From the dawn of the Space Age in the 1950s, the United States has used space as a vehicle for the pro- jection of American power. The means used have ranged from reconnaissance satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to overt propaganda efforts such as the Apollo manned lunar project. Many other space pro- grams have helped the United States influence the behav- ior of other countries and thus contribute to American mil- itary and political clout the world round. Science projects have strengthened international ties and promoted cooper- ation, and commercial space efforts such as the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) have projected capitalist and democratic values into and through space.
U.S. space endeavors began at the peak of the Cold War with the Soviet Union in the 1950s, primarily as a counterpoise to a global communist threat. Throughout the Cold War, space programs grew because they continued to enhance American economic and military power and to project American ideology. With the end of the Cold War, these programs continue to enhance American might, and remain significant assets in the new battle against Islamist radicals worldwide. In this new struggle between two fun- damentally irreconcilable political and ideological systems, space assets likely will prove just as critical as they did in the Cold War.
According to Webster’s, power is the ”œpossession of con- trol, authority, or influence over others.” How influ- ence is best achieved, of course, has been debated by politi- cal scientists and philosophers for millennia. Military theo- rists have focused on the use of coercion to achieve the ends of the state. But coercion is only one way to proj- ect power. In many instances, persuasion can be far more effective. Coercion requires a tremen- dous effort, whether in fighting a schoolyard bully or a hostile nation. Victory usually goes to the stronger combatant, which means that com- batants serious about achieving victory must pre- pare themselves for the ultimate test. By contrast, persuasion is much more subtle and can succeed even when raw strength fails. Even rulers of the most vicious kind can seldom last long unless they can convince at least some of their citizens that their cause is just. Coercion of an entire pop- ulation is simply impossible without the help of at least some individuals who do not need to be coerced. Most of the time, persuasion governs the relationships among people and states. Coercion is a last resort for those few situations in which persuasion fails.
Whether projected by persuasion or coer- cion, the power of a nation-state stems from a number of sources. At one end of the spectrum is the material basis for power: ”œtechnology.” Deeply intertwined with the development and application of technology is the economic system of a society. Between them, the technologies and the economic system (what Marx called the ”œforces of production” and the ”œrelations of pro- duction,” respectively) determine how much the society produces, who within the society pro- duces what, and finally who receives and uses the products of production. Communism’s collapse was convincing evidence that state-directed economies are generally less efficient than capi- talist economies in which individuals and non- state organizations seek to fulfill their own needs. Simply put, ”œpost-industrial” society is far too complex for any state bureaucracy to understand and operate. Societies that are more efficient at allocating and distributing resources will in the long run be far more capable of producing the material goods needed for civilian and military uses than a heavy-handed state that attempts to regulate all facets of economic life.
The political system, which is related to, but not identical with the economic system, is also crucial. In complex societies the over-centraliza- tion of decision-making is less effective over the long term, which is one reason why truly demo- cratic societies have demonstrated more long- term stability than their more authoritarian alter- natives and enemies. Only with real representa- tion of the many interests within a society can its government meet the society’s needs over the long haul. In long-term competition between liberal democracies and authoritarian systems, liber- al democracies will almost invariably win.
Finally, the value-system or ideology of a society is a critical factor both in its long-term stability and its appeal to its own people and to others outside it. In this respect, numbers matter. Ideologies that have strong appeal to the vast majority of the population of a society (and to those looking at that society from the outside) will in the long term win out over competing ide- ologies that cannot claim such an appeal.
Societies not only need these pillars of power, they need the means to project them. For this they must use some combination of coercion and persuasion. Military and police forces are a society’s means to project coercive power. Persuasion is more subtle. We typically think of politicians and diplomats negotiating agreements between states. But the most persuasive means are often those that are not planned, particularly not planned by the state. Religion remains a force to be reckoned with, but just as powerful, if not more so, is the force of ”œmaterial culture,” spread through books, movies, radio, television, cloth- ing, food, technologies, and a host of other mate- rial and non-material goods. The great power of the West is exerted most frequently in the form of hamburgers, basketball shoes, movie stars, news broadcasts, and other symbols of material culture and individual freedom. It is not surpris- ing that the Soviet Union tried to isolate its peo- ple from these corrupting messages and products, and that non-Western countries frequently try to reduce or eliminate these influences today.
How do spacecraft assist with power projec- tion? To begin with, space assets are always either regional or global in reach. Spacecraft orbit the Earth either in geosynchronous orbit fixed above a specific Earth location or in other orbits that take them over many nations. In law, space is essentially treated like the open seas: there are no national boundaries (unlike in the atmos- phere). Space is therefore the ultimate ”œhigh ground,” useful in the same way mountains or towers are useful: as communication relays, geo- graphical markers, or vantage points to view loca- tions below.
The United States has always been the dom- inant space power, Sputnik and the early 1960s notwithstanding. Why has the U.S. placed such an emphasis on space, and how have these pro- grams benefited it? How have these assets helped to attain American goals and project American power?
The most obvious projections of American power are through military and intelligence sys- tems. American space efforts began with the development of ballistic missiles at the end of World War II, inspired by the Nazi V-2. Development went on in a desultory fashion from 1945 to 1953, when the advent of the nuclear fusion (hydrogen) bomb made intercon- tinental ballistic missiles a potentially effective weapon: the gigantic explosions from fusion weapons made accuracy, which the missiles had trouble achieving, less of a factor. From 1953 until their operational deployment in the early 1960s, ICBMs were a top military priority. The U.S. Air Force developed in rapid succession the Atlas, Titan, Thor and Minuteman missiles, while the Army concentrated on the Sergeant and Jupiter systems, and the U.S. Navy developed Polaris. Minuteman and Polaris, both solid-pro- pelled rockets, quickly superseded their liquid- propelled predecessors because they could be launched more quickly.
Liquid systems were more efficient, however, at lifting heavy payloads into space. From the first liquid propelled systems sprang the Atlas, Titan, and Delta launchers, which became the backbone of the American launcher industry from the 1950s to the present.
While the early ICBMs were under develop- ment, the Air Force and Navy also began studies of the military utility of satellites. Both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower had authorized limited aircraft overflights of the Soviet Union to gather intelligence about Soviet strategic capabilities. Eisenhower in particular realized that these were a stopgap: eventually the Soviets would develop weapons to shoot down even high-altitude air- craft like the U-2 (as eventually happened in 1960). Eisenhower’s back-up plan was to author- ize the development of a scientific spacecraft for the upcoming International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-58. If the U.S. were to be the first country to launch a spacecraft, Eisenhower want- ed it to be highly visible and transparently scien- tific in nature, gathering data for peaceful pur- poses. The USSR could hardly object that it would fly over its territory, particularly since the Soviets had committed themselves to launching a scien- tific satellite for the IGY as well, and this satellite would fly over the U.S.. In fact, if the Soviets launched first, Soviet objections became a moot point: the USSR itself would have initiated space overflights. The U.S. was therefore in no hurry to launch first, and the Soviets obliged by placing Sputnik I in orbit as the first artificial satellite. While this was a propaganda victory for the Soviets, it was an American strategic victory of the highest order, as it essentially opened space as a legally non-claimable realm in which the U.S. was free to fly reconnaissance satellites.
American determination to build a replace- ment for the U-2 led to the CORONA program, which after 12 consecutive failures finally achieved its first successful flights in August 1960. CORONA was a joint CIA-USAF program which Eisenhower placed under the control of the brand new, completely secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which was staffed by CIA and USAF personnel. Each Lockheed-built CORONA spacecraft lasted for a few days (later weeks), and returned one or two long rolls of film to the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington, where CIA and military analysts pored over the precious images. The Soviets publicly and privately protested the mis- sions, at least until their own reconnaissance satellite, known as Zenit, became operational in 1964. From that time forward, the two super- powers had at least one common interest in space: to ensure the survival of their reconnais- sance systems. This was a significant factor in the signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967, and of other space and ballistic missile treaties that enshrined both nations’ ”œnational technical means,” the euphemism for their reconnaissance programs.
Along with reconnaissance the NRO also began development of a weather satellite that would monitor weather over the USSR in order to better direct the CORONA cameras and conserve precious film. Not willing to wait for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a multi-use system, which in any case would have been incompatible with security con- cerns, the NRO contracted with RCA to create an inexpensive spin-stabilized, polar-orbiting weath- er satellite, which first launched in May 1962. The new system, ultimately called the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), eventu- ally formed the basis for the first civilian weather system operated by the National Weather Service.
CORONA provided targeting information, just as Khrushchev had feared, but knowing the position of targets in the USSR was by itself insufficient to ensure that a ballistic missile could hit the target. Uncertainties in the relative geo- graphic position of the United States to the Soviet Union for land-based missiles, or of the position of a submarine should the missile be launched at sea made accurate targeting difficult. In addition, variations in the Earth’s gravitation- al field modified missile trajectories from their ideal. So-called ”œgeodetic” satellites allowed for precision measurements of the Earth’s gravita- tional field, while early trajectory studies led to the notion of navigational satellites. As for sea- based launchers, engineers at the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University determined that if a satellite with a known tra- jectory could broadcast its position and the pre- cise time at many points along its path, this information could be monitored by ships at sea and used to calculate their position to within a few hundred meters. This information could in turn be fed into the Polaris’s guidance system for launch at targets in the USSR. Thus in 1959 the Transit program was born, with the first success- ful launch the next year.
Although Transit proved quite successful for slow-moving ships operating at sea level, it was inadequate for fast-moving aircraft or for land vehicles that changed elevations. In the 1960s, the Army, Navy, and Air Force all studied possible improvements to Transit, and in the 1970s the Global Positioning System (GPS) program was born, though it was only partially operational in 1991 when the Gulf War required all of its capa- bilities to maneuver ships, aircraft and land forces in the war against Iraq.
Nuclear deterrence works only if both sides have sufficient warning to ensure the launch of their ballistic missiles should the enemy try a first strike. The United States’ first system to detect ballistic missile launches was the ground-based Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), with huge radars in Alaska, Greenland and Britain. (Canada’s DEW line was built to defeat aircraft only.) To improve on this, the USAF also began studies in the late 1950s with Lockheed to detect ballistic missile launch- es from space by picking up the infrared heat signatures of the missile plumes. These studies led to tests of the experimental Missile Defense Alarm System (MIDAS) in the 1960s. Successful testing of MIDAS made possible the operational system, known as the Defense Support Program (DSP). Like the GPS system, DSP turned out to be useful for tactical purposes in the Persian Gulf War, detecting Scud missile launches from Iraq and then warning of the predicted target locations.
In the Gulf War, the American military and its allies found themselves without a significant communications infrastructure. Fortunately, they had a host of space-based commercial and military assets that could meet the need, if at times only barely. The military realized the potential utility of a global communications sys- tem right at the start of the space age, and began development of these systems immediately. Commercial systems developed at the same time, and the U.S. military frequently leased time on these systems, but because of specialized requirements like secure encryption, nuclear hardening and anti-jamming capability, it always needed its own systems for strategic and tactical purposes. Starting with the Initial Defense Satellite Communications Program of the 1960s, through the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) II and III pro- grams, these capabilities have grown through the years to handle increasingly high data trans- mission rates. Nuclear hardening and assured communication even in nuclear warfare are the responsibility of the Milstar system, and the U.S. Navy developed its own Fleetsat system for tacti- cal naval communication.
Technologies to destroy satellites or ballistic missiles have, of course, been more contro- versial than any of these other systems. Contrary to popular belief, both the USSR and U.S. have developed and deployed anti-satellite (ASAT) and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) technologies in the past. While the U.S. shut down its operational ASAT and ABM systems in the 1970s, the USSR continued to operate and improve its operational ABM system. Both sides have continued to research and test technologies for both types of systems.
The U.S. developed two ASAT systems in the 1960s, Programs 437 and 505. Operational in 1964, Program 437 placed two Thor boosters with nuclear warheads on continuous alert on Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean. The boost- ers could place the warhead to within a five-mile radius of the target satellite, and then detonate a Mark 49 nuclear warhead. In 1970, the program’s alert status was relaxed, and after a hurricane destroyed the launch facilities in 1972 it was shut down. The U.S. began experiments with other ASAT systems during the Ford administration, and has continued research since that time. A miniature ASAT system launched from an F-15 fighter was successfully tested in 1985. For their part, the Soviets developed their own ASAT sys- tems, primarily in the form of robotic satellites that could maneuver to destroy American space- craft. Soviet engineers also worried about the mil- itary potential of the U.S. space shuttle, and began to develop countermeasures for it, too, until the Cold War ended.
The United States’ attempts to develop bal- listic missile defenses are much better known than its ASAT systems. The USAF developed the first such system, known as Safeguard, in eastern North Dakota to protect ICBM silos in that region. Congress deactivated the bulk of the sys- tem in 1975””after a mere 24 hours of opera- tion””and it remains deactivated to this day, except for one of its radar systems. Less than a decade later, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan’s great concern about the lack of defenses against ICBMs led him to announce the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Despite great fanfare and billions of dollars of research and testing, the U.S. did not deploy any missile defense system in the 1980s, and by the 1990s the program had reverted back to more basic research. The Clinton administra- tion declined to either accelerate or cancel the research, and the issue has returned once again in the George W. Bush administration in the form of the National Missile Defense (NMD) program. With the recent announcement that the United States will withdraw from the ABM Treaty, it appears that NMD will be moving toward more serious testing, and possibly deployment to counter a limited missile strike from so-called ”œrogue nations.”
Overall, U.S. military space policy and tech- nical developments have followed a clear evolution. At the beginning of the space age, two concerns were paramount: creating the capability to deliver nuclear warheads on target to the Soviet Union and monitoring equivalent Soviet capabilities from space. Both goals were fulfilled and enshrined in practice by the mid-1960s. The issue of anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missile defense has blown hot and cold over the years, with research efforts continuing steadily but sys- tem deployments rare or even forbidden because of concerns about the proliferation of missiles and the risks to overhead reconnaissance assets. Bit by bit, military use of space has progressed from purely strategic to tactical applications, starting with weather monitoring, communica- tions and navigational signals. In each of these areas, tactical uses have proliferated, until by 2001 these systems were essential elements of tactical operations in Afghanistan.
Military power is a critical element in the new war against Islamist radicals, but the battle for public opinion and the competition of eco- nomic systems and political rights are even more important. Space assets are critical elements in the projection of American economic, political and cultural values, and therefore must also be considered important elements in the ideological war against terrorism.
The Eisenhower administration created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 to develop U.S. civilian space programs and to showcase American technologi- cal prowess in the worldwide propaganda war with the Soviet Union. The jewel in the techno- logical crown was the manned space program, beginning with project Mercury and continuing through Gemini and the Apollo manned lunar project. Manned missions have always held greater allure than robotic ones. There is the great danger involved with riding rockets into space as well as the adventure of real people traveling to an exotic location. Although NASA started the manned space race trailing Soviet firsts such as the first human in space in 1961, it overtook the Soviets by the mid-1960s, and definitively won the race with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon in 1969. The shuttle program and later the space station program had a number of other goals, but the element of national prestige has remained.
Another of NASA’s original goals was cooper- ation with other nations, so as to show the United States’ peaceful and beneficent intentions. Although the human space flight program has involved international cooperation””for example, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the Spacelab proj- ect for the shuttle program, and now the International Space Station””NASA’s science pro- gram has been a primary vehicle for space coop- eration with other nations. In the 1960s, NASA offered to launch two scientific satellites at no cost for each of its allies, which each of them duly took advantage of. On many other occasions, NASA has launched satellites as its contribution to a foreign scientific project, usually in exchange for access to their scientific data. In other projects, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, foreign coun- tries provide scientific instruments as their contri- butions to a joint project, or engineering compo- nents such as the thrusters provided by West Germany for the Galileo project. These joint pro- grams have often led to other scientific collabora- tions, which have improved relations between the participating countries.
Remote sensing has been another area for international cooperation, starting with the Tiros weather satellite launched in 1960. The U.S. has created a series of weather satellites that are now part of an international system of weather satel- lites whose data is shared across all countries. The U.S., Russia, Europe, India and Japan all con- tribute to global weather forecasting in this man- ner. The Landsat system is another U.S. endeavor with international reach. Foreign countries and organizations have been able to purchase Landsat data at a nominal price in order to investigate the use of land in their own countries and elsewhere.
Satellite telecommunication was the first application of space technology that involved significant private commercial interests. In the early 1960s, as early experiments showed the fea- sibility and potential profitability of satellite telecommunications, the Kennedy administra- tion had at least three major goals in mind. One was to promote U.S. economic competitiveness over other countries, including its Western allies. To do this, American leaders tried to ensure domestic control of the technologies involved and provide American corporations with the political and financial supports necessary to ensure their dominance. Second, the Kennedy administration wanted to prevent AT&T from extending its monopoly over Earth-grounded telephone service, and, third, it wanted capital- ism, not just governments, to be involved in the arena of space.
To meet these three objectives, the Communications Satellite Act of 1962 created the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat) to be the American entity that negotiated with other countries to create an international satellite telecommunications system. Comsat regulations ensured that 50 per cent of Comsat stock went to private investors and that AT&T could only hold a minority of shares. By contrast, other countries involved in the negotiations to create the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) usually had their national postal and telecommunications organizations control their countries’ shares. The United States was unique in creating a private corporation for the purpose.
Further privatization of space endeavors fol- lowed. In the 1970s, the U.S. government created regulations to govern the entry of other private companies into domestic satellite telecommuni- cations, and also participated in the creation of the International Maritime Satellite Telecommunications Organization (Inmarsat), another international communications consor- tium. The U.S. promoted the manufacturing and sale of telecommunications satellites to other countries and maintained control of Intelsat and its satellite purchasing authority until the 1970s. New domestic and international systems, both public and private, proliferated in the 1980s and especially the 1990s. By 2001, both Intelsat and Inmarsat had themselves been privatized, ensur- ing the dominance of private enterprise in satel- lite telecommunications. Capitalism has now been firmly established in space.
Communications satellites have also played a critical role in the spread of American culture. The inauguration of overseas television broad- casting in the 1960s led the expansion of American media, from television entertainment to news broadcasts. By the 1990s, direct broad- cast television via satellite had come to compete with cable television, offering hundreds of chan- nels of programming to subscribers. New news organizations like CNN came into their own through satellite and cable broadcasting and were able to compete with the older giants such as CBS, NBC and ABC.
The United States government has been much more reluctant to spread commercial practices into other sectors, such as space transportation, remote sensing and navigation. Foreign competition has been a significant incentive for the U.S. govern- ment to relinquish some measure of control to pri- vate entities in each of these sectors. In the 1970s and early 1980s, NASA tried to monopolize space transportation with the space shuttle system, attempting to put both U.S. private corporations and possible foreign competition out of business. In view of the shuttle’s failure to live up to its cost and schedule goals, the European decision to build the Ariane launcher to achieve independence from the whims of U.S. space policy seems to have been a wise one. The Challenger accident in 1986 fin- ished off NASA’s commercial pretensions for the shuttle, and the U.S. government finally allowed American corporations such as Martin Marietta, Boeing and Orbital Sciences to sell launch services directly to domestic and foreign buyers. The French SPOT system broke the U.S. Landsat monopoly on remote sensing. In the navigation sector, the European Space Agency is now in the early stages of building its own navigational sys- tem, known as Galileo. Foreign competition is now significant enough in each of these areas that the U.S. must balance national security issues with economic considerations. Put another way, the government must debate whether economic power or pure military power enhance U.S. capa- bilities and influence more.
The development of space technology has led, not only to commercial space capabilities such as telecommunications and navigation, but also to spinoffs in other commercial sectors. While the government wants spinoffs to enhance U.S. businesses, it would prefer that U.S. compa- nies, rather than foreign corporations or govern- ments, benefit from them. It must decide whether the openness that encourages U.S. com- panies to market space technologies into com- mercial sectors outweighs the danger that foreign organizations will use them for commercial and military purposes. NASA has created a number of Centers for Commercial Development of Space (CCDSs) explicitly to enhance technology trans- fer domestically. Foreign technology transfer is a different story. Since many space technologies are considered sensitive for national security rea- sons, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) come into play. Depending on the classification of space tech- nologies, the State Department or the Department of Commerce review exports. Since State tends to be much more restrictive than Commerce in its export policies, these classifica- tions and their consequences in terms of bureau- cratic review have significant influence on space technology sales to other countries.
The United States, both government and industry, spends far more on space projects than any other nation. It does so because spacecraft can do things that directly support national poli- cy and the commercial interests of private U.S. corporations. Their capabilities were critical in the victory over the USSR in the Cold War. From a military standpoint, ICBMs deterred Soviet aggression while reconnaissance from space monitored Soviet behavior. Although these mili- tary capabilities did deter the Soviets, the Soviet Union’s collapse depended on the spread of Western political values such as liberal democra- cy and the mixed economic system of capitalism and social welfare. Space systems were equally critical in broadcasting American values through cooperative programs in human flight and in sci- ence, and even more, through American televi- sion broadcast by satellite.
In the new conflict with Islamic fundamen- talism and terrorism, American military power has already been a key asset in assisting the Afghan resistance in overthrowing its repressive Taliban government. But war, to paraphrase Clausewitz, is simply politics by other means and it cannot be won with military power alone. The new conflict, just as much as the Cold War and World War II before it, is also a battle of ideolo- gies and of political and economic systems. If the battle is to be won, it has to be taken through the medium of communication technologies into the heart of the Islamic world to win over the minds of Islamic peoples to values of tolerance, human rights and economic prosperity.
Space assets are critical elements in the clash of cultures and values. They help to project U.S. military power and also communicate ideas essential to persuade Islamic peoples to fight ter- rorism and fundamentalism within their own countries. Since its inception in 1776, the United States’ most effective weapon has been its ideolo- gy of freedom and human rights. It is no coinci- dence that in recent wars the U.S. has won, the defeated nations””Japan, Germany, Italy and per- haps now also Russia””have become strong U.S. allies. To be effective, the U.S. will have to learn to target its unique cultural and political mes- sages to an Islamic audience with precision equal to that of its cave-busting cruise missiles. With a better understanding of those who now resent them, and using space systems as tools, Americans can win this new war and win new allies too, just as they have in the past.