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Removing space debris with no identifiable owner

Last week’s Milsatcoms conference gave us the chance to debate some of the issues in space that need resolving, and one of them is around space debris. Stuart Eves of SJE Space mentioned that there are a large number of items in space – usually very small ones – that can’t be assigned as belonging to any one corporation or nation – so what can the global industry do about removing them?


What are your thoughts? In the absence of anyone to be made responsible, who should take this on?

  • I like the principle that if you put something up, you must be obliged to bring something down, it seems sensible.  A bit like ‘take your litter home’.  How to make network operators or other space actors responsible is the challenge.

    In the absence of international consensus, responsible governments and space agencies could make ‘space clean up’ a mandatory deliverable in any space program.  For example, the next time ESA/ NATO/ National Space Agency sponsors a project that involves putting something in orbit, they could mandate that the contracted body either has to invest a percentage of the award in an ‘approved’ space clean up company, or they must bring back more than what they put up.

    The former is likely to be the preferred choice (it is easier).  This approach also supports a new/ emerging space market, creating investment and jobs.

    To be an ‘approved’ space clean up agency national space agencies could perhaps set targets to bring back x amount of debris per year. 

    Approval could attract an ISO or similar standard.  Other agencies and companies that use space to enable their technologies could mandate that their providers have this accreditation.  For example, shipping company x could mandate that their next SATCOM provider must hold the Space Sustainability ISO accreditation.  Thereby becoming part of a responsible ESG policy that over time would hopefully encourage less responsible space operators to become more responsible.

    In summary we need to make the whole value stream responsible for space clean up.  A combination of mandating clean up and / or investment in national space projects, accreditation for space clean up companies and responsible ESG policies for end users of space tech, may lead to a cleaner space.