Key votes will take place in the U.S. Congress in the coming weeks on military budgets, which include funding for some manner of branch that protects American space interests.
The idea of a U.S. space force first came to prominence in March 2018, when President Donald Trump proclaimed his ambition to see one created.
“Space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said to an audience of marines in March 2018.
“We may even have a space force. We have the air force, we’ll have the space force.”
Identifying it as a national security priority, Trump directed his Department of Defense to “marshal its space resources to deter and counter threats in space.”
But what are those threats?
“The threat problem began in most people’s minds in 2007, when the Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) test went off,” Doug Loverro, who served as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defence for space policy from 2013 to 2017, told CKNW host Mike Smyth.
LISTEN: Mike Smyth’s interview with Doug Loverro on CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show
“We did not know what to do about it. The Chinese demonstrated how a ground-based missile could fire at a satellite and destroy it. It was one of their own weather satellites that was quite old.
“That was an announcement that they were going to take on the United States in space. The Chinese and the Russians realized how critical space was for U.S. war-fighting and began working on things to stop it.”
Critics have denounced Trump’s plans as an unnecessary militarization of space, and with price tags in the billions of dollars, the cost has also been criticized.
Additionally, the suggestion was predictable fodder for late-night talk shows.
“There’s no threat in space! Who are we fighting? Satellites? A bunch of frozen monkeys? Elon Musk’s convertible?” Stephen Colbert wondered.
In Loverro’s mind, a space force is less about frozen monkeys and more about protecting the satellites that already exist from the kind of missiles under the ASAT program in 2007.
“It’s hard to defend a satellite from being shot down, but what we can do is create new ways to do those missions, which makes it harder for satellites to be shot down,” Loverro told the Space Week series on CKNW’s Simi Sara Show.
“It may be simple to shoot down one satellite, but it’s difficult to shoot down a thousand,” Loverro added. “So if we have a thousand, and if any one of those thousand can do the job, then why bother shooting down the one? That’s a big part of the space force. Strategically thinking about, ‘How do I make it so difficult for my adversary to stop me in space that they don’t even try anymore?’”
Canada has been placing satellites of its own into space since 1962. Between phone calls, internet use, GPS and more, the public uses satellites in a number of ways every day.
“In 1998, a satellite went on the blink and it knocked out pager service all over the U.S.,” Chris Gainor, president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, told CKNW’s Space Week.
“Gas pumps didn’t operate because they couldn’t do credit checks on people. Satellites have worked their way into so much of what we do, and we often forget about it until something like that happens.”
As for space wars? Well, Loverro says nobody’s looking to claim territory in space just yet.
“There’s no military advantage to be gained by taking space – there’s military advantage in using space. Whether that’s GPS, communication, missile-warning systems and other things we put in space to help terrestrial forces. We have to provide better capabilities, and more importantly, we need to protect those,” Loverro said.
Space Week is a series of conversations exploring the history of space exploration, what its future looks like, and Canada’s crucial role in the 1969 moon landing, ahead of its 50th anniversary this month.
For more, tune in to CKNW’s Simi Sara Show, from Mon 15 to Fri 19 July.