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Kaitlyn Johnson, Associate Director of the Aerospace Security Project at CSIS, breaks down the debate over what organization or agency should have the authority to regulate satellites and space debris

The White House has given the Commerce Department authority to regulate satellites and space debris, but some members of Congress think that power should go to the Federal Aviation Administration.

There could be more than 400 collisions and 17 million close calls in space over the next ten years, according to the Washington Post. “What’s really scaring people is the projection of satellites going into lower Earth orbit,” Kaitlyn Johnson said, noting that the number of satellites in that orbit will be greatly increasing in the next few years.

Under a 2018 space policy directive from the White House, Congress has the authority to create a new office to provide a basic level of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) for the entire world, according to Johnson. Although there are some international organizations that partly control satellite regulation, the US has taken on this role because there is no other organization doing this mission. The Space Force’s 18th Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, currently provides SSA services and data. However, “this, at its heart, is not a military mission,” Johnson explained.

There are members of both parties who think that the responsibility of tracking space objects, which include satellites and debris, should belong in the Department of Commerce, and some believe it should belong in the Department of Transportation under the FAA. “This has been kind of a quietly but also hotly debated topic for a few years,” according to Johnson.

“The hope is that this new office, whether it ends up in Commerce or Transportation, would get buy-in not just from data sources from the United States and from the military, who runs the system, but also from individual satellite operators who have data on where their own satellites are at, as well as other commercial companies that are … developing their own space tracking systems,” Johnson added.

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