Let’s talk rockets and satellites. 2022, with 186 rocket launches, 180 of which were successful, was a record for launches since the start of the space age. One shot every six days on average! 78 shots were fired from the United States, closely followed by China at 64 shots. A boom caused the establishment of constellations of satellites, including those of Starlink, already 3,300 launched and operational, of the company SpaceX, using its Falcon rocket. In front of these giants, the Russian star weakens, with 21 shots. Europe collapses, with 6 launches, and the Russian Soyuz rocket banished from Kourou by the invasion of Ukraine. The destruction at its first shot of the little Vega, on December 21, put an end to a dark year. The rest of the world ? 17 shots, including 6 for New Zealand from where a small American rocket was launched.
This gigantic imbalance in the means of accessing space, near and far, is found in the vehicles to be launched. US dominance over the number of deployed satellites is becoming overwhelming. Certainly, in 2022, 47 countries have deployed satellites that they operate, most for communications and Earth observation. Admittedly, Japan and India are still space powers. Admittedly, the European Union (EU) is also embarking on the constellations, operates the Galileo geolocation system. But the geopolitics of space tells us that the EU’s claims to strategic parity with the United States will be an illusion as long as it does not make the necessary investments. Investments that China pursues with method and regularity. As for the military aspect of space activities, it is distinguished… by an even clearer domination of the United States.
This explosion in the number of small satellites in low orbit, for the constellations intended for communications and in particular for the Internet, does not only hinder astronomers. In two years, SpaceX had to slightly modify the orbit of its Starlink satellites more than 26,000 times to ensure that it avoided any collision with debris. Spatial geopolitics therefore forces us to consider two questions. How to provide the European Union and its member countries with the means to challenge US domination? And how to regulate near space in order to avoid series collisions which could turn it into a death trap for satellites? Two subjects more important than the negotiation of a jump seat on future NASA astronaut flights.