New Space Concept: Power Dynamics in the Modern Era

The character of space is changing, and new actors are stepping in. Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the United Arab Emirates space program are perfect examples of modern stakeholders. Furthermore, the future offers additional commercialization opportunities, and with newer, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly technology, a growing number of space actors are expected. [1] Will these new actors cooperate or compete? And what are the consequences for the future of space exploration and the international community?

The above-mentioned development is reflected in the New Space concept. It explains the changing nature of space which mainly happened in the 2000s. The old patterns are challenged by private companies and their new ways of space exploration and modern upgraded technologies. [2] It is not possible to define exactly when the New Space started, because the area has been open to private stakeholders since the 1960s. [3] However, the theory generally frames the changes and developments in outer space, where the character of this area is no longer in the hands of the US and Russia as it was during the Cold War. Nowadays, there are new actors, such as the United Arab Emirates with its space program or Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, who play a significant role.

Moreover, the new key players have divergent positions and goals, also influencing the trends in space. With some exaggeration, it is a jungle in space. The heterogeneity of actors is visible when we look at the already mentioned UAE and SpaceX. Even though they have worked within a similar time frame in recent years, their contexts are significantly different. The United Arab Emirates serves as a public sector representative, aiming to develop its country by economically supporting other sectors and gaining a reputation. [4] With Elon Musk as its face, SpaceX is a private-sector representation backed by the government, looking for financial advantages and a competitive edge. [5] In addition, they are from diverse regions, and their distinct typologies are reflected in the relevant legislation in the US and the United Arab Emirates.

The diversity of actors can be both beneficial and problematic. On one hand, there is healthy competition leading to more innovations and the development of modern technologies. On the other hand, the unclear and unpredictable situation in space can create some international security threats. These are connected to space debris, lack of responsibility, and conflictual nature. However, to understand them properly, we need to look closer at the new actors and their mindset by comparing two new stakeholders, SpaceX from the private sector and UAE as an involved state.

New Space Actors

Both SpaceX and UAE see space as an immense opportunity. For the UAE, it might be seen as an improvement in the nation’s economic and educational development and a sign of prestige. The plan and initiative for the interplanetary expedition came directly from the government, not from a group of scientists, which is also connected with their motivations. [6] The space program, particularly the Mars mission Hope, was initiated to build capacity in the country’s science sector, enhance science education, and celebrate the UAE’s 50th anniversary as a state. [7] These aims demonstrate that the actual space mission was a secondary purpose for the entire community.

In comparison, the motivation for SpaceX stems largely from personal reasons, such as Mask’s belief that due to climate change and extinction, people will need to live on Mars. [8] In addition, there are important and direct financial outcomes. Elon Musk, the company’s owner, is one of the billionaire space race contestants. This well-known term refers to a circumstance in which three of the world’s wealthiest people Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are launching new independent space firms to commercialize space successfully. [9]

Mars image captured with the camera on UAE’s Hope Mars Mission on May 23, 2023. (Source: Flickr)

However, the growth of SpaceX company is not happening without the help of the US government. They are working with SpaceX on three aims using public funding and construction engineers from Musk’s company: creating humanity multi-planetary, making history, and building reusable rockets. [10] They are expanding the possibilities of commercial space while using these innovative and less expansive rocket choices. That is also an important part of the New Space concept, in which corporations gain government-funded innovations. [11]

The cooperation of the US government and SpaceX set ambitious targets evidenced by significant public funding. According to Maraš and Dangubić (2022), 93 % of state funding for space efforts goes to two enormous corporations, SpaceX and Jeff Bezos company, Blue Origin. [12] The connection is predicated on the opportunity to cut prices, share know-how, and assist the US government in attaining its space objectives. [13] As a result, when US lawmakers outsource their targets, and corporations such as SpaceX receive financial resources, it is a win-win situation.

Sharing know-how is happening on the side of UAE as well. Instead of partnering with other countries, the government requested assistance from the University of California Berkeley and Japanese commercial launchers during the building of the already mentioned Mars mission Hope. [14] In addition, upon the project’s completion, the UAE Space Agency stated its desire to continue sharing information and observations about Mars with the international community, notably NASA. [15] The UAE government’s move towards a more collaborative scientific environment validates the development strategy through space projects.

The development plan related to space programs seems to be a success story in the UAE. The UAE Space Agency (2019) conducted a Space Economic Survey, which revealed that space activities benefit 17 industries, including education, tourism, agriculture, energy, and high-tech enterprises. [16] This shows how space is intertwined with daily life. However, the link between space missions and indirect support to other sectors was not always as evident as it is now in the UAE.

Some victories also occur in Elon Musk’s business. The US government adopted a new space law supporting private enterprises, billionaires‘ initiatives, and technical knowledge. The government established the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act in 2015, with clear regulations and opportunities for private companies to participate in developing space technologies. [17] In this way, the US administration not only appropriately responded to the concept of New Space, but it is also one of the reasons why Elon Musk and SpaceX can organize space tourism and make space more accessible. At the moment, space travellers have to pay $55 million for their trip, but space tourism has enormous future potential. [18] [19] With companies like SpaceX, it can be claimed that the sky is no longer the limit. However, the New Space and more accessible space concept also brings some potential threats.

Challenges of the New Space

There has been a substantial backlash against space activities due to their detrimental impact on the environment. Every rocket launch requires a significant amount of fuel; thus, SpaceX and the UAE Space Agency contribute to pollution. Furthermore, there is a significant and unresolved issue with the formation of space debris. Space satellites have a limited lifespan due to the hostile space environment, after which they become space debris with other man-made items. [20] Leaving satellites and other space technologies in orbit can be hazardous to the environment.

From the standpoint of the concept of New Space, and with the growing number of space participants, this threat is becoming increasingly relevant. The orbits are becoming increasingly congested, and the actors leave more debris in their wake. SpaceX and the UAE are also responsible for this phenomenon, and even though it is impossible to say how much, they do contribute to space debris, which can have irreversible effects on future space sustainability and accessibility for future actors. [21]

Rocket engine as a space junk. Even flecks of paint can be harmful. (Source: Flickr)

Additionally, a careful review of SpaceX missions reveals that even reusable rockets pollute the environment. For example, SpaceX launched a Tesla automobile into space in 2018 to demonstrate that their rockets can transport enormous objects, but even now, six years later, the car wanders in orbit. [22] This demonstrates that New Space actors may be concerned with sustainability, yet there are significant gaps in their approach. Ian Shields from London Metropolitan University noted that „even flecks of paint can be harmful.“ [23] Eventually, creating more and more space junk makes the aim of interplanetary human life more challenging. Elon Musk’s vision for life on Mars will be unattainable if future spacecraft cannot safely depart Earth due to debris in the orbit. [24]

This is one of the reasons why both the United Arab Emirates and SpaceX try to mitigate space debris. The UAE regulatory framework from 2022 aims to „design solutions for Space Objects minimizing the risk of generating new Space Debris as well as encouraging the adoption of standards and best practices limiting the production of Space Debris during the operational, and Disposal Phase.“ [25] SpaceX, navigated by the US Law, has a similar perspective. In November 2023, the House of Representatives presented the Commercial Space Act of 2023 to ease the burden of bureaucracy, support the space business sector, and satisfy international obligations concerning limitations to space debris. [26] However, some analysts criticize this new proposal because they believe it chooses multinational commitments and private space sector improvement over national security. [27]

National security in space should be highlighted because of the potential military threats. Space and satellites with real-time information work as enablers of advanced military operations in other types of warfare in air, sea, land, and cyberspace. [28] Some academics argue it is difficult to imagine future battles not involving the role of outer space. [29] According to Jamie M. Morin, Executive Director of The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy, space can be viewed through the C’s lens when „space is increasingly crowded, we see it as contested or conflictual, and we also see it as increasingly democratized.“ [30]

The forms and roles of individual actors in this rival setting are not predictable. However, by examining selected actors SpaceX and the UAE’s space program, it is reasonable to estimate that both parties may directly or indirectly engage in potential conflict. Especially the UAE, which is already in the midst of a regional space race in the Middle East and is one of the leaders in this field due to its Mars mission. [31] At the same time, SpaceX is a service provider to the US Army, and both parties are constantly initiating military contracts for the distribution of weapons and the construction of specific rockets for them. [32] [33] Because of this cooperation and close contact with the military field, both of these actors could be easily intentionally or unintentionally involved in an international dispute.

Doubtful Advantage

The military potential, unsolved legal difficulties, and space debris demonstrate challenges exacerbated by the New Security concept. The space is becoming increasingly crowded, and a boom in space activities is being pushed by both government and entrepreneurs. Simultaneously, it is without question that the number of parties in space will grow, complicating the situation even further. That is why their cooperation and stronger legislation should be encouraged. The case of the UAE and SpaceX demonstrates that while they have distinct goals and approaches, they are both dependent on other players and circumstances such as accessibility. This could reduce the likelihood of environmental space debris threats and the risk of military space warfare. Furthermore, the partnership contributes to developing new technologies like SpaceX reusable rockets and indirect support for other state sectors, as in the case of the UAE space program. All of this, and the New Space concept in general, could be able to function well if all sides strike a balance between the delicate notions of environmental challenges, national security concerns, and international commitments.

Article reviewed by  Kristýna Drmotová and Dávid Dinič.


[1] Shields, I. (2015). Space and security. In P. Hough, S. Malik, A. Moran, B. Pilbeam, & W. Stokes (Eds.), International security studies theory and practice (pp. 427–436). New York: Routledge.

[2] Sweeting, M.N. (2018). Modern Small Satellites-Changing the Economics of Space. Proceedings of the, 106 (3), pp. 343-361, doi:10.1109/JPROC.2018.2806218.

[3] Let’s talk about NewSpace. (2019, February 26). Retrieved February 4, 2024, from Satsearch blog website:

[4] Whitman Cobb, W. (2020). The UAE’s Mars mission seeks to bring Hope to more places than the red planet. [online] The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[5] Toney, M.J. (2022). Rocket Ships, Emotions, and Disgusting Wealth: The Emotional Significance of the Billionaire Space Race. Senior Projects Spring , [online] 206. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[6] ENA (2022). UAE marks anniversary of Hope Probe’s historic entry into Mars’ orbit. [online] Emirates News Agency. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[7] Amiri, H.E.S., Brain, D., Sharaf, O., Withnell, P., McGrath, M., Alloghani, M., Al Awadhi, M., Al Dhafri, S., Al Hamadi, O., Al Matroushi, H., Al Shamsi, Z., Al Shehhi, O., Chaffin, M., Deighan, J., Edwards, C., Ferrington, N., Harter, B., Holsclaw, G., Kelly, M. and Kubitschek, D. (2022). The Emirates Mars Mission. Space Science Reviews, 218(1).

[8] Clifford, C. (2017, July 17). There’s one thing that motivates Elon Musk above all else. Retrieved February 4, 2024, from CNBC website:

[9] Toney, M.J. (2022). Rocket Ships, Emotions, and Disgusting Wealth: The Emotional Significance of the Billionaire Space Race. Senior Projects Spring, [online] 206. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[10] SpaceX (n.d.). SpaceX. [online] SpaceX. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[11] Autry, G. (2013). Exploring New Space: Governmental Roles in the Emergence of New Communities of High-Technology Organizations. Dissertation.

[12] Maraš, D. and Dangubić, M. (2022). Cooperation Between Government Agencies and Private Companies in Space: The Case of the United States. Astropolitics, 20(2-3), pp.1–12.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Whitman Cobb, W. (2020). The UAE’s Mars mission seeks to bring Hope to more places than the red planet. [online] The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[15] NASA (2022). NASA, UAE Mars Missions Agree to Share Science Data. [online] NASA Mars Exploration. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[16] UAE Space Agency. (2019). Open Data. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[17] Congress of the United States. (2015). U.S. COMMERCIAL SPACE LAUNCH COMPETITIVENESS ACT. PUBLIC LAW 114–90 [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[18] National Public Radio (2022). 3 visitors heading to the space station are paying $55M each, all meals included. NPR. [online] 8 Apr. Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2022].

[19] Shields, I. (2015). Space and security. In P. Hough, S. Malik, A. Moran, B. Pilbeam, & W. Stokes (Eds.), International security studies theory and practice (pp. 427–436). New York: Routledge.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Clormann, M., & Klimburg-Witjes, N. (2022). Troubled Orbits and Earthly Concerns: Space Debris as a Boundary Infrastructure. Science, Technology, & Human Values47(5), 960–985.

[22] Wattles, J. (2023). SpaceX put a Tesla sportscar into space five years ago. Where is it now? [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[23] Shields, I. (2015). Space and security. In P. Hough, S. Malik, A. Moran, B. Pilbeam, & W. Stokes (Eds.), International security studies theory and practice (pp. 427–436). New York: Routledge.

[24] Clormann, M., & Klimburg-Witjes, N. (2022). Troubled Orbits and Earthly Concerns: Space Debris as a Boundary Infrastructure. Science, Technology, & Human Values47(5), 960–985.

[25] UAE Space Agency. (2022). Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines . Retrieved January 20, 2024, from

[26] House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (2023, November 29). H.R. 6131 – The Commercial Space Act of 2023. Retrieved January 20, 2024, from

[27] Goehring, J. (2023, December 19). The Commercial Space Act of 2023 is Bad for National Security. Just Security. Retrieved from

[28] Stickings, A. (2019). Space, Strategic Advantage and Control of the Military High Ground. In: P. Roberts, ed., The Future Conflict Operating Environment Out to 2030. [online] Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[29] Shields, I. (2015). Space and security. In P. Hough, S. Malik, A. Moran, B. Pilbeam, & W. Stokes (Eds.), International security studies theory and practice (pp. 427–436). New York: Routledge.

[30] Wilson Center (2020). Seeking Strategic Advantage: How Geopolitical Competition and Cooperation are Playing Out in Space | Wilson Center. [online] Wilson Center. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[31] Soliman, M. (2021). The geopolitics of space: Why did the UAE send a probe to Mars? Middle East Institute. [online] 25 Mar. Available at:  [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[32] Duffy, K. (2020). The US military and Elon Musk are planning a 7,500-mph rocket that can deliver weapons anywhere in the world in an hour. [online] Business Insider. Available at: [Accessed 10 May 2023].

[33] Gohd, C. (2022). SpaceX snags $102 million contract to rocket military supplies and humanitarian aid around the world: report. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 May 2023].


Napsat komentář

Vaše e-mailová adresa nebude zveřejněna. Vyžadované informace jsou označeny *