WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senior senators has introduced legislation designed to begin the commercial development of technology to remove dangerous space debris, promoted by an interagency demonstration program that includes the Pentagon. did.
Orbital Sustainability (ORBITS) Act [PDF] Introduced on Monday by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) and Sen. Cynthia Ramis (R-Wyoming), chairs and senior members of the Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation and Space and Science Subcommittees, respectively. I was. The committee’s full chair and ranking her members Sen. Maria Cantwell (Washington Democrat) and Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss R).
The bill “focuses on the research, development, and demonstration of technologies that can safely carry out active debris remediation (ADR) missions and activate new markets for these services,” said the bill, “a first of its kind.” create a demonstration program. To a press release from the Hickenlooper office.
“Space debris is endangering everything from global communications to advanced weather forecasting to human space exploration,” Hickenlooper said in a release.
“More than 900,000 pieces of space junk pass over us every day, including abandoned government satellites,” Cantwell said. “This bill will accelerate the development of the technology needed to remove the most dangerous junk before it destroys satellites, crashes into NASA missions, or falls to the ground and hurts someone. We must continue to explore space, and we must do so safely.”
Wicker said in a statement that the bill addresses “important aspects” of proactive debris removal. This includes everything from space tugs (what one Space Force official called “garbage trucks” in space), to dragging dead satellites out of useful orbit, to moving satellites from low earth orbit (LEO) into the atmosphere. Including everything from tethers that you can drag back and burn. Their fiery descent to Earth reaches a web of sticky bubbles designed to catch small (but potentially deadly) debris.
Debris problem expert Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation enthusiastically welcomed the proposed legislation.
“The ORBITS Act is an excellent proposal and I would like to commend Senators Hickenlooper, Wicker, Cantwell and Lumis for introducing this bill. It’s the first serious effort by Congress to address some of the key gaps in the current U.S. effort,” he told Breaking Defense.
“Orbital debris remediation is one of the main areas where the United States lags behind other nations, and this bill will lead the United States in making space more sustainable for all. It will help us get back on track,” Weeden added.
The bill has five provisions, each of which imposes specific actions on various government departments and agencies.
Orbital Debris Repair List
The proposed bill would require NASA to work with the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and the National Space Council to “publish a list of debris objects that pose the greatest risk to the safety of orbiting spacecraft and orbital activities.” to. In 2021, a group of experts from 13 countries published such a list, so this effort doesn’t have to start from scratch. It consists mainly of large objects with high mass.
Active Orbital Debris Repair Demonstration Program
This section states that NASA is using at least two industry teams to “encourage competition” in a “demonstration program that partners with industry to develop technology to repair debris objects by repurposing or removing them from orbit.” responsible for establishing
It also asks NASA to seek international partners who can expand the demonstration to include debris created by government or industry activity in their home countries. (Under international law, the country that launched the spacecraft that created the debris is the owner of the debris and is responsible if it harms the spacecraft or people on the ground.)
Active Debris Remediation (ADR) Service
The proposed law would further encourage the U.S. government to purchase services from industry partners “once they are successfully demonstrated and commercially available.” However, the bill warns that U.S. investments must be based on “long-term demand” assessments. The long-standing question of whether it is possible to make a business case for commercial debris removal services has indeed acted as a disincentive to corporate investment in developing the technology to do so.
Interestingly, Space Force has shown more interest recently than NASA, showing an interest in helping commercial companies outside the realm of investor interest. SpaceWERX, an innovation hub for services, launched the Orbital Prime competition in January, aimed at accelerating the development of new dual-use technologies for ADR.
Uniform Orbital Debris Criteria
If passed, the ORBITS Act would require the National Space Council within one year to update the current Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices (ODMSP) used on U.S. Government space missions, including Department of Defense missions. increase. Specifically, the bill has since been updated to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates spacecraft launches and reentry, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the use of radio frequency spectrum by satellite operators. It “encourages” the use of standards.
The review should take into account the near-exponential growth in the number of satellites in the LEO (between about 100 and 2,000 kilometers above the Earth) due to the explosion of large satellite constellations. Other issues to be addressed include collision risk. casualty probabilities; post-mission disposal of space systems; Time to abandonment or deorbit. Spacecraft collision avoidance and automatic identification functions. and the ability to track orbital debris that is shrinking in size. ”
The standard was last updated in December 2019. This follows a bitter inter-agency battle over the so-called 25-year rule, which requires LEO operators to remove dead satellites from orbit within that time frame. In July, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched a new review of its rules in its National Orbital Debris Implementation Plan. [PDF].
Meanwhile, the FCC proposed its own revised draft ODMSP in April 2020 and has since followed up on the proposed reconsideration. 25 years rule. And he suggested on Sept. 8 that the FCC would change the requirements to require a licensee to deorbit a spacecraft in her LEO within five years of her.
Finally, the section also calls for the Biden administration to “encourage other countries to align their regulations with U.S. regulations.”
Space Traffic Coordination Standard Practice
Finally, the proposed bill would require the Department of Commerce to “work with the National Space Council and the FCC to develop and promote standard practices for avoiding near misses and collisions between orbiting spacecraft.” instruct.
The Trump Administration’s 2018 Space Policy Directive 3 (SPD-3) authorizes the tracking and collision warning of space objects in civil and commercial space to allow the military to focus on the growing threats to U.S. space assets. was transferred to the Department of Commerce. Russia and China. The Department of Commerce then utilized the Office of Space Commerce.
This mission falls under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The STM issue is already firmly on the White House agenda, with the Pentagon and Commerce announcing a framework agreement at the National Space Council meeting last Friday, with the Commerce Department using private companies to We have announced a series of moves to start developing space tracking capabilities.