Small States in Space: Space Club Relevancy and National Interest Influence

  • Published
  • By Wing Commander Mark Waters, Royal New Zealand Air Force

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This article analyzes how small states can enhance their importance within the “space club” and improve their capacity to attain national objectives. The study assesses the approaches taken by five successful small states to achieve their space-­­­related interests and evaluates their effectiveness. The research demonstrates that small states can gain relevance within the space community by leveraging their unique attributes or identifying gaps in the space ecosystem. This relevance can help small states gain improved access to space services, enhance security, drive economic growth, and have a stronger voice in international space forums. The research provides valuable insights for small states seeking to participate in the space club and aims to inspire them to believe that they too can gain relevance within the space community and advance their national interests through space. This article is relevant to scholars and policy makers interested in space diplomacy and the role of small states in global governance.



By all but the narrowest definitions, most of the world’s states are small states.

—Tom Long

Reliance on space is integral to almost every facet of life on Earth, from communication, navigation, finance, and weather monitoring to national security–focused applications such as surveillance, missile warning, and command, control, communication, and information (C3I) services. Historically a limited number of nations have dominated access to, and the use of, space, but the evolution of technology has lowered the barriers of entry into space. Because of this trend, the world is now experiencing an exponential increase in interest and utilization of space by states of different sizes and development levels.1 According to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ satellite database, the number of active satellites in space has increased from 217—primarily owned and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), United States, Russia, and China—at the end of 2005 to more than 5,465 operated by more than 74 countries currently, as a result of the national opportunities that space provides.2

In her book The Power of the Space Club, Deganit Paikowsky coined the term space club. She argued that membership in this club was limited and controlled by a small number of states who held relevancy in space due to their capabilities, technologies, or previous accomplishments.3 She proposed that membership in this space club was not automatic and required certain capabilities—such as manufacture of satellites, launch capability, and human spaceflight—before recognition and acceptance of membership by the other members. In the Cold War period, membership in the space club consisted primarily of the Soviet Union and the United States, who were the first nations to possess the above space capabilities. At a lower tier were “nations with a collective capability to develop, maintain and control their satellites, such as members of the ESA.”4 More recently, advancements in technology, changes in geopolitics, and commercial interest in space have progressively made access to space and the ability to design and manufacture space technologies easier. The result is increased membership in the space club.5

India, for example, has formally targeted space as a mechanism to achieve its socioeconomic, security, and prestige interests both nationally and on the global stage. With a focus on partnering with and providing cheap launch capabilities for other nations, India has also invested in developing a sovereign space industry capability. This investment in space has seen India launch more than 350 satellites and even conduct an antisatellite (ASAT) test in its efforts to become a recognized member of the space club with relevancy and the ability to influence and enhance New Delhi’s terrestrial and space interests.6 While India has clear reasons for pursuing a sovereign space capability and a leadership stake in the space club, other nations also considering or pursuing a stake in space do not have comparable size or resources. Despite this, small states continue to pursue and invest in space capabilities. This raises the question of why states, particularly small states, would seek to invest in space capabilities.

While prestige, economic growth, and enhancement of national security are commonly touted reasons for states to invest in space, this article proposes that the surge in states seeking to create space capability is being driven by a desire to gain relevancy in the space club and to use those capabilities and relevancy to positively influence their own national interests.

What Is a Small State in the Context of Space?

When considering the hierarchy of states and their power, it is common to consider their instruments of power—political, economic, military, or information—and rank or apportion each state and its influence accordingly. While there is general agreement on which nations can be considered great powers, delineation of middle and small powers (or states) is not as simple. The concept of small state has therefore “typically been based on the amount of resources the small state possesses, that is, not very many.”7 Often, small states may not have attained higher status due to imbalanced sources of power, such as large territories or resource bases, but small populations (as is the case with Australia or Canada) or, conversely, having large populations within a small geographic area (such as Japan and Singapore). These conflicting sources of power also typically have an impact on the economic performance of the state and ultimately make it difficult for such states to exert their influence globally. Any influence that is gained is predominantly developed through relationships with larger states. These relationships bring the “great power politics, institutionalization, economic governance, and the normative environment” set by those great powers, which typically shapes how those relationships function.8

Similarly, “the systemic level of analysis, particularly as linked to structural realism, has tended to emphasize great powers, and obscure the role of small states” in guiding global events and actions.9 Small states have been effectively relegated to a second tier of international relations scholarship, leading to a lack of research or consensus on what defines a state as small or medium.10 More importantly, there is little research on how such states can increase their relevance and influence to “box above their weight” globally and gain a voice in international forums, bilateral relationships, and interstate engagement. This lack of attention also applies to the space environment, where small states are often overlooked despite their potential to contribute significantly to the space industry.

Historically, great powers have dominated space, and this remains the case today. This situation is evolving and an increasing number of small and medium states are developing space capabilities as they recognize the significance of space for their futures. However, there is little research and guidance available on how these small states can shape their space programs to achieve national interests and increase their relevance in future space developments and activities.

To simplify the categorization process, this article focuses on two levels, small and large, instead of the traditional small, medium, and large categorizations. A large spacefaring state is defined as one with multiple satellites in orbit, extensive ground stations, and a history of achievements in space at the highest levels—i.e., manned spaceflight, exploration, sovereign design/manufacture capability, and so forth. Examples of such states include the United States, China, and Russia. Also included in this category are India and Japan, which are rapidly advancing their space capabilities. Conversely, a small state is one with no or limited sovereign space capability and a limited space presence compared to the large states.

Using this definition, this article identifies several small states that for varying reasons are actively seeking to create or increase their capabilities and presence in space. The approaches taken by these states are identified as examples or models for other small states to consider and emulate. These small space states selected for this article are the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).11 For differing reasons, each of these states has adopted unique approaches and capability sets to become more relevant in space and to successfully achieve their national interests.

Small State Approaches to Space

The United Kingdom

After World War II, the United Kingdom approached space with caution, even though London recognized the importance of launching satellites and operating in the space domain as a symbol of great power. In 1963, the United Kingdom initiated a space program, but its primary focus was on capitalizing on commercial opportunities and maintaining its relevance with the United States, which was leading the Western states in the space race. Key among these opportunities was British expertise in rocket engineering, which London focused on ahead of any space aspirations. But such was the United Kingdom’s apathy toward space that its eventual launch of its Prospero satellite on a British Black Arrow rocket in 1971 “was the first and last launch by Britain.”12

By 1973, London had signed a deal with Washington that provided access to launch services in the United States. Furthermore, in 1975, the United Kingdom joined the ESA, formalizing their approach to engaging in space capabilities rather than directly developing their own national space capabilities.13 This approach remained in place for nearly 30 years until the British government reevaluated its space policy in 2007, resulting in a renewed “space policy aimed at stimulating the domestic [space] industry.”14 In 2010, a national space agency was created with the aim to “foster innovation and help companies . . . drive long-­­­term growth.”15

The Brexit vote shifted the United Kingdom’s position within the global space hierarchy. Despite remaining a member, the ESA terminated or reduced the United Kingdom’s participation in several European Union–funded programs, including Galileo, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), and the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) program.16 The potential loss of these capabilities raised security concerns for the United Kingdom and highlighted the need for independent space capabilities.17 As a result of the Brexit vote, the United Kingdom suddenly became a small state in terms of its space capability.

The 2021 National Space Strategy formalized London’s recognition and intention to create a world-­­­leading space capability, as well as the goal of shifting from a “Global Britain” to a “Galactic Britain,” as stated by then–Prime Minister Boris Johnson.18 The National Space Strategy identified the United Kingdom’s vision for space and five national goals to achieve that vision (fig. 1), with a key focus on the dual role of both the Ministry of Defence and the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) in achieving the set vision and goals.

Figure 1. Visions and goals of the United Kingdom’s 2021 National Space Strategy19

In June 2022, the UKSA published its Corporate Plan 2022–2025, outlining how the agency intended to meet the government’s goal of becoming “one of the most innovative and attractive space economies.” The plan focuses on three key elements: catalyzing investment, delivering missions and capabilities, and championing space.20 Despite having a relatively strong economic and technical foundation, the British space industry still needed to address a significant capability rejuvenation challenge to align with its Western allies (and potential competitors) and achieve its aspiration of becoming a relevant and influential space power.21

To achieve such a transformation, the United Kingdom has maintained its focus on several key areas, including developing small satellite launch capabilities (both vertical and horizontal),22 upstream satellite manufacturing (with a particular emphasis on small and nanosatellite design and production), increased investment in research and development (R&D), continued participation in the ESA where possible, collaboration with international partners, and advocating for behavioral norms in space within the United Nations (UN).23 Recent assessments of the health and growth of the space industry have confirmed that the British space sector is outperforming other sectors. The United Kingdom has attracted 40 percent of the global small satellite market and is leading in almost all metrics compared to other British industries, including new entrant growth, investment, employment, GDP, and productivity.24

The Ministry of Defence is acting on the responsibilities outlined in the National Space Strategy to protect and defend national interests. In April 2021, the UK Space Command was established, and in February 2022, the Ministry of Defence published its inaugural Defence Space Strategy. This strategy pledged to invest GBP 1.4B over 10 years in various capabilities, including a British Global Surveillance Satellite System; a sovereign satellite navigation capability; continued investment in a sovereign positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) system; secure laser-­­­based space communications; and the UK Skynet communications satellite network to enhance joint operations.25 To accomplish this, and acknowledging its constraints regarding resources, cost, and schedules, the Ministry of Defence has adopted a pragmatic “own, collaborate, or access” framework. This approach allows the ministry “to get best value for money, [by] critically assess[ing] what capabilities [must be owned] on a sovereign basis, those for which [they] can collaborate with allies and partners . . . and those [that can be accessed] via the commercial market.”26 This strategy enables the United Kingdom to become “more operationally independent in space, [but] not strategically autonomous.”27 Such an approach is critical for any small state with limited resources seeking to join the space club.

The United Kingdom is steadily progressing toward achieving its national space strategy goals, including establishing a launch facility in Cornwall, planning the launch of the Prometheus 2 mission with UK-­­­manufactured CubeSats from that facilitymarking the first satellites to be designed, built, and launched in the United Kingdomand space-­­­related industries seeing positive growth across most gross value added (GVA) segment measures.28

Brexit presented the United Kingdom with challenges; however, it also provided an opportunity for the country to assert itself as an independent and invested space nation.29 While many of the ambitious goals detailed within the National Space Strategy have yet to be realized, the United Kingdom has made significant progress in a very short time, establishing genuine sovereign space capabilities and elevating its status in the global space community. This progress is evidenced by the growth and investment in the UK commercial space industry, as well as the adoption of a pragmatic own, collaborate, access procurement model. The United Kingdom serves as a compelling case study for how a state, which has historically relied on collaboration and partnership, can increase its relevance in space forums and enhance its ability to achieve national interests. In the case of the United Kingdom, these interests include enhancing its security, boosting economic performance, and achieving prestige as a launch nation once its capabilities are fully operational.


Canada’s approach to space capability and relevancy in the space club differs from that of the United Kingdom. While London has focused on developing sovereign capabilities across all aspects of space activity, Ottawa has adopted a cooperative approach with other nations and focused internally on niche space technologies. This approach has allowed Canada to make significant contributions to international space programs and regional security, which have earned it a seat at the space club table. As a result, Canada enjoys considerable relevancy and inclusion in future partner space activities, leading to amplified success in meeting its domestic economic and security interests.

Like many nations, Canada was initially prompted to take an interest in space following the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik. This event highlighted the potential for Canada to meet its domestic needs, given its large landmass and dispersed population. Additionally, the potential for the Soviet Union to access or attack the United States over Canadian airspace raised security concerns. As a result, Canada invested in cooperative programs with the United States, which led to “the development and launch of the first Canadian satellite, Alouette 1, on an American launcher.”30

In 1966, after Canada’s initial entry into space under the guidance of the United States, the Canadian government commissioned the Chapman Report to provide guidance on the future direction of its space program. The report recommended that Canada avoid investment in an extensive sovereign space capability and instead concentrate on cooperative efforts with other countries. Furthermore, the report suggested that Canada should concentrate on those capabilities that directly contributed to its unique domestic needs associated with its geography and dispersed population.31

Following the recommendations of the Chapman Report, Ottawa strengthened its strategic relationship ties with the United States and, later, the ESA. This led to the development of a space industry with the ability to domestically design, develop, and construct niche communication and Earth observation satellites. These capabilities allowed Canada to provide services to its dispersed population and monitor its northern borders.32

These initial space capabilities ultimately evolved into Canada identifying additional niche opportunities in space technologies to fill international capability gaps. One of the most significant of these niche technologies is the Canadarm, which was developed as part of the US space shuttle program.33 The Canadarm’s success led to the development of advanced robotic systems such as Dextre, which have been used to reduce the requirement for human space walks.34

(photo taken by CSA astronaut David Saint-­­­Jacques, May 13, 2019)

Figure 2. Canadarm2 and Dextre working on the International Space Station35

As a result of Canada’s successful partnership with NASA and the development of the Canadarm technology, Canada was invited to send its own astronauts on the space shuttle missions. This invitation marked the beginning of the third element of Canada’s space program: human spaceflight. Today, Canadian astronauts continue to be involved in the International Space Station (ISS). Canada’s success and contribution in niche technologies are evident through its partnership with NASA in providing the Canadarm3 on the Lunar Gateway, and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen will be part of NASA’s Artemis II mission.36

After the initial success of the niche manufacturing and astronaut program, the Canadian government established the CSA in 1989 to govern its space activities. The CSA’s mission is to “advance the knowledge of space through science and ensure that space . . . provide[s] social and economic benefits for Canadians.”37 Canada recognizes that its involvement in space and niche capabilities are strategic assets that serve its economic prosperity, security, and national identity, and therefore prioritizes scientific research. A focus on national identity is evident in the Canadian flag displayed on the Canadarms and in the astronaut program, which plays a critical role in achieving recognition and maintaining investment and growth in Canada’s space industry.38

Rather than creating a space force like larger nations, the Royal Canadian Defence Force took a different approach to space security. In July 2022, Canada established the 3 Canadian Space Division as a subordinate organization of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).39 This approach is common for smaller nations with limited national space assets; however, the creation of a dedicated space division with responsibility for military space capability shows Canada’s recognition on the role of space in supporting its national and regional security needs.40 Canada’s regional security requirements have also resulted in the development of niche surveillance capabilities through the Sapphire and RADARSAT satellite systems.41 These systems contribute highly valued intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and civil earth observation contributions to larger alliance efforts. They also provide Canada with access to other security-­­­related information, similar to Canadarm’s participation and access to nonmilitary international space programs.42

Canada’s space program and continued collaboration with the United States has been successful due to its focused approach toward niche commercial and military space capabilities. By investing in limited but highly visible capabilities, Canada has been able to maintain and enhance its relevance in space, thus achieving its national interests. Canada’s approach has been consistent and reflects Ottawa’s desire to assert a distinct Canadian identity in space, promote its space economy, and ensure security across its borders and the Arctic region in cooperation with the United States. Ottawa’s strategy serves as an example for other small states with limited resources, demonstrating how a focused approach toward niche capabilities can help achieve national interests related to economic growth, territorial security, national identity, and prestige.


Like Canada, Australia initially considered space as the purview of the great powers and focused its involvement on collaborating with its historical allies and utilizing space technology for communication across its vast dispersed geography. Australia provided the United Kingdom and the United States with distinct advantages due to its unique geographical location and expansive unpopulated landmass, which could be used for rocket motor/missile testing and space monitoring and control. As a result of this collaboration, the Woomera Rocket Range was developed, and Australia entered the space club as an ally and support provider, rather than a sovereign developer of space capability.43

Despite initial successes in communication satellite systems, ionospheric research, and contribution to British and American projects, including weapons research and the Apollo missions, ongoing indifference by Australian governments ultimately limited the development of an Australian space program.44 The prevalent view was that “developing indigenous capability was not . . . economical for a small country like Australia.”45

It was only in the mid-1980s that Canberra recognized the potential of space, particularly for economic development. The Madigan Report, a review on space, emphasized the need for government leadership in developing space capabilities, specifically in ground-­­­sector activities, remote-­­­sensing technologies, and international collaboration.46 This report resulted in increased funding toward building a space industry in Australia and the development of the Australian Space Office (ASO), which aimed to encourage space-­­­related research and development and commercially viable space-­­­related industries.47 However, despite growing reliance on space applications, Australia failed to develop its own sovereign space capabilities. The ASO was eventually shut down a decade after its creation due to insufficient funding.

In 2008, the Australian Senate Economics Committee released a report calling for the establishment of an Australian Space Agency and emphasized the need for the country to reduce its reliance on other nations for space technology and capability.48 The Australian government accepted the report, and subsequently established a Space Coordination Office and published policies and principles for space utilization.49 These developments, however, did not represent a major change in Australia’s overall strategy, which continued to prioritize “the utilization of space through international and commercial partnerships rather than the indigenous development of capabilities.”50

The 2006 Australian Government Space Engagement report also reflected Canberra’s approach to space: “Space is important to Australians—we are sophisticated users of space. [We] secure access to the benefits of space by participating in a range of international cooperative arrangements and by purchasing products and services.”51 Australia’s cooperative arrangements were dual focused. The arrangements included hosting civilian (NASA) and military satellite ground stations for the United States. This security cooperation strengthened the political and military relationship. These arrangements also provided Australia with “unusual access to classified United States space data putting it into a small, privileged class in terms of participation in specific areas of defense support operations.”52 However, in contrast to its privileged access, Australia’s level of influence and relevancy within the space community remained limited.

The Australian government has recently adopted a more active approach to space due to “domestic economic factors, a fear of relative technological backwardness within the Asian region, and Australia’s security needs for space-­­­derived information about its own territory.”53 The Australian Space Agency, established in 2018, is tasked with developing the Australian space industry, regulating space-­­­based technology in support of national interests, and leading international collaboration. The agency’s Civil Space Strategy outlines its goals, including strengthening its relationship with the United States, increasing investment in military and commercial space capabilities, and developing niche technologies in daytime ground-­­­based radar and optical space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities.54 These technologies include innovative daytime space domain awareness (SDA) observation solutions, such as optical event-­­­based target tracking systems using neuromorphic imaging techniques and deployable SDA sensors (FireOPAL), which provide Australian and allied defense forces persistent space surveillance of up to 100 objects simultaneously.55 Furthermore, Australia’s unique geographical location provides optimal access to high-­­­inclination (polar or sun-­­­synchronous) orbits, and with vast regions of uninhabited ocean surrounding Australia, Canberra is also considering sovereign launch capabilities.56

Figure 3. FireOPAL units deployed in Australian outback57

From a national security perspective, similar to the United Kingdom and Canada, the Australian military has created an Australian Defence Space Command.58 This command, which is part of the Royal Australian Air Force, has the responsibility for protecting, operating, and supporting current space-­­­based infrastructure, and providing assistance for joint operations around the world when required. Additionally, the Defence Space Command facilitates better coordination and collaboration with allies, particularly in fulfilling its obligations under the multinational Combined Space Operations (CSpO) initiative.59 This space governance structure is consistent with the aforementioned small states, and could serve as a suitable framework for other small states to consider. By separating national security space elements from their economic and diplomatic space elements, this model enables small state governments to develop distinctive strategies for growth and capability despite their limited resources and population.

Australia’s approach to space is considered typical of a small, late-­­­starter state. Historically, Canberra was content to let larger nations drive space innovation and provide space services, but Australia has now reached an inflection point where it recognizes the contribution that space can provide to national interests and the need to ensure ongoing access to such services. Rather than trying to do everything, Australia has assessed how to leverage its unique advantages, specifically its strategic location and geography.60 These aspects are unique to Australia and offer both sovereign and collaborative opportunities that can be used to advance its national interests. By capitalizing on its geographic advantages, Australia is quickly becoming a state that other countries collaborate with, particularly in SDA and launch. This use of its geography is also invigorating its national space economy while deepening its collaboration with traditional security partners, especially the United States. This strengthens Australia’s relevance within the space club, enabling Canberra to influence its security and economic interests.

Australia’s experience shows that other small states can identify and capitalize on their unique comparative advantages. Comparative advantage theory posits that “a comparative advantage occurs when a country can produce a good or service at a lower opportunity cost than another country” and that states should focus on such activities to succeed in competition with others.61 This can also apply to space. When a small state identifies its unique strengths or advantages over others in relation to space—such as technological expertise, location, geography, knowledge, industry, and so forth—it can determine the most effective way to enter the space club and achieve a level of relevancy that enables it to influence its own national interests.


Like Australia, Norway has recognized and capitalized on its strategic location to create relevance within the space club. Norway has been involved in space since the 1960s, with its initial activities focused on sun-­­­synchronous (polar) launch capability and research conducted from Andøya in northern Norway, as well as high-­­­latitude satellite communications.62 This early investment in space helped Oslo establish Norway as a key international node for accessing polar orbits, receiving polar orbit data from satellites, and providing communication/internet capabilities across the Arctic region.

As a cofounding member of NATO located alongside strategic sea lanes, Norway has a vested interest in security within the High North and Arctic regions. This interest was reinforced within the 2019 Norwegian High-­­­flying Satellites and Near-­­­Earth Purposes space strategy white paper, which identified how important space was to security in the region and how further investment was required both in space and on the ground due to the regional infrastructure and situational awareness being “less developed than is the case in many other areas in which NATO operates.”63 The white paper also highlighted the need for “Norway [to] play a leading role among NATO countries . . . to support military capability in the High North and the Arctic [making] Norway a more attractive partner for international cooperation.”64 Such activity includes hosting the ESA’s largest ground station for the Galileo global navigation satellite system and comprehensive data-­­­sharing arrangements with NATO members for satellites in polar orbits. More recently, Norway has announced the development of the MicroSAR satellite system, a radar satellite system optimized for maritime surveillance in Norwegian areas of interest. This satellite system will provide an independent surveillance capability for the Norwegian armed forces and support international situational awareness of Russian and Chinese activities in the Arctic region.65

Associated with and in support of its security and domestic requirements, the Norwegian Space Agency (NOSA), established in 1987, has supported the development of a Norwegian space industry. In addition to working with the ESA, this space industry “consists of around 40 [Norwegian] large and small companies [which] develop and manufacture everything from satellite communication terminals, earth observation satellites, to sensors . . . and sell services worldwide.”66 According to the 2019 space strategy white paper, the Norwegian government continues its investment in space infrastructure, including continued focus on climate change research in the Arctic region and the Andøya Spaceport, which aims to be the first European launch site for small satellites into polar orbits.67 As a result of this investment in space, Norway is viewed internationally as a key player in the High North and Arctic regions across civil research and security-­focused space activities.68

Norway has leveraged its unique location in the Arctic region and proximity to important strategic sea lanes to develop niche space-­­­based capabilities for persistent maritime patrol awareness and communication. These capabilities position Norway as a crucial provider of polar region communication and internet capabilities and polar maritime surveillance services for monitoring shipping, combating illegal fishing, search and rescue, and oil spill detection. The provision of such regionally focused space-­­­based capabilities situates Norway as an important contributor to global security requirements, while also addressing its own national interests. Oslo’s approach of focusing on unique geography and regional requirements to become relevant in space can serve as a model for other small and geostrategically located states, including those in the South Pacific and bordering Antarctica. By identifying and taking advantage of regional or global ‘gaps’ in space awareness or capabilities, small states can address their own national requirements and contribute to regional security.

United Arab Emirates

Like Norway, the UAE has taken a regional approach to its space program. This approach differs, however, in that it is focused on regional leadership rather than regional technical capabilities and awareness. In 2014, Abu Dhabi recognized an opportunity to diversify from the UAE’s reliance on traditional sources of income and established the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) with the explicit aim “to develop UAE as the regional hub for outer space activities in the Middle East.”69 As a small but stable and wealthy state due to its oil exports, the UAE has targeted the creation of a knowledge-­­­based economy that particularly incorporates space.70 In conjunction with the economic opportunities offered by space, the UAE has also taken advantage of the prestige opportunities available from being the first Arab nation to focus on and develop space capabilities. Such exploitation of this opportunity within the Middle East has seen the UAE quickly develop a valuable space science and technology industry and a leading role in representing the Middle East in international forums and space activities. The UAE provides an excellent example of how a small state can become relevant in space by taking on and investing in a regional leadership role.

On announcing its intent to invest in space, the Abu Dhabi stated that it wished to use space and space technologies to “help resolve global issues . . . and problems arising from shrinking resources and climate change.”71 The core of the UAE National Space Program is the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) which has built, developed, and operated a number of Earth-­­­observation satellites—including KhalifaSat, one of the world’s most advanced remote-­­­sensing satellites72—and engaged with other space scientific communities around the world.73 The MBRSC was also UAE’s lead agency for the successful Hope Mission, which sent the Hope Probe to Mars in 2021, and continues to be involved with space exploration through the upcoming Emirates Mars Mission and the Mars 2117 program, which aim to achieve significant advancements in the development of human life support, space settlement, and exploration technologies. The MBRSC is also involved in developing lunar technologies, including the Rashid Rover, which was launched in December 2022 as part of the joint Japan–Emirates lunar mission.74

Compared with other Arab nations, the UAE’s approach to space is unique in its openness to diversification. As part of the Space2030 Agenda, the UAE actively supports the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which includes gender balance in the space sector.75 The UAE is making progress toward this goal, with 42 percent of MBRSC employees being female in 2020. The UAE Astronaut Programme, established in 2017, has also achieved significant milestones in this regard, including sending an Arab astronaut into space aboard the ISS and graduating the first female Arab astronaut.76 The inclusion of female engineers and technicians within the UAE space program highlights the country’s progress and willingness to promote diversity in fields that are typically male dominated in Arab nations. This approach enhances the UAE’s reputation and could attract investment and partnerships from other countries.

The UAE’s focus on international engagement is a key element of its space program and can provide significant relevance for small spacefaring states. Unlike many other small states, the UAE has adopted a leading role in representing the Middle East in international space forums. As part of the Space2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UAE actively participates in the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) and its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), and UNISPACE+50. The UAE not only participates in these forums but also hosts meetings and conferences, providing it with a seat at the table and recognition, as well as pathways to further collaboration with other space nations. Such active international engagement satisfies a key element of the UAE’s space strategy.

The UAE is actively seeking agreements and arrangements with other nations, including Middle Eastern nations that wish to enter space. An example of current collaboration is the agreement between the UAE and Japan to transport and land the Rashid Rover on the moon as part of the Emirates Lunar Mission. This mission will result in “the UAE and Japan, together, [being] the next two nations to successfully put a spacecraft on the lunar surface behind the United States, Russia and China.”77

In summary, the UAE provides an excellent example of how a small state can become a leader in space by identifying regional opportunities related to space utilization and by investing in its own space industry. By taking the lead within the Middle East, the UAE has diversified its economy while gaining an international leadership position for the region. This has resulted in significant prestige within the Arab community and globally, as well as an influential voice and relevance within the space club as humankind progresses in its capabilities, norms, and behaviors in space.


The small states discussed share common themes regarding their interests in space, but each has adopted a unique approach that has enabled them to become relevant members of the space club. As a result, each country has been able to influence the achievement of its national interests. Table 1 summarizes the five small states’ reasons for pursuing space capabilities, the specific capabilities they have targeted, how they have achieved these capabilities, and the impact that increased space club relevance has had on their national interests.

The focus of this article will now shift to how the experiences of the five small states discussed can serve as examples for other small states, regardless of their size or wealth, when initiating or expanding their space programs. Specifically, this article will examine how each of these states has employed different approaches in their national space programs to achieve not only relevancy in the space club but also the platform to positively influence their national interests.

Opportunities and Considerations for Other Small States

While the states discussed in this article may be considered wealthy and advantaged in some way, the outcomes they achieved through their space programs are attainable by other small states, regardless of their size, location, or existing technological and industrial capabilities. Thus, this article is not intended to merely showcase the success of the exemplar states, but rather to encourage other small states to explore space opportunities. By highlighting the unique approaches taken by these small states, this article aims to inspire other nations to recognize their own strengths and potential for success in space. Many small states may believe they are too late, too small, or not equipped to benefit from space activities. However, this article challenges such assumptions by demonstrating how the five exemplar states provide a roadmap for any small state to achieve its national interests through space.

Table 1. Summary of small state approaches to space








  • Security
  • Economy
  • National
  • Security
  • Economy
  • Security
  • Security
  • Economy
  • Prestige
  • Economy


  • Launch
  • Small Sat
  • Niche Tech
  • Astronaut
  • Niche SDA
  • Regional ISR
  • Launch
  • Downlink Collection & Transfer
  • Polar comms
  • Niche Tech Specializations
  • Astronaut


  • Large
    Sovereign Capability
  • Bilateral
  • Intl Forums Focus
  • Creation
    of Civil & Military Space
  • Sovereign
  • Bilateral
    Cooperation (US)
  • Creation of Civil &
    Military Space Agencies
  • Sovereign
  • Bilateral
    Cooperation (US)
  • Creation of
    Civil &
    Military Space
  • Sovereign Capability Investment
  • Creation of Civil Space Agency
  • Sovereign
  • Regional Hub
  • Bilateral
  • Intl Forums Focus
  • Creation of Civil Space Agency

Impact on
National Interests

  • Improved access to space services
  • Growth in space
  • Improved international
  • Enhanced
    ability to
  • Improved
    access to space services
  • Growth in space
  • Improved
    international credibility
  • Enhanced ability to
  • Improved
    access to space
  • Growth in
  • Improved
  • Enhanced
    ability to
  • Improved access to space
  • Growth in space
  • Improved international
  • Enhanced ability to defend
    national interests
  • Improved
    access to space services
  • Growth in space
  • Improved


Understanding the Why

When a state aims to develop space capability, it must carefully consider its national interests in relation to its diplomatic, information, military, and economic instruments of power. As depicted in table 1, space capability can offer small states a variety of potential national outcomes and the means to impact their instruments of power. However, the capacity of space capabilities to generate positive outcomes for a state is not automatic. Small states, in particular, must deliberately consider what they aim to achieve from space and, most importantly, why. This “why” must be targeted explicitly because small states cannot afford to pursue lost causes or fail when attempting to enter the space club.

As illustrated in table 1, each of the small states discussed had a clear identification of their goals and the national interests they aimed to influence by developing or reinvigorating their space capabilities. These national interests include:

  1. improving access to space-­­­derived services;
  2. enhancing the ability to defend their national interests;
  3. providing for new or enhanced economic growth; and
  4. improving international credibility.

Clarity on the “why” is crucial for any state contemplating establishment of a space capability, as the investment and costs involved are significant. Regardless of a state’s size, it cannot afford to embark on a path that lacks clear linkages to, and influence of, its national interests.

The small states discussed sought to provide their populations with access to basic space-­­­derived services such as communications, internet, and PNT services.78 In the cases of Canada, Australia and Norway, these services were essential due to the dispersed and isolated nature of their populaces.

The states discussed also wanted to enhance their ability to defend their national interests. Investment in space-­­­based ISR and communication capabilities provided each with improved situational awareness and the ability to act on the information provided. It is interesting to note that the small states discussed did not independently develop and operate such security-­­­focused space capabilities. Instead, advancements in technology enabled each nation to contribute niche space capabilities as part of a collaborative, collective approach to security. This increased their relevance among larger state partners while facilitating access to a greater security apparatus and additional space-­­­derived information. It is worth noting that the UAE had regional focus and did not prioritize security-­­­focused space capabilities.79

The small states discussed had a common interest in economic opportunities provided by upstream and downstream space industries. They all recognized the potential benefits of participating in the global space economy, which is currently valued at USD 469 billion and is projected to grow to more than USD 1 trillion by the 2040s.80 This growth industry is attractive to states of all sizes, and even the UAE, which is blessed with natural oil and gas resources, recognized the need to diversify for future survival. By investing in the creation of a space economy, small states can find their place in this growing industry, as demonstrated by Canada and Norway, who focused their investment rather than making it broad or extensive.

National prestige is often considered a reason for nations to pursue space capability, but this does not seem to be a common driver for the smaller states discussed.81 Unlike Russia, the United States, China, and more recently India, which saw space as a mechanism to prove ideological or national prestige, most small states view the prestige element of space as being a secondary benefit, rather than the primary reason for their activities. For example, the UAE is focused on being recognized as a hub for space across the Middle East, rather than seeking global prestige. Similarly, Canada, recognizes that prestige can be gained but is primarily concerned with recognition of its Canadian identity rather than being considered part of the United States space program. Across the small states discussed, there is a desire to improve their international credibility and have a greater say in international forums, which in turn impacts small nations’ access to and use of space.

Gaining Relevance as a National Asset through Space

Several approaches become apparent for small states to consider when regarding entering the space domain and increasing their relevancy within the space club. These approaches include leveraging comparative advantages such as geography, resources, or existing technology capabilities; investing in niche technological capabilities; and focusing on regional requirements or opportunities. These approaches can be applied to any small state regardless of size, geographic location, wealth, or level of capability. Once the immutable characteristics of a state are accounted for, the possibilities and approaches available to small states are limited only by their analysis and imagination.

Exploiting Comparative Advantages

Small states should seek out and exploit comparative advantages that are afforded to them based on their location, existing technological capabilities, industries, or resources. The comparative advantage argument contends that every nation has some form of advantage over others and should leverage it.82 By focusing their efforts on niche areas for which they hold a comparative advantage over others, states can establish themselves as experts and differentiate themselves. This, in turn, creates relevancy for that state across the space club, opening collaboration and national interest influence opportunities that were previously unavailable. Canada’s expertise in robotics, for example, has enabled it to participate in breakthrough space projects since the birth of the shuttle program. Norway and Australia have gained relevancy by focusing on space capabilities such as launch, ISR, space situational awareness (SSA) by leveraging their locational advantages. Notably, the capabilities created to exploit such locational advantages do not necessarily have to be in space or related to launches. Australia’s large open deserts and clear skies make it an ideal location for ground daytime observation and data-­­­collection capabilities. Similarly, Norway has leveraged its high-­­­latitude location to increase SSA and data-­­­transfer capabilities for polar-­­­orbit satellites. These ground-­­­based capabilities provide both states with significant relevancy within the space club due to their uniqueness and other nations’ reliance on accessing these capabilities instead of creating their own.

As demonstrated by the small states discussed, all states have opportunities to identify and leverage their unique comparative advantages provided by location, existing expertise, or resources. Such advantages are not impacted by the size or wealth of a state; they exist by virtue of the state itself and its uniqueness. By developing capabilities based on those unique advantages, states can position themselves as prime providers in a given capability and create a reliance within the space club on that capability.

Investing in Niche Capability

States can target niche space capabilities by identifying and exploiting their unique advantages. All of the small states discussed have taken this approach. By specializing in a specific capability, a state can open cooperative teaming opportunities with other spacefaring states. Canada, for example, is known for its niche robotics capabilities such as the Canadarm and Dextre, which have led to Canadian involvement in the shuttle program, the ISS, and the Artemis program. Canada’s contribution has also opened doors for its astronaut program and other robotic markets outside of the space sector.83 Similarly, the United Kingdom is targeting a leading niche capability in small satellites, which will contribute to its growing space economy and increase the likelihood of cooperative partnerships with other nations interested in this technology.

States can establish space club relevancy and contribute to the global space community by offering unique products or capabilities. The small state niche capabilities discussed earlier are just a few examples of the vast potential for innovation and niche capabilities within the space community. For instance, Italy has created a GoPro-­­­like capability (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids [LICIACube]), which has supported the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and the Artemis I mission.84 This capability, previously unavailable in space, provides a unique perspective and the ability to record space activities in a new way.

Very small or economically challenged states can also benefit from the niche approach to space, as it often requires limited investment. For example, Bulgaria focused on providing food to support the Russian space program during the 1980s and 1990s.85 By specializing in this niche area and developing the Svet (light) greenhouse automated plant growth facility, Bulgaria gained access to the Soviet MIR space station and supported Soviet cosmonauts.86 The success of Bulgaria’s niche focus and space-­­­based experimentation on the MIR, which included over 400 experiments during its 15 years in orbit, eventually led to international recognition. In 2002, a third-­­­generation greenhouse—known as the Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit—was included in the Zvezda module on the Russian section of the ISS.87

Small states have numerous niche opportunities to target. The international space landscape is constantly evolving, presenting new challenges such as space debris, overcrowding, climate change monitoring, and the growing militarization of space. These challenges create opportunities for small states to specialize in areas related to these concerns. Moreover, addressing natural space-­­­based challenges like the South Atlantic Anomaly and solar flares are also potential areas for small states to explore and potentially resolve.

Small states can consider several approaches to identify niche space capabilities that can be leveraged to create relevancy. One such approach is the facilitation and development of New Space economies. New Space refers to “a rapidly growing, global community of entrepreneurs and private actors contributing to a new era of space-­­­related activity.”88 This activity is characterized by private investment, competitiveness, agility, innovation, and acceptance of risk with expectations of considerable future profit opportunities.89 By encouraging and supporting the expansion of existing commercial capabilities and the continued development of a New Space community, small states can identify gaps in the space ecosystem and fill niche demand gaps to their own benefit. This approach also allows small states to utilize the New Space market economy to weed out false starts and avoid investment losses, a key consideration and concern for many small states seeking entry into the space economy. New Zealand is an excellent example of a small state that has actively supported the New Space ecosystem.

The concentration of New Space capability in New Zealand has been largely driven by the success of Rocket Lab, a publicly traded aerospace manufacturer and launch service provider, as well as New Zealand’s economic freedoms.90 With a well-­­­educated population known for innovation and receptiveness to technology, New Zealand has developed a concentrated high-­­­tech space manufacturing and space applications subsector that supports upstream and downstream space activities both domestically and globally. According to a 2019 Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report, the New Zealand space economy is worth NZD 1.75B (USD 1.17B) and includes 104 small- to medium-­­­sized companies, 32 of which operate primarily in the space sector.91 In addition to Rocket Lab, there are several other success stories emerging from New Zealand’s New Space economy, including Dawn Aerospace, which has created a growing market for its nontoxic, hydrazine-­­­free small satellite propulsion systems and is currently developing same-­­­day reusable launch vehicles—the Aurora series—designed to take off and land on standard airfields alongside normal aircraft.92

Small states can take a page out of New Zealand’s book and leverage New Space to strengthen or create new space-­­­related economies. To attract and support start-­­­ups and research-­­­based companies, host states must create an economic environment conducive to such enterprises. In addition to researching and developing new technologies, these companies often specialize in niche space capabilities. By supporting such research, small states can identify and sponsor sought-­after niche capabilities with less risk. Those that prove successful can be developed into national capabilities—similar to the examples discussed in this article—thus, increasing the state’s relevancy in the space community. With the predicted growth of the global space economy, this presents an exciting opportunity for small states to establish themselves as major players in the space club.

Regional and Collaborative Approaches

Small states have the option to consider a regional or collaborative approach to space capabilities or programs as another approach to establish relevancy. The UAE’s regional approach is a good example of how this can be achieved, with a focus on establishing relevance across the Middle East and globally. Similarly, Norway has increased its relevance across its partners by focusing on providing space services in the Arctic region, particularly in the areas of security and ecological research related to climate change. Both examples demonstrate how small states can take ownership and responsibility for a previously underrepresented aspect of space-­­­related growth or security issues, and establish themselves as relevant players in the space industry.

Like the UAE and Norway, taking a regional perspective can help small states increase their global relevance in the space industry. By identifying and filling regional gaps in capability or service, small states can gain recognition and entry into the space community, increasing their relevance. This approach presents opportunities for small states of all sizes and wealth levels, particularly those in isolated or underserved regions. For instance, small states could leverage space-­­­based observation to monitor Antarctica or establish a regional security approach to surveil the South Pacific Ocean. They could also create regional space security architectures by pooling resources to develop such capabilities. In the South Pacific, border states such as Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and Pacific Island states could invest in dedicated satellites and ground stations to enhance situational awareness and security in the region.

Peru has taken a unique approach to leveraging its PeruSAT-1 satellite by adopting an “orbit market” strategy.93 Although the high-­­­capability imagery satellite only passes over Peru a few times a day, the Peruvian Space Agency (CONIDA) has created a downstream imagery market with other countries in the orbit path to maximize economic benefits.94 By becoming a provider of very high-­­­resolution satellite images, Peru has gained relevancy with regional states and global customers. This has not only boosted the country’s economy but also created downstream spin-­­­off benefits and markets for satellite image processing and interpretation. This successful venture into satellite imagery has elevated Peru’s standing within the space club.

Taking a regional or collaborative perspective on space capability and identifying space gaps can provide significant opportunities for small states to increase their relevancy. By approaching space programs from a regional lens, states can address their own requirements and national interests, while also contributing to regional and global interests at a minimal individual cost. These regional approaches can also help alleviate the burdens of larger partner states or collective organizations within the region, as they can access these capabilities without creating their own.

Relevancy Summary

The approaches discussed above provide several options for small states to initiate a value-­­­added space program that can extend tangible national benefits. These options are not presented as the only ones available. Small states have a wide range of choices and approaches available to them, which are limited only by their own analysis and imagination. As illustrated in this article, small states can identify strategies to gain considerable relevancy by scanning capability gaps and demand signals across the global space community. This relevancy can then be employed internally by those states to positively influence their own national interests.

Increased Relevancy Creates Influence

The achievement of relevancy in the space club is a significant milestone for small states, but it should not be seen as the ultimate objective. The true value of such relevancy lies in its ability to translate into soft-­­­power influence to advance national interests. These interests can range from providing better services to the population to more far-­­­reaching goals such as improved security outcomes, a stronger economy, or the attainment of desired international objectives and norms. The specifics will vary from state to state.

Table presents the national interests that were commonly impacted by the five small states discussed in this paper. The selected approaches resulted in increased relevancy within the space club, enabling these states to access additional services and to influence local interests and challenges.

Improved Access to Space Services

This article highlights that creating relevancy in the space club has enabled the discussed states to access space services that were previously unavailable to them. With an improved position, these states were able to engage in collaboration arrangements with other nations to further their national interests. For example, Canada and the UK have benefited from the launch capabilities of the United States for the past 30 years, providing access to launch capabilities for sovereign space-­­­service satellites that would not have been possible without their investment and relevancy in the space club. The implementation of targeted investments and space programs has allowed small states to better provide space-­­­derived services to their populations, contributing to their national interests, including security.

Enhanced Ability to Defend National Interests

Similar to accessing space-­­­derived services, small states can also benefit from increased national security by leveraging their relevance in the space club. The small states discussed in this article were able to access additional security information by sharing and integrating sovereign space data and assets with other states, leading to acceptance into allied security architectures. This increased collaboration and information sharing has enabled states such as Norway, Canada, and Australia to improve their military security architecture and provide regional security products to allies. This collaboration has resulted in increased confidence in the defense of national interests through the provision of space-­­­derived information and other sources of information.

The increased relevance of small states in the space club can also help to address various non-­­­defense security concerns. These concerns range from environmental security, such as climate change, to internal security issues like transnational crime and illegal migration. By leveraging their access to space-­­­derived data and technologies, small states can better understand and address these complex security challenges and, in turn, improve their ability to protect and promote their national interests.

Climate change is a significant security concern for many small states, as rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, desertification, and extreme weather events pose increasing challenges for all nations. However, these challenges typically impact small states more severely due to their limited resources and infrastructure to prepare, survive, and recover from such trends or events. The small states discussed in this article have invested in space research and Earth observation capabilities related to climate change and its effects. This investment includes collaborative efforts and information sharing with other nations to improve awareness and enable the adoption of national approaches to reduce the impact of climate change security challenges.

One example of a non-­­­defense security focus is the UAE’s efforts to tackle water security challenges using its DubaiSat and KhalifaSat satellites to monitor and track water levels and access to clean water in the Middle East.95 These satellites generate water area maps for seawater, lakes, and pools in the region and monitor changes in these waterbodies. This regionally available information, combined with the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP), enables the region to plan and coordinate water security research and solution projects.96

Relevance within the space community, as demonstrated by the small states discussed, has enabled them to improve both their defense and non-­­­defense related security. This improvement allows these states to access capabilities and information that would otherwise not be available to them due to factors such as cost, complexity, or national limitations and priorities. This is particularly important for small states that may lack the significant security apparatus required.

Growth in Space Economy

As previously noted, the development of upstream and downstream space capabilities can provide small states with economic opportunities that can create new industries and revitalize existing ones. This economic growth is often a critical requirement for the survival of small states. The small states discussed in this article provide evidence of such growth. For example, in its 2018 State of the Canadian Space Sector report, Ottawa highlighted that the Canadian space sector generated CAD 5.7 billion (USD 4.2 billion) in revenues and contributed CAD 2.5 billion (USD 1.9 billion) to the Canadian economy, with further growth predicted in the coming decade.97 Similarly, the United Kingdom’s space economy produced GBP 16.5 billion (USD 21 billion) in income in 2019–20, and employment in the space industry increased by 6.7 percent from the previous year to 47,000 workers.98

These space-­­­related economic opportunities are available for any state, regardless of size, wealth, or population. Such opportunities are limited only by the imagination, policies, and drive of those states and their industries to identify unique approaches that create relevancy and influence within the space club. Meagan Crawford from the SpaceFund highlights several space markets that she considers ripe for investment.99 She challenges states and companies to consider options beyond the saturated launch market and to identify space markets that are being underserved or not served at all.100 These are the markets that can boost or create a space economy within a state, regardless of its size. Examples provided by Crawford include satellite products and services such as in-­­­orbit services, constellation management, cislunar services, smallsat capabilities beyond low-­­­Earth orbit (LEO), alternative navigation services, and Earth-­­­observation apps, data overlays, and user interfaces beyond government markets.101 These are the type of markets that small states could consider. As discussed previously, openness to the New Space trend can also provide a low-­­­risk option for small states to exploit when looking to create or grow their economies.

A Voice in International Forums

The final aspect highlighted by the states discussed in this article is the increased influence that small states can gain within international forums because of their membership and relevancy within the space club. All told, “small states constitute majorities in most global and regional international organizations.”102 This means that small states have an asymmetric en-­­­bloc influence within international forums. By working together, their interests can shape the future of space.

In organizations such as the UN General Assembly, the one-­­­state one-­­­vote system provides small states with the ability to influence decisions and considerations of larger states. Additionally, “international organizations provide [small states with] a forum to amplify concerns, generate publicity, and coordinate with potential allies” to achieve desired outcomes.103 In the context of space, small states can gain greater influence, international credibility, and a stronger voice in international forums by becoming valued members of the space club. They can use this influence to shape decisions within organizations such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and its various assemblies, regarding the weaponization of space, use of antisatellite weapons (ASAT), resource exploitation, and technology usage, to better serve or support their national interests.

Small states can progressively influence global space norms through their influence within international forums. Ironically, small states exercising their increased voice in international space-­­­related forums could control and influence the discourse on global space norms. For example, the UK has championed the submission of United Nations Resolution A/RES/75/36, which attempts to break the impasse of larger space club disagreements surrounding updating the Outer Space Treaty (OST) and other new proposals to establish future legal and regulatory frameworks to govern space activities. Although larger states within the space club have yet to adopt or ratify this “behavioral norms in space” resolution, the fact that it has been developed and championed by small states indicates that by banding together, small states can influence larger space club states in the future.

Therefore, small states’ influence, although individually smaller than the larger space powers, can cumulatively have an impact in international forums. This influence is further amplified by possessing capabilities that are relevant to the space club, which can enhance the ability of small states to better serve and support their own national interests.


When we act, we create our own reality.

—Unnamed President George W. Bush staffer

“By all but the narrowest definitions, most of the world’s states are small states.”104 In his discussion on how small states can influence world politics, Tom Long points out that the asymmetric nature of small state relationships with other states should not be seen as limiting. According to him, small states “can develop their own material, social and ideational resources to pursue their goals.”105 This is especially true within the space club, where small states can identify and invest in niche technologies, comparative advantages, or gaps in space-­­­related capabilities or regions, small states or regions to achieve and influence national and global interests.

Each of the states discussed in this article can be seen as exemplars for other small states seeking to enter the space arena, as they offer divergent approaches to their national space programs. Small states can leverage their comparative advantages, such as their geography, existing technology capabilities, or resources, invest in niche technological capabilities, or identify gaps in the existing space ecosystem to compete and gain relevancy within the space club. This relevancy provides a platform for small states to improve their access to space services, enhance their security, promote economic growth, and amplify their voices in international space forums.

This research provides valuable insights for small states seeking to gain entry to the space club while determining which approaches are most effective in achieving outcomes in line with their national interests. It is hoped that this paper will encourage all small states, regardless of their size, wealth, and resources, to believe that they too can establish relevancy within the space club and influence the realization of their national interests. Small states can exploit their unique characteristics or identify gaps in the space ecosystem, as exemplified in this report, to create national opportunities for leveraging and exploitation. By taking selective action in space, small states can empower themselves, reduce reliance on others, and influence global space decisions, developments, and norms of behavior in line with their interests.

The research and examples presented in this paper offer small states of all sizes and capacities food for thought and the confidence to consider developing a targeted space program. The New Space trend is shaking the status quo in space, creating opportunities for small states to challenge the old model of space control by larger space club nations.

As the opening quote in this section suggests, small states can create their own reality in space. By understanding their national interests and determining the best way to shape space capabilities to achieve those interests, small states can gain relevancy in the space community and influence the realization of their national interests. They have the potential to create their own reality and future, both on Earth and in space. ♦

Wing Commander Mark Waters, Royal New Zealand Air Force

Wing Commander Waters is assigned to the Air War College (AWC), Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He joined the RNZAF in 1989 as an avionics technician. As a technician, he worked across various RNZAF bases before being commissioned from the ranks in 1997 as an engineering officer. As an engineering officer, Wing Commander Waters has developed his career across various operational and technical support roles. Key senior roles include maintenance flight commander in support the Royal New Zealand Navy fleet of SH-2G(NZ) Seasprite aircraft, Executive Officer to the Logistics Commander (Air), an operational deployment to South Korea as part of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), three years as the senior engineering officer on RNZAF Base Auckland, and prior to AWC, Deputy Director Aerospace Delivery within the New Zealand Defence Force Capability Branch. In 2015, he graduated as the top student on his New Zealand Defence College Advanced Command and Staff Course (Joint). Wing Commander Waters holds a Bachelor of Business Studies (Honors) and a Master of International Security from Massey University, and a Master of Engineering Management with First Class Honors from the University of Auckland.

1 Challenges to Security in Space (Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, January 2019), 7,

2 “Satellite Database,” Union of Concerned Scientists, 2023, The total number of states operating satellites in space in 2005 was 23.

3 Deganit Paikowsky, The Power of the Space Club (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

4 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 22.

5 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 23.

6 Ajey Lele, “India in Space: A Strategic Overview,” in Handbook of Space Security Vol. 1, ed. Kai-­­­Uwe Schrol (New York: Springer, 2020), 574,

7 Tom Long, “Small States, Great Power? Gaining Influence through Intrinsic, Derivative and Collective Power,” International Studies Review 19, no. 2 (June 2017), 188.

8 Tom Long, A Small State’s Guide to Influence in World Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022), 15.

9 Long, A Small States Guide, 17.

10 Long, A Small States Guide, 2.

11 The United Kingdom has been included as a small state due to the impacts its recent exit from the European Union have had on its space capabilities.

12 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 96–99.

13 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 99. The prevailing view was that ESA participation, along with its US ties, removed the need for an autonomous space program. See also, “RAF Stations,” Royal Air Force, 2023, As part of the collaborative approach the United Kingdom also signed intelligence-­­­sharing agreements with the United States to allow Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) sites and global SDA sites to be established at RAF Base Fylingdales and Ascension Island.

14 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 99.

15 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 100.

16 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, “UK Involvement in the EU Space Programme,” 27 August 2021,

17 Omkar Nikam, “British Space Industry: Challenges and Opportunities after Brexit,” WestEastSpace (blog), 4 June 2020,

18.National Space Strategy (London: Government of the United Kingdom, September 2021), 2,

19 National Space Strategy, 6.

20 UK Space Agency Corporate Plan 2022-25 (London: UK Space Agency, 18 July 2022),

21 Nikam, “British Space Industry.”

22 “What is the difference between a horizontal and vertical launch,” Orbital Today, 3 February 2020, Traditionally rockets are launched vertically from a ground platform. Because the initial velocity is zero, vertical launches require considerable amounts of fuel to achieve desired orbits. Typically, this requires between one and three rocket stages, collectively propelling the payload into space. Horizontal launch utilizes an aircraft to lift the rocket (and payload) to a high altitude and deploys the rocket from there. Horizontal launch offers the advantage of reduced fuel requirement (as it is launching from a high altitude and the aircraft also provides much of the energy needed) and an ability to launch from different locations, allowing different orbits to be obtained. Due to the limitations of aircraft used for horizontal launch, however, this method does have rocket and payload weight limitations.

23 Britain has taken a lead role in driving United Nations Resolution A/RES/75/36: “Reducing Space Threats through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviors.”

24 Bryce Tech, Size and Health of the UK Space Industry 2021 (London: UK Space Agency, 2021),

25 Defence Space Strategy: Operationalising the Space Domain (London: Ministry of Defence, February 2022), See also, Bleddyn Bowen, “Allies in US Space Strategy: An Agenda for Space in Post-­­­Brexit Britain,” in Space Strategy at a Crossroads: Opportunities and Challenges for 21st Century Competition, ed. Benjamin Bahney, (Livermore, CA: Lawrence Livermore National Lab, 2020), The United Kingdom’s requirement for investing in a sovereign GNSS has been subject to questioning due to the high costs associated with its development and operation, as well as the perceived unnecessary nature of such an investment considering the expected availability of both the US GPS and EU Galileo systems, particularly during times of conflict.

26 Defence Space Strategy, 7.

27 Bleddyn Bowen, The Integrated Review and UK Spacepower: The Search for Strategy (London: Freemans Air and Space Institute, 2019), 5,

28 Tech, Size and Health of the UK Space Industry. From a launch perspective, it is noted that the United Kingdom is focusing on small satellite-­­­launch capabilities into LEO only; it is still reliant on partners for launch to GEO as per the own, collaborate, access model.

29 Nikam, “British Space Industry.”

30 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 118.

31 John Chapman et al, Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada, Special Study Number 1 (Ottawa: Science Secretariat Privy Council Office, 1967), 3–4,

32 Canadian Space Agency, “Canadian Space Agency (CSA) - Space Science & Space Technology,”
29 February 2012, https://www.asc-­­­ In November 1972, the Canadian communications satellite Anik A1 was launched into geostationary orbit (GEO), making Canada the first country to have a domestic communications satellite in GEO. The launch of a second communications satellite, Anik A2, in 1973 further improved the network radio, TV, and telephone services for Canadians living in the North.

33 Canadian Space Agency, “Space Science & Space Technology.” The Canadarm is the robotic arm fitted in the equipment bay on the shuttles and enables shuttle crews to manipulate cargo to and from space.

34 Canadian Space Agency, “Space Science & Space Technology.” Following the development and introduction of the Canadarm, Canadian industry has continued to focus on advanced robotic capabilities, culminating in 2008 with Dextre, a highly dexterous robotic system that can be fitted to the Canadarm2 on the ISS to undertake exterior maintenance or repetitive tasks historically performed by astronauts.

35 Canadian Space Agency, “Space Science & Space Technology.”

36 NASA, “Artemis,” 2023, The Artemis II mission is the second scheduled mission of NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis II will be the first crewed mission (four astronauts) to the moon since 1972 and aims to collect data and confirm readiness of the Artemis program to send people to the moon’s surface. See also, “NASA Names Astronauts to Next Moon Mission, First Crew under Artemis” (press release, NASA, 3 April 2023),

37 Canadian Space Agency, “ Space Science & Space Technology.”

38 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 122.

39 Department of National Defence, “Establishment of 3 Canadian Space Division,” 22 July 2022,

40 David Pugliese, “Canada’s Answer to Space Force,” SpaceNews, 20 April 2022, https://spacenews

41 Canadian Space Agency, “Space Science & Space Technology.” Sapphire is Canada’s first military satellite and is designed to monitor space debris and satellites within an orbit 3,728 to 24,855 miles (6,000 to 40,000 kilometers) above Earth. The satellite has been providing data to the United States Space Surveillance Network since January 2014. The RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) is a three-­­­spacecraft fleet of Earth-­­­observation satellites using synthetic-­­­aperture radar (SAR) technology to provide data for climate research and commercial applications including oil exploration, fishing, and shipping.

42 Theresa Hitchens, “Sapphire in the Sky: Space Domain Awareness Is Canadian Space Commander’s Top Priority,” Breaking Defense (blog), 8 November 2022,

43 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 135.

44 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 136. In 1979, Australia launched AUSSAT, one of the world’s first national communication satellite systems. NASA also used Australian sites for sounding rocket and missile tests, as well as a communications site for the Apollo missions.

45 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 135.

46 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 136.

47 The Senate Standing Committee on Economics, Lost in Space?: Setting a New Direction for Australia’s Space Science and Industry Sector, (Melbourne: Analysis & Policy Observatory, 2008), 48,

48 Senate Standing Committee on Economics, Lost in Space?, 66.

49 Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, Australia’s Satellite Utilisation Policy 2013, (Canberra: Australia Government, 2013),

50 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 139.

51 Australian Government Space Engagement: Policy Framework and Overview (Canberra: Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, November 2006), 1,

52 James Moltz, Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 161.

53 Moltz, Asia’s Space Race, 163.

54 Australian Space Agency, Advancing Space: Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028 (Canberra, Australia: Science and Resources Department of Industry, September 14, 2022), 15, Observing and monitoring space objects is typically conducted at night to minimize the impact of light pollution on observations and take advantage of the reflection of sunlight on space objects, which makes them more visible. However, being able to conduct SDA operations during daylight hours is a significant capability that enables a nation to monitor space 24 hours a day when combined with traditional SDA methods.

55 Nicholas Ralph et al., “Real-­­­Time Event-­­­Based Unsupervised Feature Consolidation and Tracking for Space Situational Awareness,” Frontiers in Neuroscience 16 (2 May 2022): 1–4,; and Jason Lind, “Defence Space Situational Awareness: Opportunities for Australian Industry,” Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 153 (2020), 110,

56 Scott Wallis, “A Sovereign Launch Capability for Australia,” The Strategist, 7 June 2018,; and Robbin Laird, “Next Step in Australian Sovereign Space Launch Capability,” Defense.Info (blog), 1 December 2020,

57 “Space Domain Awareness,” Lockheed Martin, 2023,

58 The Australian Defence Space Command was created in January 2022.

59 Royal Australian Air Force, “Defence Space Command,” 2022,; and “DoD and Partners Release Combined Space Operations Vision 2031” (press release, US Department of Defense, 22 February 2022), CSpO provides information sharing across participating countries (United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany) and recognizes that collaboration on space is a key force multiplier. Under a common vision, the nations agree upon guiding principles and lines of effort to improve combined military space operations, foster cooperation and coordination, and collective promotion of responsible behavior in space.

60 Australia’s geographic location offers advantageous access to high-­­­inclination orbits, including polar and sun-­­­synchronous orbits, as well as vast regions of uninhabited oceans that provide enhanced launch safety. Moreover, the majority of Australia’s population is situated along the eastern and southern coastlines. As a result, there are extensive unpopulated regions in Australia that experience minimal light pollution, presenting a unique opportunity for terrestrial space observation.

61 The theory of comparative advantage is attributed to political economist David Ricardo, who authored the book Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). Referenced in, “Comparative Advantage,” Corporate Finance Institute, 1 December 2022,

62 Rolleiv Solholm, “The Norwegian Space Program 50 Years,” Norway Post, 18 July 2019, http://norway
. More than 1,000 research rockets have been launched from Andøya, and Norway was the first country to utilize satellites for inland communications.

63 Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, High-­­­flying Satellites and Near-­­­Earth Purposes: A Strategy for Norwegian Space Activities (2019–2020) (Oslo: Parliament of Norway), 11,

64 Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, High-­­­flying Satellites and Near-­­­Earth Purposes, 52.

65 Dag Stølan, “Press Release Builds Radar Satellite System for Real-­­­Time Maritime Surveillance,” Space Norway, 26 August 2022,

66 Norsk Romsenter [Norwegian Space Centre], “Norge i rommet og i Europa,” [Norway in Space and in Europe], Norwegian Space Centre, 2016,

67 Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, High-­­­flying Satellites and Near Earth Purposes, 33.

68 US Department of State, “U.S. Relations With Norway,” 2022,; and US Department of State, “Space Cooperation: Agreement between the United States of America and Norway,”
23 October 2006,

69 Namrata Goswami and Peter Garretson, Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space (London: Lexington Books, 2020), 286.

70 Naser Al Rashedi, Fatima Al Shamsi, and Hamda Al Hosani, “UAE Approach to Space and Security,” in Handbook of Space Security: Policies, Applications and Programs, ed. Kai-­­­Uwe Schrogl (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2020), 622.

71 Goswami and Garretson, Scramble for the Skies, 286.

72 “Khalifasat,” Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre, 2022, The KhalifaSat satellite is a technologically advanced remote sensing earth observation satellite that has been 100% designed and manufactured in the UAE. It is capable of capturing and transmitting high-­­­quality, detailed images of Earth to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai. These images are utilized for monitoring environmental changes, enabling effective urban management, and supporting disaster relief efforts, among other critical services for governmental and private organizations.

73 “About MBRSC – MBRSC,” Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre, 2022,

74 “About MBRSC.”

75 National Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, UAE and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 2017 (Dubai: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, 2017), https://sus

76 Sarwat Nasir, “Emirati women are playing a central role in UAE’s space sector,” The National News,
28 August 2020,; and “About MBRSC.” In 2019, Hazzaa Al Mansoori became the first astronaut from the Middle East to undertake a scientific mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The UAE currently boasts four astronauts who have graduated from the “UAE Astronaut Program,” including Nora Al Matrooshi, who is the first Arab female astronaut.

77 Angel Tesorero, “UAE to Send Emirati-­­­Made Lunar Rover ‘Rashid’ to the Moon next Year,” Gulf News, 14 April 2021, mission was launched on December 11, 2022, and is currently en route to the Moon. The moon landing itself is programmed for April 2023, following the arrival of the HAKUTO spacecraft and completion of system checks.

78 In the case of the UAE, this focus was from a regional standpoint.

79 Mohammad Barhouma, “The Reshaping of UAE Foreign Policy and Geopolitical Strategy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4 January 2022, The UAE has adopted a “zero problem” policy approach in response to regional rivals. This approach focuses on diplomatic solutions and soft power to consolidate its economic interests and trade partnerships. The policy involves building bridges of communication, expanding diplomatic and mediation efforts, and avoiding all confrontations that may hinder UAE’s efforts to boost its economy. Therefore, the UAE has refrained from investing in military or security space capabilities to date.

80 Space Foundation Editorial Team, “Space Foundation Releases the Space Report 2022 Q2 Showing Growth of Global Space Economy,” Space Foundation (blog), 27 July 2022, https://www.spacefoundation

81 Paikowsky, Power of the Space Club, 78.

82 CFI Team, “Comparative Advantage,” Corporate Finance Institute, 3 May 2023, https://corporatefi

83 Sean Silcoff, “Canadarm-­­­Maker MDA Has Strong Growth Prospects and Will Likely Go Public, Investors Say as $1-Billion Takeover Closes,” Globe and Mail, 8 April 2020, https://www.theglobeandmail

84 Tricia Talbert, “First Images from Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube Satellite,” NASA, 27 September 2022, Fifteen days prior to impact, the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube), which is a CubeSat companion of DART, was deployed from the DART spacecraft. LICIACube captured images of the impact and the asteroid’s resulting cloud of ejected matter. These images will be used to examine the impact’s effectiveness in deflecting the Dimorphos asteroid.

85.Tania Ivanova, “Space Farming on Mars: Greenhouse aboard MIR shows plants can thrive in Space,” 21st Century (Summer 2002), 42–49, http://21sci-­­­

86 The Russian word “svet” translates to “light” in English.

87 Ivanova, “Space Farming on Mars,” 45.

88 Deloitte Access Economics, New Zealand Space Sector: Its Value, Scope and Structure (Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, November 2019), 10, https://www

89 Deloitte, New Zealand Space Sector,10.

90 “About Us,” RocketLab, 2023, Rocket Lab was founded in New Zealand by Peter Beck, who believed that space could be made more affordable. However, due to the opportunities and funding available in the US space and defense sectors, Rocket Lab ultimately became a registered company in the United States. Rocket Lab has a subsidiary in New Zealand, which achieved a significant milestone in 2009 by becoming the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space with the launch of Atea 1 (which means “space” in Māori). Currently, Rocket Lab operates New Zealand’s first commercially owned launch facility at Mahia, located on the east coast of the North Island.

91 Deloitte, New Zealand Space Sector, 20.

92 “Dawn Aerospace,” Dawn Aerospace, 2023, The Aurora Mk-­­­II space vehicle is currently undergoing flight testing. It is the latest vehicle in a series intended to deliver satellites and assets to space, as well as return them. The Mk-­­­III, which is the next vehicle in the series, will be based on the Aurora Mk-­­­II design but will be much larger and capable of delivering 250-kg satellites to orbit.

93 Avid Roman-­­­Gonzalez and Natalia Vargas-­­­Cuentas, “Spotlight on Peruvian Space Activities and Market,” New Space 9, no. 4 (December 2021), 228–31, The PerúSAT-1 provides very-­­­high-­quality imagery (1.2m-0.7m resolution). The satellite has applications for homeland security and border monitoring, coastal surveillance, combating illegal trafficking, mining, geology, hydrology, disaster management, and environmental protection.

94 Roman-­­­Gonzalez and Vargas-­­­Cuentas, “Spotlight on Peruvian Space Activities.”

95 Youssef Wehbe, “Tracking Water Resources from Space: Challenges for the MENA Region,” Middle East Institute, 15 February 2023, In collaboration with South Korea, UAE MBRSC engineers developed their first two observation satellites, DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2, which were launched in 2009 and 2013, respectively. These earth observation satellites were followed by the KhalifaSat in 2018, which was the UAE’s first 100-percent domestically designed and manufactured Earth observation satellite. With its sophisticated capabilities, the KhalifaSat solidified the UAE’s position as one of the world’s leading space technology manufacturers and highlighted its role in contributing valuable satellite imaging data to the international scientific community.

96 Wehbe, “Tracking Water Resources from Space.”

97 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report 2019 (Saint-­­­Hubert, Quebec: Canadian Space Agency, 2020), https://www.asc-­­­

98 Tech, “Size and Health of the UK Space Industry,” ii.

99 “SpaceFund: Funding the Future,” SpaceFund, 2023, Founded in 2018, SpaceFund is an investment company focusing on supporting new startup businesses and markets in the new space ecosystem.

100 Meagan Crawford, “Don’t Start a Launch Company: Other Space Sectors Need Innovation,” SpaceFund, 2023,

101 Crawford, “Don’t Start a Launch Company.”

102 Long, A Small State’s Guide, 2.

103 Long, A Small State’s Guide, 29.

104 Long, A Small State’s Guide, 2.

105 Long, A Small State’s Guide, 4.


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