OPINION: Filling the Gaps in Space Traffic Management

If you had to manage a large and growing traffic jam, where would you start?

On June 18, 2018, the White House released Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3), National Space Traffic Management Policy. It states that to maintain U.S. leadership in space the United States must develop a new approach to space traffic management (STM). The new approach includes designating the Department of Commerce as the lead civil agency responsible for the publicly releasable portion of the DOD space object catalogue; for administrating an open architecture data repository; and for on-orbit collision avoidance support services.

In addition, one of SPD-3’s primary goals is the development of STM standards and best practices. The policy states that a critical first step “is to develop U.S.-led minimum safety standards and best practices to coordinate space traffic.”

But what is meant by standards and best practices? Standards are defined as a set of codified rules describing requirements, specifications or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are interoperable. Best practices are techniques or methodologies that have proven to reliably lead to a desired result through experience and research. Standards, best practices and guidelines are often arrived at through processes of voluntary consultation and consensus, which achieves buy-in from major stakeholders and sometimes leads to legal codification. In fact, SPD-3 calls for U.S. regulatory agencies to adopt the safety standards and best practices that are developed into domestic regulatory frameworks.

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