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Senators take bipartisan shot at preventing space jams

Senate legislation seeks to make “basic-level” space data, analytics and other services available to help maintain U.S. dominance in the space sector.

As the eyes of the world increasingly look to the heavens, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is setting their sights on managing traffic in low-Earth orbit by working to provide the commercial space sector with needed data on objects in space. 

The Situational Awareness of Flying Elements in Orbit Act would direct the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce — or OSC — to make “basic-level” data, analytics, information and other services “on space activities and space traffic coordination” available for public use. 

The bill was introduced on Thursday by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Gary Peters, D-Mich., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. has also cosponsored the legislation.

“Building our knowledge of objects orbiting in space and their surrounding environments will help us mitigate the risks associated with space exploration and commercial space development,” Cornyn said in a statement. 

The bill’s sponsors noted that the fiscal year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act directed Commerce to take on the responsibility of ensuring that space situational awareness — or SSA — and space traffic coordination — or STC — services and data keep pace with industry needs. 

In a press release, the lawmakers said their bill “would allow OSC to conduct SSA and STC activities,” including making data “available for public use through an easily accessible web-based interface at no charge to the end user” and facilitating “the development and adoption of voluntary industry consensus standards to ensure data standardization with satellite owners and operators, commercial service providers, the academic community and nonprofits.”

The bill would also direct OSC to work with the U.S. government and foreign space operators “to encourage participation in data-sharing with respect to their assets in orbit.”

The bill’s backers said the proposal is also necessary for ensuring that the U.S. space sector has all of the data and resources it needs to sustain its technological advantage over other nations.

“Maintaining U.S. leadership in commercial space activity is dependent on our ability to protect people and assets in space,” Peters said.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Thomas Kean, Jr., R-N.J., in November 2023 “to promote space situational awareness and space traffic coordination and to modify the functions and leadership of the Office of Space Commerce.”