By Alexandra Dolce • March 29, 2020•Writers in Residence
According to NASA space debris is non-operational man-made objects in outer space. They include but are not limited to non-functional space crafts, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission related debris and fragmentation debris.
Why is space debris a problem? Space debris is considered problematic because it can cause damage in outer space and on the ground upon Earth re-entry. It can cause damage to space crafts and in some cases even space crew if the impact of the collision is pronounced enough. Last, but not least, space debris causes space pollution. Currently there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris in outer space. Debris can travel up to speeds of up to 17,500 MPH, which means that the smallest piece of debris, if it collides with a satellite or space craft, can cause noticeable to significant damage. 
Generating space debris is not illegal per se but is of legal concern. It is of legal concern because of the harm that can be caused and because states are bound by Article 10 of the Outer Space Treaty which provides in pertinent part “in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, State parties to the Treaty shall conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth”…
Concerned about this growing problem and its potential illegality, that United Nations (UN) has adopted Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines in order to bring about more awareness to states vis-à-vis this issue and to encourage them to promulgate national legislation and national policies with the purpose of helping to combat this problem. Remember these UN guidelines are considered “soft law”. That is, they are not legally binding, but states use them as a framework upon which to behave and upon which to draft legislation.
Space debris is not going away, especially now with the commercialization of space and space travel. They are going to be collisions, fragments of defunct space crafts, fragments colliding with fragments, and who knows what next with the advent of more civilians traveling to space. The goal for space faring states should therefore be; create and implement a plan to counter to debris; create and implement a plan for possible clean up; and to create and have an operating system that enables space crafts and satellites to take necessary steps to avoid collision… Your best defense is your offense.
Until next time,