Paired with careful diplomacy and the expansion of a space-specific rules-based order, advancements in U.S. space capacity both deter and inhibit adversarial adventurism.

With overwhelming bipartisan support and his infamous sharpie in hand, former President Donald Trump made Ronald Reagan’s dreams a reality. Nearly four decades after the Cold War-era president called for the weaponization of space, the Trump administration created the first new military branch since 1947: the United States Space Force (USSF).

The USSF’s inception expanded on Washington’s existing and persisting goals to expand U.S. influence in space. Since 2017, NASA and the State Department have worked to recruit signees to the Artemis Accords, a seven-page document outlining Washington’s vision for space governance. While typical Washington partners—including Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates—were quick to join as founding members, the twenty-one country list of signees is notably missing Russia and China as terrestrial rivalries threaten to go interstellar.
In an effort formally initialized under the uniquely space-forward Trump presidency, Washington is trying to call dibs on writing the rules in space, eager to create a model that mirrors America’s terrestrial geopolitical and commercial preeminence. But Russia and China aren’t going to sit idle, and, according to some, Moscow and Beijing—not Washington—are leading the charge.

In the last two years, China and Russia expanded their in-orbit assets by 70 percent following their already impressive three-fold increase in space presence from 2015 to 2018. While large swaths of this growth have—thus far—been civilian-led, the same technologies that achieve scientific goals could also achieve military goals. But even those more peaceful commercial endeavors make Washington nervous, and rightfully so. The prospect of losing out on a $1.4 trillion industry risks undercutting U.S. dominance, both in space and on earth. If the quest for geopolitical clout wasn’t going to force confrontation, economic interests will.

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