Report: U.S. Should Engage with Emerging Space Countries

Report: U.S. Should Engage with Emerging Space Countries

An analysis by three master’s degree students at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute argues that the United States should relook at its policy for engaging with emerging space countries in South America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

Current U.S. policies focus on preventing technology transfer, but “preclude a valuable avenue for the United States to relay space sustainability norms to the increasing number of actors that are just learning to operate in the space environment,” according to the report’s authors, Megan Ansdell, Laura Delgado Lopez and Dan Hendrickson. They presented their findings at a seminar sponsored by the Secure World Foundation (SWF) on Monday. SWF was a sponsor of the project.

The three looked at the space efforts of six countries in three regions: Brazil and Venezuela in South America, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa, and India and Malaysia in the Asia-Pacific region. The countries’ attention to and views about space sustainability, especially the principles espoused in the draft European Code of Conduct, was a particular focus of the study.

The authors concluded that those topics are not at the top of the list of concerns for most of the countries they studied. India is an exception in many respects since it has a very mature space program.

Delgado emphasized in her remarks that there is a need for the United States to engage with everyone, “not just the established space actors,” because everyone is impacted by the problems addressed by space sustainability. She cited space debris as a specific example.

Hendrickson said that most of the countries they studied may agree with the ideas in the Code of Conduct, but not the Code itself. He added that Nigeria, South Africa and Malaysia have made no formal statements about it, but are engaged in international forums where it is discussed. Venezuela, he said, is opposed to the fact that it is nonbinding, but accepts it as a first step towards a potential treaty.

The countries share both similarities and differences in their approaches to space activities, the authors said, and regional leadership is more of a driver than being part of the global “space club.” Regional coordination mechanisms exist in each of three regions that were studied, they said.

Building public support for investments in space activities is a challenge in some of these countries. Ansdell pointed out, for example, that “the vast majority of everyday Africans and a lot of their leadership” view space spending as “a waste of money or another corrupt government program because they don’t understand how to connect space applications to their everyday lives.”

A short version of the report is available on SWF’s website; a longer version will be posted at the Space Policy Institute website.

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