Government Issues Directive To Keep Space Clean


Image: NASA

The U.S. government issued a policy directive aimed at managing growing space traffic more safely and effectively, including tackling increasing orbital debris, on Monday. Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3) calls for “a new approach to space traffic management (STM) that addresses current and future operational risks.” SPD-3’s goals also include encouraging commercial space travel, developing STM best practices and improving the space object registry.

According to SPD-3, the Department of Defense already tracks over 20,000 objects in space and publishes a catalog of those objects and potential object collisions. That number is expected to rise substantially as sensor technology improves and there is concern that debris will cause safety issues, especially as space travel becomes more common. “Reducing the growing threat of orbital debris is in the interest of all nations, and NASA looks forward to working with the National Space Council, the Department of Commerce and other partners on a path forward,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “SPD-3 provides guidelines and initiatives to ensure that America is a leader in providing a safe and secure environment as space traffic increases.”

“This new legislation also commits the U.S. to exploring active space debris removal [which] has so far only been explored theoretically in paper studies,” said Carolin Frueh, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University. She also believes that there are some technological hurdles to overcome, especially when it comes to object tracking. “For air traffic,” Frueh said, “there are multiple radars tracking several airplanes per hour, but for space traffic, only a few sensors on earth are tracking … known objects.”