Ralph Dinsley explains why there is a growing need to develop governance frameworks and/or protocols that are both permissive and yet binding to ensure long-term engagement in space.

As an ever-increasing range of players enter the space domain, there are new and as-yet unimagined scenarios that could affect both operational integrity and long-term access to space.  With rapid developments within ‘new space’, the growing demand for on-orbit servicing and disposal, the potential for space mining and the opportunity of non-traditional launch facilities, there is a growing need to develop governance frameworks and/or protocols that are both permissive and yet binding to ensure long term engagement in space.

US military leadership increasingly talk of the ‘inevitability’ of conflict in space and a number of universities are collaborating on a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military uses of Outer Space but where is the simple guidance for commercial operations, an ever-growing contributor to space utilisation?  It won’t be long before commercial space out performs ‘government space’ at all activities, including launch.

Space traffic management

Recent developments in the US prove that it is now a case of when, and not if, space traffic management will be developed to support long-term access to, and ensure continued benefits from, space. Although that will initially affect US operators, it is only a matter of time before the UK Space Agency will review how they regulate UK operations in space.

In recent years the US Federal Aviation Authority has been positioning itself to take on traditionally US military roles supporting the safety of flight in space but is it the role of US government offices to provide global space governance?  Is it time for something akin to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and if so, how soon is it needed?

The current space ‘regulations’ were forged in a different time, at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, and the last international treaty published, but not universally ‘ratified’ by a single launch capable state, was in 1979.  Manned space flight hasn’t left Earth’s orbit since 1972 and yet in recent years there has been ever growing talk of missions to the Moon for ‘mining’ or to support missions to Mars and further.  In short, activities in Space are moving faster than the current regulations can support them.

Regulation process

Reflecting Space will look to engage with the UK Space Industry to ensure the relevant parties are involved in the regulation decision process.  As the inevitable develops, it is incumbent on present and future innovators to ensure that any rules and regulations are proportionate to the needs of the industry whilst binding enough to ensure future common accessibility to space.

Additionally, it is critical to the regulation that the relevant capabilities are developed to ensure future legislation can be enforced instinctively and fairly.  Current capabilities, particularly for Low Earth Orbit tracking, predominantly preside in the hands of the military, particularly the US military, yet there will be a need for the UK to develop its own independent capabilities to effectively regulate space operations.  We will be discussing the questions:  Is there a civil/commercial role in surveillance of space and future regulation?

Our objectives are to:

– Discuss the growing threats facing the sustainable space domain as commercial access drastically increases.
– Explore prospective governance frameworks and protocols applicable to the ever-changing space environment
– Learn about the importance of developing proportionate space regulations through effective roadmaps
– Get an overview of technological capabilities that can be utilised for space governance and the challenges faced
– Involve current and emerging space operators and advocates in the development of ‘rules of the road’ to ensure innovation is not subdued

Reflecting Space is a think-tank collaboration created to inspire discussion across government, industry, academia and wider, as well as increasingly focusing on engagement with the general public too. Its aim is to awaken an understanding of the benefits of space to society and thus ensure the long- term sustainable use of outer space. Reflecting Space is a facilitator and research body promoting dialogue to support the UK roles and responsibilities as a ‘space-faring’ nation.

Ralph will share more detail in his presentation at the inaugural FINN Sessions at Farnborough Airshow (July 16-22).

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