US VP Harris calls for new international rules for space after Russia blows up satellite

Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday said Russia’s “irresponsible act” last month of blowing up one of its satellites demands a more robust global effort to adopt rules of behavior in orbit to protect national security and defend growing commerce.

“By blasting debris across space, this irresponsible act endangered the satellites of other nations, as well as astronauts in the International Space Station,” Harris said in convening the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council under her leadership.

“We must demand responsibility from all space-faring nations,” she added. “We must expand rules and norms on safety and security, on transparency and cooperation, to include military, commercial and civil space activity.

Calls have grown for enhancing the security of space systems following the Russian action, which created thousands of pieces of debris that pose new hazards in an increasingly congested low-Earth orbit.

Harris’ comments, her first public remarks on the issue since the Nov. 15 test, were also underscored in a new “space priorities framework” she released Wednesday ahead of the council meeting.

It commits to “enhance the security and resilience of space systems that provide or support U.S. critical infrastructure from malicious activities and natural hazards.”

The administration also pledged to “enhance the security and resilience of space systems that provide or support U.S. critical infrastructure from malicious activities and natural hazards,” according to the document, which cites the need to “bolster space situational awareness sharing and space traffic coordination.”

Also on Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order expanding the membership of the space council as part of efforts to harness space technologies to advance science and math education and tackle climate change.

The Cabinet-level body, which has been focused on national security, space exploration and commerce, will now also include the secretaries of Education, Labor, Agriculture and Interior, along with the national climate adviser.

Harris called it the “largest and most expansive space council in our nation’s history” that “reflects our broad priorities as an administration.”

The council was revived in 2017 by then-President Donald Trump after a nearly 25-year hiatus. Chaired by then-Vice President Mike Pence, the group was the focal point for a series of presidential directives, including the establishment of the Space Force.

Harris has made clear that her priorities for the space portfolio are to expand STEM education and bring the benefits of space to under-served communities, including those most affected by climate change.

“Right now our nation is falling behind as others develop their STEM workforce,” she said on Wednesday. “Our nation must invest in more scientists, more engineers, more programmers.”

She also highlighted the growing role of satellites in tracking changes to the climate and providing tools to mitigate environmental damage.

“Today this council will commit to make this data more accessible to more people,” Harris said. “And we will expand out global partnerships to increase the data we are able to collect.”

“We are on the cusp of historic changes in access to and use of space — changes that have the potential to bring the benefits of space to more people and communities than ever before,” the new White House policy document concludes.

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