Newswise — A new space race is underway, characterized by a growing number of government and private players and three intersecting trends: democratization, commercialization and militarization. But what does that mean for international geopolitics and safe — perhaps even collaborative — exploration beyond Earth?

Saadia Pekkanen, University of Washington professor of international relations, is lead editor for a group of essays addressing such issues published online this month in the American Journal of International Law under the title "The New Space Race."

The essays stemmed in part from a symposium Pekkanen convened at the UW in December 2018 that gathered academics and industry professionals to discuss these and other "critical contemporary challenges to space law and policy." Topics discussed that day included the regulation of private entities in space and mining beyond Earth, liability law for space industries and legal ramifications of "traffic management" in space.

Pekkanen's own essay, "Governing the Space Race," led the package, further defining her view of the three trends affecting this new race.

  • Democratization means space activities are expanding to a growing number of states and nonstate actors and "the emergence of lesser-known states intent on capturing industrial benefits." As more participate, disagreements are likely to intensify over whether space is a "global commons."
  • Commercialization brings challenges to designing governance of space because of "entrepreneurs intent on profiting from space businesses all the way to off-world settlements." Companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have long been involved with space technology; the difference now, Pekkanen wrote, is such private entities are moving forward with their own initiatives — spacecraft and satellites, launches, robotics, lasers and more.
  • Militarization, Pekkanen wrote, requires "a far more nuanced lens on the balance between governments and businesses." The main challenge arises from the fact that 95 percent of space technologies developed have "dual uses in the commercial and military realms." The growing danger of space debris also can create security risks — a topic Pekkanen has written and spoken about on several occasions.

"With interest in dedicated space units rising, the narrative today has shifted from mere space situational awareness to battlespace awareness," Pekkanen added.

"As a result, countries face an increased danger of aggression or even open conflict in outer space. These realities raise important legal and policy concerns about militarization versus weaponization of space technologies."

As these trends are taking place in an era of treaty "decline and exit," Pekkanen said, it remains a "supreme challenge" to design appropriate global space governance.

Jackson School doctoral candidate Seonhee Kim was project coordinator for the UW gathering. Opening remarks were given by Mario Barnes, dean of the UW School of Law. Several faculty from law and Earth and space sciences attended.

The symposium and related work are part of the Emerging Frontiers in Space project, funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

Other authors were Setsuko Aoki of Keo University; Hiroshi Yamakawa of Kyoto University; Paul Larson, former adjunct professor with the Georgetown University Law Center; Laurie Blank of Emory University; P.J. Blount of the University of Mississippi; Matt King of the Headquarters Air Force Operations and International Law Directorate, U.S. Air Force; Tanja Masson-Zwaan of Leiden University; and Brian Israel, general counsel for Planetary Resources and an adjunct professor with the University of California, Berkeley.


For more information, contact Pekkanen at 206-543-6148 or [email protected]


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