COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The next space age will be characterized by an unprecedented level of cooperation in both the commercial and national security sectors, according to participants in a panel discussion here at the National Space Symposium.

Particularly in the area of national security, most space-related work is done unilaterally, according to Keith Hall, former director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. While there is some collaboration in terms of information-sharing, there is little coordination of the constellations nations are sending into space.

Hall said allied countries would be wise to expand some of the collaboration that characterizes the civil space arena to the national security arena. Partners should share capacity and operate in a joint fashion, Hall said.

One national security area that is ripe for international cooperation is space situational awareness. Countries should expand efforts to detect space debris and share that information, Hall said. That view was echoed by Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, who said that standards in place for exchanging information on orbital debris are helping nations cooperate in that area. In addition, international agreements could be crafted to limit the amount of orbital debris being created, he said.

This type of agreement would be helpful to all nations operating satellites and would not require the type of extensive negotiations that would be needed for “a grandiose treaty” to address space-based arms control, for example, Pace said.

Nevertheless, U.S. government officials will have to consider the implications of their growing dependence on space and the vulnerability created by that dependence. Space has provided marvelous tools for our warfighters, said retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Lyle Bien. “It gives them the ability to do all the things we can do. People are going to see that asymmetric advantage as one they would wish to deny. There are nations and non-nation players who would like to deny us access and ability in space. We have to make sure our space-based capabilities are sustained.”

One way to strengthen and help sustain U.S. space-based capabilities is to collaborate closely across the commercial, civil and military space sectors, according to the panelists. “There are too many players with too many capabilities and too few dollars to work independently,” Bien said.

Pace said that in the United States, one sector often becomes dominant. When that occurs, the other space interests suffer. Instead of simply reacting to current events and focusing energy on one sector at a time, government officials should focus on the larger picture: the strategic importance of space, he added.

Within the national security sector, the U.S. government needs to create a single entity in the executive branch, probably within the Department of Defense, to coordinate space activity, said Hall, now a partner with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

Peter Wegner, director of the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., agreed that it would be beneficial to U.S. national security to have a single advocate for space but was not sure that one entity should oversee all military space assets.

“There should be a single advocate for space in the budget process,” Wegner said in an interview. “We need a unifying voice in the advocacy process.”

Nevertheless, there is some utility in having many U.S. government groups developing and deploying various space assets. While there is discontinuity and the process can be messy, the large number of players leads to a Darwinian process. “It’s survival of the fittest,” Wegner said.

“You hope the best idea wins. If you coordinate programs, it’s more like central planning. It’s much less effective in developing truly innovative ideas and solutions.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...