An overview of space policies in 2010
China is becoming a serious competitor for traditional space powers. Its space activities have been more than prolific in 2010: 15 launches in total (2nd most active space actor with the US in 2010). Four new navigation satellites launched in 2010 will be ultimately integrated into an indigenous Beidou2/Compass navigation system, which is expected to be fully operational around 2025 with a 35 satellite-constellation. The PRC also launched three ‘Yaogan’ reconnaissance satellites, revealing Beijing’s willingness to control its own periphery and no longer depend on foreign remote sensing data. Furthermore, since its triple manned space missions (2003, 2005 and 2008) China has continuously banked on so-called ‘prestigious’ space programs. While its second lunar probe is successfully orbiting the moon since 2008, a third mission (“Chang’e-3”) is expected to land a rover on the lunar surface by 2013. China will also begin the assembling of a Chinese space station in 2011. Just a few days ago China and Russia announced the launch of their common Mars exploration mission for the last quarter of 2011 (1).
12 janvier 2011
India is also one of these new space actors. The Indian space agency, ISRO, saw its budget skyrocketing in 2010 (+35%; it doubled over the last five years), proving how high New Delhi’s space ambitions are. Despite the two failures (out of two attempts) of its medium-payload GSLV (2) satellite launch-vehicle and the delayed preparation of the GSLV-III heavy-launcher with its first indigenous cryogenic upper-stage engine, India has emerged as a new actor on the lucrative commercial launch world market. The PSLV (3) rocket, ISRO’s workhorse, reached this year a milestone by sending its 25th foreign satellite into orbit, boasting a positive record: 2 losses out of 17 launches since 1993. Its launch in April 2010 placed two satellites into orbit: an Algerian remote sensing satellite (built under ISRO-EADS Astrium cooperation) and a Norwegian ship-tracking mini-satellite.
India’s relative success on the small-payload launch market and its fledging space policy lures investors. It should not be surprising that both British PM J. Cameron and French President N. Sarkozy visited ISRO infrastructures during their state visit in India at the end of the year. Russian President D. Medvedev and U.S. President B. Obama also joined the bandwagon during their state visit and vowed to expand on their ties with the Indian space agency. The US President suppressed ISRO from the American “entities list”, a list created to boycott strategic entities after India’s 1998 nuclear tests.
As for 2011, ISRO announced the launch of the first Singaporean satellite in February and a much-awaited first test of the indigenous GSLV-III rocket (4).
China and India count on their economic growth to reduce the technological gap with the most powerful space actors, which have been constrained to review their space policies in the aftermath of the global crisis. From the US side, a significant event last year took form as the new National Space Policy formulated by President Obama in June (5). The former strategy of “space dominance” articulated by the Bush Administration sought to retain US control and hegemony over the space environment and avoid other entities to contest this authority. In tune with its non-aggressive diplomacy and under serious financial strains, President Obama called for more international cooperation with space allies (6). Earlier in February, he cancelled the onerous Constellation Lunar Program initiated in 2004 and pledged to develop robotic space exploration programs and invest on commercial launchers instead. The retirement this year of the historic Space Shuttle fleet will leave the US with no other choice but to rely on the Soyuz spacecraft for manned spaceflight (until 2015 at least).
In regard to exploration programs, the US will launch a Mars mission at the end of the year, which should carry a rover on the red planet surface in August 2012. As of January 2011, the Opportuniy Mars Rover is still sending signals back to Earth, but both the Phoenix and the Spirit Rover went silent in 2010 (7).
The European Space Agency, which enjoys the second biggest official budget in the world (€ 3.5 billion), achieved several space programs in 2010. It contributed to the International Space Station by sending a Node-3 module to the ISS (ESA constructed half of the pressurized modules of the Station). It also sent an Italian astronaut, Paolo Napoli, who will stay six months in the Station, which construction will be finalized later this year. Other notable events, ESA launched Hylas, a major broadband satellite, and GyoSat, an observation spacecraft, which studies the thickness of the Arctic Pole icecap (8).
In terms of commercial launch services, Arianespace reaffirmed its world leadership. Ariane-V orbited 12 of the 20 communications geostationary satellites successfully launched in 2010 and signed 12 contracts for future launches (out of 19 that were available in 2010). The 2011 agenda comprises six Ariane-V launches, but also Soyuz launches, as part of a broad cooperation program with the Russian Federal Space Agency. The contract also entails three launches from the Baïkonour Launch Site. Besides, Arianespace plans a 12th launch this year with the maiden flight of its Vega light launcher developed in partnership with ELV, an Italian industrial contractor controlled by the Italian Space Agency (9). Vega can be charged with small and multiple payloads and will complete the Arianespace vehicle family on the side of the heavy (Ariane-V) and medium (Soyuz) launchers.
2011 shall also mark the launch of the first in-orbit satellites dedicated to the future European Navigation Satellite System (GALILEO) (10). In 2010, the EU and the ESA opened the Fucino Galileo Control Center in Italy and the first Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) stations to monitor the satellites in Sweden (11). Late in December 2010 the EU ministers decided to place the Galileo headquarters in Prague. The Galileo Project suffered financial setbacks, which obliged officials to delay the launch of the satellites. Four In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellites will be orbited in 2011-2012, although the launch of the 14 Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellites will only start in late 2012.
The Russian federation was by far the most active space actor last year, boasting a total of 30 launches in 2010, twice as much as the US and China. Priority is given to the development of the indigenous GPS system, “GLONASS”, and the preparation of a new “Angara” rocket family (2-40 tons Low-Earth Orbit payload capacity) to be ready in 2013 (12). Despite the failed launch and subsequent loss of three Glonass satellites in early December, the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) announced that the 24 satellites of the navigation system will be fully active by the end of 2011 (13). Being prepared since 1993, Glonass will have a one meter accuracy rate, and world coverage. Today it only covers the Russian territory (14).
2011 will also see the launch of a Roscosmos Mars mission in partnership with the Chinese, so as to enable the landing of a rover on the Martian surface and the return of collected samples. Russia would be the first country to bring such samples back to Earth.
Amongst other space actors, it is worth mentioning that Brazil succeeded in orbiting and retrieving a rocket, seven years after the rocket explosion that killed 21 engineers and curbed Brasilia’s space ambitions. The Brazilian space program, the most advanced in Latin America, is bound to develop in the near future.
Japan continues to draw on scientific space mission (15), despite its limited space budget. In race with China and India for lunar exploration (the three countries already launched lunar orbiters and plan to set foot on the moon), Japan sent in May 2010 an orbiter to study Venus and retrieved one month later another probe that collected asteroid dust after a seven-year space odyssey (16).
A few years ago space was the private garden of only a handful of states, but the last decade witnessed the blooming of different space programs around the world. This trend, which is very likely to be reaffirmed in the near future, raises the need for tougher regulation on space activities. Two major sources of concern that have not been sufficiently targeted by international law are the militarization of outer space and the problem of space debris regulation. Ultimately, legal initiatives will be necessary to address these specific issues and harness the multilateral development of space activities.
(2)Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle
(3)Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle
(11)A second TT&C center is operational in Kourou
(13)22 satellites are already activated