SPACE as Critical National Infrastructure: Is it time for countries to declare so?

SPACE as Critical National Infrastructure: Is it time for countries to declare so? 

The Digital Infrastructure In The Sky:

The ‘new space’ that we call it, has brought benefits to many industries, including meteorology, energy, telecommunications, insurance, transport, maritime, aviation, and urban development, besides helping in the fight against climate change.  

– Satellite imagery allows farmers to monitor crops, businesses to track their environmental, social, and governance performance, and governments to monitor CO2 emissions. 

  • Today, over 90 nations operate in space. 
  • More than 10000 firms are involved in the global space industry. 

The Space Economy:

The OECD defines it as any activity that involves “exploring, researching, understanding, managing, and utilizing space”.  

As per 2022 estimates, the value of this economy was above $450 billion. 

Space renaissance – a period where technological innovation is significantly reducing costs and creating new capabilities.   

  • Companies that might once have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a satellite into space can now do so for a fraction of that, as cheaper components have become available 
  • E.g., The costs for heavy launches in low-Earth orbit (LEO) have fallen from $65,000 per kilogram to $1,500 per kilogram (in 2021 dollars)—a greater than 95 percent decrease 

Key Statistics:

(i) Number of satellites in orbit as of April 2022: 

In total, 5465 active artificial satellites orbit the earth. 

The U.S. leads with 3433, China with 541, and Russia with 172. 

(ii) The cumulative number of objects launched into space: 

2022: 14281 objects 

2010: 6382 objects 

It includes satellites, probes, landers, crewed spacecraft, and space station flight elements launched into Earth orbit or beyond. 

(iii) Number of payloads and rocket bodies in space by orbit: 

2022: 11655 objects (LEO 9309, MEO 971, GEO 938, HEO 437) 

2010: 5328 objects (LEO 3652, MEO 672, GEO 587, HEO 417) 

A Glance At The Orbits:

  1. Low Earth Orbit (LEO): 160 – 2000 Km from the earth’s surface Highly effective for communication and imaging satellites; communication signals require less power and time. 
  2. Medium Earth Orbit (MEO): 2000 to 35780 Km Useful in providing connectivity and navigation with specialty satellites, monitoring a particular region, and providing a gravity-less environment for scientific experiments.
  3. Geostationary/ Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO): >35780 Km. The ‘sweet spot’, in which the satellite’s orbit matches the earth’s rotation.Earth stations can be stationary. They do not have to track satellites continuously. Valuable for weather monitoring because satellites in this orbit provide a constant view of the same surface area.
  4. High Earth Orbit (HEO): Above 35780 Km Useful in monitoring solar activity and other astronomical observations.

Space Debris:

Alongside the innovation-fuelled space economy, there is also the growing challenge of space waste. NASA says that almost 9,000 tonnes of equipment that have headed into space is creating problems of its own. There are more than 100 million pieces of space debris – at a size of one millimetre or larger – orbiting the earth. This debris can include non-functional spacecraft, abandoned equipment, and mission-related debris. 

The Debate Over SPACE As CNI:

Space plays a critical role in our daily lives.

  • Our dependence today on space technology impacts everything from precision agriculture and environmental sustainability to medical care and national security 
  • New state and commercial space stations are being planned and built. And space tourism operators are flying their first customers into space 
  • Space affords access and essential data and connectivity that is necessary for every country, industry, and community to be part of the 21st century 

The disruption or destruction of space assets and access would have a debilitating effect on national and economic security that would ripple across the globe.

Yet, major countries have not defined SPACE as a critical infrastructure sector; reasons appear to be both, political and economic.

No single country owns space, as in the case of oceans. Today, countries and companies operate in space, cooperatively for research, exploration, commerce, and security operations every day. It poses significant risks regarding the assets both “up there” and on earth, as more countries possess and seek to acquire capabilities to adversely impact those assets.

Just as the oceans needed international guidelines – established by Maritime Law – wouldn’t we need them for space too? These guidelines are how every nation will cooperate with and support other nations in the future.

Regarding India:

India ranks among the top 10 globally in the space technology sector. 

  • The Data Security Council of India, in its submission in 2020 on the draft National Cyber Security Strategy, had noted attacks targeting India’s critical infrastructure sectors including nuclear plants and space agencies but had provided no discourse on space cybersecurity
  • As an integral part of the National Cyber Security Strategy, experts suggest it is imperative to integrate the Land-Air-Sea-Space Cyber defence (L-A-S-S-Cy) war penta-theatre into national critical infrastructure. Security and military functions and communications depend on critical space infrastructure

Credits: WEF, UK NPSA, Space Foundation, ORF, OurWorldData 

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