White House unveils ‘Space Priorities Framework’ as VP Kamala Harris leads first space council meeting


Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on Nov. 5, 2021.
Taylor Mickal / NASA

The first National Space Council of the Biden administration is meeting on Wednesday, with Vice President Kamala Harris set to outline the White House’s approach to space policy.

Revived after two decades under the previous presidency, the National Space Council met eight times during the prior administration and often came alongside executive orders such as returning U.S. astronauts to the moon, cleaning up space debris, and making use of space resources.

With Harris leading Wednesday’s meeting, the White House released a document called the “United States Space Priorities Framework,” which gives an overview of how the Biden administration plans “to develop and implement national space policy and strategy going forward.”

The framework emphasizes that the U.S. seeks to promote and protect the “data, products, and services from space” that “enable American businesses and create American jobs in sectors as varied as manufacturing, transportation, logistics, agriculture, finance, and communications.”

Additionally, the framework says the U.S. wants to openly distribute “Earth observation data” to “support both domestic and international efforts to address the climate crisis.” Similarly, the White House document says it is transferring “space situational awareness information” services “to an open data platform” that will be hosted by a U.S. agency to improve spaceflight safety.

The increasing risk from space debris, as well as military activities in space, are two top-of-mind issues following the Russian test of an anti-satellite weapon (or ASAT) last month. The Russian military destroyed a defunct satellite, showering low Earth orbit with shrapnel and causing astronauts to shelter on the International Space Station as the debris cloud passed by. While U.S. officials condemned the test, Russia has yet to face anything more than a harsh rebuke for the demonstration.

The White House framework says the U.S. aims to “strengthen its ability to detect and attribute hostile acts in space.” But, in terms of consequences for other nations that perform military tests in orbit, for now the U.S. “will engage diplomatically with strategic competitors in order to enhance stability in outer space.”

President Biden is also expected to sign an executive order on Wednesday to add five members to the National Space Council: Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.

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