Gen. Chilton: Greater Cooperation In Space Will Boost All Nations
The United States sets the standard for military satellite operations, but as nations around the globe enhance their capabilities and new nations enter the space arena, U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, sees the possibilities that come with greater global cooperation on some space activities.
“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. 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 where, by sharing information, we would have an opportunity to have a better understanding of this domain. This would benefit everyone.”
Chilton discusses the future of space operations with Via Satellite Associate Editor Mark Holmes at MilSpace 2008.
Via Satellite: As other countries evolve their space capabilities, what challenges will that present to the United States?
Chilton: If you talk about civil space, it used to be just the U.S. and Russia in the Cold War era. It really was a Cold War battle over ideas as much as technology in terms of who was going to be first, etc. We have gone from that, which was an era motivated by competition and a unilateral approach, to an approach in the 1990s which is motivated as much by international cooperation in an effort, as opposed to competition.
There are also probably some fiscal realities there as well. 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 was 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. 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 endeavor. The fiscal reality more than anything else will drive us to cooperation and consortia 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.
Via Satellite: How difficult will it be to bring cooperation to an area where technology gains are zealously guarded?
Chilton: I think politically it is for individual nations to make the decision to do this. Individual nations need to first make a decision to put in place that system and then make the decision for that data to be made available and shared. Political challenges are more difficult to overcome rather than the technical challenges.
Via Satellite: Do you expect adversaries to use more space-based capabilities and what will it take to counter this?
Chilton: Space is such an expensive domain to get into and operate that we don’t necessarily worry about other countries who get into this. However, we worry more about technologies that are able to interrupt your efforts in space. That could be through a cyber attack on a space network that transports information, if you will, or the jamming of the link. We saw Saddam Hussein try to 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.
Via Satellite: How important is education for the future of space capabilities?
Chilton: I think education is incredibly important. Our military space programs are powered by our people. If you look at the sophistication of the satellites and how they have gotten more sophisticated over the years, they require more hands-on operation. And as they have gotten more powerful, they can do more things, and the skill sets needed to operate them need more savvy engineers and operators in the future. The U.S. Air Force has said we need to make sure the people we bring in the business are cutting edge, and we need to keep them on the cutting edge. We need to continue their education opportunities and nurture their careers. We know there are attractions in the commercial arena as well.
Via Satellite: How do you address the issue of bringing young people into the space industry?
Chilton: You have to inspire and educate our youth at a younger age than we are doing today; even younger than when I was a kid. The first engineering course I did was in the second semester of my freshmen year in college. I studied math all through high school without knowing how good it was. There was no application to the math I studied at high school. It was all about solving problems. A lot of my classmates, once they had done that, didn’t want anything to do with math, as it seemed pointless. I think there are great opportunities to teach engineering at the high school level, even just at an introductory level. You just want to get the kids interested at that level.
The first engineering course I took was a broad entry-level race through aeronautical, astronomical, electromechanical civil engineering all in one semester. It was just enough to whet your appetite and use the math skills I had been taught through school and on a piece of paper design something that people could build and work.
That was a major moment in my life and it really inspired me to go into engineering. I think that is one way to do it.
John Young, an astronaut, said our biggest enemy is ignorance. How do you overcome ignorance? You do that through education and make young people aware of the opportunities and exciting futures in the space business. This is exciting stuff.
Via Satellite: How do you reach students at a younger age?
Chilton: Someone in the education system would have control over the curriculum. We are saying one course for the senior year in high school as a way of showing how you can apply the math you have learned. It would not be hard that to do. I am offering this as an idea based on my experience. I had no clue about what engineering was until I went to college. If you wait until that late in a young person’s career, they may at that stage want to do something else, which is fine, but it is a lost opportunity when you have that desperate need for scientists and engineers in your society.
Via Satellite: What would you hope will be your major achievement in space in the next 10 years?
Chilton: Space situational awareness. We have really just started talking about our capabilities in this area over the last couple of years. 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.
Via Satellite: What is your vision of space beyond the next 10 years?
Chilton: I think we will see some major breakthroughs during this time. 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 bandwidth improvement as a result. We will see IP-based communications satellites, which 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 the 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. I think we will see advances in these areas.
On the military side, we will benefit from that as well. Sharing communications will be improved dramatically as a result of that. â–