Space activities are important for national security, particularly because of the importance of remote sensing technologies in collecting intelligence and data. Any weaponization of space presents obvious national security challenges. Safe and continuous access to space, as well as to launch sites, will be essential for obtaining essential information, such as that used to monitor military activities and climatic events, and to deliver humanitarian aid.
The use of space also poses unique legal issues, including when and how national laws may apply to space activities – for example, the application of criminal law in space and the challenges posed by the use and abuse of extraterritorial jurisdiction in outer space in general.
The demographics of space actors have changed rapidly since the end of the Cold War. There is now an expanding kaleidoscope of space activity in the Indo-Pacific region. For example, Indonesia has plans to build a (non-military) spaceport in Biak, an island in northern Papua. Notably, Indonesia’s geographical position on the equator makes it an attractive space launch location because the way the Earth rotates on its axis means that equatorial launches can produce additional velocity compared to higher latitude launches.
Biak is home to indigenous West Papuans who care about land acquisition and environmental management. This illustrates the interdependence between space and human rights, including when both business interests and human rights obligations are actively present and can be confrontational. Indonesian President Joko Widodo would have personally introduced Indonesia as a launch site to SpaceX founder Elon Musk. In November, Indonesia is set to host the Business 20 summit in Bali, which Musk reportedly plans to attend.
Australia and the rest of the world should not underestimate the strategic importance of Indonesia. It is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the largest in the world fourth most populous nation and 10th largest economy by purchasing power parity. It is the fulcrum linking the Philippines and the North and West Pacific to the northeast; the South China Sea directly to the north; and to the west, the Indian Ocean. It lies in the heart of the Indo-Pacific. As a strategically located emerging power, it is perhaps unsurprising that Indonesia is looking to expand its reach into space.
Australia itself has a rapidly growing commercial space sector which includes launch capabilities. In June, Equatorial Launch Australia successfully completed his first commercial space launch for NASA of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. It was also NASA first launch of a fully commercial spaceport. This was followed last week by a second successful launch for NASA from Nhulunbuy.
Other potential Australian launch sites that could be of strategic interest are being developed at Whalers Way near Port Lincoln in South Australia and at Bowen in northern Queensland. Australian Gilmour Space Technologies is would be close the first orbital launch of its Eris I launcher, suitable for deploying small satellites in orbit. All of these projects enhance Australia’s global competitiveness as a potential key player in Indo-Pacific space relations.
Elsewhere in the region, Thai start-up mu Space has opened the first spaceship factory end of 2020. Last month, South Korea satellites launched into orbit using its own rocket for the first time. Japan, already a great space nation, launched the world’s first mission to return samples from an asteroid in December 2020. Last year, the Japanese government signed an agreement with NASA on Lunar Gateway, an orbiting outpost with commercial and government partners. Launched in 2008, the Indian Chandrayan-1 confirmed the presence of ice water on the moonand India plans to land Chandrayan-2 on the moon in 2022 or 2023.
China released a white paper in 2021 on its space program, describing its mission âto explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and make China a space powerhouseâ as an âeternal dreamâ to be pursued âfor the benefit of all humanity; meet the requirements of economic, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress; and to raise the scientific and cultural level of the Chinese people, to protect China’s national rights and interests, and to enhance its overall strength.”
In the same year, China signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia establish a research station on the moon within the next two decades. Beijing is also the headquarters of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, whose member states are Bangladesh, China, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand and Turkey. The theme of the organization’s development strategy forum in 2015 was ‘Belt and Road Initiative to Facilitate Space Capabilities Building on Asia-Pacific Countries‘. It has since built a satellite data sharing platform.
For Australia, the rapid expansion of space activities in the Indo-Pacific region means ensuring respectful working relationships in the region, continuing to invest in our own space industry and deepening engagement in space diplomacy. It also means ensuring that our legal regimes both protect and enable our potential to play a leadership role in regional space relations.
Australia’s support of the Artemis Accords led by the United States is significant. Among other topics, the chords recognize “the need for greater coordination and cooperation between and among established and emerging actors in space”, “the global benefits of space exploration and commerce” and “the collective interest in preserving space heritage. They also affirm the principles of space law set out in the main international treaties governing space.
Australia has also strengthened its space relations with the United Kingdom. In February 2021, the two countries signed the Space Bridge Framework Arrangementwhich aims to create jobs in the industry.
Notwithstanding these broader international partnerships, it would be well for Australia to continue to develop as a regional and international player in space, in particular by remaining aware of the geographical and political importance of our neighbor Indonesia. and other regional players of growing interest. in the space sector.