Who owns space?

That might seem an odd question but I have been thinking about it ever since last week’s excellent #CyberFest event on ‘Managing Cyber Security Risk in the Space Market’. On the face of it it would seem that the answer is nobody, it is just too big and too unknown to divvy it up the way we have done with the land and the sea. 

Yet there is space and space. When we talk about space travel we think of near space, perhaps the bit between the Earth and the moon, maybe even towards Mars but not about the billions of light years across the universe. That kind of travel is way beyond our ken and something we may never achieve. It seems unlikely for a long long time anyway.

The little bit around the world though is well used, filled with hundreds of thousands of satellites and, unfortunately millions and millions of pieces of space junk. Some of this will fall to Earth yet most of it will remain, spinning around the globe, threatening havoc to other space vehicles until the end of time. Humans are a littering species.

In this context though, I am not thinking about the physical realm but rather the use of space. So much of our modern lives is wrapped up in space. Our communications, satnav (obviously), energy and crop production, weather forecasting, entertainment, aggression and defence all rely on the use of satellite technology. Its scope is much greater than most of us are aware and our reliance upon such technologies will only grow as new ideas and requirements emerge.

Who owns the technologies therefore owns space. Those with the capacity to put satellites in orbit, with all of the related ground control paraphernalia are in control of this increasingly important medium. While the cost of launching satellites into space has come down from billions to millions it is still beyond the capabilities of most countries, not only in terms of finance but capacity. This means that most countries are beholden to the usual suspects, those at the top of the economic tree.

We may not need to divide space through lines on a map yet it seems that colonialism is alive and well. Power on Earth has been projected into our skies.

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