SWF Discusses the Pros and Cons of "Guardian" Satellites and Space Zones of Control

Monday, March 2, 2020

SWF Director of Program Planning Dr. Brian Weeden participated in a workshop on "Working Smarter with America's Spacefaring Allies" organized by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security in Washington, DC, on March 2, 2020. Dr. Weeden took part in a panel discussion on the pros and cons of space zones of control and bodyguard satellites for defending against hostile rendezvous and proximity operations in space. Dr. Brian Chow took the pro position, arguing that RPO posed a considerable threat to U.S. national security space capabilities and that both bodyguard satellites and declaring zones of control around important satellites are critical to defending U.S. interests in space.

Dr. Weeden took the con position, pointing out the limitations of using RPO capabilities for hostile attacks from both orbital mechanics and the inherent technical challenges and how the media often misreports or exaggerates the actual threat. Dr. Weeden argued that zones of control do not have a strong legal grounding and at best are useful for helping identify potentially hostile threats and determining the rule of engagement for responding to such threats. On guardian satellites, Dr. Weeden argued that they have limited utility and at best could be used to improve space situational awareness, make it more difficult for an adversary to get close to a protected satellite, or carry countermeasures to confuse targeting systems. 

A transcript of the debate can be found here.

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Last updated on March 24, 2020