Iridium-Cosmos collision and its implications for space operations

  • Ram S. Jakhu
Part of the Yearbook on Space Policy book series (YEARSPACE)


The physical condition of the environment in which space activities take place must be conducive to the safe and sustainable development and implementation of all space operations. Rapidly increasing debris in space is posing serious risks to space activities of all nations. Such risks are real, as evidenced by an unprecedented collision between a defunct Russian satellite weighing about 900 kg (Cosmos 2251) and an active about 500 kg U.S. commercial satellite (Iridium 33). The theory of “big sky” or “vastness of space” is being questioned as space operators face new challenges primarily due to the enhanced risks posed by an ever increasing number of space debris, particularly in the region of space that is being used extensively for meeting important earthly needs, like communications, Earth observation, weather forecasting, reconnaissance, navigation and global positioning services, early warning, etc. The availability and risk-free utilisation of space is becoming difficult. The accident seems to have sounded a wakeup call for all countries, especially the space-faring nations and the States having an interest in the exploration and use of space. From that perspective, this paper addresses some relevant questions associated with the legal and policy aspects of the Iridium- Cosmos collision. Specifically discussed are the issues concerning possible liability of the States directly involved in the collision under currently applicable international law; the general space environment; added risks and costs due to the debris created by the collision; and, finally, the concerns of space operators and some governments and the efforts they are making to achieve and maintain safe and sustainable development and use of space. Undoubtedly, these issues are highly complex. However they are discussed here in a general fashion and no attempt is made to carry out a thorough critical analysis in this paper.


Space Object Outer Space Space Debris Defense Advance Research Project Agency Space Operation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  • Ram S. Jakhu

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