Can you first introduce me to the field of space traffic management and space situational awareness today? How would you rate how the world is currently doing in these areas?
Space traffic management is an emerging field. We are at an early stage, and discussions in the international community are formulating codes of conduct and standards. The fundamental purpose of space traffic management is to prevent space collisions. A collision, by its nature, is an event that generates debris, which will cause the domain itself to be contaminated, making it even more unsafe for future participants. So this is twofold-not only collisions will damage satellites; collisions will also cause long-term damage to the environment itself.We see this very clearly in all evaluations  Iridium-cosmic collision.
Space situational awareness is another matter-it’s about providing data. Different countries and companies around the world will detect the location of these objects in orbit and share what is there. For 50 years, you really don’t need much information, except [the location of debris so it can be avoided]But as the orbital domain becomes more and more garbage, it is not just a question of “how do you avoid debris?”Now it’s “How do you interact with others [satellite] Where is the operator? When two maneuvering satellites want to be in the same place at the same time, this is a management problem rather than a space situational awareness problem.
Along these lines of thinking, when two objects may collide, what is the general process to prevent disasters from happening? Can you provide a quick outline?
I have been looking for an authoritative reference to talk about this process from beginning to end. I wish I could say, “Visit this resource, and it will tell you what happened from the time they found their approach to the time they decided to manipulate the satellite.” But it was a bit opaque. Different operators have different internal processes, and they do not necessarily share these processes.
The 18th Space Control Command Squadron of the U.S. Space Force constantly observes the sky and reassess the situation every eight hours. If they detect that they can approach at close range, they will issue a rendezvous alert to the satellite’s owner operator. The owner operator then decides how to deal with this information. Then the 18th will continue to monitor. The projection of an object’s possible position in space will vary greatly depending on the object, its shape, and how it reacts to the surrounding atmosphere… If the operator has any intention to move it deliberately, it will also change the observation.
You have argued that while air traffic control seems to be a reasonable analogy to space traffic control for obvious reasons—that is, it’s about preventing collisions—it’s actually an inappropriate model, and maritime law actually Provides a better model.
In order to provide air traffic control services, all international airspace in the world is assigned to a single entity country. So, for example, the United States controls 5 million square miles of domestic airspace, but controls 24 million square miles of international airspace.According to the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, they are the sole authority to provide these air traffic control services in the airspace. [International Civil Aviation Organization].
There is no such thing in space. But neither did the high seas. The high seas have a series of agreed rules of conduct and power over each ship: the country where the flag is located. No high seas authorities say yes or no, you can operate here, you cannot operate here. Everyone can use this shared resource. The principles of freedom of the sea include freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, freedom to lay cables on the seabed, and freedom to fish. In maritime agreements, there is freedom to carry out commercial activities. This is different from airspace, which has historically been an area purely for transportation.
The orbital domain is not just for transportation [either]. It is the field in which commercial activities occur: telecommunications, remote sensing, etc.
Of course, maritime law also aims to prevent collisions on the high seas.Collision laws or colregs stipulate what happens if two ships collide [on course for] Head-on collision: Who has the priority to maneuver, what to do if there is something in the narrow waterway… These principles are very clear. They have a very clear applicability to the challenges we face in the space field. There are very obvious similarities. And if we use the aviation model, we are actually trying to insert the square nail into the round hole.
Is there resistance or disagreement in the idea of using maritime law as an inspiration for space law? Is the general consensus moving towards this idea?
I think its trend is like this [of the fact] This is indeed the only feasible way forward, but there is always discussion. Considering the nature of the spatial domain, letting someone or a single body decide what we can do is an unrealistic result. We do not conduct space transportation like air transportation, because this is not just a safety issue. This is a diplomatic issue as well as an economic issue.
It is easy to transfer control of space traffic to a regulatory agency, such as the 18th Space Control Squadron, which provides these services for free.But some countries are skeptical [idea]. Then, of course, there is the problem of categorized data. So you enter these complexities of trust-you know, if there is a trustworthy global entity, then of course we can do it. [But] No one is trusted by everyone, and trust changes over time.
Therefore, the way forward is to create a way of sharing and trusting this information. For example, I am working on a project where we will use the blockchain as a facilitator of trusted information sharing. According to the nature of the blockchain, you can determine who entered the information and verify it as a legitimate participant, and the information cannot be changed by a third party.
Space is often described as a new wild west-lawless, unregulated, anything. If there is no established way to establish rules, how to establish a framework such as space traffic management?
I think space is not actually the Wild West. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 obliged states to monitor the objects they allowed to launch from their own countries. So it is not unregulated. It is not completely free. It’s just that we haven’t reached an agreement on the actual meaning of continuous supervision.
The Iridium-Cosmos accident sounded the alarm.It triggered a lot of activities, such as development On-orbit service technology arrive Handling large objects Stay in space and develop Commercial Sensor Network So that we can have better and better spatial situation awareness information.
I believe that the next big catalyst is the giant constellation.We see more [potential collision] The alarm between two mobile satellites, if we have a set of rules, this is a problem that can be solved. This puts a lot of pressure on the system to start reaching these agreements. Capitalism is a very effective motivator. As people see more and more economic opportunities on the popular track, balancing access to these tracks also becomes a driving force.