The United States assumed the role of world police in the 20th century, and Congress is now poised to turn America into the garbage dump of the 21st century galaxy.
Legislation making its way through Congress would fund the development of new capabilities to track space debris and establish a federal office to monitor debris and other objects in space.
Advocates for a more aggressive American effort on this front cite the growing dangers of space debris. The rise of the commercial space industry and the rise of space exploration by other countries are cluttering the road to the final frontier with piles of space junk and traffic jams.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee’s science and space panel, said Thursday that she feels comfortable being identified as the “space junk lady” because she wants the United States to take a leadership role. in developing awareness of the spatial situation. space traffic management and space policy for earthlings to follow.
An estimated 4,000 satellites are orbiting Earth now, 1,200 of those launched last year and more than 1,200 already launched in 2021 according to Lummis. Another 46,000 new satellites are expected to flood space in the next few years.
Sensors from the Department of Defense’s global Space Surveillance Network (SSN) are currently working to track 27,000 pieces of space debris, according to NASA.
“This garbage poses enormous risks to our assets in space,” Lummis said at a Senate hearing Thursday. “Even the smallest pieces of orbital debris, I have learned that even paint stains can cause serious damage. Each collision creates even more debris, so this is a problem that is exacerbating in itself. “
Sen. John Hickenlooper, Democrat of Colorado and chair of the subcommittee on science and space, identified a Chinese weapons demonstration in 2007 that left 3,000 debris objects hurtling through space at high speeds and a collision of a US satellite in 2009 with a satellite. Russian that generated 1,800 debris objects.
As more public and private objects hurtled into space, Hickenlooper said the United States cannot afford to wait for the next collision to act.
“In highway traffic, and I realize this is a very vague analogy, but traffic increases to a certain point and then there is a point where things stop, accidents increase, traffic speed slows down. drastically reduced, the system begins to crumble, ”Mr. Hickenlooper said at the hearing.
“And I think, in that vague sense, this is an analogy that we’re fast approaching the point where dramatic increases in traffic will wreak havoc if we don’t address them now.”
Actions Mr. Hickenlooper wants the government to take include the full implementation of a space policy directive for traffic management and the enactment of the Space Act recently passed by the Senate as part of the US Competition and Innovation Act. Which focused on fostering US counter China research and development.
Provisions of the Space Act include the creation of “centers of excellence for space awareness” where the government develops new capabilities to track space debris funded with $ 20 million in taxpayer money. The Space Act also authorizes the Commerce Department’s director of space commerce to spend another $ 15 million from taxpayers to develop a space situational awareness program.
If the United States does not write the rules for space, Hickenlooper warned that the European Union, Russia and China would override American interests in managing space traffic.
Another force shaping the rules of space will be the billionaires who are devoting time and money to the space tourism industry and space colonization efforts. Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson soared to the edge of space earlier this month, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos this week joined the first crewed trip of his space company Blue Origin rocket to the boundary between atmosphere and Earth’s space. Upon his return, Bezos said he intended to help “build a path into space.”
The construction of the Bezos highway will likely hinge on the willingness of governments to entrust the risk of exploring space to Bezos and other commercial space entrepreneurs. The model for such a public-private relationship could be found in the defense sector.
“It’s very exciting. Who would have imagined that the private sector would be a leader in the space? Certainly when I worked on these issues in Congress 20 years [ago] no one could have imagined it, “former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CNBC. “But it’s the same kind of transition that the defense industry went through years ago, where the government led it and then the private sector took over.”
To clean up the space, the government is likely to enlist the help of the private sector, Paul Graziani, executive director of the Commercial Space Operations Center (COMSPOC Corp.), told the Senate panel.
He also warned that if the growing space debris problem is not solved soon, low Earth orbit will soon become “really unusable.”