Responsible Space Behavior for the New Space Era: Preserving the Province of Humanity

Governance – Space

Responsible Space Behavior for the New Space Era: Preserving the Province of Humanity
Report – RAND Apr 26, 2021 :: 50 pages
Bruce McClintock, Katie Feistel, Douglas C. Ligor, Kathryn O’Connor
Humans have explored and exploited near-earth space for more than six decades. More recently, the past two decades have seen the start of a New Space Era, characterized by more spacefaring nations and companies and a growing risk of collisions and conflict. Yet the basic treaties and mechanisms that were crafted 50 years ago to govern space activities have only marginally changed.

The calls for more progress on space governance and responsible space behavior are growing louder and coming from a larger group. To help address the gap between current space governance and future needs, the authors of this Perspective summarize the development of space governance and key problem areas, identify challenges and barriers to further progress, and, most importantly, offer recommended first steps on a trajectory toward responsible space behavior norms appropriate for the New Space Era. The authors used a review of relevant literature and official documents, expert workshops, and subject-matter expert interviews and discussions to identify these challenges, barriers, and potential solutions.

The context of space activities today is vastly different from that of 1967, when the OST [Outer Space Treat] was signed. The early space domain was dominated by two superpowers. Today, the world has more than 60 spacefaring nations, multiple commercial space operators, and a global economy that is
inextricably linked to space. The Cold War–era architecture for governance is no longer adequate when there are so many more spacefaring actors and the risks of collision and even conflict are growing. There are multiple problems that deserve attention as space becomes more congested and contested and just as many roadblocks to progress that we have summarized as part of a broader information effort. To help address the challenges that humanity faces in space, we offer several key areas for action that our analysis indicates are the most likely to be successful in the near term and are also important for the longer-term development of responsible space norms. It remains to be seen whether there is adequate political will to transcend the short-term gains and focus on ensuring long-term sustainability in space.

Areas for Further Research
This Perspective has provided a preliminary look at the status of space norms, hurdles to further progress, and preliminary steps that could be taken to improve space sustainability and governance. The resources available to conduct this research and reporting were limited, and this is by no means a complete analysis of the situation or a comprehensive list of actions. Rather, it is a first step in a longer series of research efforts needed not only to fully understand the problems associated with space sustainability but also to offer solutions. A few, but not all, of the areas in which further research and analysis are needed are discussed in this section.

Further research is needed to study the evolution and structure of governance frameworks for other domains and to consider best practices and approaches for the space domain. This could be framed as a “design brief” that outlines the key characteristics that policies for the New Space Era should contain.

Economic issues, and space resources in particular, are likely to be a central topic of space governance discussions. Although there are clear differences between the space domain and other domains, it would be helpful to examine how property rights in other domains have encouraged more-efficient economic use and environmental stewardship of common-pool resources. Further analysis is needed
(although the field is growing and more analysis is becoming available) to understand the gaps in space law at the international level.

More-detailed technical analysis is needed to understand the issues associated with data trust for SSA. The United States should assess the historic trends in its policies toward space law and governance and determine the best approach for its interests and overall space sustainability.