While trying to understand the prerequisites for the epic clashes for the conquest of space – towards which Artificial Intelligence today stands as an alternative of sharing responsibility for the downward curve of resources still available on planet Earth – I am reminded of a book written more than twenty-five years ago by Paolo Cortesi, in which he analysed the real aims of the space race that started in the late 1950s.
At that time everyone was convinced (or at least they let it be understood) that a new era was opening up for mankind by reaching beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and onto the Moon. Everyone declared that the conquest of the Moon would have decisive consequences in the cultural and technological evolution of our planet. Decades after that day, we can verify how inaccurate the emphatic predictions of that time were. Unfortunately, mankind has not changed for the better, if not for the worse, and evolution has not taken any sudden turns except in the technological sphere. The Moon has become remote again, and between the 1960s and the early 2000s, it has been of much less interest than it was a hundred years ago.
The affair of the so-called conquest of space – space is quite another thing – is emblematic of the entire history of astronautics. It was an infatuation, an intoxication as intense as it was swift, instigated by the two hegemonic powers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union, which spent enormous amounts of money on it. The USA alone spent $24 billion on the programme that ended with the Moon landing. Just think that NASA’s budget for 1962 was set at $1.784 billion – and at the same time, the US aerospace agency had as many as 21,422 employees.
That dizzying investment was justified by scientific needs. As propagated, man was entering space. The era was beginning in which mankind would leave – at least ideally – the planet on which it had always been confined and astronautics would lead mankind to its full maturity. The reality of facts, however, was not like that at all.
Instead, the space race was an extension of the Cold War, but in the 1960s and 1970s saying so would have been seen as medieval blasphemy. It was preferred to present (sometimes impose) the heroic version of the Promethean man who wanted to wrest his dominion from the sky, the ultimate conquest of outer space. Westerners under the pretext that liberalism and capitalism would lead to everybody’s happiness; Socialists on their way to the bright future, the so-called sol dell’avvenire, from Heaven on Earth.
The truth was much sadder: Russian satellites were spying on the United States which, with the highly secret Corona project – the existence of which was only revealed in the late 1990s – had launched highly sophisticated photographic devices that observed the Soviet Union from above, etc.
All scientific rockets and launchers were conceived, designed and used for military purposes. Space became disturbingly crowded: on 30 April 1969, there were as many as 3,950 satellites in orbit. The Russian Cosmos satellites were launched as part of a vast new “space research” programme: this was what TASS declared – officially and very vaguely – on the occasion of the first launch (16 March 1962).
Nevertheless, if we consider the international political climate of the days when the Cosmos satellites were launched, we could discover very significant coincidences. The first Cosmos satellites were put into orbit when the Cuban crisis was breaking out and when it was tragically developing. In 1968, the monthly average of launches increased in conjunction with the Sino-Soviet crisis.
In March 1969 as many as six launches took place, and it was in that month that the bloody clashes between the Soviets and the Chinese along the Ussuri River for the conquest of Zhenbao Dao Island (Russian: Damansky) took place. In the following months, launches became routine, but in June, when there were clashes on the Western border of the People’s Republic of Mongolia, there was a close launch of five Cosmos missiles. When talks began between Kossighin and Zhou Enlai, the number of satellites put into orbit decreased to only two per month.
The parallelism between satellites and international events was too timely to be a coincidence. As has always happened in technocratic civilisation, the external, journalistic, popular aspects are filtered by an oligarchy of politicians and military to conceal the real aims – i.e. control, conquest, preparation for war, orders placed to friendly companies.
In the pioneering years of space travel, military spending was a bottomless pit that swallowed up rivers of money: in 1962, $121 billion of the time was invested worldwide in armaments; in 1967, the amount rose to $197 billion and in 1970 to $240 billion. The arms-astronautics intertwining was indivisible.
In 1961 the US Air Force signed a contract with Raytheon for the wartime use of globular lightnings (high-energy spherical plasmoids). Besides this shady flip side of the coin, there is another secret story of astronautics. It is the story of unreported tests, of hidden and denied failures, of top secret flight anomalies, of reticence and absurdities. Even today many truths are unknown to us. Despite the great changes that have taken place in recent years, the two superpowers’ archives are still far from being open and transparent.
Nevertheless, we can now less naively reinterpret an era that is our closest past, but which now seems almost alien to us, absolutely remote and sometimes incomprehensible.
The militarisation of space, however, has an older history than Moon landing. From 4 October 1957 to the summer of 1964 – that is, in just seven years – 235 artificial satellites were launched into space, 95 of which were still in orbit in July 1964: 74 American, 18 Soviet, two British and one Canadian. In addition to these devices, 328 fragments of rockets and spacecraft were orbiting the earth, almost all of them US-made. A large part of that space fleet was made up of military satellites, about which the strictest secrecy was kept, with all due respect to the usual idealists who believed that technological progress was for the benefit of mankind. In fact, at least half of the rockets and satellites that were launched in the early years of space travel were intended for an unhumanitarian purpose, i.e. to spy on the enemy and to put into orbit nuclear warheads capable of crashing on targets which, in that case, were not barracks or forts, but cities populated by hundreds of thousands of defenceless human beings.
In the 1960s, the two superpowers’ military spending was colossal: in the US budget for 1964/1965 it amounted to $55,211 million (note that the total expenditure was $97,900 million and therefore the military budget was well over half of the entire national budget). The “defence” item affected the US public finances according to the following figures, expressed in millions of dollars:
1962/1963: $52,800 million
1963/1964: $55,300 million
1964/1965: $55,200 million.
Of these amounts, the spending for the space race was the following:
1962/1963: $2,600 million
1963/1964: $4,400 million
1964/1965: $5,300 million.
As can be seen, investment was steadily increasing. The noble thirst for pure knowledge alone would obviously not be enough to justify and impose such substantial funding. Space was the new “battlefield” on which the two hegemonic blocs were confronting each other. We have not yet official figures available on Soviet space expenditure. A figure provided by the West is very eloquent: the Sputnik programme alone cost the Soviet Union 48 billion dollars each year (1961 data).
For more than a decade space travel was the large use of public money for the obsessive “national security reasons” that replaced scientific purposes, thus making astronautics a truly perfect example of what governments mean by the magic word technology. It is no coincidence that all the first astronauts, namely Gagarin, Glenn, Titov, Cooper, Carpenter, Leonov and White were officers of their countries’ armed forces.
In the early 1960s secret satellites were like a swarm of midges orbiting the Earth. It goes without saying that the word “secret”’ here is synonymous with “military”. The United States (about which we have more information) launched those satellites from the Vandenberg base in California. Almost all the launchers used in those years were Thor-Agena, a 19-metre high missile that developed over 68,000 kilos of thrust. Between 30 October 1963 and 8 October 1964, there were six secret US satellites. Much more hectic activity took place in the first four months of 1966.
Between January 1 and 26 April 1966, 36 spacecrafts were launched, 13 of which were secret US satellites. They were very often spy satellites, which had the task of photographing military installations of the Soviet Union and of other countries considered “unfriendly”. There were, however, also several satellites that carried radioactive material on board, both for batteries and for undeclared uses. These real nuclear bombs wandered around the Earth, posing a real danger not only to spaceships but also to life on the planet: a radioactive satellite crashing to the ground is not much less devastating than a nuclear warhead. But the delusional imagination of militarised technicians went even further, designing apocalyptic scenarios of real war in space, with apparent lucidity and rigour. President Reagan’s Space Shield or Star Wars (Strategic Defence Initiative-SDI) was only the subsequent step.
As early as 1959, the American De Seversky wrote: “Air power and space power are synonymous. Space above the Earth is the natural domain of the air force, which shall conquer the air and space domain in any future war by a well-coordinated and carefully conducted offensive by means of aircraft, missiles and, where necessary, satellites and spacecraft”.
In 1961, the French “Revue militaire générale” wrote that after the first phase of the warlike use of satellites, as observers to spy on the enemy’s moves, “a possible fight that takes place entirely in space may soon follow”. Bearing this in mind, for instance, the US “Air University Quarterly Review” of the summer of 1959 dealt with the Moon’s military potential in a series of articles. The articles mentioned a US Air Force officer, Homer A. Boushey, who – as early as 1958 – had argued for “using the Moon as a missile base from which a retaliatory strike against the Soviet Union could possibly be launched”. General Boushey’s most demonstrative and convincing points were as follows:
“From the power viewpoint, it should be recalled that we must remember that 1/5 or 1/6 of the power required to perform the reverse operation is sufficient to launch a projectile from the Moon to the Earth. The Moon has the advantage that whoever is in the highest position has, according to old military tradition. A missile launched towards the Earth from the Moon can be observed and guided from the moment of its departure until the moment of impact. The opposite is not true.
A missile attack launched from the Earth can be observed from the Moon 48 hours in advance of the missiles’ arrival, which allows for a response. The Moon is a base of unparalleled value for retaliatory operations. If we had a base on the Moon, both in the event that the Soviets launched a powerful nuclear attack from Russia against the Moon two or two and a half days before attacking US territory (and such attacks would not escape observation), and in the event that the Soviets attacked the US directly, Russia could not escape our sure and massive retaliation that would reach it 48 hours later.” That Dr. Strangelove-style proposal was appropriately commented by physicist, Prof. Lee DuBridge, who recalled a very important platitude that – in his eagerness to line up nuclear warheads at the edges of lunar craters – General Boushey had missed: “If you dropped a bomb from the Moon on an Earth target, the bomb would take five days to reach the Earth. It would probably arrive when the war is already over”.
Then the following statements were made to try to remedy this: “It is therefore possible to consider elements of Moon potential in terms of psychological and technological warfare, as well as the development of new military doctrines. It is also possible to think of the Moon as a site for limited wars. The unconventional considerations made in this article are encouraging, as they may suggest a good investment of capital”. Fortunately, at that time there was not (nor is there now) sufficient capital to finance the establishment of even a small terrestrial military base on the Moon.
Military astronautics projects are a good illustration of certain mental paths: science and technology are docile servants of political expediency, which very rarely agree with the welfare and well-being of the peoples in whose interests they purport to rule. The Able Project of 1966 is a fine example of this. The Marshall Space Flight Centre in Hunsville, Alabama, developed a missile programme that aimed to put a 600-metre diameter mirror into orbit. That huge reflective surface would be positioned and tilted in such a way as to constantly reflect the sun’s rays onto Vietnam, to deprive the Vietcong guerrillas of the cover of darkness and make them easy targets at all times. Moreover, that “unlimited artificial day” would have destabilising psychological consequences on the enemy. The Able Project – which today appears to us as the ridiculous nonsense it was – kept Marshall’s engineers hard at work for months, under the direction of Edward Gray, a senior NASA official. NASA is a non-military government agency. The fact that it has been involved in wartime projects, such as the Able Project, says a lot about the alleged separation of civil and military bodies.
The early years of space travel are among the most mysterious of our century. Secrecy was the constant factor of tests, the military component of which was played down in a contrived atmosphere of scientific pioneering, fine words and bursts of science fiction bliss. Even the United States of America, which presented itself as the champion of freedom of information, crowded space with secret satellites. It was easier for the Soviet regime to work without being accountable to the public. Many of the Soviet space launches were never officially declared, and some rare news of them was learnt from the US intelligence services. In June 1963 NASA released a document based on observations collected by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). That document listed some space failures that the USSR had never admitted.
A spacecraft, launched into orbit on 25 October 1962, exploded and shattered into 24 metal fragments that orbited the Earth. The first of those wrecks disintegrated by friction in the atmosphere on 29 October. The last fragments continued to gravitate around the Earth until 26 February 1963. On 12 September 1962 (still according to US sources), the Soviets launched a PHI 1-7 satellite, which, however, fell back to Earth only five days later. A BXL 1-5 spacecraft was launched on 4 November 1962 and disintegrated sometime between 5 November and 19 January 1963. On 4 January 1963 three artificial satellites were launched from a Soviet missile base, the first of which remained in orbit for only a few hours and the other two until 11 January 1963. These episodes can never be part of the “official” history of space travel, because they never existed officially.
As much as it repulses the public today, the missile tests of thirty years ago were conceived and conducted without the slightest actual control by the citizens who paid out of their own pockets for the huge expenses of the space race. Scientists and the military – and they were often one in the same – designed tests without regard for their ethical aspects. Is it morally acceptable to intervene on the entire planet just because you have the technical means to do so? Is it lawful (or only reasonable) to alter the balance of the planet by compromising it for tens of years or perhaps centuries? In a delusion of technological omnipotence, magician-scientists imagined reshaping the Earth, like – for example – certain Soviet scientists who, in early 1961, planned to create a belt of potassium particles around the globe. They were to place 1.75 million tonnes (sic!) of potassium, at an altitude of 1200 kilometres, between 70° and 90° north latitude. That potassium cap would serve to “increase the solar intensity on Earth”. Soviet scientists evidently assumed that the planet’s evolution was incomplete or inaccurate, if they believed to be entitled to create something that had not been missed over billions of years. Fortunately, some projects were so megalomaniac as to be unworkable. Others, unfortunately, were not: we have already seen the case of the stratospheric nuclear explosions in the United States of America.
Speaking of nuclear explosions, it is interesting to examine one which, although it does not directly concern space travel, is a fine example of how little the experts’ certainties are reliable and how gigantic the imbecility of power can be.
In the autumn of 1968, the United States of America detonated a thermonuclear bomb called the “earthquake bomb”, the most powerful it had ever made. Its destructive power was equal to that of 1,200,000 tons of TNT, i.e. 60 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The device was detonated in a cavity dug 1,200 metres deep in the Nevada desert. Experts had predicted that the seismic wave produced by the explosion would propagate within a radius of 400 kilometres. Instead, it exceeded 600 kilometres and was felt with terror as far as Salt Lake City, Utah, where skyscrapers swayed as if under invisible colossal hammer blows. Seismographs jumped as far as Los Angeles, and twelve “natural” earthquake tremors followed the tremendous explosion, which left a crater 90 metres in diameter and 20 metres deep. It would be interesting to know the purported reasons for that explosion, which cost several million dollars, whose only consequences were the devastation of the deep soil and its radioactive contamination. In the 1960s, however, technocrats and the military believed they were finally all-powerful.
Like spoiled, paranoid children, the new sorcerer apprentices had convinced themselves they were improving the world. In order to do this, they put Dr. Mabuse-style tests into practice.
On 9 May 1963 an Atlas-Agena rocket left Point Arguello, California, and its mission was described as secret. Only later would the USAF reveal that it placed 400 million copper needles in orbit around the Earth, forming a belt 40,000 miles in circumference at an altitude of about 2000 miles.
As the usual experts assured us, that planetary cloud of copper needles would be used for world-scale communications tests. The duration of the belt was expected to be about five years, after which it would dissolve without a trace. To date, we do not know if, how and when the needle mass was destroyed. However, knowing the so-called technicians’ infallibility, we could honestly have some doubts about the planned outcome of the test.
Nowadays, while – on the one hand – the technological advances recorded during the so-called scramble for outer space have ensured that the superpowers can spy on each other without many problems, on the geopolitical scene we are witnessing a transition from the bipolarism defined by the Cold War to the multipolarism of the current international space community.
As discussed in the book “Cyberspazio e Intelligenza Artificiale fra Occidente ed Oriente” (Cyberspace and Artificial Intelligence between East and West), which will be presented on 2 March at La Sapienza University in Rome (https://youtube.com/live/7-uVU5p3xfI?feature=share), interest in reaching the Moon not only through human missions but also through stations equipped with robotic means has had a revival with the new millennium.
Their promoters include not only States, individually or jointly, but also private entrepreneurs, especially in the United States of America.
Since 1969, with the presence of many players intent on demonstrating their technological capabilities, space has become an economic, political, military and perhaps even purely scientific centre of gravity, whereas in the early days – as examined above – science was only an incidental optional.
Considering the above, the following can be inferred: technological independence – understood, in this case, as having a comprehensive space programme available – is a sign of international prestige and an element to assert one’s political and economic leadership. High technological development is a driver of economic development, solidity, dynamism and industrial competitiveness.
The US leadership in the space sector is currently witnessing a surge in the People’s Republic of China through very fast technological development and the use of reverse engineering. Many Chinese missions show the high level of development achieved by China through a mix of cooperation and competition. Some believe that while, on the one hand, China has often reaffirmed its propensity for cooperation, on the other it also demonstrates that it turns the technical-national benefits of its space programmes into geopolitical influence.
We can add some convincing ideas to the above points I have tried to highlight in my recent book: space is the new element of competition and States’ interest in the sector could give rise to a reorganisation of international relations on a global level. The new role of international cooperation is defined, since if we have to look for new energy resources, we cannot make them come after a star war that first defines a winner-take-all, not least because in the event of a war very little would remain of our planet. New mechanisms of collaboration and division of the raw materials that are up there shall therefore be developed. Hence space diplomacy is certainly already in place, beyond the European terrestrial conflicts that concern issues that could have been settled long before. Nevertheless, the faint-hearted and fearful EU that had a duty to take action has done nothing about it except for hollow words and arms sales.
Let us go back to what we were discussing.
The renewed call for the “reconquest” of the Moon is obviously associated with the identification of the old protagonists, new States, national space agencies and international organisations, and new players that we will examine later.
The so-called privatisation of space is present in the US reality and is linked to budget restraint, which has forced NASA to outsource rocket and probe design to independent laboratories linked to it, as well as universities and companies with recognised know-how in the sector. Private companies operating in the aerospace sector are also present in other countries, but in the United States of America the capabilities and skills have been strengthened to such an extent that it is capable of developing its own space programme, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace and Eric C. Anderson’s Space Adventures. Anderson.
In any case the return to the Moon is the first step on a path to explore other parts of the solar system. At the moment the Moon appears to be closer, apparently only three days’ journey from the Earth. For the sake of comparison, Mars is almost a year away – just to say that Man’s “conquered” space is nothing compared to real space, but it is much in proportion to the raw materials we can extract from it.
The Moon provides an excellent base for truly scientific tests and should serve as a stimulus for advancing the technological and engineering capabilities of the nations involved.
Furthermore, the additional incentive for space exploration is the possibility of mining on the Moon and on various celestial bodies in the solar system to obtain fundamental minerals and other raw materials. It is hence easy to infer that the advocates of commercial space exploration consider mining a key factor for future missions.
We also need to consider the concrete feasibility of the aforesaid exploration given the very high costs of reaching the Main Asteroid Belt, extracting resources and transporting them to Earth, considering that the largest of them, Ceres, can be reached in about 28 days (259,195,741 kilometres at the closest point), using the fastest unmanned spacecraft ever built, which has reached about 400,000 km/h.
The incentive for investment and projects must also come from the legal instruments defined by some countries, i.e. the creation of an international space law, a new terra nullius, which is even better regulated than what has been instead developed for Antarctica.
Hence the new space race is really interested in the aspect of developing adequate regulation to facilitate the establishment of a climate of co-partnership, from a commercial and entrepreneurial viewpoint, among the players who would like to move towards the new frontier. The potential exploitation of space resources therefore opens up issues that require an agreed solution within the international community as soon as possible.
The aforementioned legal instruments – which we hope will give rise to a well-defined regulatory regime – could, however, stimulate the emergence of national regulations which, in the regime of freedom granted by the Outer Space Treaty – UN General Assembly Resolution 2222 (XXI) of 16 December 1966 – would end up triggering a dangerous race towards more favourable regimes for private investment and initiatives. Hence the need for a true international space law!
Moreover, given its proximity to the Earth, the Moon is well suited to become an experimental laboratory – but a laboratory to which every country can have access, and not only superpowers or private individuals with a lot of money. There are renowned scientists not only from the United States, Russia and China, but also from many other countries that have the right – and we have the duty – to ensure that they draw on these technological resources. A laboratory as a place where to live and prepare missions for the colonisation of Mars, the exploration and exploitation of the Main Asteroid Belt, and human missions to reach even more remote areas.
We must not forget that the Moon could be a source of water and oxygen extraction, as well as minerals such as titanium, aluminium, iridium and even some rare earth elements such as neodymium, although the most important lunar resource seems to be helium-3.
This gas produced by the solar wind and accumulated on the Moon’s surface over billions of years is present in very large quantities. It would be a good clean fuel for nuclear fusion reactors, as its use would produce a negligible amount of radioactive waste. In this regard, we should recall the complex regulatory framework in place for the exploitation of lunar resources, which provides for exploitation only for the benefit of mankind, and includes a whole series of limited activities to be carried out on the soil of our satellite.
In spite of the many failures of some missions not only to the Moon, but also directed elsewhere, and the awareness that the enterprise is not easy, the main reasons that drive the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, and some countries of the international community to attempt a return to the Moon in the near future are apparently – and hopefully in reality – technological and scientific in nature.
The challenge is the development of technologies that – repeating what happened in the past – will accompany the advancement of new architectures to keep a next-generation space station in orbit that facilitates less expensive exploration than in the past. Moreover, as pointed out above, the presence of the station on the Moon would also facilitate missions to Mars. Finally, returning to the Moon could contribute to a better and more comprehensive understanding of the development of the entire solar system.
The previous shelving of lunar missions and the development of public-private partnerships in this sector have given rise to the so-called new space economy in the United States of America. It will see a greater presence of private players, more so in the United States, as in China and Russia these activities are controlled by the respective States. By supporting and financially backing lunar missions, these private players will reduce the costs borne by the public administration, as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s examined above. Furthermore, the sector will witness the development of start-ups and venture capital enterprises engaged in this field.
Finally, space resources are attractive to the private sector. We refer to those present on the Moon, as well as asteroids.
The new era of exploration – Moon exploration, at first, and later space exploration in its entirety – needs to be enhanced and made known to the general public properly and adequately so that the global community realises the positive impact these missions have on everyday life.
Artificial Intelligence will handle all this, including trips to the solar system with non-human but robotic crews.
Science & Technology
New discoveries and advances ranging from the BRICS countries to Israel, Japan and South Korea
In the previous article we discussed new discoveries and scientific advances ranging from the United States of America to Russia, Great Britain, Germany and Finland. In this article we will look at breakthroughs in further countries.
For the first time the Hayabusa 2 probe of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) has brought back gas from asteroid 162173 Ryugu (the orbit of which is close to that of the Earth) discovered in 1999. The mission was launched on 3 December. On 27 June 2018, the probe reached the asteroid orbiting it at a distance of about 20 kilometres. After about one year and a half of measurements and surveys, the probe began its manoeuvres to approach the Earth on 13 November 2019, carrying the samples collected on Ryugu‘s surface in a capsule. On 6 December 2020, the capsule containing the samples collected on the asteroid re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere to land in the Australian desert, while the Hayabusa 2 probe continued its mission by heading into deep space to reach the 1998 KY26 asteroid.
The analysis of these gases may reveal the history of the aforementioned celestial body and help scientists further clarify the history of the solar system as it evolved. Japanese scientists detected more than twenty amino acids in the samples collected by the Hayabusa 2 probe. This is the first evidence of the existence of amino acids outside of Earth and has important implications for understanding how these vital organic molecules arrived on Earth. The analysis of the samples also showed that water on Earth may have been brought by asteroids from the outer edge of the solar system. The latest research unravels the mystery of how the ocean formed on Earth billions of years ago.
Scientists at Hokkaido University discovered that essential pyrimidine nitrogen bases (found in nucleic acids) – which make up DNA and RNA – may have been brought to Earth by carbon-rich meteorites. The research team analysed three of these meteorites and, in addition to the compounds previously detected in them, the aforementioned pyrimidine bases, such as cytosine and thymine, were found for the first time in concentrations of parts per billion. The research results show that this type of compound can be produced by a photochemical reaction and reach the Earth via meteorites, which may play an important role in the genetic function of the first manifestations of life on our planet.
Let us turn to Brazil, which is the only country in the Southern hemisphere which masters aerospace technology, with satellites, rockets, vehicles and launch sites. The Brazilian government places space activities at the top of its priority development agenda. Space research carried out by the Agência Espacial Brasileira focuses mainly on Earth observation, communication and meteorology. At the same time, Brazil is also strengthening the construction of infrastructure and the training of human resources for such studies.
The People’s Republic of China is an important aerospace cooperation partner of Brazil. The aerospace departments of China and Brazil actively implement the Cooperation Plan 2013-2022 of the National Space Administration of China and of the Brazilian Space Agency, respectively, and continue to expand into satellite exploration, manned spaceflight, including deepening studies in the field. There are plans to build a new cooperation platform in the areas of space technology, space applications, space science and ground equipment, personnel training, measurement and control support, as well as launch services.
In Brazil the China-Brazil Space Weather Joint Laboratory and the Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia started a new cooperation at the beginning of April 2022. The two parties jointly established tools and equipment for scientific research and implemented data sharing. The collaboration succeeded in bringing the remote city of Santarém (Pará State) onto the map of an international sensor network for space meteorology research. It is also the latest tool in the South American magnetometer network shared between the Chinese Meridian Project and the Estudo e Monitoramento Brasileiro do Clima Espacial (EMBRACE).
In terms of international cooperation, on 25 May 2022 the BRICS countries (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) established the Joint Space Cooperation Committee, which officially opened the joint observation and data sharing of the “constellation” of remote-sensing satellites of these States. The “constellation” consists of six existing satellites from the BRICS countries. Carlos Moura, director of the Agência Espacial Brasileira, said that the creation of a virtual “constellation” of remote-sensing satellites between the space agencies of the BRICS countries and the establishment of a data-sharing mechanism will help address the challenges faced by human beings such as global climate change, major disasters and environmental protection.
In Israel, too, the promotion of lunar satellite exploration and of private aerospace innovation has achieved remarkable results. As early as 2022 Israel has increased its support for the private aerospace industry and has achieved a number of notable technological advances concerning space. On 6 January 2022, the Israel Innovation Authority announced a grant of six million dollars to eleven private aerospace companies for the development of new space technologies. The above-mentioned companies cover many technical fields such as the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e. the so-called “smart objects”. We are not just talking about computers, smartphones and tablets, but above all about the objects that surround us in our homes, at work, in cities, in our everyday lives. The IoT was born right from the idea of bringing the objects of our everyday life and experience into the digital world.
Israel, however, is also developing the space construction of small satellites, new materials, lunar oxygen production, advanced sensors and Hall thrusters. Over the next five years, IIA plans to fund USD 180 million to continue supporting the development of the private aerospace industry.
Last year the Israeli defence company Rafael launched a “constellation” of high-resolution, high-revision satellites. The image resolution is less than 30 cm. At the same time, the revision time of the ground-based target of less than 10 minutes can be achieved by drawing the orbit of the “constellation”. Pictures of the same ground-based target can be continuously taken at intervals of several minutes. Furthermore, the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s Ofek satellite programme won the Israel Defence Award 2022. In 2020 Israel had launched the Ofek-16 satellite, which is the programme’s third-generation satellite, weighs approximately 300-400 kilograms, and has an orbital altitude of 600 kilometres. All Ofek satellites are launched by the Shavit carrier rocket from the Palmachim air base in Israel, on the Mediterranean coast.
The Israeli non-profit aerospace organisation SpaceIL is preparing to launch the country’s second lunar probe in 2024 or 2025. The plan will carry multiple lunar experimental devices: the first experimental project was defined in late August 2022 and its content was to test the stability of drugs on the moon, under the responsibility of scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In October 2022, the Ben-Gurion University of Negev and the Queensland Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology (QASMT) created a research group that announced they would use a probe to conduct tests on plant growth on the Moon.
Meanwhile, France is investing in the construction of the Internet via satellite. Last year the French company Thales, together with the US company Qualcomm and the Swedish group Ericsson, planned to connect smartphones directly to satellite communications via small groups of satellites around the Earth over the next five years, in order to provide 5G coverage in areas not covered by terrestrial antennas, thus providing a service that lies between satellite telephone systems and satellite Internet providers such as Starlink. The project plans to invest eight billion euros. Thales will build the satellites; Qualcomm will supply the smartphones and Ericsson will install the terrestrial core network. This project has led to a shift from competition to cooperation between telecommunications and satellite companies in the field of networks.
In terms of space planning and investment, in September 2022 France held the International Astronautical Congress in Paris and announced that it would invest over nine billion euros in space from 2023 to 2025 for the development and expansion of the space industry.
At EU level, the European Space Agency (ESA) held a Summit last November and decided that the budget for the following three years would be EUR 16.9 billion, a 17 per cent increase, but less than the EUR 18.5 billion requested by its Director General. The funds are mainly provided by Germany, France and Italy. The new funding allows the continuation of the European programmes on Ariane 6 and Vega launchers, while enabling Europe to participate in the global competition for small launchers. The EU will also provide support for Moon and Mars probes in order to expand cooperation with the United States of America in Moon and Mars exploration.
In the Republic of Korea (South Korea) the second test launch of the domestically produced Nuri rocket successfully placed several satellites into orbit on Tuesday, marking an important step in the efforts to restart its space programme after the failure of an initial test in 2021.
At 4 pm on 21 June 2022, the Korean rocket was successfully launched from the Naro Space Center on the country’s Southern coast. A 162.5 kg satellite designed to test the rocket’s performance successfully made contact with a base station in Antarctica after entering orbit.
On 30 November 2021, the South Korean government had released the fourth basic plan for space development, proposing five main tasks relating to the development of the space industry, i.e. expanding the scope of space exploration; sending manned spacecraft; developing the South Korean space industry; overseeing and supervising space security issues; and conducting space-related research.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has clearly stated his State’s intentions to land on the Moon in 2032 and on Mars in 2045. Some South Korean academic circles, however, have called this into question, as the Republic of Korea’s talent pool, budget, and technical level in the aerospace sector cannot objectively support the expected effort.
Science & Technology
CPC: Promoting the digital Silk Road and the Long-Term Goals of 2035
At the Two Sessions in China 2023, China renewed its pledge to intensify efforts to attract and utilize foreign investments, vowing to expand market access and ensure national treatment for foreign-funded companies. We should point out that the Two Sessions are expected to be a valuable opportunity to promote the building of the “digital Silk Road”. There are many changes have been witnessed in China’s foreign investment in the past few years, so the Two Sessions meetings have planned to promote the construction of the digital Silk Road in China in the upcoming days.
The (Recommendations of the CPC Central Committee on the Formulation of the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for National Economy and Social Development and the Long-Term Goals of 2035) adhering to the implementation of expanding opening up to the outside world on a larger scale, in a broader field, and at a deeper level based on China’s market supremacy to “promote international cooperation and achieve mutual benefit and win-win”.
The Issuance of the new version of the “Encouragement List of foreign investments” is an important measure that expands the scope of foreign investment and helps raise foreign investment confidence. Through the guidance of the “encouragement list of foreign investments” can flow into areas that meet China’s need for high-quality development, and promote the formation of a new development pattern in which domestic circulation is the main ingredient and domestic and foreign dual circulation reinforce each other. This indicated China’s progress towards attracting foreign investment to areas of high-quality development, and meeting the domestic demand for the establishment of the new order of an open economy at a higher level.
After the amendments to the Law on Encouragement and Attraction of Foreign Investment in China, the total number of “China Foreign Investment Encouragement List” has increased to 1,235. We find that these amendments embody the demands of improving industries, upgrading them, and harmonious development between regions, and encourage foreign funds to flow into the advanced manufacturing sector and the modern service industry, and encourage foreign funds to flow into western and central China. Among the newly added investment fields, there are advanced manufacturing fields such as (artificial intelligence and digital technology), in addition to areas related to people’s livelihood such as modern logistics and information services.
Preferential policies are what foreign investors are most interested in. According to the “China Foreign Investment Encouragement List”, the foreign-funded enterprises can invest in more areas, as well as enjoy a series of preferential policies.
The Issuance of the “China Investment Encouragement List” is conducive to stabilizing the expectations and confidence of foreign investors, and is conducive to the stabilization of foreign trade and foreign investment. At the same time, it will give continuity and stability to the “policy of reassurance” for foreign-invested enterprises operating inside China.
The meetings of the two sessions also emphasized the importance of the digital silk road in strengthening China’s strength. Since the announcement of the establishment of the Digital Silk Road in 2017, the leaders of the Communist Party of China have worked to enhance cooperation with countries along the Belt and Road Initiative in the field of technology, including sectors (digital economy, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things).
Now, Huawei Chinese Company, which controls about 30% of the global communications infrastructure market, was able to obtain 91 contracts from different cities around the world to develop 5G networks.
Alibaba Cloud, affiliated to the Chinese e-commerce giant company, is also one of the most active companies within the Digital Silk Road. The company works with many countries in digital technology investments and artificial intelligence and in several related fields, including providing solutions for smart cities.
Today, China wants to employ the rapidly growing digital economy and reap its benefits, especially as this economy has the ability to empower disadvantaged regions and their populations in a way that was impossible in the past. Chinese digital trading platforms or social networks such as “Taobao”, “JD.com” and “WeChat” have changed the way companies operate in these countries, bringing new opportunities and innovations, and this has had a noticeable positive impact on some of the poorest communities, which were Previously besieged due to its geographical isolation.
The meetings of the two sessions 2023 affirmed the importance of the “digital economy” and the companies operating within it have become a powerful driving force behind reducing rural poverty in China. At the 2015 G-20 Hangzhou Summit, after an impassioned speech by Chinese President “Xi Jinping”, members agreed that the digital economy can have great potential for development outcomes. The ambition is that there can be synergy between the countries of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially when we combine the digitization of the Silk Road with the Sustainable Development Goals. During the 2016 World Internet Summit, nine countries launched an initiative to develop cooperation in the field of digital economy among countries along the Silk Road, and the Chinese Road has acquired a digital dimension since then.
To this day, the economic cooperation based on information and communication technology and the application of other new technologies in the countries of the Belt and Road Initiative is called the “Digital Silk Road” to achieve development goals. In this context, the Secretary-General of the Organization, António Guterres, said at the opening of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation: “While the Belt and Road Initiative and the 2030 Agenda differ in nature and scope, sustainable development is the overarching goal. Both seek to create opportunities, global public goods, and win-win cooperation”. Both aim to deepen connectivity across countries and regions: connectivity in infrastructure, trade, finance, policy, and perhaps most of all, people-to-people”.
The meetings of the two sessions this year 2023 stressed the need for the Digital Silk Road to be compatible with the ambitious national goals of the Chinese authorities such as “Made in China 2025” and “China Standards 2035.” These initiatives aim to enhance domestic technological innovation and production and transaction capabilities in China, and at the same time. These goals are part of a comprehensive vision of the Chinese government to enhance its presence in the world of technology and achieve greater independence in the global digital system. The meetings of the two sessions 2023 stressed the need to reduce the dependence of the Chinese state on other technology leaders, especially the United States, Japan and selected European countries.
In Conclusion, China’s Digital Belt initiative helps many Chinese tech giants and smaller players in the sector boost their domestic sales and relationships and gain a foothold in overseas markets for digital technology, with the help and facilitation of the Chinese government.
Science & Technology
iCET: The Arc of Instability in South Asia
On 22 May 2022; the U.S. President Joe Biden and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of a new India-U.S. ‘Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET)’ to elevate and expand the strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the two countries. On 31 Jan 2023; in the inaugural meeting of National Security Advisors of both countries, Jake Sullivan along with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval formally spearheaded the initiative on defense and emerging technologies — what NSA Sullivan called “a strategic bet” on the relationship between the two democratic partners.
According to a White House fact sheet, the two leaders believe that India and the U.S., being two democracies with common values and respect for human rights, should shape the way “technology is designed, developed, governed, and used” to enable “an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem, based on mutual trust and confidence, that will reinforce our democratic values and democratic institutions.” The two countries reaffirmed their dedication to removing regulatory obstacles and welcomed new bilateral initiatives and cooperation between their governments, businesses, and academia. They also highlighted the importance of business and talent mobility in both countries.
Some of the key technology sectors identified under the initiative include defense, semiconductor supply chains, space, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Moreover, the initiative also identified areas such as biotechnology, advanced materials, and rare earth processing technology. There is an emphasis on finding ways to engage in co-development and co-production while underlining the importance of “innovation bridges” in the key technology areas through expos, and workshops. Additionally, there are plans for long-term research and collaboration on maritime security and Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) operational use cases.
A joint Indo-U.S. quantum coordination mechanism involving stakeholders from industry, academia, and government to foster research and industry collaboration have also been established. There are also plans to coordinate and develop consensus and ensure multi-stakeholder standards that are in line with democratic values. Moreover, advancing cooperation on research and development in 5G and 6G, facilitating deployment and adoption of open radio access network (Open RAN) in India, and fostering global economies of scale within the sector were also among the major endeavors in the stated initiative.
In terms of their closer partnership, both countries intend to see India get rid of its reliance on Russian arms. Though this remains questionable that how much benefit or technology the U.S. is willing to share with India notably in fields such as high-tech and defense, as Washington is also worried that India will develop into another threat by virtue of rapid development after China.
Besides; iCET would help invigorate the decades old partnership between the two states, has set up a range of ambitious goals, which means a great deal for India and in advancing the economic growth, creating jobs and help address the emerging challenges of the 21st century, including health, energy, climate change, cyber, defense and security.
The recently announced partnership has the potential to interrupt and disrupt the volatile security architect of the South Asian region. Most significantly; Pakistan and China are the two states in the Asian region to be at the receiving end of this initiative. It is being observed that Indo-U.S. strategic relations in one way or other have always impacted the security calculus of the region. Whether its Indo-U.S. defense agreement/contracts, nuclear deal, technological cooperation, or space endeavors, both states have contributed in altering the strategic dynamics of South Asian region broadly. The iCET is going to further compound the situation.
China in response to the announced initiative has called it off by claiming it as ‘same bed, different dreams’. China believes India is willing to ramp up its ties with the U.S. to advance technology and attract more funding to replace its position in the global industrial and supply chains. On the other hand, to rope in India, in Washington’s perspective, it has to cater to what the country wants, also will help in promoting the very agenda that puts India as part of “friend-shoring,” only then India can become a supply-chain alternative to China. In short; U.S. expects India to work for maintaining a balance of power in this region as per U.S. choices and demands.
Pakistan has not officially responded to iCET but obviously the increasing interest and cooperation between U.S. and India is likely to impact Pakistan in terms of defense, economic, political and external relations, therefore disturbing the balance of power in the region. This will undermine efforts to encourage Pakistan to play a more constructive role in the region. With the U.S. as a powerful actor in the international system, India has started to readjust its foreign policy by aligning itself and to work closely vis a vis strategic interests of the United States. Mutual strategic alliance between the two can place Pakistan in an uncomfortable position, thus likely to be marginalized in security calculus of U.S. The strategic initiative might be fruitful for the two states but has the potential to increase the asymmetry in the balance of power among pugnacious South Asian rivals.
In response to the evolving threatening environment in response to iCET initiative, there is a need for a broader framework on regional security where there is a need for U.S. to be more constructive and justified in its dealing with the two important South Asian countries; Pakistan and India. In words of Winston Churchill, ‘the price of greatness is responsibility’. The U.S. being a great power must show responsibility by managing to minimize the long standing conflicts in South Asia through dialogues and table talks. Though such a dialogue process is a long shot with the emerging regional scenarios in the current times but discussions involving the stakeholders would definitely yield qualitatively different conversations on regional security.
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