Orbital Debris Prevention and Mitigation Efforts among Major Space Actors

Commonalities and the Search for Customary International Law


In the absence of formal treaty law, orbital debris has grown exponentially in our most valuable orbital regions. To address this problem, many major spacefaring programs have implemented independent laws and policies meant to mitigate the release and overall threat of debris. However, these individual efforts have not translated into a cohesive international set of regulations to address the growing debris problem. Fortunately, there may exist unappreciated similarities among major international programs, either in whole or part, that once identified could lay the groundwork for the recognition of customary international law. This book reviews a number of major programs in depth and seeks to answer if any commonality among them has likely established customary international law.

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Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Marc G. Carns, LL.M. (2016), J.S.D. (2022) University of Nebraska, is a career United States Air Force Military Officer and Air Force Judge Advocate. Lt Col. Carns specializes in advising on legal issues affecting national security and defense initiatives in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. He also serves as an adjunct professor at various universities.

List of Figures


Introduction Access for All

1The Debris Problem
 1 Introduction
 1.1 Early Recognition of the Risk of Space Debris

 2 Space Debris Defined

 3 Space Debris Creation

 4 Identifying the Degree of Space Debris Accumulation—What Is Space ssa ?
 4.1 Who Is Responsible for  ssa  Management?

 4.2 Other  ssa  Programs

 4.3 How Are Space Objects (and Debris) Identified and Tracked?

 4.4 How Does  ssa  Work

 5 Conclusion

2International Law and the Formal Space Treaties
 1 Introduction

 2 Public International Law
 2.1 Development of Public International Law Related to Space

 3 International Space Treaties
 3.1 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
 3.1.1 Outer Space Treaty, Article i

 3.1.2 Outer Space Treaty, Article ii

 3.1.3 Outer Space Treaty, Article iii

 3.1.4 Outer Space Treaty, Article ix

 3.1.5 Outer Space Treaty, Article xi

 3.2 The Remaining ‘Big 4’ International Space Treaties

 4 Jurisdiction of Space Objects

 5 Registration of Space Objects

 6 Conclusion

3Development of Customary International Law—Space Law and Debris Mitigation
 1 Introduction

 2 Basic Requirements of Customary International Law
 2.1 Time Requirement of Customary International Law
 2.1.1 How Important Is the Time Element of Customary International Law in Modern Times

 2.1.2 Continuous Claim and Response

 2.1.3 Harry S. Truman and the Continental Shelf—Testing the Time Requirement

 2.1.4 Legitimacy of Instant Customary International Law in the Courts

 3 Instant Customary International Law in Space Law
 3.1 Post-Truman—Sputnik as the Next Use Case

 4 International Efforts in Space Debris Mitigation—on the Cusp of Customary International Law
 4.1 The United Nations Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
 4.1.1 Leading to the Mitigation Guidelines—Initial Assessments of Nation-State Efforts

 4.1.2 From Analysis to Understanding—the Development of the Debris Mitigation Guidelines

 4.1.3 From Understanding to Action—Drafting the Debris Mitigation Guidelines

 4.1.4 Reviewing the Impact: Debris Mitigation Guidelines

 5 International Telecommunications Union

 6 Conclusion

4The United States—Space Debris Mitigation, Prevention, and Policy
 1 Introduction—US Space Debris Policy
 1.1 Development of National-Level US Space Debris Policy

 1.2 Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices and  spd -3

 1.3 2020 US National Space Policy
 1.3.1 The Six Principles of President Trump’s National Space Policy

 1.3.2 The Eight Goals of President Trump’s National Space Policy

 1.3.3 President Trump’s National Space Policy and Orbital Debris

 1.4 Impact of  odmsp  Changes and US Policy

 2 Federal Aviation Administration
 2.1 Roles of the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transport

 2.2 Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transport Licensing

 2.3 Requirements for Initial Licensing Considerations

 2.4 Assessing Launch Risk

 2.5 Launch Application and License

 2.6 Licensing and Orbital Debris

 2.7 Debris Avoidance from Collision

 2.8 End of Operations

 3 Federal Communications Commission
 3.1 Authority to License

 3.2 Licensing Requirements

 3.3 Title 47  c.f.r.  (Telecommunication) and New Orbital Debris Rules
 3.3.1 Title 47 c.f.r. Part 5—Experimental Radio Service, 47 c.f.r. §5.64(b)-Special Provisions for Satellite Systems

 3.3.2 Title 47 c.f.r. Part 25—Satellite Communications

 3.3.3 Title 47 c.f.r. Part 97—Space Station

 3.4 Evolution of  fcc  Efforts toward Addressing Orbital Debris Mitigation Efforts

 3.5  fcc  and the Way Ahead

 4 The US National Space Council

 5 Conclusion

 1 Introduction to the Chinese Space Program

 2 Background of the Development of the Chinese Space Program

 3 The Modern Chinese Space Program

 4 The Legislative Governance Elements of the Chinese Space Program
 4.1 China’s Civil Space Program Management

 5 Chinese Regulatory Efforts toward Sustainability and Orbital Debris
 5.1 China and International Space Agreements

 5.2 Chinese Regulations Based on International Commitments

 5.3 Domestic Departmental-Level Regulations
 5.3.1 China’s Existing Space Regulations—2001 Measures for the Administration of Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space

 5.3.2 China’s Existing Space Regulations—the Interim Measures on the Administration of Licensing the Project of Launching Civil Space

 5.4 The 2010 Interim Instrument on Space Debris Mitigation and Management Instrument

 6 China’s Space Policy—the Chinese White Papers
 6.1 The 2000 China Space White Paper

 6.2 The 2006 China Space White Paper

 6.3 The 2011 China Space White Paper

 6.4 The 2016 China White Paper

 6.5 The 2021 China White Paper

 6.6 Words versus Actions—Are the Chinese Actually Committed to the Space Sustainability Discussed in Their White Papers?

 7 Conclusion—the Future of China’s Space Program

 1 Introduction

 2 Russian Interpretation of International Law Influencing Russian Space Law
 2.1 Overview of Russian Approach to International Law

 2.2 Modern Russian Approach to International Law

 3 Russia’s Domestic Implementation of Obligations under International Space Law
 3.1 Russian Domestic Space Debris Regulatory Scheme
 3.1.1 Russian Domestic Regulatory Scheme—Decree No. 5663–1, about Space Activities

 3.2 Licensing in Russia

 3.3 Principal Space Debris Regulation— gost p  52925–2018
 3.3.1 Debris Reduction through Design

 3.3.2 Debris Reduction during Operations

 3.3.3 Debris Reduction during Post-mission Disposal

 4 Conclusion

7European Space Agency
 1 Introduction

 2  esa Today
 2.1  esa  Membership

 2.2  esa  Programs and Participant Requirements

 3  esa and International Legal Standing and Authority
 3.1  esa  and International Agreements

 3.2 Creation of International Legal Norms— esa  Customary International Law

 3.3  esa  and Space Debris Legal Norms

 4 Specific Efforts at Forming Legal Norms for Space Debris Mitigation and Prevention
 4.1  esa  Space Debris Mitigation Handbook

 4.2 European Code of Conduct for Space Debris Mitigation

 4.3 European International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities

 5 International Organization for Standardization Debris Mitigation Guidelines
 5.1  iso  and  esa  Adoption of Debris Standards— iso  24113:2010 through  iso  24113:2019
 5.1.1  iso 24113:2019—Space Systems-Space Debris Mitigation Requirements

 5.2 Progeny of  iso  24113:2019—Debris Mitigation for Spacecraft and Launch Vehicles
 5.2.1 Space Debris Mitigation Requirements for Spacecraft— iso 16164:2015, iso 26872:2019, iso 23339:2012, iso 16127:2014

 5.2.2 Space Debris Mitigation Requirements for Launch Vehicles

 6 Beyond esa iso Standards
 6.1 European Union Space Strategy for Europe

 7 Conclusion

8Does Existing Space Debris Guidance Establish Customary International Law?
 1 Introduction

 2 Beyond Legacy iadc and UN copuos —Recent Voluntary Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines
 2.1 Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities
 2.1.1 UN copuos lts Guidelines—Policy and Regulatory Framework

 2.1.2 UN copuos lts Guidelines—Safety of Space Operations

 2.1.3 UN copuos lts Guidelines—International Cooperation and Capacity Building and Awareness

 2.1.4 UN copuos lts Guidelines—Scientific and Technical Research and Development

 2.1.5 UN copuos lts Guidelines—the Way Ahead

 2.2 Background—Space Safety Coalition Best Practices for the Sustainability of Space Operations Guidelines
 2.2.1  ssc Sustainability Practices

 3 Can Customary International Law Be Found as a Result of Nation-State Implementation of Orbital Debris Prevention and Mitigation Efforts?
 3.1 The Seven Mitigation Themes
 3.1.1 Theme 1—Debris Mitigation Is to Be Considered during All Stages of a Space Project

 3.1.2 Theme 2—Release of Space Debris during Normal Operations Is to be Limited

 3.1.3 Theme 3—Efforts Should Be Expended to Avoid Collisions in Orbit

 3.1.4 Theme 4—Risk of Breakups during Operational Phases is to be Minimized

 3.1.5 Theme 5—the Potential for Post-mission Breakups Resulting from Stored Energy Should Be Minimized by Passivation

 3.1.6 Theme 6—If Not Destroyed by Atmospheric Methods, Post-mission Disposal of Space Objects Away from leo and geo Is to Be Arranged

 3.1.7 Theme 7—Intentional Destruction and Other Harmful Activities Are to Be Avoided

 4 Do Any Similarities in the Way Nations Implement the Standards Represented within the Themes Meet the Standards of Customary International Law?
 4.1 The 25 Year ‘Rule’

 5 Conclusion

9Where Do We Go from Here?
 1 Introduction

 2 Is Soft Law Appropriate to Address the Space Debris Issue at All?
 2.1 Though Soft Law Is Not a Likely Solution, Treaty Law Is Equally Elusive to Solve the Problem

 3 Is New Governance the Answer? Evolving Space Governance—Past, Present and Future
 3.1 Space Governance—Where We Were

 3.2 Space Governance—Where We Are

 3.3 Space Governance—Do We Need a Different Governance Model (Where Are We Going)?

 4 One Key Option to Solve the Debris Problem—Active Debris Removal and Legal Challenges
 4.1 Background on Modern  adr  Efforts

 4.2 Current Major  adr  Efforts
 4.2.1 Lasers

 4.2.2 Solar Sails

 4.2.3 Harpoons

 4.2.4 Grappling Arms/Claws

 4.2.5 System Capture and Containment

 4.3 Legal Challenges to Implementation of  adr 

 4.4 Recommendations to Address Debris Removal Legal Challenges
 4.4.1 Instant Customary International Law in Practice

 5 A Need to “Go It Alone” to Establish Customary International Law?
 5.1 “Going It Alone”—Principles for Successful Independent  adr  Activity

 6 Conclusion



Officials in space activities concerned with space debris; students and librarians in Air and Space Legal Programs; institutions of space, international law and customary international law; national space program academics.
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