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Following Russian Anti-Satellite Test, Commerce Committee Urges Administration Action on Protecting Space Environment

Press Release From: United States Senate
Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2021

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Space and Science Subcommittee Chair Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Ranking Member Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), today sent letters to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and to Vice President Kamala Harris urging action to protect the space environment. The letters follow the destruction of an orbiting satellite by a Russian anti-satellite weapon that created more than 1,500 pieces of space debris, risking damage to U.S. civil, commercial, and national security satellites and threatened personnel on the International Space Station (ISS).

In a letter to Secretary Raimondo, the Senators urged the Commerce Department to appoint a Director and boost the technical capabilities of the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) which is charged with creating a space traffic management pilot program and a repository with information on space objects, including debris.

“OSC capabilities will support the nation’s ability to manage the emergence of new debris fields, such as the debris field created by the Russian test,” they wrote. “Further, these capabilities will help the nation understand and respond to unforeseen disasters in space and play a critical role in protecting U.S. property and personnel.”

In a separate letter, the Senators urged Vice President Harris to discuss the issue of protecting the space environment during Wednesday’s meeting of the National Space Council, which she chairs.

“The space domain is essential for the United States’ modern economy. From fostering scientific discovery and planetary exploration to facilitating next-generation communications and the Global Positioning System (GPS), these scientific, technological, and national security benefits must be protected,” the Senators wrote. “We request that you advocate for aligning space sustainability priorities and activities across the Federal Government and work to develop international dialogue on norms of responsible behavior in space.”

The Senators and the Committee addressed protecting the space environment during hearings in July and October. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both under the Committee’s purview, operate a fleet of Earth-observing satellites that provide crucial information on weather and climate. These satellites enable the nation’s weather forecasting capabilities and support our understanding of climate change. NASA also operates the ISS, an orbiting research laboratory. Astronauts on board ISS, including Washington native Kayla Barron, were required to shelter in their crew return vehicles following the Russian anti-satellite test. The Senate passed, as part of the United States Innovation and Competition Act, the Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency Act of 2021 (SPACE Act) in June 2021. Originally reported out of the Commerce Committee in November 2020, the SPACE Act would direct OSC to improve the collection, processing, and dissemination of space situational awareness (SSA) data and authorize $20 million in grants for SSA centers of excellence.


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