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Orbital debris illustration
Growing concerns about orbital debris and the risk of collisions has been a driving force behind creating a code of conduct for those operating spacecraft in Earth orbit. (credit: AGI)

An update on the proposed European Code of Conduct

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The FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) Space Transportation Operations Working Group (STOWG) met on August 4, 2011, and featured an update on the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities proposed by the European Council as part of its agenda.

The United States remains interested in the CoC, but it will not sign the document in 2011.

The Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (CoC) was published in 2008 and first presented in September 2010 with a follow-up draft provided in December 2010. The document is intended as a proposal for a non-legally binding consensus ranging from security of space assets to the mitigation of space debris. Many aspects of the proposed CoC are not controversial; however, some specific concerns have been raised by space policy and arms control experts (See “Debating a code of conduct for space”, The Space Review, March 7, 2011). Furthermore, members of Congress have raised concerns that the Obama Administration is negotiating with the European Council without the input of Congress.

Diplomatic and executive organs of United States have been reviewing the proposed CoC towards the end of the United States becoming a signatory. Richard Buenneke, senior advisor for space policy for the US Department of State, updated the STOWG concerning the status of that review as well as other diplomatic actions on behalf of the European Council. To that end Mr. Buenneke noted the following:

  • The CoC is currently under review by the Department of Defense to determine how the (CoC) may impact United States military operations in particular its space operations and security.
  • The European Council, the authors of the CoC, continues to present the CoC to the international community for its consideration. The European Council intends to convene an expert-level conference in Brussels concerning the CoC before the end of 2011.
  • The United States remains interested in the CoC, but it will not sign the document in 2011. It is probable that the United States will sign the CoC in 2012, although it is unclear when next year that will occur.

If and when the United States signs onto the CoC is not the only issue surrounding its adoption. The unknown factor is how other countries will view the CoC and what changes they may insist on. To that end, it will be interesting to see whether the United States defers signing on to the CoC until such time as other members of the international community make their concerns and comments known.