[Satellite News – 6-17-08] Space situational awareness is one of the key issues that countries around the world have to work on throughout the next 10 years in terms of improving the space landscape, according to U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander, U.s. Strategic Command
“We have really just started talking about our capabilities in this area (space situational awareness) over the last couple of years,” Chilton told Satellite News at the MilSpace show in Paris. “I have tried to champion that, both in my previous job and now this job. I hope 10 years from now we will look back and say we have vastly improved that capability with additional sharing of information and that countries are cooperating on that. I think that will add to security and stability in that domain for many years to come. It will be very satisfying if we are able to make this happen.”
Greater cooperation will make space a more stable and safe environment to operate in. “You have the area of space surveillance. There is a huge volume up there we would like to survey and understand both from an operation and safety perspective,” he said. “As I mentioned in my, geography matters here, as where you are based gives you a particular look at the heavens. So the U.S. has a pretty extensive space surveillance network around the world, but there are huge gaps and that it is true for any country. No one country can cover the globe. This is an area by sharing information; we would have an opportunity to have a better understanding of this domain. This would benefit everyone. We could improve safety of operations space as well as provide a stabilizing force for people to behave properly.”
Chilton believes the space environment has changed, and while the Cold War era was defined by the United States and Russia standing toe to toe in terms of investing in space-based defense capabilities, throughout the last decade or so, the relationship has changed.
“The United States was willing to spend huge amounts of money in the 1960s when we saw this as a national security issue. In the 1990s, it is less a national security issue and more a case of trying to advance human spaceflight and develop technology for exploration, whether it is manned or unmanned,” said Chilton. “With that probably comes the reality that countries don’t want to support the large percentages of capital investments that the U.S. and Russia made in the 1960s toward space endeavors. The fiscal reality more than anything else will drive us to cooperation and consortiums in civil space flight and exploration for sure. It is not to say that it is not encouraged for nations to find their own path. I think both cooperation and competition are good. They will help us to reach new heights. I see that kind of change in that regard.”
With conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the ongoing war on terror, the importance of protecting space-based assets is now paramount. “Space is such an expensive domain to get into and operate; we don’t necessarily worry about other countries who get into this,” Chilton said. “However, we worry as much about technologies which are able to interrupt your efforts in space. That could be through a cyber attack on a space network, if you will, that transports information or the jamming of the link. We saw Saddam Hussein try and jam the GPS signal and throw the munitions off course that were used in that conflict. Iraq didn’t have a space-based capability but still tried to interrupt the technology. It is a realistic expectation in any future operation that someone will try to take the advantage that the U.S. or any country has in terms of utilizing space.”
Over the next two decades, Chilton believes there will be “some major breakthroughs” in space. “It is hard to imagine communication satellites getting better, but they will. Today, they are still point-to-point satellite communications, but we will see the Internet move to space and that bandwidth improvement as a result. We will see IP-based communications satellites, and that will bring information as we start to figure out better ways of taking that information and moving that to and from space from terrestrial databases and sharing that information. I think that is going to unleash even more the power of information. The ‘Information Age’ will continue to advance still further, and more and more people will have access to this information and that will be beneficial to the whole world.”