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Inventing Outer Space: Creating the regulatory ecosystem

Lucy Mason
Apr 25, 2024

The space sector is an exciting and growing area. New technologies are transforming the ways in which we use and benefit from outer space. In the near future, we could start to build new capabilities in space to generate solar energy for Earth, manufacture novel drugs and medical devices in low-gravity environments, develop massive, supercooled data centers utilizing the natural properties of the space environment, and perhaps in the next few decades start to create off-world human colonies.

But all this relies on ensuring that outer space is a peaceful place where the environment is protected. Space is a fragile environment, and one which we don’t fully understand as yet: we will need to develop future capabilities thoughtfully and with regard to the interests of the wider global community and, of course, future generations of humans. It would be deeply irresponsible to allow a ‘goldrush’ mentality to irreparable destroy parts of the space environment, or for reckless overcrowding to lead to so much debris that some orbits become too dangerous to operate in. Every decision we make could constrain future decisions: for example, future interstellar comms relies on leaving ‘lines of sight’ to transmit data.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good system in place to ensure that these decisions are made collectively and with a view to balancing multiple interests for the wider good of people living on this Planet now, and in future. While the Outer Space Treaty 1967 is excellent as far as it goes, it is not legally enforceable and already coming under serious strain from multiple actors as the space ecosystem becomes more diversified. The United Nations leads on international space co-operation, but there are growing tensions between US, China and Russia, despite what has been historically constructive collaborations between the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency on the International Space Station.

So how can we ensure that the regulatory ecosystem supports the innovation we want to see in space?

Firstly, we will need complete international co-operation to address the security challenges that we all face in space, so that no country can operate unilaterally in space without considering the needs and interests of others. Outer space is a global common and no part of it can be owned by any one nation: we will need to apply models and legal principles developed for comparable ‘international waters’ in maritime and aviation to ensure that there is ‘space traffic control’ to prevent accidents and that different uses of space are well managed. This will need the mutual development, alongside the technology, of flexible regulatory and governance regimes as well as agreed frameworks for dispute arbitration.

Secondly, we need to address the cybersecurity and resilience challenges of an increasingly integrated and AI-enabled space/Earth infrastructure to support future telecommunications and data services. Criminals are alert to new opportunities and often ahead of law enforcement in exploiting them. The challenges of law enforcement in space are also considerable! Already there have been instances of GPS jamming, and there is the potential for using lasers to dazzle spacecraft as well as the potential for satellite hacking or hijacking. Technology needs to be developed with security in mind from the outset, and cutting edge software solutions and encryption deployed as standard to minimize any security vulnerabilities.

Finally, developing and deploying secure and reliable mature capabilities in space will need a secure global supply chain. This needs to be end-to-end from source materials and manufacturing through to integration, trade and exports, deployment, in-use protection, and retiring/recycling assets, including addressing potential people risks such as corporate and state-sponsored espionage. The space sector depends upon electronic and semiconductor components needed as well in other sectors, and is vulnerable to a loss of supply. Basic principles of good security such as managed access controls to restrict and manage information appropriately should be standard, and more people in the space sector need security clearances to understand and better manage the threats.

The future of space is far too important to leave it to chance, or to blind market forces. We need to act now to collectively ensure that future space is secure, safe and well managed, so that everyone can benefit from the opportunities space offers.

Meet our authors

Lucy Mason

Director for Innovation, Capgemini Invent UK
Prof Lucy Mason FRSA is a Director at Capgemini Invent leading on emerging technologies and innovation, especially in the defence, space and security sectors. She is the founder and former Head of the Government’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) which finds and funds innovation to create novel defence and security capabilities. Her interests include the threats and opportunities posed by AI and machine learning, the internet of things, quantum technologies, futures thinking, and the implications of technologies for people and society. Lucy is a Visiting Professor at Cranfield University, Chair of the Governance Board for the Security of Digital Technology at the Periphery (SDTaP) programme (formerly PETRAS), and Chair of the SPRITE+ Advisory Board. She is a member of the Advisory Boards for the Common Mission Project and CREST Research. Lucy was a former civil servant between 2009 – 2019 and has a doctorate in archaeological science.

Mark Chang

CEng, FRAS, MIoP, MINCOSE, PhD (Astronomy Instrumentation)
Mark Chang is a Director at Capgemini Invent, both leading the UK Space Sector business and shaping the company’s Quantum Technologies capability. He has led or been part of many international satellite missions teams from the UK and the USA, covering different stages from design, build, test to deployment, operations and end-of-life activity. Notable projects he has been part of include the NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope, ESA’s Sentinel 5 Precursor and EarthCARE missions. Motivated to bring innovative capabilities into service to transform the way we live, Mark is also an advocate for neurodiversity awareness and inclusion activities, with the intent of bringing together the best of our society.