The intact recovery of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has dramatically improved the economics of commercial activity in space, but it has fundamentally changed the worldwide military balance of power by launching the militarization of space.
Founder Elon Musk said on SpaceX's website, “A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.” Given his estimate that it only costs $200,000 to fuel a $60 million Falcon 9 missile, SpaceX ability to reuse its missile probably cuts the cost of launching payloads into space by 80 percent, even after missile recovery and refurbishment costs.
SpaceX’s accomplishment reinforces Stratfor Global Intelligence’s recent argument that ‘The Battle to Militarize Space Has Begun.’ SGI warns that “as existing technologies proliferate and new developments provide greater access to space, Cold War frameworks for the peaceful sharing of Earth's near orbit will erode.”
SpaceX's Falcon 9 precision intact rocket landing after an orbital flight is the breakthrough technology that will facilitate the militarization of space. By radically bending down the cost curve for launching and providing maintenance to space-based weapons and manned bases.
Space was first militarized by Germany's World War II advances at the Peenemünde Army Research Center. The development and launch of V-2 ballistic missiles that crossed the Karman line — 62-mile altitude boundary that separates Earth and space before plummeting down on their targets.
Manned and unmanned space launches were a key Cold War competition as the Soviets and Americans sought to dominate the battlefield “high ground.” Intercontinental ballistic missiles were designed to project an arc that temporarily went into space before returning to to deploy re-entry vehicle warheads aimed at terrestrial targets.
Without the technical advances to develop, position and provide maintenance to space-based weapons and manned space stations, there was real fear in the 1960s that a space orbiting weapon might accidentally explode and then rain down nuclear debris onto the Earth. This made it easy for the U.N. to get signed treaties deeming anything in orbit as in international space, and anything not orbiting as in national airspace.Despite substantial technical advances, President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed Star Wars, was highly criticized. Reagan considered it was his duty to stage orbital kinetic laser weapons platforms integrated with ground-based tracking systems to defeat an enemy ICBM attack.
Offensive space-based weapons platforms were never installed. But Reagan’s initiative led to the satellite-based C4ISR communications and surveillance infrastructure orbiting in space by the early 1990s. Coupled with the technical development of precision bombs, the U.S. military achieved command and control military omnipotence. before the start of the 21st Century.
The U.S. developed the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system to attack ICBMs in their mid-space flight trajectory to make sure that no other power could compete with America. GMDs employ the exoatmospheric kill vehicle”, which separates in space from its booster and maneuvers to collide with an incoming projectile. The technology did not violate U.N. treaties, but integrated with C4ISR was key to maintain military dominance.
America's reliance on space-based GPS satellite systems and the deterioration of existing regulations now make the militarization of space inevitable. China, Russia, Israel, Japan and some NATO allies all have advanced military space-based capability. The U.S. is vulnerable to a potential military adversary disabling our interlocking space-based systems, and then executing a physical a missile strike with the U.S. military potentially suffering an information blackout.
Following a series of missile test that have improved their effectiveness of firing a ground-based anti-satellite weapons and potentially stationing satellite hunter/killer platforms in space, China is the biggest threat to U.S. military's orbital systems. Such advances risk neutralizing the U.S. C4ISR infrastructure advantage.
With militaries around the globe racing to militarily expand, occupy and dominate space, the justification of treaty structures set in place decades ago are expiring. The Pentagon on October 30 began talking about “space control,” which is an admission that the U.S. has the ‘Star Wars’ technical capability and now has the political will to step beyond the boundaries of the U.N.’s ‘Outer Space Treaty.’
The coming resource exploitation across of broader solar system will be a major driver for military competition in the future. With no clear precedents for ownership, occupy territory on planets will create the equivalent of homestead rights.
This rapidly approaching space gold rush explains why SpaceX CEO Elon Musk repeatedly talks about the colonization of Mars as being not just important for NASA pioneers (military), but also for ordinary people.
The United States of America has leaped forward by a decade in the competition for military balance of power and will soon commercial grab control of planets and space resources.