A congressional spending bill has added $61 million for the U.S. Space Force toward setting up a surveillance network — or “highway patrol” — to track the domain between the Earth and the Moon.
Nation-states and commercial companies will fly nearly 100 missions, both crewed and uncrewed, to the Moon by 2030. As the cislunar region fills with satellites and space junk — there are at present an estimated 27,000 piece of human-made objects larger than a softball in orbit — the Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS) will track and identify all man-made objects a combination of optical and radar sensors — critical for mitigating potential collision risks.
“The responsible use of space and unfettered access to space domain awareness ensures collision avoidance, on-orbit logistics, communication, navigation and maneuvering, all critical to the United States and allied space commerce, science and exploration,” states a video produced by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory that can be viewed here.
Some critics warn that the intrusion of the armed forces into cislunar space represents a potential usurpation of NASA and militarization of space. Military strategists say the stakes are too big to leave cislunar space to the civilians, and the Pentagon will be compelled to take on a major role. China, which has plans to build a lunar base, cannot be trusted to pursue only peaceful aims, and could use its space program for both economic and military advantage, Politico says.
“Power abhors a vacuum,” said Peter Garretson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and space strategist who is now a senior fellow in defense studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “You should expect that other actors will act in ways that favor their interests to the exclusion of others.”
The Space Force says it is interested for now only in developing “domain awareness,” which requires “demonstrating technologies that will ensure we can sense and make sense of anything happening beyond [Earth orbit], a spokesman said in a statement. But the statement added this:
As our nation reaches farther and farther into space, the U.S. Space Force must be prepared to protect our nation’s interests and provide the capabilities needed for security and stability wherever that may take us.”
As Politico says, “The battle is on for the moon.”