Pace: Space Traffic Management Policy is On the President’s Desk

Pace: Space Traffic Management Policy is On the President’s Desk

Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council, said today that the Space Traffic Management (STM) policy Vice President Mike Pence spoke about earlier this month is now on the President’s desk awaiting action.  The need for an STM policy is being driven by the expected dramatic increase in space objects as companies like OneWeb and SpaceX launch constellations of hundreds or thousands of small communications satellites.  The growth in satellite services is also posing spectrum allocation issues that must be resolved.

Speaking at a Hudson Institute seminar, Pace said the STM policy, the first of its kind, will establish a “modern, space traffic management architecture” and promote “space safety standards and norms across the international community.”

At the Space Symposium two weeks ago, Pence said responsibility for Space Situational Awareness (SSA) for the civil and commercial space sectors and Space Traffic Management (STM) is being assigned to the Department of Commerce.  Pence said at the time that the policy would be released soon.

In their simplest definitions, SSA is knowing where space objects are and where they are going, while STM is the authority to require an operator to move a satellite, for example to avoid a collision.

Scott Pace, Executive Secretary, National Space Council, speaking at the Hudson Institute, Apr. 30, 2018. Screengrab.

Today Pace said it is “on that large piece of furniture known as the President’s desk.  I’m hoping we will have an announcement fairly soon.  It’s been a productive [interagency] process …  and I think we’ve reached a fairly good consensus.”

Pace noted that these new satellite constellations not only heighten the risk of space collisions and hence the need for STM, but also increase competition for spectrum.  The spectrum battle is not only among space systems, but between space and terrestrial users.  Spectrum needed to meet the seemingly insatiable demand for terrestrial mobile broadband services for devices like smartphones can conflict with that required for communications, GPS and remote sensing satellite systems.  U.S. companies are ready to “engage in global competition” in both the terrestrial and satellite markets and “the United States will continue to promote open, competitive markets and protect spectrum allocations for all space services.”

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized United Nations agency, allocates portions (“bands”) of the electromagnetic spectrum for various uses around the world, holding periodic World Radio Conferences (WRCs) to hammer out those arrangements.  The next WRC is in 2019.  Pace cited the need for “all countries globally or at least regionally to seek harmonized spectrum allocations for terrestrial and satellite services during WRC-19.”

National governments then assign specific frequencies within those bands to users.  In the United States, the FCC assigns spectrum for non-government users, while the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA, part of the Department of Commerce) assigns it to government agencies.  Pace said that the National Space Council is examining how the FCC, Department of Commerce and Department of State “can better coordinate to ensure the protection and stewardship of the spectrum needed for space commerce.”

Pace stressed the need for a “whole of government” approach to space policy because of the growing overlap among the civil, commercial and national security space sectors.   SSA, STM, spectrum allocation, export controls, reforming regulations for commercial launch and reentry and satellite remote sensing, and creating a light-handed regulatory environment for new space activities, all need coordinated attention.

The Trump Administration’s goal is for the United States to be the “indispensable nation” in all three space sectors.  “The challenge of space leadership today is to manage in the face of rapid change [and] the most important factor … is not what other countries do, but what the United States chooses to do or fails to do.”

Pace also briefly addressed the five U.N. space treaties.   He characterized some as outstanding successes (the 1967 Outer Space Treaty), some as failures (the 1979 Moon Treaty), and noted one has never been used yet (the 1968 Astronaut Rescue and Return Agreement), but more broadly said the United States sees no need for additional treaties. Instead, it will work with other spacefaring countries “to promote norms of safe and responsible behavior in space.”

Asked how the Outer Space Treaty meshes with Trump Administration military space plans, Pace said the United States sees the existing  treaties as “broadly permissive” and “we are able to do whatever it is we really want to do in space.”  What has changed over the decades is that space no longer is a sanctuary.  The actions of Russia and China pose threats and the first U.S. priority now is developing space systems that are resilient and that can respond to those threats.  That is not to say that war in space is inevitable, however.  Rather the United States wants to “deter and prevent war in space.”  The ideal situation is for space to remain “peaceful and calm.”

The seminar is the first in a series that will be held by the Hudson Institute as part of its “Space 2.0” project.  The Institute was founded in 1961 by futurist Herman Kahn and is dedicated to “promoting American leadership and global engagement for a secure, free, and prosperous future.”

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