PETERSON SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo. –
“The Third Space Age is here,” posed the deputy commander of U.S. Space Command. And it’s characterized by an intersecting conjunction of space sectors.
U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. John Shaw addressed attendees of the America’s Future Series “Cyber, Land, Air, Sea, Space” (C.L.A.S.S.) Summit during a virtual keynote address, Nov. 1, 2022.
The event’s program listed the names of two-days’ worth of speakers; leaders of civil, commercial, and national security organizations, a diverse line-up to suggest Shaw’s definition of the “third space age” is spot-on.
Shaw began his remarks by listing the catalyst of each sector’s transition into our contemporary understanding of space: for commercial, it was the development and application of reusable launch rockets; for civil, the return to the moon with an international team and an intent to stay longer; and finally, for national security: the presence of threats.
It’s due to the conjunction of these sectors, though, that society must navigate a new space frontier.
“The space domain of the First Space Age was similar to the Arctic Ocean,” Shaw said, of a far less complex space environment. “There were just a few platforms operating up there, mostly exploration and national security capabilities patrolling.”
“The space domain of the Third Space Age is more like the Mediterranean, packed with all sorts of actors of all different sizes from all different organizations and countries,” Shaw explained.
Space, like international waters, has evolved into a hub of activity for commercial assets, civil exploration, and national security operations. Historically, these isolated environments were regulated with military force, and as they became less expeditionary, the role of governance transferred to a civil authority with an enduring presence.
In the early days of our nation’s founding, the United States Navy was tasked with charting the shifting sands and currents of the Eastern Seaboard to avoid navigational hazards, a function that would eventually exist beyond the mission of the Navy and be handed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This historical context provided by Shaw not only expands upon the maritime analogies but helps clarify the recent memorandum of understanding between U.S. Space Command and the U.S. Department of Commerce concerning space traffic management and U.S. Space Command’s focus on Space Domain Awareness.
“Just as we allowed the Navy to focus on their primary [defense] mission, it’s an example of how we’re normalizing things and how we do governance in the space domain.”
Today’s space domain, as Shaw previously noted, is characterized by the presence of threats, originating from both natural and non-natural sources. And with the presence of commercial and civil assets from many nations around the world, all are better served and enabled by strengthened norms of behavior.
The future of space capabilities, Shaw asserted, depends on a space domain that’s transparent, protected, and secure.
“We all want and need commercial space to succeed. In all human endeavors, in the development of any frontier, there were exploration and security activities, but it was always economics and commerce that drove the engine of evolution and sustainment,” Shaw explained. “I think it’ll be the same for space.”
To Shaw’s point, it’s safety, governance, and the presence of commercial activity that take a frontier homestead to a sustainable metropolis.