Secretary of State Hilliary Rodham Clinton pledged a new U. S.-led effort on Tuesday to develop an international space code of conduct to foster peaceful and productive uses of outer space.
The initative — an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities — is underpinned by a common desire to reverse a staggering accumulation of manmade debris in Earth orbit that threatens the safe operation of human as well as robotic spacecraft used for a wide range of activities — from rapid global communications and weather forecasting to more precise surface and air navigation and the verification of arms control agreements.
Just last week, NASA joined with Russia’s Mission Control to maneuver the six-person International Space Station from the path of a fragment from a shattered U. S.satellite. It was the 13th time the station has had to carry out a debris avoidance maneuver.
“The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors,” Clinton said in a statement. “Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which could create damaging consequences for all of us.”
TheU.S.military currently tracks 22,000 manmade items in Earth orbit — only 1,100 of them represent active satellites operated by 60 nations, international consortia and private spacecraft operators.
Two recent activities illustrating the growing concern have driven the debris population up dramatically. One was a 2009 collision betweenU. S.and Russian satellites. The other was a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite weapons test. The first serves to support a prediction from early debris experts that at some point orbital space would become so crowded with junk, the debris would begin to collide, creating great numbers of new fragments and even more of a hazard.
Trackable debris is about the size of a softball or larger. However in addition, there are hundreds of thousands of smaller bits of debris moving so rapidly that an impact could impart a destructive force.
Clinton’s pledge follows statements last week from another State Department official that a similar effort by the European Union to develop a code of conduct imposed too many restrictions onU. S.national security.
” As we begin this work, the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies,” according to the State Department statement. “We are, however, committed to working together to reverse the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment and to preserve the limitless benefits and promise of space for future generations.”
Clinton identified the Europeans as a key ally in the latest bid to find a solution to the challenging international issue.