SPACE DIPLOMACY LAB

Our Mission

A new era of human space activity is unfolding every day before our eyes. An increasing number of nation-states and private sector actors are now capable of deploying a wide array of space technologies to low Earth orbit and beyond. The immense economic, scientific, and societal potential of today's space renaissance has unlocked fresh opportunities for unprecedented innovation and international strategic cooperation beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

But just like the turbulent nature of international affairs here on Earth, the very human proclivity to take actions endangering the promise of these giant leaps off our planet requires some form of anticipatory diplomacy. Without urgent risk mitigation to address a growing list of space security and regulatory challenges facing the global community, humanity’s burgeoning off-planet future could be grounded before it truly blasts off.

To help address these emerging challenges, the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS)/Rethinking Diplomacy Program (RDP) has established the Space Diplomacy Lab (SDL).

The core objective of the SDL is to provide a forum to convene a diverse, multidisciplinary set of academics, students, diplomatic practitioners, and commercial spaceflight leaders from the fields of space science and technology, national security, and international diplomacy to develop cross-cutting research, policy proposals and solutions to mitigate risks and ensure the promise of a secure and sustainable future of humanity in space. 

SDL fellows conduct research, publish analysis, and host seminars focused on exploring diplomatic strategies to build out vital regulatory and behavioral norms in low-Earth orbit, translunar space, and beyond. Just some of the questions SDL is focused on include:

Strengthen International Conventions

What path should governments take to strengthen international conventions on the peaceful use of outer space beyond the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, in order to reduce the risk of unintended national security provocations stemming from the rapid development of anti-satellite and on-orbit space weapons systems worldwide?

Mitigating and Reversing Space Debris

How can the international community develop technologies and norms to mitigate and reverse the proliferation of space debris in low-Earth orbit?

International Commercial Regulation

What diplomatic pathways can the international community take to develop and enforce rigorous regulatory regimes for the growing set of commercial actors and services operating in low-Earth orbit, as well as for planned future lunar and deep-space extractive industries?

Bridging priorities across space stakeholders

How to address the challenges of bridging competing priorities between international civil space agencies, military space programs, and private sector actors, and the role that scientists and technologists can play to directly support the work of diplomats focused on global space issues?

With space security challenges and international disputes regularly grabbing headlines, the Space Diplomacy Lab strives to contextualize space issues from the daily news cycle in terms of long-term, anticipatory diplomatic strategies aimed at achieving confidence-building measures needed to avoid future conflict in space.

DUCIGS' Rethinking Diplomacy Program is supported by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

strategizing a better future

"A new era of human space activity is unfolding every day before our eyes"

With space security challenges and international disputes regularly grabbing headlines, our experts are working to explain the technical, geopolitical, and geoeconomic relevance of these space-related contingencies to policy leaders, journalists, and the interested public. Moreover, the Space Diplomacy Lab strives to contextualize space issues from the daily news cycle in terms of long-term, anticipatory diplomatic strategies aimed at achieving confidence-building measures needed to avoid future conflict in space.

Meet our Team

Giovanni Zanalda (Duke University)

Co-chair, Space Diplomacy Lab
Dr. Giovanni Zanalda, is Director of both the Duke University Center for International & Global Studies and its Rethinking Diplomacy program.

BENJAMIN L. SCHMITT (HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS)

Co-chair, Space Diplomacy Lab
Dr. Benjamin L. Schmitt is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Project Development Scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Lyndsey Gray (CRDF Global)

Affiliated Fellow
Lyndsey Gray PhD MSPH, is a global health researcher, microbiologist, and infectious disease epidemiologist. She is currently an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science, Technology, and Policy Fellow working in the U.S. Department of State through CRDF Global.

Britt Lundgren (University of North Carolina Asheville )

Affiliated Fellow
Britt Lundgren is an associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UNC at Asheville, where her research specializes in studies of galaxy evolution–the intergalactic medium, and large-scale structure in the Universe.

AMBASSADOR W. ROBERT PEARSON

DUCIGS Rethinking Diplomacy Program Fellow
Ambassador W. Robert Pearson is a retired professional foreign service officer who served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2000 to 2003 and was director general of the U.S. Foreign Service from 2003 to 2006.

SERGIO MACIAS-VAZQUEZ

Space Diplomacy Undergraduate Research Assistant
Sergio Macias-Vazquez is an undergraduate researcher at Duke University, studying Physics and Computer Science while assisting the development of the Space Diplomacy Lab.