Air Force Commander Happy to Give Up Space Junk Patrol

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Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the United States Strategic Command, told House members today that he would be happy to give over the Air Force’s role in providing “situational space awareness (SSA)” services which involve keeping track of many thousands of pieces of orbital debris that have the potential to disrupt satellites and the communications and other critical services they provide.

Under the White House’s “Space Policy Directive-3, National Space Traffic Management Policy” unveiled on June 18, those functions and many others related to the commercial use of space would be assumed by the Commerce Department (DoC).

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee held to discuss various aspects of the new space policy directive, Gen. Hyten said if the switch in responsibility is made for SSA services, “we can focus our airmen on their war-fighting missions. That’s what we get out of this.” He said those duties now are handled by “dozens” of military personnel.

The general said he thought it made sense for DoC to take over the SSA responsibilities, but that the successor agency “doesn’t matter to me… We need a civilian agency in that role.”

“Over the next few weeks we will be working closely with Commerce, but if that changes I will be working closely with whoever to do what it takes” to transition the SSA responsibilities. “I will work with whatever element our nation decides to do it,” he said.

Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, told the subcommittee it was clear that the satellite industry “wants a one-stop shop” for the regulatory aspects of using space, and that many Federal agencies are involved in that mix currently.

“How do we create the maximum regulatory certainty with the minimum regulatory burden,” he asked. “If we can collect it all in one agency, we minimize the regulatory burden for the commercial sector,” he added.

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