22Nov2015

US And China Set Up ‘Space Hotline’

China

Several international initiatives are already in train to seal a space treaty to avoid a further build-up of weapons beyond the atmosphere.

 Washington and Beijing have established an emergency “space hotline” to reduce the risk of accidental conflict. As fears grow of an orbital arms race, we welcome the new communications channel between the US and China.

It’s kinda like the nuclear hotlines of the cold war, will serve as a diplomatic safety valve.  By sharing technical information, officials hope that misunderstandings can be avoided and problems quickly resolved.

Washington already has a space hotline with Moscow as a legacy of the cold war. China has ramped up the testing of weapons designed to knock out almost all US high-tech military capabilities by targeting the orbital networks they depend on.

In response, the US and Russia have also poured resources into fast-tracking their own space attack and defence platforms.

“China is developing a full spectrum of anti-satellite capabilities,” Frank Rose, US assistant secretary of state, told the Financial Times in an interview for an investigation into the new space race.

“They have done numerous tests . . . They view space as an asymmetric vulnerability of the United States. And if they can deny the United States, and its allies, access to space systems, they can gain military advantage here on earth. That’s fundamentally what this is about.”

Russia has been covertly conducting its own satellite-killing technology, said Mr Rose. “We’ve made it clear we don’t believe it’s in anyone’s interest to engage in a space arms race . . . But we’ve also made it clear that we will do what is necessary to protect the space assets of the United States . . . We all have a lot to lose.”

Amid the tensions, an urgent safety mechanism was required, said Mr Rose, pointing out the growing amount of potentially lethal space debris in orbit, as well as numerous undisclosed military satellite launches.

Developing The Background Work

“We’ve been doing a lot of work with the Chinese on this. Up until about nine or 10 months ago, we had to send notifications [of potential collisions, approaches or tests] to the Chinese via their ministry of foreign affairs. The chain would go from JSpOC [Joint Space Operations Center, at Vandenburg air base in California] to the Pentagon to the state department, to the US embassy in Beijing, and then on to a contact there,” he said.

“Hopefully, it would get to the right people in China at the right time.” Several international initiatives are already in train to seal a space treaty to avoid a further build-up of weapons beyond the atmosphere. However, security experts say the initiatives have little chance of success. A joint Russia-China proposal wending its way through the UN was not acceptable to the US, said Mr Rose, because it would allow “cheating” when it came to anti-satellite platforms.

International Space Station with China and US flags as a future possibility

An EU proposal, for a “code of conduct” in space, was having diplomatic “difficulties” but was closer to Washington’s position, he said. Patricia Lewis, research director at Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London, said: “This is a problem we have to address, not just for military reasons.

“Our societies are becoming more and more dependent on space. A conflict or accidental loss of some of these satellite constellations could be game over for us. They are critical to everything from cars, air traffic control to shipping and things you might not even realise — like gas pipelines or farming.”   Adapted: Science and Environment

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