US Leads Efforts to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability of Space Environment

Considering the serious and long-lasting threat posed by orbital debris in space, the United State is leading efforts to ensure the long-term “sustainability, stability, safety, and security “of the space environment.

On his remarks at “Laying the Groundwork for a Stable and Sustainable Space Environment” in Geneva, Deputy Assistant Secretary Frank A. Rose discussed space security and US efforts stability of the space environment.

From a national perspective, the United States recognizes the importance of preventing collisions between satellites and/or orbiting objects, due to the resulting debris creation.

Recently, the United States is reaching out to all space-faring nations and organizations to ensure that the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, has current contact information for both government and private sector satellite operations centers to provide notifications of potentially hazardous conjunctions.

Because of the hazards of a vacuum, astronauts must wear a pressurized spacesuit while outside their spacecraft.

In 2011, the US provided over 1,100 notifications to nations around the world, including Russia and China.

Mr. Rose also highlighted that the use of communications satellites to transmit health care data across countries and across the globe is only one of the many uses of space on which we rely.

Telephone calls, news reports, television broadcasts, and financial transactions are also relayed through satellites. Financial markets, power grids, and wireless, satellite, cable, and broadcast industries all use GPS satellites for precise timing, and ships, planes, automobiles, and individual people use them for navigation.

Meteorological satellites provide weather and environmental forecasts, while remote-sensing satellites provide imagery used in agriculture, resource exploration, land use planning, treaty verification, and disaster relief, amongst other things, Mr. Rose cited.

“Extrapolating from this, we must ask ourselves “What will the consequences be if the space environment were to become unusable?” -Mr. Rose

In Geneva, Mr. Rose also discussed the approaches towards ensuring space security.

In 2002, international guidelines to minimize debris were established by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.

He says the guidelines served as the basis for similar guidelines then adopted by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.

It is important that countries continue to make progress in encouraging nations to adopt and implement these guidelines, Mr. Rose stressed.

Most countries agree that there is great value in efforts to adopt best practice guidelines through “bottom-up” initiatives developed by government and private sector satellite operators, such as the work done in the multi-year study of “long-term sustainability of space activities” within the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) of UNCOPUOS.

The STSC Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities is a key forum focusing on the international development of “best practices guidelines” for space activities, in particular in the areas of space debris, space operations, and space situational awareness, Mr. Rose highlighted.

The United States believes that many of the best practice guidelines addressed by the working group will be integral to international efforts to enhance spaceflight safety and to preserve the use of space for the long-term.

“Finally, we can all agree that the development of near-term, voluntary, and pragmatic space transparency and confidence-building measures can enhance the stability and security of the space environment.” -Mr. Rose

He cites that TCBMs, whether they address important areas such as hazards to spaceflight safety and collision avoidance, or reduce tensions through the sharing of information, help to increase familiarity and trust and encourage openness among space actors.

Another opportunity for the international community to cooperate on TCBMs is through the development and adoption of an “International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” Mr. Rose added.

On January 17, 2012, the United States announced that it had decided to join with the European Union and other spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct.

Mr. Rose says the US government is pleased that Japan, Australia, and other countries have also stated their support for the development of a Code of Conduct.

The United States encourages other spacefaring nations to consider playing an active role in the multilateral meetings of experts in 2012 that the European Union intends to schedule.

The United States views the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct as a good foundation for developing a non-legally binding International Code focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs.

According to Mr. Rose, an International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would establish a political commitment to reduce the hazards of accidental and purposeful debris-generating events and would increase the transparency of operations in space to minimize the danger of collisions, furthering cooperation in areas all recognize as crucial for ensuring stability and sustainability in space.

“We look forward to engaging with the rest of the international community on this initiative in the months to come.” -Mr. Rose

However, Mr. Rose pointed out that the world is increasingly interconnected through, and increasingly dependent on space systems.

He stresses that while there is no way of knowing when, or if, it will reach a “tipping point” when it comes to debris and access to space, it is clear that the long-term sustainability of space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors.

He underlines that countries should not focus on what divides them, but instead on those efforts they can agree to now that will lay the groundwork for progress and sustain space for future generations.

While space is becoming increasingly easier to access the space, its long-term sustainability is at serious risk.

The U.S. Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 objects in various orbits, of which only 1,100 are active satellites.

The United States also collaborates with industry and foreign nations to improve space object databases and warn of dangerous approaches between orbiting objects that could potentially lead to collisions.

To address the growing problem of orbital debris, the United States has expanded its engagement within the United Nations and with other governments and non-governmental organizations. The United States has adopted international standards to minimize debris that are stricter than the U.N. Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines.

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
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.