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What is Space Development Theory?

By: Joshua Carlson, 7 September 2020


Space Development Theory is the attempt to grasp the purposes of going to space and systematize them in such a way that they can both assess current status and provide assistance in planning strategy, and predicting hostile intentions.


Space Development Theory has two baseline assumptions:

  1. That actions done in any domain have a purpose, and the most benefit possible to gain is from economic advantage that benefits national power. This is accomplished through the systematized phases of Exploration, Expansion, Exploitation, and Exclusion.

  2. Exploration - going into the domain to observe and assess what is present, how it operates, and identify what key areas must be held for economic or military benefit. Maps, names, and other such things lay claim to land and lay the ground work for expansion.

  3. Expansion - extending permanent bases and national infrastructure (ability to move, navigate and communicate) into the domain in question and, in particular, to control those identified key economic or military areas. This is an exertion on national capability, and usually a net drain on national resources.

  4. Exploitation - the first step that relies on the economic development of an area. Once it is secured and the level of danger is low enough, and likely benefit high enough, then exploitation will occur. This can be accelerated with government encouragement to develop the area or resource. This phase is a net benefit to the nation, bringing in more income/benefit than the cost of maintaining safety or infrastructure. Most nations want to stay in this phase as much as possible.

  5. Exclusion - this is a conditional step, only entered into when either: 1. another entity threatens friendly control or 2. another entity controls a key node that a friendly entity desires. Either one provokes some combination of national action, whether military, diplomatic/legal, economic, or informational lead, all will almost certainly be used together. This is also an exertion phase, as both nations strive with each other, assuming there is a near-even match. This phase is exited with control is established by one or the other, and the successful party may need to expand again (if infrastructure was damaged) and then enter exploitation.

  6. That there is a delineation in mature domains between civilian and military in a domain. In the naval domain, this is seapower and maritime. In the aerial domain, airpower and aviation. Because space is still in its nascent stages of industrialization, this has not been recognized yet. My suggested definitions are Spacepower and Astronautics (Spacepower Ascendant, pg 28).

  7. Spacepower - Military force that can exert influence in and from the domain and create effects in other domains for strategic benefit.

  8. Astronautics - Those elements that are primarily commercial and industrial; it includes all aspects that allow for projection into, production, sustainment, training, profit, and expansion in the domain for the purpose of strategic benefit.

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