Issue #3(29) 2021 Astronautics

A US space strategy for 2050: shaping a domain on the cusp

Christopher P Mulder Atlantic Council, Washington DC, USA
Clementine G Starling Atlantic Council, Washington DC, USA
Mark J Massa Atlantic Council, Washington DC, USA

Outer space has rapidly evolved from being dominated by two primary actors in the 1950s to its current state where multiple actors, both private and government, are competing to seek commercial opportunities and establish themselves in the ultimate ‘high ground’ for security and defence. The authors assert that, given these developments, the United States and like-minded nations are in desperate need of a long-term, thirty-year ‘strategy for space’ to take advantage of space’s transformative period as it evolves from a domain of primarily discovery and exploration to one largely defined by vast commercial resources and security implications.

Christa McAuliffe, the American teacher aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger when it was lost in January 1986, poignantly said: “Space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space.” Her statement foreshadowed the major transition evident in space today and the need for long-term US space leadership.

Today space is essential for winning wars, generating revenue and pushing the frontiers of scientific exploration and discovery - roles which will only increase in importance in the coming decades. Indeed, space holds great potential for humanity at large, as researchers, academics and entrepreneurs consider applications of space for addressing global issues like water scarcity, climate change and poverty, to name just three. At the same time, the renewal of great-power competition has expanded military competition within space, as US competitors China and Russia develop sophisticated anti-satellite weapons while cyber and electronic counterspace tools become accessible to rogue states.

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