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article imageTrump signs Space Policy Directive-3 aimed at reducing space junk

By Karen Graham     Jun 18, 2018 in Politics
President Trump is signing a policy document Monday seeking to improve the tracking of space junk and limit future debris, but experts say the idea will be difficult to carry out.
The new policy, known as Space Policy Directive-3, orders the Commerce Department to create a public database of space objects, a vision first outlined in April by Vice President Mike Pence. Trump said Monday the space program has been "bogged down by politics and rising costs."
The directive also requires that updates to the U.S. Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices and new guidelines for satellite design and operation be implemented.
According to the Washington Examiner, experts cite the technical limitations involved in creating a database, as well as our inability to retrieve very small objects in space. Then, there is the problem with large coverage gaps over countries like Russia.
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately...
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95% of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites.
NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
"There absolutely are limitations,” said Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, during a Monday morning conference call. “It’s a big challenge, but we see some help coming from the commercial and international sides.”
The directive says: "the Department of Defense will take the lead on developing an authoritative catalog of space objects; the Department of Commerce will be responsible for the releasable portions of the catalog for collision avoidance purposes."
There is a question on how much the Defense Department would be willing to share with the Commerce Department. After all, the military does have secret satellites that are used for national security.
“I think the biggest drawback of this approach is that they will still be hamstrung by the national security restrictions on sharing the data and on the capability limitations of the DOD systems," Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation said.
Eighteen Galileo satellites have been placed in Earth's orbit to date  with four more due for l...
Eighteen Galileo satellites have been placed in Earth's orbit to date, with four more due for launch later this year
jody amiet, AFP/File
"A lot of the tracking data comes from radars that have other missions such as missile warning or missile defense, so there are restrictions on how much data can be shared,” Weeden said. “And the U.S. Air Force has struggled for more than a decade to upgrade its software and computer systems to be able to handle the increased workload.”
Previous directives
On December 11, 2017, the President signed Space Policy Directive – 1, instructing NASA to return United States astronauts to the Moon, followed by human missions to Mars.
On May 24, 2018, the President signed Space Policy Directive – 2 to reform United States commercial space regulatory framework, seeking to ensure our place as a leader in space commerce.
Trump made the announcement of his third directive at the same time he revealed the creation of a new branch of the Armed Services of the United States. The new branch will be called the Space Force and will be overseen by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford.
"I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces," Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council.
"Our destiny beyond the Earth is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security," Trump said, according to CNBC News.
The only problem with this latest idea is that the Trump administration opposed the creation of a space force last year. At that time, the White House, the Air Force as well as Secretary of Defense James Mattis turned down the idea of creating a sixth branch of the military.
"I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting efforts," Mattis wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
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