Cornyn, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Manage Space Traffic in Low-Earth Orbit
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Gary Peters (D-MI), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Eric Schmitt (R-MO), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) today introduced their Situational Awareness of Flying Elements in (SAFE) Orbit Act, which would encourage the development of commercial space capabilities by directing the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) within the U.S. Department of Commerce to acquire and disseminate unclassified data, analytics, information, and services on space activities and space traffic coordination, including in low-earth orbit:
“Building our knowledge of objects orbiting in space and their surrounding environments well help us mitigate the risks associated with space exploration and commercial space development,” said Sen. Cornyn. “The SAFE Orbit Act would require the Office of Space Commerce to collect and share relevant data to strengthen our space situational awareness and space traffic coordination efforts.”
“Maintaining U.S. leadership in commercial space activity is dependent on our ability to protect people and assets in space,” said Sen. Peters. “This bill would empower the Office of Space Commerce to conduct space situational awareness and space traffic coordination activities to ensure that the expansion of commercial and other space activities is safe, successful, and U.S.-led.”
“The world is entering a new space race, and we must equip American innovators with every resource to win,” said Sen. Blackburn. “The SAFE Orbit Act would take an important step to centralize and improve space traffic coordination, ensuring there are no tragic collisions in space. As we enter this new frontier, we must be certain that we prioritize safety and coordination with our partners around the globe.”
“Remaining the global leader in space, both commercially and militarily, is paramount to the future safety and security of the United States. As Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space and Science, it is my top priority to ensure safe and open access to space for our commercial and civil operators,” said Sen. Schmitt. “By providing a clear and standardized process for accessing space operation data through government and industry coordination, this bill will ensure continued access and growth in space for the commercial space industry. We must do everything we can to aid our commercial space industry and its ability to access and acquire mission critical information from the United States government.”
“The systems we use to track objects in the earth’s orbit are outdated and insufficient for the advancement of commercial space capabilities,” said Sen. Kelly. “The SAFE Orbit Act is a long overdue step towards improving the way we track space traffic and debris.”
“Space is the new economic frontier, but future expansion requires better technology and data coordination. Companies lack the visibility of other objects in space. And that deficiency means some satellites risk crashing into the space junk, or worse, into one another,” said Sen. Wicker. “This new emerging business sector has a lot of potential, but we must make sure our technological stars are aligned. Progress cannot be prevented by poor preparation.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) also cosponsored this legislation.
Space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic coordination (STC) are critical to ensuring safe and sustainable access to low-Earth orbit and space writ large, and current government SSA services are not keeping pace with the accuracy levels the industry needs. The FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act directed the Department of Commerce to take on this responsibility, and the SAFE Orbit Act would allow OSC to conduct SSA and STC activities and direct OSC to:
- Make basic-level SSA data, analytics, information, and services available for public use through an easily accessible web-based interface at no charge to the end user;
- Maintain a public catalogue of SSA data and information and maximize the use of satellite owner and operator data, U.S. Government (USG) data, and the usage of commercial services, data, analytics, information, services, and platforms;
- Facilitate the development and adoption of voluntary industry consensus standards to ensure data standardization with satellite owners and operators, commercial service providers, the academic community, and nonprofits;
- Collaborate with USG and foreign government operators to encourage participation in data-sharing with respect to their assets in orbit;
- And prioritize purchasing data, analytics, information, and services from commercial SSA providers and ensure any licensing agreements enable private U.S. firms to continue market growth and protect proprietary commercial systems and data.
This legislation is endorsed by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which is made up of more than 85 members, including many companies with Texas operations.