(COLORADO) — Senator John Hickenlooper’s bill, the Orbital Sustainability Act of 2022 or the ORBITS Act of 2022 (ORBITS Act), passed unanimously in the Senate on Thursday, Dec. 22.
The bill aims to, “establish a first-of-its-kind demonstration program to reduce the amount of space junk in orbit,” according to the press release.
“From satellite communications to rockets carrying humans into deep space, space debris is a massive threat to space operations. I’m over the moon that our ORBITS Act passed and we can start cleaning up this space junk,” Hickenlooper, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science, said.
According to Hickenlooper’s office, there are about 8,000 metric tons of debris orbiting the earth. This includes at least 900,000 pieces of debris that could be lethal to satellites. The ORBITS Act is meant to, “jumpstart a program focused on research, development, and the demonstration of technologies capable of safely carrying out successful Active Debris Remediation (ADR) missions.”
“Yesterday, NASA canceled a planned spacewalk and maneuvered the International Space Station (ISS) to avoid colliding with orbital debris. Due to growing amounts of debris, the ISS has performed numerous Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Maneuvers (PDAM) in 2022 alone,” Hickenlooper’s office said.
The ORBITS Act contains these provisions:
- Orbital Debris Remediation List – Directs NASA, in coordination with the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and the National Space Council, to publish a list of debris objects that pose the greatest risk to the safety of orbiting spacecraft and on-orbit activities.
- Active Orbital Debris Remediation Demonstration Program – Directs NASA to establish a demonstration program to partner with industry in developing technology for remediating debris objects through repurposing or removal from orbit. The NASA program will promote competition by incentivizing two or more teams of technology developers to conduct demonstrations of successful debris remediation. Asks NASA to partner with other nations to address debris in orbit that belongs to them.
- Active Debris Remediation (ADR) Services – Encourages the U.S. government to buy ADR services from industry partners once they succeed in the demonstration and are commercially available. Requires an economic assessment of the long-term demand for ADR services.
- Uniform Orbital Debris Standards – Directs the National Space Council to update the Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices (ODMSP) used by U.S. government space missions. Encourages the FAA and FCC to use the updated standards and practices as the basis for federal regulations applicable to all space activities. Directs the U.S. to encourage other nations to align their regulations with ours to encourage effective and non-discriminatory regulation worldwide.
- Space Traffic Coordination Standard Practices – Directs the Department of Commerce, in coordination with the National Space Council and the FCC, to develop and promote standard practices for avoiding near misses and collisions between spacecraft in orbit.