15th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Thank you for your kind introduction. I am pleased to be able to speak to you at this conference today. I’d like to share with you what we are doing to implement the President’s 2010 National Space Policy, particularly in the area of transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs. I’ll also discuss in greater detail the recent U.S. decision to pursue an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. Last fall we were pleased to have the opportunity to update the Federal Aviation Authority Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) on the Code and we look forward to continue those consultations..
Let me emphasize at the onset that we believe that industry’s views are very important as we enter into formal consultations and negotiations with the European Union (EU) and other spacefaring nations to develop an international Code of Conduct. Furthermore, the State Department is working closely with the Transportation and Commerce Departments to make sure we understand and correctly represent industry perspectives, not only with the Code, but also with other key international activities such as: the Working Group on Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities currently underway at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) meeting in Vienna, Austria, and the UN General Assembly’s Group of Government Experts (GGE) on Space Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs), due to begin in July in New York. Together, these activities represent key elements of the bilateral and multilateral efforts in international space cooperation to address how we can all work to strengthen long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security in space.
The Evolving Space Environment
Why are all these activities important? Today, the benefits derived from space assets permeate almost every aspect of our lives worldwide. Space systems enable personal communications devices; facilitate the operations of global markets; enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring; enable global navigation and transportation; expand our scientific frontier; provide national decision makers with global communications, command, and control; and scores of other activities worldwide.
Space is no longer an environment accessed nearly exclusively by two superpowers or a few countries. Barriers to entry are lower than ever, and many countries are enjoying access to, and the benefits of, space in unprecedented numbers. Today, space is the domain of a growing number of satellite operators; approximately 60 nations and government consortia operate satellites, as well as numerous commercial and academic satellite operators. Paradoxically, while it is becoming increasingly easier to access as well as to benefit from space, space is also becoming increasingly congested and contested. This situation means we need to think carefully through how we can all operate there safely and responsibly. Our goal is to ensure that the generations that follow us can also benefit from the advantages that space offers.
However, decades of space activity have littered low Earth orbit with debris, and as the world’s spacefaring nations continue to increase activities in space, the chance for collision increases correspondingly. As I’m sure you heard from General Shelton this morning, the U.S. Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 objects in orbit, of which only 1,100 are active satellites. These objects include such things as “dead” satellites and spent booster upper stages still orbiting, as well as debris from accidents, mishaps, or intentionally destructive events. Experts warn that the quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increase the odds of future damaging collisions. Threats to the space environment will also increase as more nations and non-state actors develop and deploy counter-space systems. Today space systems and their supporting infrastructure face a range of man-made threats that may deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy assets.
Irresponsible acts against space systems have implications beyond the space environment, disrupting services upon which civil, commercial, and national security sectors around the world depend, with potentially damaging consequences for all of us and to future generations. Ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment—through measures such as providing prior notifications of launches of space launch vehicles, establishing “best practices guidelines,” and warning of risks of collisions between space objects—are vital to the interests of the United States and the entire world community.
Space Security and Sustainability in 2012
Given the increasing threat, we must work with the community of spacefaring nations to preserve the space environment for all nations and future generations. I believe that 2012 will be a defining year for advancing this goal, with:
- Negotiations on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities;
- Initial meetings of a U.N.-established Group of Government Experts on Space TCBMs; and
- The continuing work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on the “Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities.”
One of the ways the United States is moving forward towards this goal this year is through our pursuit of near-term, voluntary, and pragmatic transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs. TCBMs are means by which governments can address challenges and share information with the aim of creating mutual understanding and reducing tensions. Through TCBMs we can address important areas such as orbital debris, space situational awareness, and collision avoidance, as well as undertake activities that will help to increase familiarity and trust and encourage openness among space actors. The United States, as guided by President Obama’s National Space Policy, will work with other space actors to pursue pragmatic, near-term TCBMs to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space.
An International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities
Perhaps one of the most beneficial multilateral TCBMs for ensuring sustainability and security in space could be the adoption of “best practice” guidelines or a “code of conduct.” On January 17, the United States announced that it had decided to join with the European Union and other spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. In Secretary of State Clinton’s statement announcing the decision, she said,
“The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors. […] Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.”
The United States views the European Union’s proposed Code of Conduct as a good foundation for developing a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space. As more countries field space capabilities, it is in all of our interests that they act responsibly and that the safety and sustainability of space is protected. An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would establish guidelines to reduce the risks and dangers of debris-generating events and increase the transparency of operations in space to avoid the danger of collisions.
The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that an International Code enhances national security and maintains the United States’ inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, a fundamental part of international law. The United States would only subscribe to such a Code of Conduct if:
1) it protects and enhances the national and economic security of the United States, our allies, and our friends, and;
2) it does not hamper, limit, or prevent the United States from using space for peaceful purposes, including national security related activities.
We believe that an international Code of Conduct -- especially one that reduces the risk of further long-lived, debris-generating events like China's 2007 ASAT test -- is in the interest of the commercial space industry. Reducing the likelihood of such events in the future will reduce the need to maneuver active satellites to prevent collisions (and expend precious fuel), thus ensuring industry gets the maximum return from its investments in satellite systems.
Through the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), industry has provided us a number of useful recommendations with regard to the Code. We look forward to continuing to receive industry's inputs through the COMSTAC and other forums. Furthermore, we want to make sure we continue to keep these lines of communications to industry open as we engage with the EU and others on the development of an international Code.
Group of Government Experts on Outer Space TCBMs
The United States is also anticipating beginning work this year in the Group of Government Experts (or GGE) on Outer Space TCBMs established by UN General Assembly Resolution 65/68. We support the full consideration of all helpful proposals for bilateral and multilateral TCBMs. Such proposals could include measures aimed at enhancing the transparency of national security space policies, strategies, activities and experiments or notifications regarding environmental or unintentional hazards to spaceflight safety. International consultations to prevent incidents in outer space and to prevent or minimize the risks of potentially harmful interference could also be a helpful TCBM to consider. We look forward to working with our international colleagues in a GGE that serves as a constructive mechanism to examine voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs that enhance stability and safety, and promote responsible operations in space.
UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
Finally, in addition to “top-down” initiatives, the United States believes that efforts to adopt space TCBMs should also be built upon “bottom-up” initiatives developed by government and private sector satellite operators. Therefore, the United States is taking an active role in the Working Group of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on long-term sustainability. The Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability on Outer Space Activities will be a key forum for the international development of “best practices guidelines” for space activities. We believe that many of the best practice guidelines addressed by this working group are foundational to our efforts to pursue TCBMs that enhance stability and security. In fact, the United States is serving as the co-Chair of the Expert Group on Space Debris, Space Operations and Tools to Support Collaborative Space Situational Awareness showing our commitment to making progress to enhance spaceflight safety and to preserving the use of space for the long-term.
Today, the world is increasingly inter-connected through, and increasingly dependent on, space systems. The risks associated with irresponsible actions in space mean that ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment is in the vital interest of the entire world community. I believe that 2012 will be a defining year for space security, and the work we all will do in responding to the challenges in, and the threats to, the space environment can help us preserve space for all nations and future generations. We look forward to partnering with the commercial space transportation industry in this effort.
Thank you very much.