Space debris is a current and growing threat to U.S. exploration activities, and leaders must make situational awareness a top national priority, AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey said in congressional testimony Tuesday.
In written testimony submitted to the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, Blakey detailed the challenges created by tens of thousands of man-made objects orbiting the Earth. These items, which include both functioning satellites as well as debris, must be carefully monitored to ensure the safety of humans traveling in space and aboard the International Space Station, as well as critical U.S. space assets.
“As the number of nations placing objects in space grows, risks to U.S. space systems and our ability to operate in space also increases,” Blakey wrote. “Space technology is a critical infrastructure that contributes to a strong and secure America. It needs to be adequately protected.”
Blakey submitted the testimony for a hearing titled “Keeping the Space Environment Safe for Civil and Commercial Users.” The subcommittee is exploring ways to minimize the growth of future space debris as well as improving information to civil and commercial users to avoid in-space collisions.
Recent incidents have brought attention to – and worsened – the space debris problem. In 2007 China destroyed one of its aging weather satellites with a ballistic missile. Earlier this year, U.S. and Russian satellites collided. Both incidents resulted in large debris fields in space. Crew aboard the space station sometimes have to scramble into the Soyuz spacecraft or even make evasive maneuvers as space debris threatens the orbiting laboratory.
Blakey called upon lawmakers to provide robust funding for space situational awareness and protection of U.S. space assets. This investment should advance our nation’s capabilities, including hardening satellites from attack and establishing contingency plans to provide backup to space assets.