The White House and members of U.S. Congress are in early discussions about how to give the Federal Aviation Administration a greater role in monitoring the space environment and heading off collisions between commercial satellites, a task currently handled by the U.S. Air Force, sources tell SpaceNews.
The discussion has a sense of urgency, sources said, as several new businesses, many with ties to Silicon Valley, have plans to launch hundreds of satellites in the coming years. With that in mind, proponents are asking Congress to move quickly to find a new home for space traffic management.
Any such shift likely would have the blessing of the Pentagon. Leaders from Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command have said they would like to lessen the burden on military space operators so they can concentrate on preparing for potential conflicts in space.
Currently, the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force base in California is responsible for space traffic management, providing services including orbital object tracking and collision avoidance warnings. But with hundreds of new satellites planned for launch in the next few years, the JSpOC’s workload is expected to increase while its funding likely will remain flat or decline.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a member of both the House Armed Services and Space, Science and Technology committees, said Nov. 16 the Defense Department has inherited the space traffic control role by default.
“The DoD needs to focused on fighting wars in space,” Bridenstine said at a workshop sponsored by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the U.S Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.
While the idea of offloading the military’s space traffic management responsibilities routinely resurfaces every few years, a lack of consensus over who would take over has kept it from making any real progress, although the FAA is the only agency consistently mentioned.
“We keep hearing [the Air Force] shouldn’t be the FAA for space,” Bridenstine said. “Which says to me, maybe the FAA should be the FAA for space.”