Needed: A New U.S. Presidential Directive Addressing Space Safety

by

Clearly there is a need for an updated directive from the U.S. White House on American space policy. The last directive from the White House appeared like a stealth message out of the blue in August 2006 with very little consideration in public fora or in the halls of Congress. This 2006 directive contained several disparate elements that seemed at times to be at odds with one another. Part of the directive threatened dire and apparently unilateral military responses to any “attacks” on U.S. space assets and also seemed to suggest the possible further “weaponization” of space. Yet, other parts of the directive promised an open and peaceful approach to space that encourages new commercial space initiatives.

It would appear highly desirable for a new and clarified national directive — apparently now being considered within the Obama administration — to address more clearly the regulatory and strategic position of the U.S. government with regard to space tourism, private space stations and the deployment of military systems in space, and also help to set some clear goals for the future. There might be support for a new and specific international convention or treaty that addressed key issues such as “global warming,” weaponization of space and orbital debris and even set forth common 21st-century global goals and objectives for space exploration, space science and space applications. Such a directive might even help to create a vision for the future such as the development of “clean” space-based solar energy, new cleaner and more efficient ways to reach space, and even new and common goals for the space sciences and space exploration. But regardless of the elements expressed in the new U.S. space directive, there is one element that most certainly demands new thought and attention.

This is the need for a clear national policy statement — and, one hopes, in time a global agreement — on effective space safety regulations and standards. The International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) and the International Space Safety Foundation (ISSF) both believe there is a strong — even urgent — need to focus on the evolving need for space safety not only for astronauts but also for people who may be affected on the ground, for passengers on aircraft and even in terms of environmental hazards from such sources as nuclear power generators and noxious fuels. The IAASS has worked long and hard for a short statement of what the goals and objectives should be in the area of space safety research, regulation and standards. The following “Manifesto for a Safe and Sustainable Outer Space” has been agreed upon after many months of international collaboration within the IAASS. We commend these concepts to NASA, the U.S. Air Force and military services, the Department of Homeland Security and the Obama White House — i.e., the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

 

Manifesto for Safe, Sustainable Outer Space

(as initially adopted in October 2009)

The International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety expresses serious concern about the safety and sustainability of civil and commercial space activities and calls upon all nations to actively cooperate with determination and goodwill to enhance access to and promote the safe use of outer space for the benefit of present and future human generations by committing to:

  • Equally protect the citizens of all nations from the risks posed by launching, over-flying and re-entering of space systems.
  • Develop, build and operate space systems in accordance with common ground and flight safety rules, procedures and standards based on the status of knowledge and the accumulated experience of all space-faring nations.
  • Establish international traffic control rules for launch, on-orbit and re-entry operations to prevent collisions or interference with other space systems and with air traffic.
  • Protect the ground, air and space environments from chemical, radioactive and debris contamination related to space operations.
  • Ban intentional destruction of any on-orbit space system or other harmful activities that pose safety and environmental risks.
  • Establish mutual aid provisions for space mission emergencies.

These are space safety principles that we hope all space-faring nations will embrace and actively support in coming years. It is an area where the United States should exercise leadership.

 

Joseph N. Pelton, Ph.D, is the former dean of the
International
Space
University
and current chairman of the Academic Committee of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety.