The government’s clandestine military research agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), rarely announces its plans, usually shrouding its projects under layers of secrecy. But last week, the historically ominous agency revealed a new partnership with NASA and an initiative, the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS), by which the federal government will begin sending space robots into orbit around the Earth.
The initial and ostensible purpose of these robots is to repair and service costly space satellites. However, defense officials acknowledge that as we venture further into an era of space militarization, it is increasingly likely that such robots could be used to sabotage enemy satellites.
A recently released National Security Strategy statement confirmed this:
“Any harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital U.S. interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.”
In other words, the Pentagon is prepared for war in space. Sending robots into orbit to service billion-dollar satellites may only be the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.
The project comes on the heels of new efforts by both the government and private contractors to streamline and innovate the spaceflight industry.
It also follows in the wake of “disruptive” efforts to commercialize national security space business ventures. Last month, while speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, took aim at the Pentagon, which he characterized as in need of a “shakeup” in its national security space programs.
“My biggest fear is that in a couple of years people will forget Matt Damon and ‘The Martian’ and be back where we were before,” Kennedy said, adding that a joint effort between DARPA and commercial ventures could be the “savior.”
Kennedy pointed at upcoming efforts, such as the robotic servicing of geosynchronous satellites, or RSGS, as important and not something that should be outsourced to the Air Force.
“We have to get out of today’s culture of treating satellites like a Rolls Royce or Ferrari, that they have to work for 15 years, so you’d better test the hell out it, make sure it absolutely works,” he said. “Geosynchronous orbit is a natural place to go. … They all need to be refueled, repaired, moved or retired. There is a commercial interest and a national security need.”
DARPA is also partnering BAE Systems to develop a 3D warfare lab to help U.S. military commanders prepare for combat in outer space.
It is important to note that while the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the use of weapons of mass destruction in space, it does not actually prohibit the loosely defined “militarization” of space. Recent projects by China and other countries make clear that the ‘final frontier’ is also very likely the next major theater of war. Sending robots may be looked back upon as an opening salvo.
Jake is a writer, filmmaker, investigative journalist, activist, search engine optimizer, and radio host. He is a contributing journalist for Anti-Media, covering automation, futurism, artificial intelligence, and fringe science. His short film “Machine Wash Warm” will premiere later this year. Jake received a B.A. from UCSC and currently lives in Portland, O.R., where he is working on a documentary, What Happened to Elisa Lam? He also hosts Anti-Media Radio show Thursdays at 8PM PST. Contact him at @overthemoonscifi or firstname.lastname@example.org.