The Arctic and Outer Space: A 12-Month Outlook

Outer space is the region above 100 km from the earth’s surface (Karman Line). This area is increasingly relevant for humanity, mainly due to the deployment of thousands of satellites performing essential functions like communications, navigation, weather forecast and imagery. In particular, the rapid transformations in the Arctic render Outer space fundamental in science and security.

Key judgement 1: it is almost certain that the satellites’ scientific contribution to the Arctic will increase in the next 12 months

  • Satellites are essential in documenting climate change, including the Arctic region. [source]
  • EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and NASA’s climate change portal publicly provide critical data and expertise about climate change in the Arctic to the broader public. [source] [source]
  • Open-source data and platforms, like Copernicus Open Access Hub and Google Earth Engine, allow a vast developers’ community to research the region’s changes, enhancing the comprehension of Arctic dynamics. [source][source]
  • Weather forecasting capabilities, such as EUMETSAT, play a fundamental role in preparedness and resilience against extreme Arctic weather events. [source] [source]
  • Satellite imagery combined with Geographic Information System (GIS) technology facilitates monitoring wildfires in the Arctic region. [source] [source]
  • The 2021 Russian launch of Artika-M, the 2022 US launch of JSPP-2 and the EU’s development of EUMETSAT third-generation further underline the future scientific contribution to the region. [source] [source] [source]
Temperature variation in the Arctic 1981-2012

Key judgement 2: Outer Space’s relevance in Search And Rescue operations (SAR) will likely rise in the next 12 months

  • Northeast and Northwest maritime passages will be increasingly navigable in the next years due to the progressive ice withdrawal. [source]
  • Between 2013 and 2019, maritime traffic in the Arctic increased by 25%. [source]
  • Fossil fuel deposits and rare earth material reservoirs in the region will lead to increased exploitation and maritime traffic, reinforcing the upward trend. [source][source]
  • The Arctic remains extremely arduous to navigate, mainly due to the extreme cold and the fast-changing landscape.[source]
  • SAR operations in the Arctic have augmented during the last years.[source]
  • Satellite navigation in the region remains partially unreliable due to orbital inclination limitations. [source]
  • 2011 Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement Cooperative Treaty among the Arctic Council members has increased cooperation but has not diminished technical difficulties related to SAR. [source] [source]
  • Space-based Automatic Identification System (SAT-AIS) allows the identification of maritime traffic, overcoming Earth-based alternatives and enhancing the effectiveness of SAR operations. [source] [source] [source]
  • The 2021 launch of the Norwegian microsatellite Nor-Sat-3 further improves maritime traffic detection thanks to the Navigation Radar Detector (NDR), capable of identifying boats even when their AIS is malfunctioning or offline. [source]
  • The success of the Arctic Mass Rescue Operation of 2021 exercise off the Svalbard archipelago confirms the outstanding benefits of satellite usage. [source]
SAR schematic model

Key judgement 3: Outer space’s militarization will likely accompany the current Arctic militarization in the next 12 months

  • The revival of great power competition is also affecting Outer Space. [source] [source]
  • Like the Arctic, Outer space is a global common. 1967 Outer Space Treaty obsolescence and the lack of regulation renders future development more unpredictable and hazardous. [source]
  • In the last years, several countries, including the Arctic ones, have increased their budgets and activities in space. [source]
  • The continuous satellite proliferation has raised increasing attention due to the dangerous overcrowding of space and the Dual-use capabilities that do not allow the distinction between military and civil devices. [source] [source]
  • Direct military action in space is constrained by the high risks of creating a chain reaction of space debris that would probably backfire (Kessler effect). [source]
  • Navigation warfare’s hybrid tactics, such as jamming and spoofing, are increasingly used and constitute a significant threat to future operations in the Arctic. [source] [source] [source]
Space Debris orbits around Earth

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: December 7, 2022

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