Space policy is finally moving into the 21st century

There’s never been more happening in space than there is today. Commercial activity has exploded over the past five years as private space companies have launched rockets, put satellites into orbit, and bid on missions to the moon.  

But some experts worry this surge of activity is getting too far ahead of international agreements governing who can do what in space. Most such policies were written and adopted long before the commercial space sector heated up.

Now, countries are realizing that they need to update those agreements. This week, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research held its annual Outer Space Security Conference in Geneva, Switzerland (participants had the option to attend virtually or in person). For two days, diplomats, researchers, and military officials from around the world met to discuss threats and challenges, arms control, and space security. Their conversations provided a window into what new space policies might look like. 

Here are some of the most significant takeaways. 

An arms race could be brewing

Some experts are worried that space could turn into the next battlefield. The use of counter-space technologies has been on the rise. For example, Russia and China have recently performed anti-satellite missile tests, and the US has long possessed similar capabilities.  

“I contend that we are watching an arms race unfold,” said Benjamin Silverstein, a research analyst for the space project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We’re probably past the point at which it’s prudent to focus our main efforts on preventing that arms race.” 

Silverstein said that instead of deterrence, new policies should focus on mitigating the negative consequences of this arms race. He urged states to use the United Nations and their diplomatic resources to clarify and improve relationships between rival actors.  

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