DOD wants space assets more secure, resilient to attack

A key part of the Defense Department's efforts in supporting the National Space Policy is to strengthen security, stability and safety in space, a DOD official says.

A key part of the Defense Department’s efforts in supporting the National Space Policy is to strengthen security, stability and safety in space, a DOD official said March 16 at the Satellite 2011 conference in Washington, D.C.

DOD’s framework for implementing the Obama administration's policy is embodied in the National Security Space Strategy, which was released in February. The current space picture, with new nations and corporate entities operating or poised to operate in space, is completely different from a decade ago, when the previous policy was written, said Audrey Schaffer, an analyst at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. She was part of a panel discussion on U.S. space policy at the conference.

“Space has changed, and we need to change accordingly,” she said.

DOD is following strategic approaches to support the administration's policy by promoting the peaceful use of space and partnering with other nations, Schaffer said. She noted that DOD is working to defend national space assets and that the National Security Space Strategy calls for more resilient systems and capabilities that would function even when they are degraded by an attack or jamming.

The administration’s space policy seeks to meet the challenges of a space environment that is changing politically and physically. The policy stresses international cooperation while setting goals for developing a more robust and capable national infrastructure to support commercial and government space activities.

Outlining the administration’s goals, Chirag Parikh, director of space policy at the National Security Council, said one of the main thrusts of the new National Space Policy was to energize and maintain a competitive domestic space industry that would help reinforce the commercial space and national industrial base.

The policy also stresses international cooperation on the national and commercial levels. Parikh added that unlike most previous national space policies, the Obama administration's approach looks at the ground segment required to support the national satellite industry and its space assets.

Besides emphasizing partnerships at the international and corporate levels, the policy also stresses the responsible use of space. Parikh said more nations and corporate entities are now launching spacecraft, a trend that makes it necessary to press for international guidelines on a range of issues, including safe and responsible launch and space operations and proper disposal of satellites and space debris.

Highlighting the diplomatic aspects of space cooperation, David Turner, deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology, said his agency is working with space-faring nations to promote issues such as sharing data and capabilities and preserving the space environment. He said key areas in which information could be shared more efficiently are space weather — events that affect spacecraft, such as solar flares — and situational awareness to help spacecraft avoid collisions.

Speaking from a commercial perspective, retired Air Force Col. Robert Wright, senior vice president and general manager of the Military and Intelligence Group at Integral Systems, said space situational awareness is vital to commercial and government orbital operations. An important step would be developing a more accurate catalog of orbital debris. He noted that in 2005, the U.S. government began a renewed tracking and cataloging process but has since stopped the effort. He wondered how much longer the process would take and where the funding would come from.

Wright also cautioned about calls for international cooperation in the National Space Policy. Although it is a good idea, he warned that some commercial organizations might view international cooperation as an excuse to outsource their operational or industrial capabilities.