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Ask a Diplomat: The International Elements of the National Space Policy

Press Availability
Frank A. Rose
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation
Lawrence J. Gumbiner
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Answer Questions on the new National Space Policy
Washington, DC
June 29, 2010


Why do we need a new National Space Policy?

GUMBINER: Every President since Dwight Eisenhower has issued a National Space Policy. Today (June 28th) President Obama has issued a new updated one, because space has become an even more important component of our economic, national, and homeland security. This policy reflects our principles and goals as we work to shape our space programs and activities.

ROSE: To add to what Larry has said let me emphasize such precepts as the right to explore and use space for peaceful purposes. The new policy places more emphasis on:

  • Expanding international cooperation and collaboration;
  • Encouraging responsible action in space;
  • Increasing use of commercial space goods and services;
  • Strengthening and energizing the U.S. space industrial base;
  • Enhancing openness as well as pursuing new transparency, and confidence building measures;
  • Providing mission assurance, including protection, of critical space capabilities.

What is the United States doing today in international cooperation in space, and what do we plan to do in the future?

GUMBINER: The United States has long played a leading role in guiding the work of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space . Let’s take the example of debris in space. Space debris is an increasingly worrisome issue that has a big impact on everyone’s ability to conduct safe and responsible space operations. Because of the speed of objects in space, even a tiny chip of paint from a rocket can cause significant damage to satellites and even the International Space Station. So we’ve led an effort for over ten years to develop U.N. guidelines for mitigating the creation of space debris. We’re looking at long term effects of debris in space and we’re reviewing some “best practices guidelines” to mitigate the problem in the future.

The new policy also recognizes the urgency of global environmental issues and climate research.

The National Space Policy has a goal of strengthening stability in space. Does this mean that the goal of the United States is to impose its values on all other space users?

ROSE: The President’s policy states that all nations can contribute to building a stable space environment through greater transparency and confidence building measures. Our goal is to implement measures that address concrete problems and to avoid potential interference, mishaps, misperceptions, and miscalculations.

Does this mean we’re giving up our right to protect ourselves or our ability to deter other nations from threatening U.S. and allied capabilities in space?

ROSE: No. Under the new U.S. national space policy, the United States will continue to pursue a range of programs and capabilities to deter, and if deterrence fails, to respond to threats. These include: space protection and mission assurance for critical U.S. and allied space systems, cooperation with our allies and space partners to augment our capabilities in space; and we will continue our efforts to detect, and respond to those who might interfere with our interests in outer space. If U.S. or allied space capabilities are threatened, deliberately interfered with, or attacked, the United States reserves our right to take appropriate action in response, consistent with our inherent right of individual and collective self-defense and in accordance with long-standing international law.

The new policy includes language about arms control in outer space. Does this policy open the door to a space-based arms control agreement?

ROSE: Let me just say that there has been a long-standing, bipartisan U.S. policy dating back to the Reagan Administration, that proposals and concepts for space arms control could be pursued, but only if specific and rigorous criteria of equitability and effective verification could be satisfied. The new National Space Policy only states that the United States will “consider” arms control concepts and proposals, as long as they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the U.S. and its allies. These same criteria were used in past for previous arms control agreements..

In the International Cooperation section, what is meant by the direction to promote “suitable commercial space regulations?”

GUMBINER: Because the U.S. already has law and regulations in place for commercial space transportation, we are in a good place to encourage other countries to adopt the Department of Transportation’s launch regulations. That would make it easier for U.S. industry to expand outside the United States, including operations of new reusable suborbital launch vehicles and orbital vehicles that can return safely to Earth. This would make us more competitive and increase the overall level of international safety in commercial space transportation.

How will the United States use its space assets to support humanitarian and developmental needs worldwide?

GUMBINER: The United States shares with other countries, at little or no cost, weather related forecasts and warnings, which can help protect property and save lives. Operational environmental observations from space enable more accurate weather forecasts and early warnings. Space-based assets give scientists and researchers the ability to track changes in climate, whether it’s a drought’s impact on vegetation or monitoring global sea-surface temperatures that signal weather-making atmospheric phenomena, such as El Nino and La Nina. U.S. technology in space has been used to detect famine, measure global deforestation, and record damage from floods and wildfires.

The Full text of the National Space Policy can be found on the White House website, at .

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