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Americas Space Conference brings together 6 nations to discuss research, development opportunities

By U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office U.S. Space Command

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In a historic virtual event, six nations of the Americas gathered to focus on coordination, cooperation and collaboration for space research and development opportunities.

The Americas Space Conference — co-hosted by U.S. Space Command, U.S. Southern Command and the U.S. Space Force — was a two-day event that aligned with the U.S. Department of Defense strategy of multi-national security cooperation and strategic partnership. 

Space defense experts from the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru participated in the conference, and though each nation has different strategies, there are natural overlaps, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Galen Ojala, USSOUTHCOM’s Director of Space Forces at Air Forces Southern.

“These overlaps are opportunities to solve challenges together,” Ojala added.

The participating nations coordinate efforts in regular bilateral agreements, but the conference was a way to identify challenges and opportunities in a multi-lateral forum, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Peter Atkinson, USSPACECOM’s Chief of International Engagements. This was vital as officials work to manage the growing number of bilats where it can be a challenge to share information with common partners with common interests.

The most recent bilat was between the United States and the Republic of Chile during a series of virtual Space Engagement Talks from Oct. 28-29.

“Space is a fundamental domain for the security and development of our nations and a relevant variable for the multilateral collaboration among the Air Forces of the American Continent,” said Chilean Air Force Maj. Gen. Francisco Torres, Director of Operations. 

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mike Bernacchi, USSPACECOM Director of Strategy, Plans and Policy, called the conference and subsequent conversation an opportunity to “grow and strengthen the great partnerships we have with each of you.” 

“Our space engagements are just the beginning of determining just how strong our future collaboration can be,” Bernacchi said to the participants Nov. 4. “By facilitating dialogue on the topics of space situational awareness, and cooperation and planning, partnerships with the commercial and civil space industry, these and future talks strengthen all our respective space programs and support the safe and peaceful use of space worldwide.”

Partnerships in Latin America are extremely important, he went on the say, and “I hope we can continue to deepen these relationships over time.”

In recognizing the extreme importance of space as a new, contested domain “where there are no sidelines,” this is one of the most transformational periods in the U.S. military’s history, Bernacchi said. The U.S. relies on allies and partners in daily operations, planning, and strategy development to achieve common objectives. In short, the United States cannot go at it alone in space.

“Space debris, of any result, does not stay in one place. It passes through the space traffic of all nations," Bernacchi said. "The only way to truly counter that is to dissuade, deter and establish norms of responsible behavior as we have for the sea, air and land domains."

Cooperation and coordination are defining attributes of space security and shared success in the space domain. The presentations on research and development during this conference were yet another example of where participants could partner, said U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. William Liquori, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Strategy, Plans, Programs, Requirements and Analysis.

During one of the sessions, Liquori emphasized the participating nations’ shared interest in space moving forward.

“The best part of this conference is being able to listen to your thoughts today and to recognize the path forward on how we can continue to work together as we venture into this new frontier,” he said. “As sovereign nations, we all have our own goals, our own objectives. But we do have shared interest in the ensuring access to, and peaceful use of the space domain.”  

More people throughout the world are understanding the importance of space to their everyday lives — including communication, navigation and weather forecasting — and it would be devastating for many people to lose these capabilities, said U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Bobby Schmitt, USSOUTHCOM’s Space Integrated Planning Element chief.

Peruvian Air Force Maj. Gen. Javier Martín Tuesta Márquez, head of the Space Agency of Peru, highlighted common interests from the participants with topics such as Space Situational Awareness, space weather and the use of satellite images to attend multiple needs, especially those related to humanitarian aid in case of disasters.

“The Americas have seen a surge of space activity," Ojala said. "Various civil and defense ministries actively operate and pursue additional capabilities across industry and academia for the good of their people and regional security. On a single overflight of Earth, their satellites support urban planning, crop estimates during COVID, law enforcement, environmental monitoring and territorial security.”

The Americas Space Conference was originally scheduled to take place earlier this year in Chile and again rescheduled for the 36th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Constraints set forth by the COVID-19 environment led officials to coordinate a virtual event to ensure these vital talks could take place.

Americas Space Conference revolved around the tireless search for the development of space capabilities and the consolidation of alliances in Latin America, Colombian Air Force Brig. Gen. Eliot Gerardo Benavides González, Commander of Human Resources Command, said.

These are extremely important "so that the five countries involved significantly improve access and exploitation of the space domain for the growth and well-being of our peoples," he added. "With a strong commitment to research, innovation, development in nanosatellites, artificial intelligence, propulsion and multiple areas of research across space."

Discussion during the first Americas Space Conference was guided by Dr. Thomas Cooley, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate chief scientist. Cooley is a flag officer-level technical civilian.

Officials expect that as the conference and regional space interest grows, participant numbers will increase. Representatives from Canada observed the conference to get a better understanding of the Latin American participants’ space goals and areas where interests overlap, Schmitt said, opening the door to more space integration between the United States, Latin America and Canada in the future.

"This event was extremely useful to equalize the diverse views of the Air Forces of the allied countries on important topics to be developed," Brazilian Air Force Maj. Gen. José Vagner Vital, Executive Vice President of Brazil's Space Systems Commission. "Common interests were identified and opportunities for joint actions were highlighted. Without a doubt, this event brought the prospect of a promising future for multilateral activities in outer space for the countries of the American continent."