US finally backs an international space "code of conduct"

Conduct would address space debris, military weapons and other outer-space issues

nasa orbital debris
Perhaps it was the concern that the nearly 14 ton Russian Mars probe would land smack-dab on the White House or maybe they just came to their senses, the US State Department today said it would indeed work with the European Union and other countries to develop a formal space code of conduct.  

Of particular concern is the growing amount of space trash and how the world can go about eliminating or controlling the problem.  There is also the desire to keep space free of military weaponry.

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A statement from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week read:

The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors. Ensuring the stability, safety, and security of our space systems is of vital interest to the United States and the global community. These systems allow the free flow of information across platforms that open up our global markets, enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, and enable global navigation and transportation.

Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.

In response to these challenges, the United States has decided to join with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space.

As we begin this work, the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies. We are, however, committed to working together to reverse the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment and to preserve the limitless benefits and promise of space for future generations.

The European Union has in fact had a code since 2008 which sets standards for minimizing accidents, improve security and bolster the ability for all countries to freely explore outer space. 

In 2010 the  White House week issued a National Space Policy, a document that emphasizes the Obama administration's desire to further commercialize space but also to ensure that the US and international partners have unfettered access to outer space.  The policy reflects and expands upon what the White House has been espousing about space and its own space agency, NASA, since late 2009.

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According to the US National Policy: "The legacy of success in space and its transformation also presents new challenges. When the space age began, the opportunities to use space were limited to only a few nations, and there were limited consequences for irresponsible or unintentional behavior. Now, we find ourselves in a world where the benefits of space permeate almost every facet of our lives. The growth and evolution of the global  economy has ushered in an ever-increasing number of nations and organizations using space. The now ubiquitous and interconnected nature of space capabilities and the world's growing dependence on them mean that irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us. For example, decades of space activity have littered Earth's orbit with debris; and as the world's space-faring nations continue to increase activities in space, the chance for a collision increases correspondingly."

It seems though it took a spate of satellite crashes -- the Russian Phobos Grunt probe, which crashed back to Earth last week, and now another Russian satellite, Cosmos 2176 expected to reenter the atmosphere this week - not to mention the nearly 6 ton NASA Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite that crashed last year to get the  get the US onboard with other nations to clean up their space acts.

Still some question the US commitment to the process since as recently as last week administration officials called the EU's policies too restrictive.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  and on Facebook

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