Publication: The Military Balance 2015
12 February 2015
Once the exclusive domain of the Cold War superpowers, national space capabilities are now maintained by a growing number of countries. Eleven states have an indigenous capacity to launch satellites, while 170 operate satellites or have a financial interest in a satellite constellation. Along with the established space-operating nations of the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel, nations such as China and India now possess significant, and in some cases growing, space capabilities.
While its early uses were dominated by national-security tasks, space is now of far broader economic, commercial and military importance. For example, the US Global Positioning System (GPS) provides precision timing and navigation data, among other information. Russia’s Glonass offers a similar capability, and Europe has successfully launched four of its Galileo timing and navigation spacecraft into orbit. Recent commercial uses of space include the earth-observation collections from DigitalGlobe and others that drive imagery products such as Google Maps. Satellites providing these services are in low-Earth orbit (LEO); spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) provide television and communications services.
However, the vulnerability of space systems to deliberate or inadvertent damage or interference is an increasing concern, not least in Washington, as the US seeks to sustain and protect those satellite systems that are not only central to its commercial and economic security, but also at the core of its military infrastructure.