Is Space Increasingly Congested and Contested?

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Deputy Assistant Secretary Frank A. Rose today said the space is becoming increasingly congested and contested.

In his remarks at the 7th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference in Israel, Mr. Rose said today’s space situation is even more pronounced than it was a decade ago.

He cited that the benefits derived from space assets permeate almost every aspect of our lives worldwide.

“Space systems enable personal communications devices; facilitate the operations of global markets; enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring; enable global navigation and transportation; expand our scientific frontier; provide national decision makers with global communications, command, and control; and scores of other activities worldwide.” -Mr. Rose

He stressed that the space is no longer an environment accessed nearly exclusively by two superpowers or a few countries. Barriers to entry are lower than ever. Many countries are enjoying access to and the benefits of space in unprecedented numbers.

He reported that space is the domain of a growing number of satellite operators; approximately 60 nations and government consortia operate satellites, as well as numerous commercial and academic satellite operators.

“Paradoxically, while it is becoming increasingly easier to access as well as to benefit from space. However, decades of space activity have littered low Earth orbit with debris, and as the world’s spacefaring nations continue to increase activities in space, the chance for collision increases correspondingly.” -Mr. Rose

He noted that the situation means the coutries need to think carefully through how all countries can all operate there safely and responsibly.

“Our goal is to ensure that the generations that follow us can also benefit from the advantages that space offers.” -Mr. Rose

He stressed that the U.S. Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 objects in orbit, of which only 1,100 are active satellites. He added that while some pieces of debris are simply “dead” satellites or spent booster upper stages still orbiting, and others are the results of accidents or mishaps, such as the 2009 Cosmos-Iridium collision, some debris is the result of intentionally destructive events, such as China’s test in space of an anti-satellite weapon in 2007.

Experts warn that the quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increase the odds of future damaging collisions.

“Threats to the space environment will also increase as more nations and non-state actors develop and deploy counter-space systems. Today space systems and their supporting infrastructure face a range of man-made threats that may deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy assets.” -Mr. Rose

He emphasized that the international community is more reliant on space than ever and the long-term sustainability of our space activities are at serious risk from a number of sources such as space debris, as well as from potential mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust, and irresponsible actors and their actions.

Mr. Rose pointed out that irresponsible acts against space systems have implications beyond the space environment, disrupting services upon which civil, commercial, and national security sectors around the world depend, with potentially damaging consequences for all of us and to future generations.

“Ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment through measures such as providing prior notifications of launches of space launch vehicles, establishing “best practices guidelines,” and warning of risks of collisions between space objects are in the vital interest of the United States and the entire world community and enhance our mutual security interests.” -Mr. Rose

The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that an International Code enhances national security and maintains the United States’ inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, a fundamental part of international law. The United States would only subscribe to such a Code of Conduct if it protects and enhances the national and economic security of the United States, our allies, and our friends. The Administration is committed to keeping the U.S. Congress informed as our consultations with the spacefaring community progress.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.