US Space Force to launch X-37B spaceplane

The US Space Force (USSF) will today launch the Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the

X 37b spaceplane being tested in 2014

Photo: Boeing

The US Space Force (USSF) will today launch the Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the sixth highly secretive flight of an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

The mission, intended to test space-to-earth microwave power beaming, is a fresh indicator of the emergence of outer space as an increasingly contested geopolitical frontier. Both Moscow and Beijing—which join Washington in the evolving triumvirate of superior astronautical capability—have voiced concern over the perceived weapons capabilities of the X-37B.

The prospect of unbalanced space privatisation has caused global experimentation to continue apace. Surveillance of recent Russian direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) testing has raised concerns in Washington over a legal vacuum in the realm of counterspace development. For its part, China plans to deploy its a Mars rover and solar power station.

As repeated US assertions of unilateral commercialisation rights provoke international backlash, expect the final frontier to resurface as an increasingly strained component of international negotiations in the coming months. While China’s perceived culpability in the COVID-19 pandemic will likely boost its propensity for diplomatic collaboration and relegate any aggressive manoeuvres to the back burner in the short-term, all three countries are unlikely to modify their covert stances on destructive ASAT testing.

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