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US adopts new space policy

Washington, USA, 25 October 2006 – Space and satellite technologies have increased the value and use of space on Earth. Today, people around the world depend on space capabilities for radio services, disaster mitigation and management, emergency services, personal navigation, automated bank teller machines, package tracking and cell-phone use.

In light of this dynamic scenario, the US has adopted a tough new policy aimed at protecting its interests in space and denying “adversaries” access there for hostile purposes. The document – signed by President Bush – also says “freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power”. The document rejects any proposals to ban space weapons.

But the White House has said the policy does not call for the development or deployment of weapons in space. However, some military experts warn that by refusing to enter into negotiations on space weaponry, the US is likely to fuel international suspicions that it will develop such weapons.

The 10-page strategic document states that the US national security “is critically dependent upon space capabilities, and this dependence will grow”. “The United States will preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space… and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests,” it says.

The document also sets out US commercial ambitions, saying it is committed to encouraging and facilitating a growing entrepreneurial space sector. The new elements of the policy include using space support for homeland security, emphasizing and strengthening interagency partnerships, and renewing the emphasis on the value of mission success in the U.S. government’s space acquisition programs.

It is the first revision in US space policy for 10 years. It addresses concerns voiced in a 2001 Pentagon report that said technological advances would enable potential enemies to disrupt orbiting US satellites. Unclassified details of the policy (https://www.ostp.gov/html/US%20National%20Space%20Policy.pdf) published on the Internet say space capabilities, including spy and other communication satellites, are essential for national security.

But the White House said the policy was not a prelude to putting weapons in orbit and that there was no shift in US policy. “The notion that you would do defence from space is different from that of weaponisation of space. We’re comfortable with the policy”, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

President Bush authorised the policy in August but it was not released until October. The new space policy, said National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones in a statement, “completes a presidential task to review all U.S. space policies.” The following five space policies have been updated since 2003:

– U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy, April 2003, provides guidance for, among other things, licensing and operating commercial remote sensing space systems, and foreign access to such systems. (More information is available on the U.S. Geological Survey Web site.)

– Vision for Space Exploration, January 2004, advances scientific, security and economic interests through a robust space exploration program. (More information is available on the NASA Web site.)

– U.S. Space Transportation Policy, December 2004, establishes national policy, guidelines, and implementation actions for space transportation programs. (See fact sheet [PDF, 8 pages] on the NASA Web site.)

– U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy, December 2004, establishes guidance and actions for space-based positioning, navigation and timing programs. (See fact sheet on the Web site of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee.)