The final diplomatic frontier: Prague conference to address space security

Putin’s war on Ukraine also has implications in outer space, with Russia carrying out cyberattacks aimed at crippling Ukrainians’ access to satellite services – and freezing cooperation with the West on space issues. This will be one area discussed at a space security conference starting in Prague this Sunday. I spoke to Jana Robinson, head of organisers the Prague Security Studies Institute.

Jana Robinson  | Photo: The Prague Security Studies Institute

“What our institute is focusing on when we talk about space security is mostly about active threats.

“That means how potential adversaries, or even people that conduct irresponsible behaviour, can disrupt, deny or even destroy space assets and derived services.”

When you say active threats, what exactly do you mean?

“Well, there is a full range of threats.

“We have for example those that are more obvious, such as kinetic, ground-based anti-satellite capabilities; that is, missiles that reach outer space and destroy satellites.

“Or we’ve got high-powered lasers or microwaves that can destroy, or blind, various satellite capabilities.

“But then we have lower-threshold activities.

“We call them grey zone activities – or you can hear the term 'hybrid threats' – and these can range, anything from cyberattacks to jamming of satellite links.

“What we also include is economic and financial activities that are aimed at assuming control or influence over other nation states.”

This year’s Space Security Conference in Prague is the sixth. What will be the main items on your agenda?

Photo: NASA

“Together with leading space security experts and senior civil and military officials, as well as select industry representatives from Europe, the US and Japan, we want to discuss the current space threat, issues such as space domain awareness – how do we share data but also how do we act upon data that we share.

“Also a sustainable architecture for international space cooperation and strengthened cross-domain deterrents – what does it mean when we talk about that from an allied perspective?

“And also what are the requirements for maintaining global space leadership?”

How has Russia’s war on Ukraine impacted what you call “space diplomacy”?

“First of all, it’s the over-ambitious scale of Russia’s military aggression.

“And with regard to space, we have witnessed the indispensability of space assets in this conflict, and the use of financial and economic tools by the West for both penalties and deterrents.

“For example, we have witnessed GPS jamming by Russian forces, even prior to the invasion, in November 2021.

Photo: RIA Novosti /,  CC BY 4.0 DEED

“You may recall that a similar technique, or tactic, was used back in 2014, prior to the invasion of Crimea.

“Since the commencement of hostilities in February we have also multifaceted cyberattacks against ViaSat satellite modems in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe, as well as Russia’s jamming of Starlink services.

“Together with this we have seen pretty irresponsible and menacing statements by the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.

“And we have also seen the abrupt halt of Moscow’s space collaboration with the West, together with Western sanctions against Russian companies.

“To go back to your question, I think what we are witnessing are just some of the most visible symptoms of a major and unwelcome shift in space diplomacy and predictability, as well as global commercial and governmental cooperation in space.”