Global Efforts to Deal with Orbital Debris

JAXA has published this Q&A interview with Michiru Nishida, a Japanese Foreign Affairs official who works on space debris debris issues.

— In light of the fact that the space debris situation is becoming more serious, what international agreements have been made, if any?

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines drafted by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). This is a “soft law” that aims to limit the generation of new space debris. A soft law is not legally binding – member states are left to make efforts on their own initiative. The guidelines specify, among other things, that rockets and satellites should be designed to produce no debris, and that satellites in low Earth orbit should re-enter the atmosphere within 25 years of ending their mission.


Cleaning up Orbital Debris: Q&A With ASTROSCALE CEO Nobu Okada

The Japanese space agency JAXA has published the following Q&A with Nobu Okada, founder and CEO of ASTROSCALE PTE. The company is focused on cleaning up orbital debris.

— It’s been said that you are the first private enterprise in the to attempt to clean up space debris.

Our mission is to secure long-term spaceflight safely by solving space debris issues. To achieve this, ASTROSCALE will extend its business model to a debris removing technology after gaining an understanding of the present space environment. As our first step, we investigate how much space debris exist in outer space. The size of space debris varies, and it is important to ascertain its density etc.


ESA Focuses on Addressing Orbital Debris

As of April 2017, more than 290 break-ups in orbit have been recorded since 1961. Most were explosions of satellites and upper stages – fewer than 10 involved accidental and intentional collisions. (Credit: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL)

DARMSTADT, Germany (ESA PR) — With more than 750 000 pieces of dangerous debris now orbiting Earth, the urgent need for coordinated international action to ensure the long-term sustainability of spaceflight is a major finding from Europe’s largest-ever conference on space debris.


Airbus Defence and Space to Lead EU Orbital Debris Project

Airbus_Defence_and_Space_logoTOULOUSE, France — Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, will lead the project TeSeR (Technology for Self-Removal of Spacecraft) team to develop technology to reduce the risk of spacecraft colliding with debris in space.

Together with its ten European partners, the company will develop a prototype for a cost-efficient and highly reliable module to ensure that future spacecraft don’t present a collision risk once they reach the end of their nominal operational lifetimes or suffer an in-service failure. The module may also function as a removal back-up in the case of a loss of control over a spacecraft.


Scientists Propose Space Laser to Zap Orbital Debris

Space debris in orbit around Earth. (Credit: NASA)
Space debris in orbit around Earth. (Credit: NASA)

TOKYO (RIKEN PR) — An international team of scientists have put forward a blueprint for a purely space-based system to solve the growing problem of space debris. The proposal, published in Acta Astronautica, combines a super-wide field-of-view telescope, developed by RIKEN’s EUSO team, which will be used to detect objects, and a recently developed high-efficiency laser system, the CAN laser that was presented in Nature Photonics in 2013, that will be used to track space debris and remove it from orbit.

Space debris, which is continuously accumulating as a result of human space activities, consists of artificial objects orbiting the earth. The number of objects nearly doubled from 2000 to 2014 and they have become a major obstacle to space development. The total mass of space debris is calculated to be about 3,000 tons. It consists of derelict satellites, rocket bodies and parts, and small fragments produced by collisions between debris.


UMD Opens Orbital Debris Education and Research Center

orbital_debris_nasaCOLLEGE PARK, Md. (UMD PR) — The University of Maryland has announced the establishment of the Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) to address critical issues in orbiting space debris and serve as a hub for academic, industry and government research collaboration.

“CODER is the first academically led center established to address the full range of issues surrounding the orbital debris problem,” said founding faculty member and Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Raymond Sedwick. “Most existing organizations focus on just one aspect of the problem—tracking, modeling, remediation, mitigation, policy, etc.—but CODER will serve as a research collective to provide expertise in all of these areas.”


Malfunctioning Russian Upper Stage Explodes, Spreads Orbital Debris

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

The decaying Russian space program continues to cause serious problems for the world:

A Russian Breeze M rocket stage, left with loaded fuel tanks after an August launch failure, exploded in orbit Oct. 16, raising concerns of the U.S. military, NASA and global satellite operators on the lookout for collision threats from hundreds of new space debris fragments.


ESA Developing Space Safety Radar to Track Orbital Debris

The SSA programme is enabling Europe to detect hazards to critical space infrastructure. This artist’s impression shows a possible design for the future radar system, which will scan low Earth orbits to detect hazardous debris objects and deliver data to a catalogue database. (Credit: ESA – P. Carrill)

12 September 2012 (ESA PR) — ESA will boost European industrial expertise by developing a new radar as part of the Agency’s Space Situational Awareness programme. The radar will test future debris monitoring techniques, helping European satellite operators avoid space hazards and increase safety in Earth orbit.


NRC: NASA Needs Plan as Orbital Debris Threat Reaches “Tipping Point”

NRC PR – WASHINGTON – Although NASA’s meteoroid and orbital debris programs have responsibly used their resources, the agency’s management structure has not kept pace with increasing hazards posed by abandoned equipment, spent rocket bodies, and other debris orbiting the Earth, says a new report by the National Research Council. NASA should develop a formal strategic plan to better allocate resources devoted to the management of orbital debris. In addition, removal of debris from the space environment or other actions to mitigate risks may be necessary.

The complexity and severity of the orbital debris environment combined with decreased funding and increased responsibilities have put new pressures on NASA, according to the report. Some scenarios generated by the agency’s meteoroid and orbital debris models show that debris has reached a “tipping point,” with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures, the report notes. In addition, collisions with debris have disabled and even destroyed satellites in the past; a recent near-miss of the International Space Station underscores the value in monitoring and tracking orbital debris as precisely as possible.


SWF Sees Orbital Debris, Killer Asteroids as Key Issues for 2011


There are outstanding issues in the coming year that deserve increased attention in terms of global outer space activities – from tackling the growing problem of orbital space debris, enhancing Earth security via satellite data, protecting our planet from Near Earth Objects, and assuring a sustainable space environment for all nations to improve their well-being.

“Space isn’t the ‘new frontier’ any more. It’s an integral part of our daily existence,” said Cynda Collins Arsenault, President and co-founder of Secure World Foundation (SWF).


NewSpace 2010: Mining Asteroids and Orbital Debris for Profit

Asteroid Ida

Physical Threats and and Commercial Opportunities:
Orbital Debris and NEOs

Berin Szoka (Moderator) – Senior Fellow, Progress and Freedom Foundation
Dennis Wingo – CTO, Orbital Recovery Corporation
Joe Carroll – Tether Application, Inc.
A.C. Charania – President, SpaceWorks Commercial
Bob Werb – Space Frontier Foundation

Abstract: There’s gold in them there hills. (And nickel and iron and solar cells and spent rocket stages and all sorts of junk.) All we gotta do is to go get it. And all we need for that is clear international law. Liability protection. An agreement with the Russians. The right technology. The government to get out of the way. And…well…we need lots of things…


NASA Increases Priority for Orbital Debris Removal

NASA May Move Orbital Debris Mitigation Off Back Burner
Space News

NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office expects to begin active work on how to remove debris in orbit on the strength of the new U.S. National Space Policy, according to the office’s chief scientist.


Video: CubeSail Nano-sats Designed to Eliminate Orbital Debris

The Surrey Space Centre plans to launch a CubeSail nano-satellite next year. The 3 kilogram spacecraft will use a 25-square meter solar sail to de-orbit satellites and rocket upper stages at the end of their useful lives. CubeSail nano-satellites could be used in swarms to deorbit existing orbital debris.

Orbital Debris Solution: Tax Satellite Operators to Create Recycling and Removal Fund

James Dunstan and Berin Szoka published an op-ed piece in Forbes recently in which they proposed an interesting solution to the growing problem of orbital debris:

Space-faring nations should create an Orbital Debris Removal and Recycling Fund (ODRRF). Satellite operators would pay relatively small fees to their governments, who would contribute the money to the fund. These governments already charge satellite operators large licensing and regulatory fees. Private companies would be paid bounties out of the fund for successfully removing debris according to the debris-creation-avoidance value assigned to each object. Apart from the obvious long-term benefits of preserving the usability of the space environment, satellite operators would benefit in the short term from reduced insurance rates and fewer mysterious satellite outages caused by collisions we cannot track. With the right funding mechanism, entrepreneurs can solve this problem. Governments must encourage innovation rather than crippling industry or creating yet another large government program to build and operate systems when the expertise for doing so clearly resides in the private sector.


NASA, DARPA Look at Orbital Debris Removal

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.
Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

Military agency studying space garbage service
Spaceflight Now

The Pentagon’s research and development division is studying concepts to remove dangerous space debris from orbit, an endeavor long dismissed as too costly but potentially feasible with technology advancements.