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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nations around the world are shoring up their defensive and offensive capabilities in space — for today's wars and tomorrow's.

Why it matters: Using space as a warfighting domain opens up new avenues for technologically advanced nations to dominate their enemies. But it can also make those countries more vulnerable to attack in novel ways.

  • "Space has already been weaponized by just about any definition," Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic & International Studies told me, citing work his organization has done to quantify the problem. "The question is, 'How are we going to respond?'"

Driving the news: From anti-satellite tests to establishing military branches dedicated to space, it is becoming an integral theater for militaries around the world.

  • U.S. Space Command issued a rare statement in July calling out what it called an "anti-satellite weapons test" after a Russian satellite appeared to release a projectile near another Russian satellite.
  • China reportedly has the technology to blind enemy satellites, according to a March 2020 report from CSIS.
  • The U.S. and other nations rely on satellites to keep soldiers safe and get the lay of the land on the ground.

The state of play: More countries are relying on space in ways that benefit their societies, economies and militaries, so in some ways it's logical for them to create tools to help ensure access to orbit, Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation told me.

  • The Space Force — which will have its one-year anniversary this month — was created in part to deter nations that threaten the U.S. in space.
  • "While we will extend and defend America’s competitive advantage in peacetime, the ultimate measure of our readiness is the ability to prevail should war initiate in, or extend to space," Gen. John Raymond, the Space Force's chief of space operations, wrote in a planning document in November.
  • France and Japan have also recently created their own military space divisions, showing how key space is becoming to military operations around the world today.

Yes, but: Some experts believe the U.S. is falling behind in efforts to secure its space infrastructure.

  • While the U.S. is ahead of every other nation in its capabilities from orbit, the country's national security satellite infrastructure — which depends on a relatively small number of extremely expensive spy satellites — is vulnerable to attack.
  • China, for example, sees its stance toward national security space in part as a way to counteract U.S. supremacy in orbit, according to a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The catch: While wealthy nations can use space to their advantage in a variety of ways, doing so also creates new vulnerabilities. Establishing infrastructure in space is expensive, but destroying it is relatively easy.

  • So far, countries have largely steered clear of destroying enemy satellites in part because of the far-reaching geopolitical implications of that kind of attack. And creating more space junk affects everyone in orbit, not just your enemies.
  • But some experts are concerned that could change if new norms aren't established as nations work to build out military assets in orbit.

The bottom line: The future of warfighting will continue to rely on space as more nations recognize its importance as the highest ground.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

What to know about the Moon rock in Biden's Oval Office

The Moon rock now in the Oval Office. Photo: NASA

President Joe Biden hasn't revealed much about his space policy priorities yet, but space fans can take heart that space is on his mind, thanks to an Apollo Moon rock that now decorates the Oval Office.

Why it matters: The Moon rock — loaned to the White House by NASA — is on display "in symbolic recognition of earlier generations’ ambitions and accomplishments, and support for America’s current Moon to Mars exploration approach," according to a statement from NASA.

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.