Obama Space Policy To Emphasize International Cooperation

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WASHINGTON — The White House is expected to complete a sweeping review of U.S. national space policy by mid-December, setting the stage for executive branch deliberations intended to yield by mid-2011 a new strategy that places a high emphasis on international cooperation.

U.S. President Barack Obama called for a broad review of his predecessor’s space policies in May in the form of an order dubbed Presidential Study Directive-3. Led by Peter Marquez, director of space policy for the White House National Security Council (NSC), the review is addressing a range of topics, including space protection, cooperation, acquisition reform, U.S. export controls and national space strategy.

Sources familiar with the review say a draft policy will be delivered to National Security Adviser James Jones and likely will undergo additional fine-tuning before the president is briefed on it. The review caps a slate of congressionally mandated studies of national security space and defense policy expected to be delivered to Capitol Hill with the administration’s 2011 budget request in February. Sources familiar with the NSC review say it will encapsulate much of the forthcoming 2010 Space Posture Review, a long-term examination of U.S. space strategy and capabilities called for in the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act. The Space Posture Review, conducted jointly by the defense secretary and director of national intelligence, is due to lawmakers Dec. 1, though sources familiar with the study say it has been delayed, and will now be submitted to Congress in February.

Former President George W. Bush’s 2006 U.S. national space policy drew criticism from arms control advocates for what they said was its unilateralist tone. The Obama administration’s forthcoming policy, sources said, will emphasize international cooperation and a consultative approach with allies in addressing space access and other strategic concerns.

“In consultation with allies, the Obama administration is currently in the process of assessing U.S. space policy, programs, and options for international cooperation in space as a part of a comprehensive review of space policy,” Garold Larson, alternate U.S. representative to the First Committee of the 64th United Nations General Assembly, said in an Oct. 19 statement. “This review of space cooperation options includes a ‘blank slate’ analysis of the feasibility and desirability of options for effectively verifiable arms control measures that enhance the national security interests of the United States and its allies.”

Larson said while it is premature to predict specific decisions that will result from the U.S. policy review, the United States will continue to uphold the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which provides the fundamental guidelines required for the free access to, and use of, outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes. He also said the United States looks forward to discussing insights gained from the presidential policy review during discussions on the prevention of an arms race in outer space at the 2010 U.N. Conference on Disarmament.

Another key element of the review involves ways to protect critical government and commercial space infrastructure against orbital debris, according to Dick Buenneke, deputy director of space policy at the U.S. State Department.

“As the lead spacefaring nation, the United States takes these issues very seriously,” Buenneke, the space policy review team leader for international cooperation, said during a Nov. 17 seminar at the George Washington University here. “The United States has been and will continue to be active in identifying potential hazards and pursuing new initiatives to preserve the safety of flight for both human and robotic space missions.”

Buenneke said the United States is taking pragmatic steps to improve communication among commercial and government satellite operators to  enhance situational awareness in space.

“As part of the effort to prevent future collisions, the United States expanded the number of satellites it monitors for risk of collision with other satellites and space debris,” he said. “In addition, the United States provided notification to other government and commercial satellite operators when U.S. space analysts assessed that one operator’s satellite was  predicted to pass within a close distance of another spacecraft or space debris.”

In early November, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry James, commander of the 14th Air Force and U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said the U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network is tracking 21,000 objects in Earth orbit and is performing close monitoring of some 800 maneuverable satellites for collision-risk assessment. Speaking Nov. 3 at the Strategic Space Symposium in Omaha, Neb., James said the goal is to increase the number of closely monitored satellites to 1,300 by the end of the year.

In addition, Buenneke said the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology is working closely with U.S. Strategic Command to facilitate notification of potential hazards to all spacefaring nations.

“My colleagues at State and I have gained an appreciation for the complexity of space operations in the early 21st century,” he said.