NATO will launch its first strategy for space this week as the alliance heads beyond the skies to defend against the likes of China and Russia. As concerns grow about the possible militarization of space, alongside more mundane worries about debris orbiting the Earth, allied defense ministers will sign off on a policy framework.
The aim is for NATO to make space a full operational domain, alongside land, sea, air and cyber, perhaps as early as the alliance summit in London in December, diplomats say.
"Space is part of our daily lives, and while it can be used for peaceful purposes, it can also be used for aggression," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. "Satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponized. Anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications, so it is important that we are vigilant and resilient."
NATO has tried unsuccessfully to craft a policy in the past, most recently in 2011-12, but officials point to fresh impetus now as space becomes "more congested, contested and competitive." Around 2,000 active satellites currently orbit the Earth, along with half a million pieces of debris, 30,000 to 40,000 of which are capable of damaging a satellite. Hacking, jamming and harassing communications and spy satellites are also becoming increasingly important tactics in space. In Oct. 2017 a Russian satellite approached a French-Italian satellite in a move Paris later denounced as espionage, and the U.S. and China have demonstrated similar capabilities.