Why the US should ban kinetic anti-satellite weapons

This article was written by doctoral candidate Matthew Jenkins.

The United States has long been the world leader in developing and leveraging space-based technology. While the gap between the US and other countries has shrunk in recent years, the United States remains the nation most dependent on space-based capabilities. As of June 2020, the total number of active satellites in orbit was 2,787, of which 1,425 belong to the US, 382 to China, and 172 to Russia. All other states account for the remaining 808.[1] At no time in the history of space exploration has space been more congested, contested, and competitive.[2] Since the 1960s, the global economic system has become increasingly dependent on precision timing provided by space-based capabilities, which facilitate air travel, communications, banking, and numerous other core sectors in the global economy.[3] A guiding objective in the National Space Policy published last December is to preserve the space environment to enhance space activities’ long-term sustainability.[4] Given this emphasis and the particular dependence of the US on space-based technologies, policymakers should lead the global charge to ban the use of kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons development and testing through international legislation and multilateral cooperation of all nations who have a stake in ensuring the continued use of space for the benefit of all humanity.

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