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How the U.S. Is Vulnerable to Terrorism in Space

NASA

Space terrorism is a growing threat to U.S. national security, according to a new report.

And an attack on a U.S. satellite—or damage to one from another country's debris—could have astronomical effects on national security, says the report from the Council on Foreign Relations.

The U.S. is more reliant on space than any other nation to carry out critical national security functions, such as precision attacks on suspected terrorists and image analysis of nuclear-weapons programs, according to the report.

But countries like China, North Korea, and Iran are developing their military space capabilities, increasing the risk of a dangerous situation for the U.S, says the report.

For example, if one of these hostile countries acquires advanced space capabilities, they could feasibly attack a U.S. satellite to gain an upper hand in negotiations, hold off potential hostile acts, or as an act of defense, says Micah Zenko, the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the CFR and the report's author.

But, according to Zenko's report, terrorists take a back seat to another space threat: accidents.

Space is cluttered with trash, like old satellites and parts of rockets, making navigation very tricky. China's haphazard testing of its antisatellite weapons is making the mess worse, according to the report, and a random collision with Chinese debris could quickly escalate into an crisis between the U.S. and China.

Given the high stakes, the U.S. needs to make haste in developing its capabilities, both technical and political, to reduce the risk of an attack or collision, Zenko says, lest it risk ceding control of shaping global space policy.

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