Space Code Key to Protecting U.S. Space Interests

Space Code Key to Protecting U.S. Space Interests

The Obama administration, supported by the U.S. military, is currently trying to negotiate an International Space Code of Conduct to protect the space environment. To gain support for the effort, the administration will have to overcome objections from some members of Congress, who often cite the ambitious and supposedly aggressive nature of Chinese space activities as the reason why the U.S. should not agree to international accords regarding space.

The United States has the most space assets in orbit -- and is the most dependent on them -- but it is not the only country with space capabilities. Sustaining the space environment for the peaceful use of all depends on the equivalent of air-traffic management in space: avoiding incidents that could degrade, damage or destroy space assets and the information they provide. And like air-traffic management, managing assets in space is a task that one country cannot manage alone.

The challenge is to develop a code that will establish voluntary guidelines to prevent such activities as the intentional creation of space debris, which occurs when assets are deliberately destroyed in orbit, while not constraining U.S. national security-related space activities. An eventual code of conduct would also likely require signatories to provide more information about their space assets for tracking purposes, to avoid collisions such as occurred in 2008 between a defunct Russian satellite and an operating commercial satellite. Countries are often reluctant to disclose the location of their spy satellites, however.

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