Space hegemony being broken?

The world is getting increasingly multi-polar. At the same time monopolies are being broken. One such monopoly is in the field of space navigation systems, currently being held by GPS.

GPS is a satellite based navigation system, which is maintained by the US Air Force. The basic working mechanism revolves around the concept of using four satellites to determine 3-D coordinates of a location. The full fledged GPS system uses 24 NAVSTAR satellites.

The civilian world was quick to adopt this technology, even before the whole thing was operational. Slowly other countries began using it — India at this stage is using GPS for its defense needs as well.

However, USAF reserves the right to deny the service as and when it pleases, which raises a question on how dependable it is from a strategic point of view:

The White House announced on Dec. 16 that the president may temporarily shut down the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system in times of crisis if it is believed that doing so could preclude terrorists from using it. Along those lines, Bush reserves the right for the United States to interfere with non-U.S. satellite navigation systems such as the planned European Galileo network – a claim that has raised eyebrows amongst U.S. allies in Europe and other space-faring powers.
Source: CDI (via LA times)

It also throws light on the issue of space dominance, which seems to be an important area for the Americans:

“Space dominance wins wars because it overcomes the two fundamental impediments to victory famously summarized by the 19th-century theorist Karl von Clausewitz as ‘fog and friction,’ ” said science writer Bruce Sterling. “In a fog of low quality or nonexistent information, warriors can’t see allies or enemies. Amid the friction of hostile onslaughts, they can’t hit the adversaries they manage to see. These are the classic military problems. Having an overhead view makes them the other guy’s problem.”

For the foreseeable future, “the other guy” will have to face this formidable U.S. advantage.

“We are so dominant in space that I pity a country that would come up against us,” said Maj. Gen. Franklin Blaisdell, director of space operations for the Air Force, eight days before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

The Bush administration is laying the groundwork to eventually expand and entrench that dominance.


I had earlier blogged about India’s collaboration with Europeans on the Galileo project, by pitching in $350 million. But even there, it faces some issues:

Specific to the Galileo Project, India’s major concern is access to the encrypted codes of the Publicly Regulated Service (PRS) which remains a sensitive issue for the EU. Indian officials were quoted as saying that “if we are putting in 300 million Euros we must have a say in the control of the satellite”. India of course is also looking to showcase its technical capabilities through such a high-profile programme and also to obtain lucrative contracts. The EU is holding out the carrot of collaboration in the Galileo Project opening up possibilities of further collaboration in high-tech areas.
Source: People’s Democracy

However, the game of space hegemony has a new challenge to face. The underdogs have teamed up — India has recently entered into collaboration with Russians to spruce up GLONASS.

GLONASSGlobal’naya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema — is a sad story, much like many other Russian space initiatives that were victims of the country’s economic meltdown. The GLONASS program has been under-funded by $102 million. Only 11 out of the 24 satellites are operational, rendering it virtually useless.

The collaboration with India has the following objectives:

  • Joint development of onboard equipment for geostationary satellites.
  • Establishment of an associated ground infrastructure.
  • Development of a combined receiver operating on signals from GLONASS and the overlay.

GLONASS and Galileo both aim to create a new global order in space. How would America react to these challenges is still unclear. May be they will upgrade their space warfare program. But the new players are surely going to prevent a single nation from using technology denial as a tool for diplomacy.

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