Politics Space

Senators demand that action be taken on space traffic management

Members of a Senate subcommittee on space claimed that Commerce Department was not performing sufficient to execute policies on the space traffic management (STM) or the staff the office in charge of it. Senators expressed concern at a July 22 meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee that the Commerce Department’s sluggish action in establishing a civil STM system as described in the Space Policy Directive (SPD) 3 in 2018 jeopardized US leadership in space.

“I’m worried that it’s been three years after SPD-3 was published, and Commerce Department has been tardy to build the open architectural repository that is much needed,” said a ranking member of the panel Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). “Instead, it has commissioned further studies to explore the already-answered issue of which US government agency is best equipped for the job.”

The open architecture data repository (OADR), would combine SSA data from commercial and government sources, which could subsequently be used for STM applications like collision alerts. In the fiscal year 2021 spending plan, Congress gave cash to the Office of Space Commerce to start working on OADR pilot projects.

According to a previous director in charge of the Office of Space Commerce, a shortage of money had hampered work on the OADR and other components of SPD-3. Kevin O’Connell, who oversaw the office from 2018 till the end of the Trump administration in January, stated, “One piece of this was that we needed to wrap our brains around the varied alliances and some of the technical options that were accessible in the commercial industry.” “But, second, it was truly a resource issue: the fact that we had such a tiny budget in the office.”

Another difficulty is indeed the Office of Space Commerce’s lack of leadership, which has been lacking a full-time director since O’Connell’s departure. Mark Pease, who works as a deputy assistant administrator in charge of the satellite and information services at the NOAA, which hosts the office, is now serving as acting director. Lummis added, “I am particularly worried that the administration has not named a director to lead the Office of Space Commerce.”

When O’Connell was appointed in 2018, the office had been lacking a director for almost ten years “It had a very little budget and a very small staff,” he explained. With its responsibility of guiding civil STM, he believed that this was not tenable. “Given what is at stake and the need for rapid progress, this is without a doubt the most essential mission at this time.”

The Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act, which was passed by the Senate in June, codifies elements of SPD-3, such as designating the Commerce Department as the lead for civil STM and establishing an OADR. Senators urged the passage of the SPACE Act in some form, even though the House is not planning to take up the entire bill. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), the chairperson of the subcommittee, called for the bill’s enactment, saying, “We need swift action.”

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Andrzej Kowalski