The Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on a new space traffic management policy designed to protect U.S. national security and commercial spacecraft amid growing congestion in space, Vice President Mike Pence announced April 16.

The National Space Council, which Pence chairs, will soon send the proposed policy to President Donald Trump for his expected approval, the former Indiana governor said in a speech at the 34th annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

Vice President Mike Pence (White House photo)
Vice President Mike Pence (White House photo)

Pence said the policy is needed because space is becoming more crowded, putting U.S. satellites at increased danger of colliding with other satellites or space junk. Tens of thousands of man-made objects orbit Earth, including more than 1,500 active satellites and thousands of inactive satellites and spacecraft fragments. And those figures are expected to continue growing.

“President Trump knows that a stable and orderly space environment is critical to the strength of our economy and the resilience of our national security systems,” Pence said. “And that’s why the National Space Council has developed the first comprehensive space traffic management policy.”

The new policy will direct the Department of Commerce to provide a basic level of space situational awareness for public and private use. That information will be based on the space catalog compiled by the Department of Defense.

The policy will also encourage the commercial space industry to work with the federal government to develop data-sharing systems, technical guidelines and safety standards to minimize space debris and avoid satellite collisions. The United States will adopt those tools and encourage other countries to follow suit, Pence said.

Also in his remarks, Pence announced that retired Navy Adm. Jim Ellis, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, will lead the council’s users advisory group. The new group is intended to promote collaboration across the space community.

On NASA, Pence urged the Senate to confirm Trump’s long-stalled nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to be the agency’s administrator. Although acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot is scheduled to retire April 30, Bridenstine’s nomination is opposed by senators who object to having a politician run what has traditionally been a nonpartisan agency.