November 6, 2023

Space junk cleanup bill secures unanimous Senate approval

In response to a growing dilemma that poses a potential safety risk to the citizenry, the Senate last week gave its unanimous approval to a measure designed to address significant amounts of so-called “space junk” orbiting the Earth, as Just the News reports.

The bill would provide $150 million in resources to help neutralize the dangers presented by debris dislodged from space exploration missions and other such endeavors.

Cleanup legislation clears Senate

Co-sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO), the Orbital Sustainability Act will now move to the House of Representatives for review and potential passage.

The bill has garnered support from a number of companies -- many of which are based in Washington state -- the leaders of which believe that space debris is an urgent priority deserving of federal funding.

Starfish Space, a satellite servicer based in Seattle, is among the staunchest supporters of the measure, with Stoke Space Technologies, Kuiper Systems, and SpaceX among a group of other prominent firms that are researching new methods of preventing the accumulation of space junk to begin with.

The problem has taken on noteworthy proportions, with roughly 8,000 metric tons of debris estimated to be in orbit at present, representing a danger to commercial space services, satellite function, exploration missions, and more.

If approved by the House, and subsequently enacted, the measure would, among other things, mandate the creation by NASA of a program that would facilitate development of new technologies for junk removal and also demonstrate the achievement of removal benchmarks, with $150 million in funding appropriated over a period of four years, beginning in FY2024.

Cantwell underscores need

In a press release lauding the bill's passage in the upper chamber, Sen. Cantwell offered further insight into what she believes is the pressing need for action.

“'Space junk,' or orbital debris, currently poses a threat to human space exploration, scientific research missions and emerging commercial space activities,” she began.

Cantwell continued, “There are approximately 8,000 metric tons of space junk currently in orbit, including at least 900,000 individual pieces of debris that are potentially lethal to satellites, Because of the magnitude of the current debris, simply preventing more debris in the future is not enough.”

In addition to the aforementioned elements of the measure, the bill calls for the initiation of a “multi-agency update to existing orbital debris standards applicable to government systems, and it would require the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce to work in conjunction with the National Space Council and the Federal Communications Commission to “encourage the development of practices for coordinating space traffic, which will help avoid collisions that create debris.”

Whether the bill encounters the same ease of passage once it reaches the House as it had in the Senate, only time will tell.

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