An opinion piece by Prof. Dave Webb, outlining why the global peace and anti-nuclear movement marks Keep Space for Peace Week and its significance for campaigners across the Yorkshire region.
This week has been designated by the United Nations as World Space Week and in the UK it is co-ordinated by the British Interplanetary Society. The theme this year is “Women in Space” and by celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of women to the sciences and space sector, it aims to inspire young women around the world to pursue studies and future careers in the space industry.
However, space activities are becoming dangerously more militarised and more harmful to the environment as shown by a recent short video from the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (GN) – the international organisation to build the campaign against the militarisation of space. Each year the GN adopts World Space Week as Keep Space for Peace Week, to draw attention to its campaign to stop the militarisation and exploitation of space.
This week is important for Yorkshire because of the two US bases that are sited at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill. As a contribution to Keep Space for Peace Week, Yorkshire CND and the Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC) launched a new report called “Menwith Hill in 3-D: Domes, Data & Drone Strikes” on Saturday. The report is available from the MHAC website and was written by Barnaby Pace, and brings all the issues concerning the use of Menwith Hill by the US and the UK up to date since Yorkshire CND’s 2012 report “Lifting the Lid on Menwith Hill”, written by Steve Schofield.
A short video to introduce the report was shown at the launch and the whole event was recorded and will also be available from the MHAC website soon. It was also covered by the Guardian in an online article titled “RAF intelligence base linked to US drone strike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani”. Menwith Hill in 3D also includes a section on the role of Menwith Hill in US missile defence. In 1996 a government memo announced that Menwith Hill was to become a downlink station for space-based components of US missile defence. Despite the name, missile defence systems are not purely defensive – they can also be seen as a way of reducing or eliminating any retaliation following a nuclear first strike.
Another component of the US missile defence system, also in North Yorkshire, is the powerful radar system at RAF Fylingdales. This radar is used to detect and track objects in space (including missiles aimed at the US) up to 1200 miles from the ground.
Last year Yorkshire CND made a short film ‘What is “RAF” Fylingdales’ to show how it contributed to missile defence and a renewed nuclear arms race.
We have also pointed out previously that the US radar at RAF Fylingdales is also a part of the US Space Surveillance Network run by the US Space Force. One of its roles is to detect and track missiles targeted at the US for their missile defence system but another is to provide the ability to identify and monitor all objects in space – or “Space Situational Awareness” (SSA).
Just a few months ago, in July, there were a number of news reports that the UK was ‘very interested’ in hosting a US Space Force radar station to track objects up to 22,000 miles from Earth. This radar system would be a part of the US “Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability” (Darc) with two other radar stations probably in the US and Australia, in order to get a “full picture” of what is happening – in other words to provide SSA. If this goes ahead then Fylingdales could be the place where the UK component of Darc might be situated.
This is of course of particular importance to the US Space Force and the UK version – Space Command, both of which are worried by the increasing space activity of Russia and China. SSA is becoming a huge task, there are tens of thousands of objects already in Earth orbit and tens of thousands more are due to be placed there in the very near future.
These include the tens of thousands of satellites being placed into Low Earth Orbit to provide super-fast 5G networks for global broadband coverage that will also have military applications for communications, increased surveillance and targeting capabilities. It is becoming difficult for all space faring nations to determine what all the space objects are doing and why. In the past satellites would stay in their predictable orbits but recently some have been seen to move about and position themselves close to others.
As the number of space objects rapidly increases, the chances of accidental collisions becomes more likely and, as international suspicions rise, so does the possibility of a war in or from space. If a vital satellite should malfunction for any reason at a time of international tension, and another nation is blamed – the results could be disastrous.
In just a few decades outer space has become of the utmost importance for global commercial, political and military interests. We really need to encourage all users of space to adhere to the spirit and the word of the 1967 “Outer Space Treaty” (OST) which views outer space as a “global commons” to be used “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development”. Unfortunately, this view is rapidly fading as space corporations, billionaires and the military seek to exploit, control and dominate the heavens.
There are a number of on-line and off-line events planned for Keep Space for Peace Week and you can view them at http://space4peace.org/ksfpw-2021-event-list/. Remember the roles of Fylindales and Menwith Hill and join us – get informed, spread the word and above all, get active!