Space Debris Mitigation
Paper presented at the 2010 Space Elevator Conference held in Redmond, Washington, USA. Friday 13th August 2010
15 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2010 Last revised: 29 Sep 2011
Date Written: April 8, 2010
Space debris has been and still remains a growing threat for the international space community. As a source of pollution, orbiting debris adversely damages the space environment. There is an increased risk of additional debris being generated by colliding with space objects, and such fragments remaining in space permanently. Every space actors, whether State-sponsored, civilians or commercial, are affected by the space debris population. Human lives are endangered: astronauts undertaking extra-vehicular activities or even the paying public enjoying commercial human spaceflights run the risk of colliding with pieces of debris. The continuing growth of debris in heavily used orbital regions, like Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), not causes minor or complete abruptions to space operations, but potentially could prevent launches of planned space vehicles; thus, denying future access to, and use of, outer space. Further to stifling space development, the quality of the space environment is degrading, therefore. Preserving and sustaining that environment as a valuable resource for future space users has motivated interested space bodies to consider mechanisms to control the increase of debris. Such international meetings like the 5th European Conference on Space Debris and the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics on ‘Keeping the Space Environment Safe for Civil and Commercial Space Users’ have arrived to the same conclusion: better international agreed space debris mitigation methods to reduce the probability of additional debris must be created as well as remediation mechanisms being imposed. This Paper shall explore the different meanings and sources of ‘space debris’. The population of orbital debris, also, is quantified, and three galvanising events are identified and commented as exacerbating its growth since 2007. This Paper then shall examine the effectiveness of space debris mitigation practices, which were adopted by the international space community, to tackle the rising population of orbiting debris. These measures are not binding under international space law: compliance is voluntary. The Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines are preventative practices designed to control the increase of space congestion in popular orbital regions like LEO and GEO to preserve their commercial and scientific value as well as use of, and access to, by future space users. It shall be demonstrated that in the absence of legal liability and sanctioning being imposed on space operators the mitigation practices can be ignored.
Keywords: Space Debris, IADC Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, Fengyun 1-C, Iridium/Cosmos
JEL Classification: K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation