WASHINGTON — The U.S. government should consult closely with the space industry as it works to establish an international code of conduct that spells out behavioral norms for spacefaring nations, industry representatives said.
International rules governing space activity should not impose unreasonable cost burdens on industry or limit technical innovation, said Frank Slazer, vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group.
Speaking during an Aug. 21 panel discussion here on the proposed international code of conduct for space activity, Slazer said U.S. government officials also should consult industry to make sure they fully understand the state of the art in space technology.
“We need to be involved,” Slazer said. “We need to make sure that rules don’t get set up which would put us at a disadvantage commercially, but also for national security purposes.”
U.S. government officials will meet with their counterparts from the European Union and other spacefaring nations in New York in October to begin work on an international code of conduct for space activity, according to Jessica Powers, director of space policy engagement in the office of the U.S. undersecretary of defense for space policy. The code would lay out the rules of the road for operating satellites and other space vehicles as space becomes increasingly congested, the idea being to minimize the chance of collisions or misunderstandings that could escalate.
The upcoming meeting, Powers said, will be open to all members of the United Nations.
Sam Black, director of policy for the Washington-based Satellite Industry Association, said the space industry has a vested interest in on-orbit safety given the high cost of building, launching and operating satellites. However, industry would not support an international regime that includes confusing regulations, he said.
Powers said plans call for drafting a code by the end of 2013, but acknowledged the uncertainty of meeting that schedule.
Asked to identify potential areas of disagreement as spacefaring nations work to draft a code of conduct for space activity, Powers declined. “We are in conversation with a variety of spacefaring entities and nations but at this point those conversations have been one-off and we have not had any larger public discussion where we can talk about what those differences might be,” Powers said.
Peter Marquez, former director of space policy for the White House National Security Council, expressed skepticism that the current U.S.-led diplomatic effort would yield a viable code of conduct. Marquez, currently at Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., did not elaborate.
The proposed code of conduct would address, among other things, space debris mitigation, an area that began getting greater public attention in 2007 after China destroyed one of its own orbiting satellites with a ground-launched missile. The satellite’s destruction via impact left a field of hazardous debris in a swath of low Earth orbit used by meteorological, Earth observation and other spacecraft that experts say will remain for years.
The international code of conduct being eyed by the U.S. government would draw from one that was drafted by the European Union several years ago. Washington earlier this year elected not to sign on to that document because it was too restrictive.