State Department – International Cooperation: Furthering U.S. National Space Policy and Goals

November 3, 2010 at 8:13 am | Posted in Space Law | Leave a comment

by P.J. Blount with the blog faculty

Source – State Department:

International Cooperation: Furthering U.S. National Space Policy and Goals

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Remarks at the USSTRATCOM Space Symposium
Omaha, Nebraska
November 2, 2010

As Prepared

Thank you for your kind introduction. Let me take a minute to congratulate General Chilton on his retirement. He has had quite an impressive career. I have worked with General Chilton for several years, and I can attest from my current position that the State Department greatly appreciates the close cooperation we have had with STRATCOM on a wide range of issues during his tenure. I wish him all the best for the future.

It is a pleasure to attend this symposium, and I found this morning’s sessions to be quite interesting. What is clear from the discussions so far is that there is a growing recognition that the space environment is becoming increasingly congested. That is certainly one of the observations that factored into our review of U.S. National Space Policy and led us to the conclusion that we need to seek more international cooperation on space issues.

In my remarks today, I will discuss the new U.S. National Space Policy and the opportunities it presents for international space cooperation. I will highlight how the United States is seeking to cooperate in the areas of debris mitigation, situational awareness, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space.

Much of my time at the State Department is focused on the national security aspects of international space cooperation, particularly working with traditional space-faring allies and partners, but also in exploring potential opportunities for cooperation with emerging space powers. My colleagues at State and I also continue to work closely with the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation as well as with NASA and the Intelligence Community to implement this new policy and to preserve the long-term sustainability of our space activities.

As most of you know, the U.S. National Space Policy was released in late June of this year. This policy is a statement of the Administration’s highest priorities for space, and reflects our principles and goals to be used in shaping the conduct of our space programs and activities.

In the four years since the issuance of the previous U.S. National Space Policy, a number of developments have changed the opportunities, challenges, and threats facing the international space community. This new policy both accounts for those changes, and reflects the fact that space has become an even more important component of our collective economic and international security.

A key component of this policy is its increased emphasis on expanding international cooperation and collaboration. Such opportunities include cooperation to mitigate orbital debris, share space situational awareness information, improve information sharing for collision avoidance, and develop transparency and confidence building measures. Collaboration in each of these areas has the potential of enhancing stability in space. As a result, since the policy was released, my interagency colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time on the road meeting with our allies, friends, and space partners to explain the President’s new policy and to discuss areas for cooperation and collaboration. I will discuss some of these areas now and then close with some of our views on how all countries can contribute to preserving the space environment for future generations.

Cooperation to Mitigate Orbital Debris

As was discussed earlier, congestion in space is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge and addressing it will require international action. There are now around 21,000 pieces of space debris in various Earth orbits – in other words, about 6,000 metric tons of debris orbiting the Earth. Some of this debris was created accidentally through collisions or routine space launches, some was intentional such as the Chinese ASAT test in 2007. Not only is there a direct economic impact to this debris, it also adds to the overall magnitude of hazards in critical orbits, such as those used by the space shuttle and the International Space Station. For example, the space shuttle is impacted by debris repeatedly on every mission. In fact, debris poses the single largest threat to the shuttle and to the astronauts onboard during these missions. The typical risk of the space shuttle being critically impacted by debris is about one in 250.

To address the growing problem of orbital debris, the United States plans to expand its engagement within the United Nations and with other governments and non-governmental organizations. 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 provide a valuable opportunity for cooperation with established and emerging space actors and with the private sector to establish a set of “best practice” guidelines that will enhance space-flight safety.

In collaboration with other space-faring nations, the United States is 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 and benefits for expanded international cooperation with the global space-faring community and the private sector, and also contribute to preserving the space environment for future generations.

Cooperation in Space Situational Awareness

International cooperation is also necessary to ensure that we have robust situational awareness of the space environment. No one nation has the resources or geography necessary to precisely track every space object. The National Space Policy implicitly recognizes this fact and thus directs us to collaborate with other nations, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to improve our space situational awareness – specifically, to improve our shared ability to rapidly detect, warn of, characterize, and attribute natural and man-made disturbances to space systems.

An example of our efforts to cooperate in the area of space situational awareness is our collaboration with Europe as they develop their own space situational awareness, or SSA system. The State Department, in collaboration with Department of Defense, is currently engaged in technical exchanges with experts from the European Space Agency, European Union, and individual ESA and EU Member States to ensure interoperability between our two SSA systems. Looking ahead, State and DoD also see opportunities for cooperation on SSA with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific and other regions.

Cooperation to Prevent Collision Avoidance

International cooperation is also essential to enable satellite owners and operators to have the information necessary to prevent future collisions. As a result, we are seeking to improve our ability to share information with other space-faring nations as well as with our industry partners. Such cooperation enables us to improve our space object databases as well as pursue common international data standards and data integrity measures.

The National Space 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 governments and commercial satellite operators of potential conjunctions. The State Department is very supportive of U.S. Strategic Command’s efforts to work with space-faring entities to establish two-way information exchanges and facilitate rapid notifications of space hazards. To ensure timely notifications, the Department of State is currently reaching out to all space-faring nations to ensure that the Joint Space Operations Center has current contact information for both government and private sector satellite operations centers.

We hope that as our space surveillance capabilities improve, we will be able to notify satellite operators earlier and with greater accuracy in order to prevent collisions in space. The U.S. Government is currently 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.

Cooperation in Developing TCBMs

The National Space policy clearly state that the United States will continue to work with other space actors to pursue pragmatic bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures (or TCBMs) to mitigate the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. It also affirms that we are open to considering space-related arms control concepts and proposals, provided they meet the rigorous criteria of equitability, effective verifiability, and enhance the national security interests of the United States and its allies.

The United States supports TCBMs to enhance U.S. security as well as the security of our allies, friends, and space partners. Examples of bilateral space-related TCBMs include dialogues on space policies and strategies, expert visits to military satellite flight control centers, and discussions on mechanisms for information exchanges on natural and debris hazards. For example, over the past few years, we have recognized the importance of space security dialogues. To date, the State Department has conducted these dialogues with a number of key allies and partners including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and we expect to engage other nations in the coming weeks and months.

Additionally, following the February 2009 collision between commercial Iridium spacecraft and an inactive Russian military satellite, the United States and Russia were in direct communication to discuss the incident. This experience is contributing to the ongoing dialogue with Russia on developing additional concrete and pragmatic bilateral TCBMs that will enhance spaceflight safety. This past August 24, I led a U.S. interagency delegation to Moscow for a bilateral space security dialogue between experts. There, we reviewed national space policy developments and opportunities for reciprocal site visits and collaboration in multilateral fora.

In addition to these exchanges, the United States looks forward to implementing a range of reciprocal military-to-military exchanges, including many of the specific measures noted by Russia in its past submissions to the Secretary General of the United Nations. The United States has invited Russian military space officials to participate in events such as this symposium, and to visit STRATCOM’s Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Additionally, the United States stands ready to discuss space security with China as part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the U.S.-China Security Dialogue, and through military-to-military exchanges. Such exchanges fulfill the call of President Obama and President Hu in the joint statement of November 17, 2009, to take steps to enhance security in outer space.

The adoption of international norms or multilateral “codes of conduct” are also examples of TCBMs. The United States is currently completing an extensive 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 three years, the United States has been actively consulting with the EU on the Code. It is our hope to make a decision in the coming months as to whether the United States can sign on to such a Code, pending our ongoing review and the results of further consultations with the EU and other like-minded nations.

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 that we live in today. 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 in space. This includes contributions to coalition operations as well as the emerging challenges to our shared security interests in space.

The United States looks forward to continued and substantive discussions on pragmatic and voluntary TCBMs within multilateral fora. During last month’s meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee, we worked with Russia to try and co-sponsor their resolution establishing a group of government experts (GGE) to assess options for TCBMs. The United States offered the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China a constructive draft resolution for co-sponsorship. We were disappointed that we were not able to join in the consensus when neither party was willing to drop linkage between TCBMs and their proposal for a so-called “Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty” (or “PPWT” for short), a proposal which the United States has significant concerns about.

That said, while we had some concerns about the resolution, we nonetheless appreciate the efforts of the Russia Federation to develop a resolution that advances our shared goals of developing pragmatic TCBMs. In particular, we are supportive of the resolution’s establishment of a Group of Government Experts (GGE) to examine voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs in space that solve concrete problems. We look forward to working with our colleagues, on this effort in such a GGE. Additionally, the United States continues to support the inclusion of a non-negotiating, or discussion, mandate in any CD program of work under the agenda item, “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space,” known as PAROS.


In closing, I’d like to mention that all countries can contribute to preserving the space environment for future generations. As the first principle of our National Space Policy affirms, “[i]t is the shared interest of all nations to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust.” The United States calls on governments around the world to work together to adopt approaches for responsible activities in space in order to preserve this right for the benefit of future generations. As a result, the United States is seeking to cooperate in the areas of debris mitigation, situational awareness, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space. This will require the assistance from all space actors – not only established space-faring nations, but also those countries just beginning to explore, and use, space.

President Obama’s National Space Policy renews America’s pledge of cooperation in the belief that, with reinvigorated U.S. leadership and strengthened international collaboration, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved. The United States looks forward to our future work with all responsible space actors to create a more secure, stable, and safe space environment for the benefit of all nations.

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