Say hello to the Commerce Department’s new space traffic-cop program
On January 27, a discarded Russian rocket stage and a defunct Russian satellite passed within yards of each other in orbit over Earth, narrowly avoiding a collision that would have generated hundreds or thousands of bits of dangerous space debris.
Had either object been a working satellite, its owners and operators would have received an advanced warning, in the form of an email, from The 18th Space Space Control Squadron of the US Space Force. The US military has been the de facto global space traffic controller for more than a decade—but that role may be coming to an end, with plans for the US Department of Commerce to take over that job.
...Add to the mix roughly 20,000 pieces of space debris of varying size traveling at tremendous speeds, and the hazards of uncoordinated space flight become clear, according to Robin Dickey, a space policy and strategy analyst with The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research organization that has advised the Commerce Department on space traffic issues.