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U.S. Remarks on Space Security at UNIDIR Conference, April 2011

Speaker: Frank A. Rose
Published April 4, 2011


Frank A. Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, gave these remarks at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research's (UNIDIR) Space Security Conference in Geneva, Switzerland on April 4, 2011.



Thank you for your kind introduction. It is a pleasure to participate in this UNIDIR space security conference and this panel on “Ongoing Processes & Proposals, Next Steps.” My hope today is that our discussion will help inform much of the work we are pursuing to strengthen security and stability in space, and so I’m here to learn as much as I am here to offer remarks. My colleague, Ambassador Laura Kennedy, spoke at last year’s conference and gave a prelude to our new National Space Policy which at that time had not yet been released. The new policy was released in June 2010. Consistent with the President’s guidance in the policy, we are pursuing measures to strengthen security and stability in space. That is what I would like to discuss with you today, and more precisely, how we can strengthen security and stability through shared space situational awareness, called “SSA” for short, and through transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs.

Why is SSA important to space security? A long-standing principle of U.S. national space policy is that all nations have the right to explore and use space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity, in accordance with international law. Strengthening stability in space fundamentally depends on having awareness and understanding as to who is using the space environment, for what purposes, and under what environmental conditions. The U.S. National Space Policy directs us to collaborate with other nations, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to improve our SSA – in other words, to improve our shared ability to rapidly detect, warn of, characterize, and attribute natural and man-made disturbances to space systems. Having this information as early as possible and as accurately as possible is critical for a number of reasons.

First, it is critical to NASA, our International Space Station partners, and all spacefaring nations, where human spaceflight safety is of the utmost importance. Second, it is critical for U.S. and allied security – indeed, everyone’s security – to enable us to detect, identify, and attribute actions in space that are contrary to responsible and peaceful use. And third, given the growing dependence we all have on space-derived information, it is critical to our global economies.

Cooperation to Prevent Collisions

Having information enables us to achieve SSA. However, “awareness” alone is insufficient. We also need to know what to actually do with that vital information – how do we make it “actionable” information? The challenges of increasing congestion in space – over 60 nations with varying interests now operate in space; we are tracking over 22,000 objects, there are 1,100 active systems, and hundreds of thousands of smaller objects we can’t see – and the growing complexities of operating there safely and responsibly, lead to the challenge of collision avoidance. One way that international cooperation enhances SSA is the information exchange between satellite owners and operators to prevent collisions. The United States provides notifications to other governments and commercial satellite operators of potentially hazardous conjunctions between orbiting objects. The State Department also plays a crucial role in this activity because international cooperation is necessary to ensure that we have robust situational awareness of the space environment – no one nation has the resources to be able to do this alone. The State Department continues to be extremely supportive of U.S. Strategic Command’s efforts to establish SSA sharing agreements with foreign satellite operators and to facilitate rapid notifications of potential space hazards.

The United States is constantly seeking to improve its ability to share information with other spacefaring nations as well as with our commercial sector partners. For example, at State we are currently reaching out to all spacefaring nations to ensure that the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, has current contact information for both government and private sector satellite operations centers. Those efforts include ongoing discussions with Russia on measures to enhance safety for robotic space missions as well as for human spaceflight.

SSA Cooperation

Across the United States Government, we are supporting numerous multilateral and bilateral engagements in SSA. For example, the United States is collaborating with our friends and allies in Europe as they consider developing their own SSA system. We are collaborating with the Department of Defense to engage in technical exchanges with experts from the European Space Agency, the European Union, and individual ESA and EU Member States to ensure our existing and planned SSA systems contribute to a more comprehensive situational awareness picture to ensure the safety, stability, and security of the space domain. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense has signed bilateral SSA statements of principles with Canada, France, and Australia. Looking ahead, the United States also sees opportunities for cooperation on SSA with other nations around the globe. SSA benefits all responsible spacefaring nations.

International “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities”

Another challenge we all face is promoting responsible and peaceful behavior in space. Meeting this challenge depends not only on taking positive steps, both unilaterally and multilaterally, to enhance the sustainability of space activities, but also conducting those activities in an open and transparent manner. Upon their implementation, some TCBMs also have the potential of enhancing our knowledge of the space environment, thereby strengthening security and stability in space. For instance, the United States is continuing to consult with the European Union on its initiative to develop a comprehensive set of multilateral TCBMs, also known as the international "Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities." We hope to make a decision in the near term as to whether the United States can sign on to this Code, including what, if any, modifications would be necessary.

An example where a Code of Conduct could contribute to our shared SSA is its political commitment to provide notifications in a timely manner of malfunctions that might place space objects at risk, as well as any accidents or collisions that might have taken place.

The United States is already following such practices – as we did when we promptly notified Russia through diplomatic channels when we detected the collision of a commercial Iridium satellite with an inoperable Russian military spacecraft in February 2009. This experience is contributing to our ongoing dialogue with Russia on developing additional concrete and pragmatic bilateral TCBMs that will enhance spaceflight safety. Non-legally binding measures such as the proposed Code could build on our existing practices as well as U.S. and allied SSA capabilities by mitigating the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust.

Cooperation on “Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities”

Another initiative is the multi-year study of “long-term sustainability of space activities” within the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). This effort will be forming an experts group to address SSA and space operations. In addition, a separate experts group will examine space weather, which is also an important aspect of SSA. We are hopeful that this effort will lead to the formation of voluntary “best practice guidelines,” which will help reduce operational risks to all space systems. In addition to drawing on the expertise of government experts, this working group also will draw upon the background, experience and best practices that have been developed by commercial satellite operators.

Conclusion

SSA is essential to strengthen security and stability in space and sustainability of our space activities. To this end, the United States is striving to improve our ability to monitor, track, and provide notifications regarding space objects. However, everyone’s picture of the space environment is greatly enhanced through international cooperation and shared SSA. Furthermore, strengthening security and stability in space is in everyone’s interests. It can be achieved through pursuing TCBMs that promote responsible behavior and the peaceful use of space. Examples of this cooperation include initiatives such as the EU’s proposal for an international Code of Conduct and the COPUOS Agenda Item on Long-Term Sustainability. Such cooperation with established and emerging members of the spacefaring community and with the private sector will help to preserve the space environment for the benefit of all nations and future generations.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions and our discussion.

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