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RAND study calls for global space traffic management body
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RAND study calls for global space traffic management body
by Staff Writers
Seattle WA (SPX) Jun 06, 2023

New research from the RAND Corporation underscores the urgent necessity for the establishment of an International Space Traffic Management Organization (ISTMO). This conclusion comes as a response to the ballooning population of active satellites and other debris orbiting Earth, which is edging the world closer to a critical tipping point in space traffic management (STM). With almost 7,000 active satellites and thousands of other trackable objects in orbit, the authors emphasize the need to commence formal discussions among global space powers about the formation of an ISTMO.

The authors specifically propose a five-year timeline to convene an international space traffic management convention, which would lay out key implementation milestones for the next decade. The intent is to design an STM system that would facilitate smooth operations and governance, with optimal coordination and collaboration between states, industry, and other stakeholders.

The research suggests several features to optimize the effectiveness of such a system. The organization needs to possess adequate authority and jurisdiction to ensure seamless operations. Its design must promote inclusivity, cooperation, and consensus to assure legitimacy. Further, the organization should create rules and enforcement procedures that balance representation and decision-making efficiency. Building a team of technical space experts for the organization is another priority to guarantee its credibility, efficiency, and longevity. Lastly, the researchers encourage exploring alternative funding mechanisms beyond state funding, such as orbital-use fees or tradable satellite performance bonds.

The space industry's rapid expansion has come with its share of challenges. The proliferation of space activities, coupled with new types of near-Earth operations like megaconstellations, space tourism, on-orbit servicing and manufacturing, space tugs, active debris removal, and AI-driven collision avoidance maneuvers, have added layers of complexity to managing the orbital environment. The result is a far more congested and riskier space domain.

The necessity of managing space traffic is only becoming more critical. Since around 2000, there's been a tremendous increase in the volume and variety of satellites orbiting Earth, owing to heightened interest and access to space. Today, governments and companies depend on space for a range of essential services and benefits. These include defense and national security activities, satellite communications, internet service, international financial transactions, weather monitoring, and scientific exploration.

However, the mushrooming population of orbital objects has escalated the potential for overcrowding, debris creation, and collisions. This congestion has introduced additional costs for operators who need to maneuver their satellites to avoid collisions, shortening the satellites' lifespans and creating even more debris. Forecasts estimate a further surge of tens of thousands of satellites entering low earth orbit by 2030, escalating collision risks and threatening the sustainable use of Earth's orbits.

To navigate the complexities of the space traffic issue, RAND researchers examined existing literature and conducted workshops with international experts from government, academia, research organizations, and industry. This approach allowed the team to gain a better understanding of the space traffic problem's dimensions and potential solutions. These efforts helped the researchers identify the most beneficial attributes of a potential international STM system and plot the most feasible pathways to its implementation.

Related Links
RAND Corporation
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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