world as technology and space services have become more accessible. This raises concerns around security as more countries gain access to space technology. NATO has acknowledged this possibility and has established an extreme space policy for domain monitoring.

China’s growing influence in space

Over the years, China has been increasing the number of space launches to increase its presence on the final border. Its spending on space programs was $ 10.3 billion in 2021 behind the United States alone.

An important landmark for China came when it successfully landed the Chang’e-4 rover near the moon, establishing the Asian superpower as a leading player in space. The country has increased its push into space in the following years by increasing its satellite launches, satellite applications and Earth observation / satellite imagery.

This year, China wants to top its national space launch record that it set last year. In addition, it aims to complete a three-module space station with six related missions. This Chinese space station, known as Tiangong, will be 340 miles above the earth. The space station will have powerful Xuntian telescopes and will host commercial activities and foreign astronauts.

What’s interesting is that the Chinese Xuntian Telescope, which is slated for launch in 2023, will surpass the Hubble Telescope as the most powerful telescope in space. Located on the Tiangong Space Station, Juntian will look at the stars and measure the position, size and brightness of the galaxies in the universe. The telescope will also capture 40% of the Earth’s sky and relay data to help scientists around the world in their research efforts.

Although the Xuntian will have a smaller aperture than the Hubble (2.4 m), it has a view that is 350 times larger than the next. The Chinese telescope will also have state-of-the-art technology, which will force Hubble (a joint venture of NASA and ESA launched in 1990) to drop many parameters and give better results.

“The telescope will conduct frontier scientific research on the formation and evolution of the universe, dark matter and dark energy, exoplanets and objects in the solar system, and is expected to secure a batch of great innovative breakthroughs,” said Hao Chun, director of China Manned Space. Engineering Office (CMSEO).

These developments from China come at a time when the future of international cooperation regarding the International Space Station (ISS) is in serious jeopardy due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Today, China counts Pakistan, Laos, Belarus and Venezuela as its satellite subscribers. The list goes on and on as China expands its space program and welcomes more cooperation from countries around the world. Western dominance in space is bound to diminish because China’s presence in space will give other countries more opportunities.

From space to the battlefield

Today, satellites have become the source of precise information about the movement of the earth through image or signal interference. These satellites transfer large amounts of data to and from the battlefield. NATO gains a significant edge by using this satellite data on the battlefield.

Aerospace infrastructure has become crucial for maneuverability and defense. So much so that their reliance on the modern armed forces has become their weakness. Although previously only the United States and Russia were able to launch satellites into orbit, now there are more countries including China, India, Japan, North Korea and Iran who are capable of achieving this feat. Due to the recent evolution of space capabilities, the proverbial iron curtain that kept other countries out of space, especially commercially, no longer exists.

Because of these advances, countries have embarked on a new ongoing race to strengthen their space denial weapons (weapon systems that destroy satellites). Although the United States is leading the race, China has the most advanced space denial assets, including a space orbit robot (according to the US Department of Defense, 2020).

India, too, has come a long way since its early days as a space travel nation when it focused too much on social and developmental benefits. Today, India’s space program has evolved like other space-forward countries to include the use of space-related technology for military missions such as reconnaissance, surveillance and retrieval. India also successfully tested its anti-satellite missile (mission power) in 2019 This puts India in the exclusive group of ASAT powers (United States, Russia and China).

It will be interesting to see how the future of space technology domains unfolds as more countries use them and are able to apply them for military and civilian welfare. The fight to get an edge to the final frontier of space continues.

[The author is Aerospace and Defence Analyst & Director, ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.]

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