As the U.S. military continues to signal that its turning much of its attention to preparing for the upcoming wars in space, President Donald Trump has not wavered in his call for the creation of a United States Space Force despite the objections of critics both within the military and without. Criticism or not, it’s clear that space will be the next major war-fighting domain featuring satellite-to-satellite warfare, orbital weaponry, and all sorts of secret aerospace technologies we can’t even imagine yet.
The future of space isn’t all about war, though. Many of the peaceful space-related dreams of 20th-century science fiction writers continue to come true as commercial spaceflight companies take steps towards making space tourism, lunar mining, and off-world colonization a reality. What’s the next logical outcome? Why, space pirates, of course.
Think about it: when you’ve got a largely unexplored, unregulated frontier like space with billions of dollars in resources floating around, you’re sure to attract those looking to make a few bucks through any means necessary. Any Space Force operating in that environment would thus likely encounter space pirates at some point or another. At least, that’s what U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas thinks.
During a meeting with the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, Cruz explained his support for the creation of the Space Force by making a historical comparison to the early days of maritime exploration:
Since the ancient Greeks first put to sea, nations have recognized the necessity of naval forces and maintaining a superior capability to protect waterborne travel and commerce from bad actors. Pirates threaten the open seas, and the same is possible in space. In this same way, I believe we too must now recognize the necessity of a Space Force. To defend the nation, and to protect space commerce and civil space exploration.
Naturally, the internet went wild over Cruz's remarks, with even internet troll and future Bond villain Elon Musk joining in to poke fun at Cruz. Cruz himself even took to Twitter to defend his comments, calling his critics “snarky leftists.” While the thought of space pirates may sound comical to some, Cruz sure does have a point most of the media and blogosphere is missing, and his historical comparison is spot on.
Already, several nations have tested satellites capable of hijacking or monitoring other nations’ satellites, and there’s no reason to think that similar technologies won’t fall into civilian hands within the next decade or so. With nobody watching all of those quite expensive gizmos up there, there’s no telling who might want to capture one, reverse engineer it, and sell cheap copies of it on Alibaba.
Space is the final frontier, and just like every other frontier we’ve encountered on Earth, space represents a challenge when it comes to securing resources and personnel during the early stages of exploration. Could we see space pirates in our lifetime? Maybe; the costs of getting any sort of craft into space remain prohibitively high and will likely keep non-state-sponsored actors out of space for some time. Still, there is the possibility that we will see black budget private entities take to the heavens soon operating under the guise of neutrality but still carrying out the agenda of space-faring superpowers. Will Elon be laughing when one of his Starlink satellites is stolen right out of the sky by Chinese pirates?