Accepted Paper:

Troubled Orbits, Earthly Politics: The Securitization of Space Debris in the New Space Age   


Michael Clormann (Technical University of Munich)
Nina Witjes (Technical University of Munich)

Paper short abstract:

We engage with the rising 'New Space Age' through simultaneously looking from and at space to better understand its current sociotechnical challenges. Combining approaches from STS and Security Studies, we link frames of securitization with those of technological manageability and responsibility.

Paper long abstract:

Today, billions of people around the world rely on space systems to facilitate their daily life, from navigation to environmental services, from communication to crisis response, from intelligence to education. Start-ups, government actors and the media contribute to an enthusiastic discourse on the promises of commercial imaging satellites that are expected to kick into overdrive following the advent of small satellites and commercial off-the-shelf philosophy. However, the promise of a new orbital gold-rush is clouded by its own legacy - pushing the orbital frontier encounters material resistances: Space Debris as a remnant of rising satellite activities is increasingly challenging the idea of open skies that promise us better, cheaper and more accessible as well as globally inclusive services. 'Outer' space, often understood as a planetary front yard of commercial potential and international relations, is now also a realm of tangible hazards and risks. In this paper, we put forward a new perspective of simultaneously looking from and at space infrastructures to better understand the challenges of the upcoming 'New Space Age'. Linking STS perspectives on the meaning of space(s) with Critical Security Studies, we will ask how novel security risks - in and from orbit - are co-produced by the emergence of new space actors and changing international power relations, posing new challenges for responsible research and innovation in the foreshadowed second wave of space commercialization.

Panel A21
Outward and inward encounters: STS meets Outer Space