CSO: Space is the ‘Wild, Wild West,’ Requiring New Norms for Operating in Orbit

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Space is “pretty much the wild, wild west” with more satellites going into orbit and a large increase in space junk threatening assets, and the growing U.S. Space Force is working to establish operating norms in orbit to avoid increased danger. The Space Force currently tracks about 30,000 pieces of debris, with “probably half a million other objects that are too small for us to track,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond Jr. said April 30 during a virtual Washington Post event. “What we’re seeing is a significant increase in the numbers of satellites, largely they are commercial satellites, in great numbers in low-Earth orbit. … The reason why that’s happening is the cost of launch has gone down, and satellites that are smaller are more operationally relevant,” Raymond said. “And so, what used to be great power competition between then the Soviet Union and the United States is now students at universities launching satellites.” Space is a “congested domain,” emphasized Raymond, and the Space Force has taken the role of “space traffic control.” The service does analysis and tracking to ensure objects don’t collide, and “we warn the world if we see that that’s about to happen,” he said. “For example, if there’s a Chinese satellite on orbit and it’s about to potentially collide with a piece of debris that they created when they blew up their satellite, we will warn them and tell them to maneuver.”

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