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Space conference in South Florida tackles a new frontier in international cooperation

Man in military uniform sits in a conference room and speaks in front of a microphone
U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Joseph P. LeVeille)
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Brian Gibson, U.S. Space Command Director of Strategy, Plans and Policy, delivers opening remarks to approximately 130 attendees from 12 nations during the annual Space Conference of the Americas on Jan. 30, 2024 at U.S. Southern Command. The forum, co-hosted by U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Space Command, included discussions on space threats, partnerships and enabled information sharing.

High-level military officials and space agency leaders from 11 nations in the Americas discussed new ways to address international security by collaborating in space.

The talks came during the third annual Space Conference of the Americas, which took place in Miami this week. The forum serves as a way to share resources that may help other countries address challenges and security threats.

"Space is very expensive, very complicated — we cannot have everybody do their own thing all the time," said Colonel John Kolb with the director of the Joint Integrated Space Team at Southern Command. "So part of this goal is, 'Hey, how can we leverage each other's capabilities?'"

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The countries represented at the conference include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.

Kolb noted threats and issues that can be tackled with the aid of satellites and other technology in the realm of space agencies, such as illegal fishing, counterterrorism, narcotics, deforestation and illegal mining. The three-day conference had panels focused on ways the nations can tackle these issues together.

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOMM), which is based in Doral, is the military command of the U.S. Department of Defense that provides contingency planning, operations and security cooperation for countries in North, Central and South America. The agency co-hosted the event alongside Northern and Space Command.

"We want to work collaboratively with these partners to make sure that space activities are conducted responsibly and peacefully and in a sustainable manner," said Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy and Plans at the U.S. Northern Command Karen Pound.

In the case of natural disasters, Pound noted that sharing satellite imagery among nations can help in assessing damage, deploying aid, restoring services and support reconstruction.

"Satellite imagery can play an important role in informing disaster relief assessment teams, as well as planning and decision makers to aid victims," Pound told WLRN.

As certain Latin American nations, particularly Mexico, expand spacefaring capabilities, the U.S. said they see an opportunity for collaboration.

"What we're doing is we're focusing on promoting security cooperation in space, as well as in all of the other domains, because there are threats — whether they're manmade or from humans — and challenges that are presented across all of the domains to make sure that space activities are conducted responsibly and peacefully and in a sustainable manner," Pound said.

Kolb emphasized the need for interoperability, so these nations can effectively operate in conjunction with each other. In other words, they aim to streamline workflows for better communication.

"We don't all have to duplicate redundant resources, and if they are redundant, it's purposeful, so that we have a resilient system," Kolb said. "It is a lot to try to catch up on rapidly, especially as technology advances so quickly."

Kolb said they use intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance or ISR technology to look at different areas. He said some countries have some very advanced satellites that are either in the process of being set up or already in operation.

"If we can find a way that we can share those images, especially in real time or near real time, we can address those [countries] and help them."

For more Americas news and analysis, sign up for our WLRN Americas Report newsletter here.

Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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