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Satellite in Space

Developing Norms of Behavior for Near Earth Space: Safety, Security, and Sustainability

April 12, 2021 |  12:00 - 1:00 pm  |  Zoom

On April 12, Dr. Moriba Jah, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin and Program Lead of the Strauss Center’s Space Security and Safety program, joined the LBJ School for a conversation on developing norms of behavior for near earth space. This talk was co-sponsored by the Strauss Center, the Texas Space Law and Policy Society, the European Space Policy Institute, the Space Generations Advisory Council’s Space Law and Policy Project Group, and the Secure World Foundation.

Alyssa Goessler, the Strauss Center’s Brumley Fellow specializing in space security and safety, provided welcoming remarks. Dr. Jah then began his presentation with demos of various databases he and his team have created: ASTRIAGraph, a tool for visualizing space objects, and the Conjunction Streaming Service Demo, which exhibits the complete and near-complete conjunction of space objects in real time. He noted that he has seen the number of possible conjunctions nearly double in recent years.

Dr. Jah then moved to a discussion of norms of behavior in near earth space, first providing a definition of a norm: “something that is usual, typical, or standard.” He also defined harmful interference as “the loss, disruption, or degradation of space services, activities, or capabilities.” Dr. Jah reminded the audience of the importance of measurement and prediction, noting that “if you want to know something, you must measure it, and if you want to understand something, you must predict it.” He then turned to a discussion of threats in space, emphasizing that in the absence of data, all behaviors will appear to constitute a threat. Dr. Jah also noted the competing needs that are inherent in a common environment like space, highlighting the conflicts between security, safety, and sustainability. Dr. Jah then moved to discuss threats in the space environment, noting the three requisite components of a threat: opportunity, capability, and intent. It is the last item—intent—which disambiguates a simple hazard from an actual threat. He therefore argued in favor of the development of multi-sourced information; transparency relating to monitoring and verification; coordination and planning; capacity building; and enforcement mechanisms for compliance. He also proposed that any effort to enhance space domain awareness (SDA) ought to provide transparency, accountability, and predictability, providing further details on each of these pillars of SDA. Dr. Jah discussed the importance of harmonizing the OODA loops (observation, orientation, decision and actions) of different spacefaring actors, as well as the dangers of confirmation biases among data scientists. During the question and answer session, Weston Webber, a first-year LBJ student studying Global Policy posed questions to Dr. Jah, ranging in topic from the challenges of implementing existing frameworks, the role of ethics and theology in space policy, measuring intent via inference, and more. The conversation concluded with an overview of resources available to the public from the event’s cosponsors, which are highlighted below.

Strauss Center

The Secure World Foundation

  • Recently published the second edition of their Handbook for New Actors in Space, which provides a broad overview of the fundamental principles, laws, norms, and best practices for peaceful, safe, and responsible activities in space.
  • Registration is open for their annual Space Sustainability Summit to be held online from June 22 to 24. The summit is free to attend for students.

The European Space Policy Institute

The Space Generation Advisory Council’s Space Law and Policy Group

  • Serves as a forum for young space students and professionals to discuss emerging topics in space law and policy, and they also conduct several collaborative ongoing projects. These projects are an excellent means of expanding your space expertise and networking in the field. More details are available on their website.

Texas Space Law and Policy Society

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