Space is no longer a safe and peaceful domain, as some countries are increasingly seeking to use it for military advantage, a French major general has said.
Maj Gen Michel Friedling, head of the French Space Command, was speaking on the last day of the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi, a three-day event that focused on aviation and space activities.
The use of weaponry and military technology in space has concerned many experts over the years, as countries such as Russia, India and China perform anti-satellite missile tests, while some nations are launching an increasing number of spy satellites.
Maj Gen Friedling said: “I like to be the man who would say today that space is and will remain a peaceful environment, but I have bad news — this is not the case.
“The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 [introduced by the United Nations] has allowed for the case of peaceful coexistence. And bridges were made between East and West during these decades.
“But space is and will remain a key factor of economic strategy and military advantage for those who master space and those who know how to use space services.
“So, tensions on Earth will reflect in space and it's already the case.”
The militarisation includes using weapons in space, carrying out cyber attacks on satellites, using technology that jams communications and possessing a large fleet of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, a number of cyber attacks have been carried out on satellites operating over the besieged country, often disconnecting its internet and communication services, thus cutting off the Ukrainian people from the wider world.
Elon Musk had made his Starlink satellites available to Ukraine but issued a warning that they could become targets.
Anti-satellite missile, or ASAT, tests use military technology to destroy spacecraft. They are a concern because they create high levels of debris that could endanger astronauts and satellites.
They are also considered a threat because such missile technology could be used in an armed conflict.
In November, Russia carried out an ASAT test in which it destroyed one of its satellites, creating thousands of pieces of space debris.
India ordered an ASAT test in 2019 in an operation called the Mission Shakti, resulting in a dangerous level of space debris.
China destroyed one of its satellites in 2007 and the US followed a year later with a similar operation.
But the US government recently committed to ending further ASAT tests and has called for a global agreement to urge other nations to follow its lead.
"You all know about the cyber attacks on the first day of the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” Maj Gen Friedling said.
“And the most spectacular trend is firing the missile from the ground to target a satellite in orbit — the kinetic energy weapons. Four nations have demonstrated this capability.
“The US recently said that they would not use these any more and we agree with this. This is responsible behaviour in space.”
Maj Gen Friedling said countries which use space for military advantage should be “named and shamed”.
“Space is not peaceful any more and this is not what we dreamt of but it’s the reality we have to deal with,” he said.
“I would say that it is our choice to secure space for the benefits of humankind.
“This will be done by establishing norms of responsible behaviours, which is work that is being done by the UN.
“And we must be very involved in this and by also making space a transparent domain.
“We must also see the wrong players so we can name and shame them.”