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Satellite Standards Aim to Minimize Space Junk

New York, Jul 08, 2004

Backyard summertime stargazers delight in a spotting a “shooting star” (otherwise known as a meteor), and revel in the magic of witnessing its fleeting flash across the sky. A satellite in orbit is another bright object that is relatively plentiful and easier to spot, but that steadily moving speck of light may actually be one of approximately 23,000 items of space junk – objects large enough to track with radar that have outlived their usefulness or were inadvertently placed in orbit – floating above Earth.

On June 21, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a ruling that called for every U.S.-licensed satellite launched after March 18, 2002, to be placed into a disposal orbit at the end of its useful life. The new ruling is based on guidelines developed by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordinating Committee (IADC), a group of 11 international space agencies whose goal is to minimize the growth of the space debris population. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and ANSI member and accredited standards developer, currently manages an international committee that is developing technical standards to help satellite operators implement the IADC guidelines and comply with the new FCC rule.

Technical Committee 20/Subcommittee 14 (TC20/SC14) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently developing a set of standards based on the IADC guidelines. "These standards will capture best practices in satellite design, manufacture and operation that support international space debris minimization goals," stated Dr. William Ailor, lead of the U.S. delegation on ISO's Orbital Debris Coordinating Working Group. "They will help satellite owners and operators be 'good citizens' in efforts to protect the near-Earth space environment."

The first satellite to orbit earth was the Soviet Sputnik, launched on October 4, 1957. Today, satellites are an essential part of our daily lives. They help to transmit information for weather reports, news text and images, the keeping of time, television, telephone calls, and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Industry input is critical during the development phase of these standards. AIAA, under the auspices of the ANSI, serves as the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to TC20/SC14. To participate in the TAG, or for more information, please contact Bill Ailor, AIAA senior member and U.S. Lead to ISO TC20/SC14 Orbital Debris Coordinating Working Group (; 310-336-1135).

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