Outer Space and its Growing Strategic Importance (GS 3, Economics, The Hindu, Indian Express)

Context: We are witnessing a  new emphasis on the importance of Outer Space when countries across the world are coming together. Even Private companies are marking tremendous technological achievements. SpaceX, a private company has made history as being the first private company to send humans into space. 

Outerspace and Quad: In a bilateral talk on the sideline of Quad meeting 2021, President Joe Biden and PM Modi called on the US and India to “continue and expand their partnership in new domains and many areas of critical and emerging technology —cyber, space, security, health, AI, semiconductors, 5G/6G and future generation telecommunication technology, and blockchain, that will define innovation development, and the security and economic landscape for the next century”. India will engage more productively with a rapidly evolving domain of outer space that is witnessing more commerce and contestation. 

The strategic interest of India in outer space is based on the recognition of two important trends. One is regarding the emerging technologies, which will be shaping the global order in 21st-century, and the other is about the urgent requirements of writing new rules for the road to peace and sustainability in outer space.

Although human intervention into space began in the middle of the 20th century, the intensity of that activity as well as its commercial and security implications have dramatically increased in recent decades. Outer Space is becoming a location for a profitable business as well as a site of military competition between countries. The Strategic importance of outer space in India is yet to get the attention it deserves. 

Until recently, States were the sole players in Outer space. But private companies are now major players in space commerce. Along with this, space is becoming a critical factor in shaping the military balance of countries on the earth. There is growing competition among countries.

In the commercial domain of outer space, the US has no doubt, traditionally dominated. Its military competition with Russia during the days of cold war set the norms in the security field.

India has developed significant space capabilities over the decades and is a deeply invested party. India and US in Space: The India-US joint statement issued in Washington mentioned plans to finalise, “a Space Situational Awareness Memorandum of Understanding that will help in sharing of data and services towards ensuring the long-term sustainability of outer space activities by the end of the year”. Space situational awareness (SSA) involves monitoring the movement of all objects — man-made (satellites) and natural (meteors) and tracking space weather. Today, space has become integral to our lives and any disruption of space-based communication and earth observation will have grave consequences.

Outerspace and China: The emergence of China as a major space power in both civilian and military dimension, is reshaping the astropolitics. Chinese space capabilities and Beijing’s ambition to dominate outer space have lent a new urgency for democratic powers to come together for securing their national interests as well as to promote sustainable order in the skies above.

Way Forward: India requires a substantive National Policy Action in the backdrop of the growing strategic importance of outer space. The Indian government has undertaken some reforms in recent years like letting the private sector participate in space activity. It has created the Indian national space Promotion and authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), which will assess the needs and demands of private players, including educational and research institutions, and, explore ways to board these requirements in consultation with ISRO. India is taking tentative steps to cope with the unfolding military challenges in outer space. It has also commenced space security dialogue with close partners like the US, France, and Japan

The challenges, as well as opportunities in outer space, are huge and promising and that’s why demand more immediate and comprehensive reform. These can only be mandated by the highest political level and requires international cooperation. 

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