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The Development of an Effective National and International Space Traffic Management Regime

With the existing and near term use of space for a myriad of activities, including new constellations of satellites and space commerce and travel, there is an immediate need for the development and implementation of a  comprehensive U.S. domestic and international Space Traffic Management (“STM”) policy.  To be effective, this policy must address objects in all aspects of the use of the orbital and space resource no matter how close or far to earth and no matter how many space objects there are.  The STM policy must be dynamic to be able to address the future uses of the space resources and also include a policy on the mitigation and management of orbital debris.  From an EchoStar/Hughes perspective, our goal must be to ensure that our communications satellites operating in the Geostationary Orbit are safe and that we are able to safely launch similar assets into orbit, as well as those of our partners and customers, such as OneWeb.  This is critical for us to be able to ensure we have availability the quality services our customers around the world deserve and demand.

As operations in the space environment increase by quantity of objects, frequency of launches, and diversity of operations and actors, the need for a comprehensive framework on effective STM to govern space traffic management is critical.   The goal of an effective STM must be to ensure the long-term safety of authorized space operations. 

To develop an effective STM policy, it must account for all on-orbit activities, including notification requirements concerning transient use of the space resource; debris mitigation, including end of life asset disposal; situational awareness, including collision avoidance; data sharing; and organizational oversight. More importantly, the STM framework must recognize the dynamic nature of space-based activities, and be able to account for activities that are still nascent or not yet hypothesized. This requires a high degree of foresight and flexibility to be built in to the framework that permits expansion of on-orbit activities without requiring that the policy be rewritten regularly.  

The U.S. domestic STM framework must be overarching in that it must be applicable to all regulatory bodies that have any oversight over space-related activities, however incidental. To do this, there needs to be one federal agency that is responsible for the development and coordination of STM policy with the input of government and private sector stakeholders.  This lead agency, must have the operational and technical expertise to be able to develop such a policy.[1]  The multi-stakeholder process associated with the development of the regime for STM within the lead agency should include the consideration of industry developed best practices.  These best practices can form the basis for the development of an effective STM regime.  Once the STM is developed, the lead agency can then work across the government to ensure that a single vision of STM is implemented in each responsible U.S. government agency. 

Finally, the United States must be a leader internationally in exporting its STM policies and framework to other spacefaring nations.  To be successful, this will require not just action by the lead agency, but support from all sectors of space to work with their global counterparts to develop a regime that compliments what is being done domestically. 

 

[1] While the legislative process could be effective in supporting this agency, it would be ill-advised for the legislative process to be used to establish STM policy, as Congress does not have the necessary technical nor operational expertise.