In the past five years the number of operational satellites has nearly jumped 40 percent, and nearly 1,400 now orbit the planet. Companies such as OneWeb, Boeing and SpaceX plan to put up constellations of small satellites that could number in the hundreds, if not thousands, and beam the Internet to the billions of people not yet connected. That’s if they don’t crash into each other first. “As space becomes more congested and contested and competitive, there needs to an agency with unambiguous authority that can compel somebody to maneuver,” says U.S. Congressman Jim Bridenstine.
In the U.S. we have multiple agencies that would potentially be involved in trying to regulate all this outer space activity and, to me, that might be the most challenging problem of all. Let’s just name three agencies that might be the most familiar: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And that is just a small sampling of government regulators on the U.S. side. We are not the only nation interested in the increased communication capacities utilizing outer space. Some have suggested that this is simply a matter that can be left to the satellite companies to regulate themselves and work together to stop collisions. Really?
Congressman Bridenstine is also wary of self-regulation. There would be no “watchdog” agency to ensure that private companies would make safety decisions in the best interests of the world’s population instead of the corporate bottom line. Any potential collision of these satellites “could create 5,000 pieces of debris that would be up there for 100 years.”