Since the first orbital launch in 1957, the number of artificial objects in Earth orbit has been growing. The issue of managing space traffic has been around for more than a decade.
However, the intensification of space activities worldwide as well as the emergence of new actors and new concepts are raising new challenges to ensure the security, safety, and sustainability of space activities.
The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) released a first study on Space Traffic Management (STM) in 2006 providing a visionary view on the future use of outer space. It analyzed on a trans-disciplinary basis the various dimensions and phases
of STM and suggested a framework for a comprehensive space traffic management regime as well as possible first steps for improving the situation.
It also proposed a STM definition: “Space Traffic Management means the set of technical and regulatory provisions for promoting safe access into outer space, operations in outer space and return from outer space to Earth free from physical or radio-frequency interference,” which has been adopted in other publications and outside the academic world, mentioned in various NASA Authorization Acts.
In 2018, the IAA released a second study that adjusted the concept of STM to current advancements in space activities as well as to geopolitical developments. In addition to presenting a more coherent and robust concept of STM, the study discussed the potential of STM to influence or shape the evolution of the legal and regulatory framework for space activities.
The study provided a detailed set-out of potential traffic rules, structured a potential STM regime and proposed a concrete roadmap for implementation. It concluded that half a
century after the entry into force of the Outer Space Treaty, STM could provide for a systematic and coordinated approach capturing technical and regulatory aspects of space activities in a coherent manner.
Any comprehensive STM regime would have to be elaborated in an inclusive and inter-disciplinary manner, with the participation of all interested States, and could reasonably be achieved in a timeframe of 15 years. Once in place, it could be a powerful tool addressing the safety and sustainability of space activities and guaranteeing the continued use of outer space free form harmful or unwanted interference, for the benefit of humankind.
From the foreword by ICJ Judge Peter Tomka: “By analyzing the underlying developments in the space environment, the technical prerequisites for the implementation of the legal regime, and
its key regulatory elements, the present study can be considered as a leading work for reference purposes, as well as a good basis for further discussion”.