SpaceX nighttime rocket launch on March 6, 2018. Credit: SpaceX

As private companies plan to send thousands of satellites into space to expand broadband internet services and for other uses, the Trump administration is taking steps to ensure that space debris doesn't get out of control.

Why it matters: We are beginning to see a large uptick in the number and diversity of satellites being launched into space by governments and private companies, such as Elon Musk's SpaceX. If no one modernizes the rules governing space, then there's the potential for overcrowding at various altitudes above Earth. This overcrowding could hold back the burgeoning space industry, and threaten national security.

What's next: On Monday, the president signed a space policy directive that gives various government agencies clearer roles in governing space.

“The space operating environment are becoming increasingly crowded. Orbital debris poses a growing threat to space operations."
— Scott Pace, the executive secretary of the National Space Council, on a call with reporters.

The details: The new policy directive requires that updates be made to orbital debris mitigation practices, as well as new guidelines for designing and operating satellites.

  • Under the directive, the Pentagon will continue to maintain the official catalog of all space-based assets, while the Commerce Department will take on new responsibilities in fostering the development of the private sector space industry.
    • For example, Commerce will be the agency that the public can go to for information on satellites currently in space or planned to be launched (unless they're classified military missions).
  • Commerce, which houses an eclectic mix of agencies, such as the Census Bureau and NOAA, will also be one of the main agencies for private sector space companies to go to for oversight of their planned launches.

What they're saying: “We’re basically getting everyone in their lanes," Pace said of the new division of oversight between departments.

President Trump, when signing the directive, alluded to the billionaires whose companies are launching rockets to space, such as Musk and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin, saying: "I always said, rich guys seem to like rockets. All of those rich guys dying for our real estate to launch -- we won't charge you too much, just go ahead."

Go deeper

Where key GOP senators stand on replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks to reporters on Capitol Hill last Thursday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With President Trump planning to nominate his third Supreme Court justice nominee this week, key Republican senators are indicating their stance on replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with less than 50 days until Election Day.

The state of play: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has vowed that "Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate." Two GOP senators — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — have said they oppose holding a vote before the election, meaning that two more defections would force McConnell to delay until at least the lame-duck session of Congress.

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Biden to Senate GOP after RBG passing: "Please follow your conscience"

Joe Biden made a direct appeal to Senate Republicans in a speech addressing the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, urging them to "cool the flames that have been engulfing our country" by waiting to confirm her replacement until after the election.

The state of play: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said soon after the news of Ginsburg's death that President Trump's nominee would get a vote on the Senate floor.