It is unclear how long industries and governments can continue to operate safely in space without the support of globally coordinated traffic management. This is stated in a new report from the Atlantic Council, a US think tank on international cooperation.
The researchers stress that the US government and its allies should make efforts to create an international framework for managing space traffic.
“Commercial and governmental activities in space are increasingly threatened by the rapidly increasing congestion in the Earth’s environment,” warned Mir-Sadat and Julia Siegel, researchers at the Scowcroft Center for Strategies and Security at the United Nations. Atlantic Council. “It is becoming clear that without globally coordinated traffic management in space, industries and governments cannot continue to operate safely.”
“There is an urgent need for an international coordinating body to lead the management of traffic in space,” Sadat and Siegel said. “This could be assigned to an existing organization, such as the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), or it could lead to the creation of a new organization, which would be given the appropriate powers.”
The report asserts that it is no longer sufficient to know the location of spacecraft and space debris. The authors caution that “as activity in space becomes more crowded, it will be necessary to co-manage the maneuver in a crowded environment.”
“The US Space Command is currently tracking 35,000 space objects. But this is only a small part of the objects orbiting the Earth and only a small part of the floating debris that can damage the spacecraft.”
Many governments, companies, and international organizations monitor space objects and notify satellite operators when a collision is possible. But it is ultimately up to the operators whether or not they should adjust the trajectory of the target spacecraft.
“This decentralized system has worked so far, but it may not be enough to prevent future collisions,” emphasizes Meyer and Siegel. The United States urgently needs to lead the way in a globally coordinated space traffic management policy. Otherwise, space remains an uncertain area that jeopardizes national interests.”
The report calls on Congress to examine the capabilities of the Office of Space Commerce — the US Department of Commerce agency tasked with handling space traffic.
“Lawmakers should examine whether this agency is adequately equipped to do this work and whether the structure, authority, and funding of this institution provides the ability to organize effective management of national space traffic.” Another recommendation is that the US government set standards for satellites that do not have the ability to perform maneuvers.
The report notes that “space is a fundamental pillar of the economic and social environment of the twenty-first century, as well as an essential component of global security.” “This requires free and open access to space.”
“The current regulatory vacuum around space traffic leaves room for malign activity and precarious commercial initiatives. Therefore, urgent action is needed to ensure a future of security and prosperity in space.”
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