Commerce asks industry: “How much space security assistance do you want from us?”

The orbital population of active satellites and hazardous debris continues to grow by leaps and bounds. (Illustration by NASA)

WASHINGTON: Industry operators have until August 8 to tell the Commerce Department what space tracking and spacecraft security services they need beyond what the Department of Defense provides currently, as well as any concerns regarding the rights of use and legal responsibility for their own spatial situational awareness. (SSA) that they could share with the Office of Space Commerce (OSC).

July 8 request for information (RFI) follows the launch of a “listening tour” by new Commerce Bureau Director Richard DalBello to hone in on his exact role in providing SSA, and eventually Space Traffic Management, services not just to the American industry, but also to foreign governments and commercial operators – as established under the 2018 Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3).

The OSC is seeking responses to four questions, according to RFI, from “spacecraft operators, SSA (current and prospective, ground and space) data providers), SSA analytical and value-added service providers, universities, entities at nonprofits, space insurance providers, and the legal community:

A. Data, products and services needed by spacecraft operators;

B. Rights to use data, products and services required and provided by spacecraft operators and value-added providers;

C. Legal liability framework for spacecraft operators and the private sector; and

D. General Feedback.

Chirag Parikh, executive secretary of the National Space Council chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, said that following an influx of funding proposed by the Biden administration for fiscal year 2023, the CSO ” now starting to go through the architectural reviews and how to be able to develop a prototyping capability and partner with the commercial sector to be able to get the most out of it,” according to a report from Space News.

The administration’s proposed FY23 budget for the office was $87 million, a significant increase from the $16 million allocated in FY22. And the Commerce Department and the Pentagon are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding for handover in August regarding its plans to assume civil and commercial responsibilities of the Space Command SSA.

“We are very close” to the handover, reiterated an official involved in the negotiations today.

The RFI is the third issued by the OSC regarding the impending move. The first, in April 2019, was aimed at discovering available SSA commercial technologies and services. The second, in February 2022, asked more detailed questions about “commercial space object data” that could be used by the computing system, known as the Open Architecture Data Repository (OADR) under development. by OSC to manage space tracking data and calculate nearby numbers. approaches and potential collisions.

The OADR, which would also import basic tracking data from SPACECOM, will be the backbone for OSC to provide “basic” SSA services to industry free of charge, and potentially more sophisticated assistance in keeping spacecraft safe. under some kind of tariff structure. But so far, the Commerce Department hasn’t really defined what those basic services might entail, Where whether and how they would improve the collision data and warnings provided by SPACECOM’s 18th Space Control Squadron – products the industry has long complained about are inadequate and will be even less useful as the amount of space debris and the number of satellites in orbit will skyrocket.

OSC is considering “several basic services”, according to RFI.

“First, the OSC would provide in-orbit orbital safety assessments including ephemeris-based conjunction assessment projections and tracking, generation of conjunction data messages with calculated probability of collision probability, assessment the quality of the orbital determination, the timing of any planned future monitoring and pre-checking of the maneuver ephemerides”, explains the RFI.

“Second, OSC would provide end-of-life re-entry assessments that estimate both the actual decay time and the ellipse of possible impact on Earth as satellites approach decay.”

Third, it would additionally provide “pre-launch coordination and launch coordination, such as launch collision avoidance assessments, as well as the removal and reentry of launch detritus assessments.”

And, finally, “the OSC would provide assessments of the satellite owner’s and operator’s data prior to the use of that data in joint assessments.

OSC invites feedback on the scope of these services offered, as well as if there is anything else the operators think they need.

Regarding liability, it has long been debated whether a company that provided data to CSO could later be held legally responsible if a satellite operator used that data to maneuver to avoid a planned collision and ended up hitting the incoming object itself or another spacecraft. The issue is further complicated when dealing with in-orbit damage to non-US spacecraft, because under the 1971 Liability Convention [PDF] the US government would be responsible.

“OSC is assessing the legal liability implications associated with the provision of government SSA data and basic security services for spaceflight. In this context, the OSC is seeking information to determine whether the provision of government SSA data and of basic spaceflight safety services that incorporate industry data or products raises liability issues for those who provide the data or products on which they are based,” says RFI.

“OSC is also seeking public input on whether there are any liability issues regarding spacecraft operators or value-added providers that rely on SSA government data and core spaceflight safety services” , he adds.

Dino J. Dotson