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Question

Do you agree that the new space supremacy lurks in counter-space now, and not so much in planetary excursions and astronauts outings? Justify your stand.


Solution

Approach:
  • Start by writing what do you understand by term ‘counter-space’.
  • Write whether you agree that today Counter-space is central in space supremacy or not.
  • Based on your stand, provide arguments in favour or against.(In answer most of the arguments are provided in favour of increased counter-space capabilities by various states.)
  • Provide an appropriate conclusion highlighting the need for international law for peaceful use of Space.
Answer:
Counterspace is an umbrella term for any technology that could be used to deceive, disrupt, deny, degrade or destroy space systems. Space weapons include direct-ascent, co-orbital, electronic warfare, directed energy and cyber

The emergence of counter-space: A new frontier
  • The new measure of space supremacy lurks in counter-space now, and not so much in planetary excursions and astronauts’ outings.
  • This is why Russia, the U.S., and China have been relentlessly pursuing for decades activities that enable them to rule space militarily, for offence or defence purposes.
Counter-space capabilities and Space espionage:
  • According to academic reports, policymakers and those tracking the military space, for several years now, the space between 600 km and 36,000 km above the earth has been the playground for such secret activities.
  • Around the time Mission Shakti took place, the Center for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington, D.C. and the Secure World Foundation came out with reports detailing counter-space capabilities that different countries have today and their sense of threat to space assets.
  • Satellites with robotic arms or handles have touched or nudged their siblings in orbit. Mother (or nesting) spacecraft have gone up to ‘deliver’ baby spy satellites in orbit.
  • Satellites have sneaked up to high perches to see, overhear and sense all that happens in space and on the ground. The intent of being in counter-space is thus surveillance and espionage.
  • In times of war, the intent could be to capture or disable a rival’s space assets in orbit.
  • However, this century, they have reportedly developed deadly armouries that can be either unleashed into or from space.
  • The motive could be to inspect and assess the target’s nature, eavesdrop on it, or even subvert its functions. The fear is that in extreme cases, the target may even be ‘abducted’ or taken control of.
The Risk of a Space Pearl Harbour:
  • Satellites of each of the countries such as Russia, the U.S., and China have been caught loitering in orbit at different times, and the victims have cried foul.
  • U.S. policymakers Jim Cooper says, “Every nation’s satellites face increasing threats… The risk of a space Pearl Harbour is growing every day.”
  • He cautions that today countries depend so much on their satellites that “cripple our satellites and you cripple us”.
  • Possibility of space debris and defunct satellites colliding with satellites.
Outer space is a shared heritage owned equally by all the peoples of the world and a common asset for humanity. Therefore, there is a need for a legally binding instrument to prevent an arms race and fill existing legal gaps. Such an instrument should have a comprehensive scope that includes four prohibitions: the placement of any weapons, defensive or offensive; armed attacks against satellites or any outer space assets; intentional, harmful interference that interrupts the normal functioning of such assets; and developing, testing and stockpiling weapons designed to attack outer space assets. Taking into consideration the extreme fragility and volatility of the outer space environment, it must not be allowed to turn into another battlefield or a scene for military conflicts that could have catastrophic implications.

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