With its genesis rooted in the Cold War tensions between the US and the Soviet Union (USSR), the use of space systems and space-based assets has been an option for the last 60 years.

Recent convergent trends are serving to reduce the financial burden of operating of space systems, whilst simultaneously the capabilities of space systems advance at pace. The population and diversity of space systems has increased rapidly in recent years and appears set to continue to grow moving forward.

Regulatory Trends

Listed below are the key regulatory trends impacting the space systems theme, as identified by GlobalData.

International space law

There are several provisions under international law which govern all activities in space, including military space systems. These provisions include:

  • Freedom of Use – According to the Outer Space Treaty, outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all states (General Assembly Resolution 2222, 1966). This freedom is subject to other provisions of international space law and international law in general.
  • Non-Appropriation – One of the most fundamental principles of international space law states that outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means (General Assembly Resolution 2222, 1966).
  • Peaceful Purposes – The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation (General Assembly Resolution 2222, 1966).

There are two main understandings of what is meant by peaceful purposes. The prevailing view is that space activities that comply with international law, and the UN Charter in particular, are peaceful. Following this approach, satellite telecommunications that are utilised by the military or have a dual application are in line with the peaceful usage of outer space if international law is abided by. According to the less common approach, only non-military space activities are peaceful. Consequently, any military space activities, including military satellite telecommunications, would run counter to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

Space debris regulation

With the accelerating pace and expanding diversification of the commercialisation of space, one potential threat which could prove an existential challenge to the future development of space systems, both military and commercial, is space debris. Space debris is a term for human-generated debris such as pieces of space craft, tiny flecks of paint from a spacecraft, parts of rockets, satellites that are no longer working, or explosions of objects in orbit flying around in space at high speeds. These items of debris could collide with operational satellites at extreme velocities, and despite their relatively small mass, cause massive damage.

In addition to this, there is the possibility that a Kessler Syndrome scenario may occur. This describes the instance of one collision itself creating more debris, causing more collisions in a run-away chain reaction. In the context of the rapid commercialisation of space, it is likely that currently inadequate regulations may be imposed to ensure the continued availability of space for development.

Military modernisation

As militaries globally modernise, there is a trend towards ever greater connectivity. This trend will drive the expansion of space systems. For example, the US Space Defense Administration in April 2020 requested proposals to produce 20 new communications satellites by 2022. These satellites are intended to be deployed in increasing connectivity between next-generation platforms.

This is an edited extract from the Space Systems in Aerospace and Defense – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.

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