Tuesday, June 19, 2018

New US Initiatives on Orbital Traffic Management, Cleaning up "Space Junk" and Creating a US Space Force

         By Chuck Black

US president Donald Trump continues to put his own stamp on American space activities, most recently at the June 18th, 2018 meeting of the National Space Council.

The first initiative, as outlined in the June 18th, 2018 Department of Commerce (DoC) press release, "Space Policy Directive 3 Brings Space Traffic Coordination to Commerce," was expected, and a logical follow-on from previous policy outlined in April 2018 by VP Mike Pence and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

As outlined in the DoC press release:
The policy acknowledges the rapidly increasing volume and diversity of commercial space activity and announces that the Department of Commerce should be the new civil agency interface for space traffic management (STM) and space situational awareness (SSA).
As outlined in the June 18th, 2018 NASAWatch post, "President To Sign Directive Dealing With Space Traffic Management," other US Federal government departments have also been assigned new roles:
...the Department of Defense will take the lead on developing an authoritative catalog of space objects; the Department of Commerce will be responsible for the releasable portions of the catalog for collision avoidance purposes; the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation will lead the development of standards and practices, and the State Department will lead US efforts to conduct these activities internationally with transparency.
One of the goals of new policies is to track and reduce the growing  threat of orbital debris by using a variety of mostly undefined (so far at least) private and public sector technologies.

An overview of Space Policy Directive – 3 (SPD-3) is available online, as part of the June 18, 2018 Whitehouse.gov post, "President Donald J. Trump is Achieving a Safe and Secure Future in Space."

The second part of the presentation, the part where Trump said he would direct the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military to shore up American dominance in space, was also a logical progression of current US thought in this area.

As outlined most recently in the April 2nd, 2018 post, "What George Friedman's 2009 Book "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the Next Century" Said About Space," the ideas and concepts have been knocking around Washington since at least the 2nd George Bush administration.

And, according to the June 18th, 2018 Forbes Beltway Brief post, "Trump's 'Space Force' Motivated By Russian, Chinese Threats To Critical U.S. Orbital Systems," the current satellite infrastructure (which includes military communications, Earth imaging and global positioning satellites) has "become integral to how America conducts military operations on Earth, Russia and China are developing ways of degrading or destroying US satellites in wartime," and therefore the US must develop ways to defend itself:
Against that backdrop, the president's announcement today is arguably timely, because the military space program may be approaching a moment of crisis. 
Mr. Trump made it clear in his remarks that he wants America to regain its lead in space across all relevant areas -- military, civil and commercial -- but it is in the military realm where great-power rivalry is most apparent. 
If the Pentagon doesn't step up its game, the nation's security will be significantly degraded.
Now that these new, US space initiatives are being discussed seriously and publicly, expect national governments (such as Canada) and international organizations (such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) to slowly begin to move their own ideas forward.

The full video of the June 18th, 2018 meeting of the National Space Council, including the president's speech, is available on YouTube for those who'd like to cut through the bias and spin of the traditional media.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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