By Jessica Berger, NSS Legal Fellow
Pollution isn’t the first thing people usually think of when they are talking about space exploration and development. But truth be told, there is a lot of trash circling the Earth. Currently there are around 1800 operative satellites sharing orbital space with about 8000 tons of debris including large items such as abandoned and broken-down satellites that are no longer working, as well as smaller items like fragments from rocket launches. Because they are traveling at very high speeds, even small pieces of debris can cause tremendous damage to operating spacecraft and consequently adversely affect human and robotic activities that occur in and through Earth’s orbit. This debris is sufficiently abundant it has forced the International Space Station to move three times in 2020 in order to avoid being struck. There is no doubt that satellites help us on Earth every day but we can no longer ignore the consequences of our own trash. In order to assure that humanity continue to be able to harness the resources of space, stakeholders worldwide need to develop and embrace a reliable satellite tracking and management program.
In 2017, the National Space Society (NSS) recommended the formation of a “Space Guard” to promote safer space. This guard would include a civil space traffic management operation in collaboration with space-related national offices, including military sectors such as the United States Air Force. The United States Space Guard would work as a unique organization designed to eliminate the threats aligned with space travel and exploration as well as manage human interaction in space. The Space Guard would respond to space emergencies such as the debris issue, support both national and international space missions and promote international peace. A branch of the organization would face the growing problem of space debris head on by creating policy to limit pollution in space along with developing a plan to remove the excess debris. The program would use already allocated government funds to create one organization to oversee our space involvement, thus limiting excess spending by insourcing government employees from different space related parts of the U.S. government. This would integrate and combine efforts to create a more efficient program. Ultimately, the Space Guard would essentially be an organization which would work closely with other space programs around the world in order to create a more harmonious path to a more prosperous space for future generations.
We have the opportunity to mitigate human caused pollution in our orbit. If we do not take advantage of this opportunity, the United States along with the rest of the world will have no future in space as the wall of debris will increase costs, and perhaps even prevent access to orbit. Space is the new frontier, and in order to use it to our full potential, we must take care of it first.
If you would like to read more on the formation of the United States Space Guard, see the National Space Society position paper Space Guard: A New Organization to Facilitate Safe Space Activities.
About NSS Legal Fellow Jessica Berger
Jessica Berger is a second year J.D candidate at Florida State University College of Law. She is from Melbourne, Florida and received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida majoring in Political Science with a focus in International Relations. Growing up on the space coast, Jessica peaked an interest in space and technology at a young age, specifically NASA and astronaut safety advocacy. After passing the bar, she hopes to excel in a legal career focused around the space program and her local Brevard County community. Currently, Jessica is involved in the legal fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, the Aviation and Space Law Society at FSU, and the Student Bar Association. In Jessica’s free time she enjoys the outdoors and traveling, she loves to hike and go to the beach with her three year old rescued red fox retriever. Jessica hopes to provide local insight to her fellow colleagues while gaining valuable legal experience during her time with the National Space Society Legal Fellows Program.
I knew it would be bad. I just didn’t have a number. Man pollutes on Earth, therefore man’s first efforts include for decades man’s pollution of space. Only after decades is ANY thought given. If woman had been the predominantly space human to go she would have checked the problem and within the first ten visits to space had a solution that either recycled trash helping with the building of the international space station or included in that plan a method of transporting the space satellite trash orbiting Earth to be used to help build Mars and Moon-based colonies.
Women are not smarter, but they are more practical in taking care of today instead of waiting until tomorrow to solve problems in our new travels into space. Limits per country would be in place forcing countries to pay for recycling old satellites until they were permitted to launch new satellites into space. Again, women are not better, but they do network circles around ALL men and do most of the housework on this planet giving them excellent knowledge into how to handle “space housework.”
Quite a bit is being done to limit and control space junk but of course there is room for more to be done. At an International Space Conference here in Adelaide, Australia, a couple of years ago I brought up the question and of course there is a limitation on what can be done by the United Nations Space treaties that require each launcher to be responsible for their own stuff, but I proposed an amendment, namely, that Rights of Salvage be brought into being as they are at Sea. Thus, any junk or derelict objects in space would be able to be salvaged by whoever developed the means to do so. Considering the high-tech stuff that is out there, and the valuable and rare metals, it could give an incentive to cleaning up. The goods could be parked in the parking orbits, that are already established as we speak (write) of course, and used in space itself rathe than coming back to Earth.
Please note, I refrain from any sexist slanging or over-simplified generalisations. It all gets down to people, and the United Nations Space Treaties.
about time someone is publicly addressing this.
Good backpackers lug their garbage out of the woods. Can the Space Nations of the World sign an accord that basically agrees to do the same? They become legally responsible for any damage caused by their garbage. Perhaps it is too difficult to identify who belongs to what piece? Just “tossing it out” for discussion.