February 3, 2022

Space Diplomacy Events


Duke Space Diplomacy Lab at One Annual Media Roundtable Perspectives on 2023 Space Priorities with Leonard David (Inside Outer Space) and Joey Roulette (Reuters)

February 2, 2023 – 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

The Duke University Space Diplomacy Lab (SDL) was founded as a part of the Duke “Rethinking Diplomacy” Program in January 2022. The central objective of the SDL has been to provide a vehicle to advance thought leadership on the burgeoning field of space diplomacy through a multidisciplinary focus, working across its inaugural year at the intersection of emerging space trends and technology, foreign policy and national security, and diplomatic engagement strategies to advance policies and practices supporting a safe and sustainable future in outer space.

During the SDL’s “first orbit around the Sun,” the lab has considered diplomatic strategies to avoid conflict reaching orbit, whether it be through the emergence of commercial space assets as key tools to both understand trends and support communications and humanitarian efforts to support Ukraine’s struggle to restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity, or longer-term geopolitical trends associated with the possibility of future great power competition throughout the cislunar environment. The lab has also taken a detailed look at diplomatic engagement pathways to advance regulatory statutes and norms for the reduction of dangers associated with the proliferation of space debris in low-Earth orbit and beyond, including inputs from participants in a Space Diplomacy Hackathon that the lab hosted in partnership with the National Science Policy Network (NSPN). The SDL has also hosted multiple discussions on the vital role that satellite platforms have in delivering and coordinating humanitarian aid around the globe, while taking a lessons-learned approach to diplomatic and normative trends that can be applied in space from other terrestrial domains, including the field of ocean diplomacy.

For its one-year anniversary event, the Duke Space Diplomacy Lab will host its annual media roundtable on perspectives of space priorities that are likely to emerge over the course of 2023. The discussion will ask another set of space media members to discuss what they believe to be some of the most pressing space issues that the globe will face over the next year, both headline-grabbing launches, technologies, and innovations, as well as emerging trends that could have impacts for years to come. For this year’s edition, the Space Diplomacy Lab is excited to welcome Leonard David (Inside Outer Space) and Joey Roulette (ThomsonReuters), who will offer their perspectives on space trends in 2023, moderated by SDL co-founders Dr. Benjamin L. Schmitt (University of Pennsylvania) and Dr. Giovanni Zanalda (Duke University) and in conversation with SDL members Dr. Lyndsey Gray (AAAS Science, Technology, and Policy Fellow), Prof. Britt Lundgren (UNC Asheville), and Ambassador W. Robert Pearson (Duke Rethinking Diplomacy Fellow).




Orbital Police?
How Open Source Intelligence Can Aid Diplomacy
and Space Norms in Low Earth Orbit and Beyond

Friday, December 16 | 11:00 am – 12:15 pm EST

The webinar is open to the public but registration is required

Since the onset of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the wide array of readily available data sets from commercial space platforms have allowed the world to understand the ongoing dynamics of both the military conflict and related civil and humanitarian issues in an unprecedented level of detail. This includes satellite imagery and data sets that have been able to help diplomats better understand issues from characterizing potential war crimes committed by the Russian military, to the status of agreements by the Kremlin to allow Ukraine to export vital grain supplies to help avert global food crises. Additionally, with the official start of Winter just days away, and below-freezing temperatures on tap for Kyiv in the coming weeks, dramatic NASA satellite imagery released in late November showed a nationwide blackout from Lviv to Kharkiv, Kyiv to Kherson owing to continued Russian kinetic attacks on Ukrainian civil energy infrastructure.

What all of these examples have in common, is that unlike previous large-scale conflicts which relied on slowly-declassified satellite data released from governments around the world, the data now reaching both the expert community and the general public is captured and rapidly released by commercial entities operating powerful, multispectral imagers in low-Earth orbit. In practice, this has meant a renaissance for the open-source intelligence community, which can aid not only public understanding of the events unfolding on the ground, but as powerful tools for diplomats and aid workers attempting to support humanitarian efforts.

With these trends in mind, please join the Duke University Space Diplomacy Lab team for a timely discussion with Dr. Jonathan McDowell, Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) on the role that both government-sponsored science satellites and commercial orbital imaging platforms now play in supporting vital open-source intelligence work covering a wide array of issues, from geopolitical trends and humanitarian assistance delivery on the ground, to managing contingencies in space, like orbital traffic management and space debris tracking. We will discuss the need to engage in anticipatory diplomatic outreach, aided by space-based open-source intelligence data products, to help set norms and eventually, international treaties and regulations to build out the current space regulatory framework. Ultimately, such engagement will be crucial to help with mitigation and deconfliction to ensure the future safe and sustainable use of outer space. The discussion will take place in dialogue with members of the Duke University Space Diplomacy lab team, moderated by lab co-founders Professor Giovanni Zanalda and Dr. Benjamin L. Schmitt.

Dr. Jonathan McDowell studies black holes, quasars and X-ray sources in galaxies, as well as supporting development of data analysis software for the X-ray astronomy community. Dr. McDowell has a B.A in Mathematics (1981) and a Ph.D in Astrophysics (1987) from the University of Cambridge, England. After postdocs at Jodrell Bank, CfA and NASA-MSFC, he came back to Harvard-CfA to work on the Einstein archive and then joined team leading efforts for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, part of NASA’s Great Observatories satellite program. He currently leads the group which plans and tests the science analysis software for the Chandra space telescope. Scientific publications include studies of cosmology, black holes, merging galaxies, quasars, and asteroids. He is also the editor of Jonathan’s Space Report, a free internet newsletter founded in 1989 which provides technical details of satellite launches, and is a well-respected leading commentator for major media outlets on spacecraft activity in low-earth orbit and beyond. You can follow Dr. McDowell on Twitter at @Planet4589.



On December 2, Ali Stickings, business manager for defense space at UK-based Frazer-Nash Consultancy and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London was the invited speaker of the webinar “Geopolitical Competition in Orbit: How Transatlantic Space Diplomacy Can Mitigate Emerging Space Security Contingencies.”

With the rise of commercialized space flight and the threat of significant weaponization of space, it will take an international effort to develop and adopt agreed-upon regulations to maintain safety, according to speakers at the event. Read more about the webinar in this article in Duke Today 


Flyer of the event with the speakers images

Ocean Deep or Sky High Diplomacy? The Lessons Space Diplomacy Can Learn from Ocean Diplomacy

September 23, 2022

A timely webinar event focused on the lessons that the burgeoning field of space diplomacy can learn from the multilateral science policy approach taken through ocean diplomacy mechanisms. For this discussion, the Space Diplomacy Lab team  welcomed ocean diplomacy and policy experts, Duke alumna Dr. Clare Fieseler, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and Dr. Alex Kahl, Natural Resources Manager and Advisor at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Read more about the webinar in Duke Today and in the Duke Research Blog

Space Diplomacy HackathonThe NSPN-Duke University Space Diplomacy Lab Hackathon

June 4 & June 11, 2022

The National Science Policy Network’s (NSPN) Science Diplomacy Committee and Duke University Center for International & Global Studies (DUCIGS)/Rethinking Diplomacy Program(RDP)’s Space Diplomacy Lab both advocate for exploring diplomatic strategies for an accessible and peaceful environment in low-Earth orbit, translunar space, and beyond. To develop and support these goals, we recently offered a week-long hackathon for early career professionals and students. Learn more!

Space Diplomacy and Humanitarian Intervention: The Case of Ukraine and Beyond

May 20, 2022

The Space Diplomacy Lab team invited space security, law, and policy expert, Professor Saadia Pakkanen of University of Washington, for a timely discussion on the role that space technology has to support humanitarian assistance objectives globally and, specifically, how it has helped drive diplomatic strategies and humanitarian aid in the current war in Ukraine. Read the event recap.

Space Diplomacy Lab at Duke University Hosts Professor Frans von der DunkRussia’s Invasion of Ukraine from Orbit: The Role of Space Diplomacy in Modern Conflict, A Space Diplomacy Lab Discussion with Professor Frans von der Dunk

April 8, 2022

On April 8, 2022, our Space Diplomacy Lab team discussed with Professor von der Dunk the legal and regulatory norms required to build a policy toolkit for diplomats and avoid destabilizing scenarios in space related to Russia’s war against Ukraine – especially those that could endanger the future safe and sustainable use of low-Earth orbit.

Ready for Launch – Space Diplomacy Lab: Media Perspectives on Challenges of the Next Year in Space

February 25, 2022

Leading space journalists Loren Grush (The Verge), Jeff Foust (SpaceNews) and Ramin Skibba (Wired) offered media perspectives on the greatest geopolitical challenges in space over the next year, in conversation with our Space Diplomacy Lab team. They discussed anticipatory space diplomacy strategies that can contribute to keep the outer space safe, as well as the implications of the current war in Ukraine.


THAT'S NO MOON_Space Debris_Duke Center for International and Global Studies.png

Experts Unpack the Space Debris Challenge – Video and article

November 12, 2021

Duke’s Cydney Livingston reports in the Research Blog about the webinar: “That’s No Moon: Technical and Diplomatic Solutions to the Space Debris Challenge,” organized by the Duke Center for International and Global Studies/Rethinking Diplomacy Program. Read how a group of experts unpacked the current “threats to space.”


Crisis in Space.jpegWhy We Need International Norms to Regulate the Space Race

July 8, 2021

The webinar discussed the need for space diplomacy to regulate the recent proliferation of activity in space from governments and commercial enterprises. Space diplomacy should consider, among many issues, burgeoning space infrastructure and satellite internet service providers, launch and space junk risk scenarios, and deep space regulatory issues. How can the U.S. government learn from terrestrial treaties to chart a path forward in space diplomacy?