Senators Urge Biden Administration Action on Space Debris

Senators Urge Biden Administration Action on Space Debris

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has sent letters to Vice President Harris and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo urging them to step up efforts to address the threat from space debris. Russia’s recent antisatellite test created more than 1,500 new pieces of trackable debris, underscoring the need to find ways to maintain the long-term sustainability of the space environment they said.

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), the chair and ranking member of the full committee, and Senators John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), chair and ranking member of the Space and Science subcommittee, signed both letters.

Wicker is a long-standing advocate for addressing the space debris issue through NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) and for elevating that office within the Department of Commerce to increase its visibility and clout. His Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act passed the Senate earlier this year as part of the U.S. Innovation and  Competitiveness Act.

In the letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the bipartisan group pointed out that efforts begun during the Trump Administration to create an Open Access Data Repository (OADR) of data from government and commercial sources on the location of space objects have slowed. The OSC has been without a permanent director since the change in Administrations and the Senators urge her to appoint someone to provide the needed leadership to move forward.

Effective leadership and a functioning OADR that incorporates commercial data and capabilities will contribute to the growth of the space economy and improve space safety. These 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. 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. The Committee therefore looks forward to the operationalization of OSC capabilities.

An accompanying press release says that much of the approximately $5 million appropriated for the OADR pilot program “has gone to contracts to continue studying the problem rather than establishing the capability to monitor space debris and warn operators about collisions.”

As Vice President, Harris chairs the White House National Space Council, which will hold its first meeting of the Biden-Harris Administration tomorrow.

In their letter to her, the Senators asked that she “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” at that meeting.

The Space Council has not publicly announced the exact time or location of tomorrow’s meeting, but it likely will be broadcast on and perhaps on NASA TV as well, though it is not on the NASA TV schedule at the moment.

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