by Caleb Henry —
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commerce Department is “imminently” close to receiving a repository of satellite and space debris tracking data from the Air Force, a Commerce official said Wednesday.
Kevin O’Connell, director of the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce, said the repository, called the Unified Data Library, is the first step in the transfer of some space situational awareness responsibilities as requested by the White House last year.
President Donald Trump, in signing Space Policy Directive 3 in June 2018, directed the Defense Department to give the publicly releasable portion of its space situational awareness data to the Commerce Department.
O’Connell said there is a growing urgency for the Commerce Department to begin handling that responsibility, driven particularly by the deployment of megaconstellations that could add thousands of new satellites in low Earth orbit.
“We had an approach that served us well for decades,” O’Connell said July 17 during a panel organized by the International Astronautical Congress here. “That approach won’t serve us well for the next decade, or the decades to come, given even our most modest expectations about the space economy.”
Satellite operators have relied on the U.S. Air Force for notifications when other satellites or debris are on a possible collision course. The White House wants the military to shed that responsibility so it can focus on “maintaining access to and freedom of action in space,” according to Space Policy Directive 3.
As the Commerce Department prepares to carry that mantle, it is looking to commercial companies to play a big role, O’Connell said.