US President Donald Trump announced the official establishment of the US Space Command on Thursday, addressing what his administration believes are looming threats to the United States‘s space-based infrastructure.
Speaking at a White House ceremony, Trump described space as “the next war-fighting domain” and that Space Command is essential for defending the US’s vital space interests.
“Now, those who wish to harm the Unites States, who seek to challenge us in the ultimate high ground of space. It’s going to be a whole different ballgame,” said Trump. “Our adversaries are weaponising earth’s orbits with new technology targeting American satellites that are critical to both battlefield operations and our way of life at home.”
The Defense Intelligence Agency in February wrote in an unclassified report that Russia and China “are developing jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based anti-satellite missiles that can achieve a range of reversible to non-reversible effects.”
The US’s 11th regional fighting command, Space Command or SpaceCom, will be responsible for bringing together many of the space skills and assets from all US military branches and have them work under one roof.
The administration sees SpaceCom as the first step in an ambitious five-year plan to establish the Space Force – a new, sixth branch of the US armed forces.
If Space Force gets the green light from the US Congress, the Department of Defense will start a phased process to establish it.
Threats to US space infrastructure have military and commerical implications – and not just for the US.
Commercially, if the freedom to go to and operate in space were disrupted by hostile activities, the global space industry – which Morgan Stanley currently estimates to have annual revenues of roughly $350bn – would have a lot to lose.
The loss of a single satellite from debris or a meteoroid can set companies back by hundreds of millions of dollars and also cost jobs.
“We welcome the Administration’s focus on space issues and space threats, including today’s official launch of Space Command,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).
“Our everyday lives, our economy, and our military operations – from GPS to satellite weather maps, and satellite imagery used by our intelligence agencies and warfighters – all rely on our ability to operate freely and securely in space,” she told Al Jazeera.
The Aerospace Industries Association estimates that the US government adds about $50bn to the global space economy each year.
But Hayden also notes that satellites have been integrated into almost all economies on the planet and therefore into nearly everyone’s daily lives.
For example, the US government’s Global Positioning System, better known by its acronym GPS, is used by people the world over to find a particular address with their smartphones. And that’s just one application
Because it is connected to atomic clocks worldwide, GPS is harnessed by financial institutions to timestamp financial transactions.
Under the auspices of the US Department of Commerce, RTI International calculated that the economic benefits of GPS in 10 private-sector industries – including agriculture, electricity, finance, location-based services, mining, maritime, oil and gas, surveying, telecommunications and telematics – generated $1.26 trillion in the last 10 years.
In RTI International’s June report titled Economic Benefits of the Global Positioning System (GPS), the authors claim that a GPS outage could cost $1bn a day in losses.