Proposal for an International Agreement on Active Debris Removal
Along with the benefits derived from space applications, the burgeoning of space activities has also shown a side effect, namely numerous pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth. Awareness of the problem of space debris has been raised and spread with the increasing severity of this issue, and many initiatives have been taken. This note deals with several legal questions concerning the implementation of Active Debris Removal (ADR). The first question is what should be removed, i.e., the definition of the term “space debris”, and the correlation between this term and the term “space object” which is frequently referred to in the United Nations (UN) space treaties.
The UN space treaties are commonly referred to as the “five United Nations treaties on outer space” which are:
Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies 18 UST 2410 (1967) (Outer Space Treaty);
Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Rescue Agreement);
Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects 672 United Nations Treaty Series 119 (1968) 24 UST 2389 (1972) (Liability Convention);
Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space 28 UST 695 (1975) (Registration Convention); and
Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1363 Nations Treaty Series 3 (1979) (Moon Agreement).
Texts of all of these treaties can be found at <http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties.html>
The following question is who can remove space debris, and subsequently the potential liabilities involved in such implementation. Finally, this note discusses the establishment of an Orbital Maintenance Fund for the promotion of technological development in ADR.