Your Highness, Dr. Turki, Excellencies, distinguished speakers and guests, thank you for your kind introduction. It is a pleasure to speak at the Global Space and Satellite Forum here in Abu Dhabi. Fora such as this are key to creating opportunities and addressing challenges within the global space sector. Bringing together industry, government, and the nongovernmental sector is essential to ensuring space remains a key driver of science, innovation, and economic growth worldwide.
In my talk today, I’d like to focus on three areas:
The Importance of Space Capabilities
For over five and a half decades, nations around the globe have derived increasing benefits from outer space. In addition to contributing to economic growth and innovation, space capabilities contribute to increased transparency and security among nations. Space assets also save lives. Our ever increasing monitoring and warning capabilities provide critical, timely information to first responders during natural disasters leading to faster, more efficient recovery efforts. For populations in remote areas, satellites are often necessary to provide critical services such as telemedicine and communications.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. commercial space transportation industry was directly related to the growth of industries such as satellite manufacturing, satellite television, consumer electronics with satellite services, and remote sensing just to name a few. Spinoff technologies – from artificial hearts, to the insulation in our homes – came from space technologies developed by NASA and other space agencies. To give you a concrete example with a dollar sign attached: the direct economic contributions of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology on commercial GPS users are estimated at over $67.6 billion per year in the United States alone. The U.S. Government itself is the biggest single user of GPS and has invested at least $43 billion in GPS infrastructure, equipment, and services. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the U.A.E. is investing heavily to grow its space sector. Bottom line: Not only are space capabilities foundational to our global economy, security, and way of life, they also facilitate technological innovation and create brand new industries.
Today, there are approximately sixty nations and government consortia that own and operate satellites, in addition to numerous commercial and academic operators. The U.A.E., as many of you know, recently joined the ranks of spacefaring nations with the launch of its first government satellite, the DubaiSat-1. The launch of this satellite is an important step forward for the U.A.E.’s impressive efforts to further scientific discovery, technological innovation, and space development, both here in the Gulf and beyond. And it’s only the beginning.
As is habit here in the United Arab Emirates, sights are set very high. I’m very excited to see that Abu Dhabi is partnering with Virgin Galactic to establish a regional hub here in the Gulf for Virgin Galactic’s tourism and scientific activities. This facility will add to Virgin Galactic’s impressive facilities in the Southwestern United States. Only a decade or two ago, it would have been hard to believe that a country could go from launching their first government satellite to being on the forefront of commercial human space travel in just a few years.
Yet, with all these exciting new developments, come new challenges. Increasing use of space by all – coupled with debris from past launches, space operations, orbital accidents, and testing of destructive anti-satellite weapons that generate long-lived debris – has resulted in increased orbital congestion, complicating space operations for all. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 objects in orbit, of which 1,100 are active satellites. There are also hundreds of thousands of additional objects too small to track but still capable of damaging satellites in orbit and the International Space Station.
On top of this, radio frequency spectrum congestion is increasing. As more transponders enter service, the demand for bandwidth rises, increasing the probability of interference while also straining international processes to minimize interference.
Space is also increasingly contested. Space systems and their supporting infrastructure face an expanding array of natural and man-made threats that may degrade, disrupt, or destroy assets. This has implications beyond the space environment, disrupting essential worldwide services, such as weather forecasting and financial services, upon which we all depend.
While the potential for future growth in the space domain is vast, we must also recognize the challenges we face and work together to ensure the long-term sustainability and security of the space environment. These are serious challenges that no one country can solve on its own, and can only be effectively addressed through international cooperation.
Responding Through International Cooperation
In response to these challenges, the United States updated its National Space Policy, which President Obama signed in June 2010. A key element of the 2010 U.S. National Space Policy was its increased emphasis on international cooperation to deal with 21st century challenges to the space environment.
As directed by the National Space Policy, the United States has expanded efforts to share space situational awareness services, including notifications to government and commercial satellite operators of close approaches that might result in collisions, which an increasing problem. For example, the 2009 collision between a defunct Russian Cosmos satellite and a commercially operated iridium satellite created thousands of pieces of debris that threaten the space systems of all nations. To date, the United States Strategic Command has concluded 37 Space Situational Awareness agreements with commercial satellite owners and operates, that will allow us to improve our cooperation in this area and help prevent future collisions in outer space.
We are also working with the international community to develop transparency and confidence-building measures or TCBMs in outer space. The United States believes TCBMs can increase trust and prevent misperceptions and miscalculations, between nations. This can be achieved through transparency, openness, and predictability through, for example, information-sharing.
In January 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the U.S. decision to work with the European Union (EU) and other spacefaring nations in developing an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. Clinton stated: “The long-term sustainability of the space environment is at 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.”
The United States believes that an International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would establish guidelines for responsible behavior to reduce the hazards of debris generating events and increase the transparency of operations in space to avoid the danger of collisions. On May 16-17 in Kiev, Ukraine, the European Union will hold the first Open-Ended Consultations to discuss the Code of Conduct. The United States looks forward to participating in this meeting and we encourage other nations to actively participate in the process.
In addition to the Code, the United States is involved in a study by the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Outer Space TCBMs, on which I am privileged to serve as the United States expert. Under the capable chairmanship of our distinguished colleague Victor Vasiliev of the Russian Federation, the GGE offers an opportunity to advance a range of voluntary TCBMs that might mitigate dangers and risks to space security.
The GGE intends to develop a consensus report for the UN Secretary General that outlines a list of voluntary and pragmatic space TCBMs that States could adopt on a unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral basis. Notably, the GGE welcomed written contributions from intergovernmental bodies, industry and private sector, civil society, and other UN Member States not already represented in the GGE. We believe the GGE serves as a real opportunity to move forward with pragmatic steps to strengthen stability in space.
The United States is also taking an active role in the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities under the auspices of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, aimed at developing voluntary “best practices guidelines” for enhancing safety and sustainability of space activities. We believe these guidelines complement other TCBM efforts aimed at enhancing stability and security in space. Moreover, insights gained from this “bottom up” approach may be helpful to emerging spacefaring nations as they develop their space and commercial policies and programs. We would encourage your governments to play an active role in this Working Group.
Lastly, the United States is increasing assurance and resilience of mission-essential functions against disruption, degradation, and destruction. This includes expanded cooperation with the private sector, allies, and partners around the globe to maintain continuity of service.
Let me conclude by saying that every day, billions of people go through their day without realizing just how reliant they are on space. Encouraging responsible behavior in space through pragmatic, near-term transparency, and confidence-building measures offers one way to protect the space environment for all nations and future generations.
I’d also like to note how encouraged I am to see such a wide range of actors and issues on the agenda today. It is only through cooperation and communication that we can achieve what is in the interest of all of us here today: Strengthening long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment.
This conference is a testament to the excellence and forward-looking nature of the U.A.E.’s space and satellite industry. From the U.S. Government’s perspective, we look forward to continuing our partnership with the U.A.E. on space issues.
Thank you very much and I look forward to your questions.