Why You Can't Fire Weapons In Space And What Is The Military Space Strategy?

There's a reason we've not had epic Star Wars like battles in space ...

No one can claim ownership over space which means there are specific rules outlined in a treaty that countries must follow when it comes to exploration and space warfare. 

The launch of the first aircraft into space in the 1950s brought into question how space should be regulated. 

First signed on 10th October 1967 the Outer Space Treaty is international law that has now been signed by more than 100 countries including the UK, Russia and America.

The treaty is in place to keep space open and equal for all to explore, and its aim is to keep the cosmos free of military threats.

The Outer Space Treaty

Both America and Russia offered their own versions of what is now known as the Outer Space Treaty. America’s version gave precedence to private companies also being allowed to play a crucial role in government space programmes while Russia’s draft wanted governments to be the only responsible entity, and therefore the only ones who could act in space.

As such the final treaty drew on examples from previous treaties that dealt with newly accessed environments (like the Antarctic) or dealt with new technologies. Its full official title is ...

'Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies'.


What Are The Rules For Space?

  • Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of occupation, or by any other means
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit, on celestial bodies (planets) or station them in outer space in any other manner
  • The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes
  • Astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by government or non-government entities
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies
The death of a star. Credit ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Wade et al.; CC BY 4.0

Hostile Threats In Space 

New technological advances mean that it is not just earth at risk from the likes of hackers, the final frontier is also under threat. 

Threats in space have vastly advanced since the 1950s with more countries and companies being able to access technology, at least 12 countries now have space launch capabilities. The satellites in space are vulnerable to jamming attacks, electronic bubbles that block GPS signals and hacking (data can be corrupted and sensors can be blinded). 

UK Military And Space

In July 2019 the then Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt outlined plans for the MOD’s space programme. The plans included £30 million being given to help fast-track launching a satellite demonstrator within a year as part of Team Artemis. The team is made up of UK and US defence personnel and its aim is to undertake research into wider military uses of small satellites.

Royal Air Force Typhoon pilot, Flight Lieutenant Stannard was selected to join the Virgin Orbit programme, a small satellite launch programme that is part of the work of Team Artemis. 

    BepiColombo’s first image from space. Credit ESA/BepiColombo/MTM – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
    BepiColombo’s first image from space. Credit ESA/BepiColombo/MTM – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

    MOD Defence Space Strategy 

    • Vision - To secure freedom of action in space, fully exploiting its military and civil potential. 
    • Mission - To ensure that defence has the capabilities, skills and operational plans to protect and defend its space assets and interests in a increasingly contested environment, working closely with the rest of government, international partners and the private sector.
    • Objectives - Enhance space resilience and operational effectiveness, optimise space support to the front line and support wider government activities.

    The UK is aiming to grow its share of the global space market from 6.5% to 10% by 2030. Alongside developing its own 'end to end' space infrastructure with a spaceport and launch capability. 

    It has also become the first partner nation to join Operation Olympic Defender. A US led coalition to strengthen deterrence against hostile threats in space. 

    Speaking of space warfare we had a US Army Officer take a look at the military tactics used in Star Wars The Last Jedi

    Top image credit to ESA/ATG medialab.