The Russian Parliament will soon consider a bill that would restructure the Russian space program, 35 years after the launch оf Sputnik. Тhe bill, which is expected to be submitted for hearings in February, would officially create a body roughly equivalent to NASA and is the first effort to establish legislative regulation of the Russian space program.
But the legislation's most striking and controversial feature is a provision that would ban testing and deployment оf space weapons — including anti-satellite weapons and space-based missile interceptors.
Given the fасt neither the United Stales nor Russia are currently testing anti-satellite weapons, and that the support in the U.S.
Congress for the Brilliant Pebbles space-based missile interceptor program continues to be weak, adoption of this measure could be an important step toward bilateral negotiations for a U.S.-Russian ban on such weapons.
In the former Soviet Union, space activities were regulated by classified decrees of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Council of Ministers. Today, the Soviet space program has been mostly taken over by Russia, but space policy is still dominated by the executive branch.
The upcoming bill attempts to reorganize the space program and set up legislative oversight. It would formalize the creation of a national space agency, called the Russian Space Agency (RSA), which was established by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in February 1992. The RSA will oversee space activities and will be responsible for implementing national space policy.
In the past, the Ministry of General Machine Building administered the research and development program for space technology and also oversaw the aerospace industry. The current bill would split these functions, and the RSA, like NASA, would use its funding rather than administrative orders to negotiate with industry.
In addition, the bill would establish the Russian Space Fund, which would not be under the control of the executive branch, and could be used to fund alternative projects to those supported by the RSA. It is seen as a means of overcoming the monopolization of space policy by the executive branch. The fund would receive a percentage of the national space budget and income from commercial space activities, although the bill does not lay out the details of how it would be administered.
This bill is unusual in that it grew out of discussions by a non-governmental public interest group, the Moscow Space Club. In late 1990, the Moscow Space Club was formed by a group of people interested in various aspects of space activity. The organization promoted ideas of reforms and openness in the national space program and developed contacts with similar groups abroad. A draft bill was written by a group of experts within the Moscow Space Club, several of whom now work on space issues with the Russian Parliament. The final version —a 30-page document that incorporates amendments from an alternative draft prepared by the Institute of State and Law — was submitted to the Russian Parliament by the Commission on Transportation, Communications, Informatics and Space. It is now under discussion in the committees of the Russian Parliament.
The bill describes the goals and infrastructure of the Russian space program, the responsibilities of the various organizations involved, and regulations for safely and budget oversight.
In addition, it specifies a list of activities that are forbidden. In tht current form of the bill, this list includes placing nuclear weapons in outer space, using celestial bodies for military purposes, using objects in space to influence the environment for hostile purposes, interfering
with space-based assets used for monitoring compliance with international agreements, and intentionally creating space debris.
The most contentious provision in the bill, however, is the one that prohibits "testing and deployment of military technology and weapons capable of destroying objects in outer space or from outer space." If accepted, this provision would ban the development and deployment of future anti-satellite weapons and space-based interceptors for ballistic missile defense systems.
The bill is expected to be adopted by the Parliament, although possibly with some changes. It is supported by Yeltsin, and the Ministry of Defense is generally positive except for the ban on space weapons.
The controversy over the ban on space weapons will heat up once the bill reaches the floor of the Parliament for general debate.
Some members of Parliament believe that such a ban should be implemented by international agreement and not unilaterally. Many experts contend, however, that such a ban would not so much weaken Russian defense capability, but it would provide a good starting point for banning space weapons internationally. Time is ripe to begin this process.