COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After announcing an agreement this week to share space situational awareness data with the United Arab Emirates, the US is looking to expand dialogue on space security to other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, according to a top US official.
The US already engages in space security discussions with a range of partner nations, including Turkey, Chile and Vietnam, Frank Rose, assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance at the State Department, said Thursday at the Space Foundation's annual National Space Symposium. Potentially expanding these conversations to additional GCC states is part of the effort to enhance space cooperation across the globe, he said.
"In many cases, our candid discussions have given the US a better appreciation of our partners' perspectives and helped identify areas of operation and coordination," Rose said. "I believe that most of these nations have a similar view of a space environment that is safe secure and sustainable."
The goal of sharing space situational awareness data is ensuring spaceflight safety, said Gen. John Hyten, chief of Air Force Space Command. It is in the US interest to partner with any "like-minded nation" that is concerned with keeping the skies collision-free, he stressed.
"Sharing situational awareness data is an obvious one; I don't think there's anyone in the world that would say that sharing data about potential collisions is not useful to everybody on the planet," Hyten said on Thursday during a media briefing. "It's all about flight safety, it's that simple."
Gen. John Hyten, US Air Force Space Command commander
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Matt Davis/US Air Force
The US is primarily concerned with preventing a repeat of a 2009 collision between the Iridium 33 and the Kosmos-2251 satellites, Hyten said. Such accidents not only damage or destroy critical spacecraft, but also create dangerous orbital debris.
Hyten lauded Air Force space operators for successfully preventing such an incident for the last seven years.
"People back then told me 'we're going to have one of those accidents every three to five years' — do the math. We're seven years into that, it will never be perfect but holy cow by broader sharing and more effective work and a lot of work by a lot of people at Vandenberg [Air Force Base, California], we haven't had a collision since then, it's remarkable," Hyten said. "So the goal is to avoid collisions because every time it happens the environment gets significantly worse and the chance of another collision goes up."
The agreement between the US and UAE to share space situational awareness services and data was announced by US Strategic Command here on Tuesday. Under the agreement, UAE will be able to request crucial information for launch support, satellite maneuver planning and other space operations from STRATCOM's Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg.
The US already shares space situational awareness data with 10 other nations: the UK, South Korea, France, Canada, Italy, Japan, Israel, Spain, Germany and Australia. STRATCOM also shares information with two intergovernmental organizations — the European Space Agency and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites — and more than 50 commercial satellite entities.
"We must have an approach that includes collaboration and partnership with our interagency, as well as our allies, partners and commercial entities. … We cannot do it alone," said STRATCOM Chief Adm. Cecil Haney during a Thursday presentation. "This sharing paradigm fosters the responsible use of space by promoting transparency, enhancing spaceflight safety, and enabling exchange-focused relationships."
Speaking to Defense News after a media briefing, Haney declined to say which GCC nations the US is looking to expand these services to, citing diplomatic sensitivities.
Adm. Cecil Haney, commander, U.S. Strategic Command
Photo Credit: Rich Oriez/US Air Force
"I'm not going to get ahead of the work we're doing there because diplomatically it's always important that we give time and space to those nations to really vote on where they want to go," Haney said. However, he added, "As we work with the international community at large, we're not excluding anybody."
The US even shares some of its space situational awareness information with China, Haney noted.
It is critical to continue to engage not only China, but Russia as well on space security, Rose said during his presentation. This dialogue is crucial to prevent miscalculations and misperceptions, he said, noting the emerging anti-satellite capabilities of these nations.
"So despite the challenges and concerns we have with Russian and Chinese behavior in outer space, I think it's also important that we continue to try to engage with Russia and China to find areas of mutual interest and concern," Rose said.