Leading with International Cooperation to Strengthen Stability in Space

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Near Space Security Conference
London, United Kingdom
November 3, 2011

Thank you for your kind introduction. On behalf of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, I am very pleased and honored to be here at this second annual Near Space Security Conference. I’d like to thank Adrian Broadbent and his colleagues at Aerospace & Security Media for organizing such a timely conference. The topics being discussed today and tomorrow cover many issues we face today: the shared challenges and risks facing us as we use our space capabilities; the need to protect those capabilities from both natural and man-made threats; and working together across space communities to find and implement potential solutions to these shared challenges.

Much of my time at the State Department is focused on the national security aspects of international space cooperation, particularly working with traditional space-faring allies and partners, but also in exploring potential opportunities for cooperation with emerging space powers. My colleagues at the State Department and I also continue working closely with our counterparts across the U.S. Government to implement principles and goals of the President’s 2010 National Space Policy and to preserve the long-term sustainability of the space environment.

Secretary Clinton has talked about building a “global architecture of cooperation” to deal with today’s challenges. In fact, a key component of the National Space Policy is its increased emphasis on expanding international cooperation and collaboration. Such opportunities include cooperation to mitigate orbital debris, share space situational awareness information, improve information sharing for collision avoidance, and develop transparency and confidence building measures. Collaboration in each of these areas has the potential of enhancing stability in space. I will discuss these opportunities for cooperation in the next few minutes, and later close with our thoughts regarding how governments can contribute to preserving the space environment for future generations.

Cooperation to Mitigate Orbital Debris

One issue that underlines the need for cooperation is the growing presence of debris in space, also referred to as “space junk.” There are now approximately 21,000 pieces of debris in various Earth orbits – in other words, about 6,000 metric tons of debris orbiting the Earth. Some debris or junk is simply “dead” satellites or spent booster upper stages still orbiting. For example, in 1958 the United States launched Vanguard I – the fourth artificial satellite ever orbited – into Earth orbit. It is currently the oldest piece of junk still in orbit. Another type of debris results from accidents or mishaps, such as the 2009 Cosmos-Iridium collision, but also includes items that slipped the grasp of our astronauts including a glove, cameras, a wrench, pliers, a tool bag, and a toothbrush. Still another type of debris results from intentionally destructive events, such as China’s test in space of an anti-satellite weapon in 2007 that intercepted its own weather satellite, thus generating long-lived debris that will not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere for over 100 years. Experts warn that the quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increases the odds of future dangerous and damaging collisions. This debris also poses a direct threat to the International Space Station. As recently as last June, space station crews were forced to evacuate to Soyuz evacuation capsules when space junk passed close to the Station.

To address the growing problem of orbital debris, the United States has expanded its engagement within the United Nations and with other governments and non-governmental organizations. We are continuing to lead the development and adoption of international standards to minimize debris, building upon the foundation of the U.N. Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines. The United States is also actively participating in a multi-year study of “long-term sustainability” within the Scientific and Technical Committee of the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS. This effort will provide a valuable opportunity for cooperation with established and emerging space actors and with the private sector to establish a set of “best practice” guidelines that will enhance space flight safety.

Like other space-faring nations, the United States is also pursuing research and development of technologies and techniques designed to mitigate on-orbit debris and increase our understanding of the existing and projected debris environment. From new engineering, design, and deployment procedures such as tethered lens caps and bolt catchers to venting leftover propellants to avoid space explosions, these and other efforts are necessary to slow the growth of orbital debris. We are also working to develop international and industry standards to slow down the accumulation of debris in space to put us all on a more sustainable path.

Cooperation in Space Situational Awareness

International cooperation is also necessary to ensure that we have robust situational awareness of the space environment. No one nation has the resources or geography necessary to precisely track every space object. The U.S. National Space Policy implicitly recognizes this fact and thus directs us to collaborate with foreign governments, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations to improve our space situational awareness – specifically, to improve our shared ability to rapidly detect, warn of, characterize, and attribute potential disturbances to space systems, whether natural or man-made.

An example of our efforts to cooperate in the area of space situational awareness is our collaboration with Europe as it develops its own space situational awareness, or SSA system. The U.S. State Department, in close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense, is currently engaged in technical exchanges with experts from the European Space Agency, European Union (EU), and individual European Space Agency and EU Member States to ensure interoperability between our two respective SSA systems. Looking ahead, we also see opportunities for cooperation on SSA with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific and other regions.

Cooperation to Prevent Satellite Collisions

International cooperation is also essential to enable satellite owners and operators to have the information necessary to prevent future collisions. As a result, we are seeking to improve our ability to share information with other space-faring nations as well as with our industry partners. Such cooperation enables us to improve our space object databases as well as pursue common international data standards and data integrity measures.

The U.S. National Space Policy calls for collaboration on the dissemination of orbital tracking information, including predictions of potentially hazardous conjunctions between orbiting objects. In addition to improving our own capabilities to conduct expanded space object detection, characterization, and tracking and maintaining the space object catalogue, the United States also provides notifications to other governments and commercial satellite operators of potential conjunctions via Conjunction Summary Messages. Currently, U.S. Strategic Command is working in coordination with the State Department as well as with experts from NASA and the Department of Commerce to improve the accuracy of our conjunction analyses and to facilitate rapid notifications of space hazards. To ensure timely notifications, the U.S. Department of State is reaching out to all space-faring nations to ensure that the Joint Space Operations Center has reliable contact information for transmitting timely notification messages to both government and private sector satellite operations centers.

We hope that as our space surveillance capabilities continue to improve, we will be able to notify satellite operators earlier and with greater accuracy in order to prevent collisions in space. The U.S. Government is currently working closely with the commercial space industry to determine the kinds of satellite data and other information that can be shared within appropriate national security and proprietary bounds. Working together at the operator level to share collision warning information will have the added benefit of improving spaceflight safety and communication among governmental and commercial operators, users, and decision-makers.

Cooperation in Developing TCBMs

Finally, the United States is working with the international community to develop transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs. The U.S. National Space Policy clearly states that the United States will continue to work with other space actors to pursue pragmatic bilateral and multilateral TCBMs to mitigate the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. It also affirms that we are open to considering space-related arms control concepts and proposals, provided they meet the rigorous criteria of equitability, effective verifiability, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.

The United States will pursue pragmatic, near-term TCBMs to enhance U.S. security as well as the security of our allies, friends, and space partners. Examples of bilateral space-related TCBMs include dialogues on space policies and strategies, expert visits to military satellite flight control centers, and discussions on mechanisms for information exchanges on natural and debris hazards. Space Security Dialogues are another important example of TCBMs. To date, the State Department has conducted these dialogues with a number of key allies and partners including Australia, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, to name a few. Consistent with the National Space Policy, we are also attempting to reach out to other established and emerging space-faring nations.

Additionally, following the February 2009 collision between a commercial Iridium spacecraft and an inactive Russian military satellite, the United States and Russia were in direct communication to discuss the incident. This experience is contributing to the on-going dialogue with Russia on developing additional concrete and pragmatic bilateral TCBMs that will enhance spaceflight safety. To date, we have held three space security dialogues with our Russian counterparts in the past 16 months.

In addition to these exchanges, the United States looks forward to implementing a range of reciprocal military-to-military exchanges, including many of the specific measures noted by Russia in its past submissions to the Secretary General of the United Nations. The United States has invited Russian military space officials to participate in events such the STRATCOM Cyber and Space Symposium, which will occur later in November. We have also invited Russian officials to visit STRATCOM’s Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The United States looks forward to working with our counterparts in the international community next year in the Group of Governmental Experts on Outer Space TCBMs established by UN General Assembly Resolution 65/68. It is our hope that the Group of Governmental Experts will serve as a constructive mechanism to identify and examine the range of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs in space that have the potential to remedy the dangers and risks in an increasing contested, congested, and complex space environment.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial multilateral TCBMs for ensuring safety, sustainability, stability, and security in space could be the adoption of “best practice” guidelines or a “code of conduct.” The United States is actively considering the European Union’s proposal for an international “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.” Such a “Code” signed by established and emerging space powers could help promote best practices, reduce the chance of collisions or other harmful interference with other nations’ activities, and strengthen stability in space.


In closing, I’d like to mention that all governments can contribute to preserving the space environment for future generations. As our National Space Policy says, “All nations have the right to use and explore space, but with this right also comes responsibility.” The United States calls on governments around the world to work together to adopt approaches for responsible activities in space in order to preserve this right for the benefit of future generations. As a result, the United States is seeking to cooperate in the areas of debris mitigation, situational awareness, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space. This will require the assistance from all space actors – not only established space-faring nations, but also those countries just beginning to explore, and use, space.

President Obama’s National Space Policy renews America’s pledge of cooperation in the belief that, with re-invigorated U.S. leadership and strengthened international collaboration, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved. The United States looks forward to our future work with all responsible space actors to create a more secure, stable, and sustainable space environment for the benefit of all nations.

Thank you.