U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) and the Libre Space Foundation, a Greece-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that promotes open access to space information, signed a space data sharing agreement on July 1, 2021. The agreement will enhance the safety of global space flight operations, SPACECOM said in a statement.
“Our space systems underpin a wide range of services, providing vital national, military, civil, scientific, and economic benefits to the global community,” U.S. Army General James Dickinson, SPACECOM commander, said. The agreement with the command “is a step toward achieving safer space operations for all,” Papadeas Pierros, Libre Space executive director, said.
As of July, 26 countries had signed space data exchange and space flight security agreements, SPACECOM said. “Commercial companies are launching 60 or more satellites at once, and there will be increased space competition and congestion,” the institution reported.
Space traffic jam
The U.S.-based firm SpaceX launched the Mexican satellite D2 AtlaCom-1 into orbit on June 30 from NASA’s facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Mexican government said in a statement.
By 2022, Colombia will launch its first two non-experimental satellites for different civil uses in the country, the Colombian magazine Semana reported.
In 2020, China revealed plans to build two Low Earth Orbit constellations with 12,992 satellites, Space News reported from Helsinki, Finland, on April 21. “The project could also be used as a tool for soft power, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative or diplomacy efforts in nearby regions,” the website added.
The U.S. NGO Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, said on its website that as of May 1, 2021, there were more than 4,084 operational satellites orbiting planet Earth.
“Space may appear endless, but opportunities to safely place and maintain an object in Earth’s orbit are not,” former Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael L. Domínguez, U.S. Department of Defense executive agent for Space, said on the U.S. portal Government Executive. “The risk of collisions between objects in space is very real, and major collisions have already occurred. Even one collision can produce a dangerous debris field that can cripple a range of critical capabilities upon which we depend, such as global communications and navigation, and endanger the astronauts stationed in the International Space Station.”
“As more countries, companies, and organizations field space capabilities and benefit from the use of space systems, it is in our collective interest to act responsibly, promote transparency, and enhance the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of space,” Gen. Dickinson said. “The best way to do that is to get a picture of what is going on up there. These agreements help generate that picture.”
Simplifying the process
SPACECOM said the data sharing agreements enhance multinational space cooperation and simplify the process for command partners to request specific information that its Combined Space Operations Center collects. The information is essential to support rocket launches, satellite maneuver planning, and other in-orbit activities, the institution said.
“This two-way data sharing contributes to ensuring safety of space flight for both U.S. and allied national security assets, and those of our allies and commercial partners,” concluded U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael Bernacchi, SPACECOM director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy, who signed the agreement with the Libre Space Foundation.