NASA has released the first iteration of its Spacecraft Conjunction Assessment and Collision Avoidance Best Practices Handbook to share information on best practices for coordinating in-orbit activity in a safe and responsible manner. The agency aims for these best practices to bolster stability, reduce current and future operational risks, and contribute to a sustainable space environment for future public and private sector activities.
Emerging commercial ventures, such as satellite servicing, in-space manufacturing, and tourism, as well as new technologies enabling small satellites and large constellations of satellites, present serious challenges for safely and responsibly using space in a stable, sustainable manner. These challenges affect not only the United States, but also its allies and industry partners.
“Due to the growing amount of space activity and debris, it’s becoming more difficult to ensure the safety and integrity of our space assets and the overall orbital environment,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Now is the time for all space operators to leverage innovative commercially available space situational awareness data, information, and analysis to mitigate the potential for in-orbit collisions and sustain key orbital regimes.”
The best practices handbook reflects how NASA currently operates in space. The agency developed the handbook to support the goals of Space Policy Directive-3, the National Space Traffic Management Policy, in close collaboration with U.S. Space Command, one of NASA’s closest interagency partners in ensuring safe operations in space. NASA also sought input from other interagency partners and will consult with both industry associations and the agency’s advisory committees on the content.
The handbook discusses the maneuverability, tracking, reliability, and disposal of space hardware. Additional topics include space vehicle and constellation design, spacecraft trackability, prelaunch preparation and early launch activities, in-orbit collision avoidance, and automated trajectory guidance and maneuvering. The approaches outlined in the best practices handbook are voluntary and will evolve to address new technologies and operations.
The handbook encourages consideration of commercially available space situational awareness data and information to improve and enhance existing capabilities, as well as seeks to highlight innovative opportunities for U.S. commercial and non-profit space situational awareness data and space traffic management services.