STM Remarks at AMOS Conference

Kevin O’Connell, Director of the Office of Space Commerce, spoke about space traffic management (STM) policy at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) Conference in Hawaii. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is my privilege to address you this morning, and thank you, mahalo, to the AMOS organizers for the opportunity to join you at the conference. It seems that every morning begins with a short, emphasis short, policy talk. I am not sure whether thatʼs designed to ease you into the day or to shock you into your more substantive and technical discussions!

For those of you who donʼt know me, I am the new Director of the Office of Space Commerce. Our office currently sits within NOAA, and we should give a shout out to NOAA for the work that they do every single day tracking the hurricanes, the tropical storms and other weather phenomena in order to keep us safe every day. NOAAʼs advanced GOES weather satellite capabilities have given decision-makers additional time to call states of emergency, and thereby save lives.

And I would be remiss if I didnʼt bring greetings from my boss, Secretary Wilbur Ross. The Secretary has returned home from Europe in order to assist with hurricane emergency preparations, or he might be standing at this podium. His leadership has energized the Department on space issues in a way not seen for a very long time. Ours is an an agency whose active role in commercial space was long envisioned and is long overdue.

My office, the Office of Space Commerce is not a new office, but we are in the process of revitalizing it after almost a decade. The Secretary is committed to elevating the Office so that it directly answers to him as a “one-stop shop” for policy and regulatory matters, and can advocate even more for commercial industry. Beyond the reestablishment of the National Space Council, and its early Space Policy Directives, this is another reflection of the Trump Administrationʼs emphasis on space, and specifically U.S. commercial space as an important source of innovation and economic benefit to the nation. By the way, if you have kept an eye on the National Space Councilʼs activities, you will note that it is about getting things done.

Within the office, we are pursuing four elements of strategy in order to “foster conditions for the economic growth and technological advancement of the U.S. commercial space industry” as reflected in our charter. They are advocacy (both at home and abroad), removing regulatory barriers, industry engagement, and improving our analysis about the impact of space on earth. Improving our SSA and STM capabilities, for example, enhances the environment in which space commerce can thrive, along the way creating new applications that improve our productivity on earth. It is sometimes hard to remember how important space is in so many aspects of our everyday lives.

Let me say it right from the start: U.S. commercial enterprises will play a key role in transforming our space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM) capabilities.

Why? Because of the confluence of National leadership, technology, and finance that is driving space innovation very, very quickly. Because rapid advances in sensors, analytics, visualization, and decision support create the opportunity to do it. And, most importantly, because the need to understand activity in space is growing every day based on U.S. strategic and economic interests. The high-speed growth of the global space economy, today roughly $350B but quickly headed to $1T, 2000 to potentially 20000 satellites, will depend on the rapid modernization and improvement of the SSA and STM missions as they exist today. U.S. companies are already demonstrating innovation and potential improvements that will not only create commercial value but elevate the entire U.S. national SSA/STM enterprise in the process.

The key question is how quickly and efficiently we can involve industry in this transformation. We have brought together the many agencies of Commerce to address this, including some that I will mention here and others you may not have heard of: Office of Business Liaison, Economic Development Agency, others. Under Space Policy Directive 3 (Space Traffic Management), the Department of Commerce is working closely with other Federal Agencies to work through a wide range of issues to help modernize the current system. Even as the U.S. government works to improve current capabilities and basic services, we are seeking different ways to bring industry in to help improve current SSA/STM approaches and create new ones. If it sounds a bit like flying the airplane while improving it, it is.

The limitations of the current system are well known: we monitor a small fraction of space debris, and the the catalog is incomplete. Two line element notices lack key information and often contain occasional errors. Modern analytic approaches, visualization techniques and dissemination methods have not yet been applied.

We had a good conversation yesterday about overarching goals. Operationally, of course, our goal is to reduce the risk of collision, including reductions in the number of false alarms. Among the strategic benefits that General Whiting spoke about yesterday, we can imagine how improved SSA/STM affects the entire value chain for space, such as for enabling industries like finance and insurance.

Under SPD-3, the Department is working actively with DoD and other Federal Agencies to expand research on SSA and STM, to improve current operations and to engage industry and academia on new approaches to monitoring space debris, provide warning and better predictive capabilities, and to create other ways to increase confidence and enhance safety for satellite operators. But this is a dynamic problem as plans for new and larger satellite constellations create a more crowded environment and risk of additional debris. Satellite maneuvers may become more common based on mission. Over time, this increased awareness will also create conditions for adjacent markets in satellite servicing as well as space debris removal.

The Department of Commerce is also tasked under SPD-3 to create a civil SSA agency that will be responsible for civil and commercial notifications. How will it work? The Department of Defense will continue to hold the “authoritative catalog” while the Department of Commerce will create a storefront for providing SSA notifications to civil and commercial users. One major part of the Departmentʼs responsibilities will be to create an open architecture data repository that starts with the DoD catalog and enables a host of innovative capabilities and data sets provided by industry, academia, our allies, and partners.

The repository is likely to be a very important source of innovation. Within our early discussions, we hope to draw on state-of-the-art data management and data sharing capabilities, such as cloud computing, and allow for experimentation as new data sources and algorithms become available. There are important policy and technical questions about data fusion, but we will strive to create maximum opportunities for exploration, curation, and collaboration. These will not only serve as potential sources of innovation for the entire U.S. enterprise, but also as the source of new commercial service offerings for global markets. One path being explored is the role that Commerceʼs National Technical Information Service might play. NTIS provides innovative data services to the U.S. government through joint venture partnerships with the private sector.

We also need your help in understanding emerging standards and best practices, both at home and abroad. An August 2018 Aerospace paper “U.S. Space Traffic Management: Best Practices, Guidelines, Standards, and International Considerations” noted that “there are no widely embraced, compulsory, or integrated standards, best practices, or guidelines focused on mitigating risks in space.” (The paper does go on to highlight different organizations and standards, such as the Interagency Space Debris Coordination Committee).

Standards form the basis of safe and responsible behavior in space, and make future space participants more efficient. U.S. government incorporation of emerging capabilities into its own architecture will rely critically on new standards for issues ranging from sensor validation to analytic methods. Within DoC, we have involved the National Institute for Standards and Technology into our SPD-3 efforts.

Even as commercial industry advances, the U.S. government agencies will remain deeply engaged, in research, in improving U.S. government operations, in engaging international partners. (My colleague Dick Buenneke from State will talk about that tomorrow). The key will be leveraging the most important developments from government, industry, and academia as the mission improves, expands, and diversifies to meet a wider range of needs in the $1T space economy. For example, as Pamela Melroy pointed out in her recent article, the U.S. governmentʼs exquisite data will be combined with a more diverse set of persistent commercial data to improve the certainty around space debris and other activities.

The SSA/STM mission lends itself well to the provisions of SPD-2 on “Streamlining Commercial Regulations on Use of Space.” We are planning an international conference in Washington very early in 2019 to discuss different dimensions of commercial involvement in this mission, including the impacts of regulation.

Finally, my entry into the space world came almost 25 years ago working, at the time, for the Director of Central Intelligence on the commercialization of satellite imagery. While the parallels are not perfect, there is some familiarity between that case and the case of SSA/STM. Itʼs much more than imagery looking down and SSAʼers looking up: the technology and business contexts are different and the need more urgent for many different reasons. Let me stay on this for a minute – Doug Loverro asked a question yesterday about whether the NGA use of NextView and Enhanced View might serve as an interesting parallel; in my mind there are other parallels from the evolution of the commercial weather arena). Those will be explored as will ways to integrate the good work of AMOS and other organizations.

In closing, I believe we are at the beginning of a new age in SSA/STM, one that will be absolutely essential to the $T space economy and the properly ambitious goals that the United States in LEO and for space exploration to the Moon and beyond. Those goals cannot be reached without the robust participation of the province sector. The Department of Commerce and other U.S. government agencies are working intensely to find new pathways for that to happen.

I will look forward to your questions.