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  • Outer Space Traffic Management

    Paper number



    Mr. Paul B Larsen, United States



    The potential for collisions in outer space is increasing as the volume of traffic increases. Collisions could be either accidental or caused by special circumstances such as the Chinese ASAT explosion in 2007 and the shoot-down of the US reconnaissance satellite in 2008. Different kinds of space objects present different traffic problems.  For example, functioning satellites such as the International Space Station can be diverted, but orbital debris cannot be diverted.  Many space objects eventually descend into air space to collide with the surface of the Earth. 
    Collision dangers vary according location of space objects. The precious geostationary orbit (GSO) is unusually crowded. International law (the ITU Constitution) defines the GSO as a limited natural resource which must be used rationally, efficiently and economically.  Another special outer space location is low earth orbit (LEO) populated by human beings in the international space station. Many different kinds of satellites orbit are in LEO. There is much uncontrolled debris. Yet the only international regulation of debris are the IADC debris mitigation and disposal rules.  
    International management of space traffic is needed to insure continued access to and efficient use of outer space.  (OST Art 1).  Traffic management will serve to avoid collisions among all the space objects of various nationalities and origins.  Traffic management could either be an internationally agreed comprehensive traffic management scheme in the nature of the ICAO International Standards and Recommended Practices; or through a national traffic control scheme that is internationally coordinated. The UN recently established a new international forum for coordination of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). That might be a precedent for establishing a forum to create an international outer space traffic management strategy. A third option could be a mixed international and national traffic separation scheme.  
    In any strategy it would be the duty of individual states to insure compliance with the plan. National enforcement would extend both to government space objects and to privately owned and operated space objects.
    The legal foundation for outer space traffic management would be the existing outer space treaties, the ITU legal instruments, as well as extensive of national laws.  Conflict situations could arise in outer space in cases of traffic interference with national space objects by space objects registered in other states. Some forms of conflict resolution could be necessary.       
    In conclusion, The increase in outer space traffic results in increasing danger of collisions. A traffic management scheme could prevent collisions and would rationalize traffic, leading to more efficient use of outer space.
    Abstract document


    Manuscript document