International Institute of Space Law

Article

New Standards for an Old Problem: Domestic Law & Regulation Takes on STM

Authors Michael S. Dodge
Author's information

Michael S. Dodge
Assistant Professor, University of North Dakota, Department of Space Studies.
  • Abstract

      In 2018, the president of the United States released his Space Policy Directive-3, which commands several sectors of the federal executive apparatus to reassess their current and future efforts to address space traffic management and space situational awareness issues. The reasons for this Directive can be boiled down to the belief that the continued use of the orbital realm depends on responsible management, which in turn depends on myriad factors that include the development of new technologies, the refinement of data gathering, and the clarification of governmental operational roles. In particular, the Directive calls for enhanced standardization of safety and best practices, and doles out tasks for relevant agencies, among which the Federal Communications Commission plays a significant role. Given the FCCs influence on the licensure of satellites and the proliferation of constellations, it will be a leader in fulfilling the obligations set out in SPD-3. In October of 2018, the FCC announced it would revisit its much older orbital debris management rules, with an eye towards their revision and in light of its responsibility for increasing traffic in outer space. In November, they released their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, in which they tackle a multitude of germane topics, from spectrum use to orbital lifetime, and from choice of orbit to post-mission disposal. The comment period opened up in early 2019, and more than eighty comments were submitted to the FCC by various industry representatives, federal agencies, and international entities. This essay proposes to examine how the FCC’s planned changes will address concerns outlined in SPD-3, what work remains to be done, and challenges the agency faces in ensuring U.S. compliance with international space law and environmental obligations.

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