A case for space in the Caribbean: a historic and strategic perspective
by Kaylon J. Paterson
|Though not widely known or revered as a part of the space race, the Caribbean has had a long history of supporting the space agendas of global powers.|
Since the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, states have regarded space as an international domain that cannot be conquered or governed by any one nation. However, access to space has been gatekept by high cost and technological gaps. In this current era, these problems are being solved, giving rise to more affordable access. The major spacefaring nations hold a resource advantage over smaller nations including space for launch platforms, cost of shipping materials, and local expertise in the aerospace field. These variables have long overshadowed the valuable equatorial launch capabilities and remoteness of many of the Earth’s islands. In today’s space economy we see a repeat of the developmental advantage that colonial powers held over these island nations in previous centuries. Despite the call for equitable and accessible space and the humanitarian aims of spreading our populace across the solar system, small island nations will likely be left behind to fend for themselves against the remnant effects of climate change brought on by larger nations. This article focuses on the political and infrastructural stance of the Caribbean with the aim of developing a framework for this region to enter the New Space Economy.
Though not widely known or revered as a part of the space race, the Caribbean has had a long history of supporting the space agendas of global powers. Starting in 1962 with the High-Altitude Research Program, Project HARP, which was constructed in Barbados, the Caribbean space program has been underway since before the Moon landing. Though this project was largely funded by Canada and the US, it employed many Barbadian engineers, mechanists, and other skilled trade workers, and was aimed at developing suborbital launch capabilities for small payloads. Today, SpinLaunch has taken up the mantle and much of the intellectual property that was created from Project HARP. In 1964, France selected French Guiana as the location of their first spaceport, which later became the official spaceport of the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1975. This site has been the location of many notable launches such as the Ariane and Vega rockets as well as the first time a Soyuz was ever launched outside of Russian jurisdiction.
Prior to the implementation of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967, five Caribbean nations had already signed on including Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, who had previously had no space ties. Five more countries would sign before the 2000s. But these would not be the pinnacle of Caribbean space exploration as, in 1980, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, a Cuban native, became the first Caribbean person in space as part of the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos Program. In 2021, the Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (ALCE) was established including Caribbean nations such as Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and St. Lucia. Today, in addition to the many members of the Caribbean diaspora already working in the space industry across the world, there are also several NASA partnerships in countries like Trinidad & Tobago. Additionally, more youth are showing an active interest in the industry, with five Caribbean chapters of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), a young professionals’ organization formed under the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs.
Given the size, resources, and economy of each Caribbean nation, there has been a longstanding history of regional cooperation to govern aspects of trade and regional concerns such as trafficking, weather monitoring, and natural resources. Organizations like CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) exist to strengthen ties among Caribbean nations while allowing them to retain their national identity and economic strengths. Unified under common concerns, these organizations develop the rules that govern trade and distribute some of the funds responsible for regional development and disaster relief.
|Given their remote location and lack of resources, the region has had to learn to become self-sufficient, mastering resilience, and using minimal resources to provide long-term benefit for their citizens. Many of these capabilities are currently being sought for space.|
Though not previously a challenge, it is important to note that the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are considered provinces of France, similar to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to the United States, the ABC Islands to the Netherlands, and the British Virgin Islands to the United Kingdom. This has not affected their ability to participate in regional affairs in the past and many of them hold CARICOM and OECS memberships.
Similarly, many CARICOM countries share an education system under the Caribbean Examination Council, which standardizes regional education practices across primary and secondary levels. This simplifies entry into the regional university system, the University of the West Indies (UWI), which has campuses in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados as well as the Open Campus. This aside, many nations have opted to have an internal higher education institution and even elicit private universities with the help of external funding.
Given their remote location and lack of resources, the region has had to learn to become self-sufficient, mastering resilience, and using minimal resources to provide long-term benefit for their citizens. As a result, the region is home to many experts in areas such as oil and gas, telecommunications, and agriculture and ecology. Other regional industry expertise includes shipping and transportation and natural disaster management and preparedness. Many of these capabilities are currently being sought for space, including mining and drilling in harsh environments like asteroids and other celestial bodies, growing food with minimal resources and under strenuous conditions, and improved long-range telecommunication for off-planet exploration.
There are many benefits that this region can gain from owning and operating space assets including:
Trade Security: A major concern for the region including drug and human trafficking as well as Rregional and national defense on an individual level.
Environmental Protection: Natural disasters are a common occurrence in the Caribbean. Access to early detection, hurricane trajectory and climate change mapping, as well as monitoring of seismic activity such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes would be of tremendous value. Similarly, ecological monitoring of migration patterns of fish and wildlife, habitat recession, and freshwater resource monitoring would also be largely beneficial.
Improved Telecommunications: Regional communications could be enhanced by access to satellite systems.
Oil and Gas Mapping: One of the region’s biggest economic drivers next to tourism and agriculture, oil and gas assets are constantly being debated with larger neighboring nations. The ability to better locate and identify drilling sites and provide evidence of their location within maritime boundaries could secure the economic status of this region. Additionally, monitoring oil spills from above could greatly reduce their impact on the region’s ecology.
Economic Opportunity: A strategic advantage of the region is its location, which has been exploited for equatorial launch as well as lack of light and radio interference due to isolation and historic underdevelopment and natural preservation. The lack of had been of particular interest to observatories such as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, whose iconic large radio telescope has sadly been decommissioned. Such observatories could attract researchers and research funding but also provide strategic advantages for radar and other ground systems.
|With the trillions of dollars promised by the onset of the New Space Economy, Caribbean nations would be doing a great service to the industry and their citizens by beginning to invest in local and regional space infrastructure.|
Among these considerations are the consequences for large nations if the Caribbean does not get involved in the space economy. Primarily, the Caribbean borders the US, a strategic proximity which has previously been used by an adversary nation, the erstwhile Soviet Union, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. With the rise in activity from unaligned nations in recent years, particularly from a space standpoint, we could see a repeat of this if not addressed. Already, some of these powers are taking foot across Africa by investing in their economic development and the same can be said for other small nations. This is an area that should deeply concern the United States.
The continued dependence on large nations to upgrade weather warning infrastructure, as climate issues become more serious, will only get worse. By having their own regional space platform, the Caribbean has the potential to not only take control of their own data but remove their dependence on global resources altogether.
Finally, the economic boost of joining the New Space Economy, which promises glory to all who dare, could create a case for the region to not only thrive but gain a valuable position in extraterrestrial affairs in the near future.
To develop a foundation for space activity, the region would need to develop certain policy adaptations. Though creating individual strategies for each nation would be ideal, it is likely that some sharing of resources and responsibilities would need to take place to ensure success. As such, the following policy recommendations are in order.
The New Space Economy is providing many opportunities for humanity’s advancement. Outside of the already established spacefaring nations, however, small island nations like those in the Caribbean are hindered by barriers to entry such as high costs, lack of infrastructure, or lack of resources. Despite having a similar and often more serious need for access to space capabilities like weather tracking and border control, these nations are left to depend on larger nations for these purposes.
In addition, the Caribbean has a lot to offer the space industry as we begin to explore technological challenges such as resource management, disaster preparedness, working and farming in harsh environments. and even off-world mining. With their long-standing history of resilience in the face of difficulties such as deep sea mining and drilling, bridging the telecommunications gap, and sustainably managing limited resources, this wealth of knowledge could be exactly what is needed for the final frontier.
With the trillions of dollars promised by the onset of the New Space Economy, Caribbean nations would be doing a great service to the industry and their citizens by beginning to invest in local and regional space infrastructure. By taking these policy recommendations into consideration and beginning to look at ways in which they can leverage their preexisting infrastructure and geographic advantages, this region is poised to become a worthy contributor to humanity’s future in space.
Note: we are using a new commenting system, which may require you to create a new account.