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Ukrαine invasion threatens international collaboration in space and shows how power structures are changing?

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we talk to two experts about how spαce is entering a new era of international competition – and whether the existing laws are ready for what comes next.

Spαce has historically been a surprisingly collaborative place. Even during the height of the cold war, the Soviet Union and the US made decisions that were mutually beneficial to both nations.As more nations developed their own spαce agencies in the last decades of the 20th century, the era of international collaboration in spαce put forth its crown jewel, the International spαce Station (ISS).

A remarkable system of agreements and laws allow more than a dozen different countries to run such a complicated feat of science in orbit.

But as David Kuan-Wei Chen, the executive director of the Center for Research in Air and spαce Law at McGill University in Canada, explains, the fallout from Russiα’s invαsioп of Ukrαine is putting this cooperation to the test, with Russiα threatening to withdraw from the ISS.“Like all international agreements, these provisions are in place to prevent the unnecessary escalation of political disputes which threaten to completely derail 20 to 30 years of unprecedented cooperation in spαce,” he says.

The ISS may be the most high-profile recent dispute in spαce, but in the last decade or two, there’s been a subtle yet important shift in how nations approach missions in spαce.

Svetla Ben-Itzhak is a professor of spαce and international relations at Air University in the US and has a name for the emerging system.

“In the past, we had individual countries leading in spαce. However, now most countries are not acting alone. The trend has been that countries that partner on the ground also come together to accomplish specific missions in spαce. I call these formations spαce blocs,” she says. Instead of individual countries collaborating on big scientific missions, now groups of allied nations are competing against each other.

In the full episode of the podcast, we talk to Ben-Itzhak about how spαce blocs emerged, why they are likely to be the main avenue of power in the future and what this means for the prospects of wαr in spαce. Then, with Chen we explore whether existing spαce law is adequate to meet the challenges in spαce today and how two future missions to the Moon highlight all the gray areas of what is legal and what isn’t once you leave Earth.