To solve the pitfalls of space traffic, look at the high seas
Can you start by giving me the ground location of space traffic management and knowledge of the area right now? How do you assess how well the world is doing with these things?
Space traffic management is an emerging field. We are in the early stages, where discussions in the international community are on the development of ethics and ethical standards. The basic purpose of space traffic management is to prevent space collisions. Collisions are, in their nature, events that create debris, causing the domain itself to be contaminated and less safe for future artists. So it doubles – not only does the collision damage the satellites; a collision also causes long -term damage to the environment itself. And we see that very clearly in all the reviews  Iridium-Cosmos collision.
It’s different to know the area – it’s about providing data. Different countries and companies around the world find out where these things are in orbit and share what is there. For 50 years, you never needed much information other than [the location of debris so it can be avoided]. But while the orbital domain is more crowded with waste, it’s not just a question of “How do you avoid debris?” Now “How do you communicate with others [satellite] operator at height? ”If there are two maneuvering satellites that want to be in the same place at the same time, that’s when you get to that management question rather than knowing the area is out of place.
Along the lines, if there is a possibility of a collision between two objects, what is the overall process to prevent a disaster from coming? Is there a quick frame you can provide?
I wanted to find an authoritative reference that talked about the process from end to end. I’d like to say, “Go to this resource, and show you what happens from the time they’re looking for a close approach to the time the decision is made for maneuvering or not on a satellite.” But it’s a bit opaque. Different operators have different process issues that they don’t want to share.
The 18th Space Control Command Squadron of the U.S. Space Force continues to monitor the sky and also checks the situation every eight hours. If they notice that a close approach is possible, they will issue a connection alert to the satellite operator’s owner. Afterwards, it goes into the hands of the operator owner to decide what to do with the information. And after the 18th will continue to monitor things. Estimating where there is an object in space varies based on the object, how it forms, how it reacts to the surrounding environment… If there is any intention of the operator to move it intentionally, that also changes the observations.
You argue that while air traffic control can be such a reasonable analogue to space traffic control for obvious reasons – that is, it’s about avoiding collisions – it’s definitely an inappropriate one. model, and the law of the sea actually provides a much better.
All international space in the world is designated by a state entity for the purposes of providing air traffic control services. For example, the US controls 5 million square miles of domestic airspace but 24 million square miles of international airspace. They are the only authority to provide air traffic control services in that space through ICAO. [International Civil Aviation Organization].
The space is nothing like that. But neither is that high sea. The high seas is a collection of agreed rules of conduct and authority of each ship: the state in which the ship’s flag is drawn. There is no maritime authority to say yes or no, you can operate here and you cannot operate here. Everyone has access to this shared resource, and the principles of freedom of the sea include freedom of navigation, freedom of excessive overflight, freedom to lay cables underneath, freedom to fish. Within maritime agreements, there is freedom to conduct commercial activities. This is different from airspace, which has historically been a useful place for transportation.
The orbital domain is not just for transportation [either]. This is the domain where commercial activity takes place: telecommunication, remote sensing, and so on.
Of course, the law of the sea is also intended to prevent ocean collisions. Collision regulations, or colregs, dictate what happens if there are two ships. [on course for] a collision: who has priority to maneuver, what to do if something happens in a narrow lane… This class of principles is outlined very clearly. Their use of the challenges we face in the domain space is very clear. There are very clear similarities. Whereas when we take the flight model, we are really trying to force a square frame into a circular hole.
Is there a push or disagreement over the idea of using the law of the sea as inspiration for the law of space? Does general consensus lead to this idea?
I think it’s trendy that way, by virtue [of the fact] that this is really the only way forward, but there is always talk. Having a person or a few single bodies to decide what we can do is not a realistic outcome, given the nature of space. We don’t do space traffic like air traffic because it’s not a simple question of safety. This is a diplomatic question and also an economic question.
Providing space traffic control to a controlling body can be easy, such as the 18th Space Control Squadron, which provides these services for free. But there are countries that doubt that [idea]. And then, of course, there is the issue of classified data. That’s why you get into these complexities of trust-you know, if there’s a trustworthy world entity, sure, we can do that. [But] no one is trusted at all, and trust is something that changes over time.
So the way forward is to create a way for that information to be shared and trusted. For example, I was working on a project where we were talking about the blockchain as a provider for reliable information sharing. By the nature of the blockchain, you can find out who is inputting the information and authenticate them as a legitimate participant, and that information cannot be altered by a third party.
Space has always been described as a new kind of Wild West-with no law and no regulation, and whatever goes on. How can a framework for something like space traffic management even be established if there is also no set path for the start of the rules?
I would argue that space is not in the real Wild West. There is an obligation in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty for states to guard the objects they allow to launch from their countries. So it’s no longer regulation; it is not completely free. We just don’t understand what it really means to continue to manage.
The Iridium-Cosmos accident was a wake-up call. This has sparked a lot of activity, such as the development of orbit service technology on throwing big things which remains in the void, and also the progress of commercial sensor networks so that we have better and better information on the state of space.
The next big factor is megaconstellations. We saw a lot more [potential collision] alerts between two maneuverable satellites, which is a problem solved if we have a set of rules. This puts a lot of pressure on the system to start achieving these agreements. Capitalism is an effective motivator. If people see more economic opportunities in popular orbits, then balancing access to orbits has also become a motivator.