U.S. Aims to Take Lead in Space Traffic Management with Space Policy Directive 3

President Trump signs Space Policy Directive - 3 on space traffic management. Credit: White House TV.

President Trump today signed Space Policy Directive – 3 (SPD-3), space traffic management, which aims to have the U.S. lead in the management of space traffic and space debris.

In a prepared statement President  Trump said in that “this is a giant step toward inspiring future generations and toward reclaiming America’s proud destiny in space.”

As reported in NASA Watch, during a morning media call this morning “National Space Council Executive Director Scott Pace said the U.S. needs to have unfettered access and the ability to operate space – but space is becoming congested. The new policy (SPD-3) addresses these challenges.”

In listening to President Trump during his remarks he said space will not only help make America great again, it is America’s next frontier and America will dominate space.

President Trump also reiterated his plan to move forward in developing a 6th branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Space Force, specifically, President Trump said “when it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space. So important. Very importantly, I’m here by directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That’s a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force — separate but equal.”

Space Policy Directive – 3

FURTHER SPACE DEVELOPMENT: President Donald J. Trump signed Space Policy Directive – 3 directing the United States to lead the management of traffic and mitigate the effects of debris in space.

Space Policy Directive – 3 provides guidelines and direction to ensure that the United States is a leader in providing a safe and secure environment as commercial and civil space traffic increases.

  • As space becomes increasingly contested, the demand for the Department of Defense to focus on protecting U.S. space assets and interests also increases.
  • At the same time, the rapid commercialization of space requires a traffic management framework that protects U.S. interests and considers the private sector’s needs.

The new Directive seeks to reduce the growing threat of orbital debris to the common interest of all nations.

  • The Directive articulates the policy of the United States to pursue and utilize both Government and commercial sector technologies to track and monitor space debris.
  • The Directive requires updates to the U.S. Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices and new guidelines for satellite design and operation.

The new Directive sets guidelines for the United States to manage space traffic more effectively by spearheading new data sharing initiatives.

  • The United States should continue to provide basic space situational awareness data and basic space traffic management services free of direct user fees.
  • The Department of Commerce will make space safety data and services available to the public, while the Department of Defense maintains the authoritative catalogue of space objects.

The United States will maintain and expand its leadership in space by increasing its capabilities and developing standards and best practices. This effort will:

  • Improve space situational awareness data standards and information sharing;
  • Leverage U.S. standards and best practices to shape international norms; and
  • Streamline processes and reduce regulatory burdens that inhibit commercial growth,
    enabling the U.S. commercial sector to lead the world in space.

A role for many U.S. departments

NASA Watch also reported that “SPD-3 establishes responsibility within the U.S, government for taking on the task of implementing these goals: 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 U.S. efforts to conduct these activities internationally with transparency.”

“Pace says that this is going to be a ‘bottom-up process’ using best practices from industry. As such no treaty-level document is envisioned. Pace said that the U.S. wants to avoid creating an international treaty since that would be complicated and take time to do Instead, Pace says that they will be working to make this happen faster by having recommendations incorporated into various countries’ laws and regulations.”

“Pace concluded by saying that a next step for the space council will be space debris and proximity operations as it relates to on-orbit servicing.”

The international community and Canada

While many nations will support the directive’s high-level goal of dealing with space debris, it’s unclear how leading space faring nations such as Russia, China, Japan, and India etc. will react to this new U.S. policy directive.

In particular, the issue of who will pay to clean up current space debris is an important ongoing issue that must be dealt with.

Canada has been a leading voice in the area of space debris mitigation and became a full member of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee in 2010.

As well, David Kendall, formerly with the Canadian Space Agency, has been the Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for the last two years. In a recent podcast with SpaceQ he discussed the issue of space debris and how some new guidelines have been agreed to by all members.

The President’s announcement also comes on the day that the UNISPACE +50 Symposium started. That symposium in part will look forward in time to determine what issues should be focused on going forward.

MDA is also playing a role in space debris with its efforts to commercial on-orbit servicing.

Lastly, the Space Systems Resilience Workshop was held in May at the CASI ASTRO 18 conference. One of the outcomes was to begin work on a Canadian space systems resilience roadmap which would include space debris mitigation.

New policies under the new administration

Since the new White House administration came to power there has been a strong push to update U.S. space policy and push commercial space efforts.

The timeline;

  • On May 24, 2018, the President signed Space Policy Directive – 2 to reform United States commercial space regulatory framework, seeking to ensure our place as a leader in space commerce.
  • On March 23, 2018, President Trump unveiled a National Space Strategy that laid out an approach to ensuring that the United States is strong and competitive in the space environment.
  • On December 11, 2017, the President signed Space Policy Directive – 1, instructing NASA to return United States astronauts to the Moon, followed by human missions to Mars.
  • On June 30 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order reviving the National Space Council for the first time in 24 years.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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