WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, highlighted the numerous issues in space that pose a threat to life on Earth, including space weather, near-Earth objects, orbital debris, and an increasingly congested space environment. Ranking Member Cantwell praised Washington state’s aerospace sector for its robust impact on the United States economy, and stressed the importance of addressing these space threats so that the commercial space industry in Washington can continue to grow.
“The space economy to the state of Washington is tremendously important. It’s a $1.8 billion economy and with companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, thousands of jobs are dependent on how the country continues to move forward in this area,” Senator Cantwell said. “The U.S. government, industry, and citizens are increasingly dependent on satellites for a number of critical activities including financial transactions, national security, intelligence operations, forecasting of natural disasters, and the services provided by in-space assets are nearly ubiquitous in our daily lives—from everything from Google maps, to GPS satellite for weather apps, to data from NOAA’s satellite fleet. Satellites are also critically important in improving our understanding of climate and how to help monitor our natural resources.”
There are currently more than 2,200 active satellites in orbit, and that number could be pushed into the tens of thousands over the next few years. This large number of spacecraft, plus the debris in Earth’s orbit, causes congestion. This congestion has the potential to harm the satellites that provide communications services. The missions that aim to remedy these threats continue to be underfunded. Speaking on these issues, Ranking Member Cantwell noted, “It is critical that we manage space in a way that allows that economy to continue to grow. Threats like orbital debris, a congested space environment, space and weather, and near-Earth asteroids all pose a threat to the satellites.”
Ranking Member Cantwell pressed representatives from NOAA and NASA on the importance of the United States remaining an aggressive and competitive leader in the space sector, specifically as it relates to space weather forecasting: “Well, mark me down as somebody who wants to be more aggressive in this space…We’re not staying ahead. I don’t know that we’re hearing about European space forecasts, but we’re definitely hearing about European weather forecasts that…become the standard above ours. Look, if we want to be the leaders here in space, then we need to have the information.”