Sun, Sep 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Militarization of space an increasing risk in modern age, new report says


Human security and technologies from cellphones to weather forecasts are more at risk than ever from anti-satellite weapons and space junk, said a research report released on Friday.

An anti-satellite test by China in January and increased US opposition to restrictions on space weapons were cited as two main global threats by Space Security 2007, the fourth annual report by the Space Security Index.

"The dismantling of the space sanctuary for communications satellites and weather satellites and those other divides on which the modern economy depends so greatly -- thereby making it impossible to utilize those devices -- would be negative to every single person in the world," report co-author Thomas Graham said.

"You wouldn't be able to have cellphones, Blackberries, pagers, the kind of television you have now," Graham said in a telephone interview from Virginia, warning that 30 countries now have the ability to shoot down satellites.

"If we don't keep space as a sanctuary ... once an arms race begins in space all those satellites become very vulnerable," he said.

The Space Security Index aims to present "a policy-neutral statement of the facts as to the status of space security," said Graham, a former ambassador, US arms control negotiator and special representative for arms control under former US president Bill Clinton.

The new report warned that international tensions over space are rising, but while "it is in all nations' self-interest to safeguard use of the space environment ... there is a widening impasse on how to do this."

It focused on the US' "small and controversial program for space-based ballistic missile defense and proto-technologies that may form the basis for future space-based weapons" and Earth-based weapons programs.

"There is growing tension between the US and China over the security of outer space, largely driven by mistrust and suspicions over weapons programs," co-author Ray Williamson, of Secure World Foundation, said in the news release.

The report said China's test "created 1,500 pieces of trackable debris in heavily used orbits -- one of the worst manmade debris-creating events in history -- but debris caused by routine space operations is also a problem."

"Even a small piece of metal, traveling at 7.5kps, can destroy a spacecraft worth billions of dollars," said William Marshall of the NASA Ames Research Center.

"The number of objects in Earth orbit have [sic] increased steadily; today there are an estimated 35 million pieces of space debris," said the report, noting that 90 percent of 13,000 orbiting objects large enough to damage or destroy a spacecraft are space debris.

The report will be presented to the UN First Committee on international security on Oct. 22.

It was released by the Simons Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research at the University of British Columbia.

The center is one of several North American science and policy organizations contributing to the index.

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