Report: 2022 Space Safety Compendium (TAC 2023)

Source: The Aerospace Company

Executive Summary

The space sector is undergoing an unprecedented period of growth that expands the scope of what is possible in space and who is involved. We have shifted away from the 1960s and 70s model of centralized, government-led space activities to a new model that increasingly leverages the dominating commercial space market. Furthermore, new actors in space represent a wide array of international actors, partnership and business models, and commercial entrants. They have expanded the scope of missions and capabilities in space that include everything from commercial human spaceflight to growing industrial activity such as mining and pharmaceutical development.

As a result, new activities have called into question current regulatory frameworks and policy standards for managing space that were largely developed for an outdated model. We are seeing increasing uncertainty in regulation and, in some cases, not even a clear picture of which U.S. government agencies bear the responsibility of handling which issues. There is also friction between regulators and new actors as regulations could become more burdensome for new entrants, giving a competitive advantage to those who have long been in space.

At the same time recent events have called into question current safety measures and norms in space. The FAA’s Human Spaceflight Moratorium, or learning period, is set to expire in October 2023. With the historic number of commercial human spaceflights that took place in 2021, now is the time to consider the future of this moratorium and its related safety concerns for private citizens who might consider traveling to space. We must also consider any unintended consequences to public safety here on Earth from space activities. In November 2021, we also saw risky space behavior, including Russia’s direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT test to destroy one of its own satellites. This ASAT test created a field of at least 1,500 trackable pieces of debris in low Earth orbit (LEO), threatening space operations and human spaceflight. Following the Russian ASAT test, the United States decided to set an example and issued a self-imposed ban on debris-generating, direct-ascent SAT missile tests and called on other nations to make similar commitments to responsible behavior in outer space.

The space domain is an international domain that is predicated on cooperation and partnerships enabled by safe space operations. In order to manage this domain and address growing challenges, the space sector needs to look at a holistic approach. The space domain is like a Rubik’s cube; in order to align each color correctly to its corresponding side, all the other sides need to match up. For a safe space domain, each mission area will have to be properly managed for all of them to work together correctly.

It is with this holistic approach in mind that The Aerospace Corporation (Aerospace) decided to stand up the Space Safety Institute (SSI). The SSI leverages long-standing Aerospace expertise on issues of space safety to provide more targeted and impactful thought leadership across the range of challenges described in this 2022 Space Safety Compendium.

Based on this new age of commercial space activities, we have identified five mission areas at SSI. Each must work together in order to build a holistic space safety approach. The mission areas are:

  • Space situational awareness
  • Space operations assurance
  • Launch and reentry
  • Cyber and spectrum
  • Human spaceflight safety

Each chapter of this compendium describes key high priority areas that should be addressed over the next few years. Each subsection covers an issue topic that the Space Safety Institute has examined extensively and concludes with specific recommendations for space operators, regulators, and other decisionmakers. Some recommendations are broad outlooks for the future, others are concrete next steps that the space sector can take. The variety of scope and scale of these recommendations reflects the diverse set of space safety challenges we are facing today.