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.