Spacelift Washington: U.S. ready to sign space launch notification agreement

By frank_sietzen
November 28, 2000
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washingon Archive

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 – The United States has finalized a Memorandum of Understanding with the Russian Federation for advanced notice of space and missile launches. The agreement, an outgrowth of discussions between Presidents Clinton and Putin last spring in Moscow, may have implications for U.S. military and commercial space launch as well.

The agreement was in State Secretary Madeleine K. Albright’s briefcase for execution Monday November 27th during her brief same-day visit to Vienna Austria but was deleted due to time constraints, sources tell Spacelift Washington. The agreement is likely to be signed in Washington by representatives of the two governments as a result of the Monday delay.

Under terms of the agreement, each party must give the other advance notice of all missile and space launches whose launch vehicles reach 500 kilometers in altitude or 500 kilometers in range. Nature of the payload and ultimate destination orbits must also be divulged under the deal, which was crafted by the U.S. State Department. The launches include U.S.-owned commercial space transportation providers as well as Russian military boosters launched from Plesetsk. But critics have suggested that the deal will hinder U.S. reconnaissance missions launched during global geopolitical emergencies, make moot U.S. Air Force development of ‘launch on demand’ capabilities, and render development of a U.S. Air Force military spaceplane impossible. The goal of such a spaceplane would be quick reaction missions in times of heightened international tensions. The launch on demand feature would allow for fast stacking and launch of ‘pop up’ small reconnaissance and observation satellites as well as space maneuver vehicles that could return to a military spaceport or landing site small payloads.

Regardless of the implications of the agreement if signed, the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps. objected to the requirements. According to published sources the Navy expressed strong concern to the plan but did not object. Rapid access to space is among the most sought after technological capabilities being factored into civil and military planning for next generation space launch and reusable space vehicles. How such an advance notification requirement would shape such future systems has not been detailed by the Clinton administration.

Secretary Albright was in Vienna Monday to attend the opening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council. She attended the opening ceremony of the meeting, gave a speech at its first plenary session, attended a brief ceremony noting the anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act which created the OSCE, and flew back to Washington late Monday.

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