When hearing such heavy-weight names as UK Space Command or US Space Force or the French armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Air and Space Force), we could be forgiven for dreaming up images of space adventures, and conquests, Star Trek’s new worlds and frontiers, potential Independence Day alien invasions, or District 9 scenarios. Or for people like myself, invoking visions of X-wings, USS Enterprises and Battlestar Galactica crewed by courageous, and highly trained personnel.
After all, the US Pentagon finally presented a long-awaited report on strange unidentified aerial phenomena (UPA), including incident reports that are hard to explain.
This makes it rather interesting, considering that across the 22.5 light-years space pond to Voltar, officials such as Lord Invay, Royal Historian and Chairman of the Board of Censors have quite opposing views when it comes to us Earth people!
To quote him directly:
“When we hear otherwise rational men and women giving credence to such balderdash as, ‘The Earthmen are coming,’ or ‘Unidentified Flying Objects are everywhere above the peaceful cities of Voltar and being spotted day and night,’ we sigh at the easy suggestibility and gullibility of our young.
“Sensationalism may have its charm to the cash registers of those who pander to such mad flights of delusion, but it has no appeal to the sober scientist and academician.
“Facts are facts and delusion is delusion and never the two should entwine.
“Let me state it boldly and baldly: there is no such planet as Earth, whether it is given its local reputed name or Blito-P3 in a pretended location on astrographic charts. If it ever existed at all, it certainly does not exist today or even within living memory.
“Now, I assure you officially, we of Voltar should know! After all, our fleets and commerce range not only across the breadth of our Confederacy, one hundred and ten planets strong. Our fleets, once the most powerful in our home galaxy and certainly the most numerous in this sector of this galaxy, would know if any such planet swam in space. Yet there is not even an ink stain of it on modern charts.
“So, away with this delusion.”
“Lord Invay, Royal Historian, Chairman, Board of Censors, Royal Palace, Voltar Confederacy”
“By Order of His Imperial Majesty, Wully the Wise”
But setting aside any and all contradictory views between the US Pentagon and Voltar’s Royal Palace, let me remind you that UFO sightings and so-called “abductions” on planet Earth along with their subsequent debates are nothing new. For instance, it is a well-known debatable “fact” that strange flying objects have been featured in ancient paintings created centuries before the invention of heavier-than-air flight. For example The Baptism of Christ, 1710 by Aert De Gelder, The Annunciation with Saint Emidius, 1486 by Carlo Crivelli and The Crucifixion of Christ, 1350 by an unknown artist.
As for “abductions,” you would have to read the first volume of Mission Earth, The Invaders Plan, to make up your own mind on this: delusion or fact? You decide.
So, is this sudden rush to form national space commands a global response to some potential alien invasion—taking into account our wholly inadequate planetary defence systems should there be one in the offing? Or could such rush have its root in something a little more sinister and Orwellian?
As Officer Soltan Gris of the Voltarian Coordinated Information Apparatus (CIA) is quick to remind us, an invasion at this time is unlikely, and if it occurred, no-one would probably believe it:
“Like many other planets, Earth was on the Invasion Timetable. It wasn’t to be conquered for another century, so there was no urgency about the scouting mission sent there. (Scouts are still used because other methods, such as reconnaissance satellites disguised as comets, work fine as general fly-by probes of systems but they can’t get air, soil or water samples of particular planets.)”
“That was how Jettero Heller entered my life. Heller led this particular scouting party to Earth. They slipped in, got their information and left unnoticed. And even if seen, there was no real problem. Earth governments very conveniently disclaim the existence of ‘extraterrestrials,’ explaining away every sighting and keeping everything a secret.”
When all is said and done, I am afraid that the truth may be a little closer to home than we would hope and not as exciting and fantastic as the prospect of all-out space exploration for the greater good of humankind or “first contact” with friendly (or not-so-friendly) aliens.
Let me explain.
In the past decade, we have been witnessing incredible advances and successes in space technologies, particularly in the commercial and private sectors—quite distinct from wholly government-sponsored military and space operations—with an abundance of good news concerning the visions and achievements of individuals and groups in the conquest of space: humanity joined together towards a common goal.
For instance, on 2 August 2020, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch and return humans to orbit. A plethora of other private companies (e.g. Skyrora, Astra, Reaction Engines, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Astrium, to name but a fraction) are busy researching and developing solutions for satellite configuration or launch, payload transport into space, space travel and space tourism, and are making it a reality.
As for the planet Mars, it seems that developing the technology to invade it (or some may prefer the word “colonise”) is still very much on the agenda not only for SpaceX, but also for a number of groups including Russia, USA, Japan, the European Space Agency, India, China and the United Arab Emirates.
A renewed space “gold rush” is happening, and the future looks very bright and promising. Or does it?
Factually, such exciting expansion has not settled very well within military and government surveillance circles. This is not difficult to understand if we consider the exponential growth of non-military and non-governmental individuals, groups and organisations actively involved in space manufacturing and operations, as well as the global commercialisation of readily available and relatively cheap equipment which in the past would have been within the sole purview of the military and governments.
Moreover, the emergence of a new cyber age, with the rapid and significant developments in the fields of computing (quantum and traditional), communications, big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, has opened the door to a new form of battlefield where warfare no longer takes place with solid weapons or troops but instead is fought across the ether, i.e. cyber space.
Consequently, military and state surveillance organisations have become worried about the proliferation of new entrants into the space domain. There are concerns about what it means for the “balance of power in space,” militarisation and weaponization of space which, it is believed, could result in all-out conflicts in outer space.
Conflicts? With whom? Outer space alien races?
What adversaries? Extraterrestrial invasion?
Ahh! Earth? Come on!
A chess game of satellite ownership? And control by competing Earth nations?
Here is the million-dollar question: What would conflict in outer space, through cyber capabilities or direct kinetic attack, actually protect or defend?
The answer has to do with satellites and the perceived threats which revolve around the vital role satellites now play in keeping the world connected, its infrastructures functioning, its natural environment monitored, and most importantly, its people surveilled.
Satellites have become an inextricable part of our daily lives. According to a recent article in the April issue of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace magazine, planet Earth is today under permanent surveillance by hundreds of Earth observation satellites carrying various kinds of sensors and the number is only expected to grow.
Satellites are fundamentally communications and positioning systems, essential for navigation, communication relay and precise timing systems. Countless technological systems depend upon precise timing to deliver their required function. Timing and synchronisation is critical to such applications as communications (both open and secure), aviation and maritime navigation, financial transactions, electrical energy distribution, railway management and signalling, radar, electronic warfare etc. Many of us are used to Google Maps and other satellite navigation systems; and that little blue dot or car icon which shows our exact location at any given time is provided by satellites.
Any disruption to satellites or satellite constellations can have serious consequences and bring entire networks and nations to their knees. They are vulnerable to cyber attacks, since such attacks can be easily targeted at the system’s ground equipment or existing satellites in space. They are also vulnerable to kinetic attacks (actual direct hits). Moreover, space weather and space debris impact causing satellite communication disruption or damage to the satellite itself only add to the problems.
Satellite imagery, now more affordable than ever before, can be used across a gamut of activities from the noble, such as monitoring populations of endangered African elephants, examining the impact of natural disasters and other environmental research, the growth of refugee camps and illegal mines, down to the ethically ambiguous such as the ability to count cars in parking lots from space using artificial intelligence algorithms—data which can be used by retail chains to gauge the differences in the performance of individual stores and shopping trends over time and used by wealthy investors when deciding whether to sell or buy shares. And finally, down to the outright nefarious such as spying and surveillance on unwitting subjects, organisations, buildings, factories, other militaries, and governments—for a host of alleged reasons.
What is astonishing is how satellite imagery can provide image resolution of up to 30 cm or 12 inches (in the case of military satellites), and how, as in the case of Finnish company ICEYE, its satellites can capture one metre or 1.1 yards resolution radar images of the Earth’s surface (day and night) and through the clouds. The company’s ultimate goal is to build a satellite constellation that would be able to image each spot on the Earth every hour. Imagine that! Not just the Google Maps blue dot or your Garmin car icon on the screen, but actually full images of what you are doing!
Although satellites really do play a key role in essential Earth services for the good of the population, they are also, unfortunately, the prized possession of the global surveillance community. How would the spy and security organisations of the world operate without satellites? They couldn’t! Be it the US, Russia, the UK, Canada, France, and so on. It doesn’t matter. It’s the same game. How would social media giants such as Facebook operate without satellites? They wouldn’t operate.
Whilst our Earth satellites may be excellent for communications, ground surveillance and spying, we do know directly from Captain Tars Roke, the Voltar Emperor’s own astrographer, that they are pretty useless for anything else, and would not detect approaches from outer space.
“‘The first one,’ said Roke, ‘is a fast survey of the planet’s detection equipment.’ He looked closer at the report. ‘They are said to have electronic detection equipment for flying objects … Here’s the wavelengths and estimated ranges of it. They have a satellite communications system … Here’s the satellite count, range and extent with estimated traffic volumes.’ Roke turned a page. He smiled slightly. ‘The combat engineer said that when the signals were unscrambled, most of that traffic turned out to be home entertainment. There is no defense network to detect approaches from outer space and it is all easily avoided.’”
We can therefore safely conclude that all the chest-thumping going on between the world’s new Space Commands and the creation of threats and conflicts in outer space is only Earth history repeating itself, with the same governments, the same militaries and the same surveillance and control ideologies being simply transferred from land to space. A brief look at the mission statements of said Space Commands will confirm this (and by the way, none mention planetary protection against aliens).
Case in point, the newly established UK Space Command will provide command and control of all of Defence’s space capabilities including SKYNET (a family of military satellites, ground stations and user equipment that provides strategic satellite communication services and surveillance) and RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, which provides a continuous ballistic missile early warning service to the UK and US governments, ensuring a surprise missile attack cannot succeed. (Note that it would seem very unlikely that aliens would use ballistic missiles, since it is such a primitive system).
Across the pond, the US Space Force’s primary mission, as directed by Congress, is to maintain, protect, and expand the US fleet of advanced military satellites that form the backbone of US global military operations.
This brings us to those grey areas surrounding cyber security and surveillance systems—the bulk of which depend upon satellite technology—including products and their attendant activities which, although touted as vital for security, crime or terrorism prevention, or to offer a best consumer experience, can significantly infringe upon civil liberties. Examples of such products include closed-circuit television (CCTV), smart TV and smart phones and apps, facial recognition technology and assistant AI technology, e.g. Amazon Alexa, Google Home Hub, Apple Siri, to name but a few.
Now, although facial recognition technology has been with us for a while, its effectiveness was almost nullified overnight when wearing face masks became mandatory in many parts of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic: the recognition algorithms could no longer recognise masked faces. The problem was promptly resolved by new algorithms which could recognise when someone was NOT wearing a mask and report it accordingly (there’s always someone ready to find some new control mechanism) and finally new software was developed to see faces as if they were not wearing a mask. The joy of feeling free from being recognised through CCTV at every street corner by wearing a mask was short-lived.
In a Comparitech 2020 survey, eighteen out of the top twenty most surveilled cities in the world are in China, with London and Hyderabad being the only two cities outside China to make it into the top twenty. In fact London came third with 67.47 CCTV cameras per one thousand people. What is interesting is that a majority of the most surveilled cities are not even in the top twenty most populated cities. Tokyo, the most populated city, has 1.06 cameras per one thousand people.
But why worry about CCTV when social media and smart phone cameras continuously record what users are doing, writing, talking, thinking and even “emoting!” Facebook patent numbered US20150242679A1 “Techniques for emotion detection and content delivery” is a rather interesting bid to identify user emotions through their smart phone camera and save the information for future targeted ads, among other submitted techniques.
And it isn’t just all about smart phone cameras as in the recent breaking news that millions of COVID-19 vaccinated Britons have been “unwittingly tracked” using their mobile phones to see if vaccinated people moved about more after receiving their jabs. A revelation leaving many disturbed to discover they were unwittingly tracked and subjected to behavioural analysis via their phones by their own government.
And what about “smart” anything? Have you ever wondered why you keep getting ads for things you have talked about but haven’t searched on line? If the answer is yes, realize that some features in your phone or AI assistant are listening. A few years ago, the simple way to deal with this was to remove the battery from your phone which would prevent any further listening in or hacking. But manufacturers got clever, and phone batteries can no longer be removed.
The point is that “smart” equipment relies on communications systems, most of which rely on satellites. They can be hacked and used to listen in or to watch you. Did you know that it is common practice by defence and surveillance organisations (government and private) to forbid the use of smart phones or smart TVs or “smart” anything in the work environment (including working from home)? Some companies impose hefty penalties such as immediate dismissal for violations of rules concerning the unauthorised use of smart equipment in the workplace.
In the final analysis, satellites have become indispensable to the global surveillance networks, and any risk of disruption to their operations is going to be heavily contested by respective vested interests, thus leaving the true purpose of the new Space Commands open to debate.
Although the idea of Space Commands along the lines of Star Trek and space exploration for the benefit of humankind is incredibly exciting, can it be said hand-on-heart that this is the true motivation behind their recent institution? Or are we in fact moving insidiously and unaware closer to a dystopian future, where our civil liberties will have been completely eroded under the unrelenting eyes of surveillance satellites operated in the guise of seemingly innocuous Earth observation and communication constellations?
When it comes to the eradication of all civil liberties through extreme and unrelenting surveillance and police state, no better chilling warning exists than in George Orwell’s timeless classic, 1984, with its slogan, “Big Brother is Watching You” forever embedded in modern culture. Considering this book was published in 1949, Orwell had considerable foresight.
In a similar vein, Mission Earth (originally published in 1985) with its highly accurate and pointed, albeit satirical, description of today’s world, does not fail to hit the bull’s eye. Its analysis of global surveillance and population control through the unscrupulous and perpetual use of media manipulation, drugs, and covert operations, as well as the environmental destruction of the planet resulting in ice caps melting and the degradation of the atmosphere so as to soon be unable to sustain life, only adds to the rich fabric and heritage of the trail-blazing dystopian literary classics.
Considering that outer space does not belong to any one particular nation and is open to all, and that the use of space should be for the benefit of all humankind, it follows that any group or nation which would seek to develop its space exploration capabilities for the benefit of all has the right to do so, unmolested.
Therefore, in the spirit of cooperation, let us make sure that Earth’s outer space never becomes the new battlefield for those who would only thrive on conflict and destruction. Let us make outer space the game changer for the good of all.
Written by Delphine Ryan.
Incorporated Engineer with the Engineering Council.
Member of the Royal Aeronautical Society, United Kingdom.
PS: Please note that the Royal Aeronautical Society is an Earth organisation located in a group of islands called the United Kingdom and has no connection with Voltar’s Royal Astrographic Division.
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