Can Space Tourism co-exist with Space being turned into a War Zone?

Karl Grossman*

Keywords:   Outer Space Treaty – PAROS Treaty – Peaceful purpose – Space Doves – Space Force

The push to turn space into a war zone could spell goodbye to space tourism.

The space tourism drive that is underway, led by billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk is seen as only a start. Meanwhile, there’s the push, led by the United States, to turn space into a war zone—and this, despite the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that sets space aside for peaceful purposes. As the then U.S. President Donald Trump declared in 2018 while advocating for formation of a U.S. Space Force, “it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”The following year, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 establishing the Space Force as the sixth branch of U.S. armed forces and said: “Space is the world’s newest war fighting domain.” The Space Force, Trump said, would “help” the U.S. “control the ultimate high ground.”  Then, at the unveiling of a Space Force flag at the White House, Trump said: “Space is going to be…the future, both in terms of defense and offense.”

Trump’s successor, U.S. President Joe Biden, has not rolled back the U.S. Space Force. Several Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives last year introduced the No Militarization of Space Act that would abolish the U.S. Space Force. The prime author of the legislation, Representative Jared Huffman of California, in a statement, called the Space Force “costly and unnecessary.” 

The measure got nowhere. That was not surprising considering that most Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and nearly all the members of the Republican Party voted for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 providing for the Space Force’s formation. Thus, the U.S. Space Force is moving forward.

Last year, Space Force requested a budget of $17.4 billion for 2022 to expand its reach as reported by Air Force Magazine.  Space Force also aims to fund more than $800 million in new classified programs.“Guardians” is the name adopted by the U.S. Space Force in 2021 for its members.

In 2020, the Space Force received its first offensive weapon: satellite jammers. The satellite jammers can be used to interrupt any satellite communication and can hinder warning systems designed to detect attacks from the US. Soon afterwards, the Financial Times’ headline was: “U.S military officials eye new generation of space weapons.”

As to the impacts of war in space, Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, in an interview in 2021 said:

In 1989 during one of our campaigns against NASA plutonium launches [NASA’s launching of plutonium-powered space probes], we had a rally at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and our keynote speaker that day was Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell, one of the moonwalkers. And he came and said if there is one war in space, it’ll be the one and the only. He said because we will create so much space debris or space junk from all the destroyed satellites and things like that in space that there would literally be a minefield encircling the planet – he called it a piranha-laced river—and we would not be able to get through. A rocket would not be able to get off this Earth through that minefield. So, it’s insane to think about having a war in space.

Gagnon has also spoke of how space warfare would mean activity on Earth would immediately shut down as cell phones, ATM machines, cable TV, traffic lights, weather prediction and more are all hooked up to satellites.

Alexander Chanock, while pointing to the generation of space debris resulting from warfare in space, noted that space weapons would produce an immense amount of space debris. Chanock, then a candidate for a law degree, now a legislative counsel in the US House of Representatives, wrote that, “The Fear is that destroying in space could generate extremely dangerous debris with a long orbital life.”

Chanock quoted Dr. Joel Primack, professor of physics and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, stating that “the weaponization of space would make the debris problem much worse, and even one war in space could encase the entire planet in a shell of whizzing debris that would thereafter make space near the Earth highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military purposes.”

The blueprint for international cooperation in space has been the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which sets aside space for peaceful purposes and declares it a “global commons.” It was put together by the United States, United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union and has wide support from nations around the world. As Craig Eisendrath, who as a young U.S. State Department office was involved in the treaty’s creation, explained, the aim of the Outer Space Treaty was to de-weaponise space before it got weaponized to keep war out of space altogether.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits placement “in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction or from installing such weapons on celestial bodies.”  For decades there has been an effort to extend the Outer Space Treaty and enact the Prevention of an Arms Race (PAROS) treaty, which would bar the placement of any weapons in space. China, Russia and Canada have been leaders in seeking passage of the PAROS treaty. But the United States—through administration after administration, Republican and Democrat—has opposed the PAROS treaty and effectively vetoed it at the United Nations. A rationale for the U.S. Space Force has been that it is necessary to counter moves by Russia and China in space, particularly development of anti-satellite weapons. This is what a Cable News Network report in 2021, titled “An Exclusive Look into How Space Force is Defending America,” centrally asserted. There was no mention in the six-minute-plus CNN piece of how China and Russia have been leaders for decades in the push for PAROS, and how China and Russia in recent times have reiterated their calls for space to be weapons-free.

Most recently, the U.S. concern about Russia and China moving into space militarily was heightened by Russia in November 2021 using an anti-satellite weapon to blow up a defunct Soviet intelligence satellite that was launched in 1992. Dr. Paul Robinson, professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, in an article on RT, views that the Russian effort may be intended to bring the United States to the negotiating table by highlighting the space vulnerability.

The history of U.S. interest in space warfare includes the Strategic Defense Initiative scheme of the U.S. President Ronald Reagan during 1980s, dubbed “Star Wars,” predicated on orbiting battle platforms with on-board hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons energized by also on-board nuclear reactors.

A U.S. Space Command was set up in 1985. The motto of one of its units, the 50th Space Wing is “Master of Space”. The unit is now a component of the U.S. Space Force.

A January 2022 article in Air Force Magazine called attention on this aggressive stance of the U.S. Space Force. Alexander Chanock also expressed concerns on this issue in his article published in the Journal of Air Law and Commerce. While highlighting the contrasting views on the U.S. developing space weapons, he refers to “Space Doves”, who are against space weaponization, especially Nina Tannenwald. Tannenwald wrote that in the long run she believes that the best way to protect American interests in space would be through stability of the rule of law, rather than through unilateral assertions of military power. She asserts that US should promote a transition to a regime that consists of mutual restraint and benefit in space.

However, Chanock, in his piece, stated: “Although space doves have many valid arguments for reducing the danger of space weaponization, in reality, it is unlikely that their ideas will prevail.” He noted: “The U.S. Congress has consistently rejected any bill that tries to ban the use of space weapons.” He cited bills that “sought to ban space weapons but failed” including the one introduced in 2001 by Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio which “did not garner a single co-sponsor.”

Internationally, since the creation of the U.S. Space Force, several nations—including the United Kingdom—have begun to emulate the U.S. in space military posture. “How to halt the space arms race” was the headline of an article in the British publication The New Statesman in 2021. It stated: “This year the UK launched its own space command, with military chiefs acknowledging space as a domain of conflict co-equal with air, land, sea and cyber,” said the piece by Paul Mason.

“We are stuck,” the article concluded. “And while polite verbal fencing takes place at the UN, the major powers of the 21st century are engaged in an unprecedented expansion of military power in space, leaving the vast majority of countries powerless, most of humanity as passive spectators, and the Earth’s orbit increasingly polluted with debris from exploded satellites.”

This is pessimistic forecast need not be. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was—and is—a visionary documentary. War on Earth is terrible enough. It must not be brought up to the heavens. This will take continued political will and international pressure—to preserve and extend the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and its setting aside space for peaceful purposes. Especially in the United States, this will require action at the grassroots because the two major political parties in the U.S. have joined in a bellicose stance on space, supporting it becoming a war zone. Every year, the grassroots organization Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, founded in Washington, D.C. in 1992 and the leading group internationally challenging the weaponization of space, holds a “Keep Space For Peace Week” with actions around the world. Meanwhile, there are nations around the globe that have, unlike the U.S., adopted a peaceful stance—as reflected in their support for the proposed PAROS treaty.

We must, indeed, keep space for peace. Can space tourism co-exist with space being turned into a war zone? The answer is no. And with a shooting war in space, it will not only space tourism that would be kissed goodbye.


*Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury & Co-founder of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

Space Exploration and India’s Geoplotical Dilemma

Dhruv Singh Garcha & Krishna Ravishankar*

Keywords:    Artemis Accords – Delhi Declaration of Friendship – Geopolitics – International Lunar Research Station – Space Exploration

Given the rapid growth and advancement in technology, space exploration has moved up the ladder of many countries’ national priorities. With the geopolitical matrix unfolding even while exploring the realm of the cosmos, the American backed Artemis Accords and the Sino-Russian International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project have been the most significant multilateral developments with respect to space governance. This article tries to navigate the path that India as an emerging space power should take which would be beneficial for her space ambitions, keeping in mind her geostrategic interests.

Who Owns Space?

Before looking into the Accord, it is crucial to understand the legalities behind space resource ownership. The chronology begins with the UNGA Declaration of 1963, which debarred claiming sovereignty over celestial bodies. Then came the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, that prohibited the placement of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the establishment of military bases in Space. Furthermore, it laid down minimum regulatory guidelines for resource explorative activities. It was followed by the Moon Agreement of 1979, which refined the regulations entailed in the 1967 treaty and provided for an efficient framework to restrict the exploitation of space resources. However, the letter of the treaties lacks clarity. Article 1 of the 1967 treaty describes outer space as the “province of all mankind.” On the other hand, Article 11 the 1979 agreement describes it as “common heritage of mankind.” This inconsistency has led to long-standing debates about the interpretation and implications of these phrases. The US has always asserted the 1967 treaty’s definition of outer space since it allows for private and state ownership over resources extracted from celestial bodies. Furthermore, it is silent on private ownership over the entire outer space itself, something the Accords are likely to take advantage of. The US’s assertion was further solidified through an executive order dated April 2020 which instructs the Secretary of State to “object to any attempt to treat the 1979 Moon Agreement as expressing customary international law.” This can be said to have acted as the bedrock for the Artemis Accords.

The Artemis Accord

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Artemis Accords encompass a series of bilateral agreements between the US and other states to establish a common vision via a practical set of principles and practices for enhancing the governance of civil exploration and using the outer space to advance the Artemis Program. It further envisages to land the first woman on the Moon by 2024 with participation of both international and commercial players.

The Accords require the nations to ensure that space missions are deployed for non-combat purpose, remain transparent in their plans and policies for space exploration, work towards interoperability of space agencies, make available emergency assistance in space, register Space objects as per the Registration Convention, share scientific data among other signatories, preserve outer space heritage and reduce space debris and ensure minimal waste generation.

The principles are intended to apply to civil space activities of each Signatory by taking appropriate measures such as mission planning and contractual mechanisms.

The Sino-Russian International Lunar Research Station Initiative

With Russia dismissing the Accords to be a tool for American hegemony, along with NASA’s ban from collaborating with China in 2011, the Roscosmos signed a partnership with China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) to develop an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) on the Moon or as Professor Velina Treschokva puts it, “A Dragon-Bear Space Coalition to counter the Eagle.”

In June 2021, the Chinese national space agency released a three-phase plan for the ISRL Project with phase 1 (from 2021-2025) which would collect data and validate “high-precision soft landing” for lunar missions. The second phase or the construction phase (from 2026-2035) would involve two stages with the initial stage involving joint missions, delivering cargo and collection of lunar samples and the second involving construction of lunar and in-orbit. In the third phase, beginning in 2036, crewed landings will begin. The two countries are actively inviting other nations as well, to collaborate and develop the facility.

The Sino-Russian space exploration alliance will certainly be a major rival for the Artemis initiative, considering Russia’s extensive expertise in space technology and China’s resources.

India’s Position with Respect to the Two Blocs

The two geopolitically opposite space exploration programmes have created new dilemmas for India’s lunar governance and ambitions since the decisions it takes will be based on its relations with the pioneers of these blocs.

To understand the complexity of India’s choice with respect to these two blocs, it is vital to look at India’s space collaboration with the blocs’ members, and their diplomatic relations. The reason for doing so is to provide an all-encompassing solution for the scenario since India’s decisions in this regard will inevitably affect its relations with all the countries involved.

India and the Artemis Accords

Lately, there has been an increased level of collaboration between India and the US’ space agencies. India’s first lunar space project, Chandrayaan-1 carried the Moon Minerology Mapping System developed by NASA.

ISRO and NASA are presently working on the NISAR project, which will launch in 2022 and plans to measure the causes and consequences of land surface changes using advanced radar imaging. The two countries have also decided to conclude an MoU on Space Situational Awareness (SSA), creating a framework to protect each other’s satellites from man-made or natural threats.

India’s close bilateral space collaboration with signatories like Japan in the LUPEX Project and Ukraine in the sphere of semi-cryogenic engines also provides a strong backing for India to join this initiative.

From a diplomatic angle, this initiative forms a natural link to the Quad’s Critical and Emerging Technologies Working Group since the US, Japan and Australia are already signatories of the Accords.

Given the recent privatization of space which allows private stakeholders to enter into space-based commercial ventures, the Accord would allow by allowing sharing of technology, access to global supply chains and improving economies of scale to upscale India’s entire business ecosystem, starting from the SMEs to the NewSpace start-up sector.

India and US’ bilateral relations in general have improved significantly as well, culminating into the 2015 Delhi Declaration of Friendship. The 2005 Defence Framework, bilateral security treaties like BECA and COMSCA, and a Joint Strategic Vision for the Indo-Pacific show the steady partnership between both the countries. Economically speaking, the bilateral trade in 2021 was roughly $145 billion, and the US was the 2nd largest FDI source of India.

India and ISRL

Russian assistance is visible from the inchoate stages of the Indian Space Program, be it the launch of India’s first satellite (Aryabhatta 1), or India’s first human spaceflight mission in 1984.  Moreover, Russia aided India with the provision of cryogenic rockets for its GSLV launchers and is presently training Indian astronauts for the Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission of 2022.

With a long diplomatic history of alliance, the Indo-USSR relationship is important for India’s defence and security needs as evident from the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation, 1971. Russia’s support for India’s Permanent UNSC seat, along with its close multilateral collaboration through fora like BRICS and RIC shape the trajectory of this relationship. The Indo-Russian defence partnership is again of vital significance since Russia is India’s largest biggest defence supplier, complemented by prominent military joint exercises. However, Russia’s closer proximity to China and India’s growing alliance with the USA has not augured well for further co-operation.

Coming to China, despite a shared sense of cultural heritage, Sino-Indian political relations have been turbulent, especially over the Line of Actual Control. Given the recent military skirmishes in Eastern Ladakh, the increased Indo-US co-operation and the growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, there have been impediments in deepening the relations. However, from an economic perspective, China is important for India with a bilateral trade of $125 billion in 2021 and more than $4 billion Chinese investments in Indian unicorns.

So, What Now?

Looking at India’s relations with other space powers, it is clear that joining either of these blocs could potentially sabotage India’s strategic diplomatic interests and space ambitions with the other. As of now, India has multiple ongoing collaborations with numerous space agencies across the globe. Therefore, India need not conceptually side with any of the space groupings but rather practice the doctrine of strategic autonomy and make pragmatic collaborations, giving it privileged manoeuvrability across geopolitical blocs.


* Pursuing BA/LLB (Hons.) from National Law University, Jodhpur.