“Rules of the road” in space are changed

The Space Safety Coalition has published a new document on the safe management of spacecraft in orbit. The most interesting update in it is the “rules of the road”, which describes who should concede the right of flight when approaching.

Debris in orbit. Source: Adobe Stock

New rules of space traffic

On April 4, the Space Safety Coalition released a document entitled “Best Practices for the Sustainable Development of Space Operations”. In fact, it is a guide for all satellite operators who want to safely conduct operations in orbit.

This document is an update of previous recommendations. The most interesting rules in it are how the spacecraft in orbit should give way to each other. According to it, they are all divided into five categories: non-maneuverable, minimally maneuverable, maneuverable, objects with automatic collision avoidance and spacecraft with crew.

In general, maneuvers have priority in favor of more complex spacecraft, if there are no other arrangements. For example, during the approach of a maneuverable spacecraft with one that automatically avoids collisions, the last one should maneuver. Special coordination may be required in cases of collision of two spacecraft of the same category. 

Who will implement the new rules?

The rules set out in the document follow from the interest of governments in establishing similar mandatory rules in state regulations. They are still being developed, but this does not mean that the new recommendations are formal. 

There has always been a problem of coordinating the movement of satellites in orbit. Previously, it was solved through negotiations between operators on a case-by-case basis. The new “rules of the road” simplify this procedure, because thanks to them, companies that recognize them will be able to know in advance who should maneuver.

And the list of these companies is not so small. At the time of the release of the updated version, the document was supported by 27 companies and organizations. It includes the main satellite operators GEO Inmarsat, Intelsat and SES, as well as satellite operators LEO Iridium and Planet. And this is far from the limit, because the last version of the rules has been carried out by more than 60 participants of the space movement.

Other changes to the rules

The “Rules of the Road” are not the only changes in the document. In particular, it calls on satellite operators to avoid deliberate fragmentation resulting from the testing of Russian anti-satellite weapons in 2021. 

The document refers to updated international recommendations and standards on space sustainability and debris prevention, as well as cybersecurity to avoid unauthorized access. There are updated recommendations for the disposal of spacecraft at the end of their missions.

According to spacenews.com.

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