American Interstellar Strategy 2035

Since the founding of the United States, Americans have engaged in warfare and dealt with the grueling challenges that come along with it. In order to combat these issues and increase the chance of victory on the battlefield, the federal government encourages its agencies and defense companies to pursue breakthroughs in logistics, industry, and technology. As a result of military innovation, the world now has access to tools and infrastructure that were once deemed the realm of science fiction. The First World War saw the introduction of armored vehicles, airplanes, and long-range communication systems, all of which helped change the tide of battle. The Second World War saw the use of the atomic bomb: a device that caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, yet gave way to the possibility of unlimited, clean energy. The internet was the child of a defense agency's program to securely share files over a digital network in the midst of the Cold War. The Global Positioning System, which played such a pivotal role in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Inherent Resolve, can now be found in any teenagers phone.

Today, the United States of America is the most powerful nation in history of man because of its ability to create or adapt technology for military use. The majority of policymakers will admit that learning to use the tools of modern warfare is the difference between the prospering of one's people, and utter destruction. Despite its unprecedented record of technological improvement and dominance of the global order, the United States now finds itself at grave risk to adversaries in one key war-fighting and geoeconomic domain: space.

Peter W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, once observed that the United States remained a superior force throughout the Cold War because of its ability to dominate space, “he who controls the heavens will control what happens in the battles of Earth.” Amidst a new era of great power competition, the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China are seeking to expand their influence in orbit, on the lunar surface, and even the distant planet of Mars. These two states have displayed their ability to target satellites, the lifeline of the US military and industrial sector, with orbital and ground-based weapons. In fact, these two adversaries are working together in key areas of space development to the detriment of the American citizenry.

Although the United States has remained above the curve since the end of the First Cold War, it now finds itself at risk as the Second Cold War begins. Years of muscle atrophy in the defense industry, space community, and Washington has taken its toll. In this short report, The Intelligence Ledger seeks to redefine American interstellar strategy using history, threat analysis, and modern technology in order to ensure dominance of the international order in the years following 2035.

Key Definitions and Concepts

Before forming a strategy for American success in space, a clear and common understanding of definitions and concepts must be established.

Communication Satellites: Communication satellites provide government, military, and private organizations access to television, internet, mobile cellular service, voice communication, and data transfer services.

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Satellites: Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites support civilian, commercial, and military organizations. As the Defense Intelligence Agency notes, "ISR satellites provide remote sensing data, which includes data on the Earth’s land, sea, and atmosphere." ISR platforms support both the intelligence community and military in collecting signals intelligence, imagery, and other related data.

Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Satellites: Positioning, navigation, and timing satellites allow civilian, commercial, and military users to determine location and time. Although PNT encompasses GPS, it is a much larger and more complicated system that performs many other jobs.

Space Ground Systems (SGS): Space ground systems play a critical role in support of operations in space. Composed of Ground Stations, Mission Control Centers, and Launch Facilities, the United States would have no future on the last frontier without SGSs.

Space Launch Vehicles (SLV): Space launch vehicles can deploy, sustain, augment, or reconstitute satellite constellations in support of civilian, military, or commercial customers.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO): Low Earth Orbit is an orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km or less. With the exception of the Apollo missions to the lunar surface, all human spaceflight has been completed in LEO. Communications and ISR satellites currently operate in this orbit.

Medium Earth Orbit (MEO): Medium Earth Orbit is achieved when altitude is maintained between 2,000 km and 35,000 km. Communications and PNT satelites currently operate in this obit.

Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO): Highly Elliptical Orbit is an orbit with an approximate altitude of 40,000 km at apogee (farthest from Earth). Communications, ISR, and missile warning satellites currently operate in this orbit.

Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO): Geosynchronous Earth Orbit is an orbit with an approximate altitude of 36,000 km. Communications, ISR, and missile warning satellites currently operate in this orbit.

History of American Presence in Space

As the United States of America and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics emerged from the Second World War, a mutual distrust, differing ideologies, opposed economic systems, and the buildup of nuclear weapons plunged the world into the Cold War. The Cold War has been characterized in the minds of many by the use of guerrillas, the threat of mutually assured destruction, and covert operations. The exploration of space and development of space-based platforms served as another major arena for great power competition. The history of American presence in space, therefore, is closely connected to the history of the Cold War.

In 1957, the Soviet Union shocked the world by announcing it had successfully placed a satellite into low-earth orbit. American strategists and policymakers fretted over the idea of a Soviet intelligence platform over American airspace. Even more frightening for American citizens was the satellite's delivery vehicle, the R-7 missile. Newsmen and statesmen alike nervously investigated the ability of the vehicle to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States. Over the next two decades, Moscow would repeatedly best Washington in several key areas of the space race. Out of a fear that the United States was falling behind the communists in this important domain, multiple presidential administrations would increase the funding for space defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in hopes of ensuring the United States would emerge victorious on the last frontier.

In 1989, the United States realized it had won the First Cold War with the fall of the Iron Curtin. By all measurements, the dreams of America’s original space policymakers were fulfilled by the conflict's conclusion. Dozens of American astronauts had visited space, while 12 Americans had walked on the lunar surface. The end of the Cold War, however, also spelled doom for many of Washington's own space programs. With no peer competitors threatening the United States in space, multiple administrations and several sessions of congress failed to increase investment in this key war-fighting and economic domain. In fact, NASA was forced to significantly cut back its capabilities as it suffered a string of budget cuts. This culminated in the cession of manned missions from American soil for nearly ten years in 2011.

After several decades of muscle atrophy, Washington is seeking to increase its presence in space amidst growing threats from China and Russia. Unmanned missions to the Moon and Mars are laying the groundwork for future manned landings. The development of launch vehicles, capsules, and lunar base facilities continues on earth under NASA's Artemis Program. In fact, the United States regained the ability to launch astronauts with the successful deployment of a reusable rocket built by SpaceX under the Artemis Program.