The war or battle for space is well underway. The need for resources will only escalate and technology is allowing for countries to fight for space.
The world’s most worrisome military flashpoint is arguably not in the Strait of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, Iran, Israel, Kashmir or Ukraine. In fact, it cannot be located on any map of Earth, even though it is very easy to find. To see it, just look up into a clear sky, to the no-man’s-land of Earth orbit, where a conflict is unfolding that is an arms race in all but name.
The emptiness of outer space might be the last place you’d expect militaries to vie over contested territory, except that outer space isn’t so empty anymore. About 1,300 active satellites wreathe the globe in a crowded nest of orbits, providing worldwide communications, GPS navigation, weather forecasting and planetary surveillance. For militaries that rely on some of those satellites for modern warfare, space has become the ultimate high ground, with the U.S. as the undisputed king of the hill. Now, as China and Russia aggressively seek to challenge U.S. superiority in space with ambitious military space programs of their own, the power struggle risks sparking a conflict that could cripple the entire planet’s space-based infrastructure. And though it might begin in space, such a conflict could easily ignite full-blown war on Earth.
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Offensive space weapons tested
The prospect of war in space is not new. Fearing Soviet nuclear weapons launched from orbit, the U.S. began testing anti-satellite weaponry in the late 1950s. It even tested nuclear bombs in space before orbital weapons of mass destruction were banned through the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967. After the ban, space-based surveillance became a crucial component of the Cold War, with satellites serving as one part of elaborate early-warning systems on alert for the deployment or launch of ground-based nuclear weapons. Throughout most of the Cold War, the U.S.S.R. developed and tested “space mines,” self-detonating spacecraft that could seek and destroy U.S. spy satellites by peppering them with shrapnel. In the 1980s, the militarization of space peaked with the Reagan administration’s multibillion-dollar Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed Star Wars, to develop orbital countermeasures against Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. And in 1985, the U.S. Air Force staged a clear demonstration of its formidable capabilities, when an F-15 fighter jet launched a missile that took out a failing U.S. satellite in low-Earth orbit.
It goes hand in hand with this.
A sample of soil from the rim of Camelot crater slid from my scoop into a Teflon bag to begin its trip to Earth with the crew of Apollo 17. Little did I know at the time, on Dec. 13, 1972, that sample 75501, along with samples from Apollo 11 and other missions, would provide the best reason to return to the moon in the 21st century. That realization would come 13 years later. In 1985, young engineers at the University of Wisconsin discovered that lunar soil contained significant quantities of a remarkable form of helium. Known as helium-3, it is a lightweight isotope of the familiar gas that fills birthday balloons.
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Small quantities of helium-3 previously discovered on Earth intrigued the scientific community. The unique atomic structure of helium-3 promised to make it possible to use it as fuel for nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun, to generate vast amounts of electrical power without creating the troublesome radioactive byproducts produced in conventional nuclear reactors. Extracting helium-3 from the moon and returning it to Earth would, of course, be difficult, but the potential rewards would be staggering for those who embarked upon this venture. Helium-3 could help free the United States–and the world–from dependence on fossil fuels.
What is helium-3?
Helium 3 (He-3) is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron.
Its presence is rare on Earth, but it is sought after for use in nuclear fusion research. It is also used in MRI scanners and in sensors to detect smuggled plutonium.
Helium 3 is abundant in the moon’s soil by at least 13 parts per billion (ppb) by weight.
The gas, he estimates, has a potential economic value of $3 billion (£1.78 billion) a tonne, making it economically viable to consider mining from the moon.
According to experts in the U.S., the total estimated cost for fusion development, rocket development and starting lunar operations would be about $20 billion (£11.8 billion) over two decades.
China is interested.
The objects worth fighting a war in space are closer than you think.