Predicting the future isn’t easy, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.
A Sept. 5 report from Air Force Space Command lays out scenarios for what space could look like in the year 2060 as a first step toward the development of a long-term national strategy for space.
The report, titled “The Future of Space 2060 and Implications for U.S. Strategy,” is the result of a Space Futures Workshop hosted by Air Force Space Command with participants from the Pentagon, NASA, NATO, industry and academia. The group developed a series of future scenarios for what space could look like in 2060 and begins to answer the question of what the United States needs to focus on to direct development of the space domain in a positive direction. The possibilities ranged from an American-led futuristic world with thousands of humans living and working in space to a static world where the space is barely more developed than it is today.
The workshop participants said Air Force Space Command and/or the U.S. Space Command need to develop a strategy vision to address those scenarios and then determine the minimum essential capabilities needed to implement said strategy.
According to the report, the United States faces increased competition from other nations in exploring and exploiting space, particularly from China. The report claimed China is executing a long-term strategy to displace the United States as the leading space power by developing the cislunar domain.
“The U.S. must recognize that in 2060, space will be a major engine of national political, economic, and military power for whichever nations best organize and operate to exploit that potential,” reads the report.
In order to remain the top dog in space, the United States needs to develop a long-term national space strategy that takes advantage of government, industry and academia. Such a document needs to explain how the military can protect American space capabilities from external threats.
According to workshop participants, this strategy needs to be developed in a three-step effort, of which the report constitutes the first step.
The workshop developed eight scenarios that changed based on three variables: the level of human presence in space, the commercial potential of space and U.S. leadership. It should be noted that these scenarios are not intended to be predictive, but cover a wide spectrum of possible outcomes, from the optimistically pro-US “Star Trek” vision, to “Xi’s Vision.”
Here are the eight scenarios envisioned by the Space Futures Workshop:
Star Trek: Thousands of humans live and work in space―from cislunar orbit to Mars―and a U.S. coalition retains leadership over a highly profitable space domain. The U.S. coalition has established a fair, rule-based order in space.
Garden Earth: The Star Trek scenario, but with far fewer people. Most space activities are controlled remotely.
Elysium: The U.S. coalition leads in the space domain and thousands of people live and work in space. Space is not a very profitable arena and commercial activity has not progressed far beyond present day.
Zhang He: Another nation has supplanted U.S. leadership in the space domain. Thousands of people live and work in space, but revenue is largely directed toward the dominant nation.
Wild Frontier: No nation is dominant in space, but space has become highly profitable. Human presence is limited.
Xi’s Dream: Another nation supplants U.S. leadership in the space domain, but space has failed to become profitable. Commercial space has not progressed far beyond present day.
Space Today: The U.S. coalition is the leading military space power, but the space domain is a contested war fighting domain. Commercial activity is limited, while military space systems have become highly resilient, maneuverability, self-healing, refuelable, AI-driven and highly autonomous.
Wild Frontier (Version 2): Space Today but with another nation or coalition as the dominant space power.
The report noted that the Air Force will hold more workshops to flesh out possible space futures and how they can be achieved.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.