Space Traffic Management in the Age of New Space

Glenn Peterson, Marlon Sorge, and William Ailor
The Aerospace Corporation

The number of objects orbiting Earth has grown substantially in recent years. This increase is already straining the existing systems for tracking and managing space traffic, and the problem is only getting worse.

This paper, by three of the preeminent researchers in the field of space debris, considers various solutions to the space-traffic problem. These mostly confront the difficult task of minimizing growth in the number of future objects and maximizing the accuracy of orbital predictions. Options include stringent post-mission disposal requirements, active debris removal, and enhanced space-tracking infrastructure.

To chart a path forward, the authors suggest, the space community needs to decide who will be responsible for space traffic management, and what those responsibilities will entail. Satellite operators will also need significantly better space situational awareness.

The DoD has been examining this issue for several years, but time is running out. The neighborhood is changing up in space, and planners need to act soon to manage the increased traffic—before on-orbit collisions become commonplace and collision warning alerts become unmanageable.