“Among these are a safer, more sustainable, more stable and more predictable space operating environment for all space operators,” he continued. “Importantly for [the] DOD, such an operating environment can also facilitate indications and warnings of hostile intentions and hostile acts.” Right now, Hill said, the DOD’s policies and practices for its operations in space serve as a model for space behavior.
“[The] DOD models responsible behavior through our routine space operations, and [the] DOD works carefully to ensure that our space operations are consistent with international measures the United States supports, with relevant domestic and international law, including the law of armed conflict, and the inherent right of self-defense,” he told lawmakers.
Right now, said Space Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, the commander of Space Operations Command, the U.S. is already very transparent about its activities in space. One example of that is the U.S.-run website, space-track.org, which makes available space situational awareness services and information.
“From the DOD perspective, United States leadership and the development of a rules-based order for space activities reap benefits for U.S. civil, commercial, scientific and national security space operators,” he said. “As space activities worldwide become more prolific and more varied, voluntary non-binding international norms, standards and guidelines of responsible behavior can benefit U.S. national security and foster a conducive environment for growing global space activities.” Further development of internationally agreed-upon rules for operations in space will benefit both the Defense Department and commercial space operations, Hill said.
Having agreed-upon internationally accepted rules for space operations is increasingly important now, Whiting said, given recent examples of the increased weaponization of space. “Given our imperative to help keep the domain safe, our command … has for many years, with the support of Congress, been providing orbital conjunction assessments to any space owner and operator around the globe, while also making available space-track.org to foster openness and transparency in the tracking of tens of thousands of objects on orbit,” Whiting said.
The Russian can also interfere with space-based assets, he said. In 2007, he said, the Chinese conducted a test to demonstrate their ability to destroy an orbiting satellite with a kill vehicle launched from the ground. And the Chinese, he said, have continued to demonstrate a willingness to showcase capabilities to interfere with assets already in space. “We continue to see the Chinese building satellites like the Shijian 17, which is a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm that could be used to grapple U.S. or allied satellites,” he said. “We know they have multiple ground laser systems which could blind or damage our satellite systems.”
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