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Space industry endorses Commerce Department to manage traffic work

A recent report commended the Commerce Department to assume responsibility for civil space traffic management (STM). Firms and organizations in the space industry endorsed the recommendation. However, the industry’s concern is the government’s delay in choosing an agency and proceed. 

The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) released a report on August, 20 which deduced that the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce is well suited to handle the civil STM work, topping the list among Defense Department, NASA and Federal Aviation Administration. 

The Congress approved the report in the budgetary year 2020 omnibus spending bill. In 2018, the White House commissioned STM to the Commerce Department in Space Policy Directive 3, but some Congress members doubted the department’s capability to take on the work. These congressional appropriators requested the NAPA study before allocating the department’s funds to start STM activities. 

Chris Kunstadter said that the Department of Commerce became strongly involved in space safety and space stability, during a panel session on August 24 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Propulsion and Energy Forum. 

Chris further explained that the department relates well with the government and has the right people and technologies. Chris said that the main focus is for the government to decide on an agency in charge of the civil STM activities and receive the necessary funding to execute those responsibilities. 

In a statement on August 24, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation expressed support of the NAPA report, including the Commerce Department’s endorsement to team up with other agencies and the private sector on STM. Eric Stallmer, the organization’s president, applauded the NAPA’s comprehensive and intelligent analysis of the need for harmonized efforts on STM activities. 

The Commerce Department continues to plan for space traffic management amidst the progressive NAPA study. Kevin O’Connell, director of the Office of Space Commerce, said that this gives them more time to prepare. Kelvin said this during an August 24 podcast by AIAA, Mitre Corporation, and the US Chamber of Commerce. According to O’Connell, the preparations involved Commerce’s plans to unfold an “open architecture data repository” to host space situational awareness data from the government and commercial sources, including relevant policy and regulatory issues. 

Finally, although the NAPA report does not give the final verdict on which agency is to handle the civil STM and the resources, Commerce Department officials hope that the report convinces the congressional appropriators to dispense the funding needed by the department to conduct the STM activities. The department asked for $15 million for the Office of Space Commerce in its budgetary year 2021 proposal, stating that much of the funds are for STM. Darren McKnight, technical director of Centauri Corporation and the AIAA conference panel’s moderator, acknowledged the need for the Congress to act.