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News | Aug. 3, 2021

Space Norms and U.S. National Security: Leading on Space Debris

By Philip Potter, George W. Foresman, and Michael C. Horowitz

It has been a busy few months for human activity in space. There is a new rover on Mars sending back jaw-dropping pictures and data. In May, a piece of debris from a Chinese rocket weighing 21 metric tons hurtled uncontrolled into the Indian Ocean. And Richard Branson just took matters into his own hands, flying to the edge of space on a Virgin Galactic spaceplane with Jeff Bezos hot on his heels.

Nearly 50 years after the end of the last space race, the competition is back. America’s well-known economic and military dependence on open access to space is being challenged. As stated in the 2020 U.S. Defense Space Strategy, “China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.” But even putting geopolitics aside, the complexity of a more crowded space environment increases the chances of collisions and miscalculations.

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