Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Print ISSN: 1544-0036; Online ISSN: 1544-0044)


Space Traffic Management as a Tool for the Mitigation of Space Debris: International Legal Basis

Author(s): Denis Gugunskiy, Marianna Ilyashevich, Daniil Volodin

All space activities presuppose the simultaneous presence in outer space of a large number of space objects with different service life, characteristics, etc. At the same time, from the very beginning of the implementation of space activities, mankind has left its mark in the form of space debris, which, given the specifics of space activities associated with a high risk of damage, often leads to collisions with functioning spacecraft. In the 60 years since the beginning of the space era, more than 6,000 launches of artificial spacecraft have been carried out. Since 2019, their number has more than doubled, from 583 launches to 1,250. the number of debris objects in orbit in 1980 was about 4,800, by 2000 this number had increased to an approximate number of 8,000. After an explosive growth, in 2010 there were already about 15,000 debris objects in outer space. According to current data, as of May 20, 2021, their number reached 28,600 objects. In addition, according to the latest data, the number of debris objects in orbit that are larger than 10 cm is 34,000, from 1 cm to 10 cm in size - 900,000, and from 1 mm up to 1 cm - 128 million. In the context of further efforts by the international community to combat space debris, various proposals are voiced, including the idea of creating a space traffic management system The problem of developing space traffic management rules is complex - it combines technical and legal aspects, which should be developed taking into account the rapidly changing conditions and a sharp increase in space activity. Currently, various approaches to creating a STM system are proposed, the main ones are the bottom-up approach and top-down approach. Regardless of which of the approaches will ultimately be supported by the international community, it is clear that in the process of achieving the intended goal, many complex issues will have to be solved, some of which are associated not only with difficulties in the technical field, but mainly with unwillingness on the part of states to lose complete freedom in terms of the implementation of space activities and limit themselves in the pursuit of their ambitious plans and projects. Taking into account the above, as a first step towards the establishment of a global STM system, it is proposed to adopt an international treaty, which, defining the main parameters of the behavior of subjects, can be supplemented with various applications that will take into account changing conditions and emerging challenges. In order to urgently ensure safe activities in outer space, including combating space debris as one of the main elements, it is necessary to adopt such document specifically at the level of an international treaty. The adoption of this kind of regulations will make it possible to regulate activities in space more efficiently already at the present stage, including the implementation of the provisions of the existing five space treaties. The development of such regulations can be based on the rules that are already applied by space powers in various segments of space activities, but it should also be accompanied by a search for solutions to issues that require new approaches, including the adoption of due diligence rules for various types of operations, provisions on liability, etc. At the same time, the analogy with the existing international legal regimes (in air or sea space) can be very useful, but it cannot be considered as a ready-made solution to the problem, taking into account all the specifics of outer space. In any case, the main driving element in development in this difficult direction is the readiness of states to seek compromises, which is to be assessed in the very near future.

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