Status Report

State Department: Implementing the National Space Policy: Opportunities and Challenges

By SpaceRef Editor
September 22, 2010
Filed under ,
State Department: Implementing the National Space Policy: Opportunities and Challenges

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation
Remarks at the Fifth Annual National Space Forum
Arlington, VA
September 20, 2010

Thank you, Ambassador Harrison, for your kind introduction. It is a pleasure to see you and our other distinguished speakers and attendees at this conference, the Eisenhower Center’s fifth annual National Space Forum.

I am pleased to be able to join you here today to discuss the new U.S. National Space Policy. As you all know, the policy was released in late June, and we are now actively engaged in its implementation.

As Ambassador Harrison outlined in his introductory remarks, we are here today and tomorrow to gain a better understanding of the new policy and of how the policy is being received by domestic and international audiences. Much of my time at the State Department is focused on the national security aspects of international space cooperation, particularly in working with our traditional space-faring allies and partners but also in exploring potential opportunities for cooperation with emerging space powers. As directed by the President, our goals include expanded international cooperation to strengthen stability in space and to help assure the use of space for all responsible parties.

In implementing the National Space Policy, State leads diplomatic efforts to ensure U.S. leadership at the United Nations and other space-related fora. State also coordinates U.S. Government efforts to reassure allies of U.S. commitments to collective self-defense and to identify areas for mutually beneficial cooperation. These efforts complement the Administration’s efforts to augment U.S. capabilities by leveraging existing and planned space capabilities of allies and space partners.

Within that context, I would like to talk about four things today. First, I will briefly describe what we have been doing to implement the space policy since its release in late June. Second, I will discuss some challenges and opportunities we face in international cooperation and collaboration in space, and how we are tackling those challenges. Third, I will point to some of the continuing critical issues facing the United States and the international community as we expand our utilization of the space environment and work to strengthen stability in space. Finally, I’d like to challenge you in the audience to think about how we can work together across space sectors and interests to solve these difficult issues in the years ahead.


First of all, let me say we have been pleased with the positive response to the policy, especially regarding the policy’s emphasis on expanded international cooperation in space. Since early July my interagency colleagues and I have traveled extensively to meet with our allies, friends, and space partners to explain the President’s new policy and to discuss opportunities for cooperation and collaboration.

Along those lines, we are addressing several specific areas of expanded cooperation:

* Orbital debris mitigation;
* Shared space situational awareness;
* Improved information sharing for collision avoidance; and
* Transparency and confidence building measures

I’d like to provide a few details about what we are doing in each of these areas in the context of several challenges we face.

The Challenge of Orbital Congestion

Our first challenge is that of orbital congestion. As more nations and non-state organizations are using space for a wide range of activities, congestion in space is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. There are now over 20,000 man-made objects in various Earth orbits – from operational satellites, to parts of rocket bodies, and to other pieces of debris resulting from about half a century of space launches. We are all well aware of the recent incidents of collisions and near-collisions between spacecraft and the incredible amount of long-lasting orbital debris they have generated. In addition to the direct economic impact of these collisions, this debris adds to the overall level of hazard in critical orbits.

As a leading space-faring nation, the United States takes these issues very seriously, and our new policy reflects the importance we attach to addressing this challenge. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her June 28, 2010 statement on the release of the National Space Policy, “The United States plans to expand its engagement within the United Nations and with other governments and non-governmental organizations to address the growing problem of orbital debris and to promote ‘best practices’ for its sustainable use.” We are continuing to lead the development and adoption of international standards to minimize debris, building upon the foundation of the U.N. Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines. The United States is also engaged with our European allies and partners and other like-minded nations on a multi-year study of “long-term sustainability” within the Scientific and Technical Committee of the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS. This effort will examine the feasibility of voluntary “best practices guidelines” to help reduce operational risks to all space systems.

In collaboration with other space-faring nations, we are also pursuing research and development of technologies and techniques to mitigate on-orbit debris, reduce hazards, and increase our understanding of the current and future debris environment. These activities provide valuable opportunities for expanded and beneficial international cooperation with the global space-faring community and the private sector. Furthermore, these activities will contribute to enhancing spaceflight safety and preserving the space environment for future generations.

The Challenge of Situational Awareness

A second challenge I’d like to discuss is the challenge of ensuring that we have situational awareness of the space environment. A long-standing principle of U.S. space policy is that all nations have the right to explore and use space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity, in accordance with international law. Strengthening stability in space depends fundamentally in having awareness and understanding as to who is using the space environment, for what purposes, and under what environmental conditions. The new policy directs us to collaborate with other nations, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to improve our space situational awareness – in other words, to improve our shared ability to rapidly detect, warn of, characterize, and attribute natural and man-made disturbances to space systems. Having this information as early as possible and as accurately as possible is critical for a number of reasons.

First, it is critical to NASA, our International Space Station partners, and indeed, all space-faring nations, where human spaceflight safety is of the utmost importance. Second, it is critical for U.S. and allied security insofar it can enable us to detect, identify, and attribute actions in space that are contrary to responsible and peaceful use. And third, it is critical to our global economies, given the growing dependence we have on space-derived information and our need to maintain mission-essential functions for continuity of services.

The Challenge of Collision Avoidance

Having information that enables us to achieve space situational awareness and understanding is necessary but insufficient unless we know what to do with that information. The challenges of increasing congestion in space and the growing complexities of operating there safely and responsibly lead to another challenge, that of collision avoidance. To deal with this challenge, we need to improve our ability to share information, not only with other space-faring nations but also with our industry partners. International cooperation enables us to not only improve our space object databases; it also enables us to pursue common international data standards and data integrity measures. The new policy calls for collaboration on the dissemination of orbital tracking information, including predictions of potentially hazardous conjunctions between orbiting objects. In addition to improving our own capabilities to conduct expanded space object detection, characterization, and tracking and maintaining the space object catalogue, the United States also provides notifications to other government and commercial satellite operators of potential conjunctions.

We can assume that as our shared SSA capabilities improve, we will be able to notify satellite operators much earlier and with much greater accuracy to prevent potential collisions in space. The U.S. Government is working closely with the commercial space industry to determine the kinds of satellite data and other information that can be shared within appropriate national security and proprietary bounds. Working together at the operator level to share collision warning information will have the added benefit of improving spaceflight safety and communication among governmental and commercial operators, users, and decision-makers.

The Challenge of Promoting Responsible and Peaceful Behavior in Space

The fourth challenge we all face is promoting responsible and peaceful behavior in space. Meeting this challenge depends not only on taking positive steps, both unilaterally and multilaterally, to enhance the sustainability of space activities, but also conducting those activities in an open and transparent manner.

Part of our international cooperation activities in this area includes developing pragmatic transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs) to strengthen space stability and to mitigate the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. We will only pursue those TCBMs that not only enhance U.S. security, but also the security of our allies, friends, and space partners. Examples of bilateral space-related TCBMs include dialogues on national security space policies and strategies, expert visits to military satellite flight control centers, and discussions on mechanisms for information exchanges on natural and debris hazards. Joint resolutions on space security, and adoption of international norms or “codes of conduct” are also examples of TCBMs.

Promptly following the February 2009 collision between the Iridium and Russian satellites, the United States and Russia were in communication to discuss the incident; this experience is contributing to the on-going dialogue with Russia on developing additional concrete and pragmatic bilateral TCBMs that will enhance mutual trust and confidence.

In the area of multilateral TCBMs, the United States is completing an extensive and lengthy review of the European Union’s initiative to develop a comprehensive set of multilateral TCBMs, also known as the “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.” Over the past 18 months, the United States has been actively consulting with the EU on the Code. It is our hope to make a decision as to whether the United States can sign on to the Code in the coming months, pending a determination of its implications for our national security and foreign policy interests. We also believe it is time to consider how space relates to the challenges facing the North Atlantic Alliance, and how to strengthen alliance partnerships to reflect the globalized, networked world in which we live. The upcoming release of the NATO Strategic Concept offers an opportunity to develop a stronger consensus across NATO member states about the Alliance’s role and contributions to space security.


Finally, I’d like to leave you with some longer term issues we are facing, and challenge you to think about how we can work together to solve these difficult issues in the years ahead.

About two weeks ago Secretary Clinton gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. I commend her speech to you. In it she outlined her perspectives on new directions for U.S. foreign policy. She said, and I quote,

“…Solving foreign policy problems today requires us to think both regionally and globally, to see the intersections and connections linking nations and regions and interests, to bring people together as only America can. …

For the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity….”

The Secretary further outlined her thoughts on a “new global architecture that could help nations come together as partners to solve shared problems.”

While she did not mention space per se, I firmly believe this vision serves to help us deal with the challenges I have described today. Partnership implies shared responsibility – while all nations have the right to use and explore space, this right also entails responsibility. Furthermore, it cannot be the responsibility of the United States alone. We have made it clear in presenting our space policy to other nations that solving the challenges of orbital congestion, situational awareness, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space are the responsibilities of all who are engaged in space activities – not only establishes space-faring nations, but also those countries just beginning to explore and use space. While we are on our way technologically to solving some of these challenges, issues of attribution, accountability, and transparency remain. Just as important is continuing the positive “whole of government” interagency approach we used to develop the policy for our implementation activities, and linking these issues to broader foreign policy and national security concerns. All of this will strengthen U.S. space leadership and overall space security and stability. I challenge us all to think through these issues in the months and years ahead – again, to quote Secretary Clinton, “We cannot turn away from that responsibility.”

Thank you.

SpaceRef staff editor.