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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Space Sustainability Through International Cooperation

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
International Symposium on Sustainable Space Development and Utilization for Humankind: Orbital Space Debris -- Challenges and Opportunities
Tokyo, Japan
March 1, 2012


Date: 03/01/2012 Description: Deputy Assistant Secretary Rose delivers remarks at the ''International Symposium on Sustainable Space Development and Utilization for Humankind: Orbital Space Debris - Challenges and Opportunities'' in Tokyo. - State Dept Image

Thank you for your kind introduction. It is my pleasure to be back in Tokyo today for this Symposium on “Sustainable Space Development and Utilization for Humankind” with a particular emphasis on orbital space debris. I would like to thank the Japan Space Forum for the invitation to speak at this symposium. I’d also like to thank the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy of Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies for their support in organizing this timely event.

This symposium comes almost one year following the earthquake and resulting tsunami. I would like to offer my deepest condolences for the great tragedy that Japan faced and is still recovering from. The cooperation between the U.S. and Japan during this tragedy reaffirmed the significance of the alliance between our two countries. In addition, Japan’s use of space assets during the disaster sheds light on the vital importance of space assets for disaster monitoring and mitigation. Remote sensing and disaster monitoring satellites enabled Japanese authorities and aid workers to see the affected areas to assist their response. Additionally, since many ground based communication networks were destroyed in the disaster, satellite communications proved to be an essential alternative in providing secure, reliable communication between the search and rescue operators, ground forces, and senior officials. Finally, positioning, navigation, and timing services, such as those derived from the U.S. Global Positioning System, aided in the coordination of disaster relief and search and rescue of disaster victims.

The use of space capabilities during this disaster is one example of how the world is becoming increasingly inter-connected through, and increasingly dependent on, space systems. As a result of the critical benefits it offers, the United States considers the sustainability, stability, and use of space vital to its national interests.

There are a number of challenges that have emerged as a result of increased space activity by an unprecedented number of spacefaring nations. As a result, the space activities that have provided us with a multitude of benefits have also created a space environment littered with space debris. Threats to the space environment have also increased as more nations and non-state actors develop and deploy counter-space systems. Today space systems and their supporting infrastructure face a range of man-made threats that may deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy assets.

The increasingly congested and contested nature of the space environment offers critical challenges, which threatens the long-term sustainability of our space activities, and will continue to present challenges in the decades to come. But this symposium intends not only to discuss challenges, but also opportunities, and in particular, opportunities for international cooperation. Such opportunities include cooperation to mitigate orbital debris, share space situational awareness information, improve information sharing for collision avoidance, and develop transparency and confidence building measures. Today, I will discuss how collaboration in each of these areas has the potential of enhancing the long term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment.

Cooperation to Mitigate Orbital Debris

The key issue that we are here to discuss today is the growing presence of debris in space. After 50 years of space exploration and utilization, a comedian might even say there’s not as much space up there as there used to be! But the problem of potentially hazardous debris is not a joke, but rather an increasingly greater and greater danger. As my colleagues from the Department of Defense will discuss later, there are approximately 22,000 pieces of large debris (>~10 cm) in various Earth orbits. Some of this debris is simply “dead” satellites or spent booster upper stages still orbiting. Another type of debris results from accidents or mishaps, such as the 2009 Cosmos-Iridium collision. Other accidents that have occurred are when objects slipped the grasp of our astronauts including a glove, cameras, a wrench, pliers, a tool bag, and even a toothbrush. Still another type of debris results from intentionally destructive events, such as China’s test in space of an anti-satellite weapon in 2007 that intercepted its own weather satellite, thus generating long-lived debris, some of which will not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere for over 100 years.

Experts warn that the quantity and density of all of these types of debris significantly increases the odds of future dangerous and damaging collisions. This debris also poses a direct threat to the International Space Station. In fact, less than two months ago, the United States and Russia orchestrated a debris avoidance maneuver of the International Space Station in order to avoid a series of collision threats posed by a fragment of debris created by China’s 2007 anti-satellite weapons test.

To address the growing problem of orbital debris, the United States has expanded its engagement within the United Nations and with other governments and non-governmental organizations. We are continuing to lead the development and adoption of international standards to minimize debris, building upon the foundation of the U.N. Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines. I’ll also note that the U.S. guidelines on debris mitigation are even stricter than those that were established by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee and then adopted by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and endorsed by the United Nations. Space debris is also a topic currently being discussed within the multi-year study of “long-term sustainability” within the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS, which I’ll discuss in greater detail later in my remarks.

Cooperation in Space Situational Awareness

International cooperation is also necessary to ensure that we have robust situational awareness of the space environment. No one nation has the resources or geography necessary to precisely track every space object. The U.S. National Space Policy implicitly recognizes this fact and thus directs us to collaborate with foreign governments, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to improve our space situational awareness – specifically, to improve our shared ability to rapidly detect, warn of, characterize, and attribute potential disturbances to space systems, whether natural or man-made.

An example of our efforts to cooperate in the area of space situational awareness is our collaboration with Europe as it develops its own space situational awareness, or SSA system. The U.S. State Department, in close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense, is currently engaged in technical exchanges with experts from the European Space Agency, European Union, and individual European Space Agency and European Union Member States to ensure interoperability between our two respective SSA systems. Looking ahead, we also see opportunities for cooperation on SSA with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific, especially Japan.

Cooperation to Prevent Satellite Collisions

International cooperation is also essential to enable satellite owners and operators to have the information necessary to prevent collisions in the future. As a result, we are seeking to improve our ability to share information with other space-faring nations as well as with our industry partners. Such cooperation enables us to improve our space object databases as well as pursue common international data standards and data integrity measures.

As my colleagues in the Department of Defense will explain, the United States provides notifications to other governments and commercial satellite operators of potentially hazardous conjunctions between orbiting objects. The State Department continues to be extremely supportive of U.S. Strategic Command’s efforts to establish two-way information exchanges with foreign satellite operators and to facilitate the urgent transmission of notifications of potential space hazards.

The United States is constantly seeking to improve its ability to share information with other space-faring nations as well as with our commercial sector partners. For example, the Department of State is currently reaching out to all space-faring nations to ensure that the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, has current contact information for both government and private sector satellite operations centers.

Cooperation in Developing TCBMs

Another key opportunity to cooperate to enhance the long term sustainability of the space environment is through the development of near-term, voluntary, and pragmatic space transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs for short. TCBMs are means by which governments can address challenges and share information with the aim of creating mutual understanding and reducing tensions. TCBMs, also have the potential of enhancing our knowledge of the space environment, by addressing important areas such as orbital debris, space situational awareness, and collision avoidance, as well as undertake activities that will help to increase familiarity and trust and encourage openness among space actors. The United States, as guided by President Obama’s National Space Policy, will work with other space actors to pursue TCBMs to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space.

An International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities

An example of a TCBM to ensure sustainability and security in space could be the adoption of “best practice” guidelines or a “code of conduct.” As many of you are aware, on January 17, 2012, the United States announced that it had decided to join with the European Union and other spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. In her statement announcing the decision, Secretary Clinton said, “The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors. […] Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.” We were pleased that Japan, Australia, and other countries have also stated their support for the development of a space Code of Conduct.

The United States views the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct as a good foundation for developing a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space. As more countries field space capabilities, it is in all of our interests that they act responsibly and that the safety and sustainability of space is protected. An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would establish a political commitment not to conduct debris-generating events and would increase the transparency of operations in space to avoid the danger of collisions.

I want to stress that the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that an International Code enhances national security and maintains the United States’ inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, a fundamental part of international law. That said, we would encourage spacefaring nations to consider playing an active role as we prepare to multilaterally discuss a Code of Conduct. All spacefaring nations, both established and emerging, will have the opportunity to participate actively in multilateral meetings of experts in 2012 that the European Union will schedule. We look forward to engaging with you on this initiative in the months to come.

Group of Government Experts on Outer Space TCBMs

An additional opportunity to cooperate with the international community to enhance the long-term sustainability of our space activities is through the Group of Government Experts (or GGE) on Outer Space TCBMs, established by UN General Assembly Resolution 65/68. It is our hope that the Group of Governmental Experts will serve as a constructive mechanism to identify and examine the range of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs in space that have the potential to mitigate the dangers and risks in an increasing contested and congested space environment. For example, TCBM proposals could include measures aimed at enhancing the transparency derived from exchanging national security space policies, strategies, activities and experiments or notifications regarding environmental or unintentional hazards to spaceflight safety. International consultations to prevent incidents in outer space and to prevent or minimize the risks of potentially harmful interference could also be a helpful TCBM to consider.

Over the past five years, there have been various U.N. General Assembly resolutions inviting all U.N. Member States to submit to the Secretary-General concrete proposals on international TCBMs. In July 2010, the U.N. Secretary-General compiled a report including all the contributions received from almost 25 different countries. It is our assumption that this report will be the starting point for the work of this GGE. While the United States may not be able to accept all TCBMs listed in this report, we can accept those that are voluntary, pragmatic, work to solve concrete problems, and enhance the stability and security of the space environment for all spacefaring nations. We look forward to working with our international colleagues in a GGE that serves as a constructive mechanism to examine voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs that enhance stability and safety, and promote responsible operations in space.

UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Finally, in addition to “top-down” cooperative initiatives, the United States believes there is also great value in efforts to adopt space TCBMs through “bottom-up” initiatives developed by government and private sector satellite operators. Therefore, the United States is taking an active role in the Working Group of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of UNCOPUOS on long-term sustainability.

This Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities will be a key forum for the international development of “best practices guidelines” for space activities. We believe that many of the best practice guidelines addressed by this working group are integral to our efforts to pursue TCBMs that enhance stability and security in space. In fact, the United States is serving as the co-Chair of the Expert Group on Space Debris, Space Operations, and Space Situational Awareness, demonstrating our commitment to making progress to enhance spaceflight safety and to preserving the use of space for the long-term.

The United States is playing an active role in all of the expert groups, including the expert group led by Japan on space weather. Space weather is of particular concern to the long term sustainability of our space activities. Besides the direct hazard it poses to earth-orbiting satellites, space weather events greatly complicates SSA and collision prevention. We are pleased at the progress of these expert groups and believe the guidelines they develop will help to reduce risks to all space systems.

Sustaining Space for Future Generations

As you can see, there are a variety of international fora currently looking at how the international community can cooperate to enhance the long-term sustainability of the space environment. Given the broad range of discussion focusing on space, I believe 2012 will be a defining year for space security, and the work we all will do in responding to the challenges of, and the threats to, the space environment. In fact, we believe that this is such a pivotal period, that the United States has introduced discussions on the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment in the Group of Eight or G8. We believe that the G8, which contains a number of major spacefaring nations, could play a useful role in this field and will draw further attention to the importance of ensuring space for future generations.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing that now it is our opportunity to cooperate with established and emerging members of the space-faring community and with the private sector to work together to preserve the space environment for the benefit of all nations and future generations. The support of governments in the Asia-Pacific region is critical to our success. However, if we do not take action, the congestion in space will only increase, and we will lose valuable time in solving the problem. We cannot let the wide range of opportunities we have to cooperate now to sustain our use of space pass us by.

Thank you very much.

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