Do look up. Space is increasingly crucial for the security of nations, citizens and territories. It also plays a crucial role in the economy and thus the well-being of our societies. Hence, Italy – one of the very few countries that boast an all-round space sector – must think ahead to leverage its edge.
That’s the condensed message of the “Report on the Aerospace Domain as a New Frontier of Geopolitical Competition,” published by COPASIR, the Italian Parliament’s Intelligence Committee.
- The report resulted from COPASIR’s auditions with the main players in the Italian space industry, including Innovation Minister Vittorio Colao, the President of the Italian Space Agency Giorgio Saccoccia, the Air Force Chief of Staff General Luca Goretti, and the secretary of the Interministerial Committee for Space Policy, General Luigi Francesco De Leverano.
The Space Race 2.0. The report states there’s a veritable “space race” with the main powers engaged in a technological, strategic and ideological competition reminiscent of the Cold War. Which is accelerating:
- Primarily, “the USA, Russia and China are competing for supremacy.” But that’s not the full picture. The birth of the space economy has wholly upended the scenario, as private entities such as SpaceX, BlueOrigin and Virgin Galactic have shot across the atmosphere.
Competing with Russia and China. Thus, according to the report, the future fight for planetary hegemony “may also take place in Space, given the increasing militarisation beyond the atmosphere [and] attempts to appropriate new areas of influence.”
- The Russian invasion of Ukraine heavily impacted the space sector, as countless collaborations between Roscosmos and Western agencies have been severed.
- China is a relatively new addition to the competition but has nonetheless managed to position itself as the main antagonist of the United States in the space of just a few years.
The fight over orbits. Space is opening up unprecedented challenges for the world order as well as national defence, reads the report. For instance,
- the increasing reliance of societies on orbits and orbital assets poses immense security risks;
- the proliferation of private activity in space will require appropriate international legislation (and some manner of judicial enforcement);
- the vulnerability of infrastructures, which is also a consequence of the increase in space debris and the overcrowding of orbits, can significantly impact entire economies.
- For instance, British research estimated that the unavailability of satellite navigation services alone would have an economic impact worth £5 billion in just five days.
The role of Italian defence. Italy “is becoming increasingly aware that the security of national space infrastructures is an unavoidable, multi-sectoral and global issue that requires a systemic approach”. COPASIR noted the Armed Forces had effectively adapted to ensure the protection of space infrastructures.
The industry is healthy, but… Italy enjoys a solid position in the global aerospace sector, “one of the few countries to have a complete supply chain,” and the State’s backing of the industry is unwavering.
- The country is seventh in the world in terms of the share of public expenditure allocated to space, relative to its GDP, and it’s second – trailing France but leading the US – in terms of the share of resources allocated to space research and exploration.
- But international competition is growing fast, and the private sector – which “risks degrading the leadership role that some [Italian] companies boast” – might marginalise national operators and diminish their competitive advantages in institutional markets.
Investing, investing, investing. COPASIR believes it’s “essential” for the industry to leap forward, technologically speaking, “through an appropriate investment policy supported by planning that is in step with the challenges and problems [we face].”
- €2 billion are currently allocated for the Italian Space Agency’s three-year plan, and an additional €2.3 billion out of the EU-bankrolled National Recovery and Resilience Plan are earmarked for the space industry. The European Space Agency is expected to complement the budget further.
- This funding should enable “an effective relaunch of Italy’s strategic ambition in space.” The objectives: strengthening the capacity and competitiveness of the Italian industrial supply chain, stimulating innovation and scientific research, and creating new models of public-private collaboration, fully exploiting the potential economic and social returns.