The international fight for power and resources in space is escalating – and there is no going back, according to Tim Marshall.
The journalist and bestselling author has 30 years’ experience writing about international diplomacy and foreign affairs, reporting from 30 countries and covering 12 wars throughout his career.
Now his sights have turned to the skies as his new book, The Future of Geography: How Power and Politics in Space Will Change Our World, predicts how society will grow with the geopolitical space race in the near future.
But he insists this is not science fiction – this is simple geopolitics.
He told Scotland Tonight: “It’s just an hour up to space if you’re going 60 miles an hour.
“I used that sort of language just to get us used to the idea that it isn’t really any more ‘out there’.
“Geography has an impact on international relations. We all know that their borders, there are rivers, mountains. I wanted to take that template and put it out in space to let us try to better understand.
“So much in our life is absolutely connected to it, whether it’s your mobile phone, your car, jeeps, your delivery, the next day, the military, international systems. There is now there’s no real separation between the two.”
Mr Marshall says the great space rush of the 21st century is in full pelt, with great cosmic strides to be taken by countries competing for power over the next 50 years.
He explained the atmosphere is a ‘border’ beyond which “prime real estate” is to be found, the low earth orbit where satellites are.
“There’s radiation belts, there’s vast oceans of distance superhighways, where you can slingshot around a planet to to take advantage of its gravity, to speed you up etc.
“Then when you get to the moon, that’s more geography. There’s plains and mountains, caves and tunnels and there’s rare earth minerals, precious metals and water.”
But with new galactical territories comes the question – how do we govern it all?
Mr Marshall said current laws, much of it written in the 1960s, are not “fit for purpose” for the world we live in now.
He added: “Weapons of mass destruction is a great example. Everybody agreed, no, we won’t put weapons of mass destruction up there, which means nuclear weapons.
“But there’s nothing about lasers because, of course, nobody was thinking in those terms and there wasn’t the volume of satellites and the ability.
“Now, some satellites have a dual use capability. They have grappling arms.
“That’s a good thing; you can get hold of a defunct satellite and you can throw it out of orbit and put it into the atmosphere to burn up to get rid of space debris.”
He added: “But supposing your satellite is approaching my satellite and my satellite is the one with my nuclear early warning system in it, I’m going to get very nervous. We don’t have the laws about that.
“We don’t have the laws really governing the moon. A brief example, we, the UK are part of the Artemus Accords, which are US-led.
“They say you can have safety zones on the moon, so you’ve spent billions getting there to find where the rare earth metals are. And then you say, ‘Right, this is my safety zone’. That’s another word for sovereignty.”
Recalling the space race between the US and the USSR in the 1960s Cold War, Mr Murphy said the battle continues into the 21st century – this time with private industry at the forefront.
There are now several economic players including China, India and Japan – with private industry at the forefront.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship aims to carry up to 100 people on long-duration interplanetary flights, while the Japanese space programme is spending millions on rovers and moon mining equipment to reap its natural resources.
“There’s a commercial space race going on at the same time as the military space race,” he added.
“It’s not to say that, because we don’t have the laws… I don’t think there will necessarily be a war in space.
“But I do think there is already an arms race and I think that’s going to get worse.
“When you venture out into the sea, you end up with war ships that are Navy fighting vessels and when you venture up into the air, you end up with fighter jets.
“I think it’s it’s impossible that we won’t end up with something similar in space. But that does not mean, of course, that they have to be used.
“I think it’s inevitable that the satellites eventually will be armed only for defensive purposes.
“There are many very positive things going on in space about solar power, medical experiments, which will benefit all of humankind. But I just wanted to write a book that talked about where we are now, that there’s a geography to this and there’s an international relations to this.
“And it’s not the future – it’s now.”