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ISRO Rocket Debris on Australian shore


A large object found on the shores of western Australia a couple of weeks ago has been confirmed to be the debris of an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket.


GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. ISRO’s Findings on the Unidentified Object
  2. Associated Dangers of Falling Space Junk
  3. Regulatory Framework

ISRO’s Findings on the Unidentified Object

  • ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) suggests that the washed-up object is likely an unburnt part of the PSLV rocket used to launch a navigation satellite for the IRNSS constellation two months ago.
  • The satellite was launched in the southward direction, and it is possible that during re-entry into the atmosphere, one of the rocket’s parts did not burn completely, eventually falling into the ocean and later washing up on the Australian shore.
  • ISRO has not yet determined its future course of action regarding the object.
Previous Incidents of Falling Space Debris
  • Instances of space debris falling to Earth are not uncommon.
  • Such incidents often involve relatively small fragments from rockets that survive atmospheric friction.
  • In November 2022, large fragments of China’s Long March 5B rocket fell uncontrolled into the south-central Pacific Ocean. These fragments were stages of the rocket used to deliver the third and final module of the Tiangong space station.
  • In May 2021, a large chunk of a 25-tonne Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean.

Associated Dangers of Falling Space Junk

  • Falling space junk poses a potential threat to life and property.
  • Even when falling into the oceans (which is more likely given that 70% of the Earth’s surface is ocean), large objects can be hazardous to marine life and contribute to pollution.
  • There have been no reported incidents of these falling objects causing significant damage anywhere on Earth.
  • However, when space debris has dropped over land, it has been over uninhabited areas.
  • The lack of a system to ensure designated landing places for these space junks is a cause for concern.

Regulatory Framework

Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects
  • Most space-faring countries are signatories to this convention.
  • It holds the launching country absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on Earth or to other space assets.
  • The country affected by falling space junk can claim compensation for any damages incurred.
  • The compensation amount is determined based on international law and principles of justice and equity.
Outer Space Treaty
  • Adopted by the United Nations in 1967, it emphasizes the peaceful use of outer space and prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons in space.
  • It addresses space debris and the safe return of space objects to Earth.
  • Provisions include:
    • Ensuring space activities benefit all humanity and avoid harm caused by space debris falling back to Earth.
    • Preventing harmful contamination and studying outer space responsibly.
    • Avoiding damage to celestial bodies like the Moon.
    • Launching countries’ responsibility for space objects and their safe return or disposal.
    • Consultation between countries for safety concerns related to space activities, including space debris.
Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of COPUOS
  • While the Outer Space Treaty sets principles, it lacks specific regulations for space debris management.
  • The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) developed nonbinding Debris Mitigation Guidelines in 2007 to address space debris mitigation and safe disposal of space objects.

Source: Indian Express

February 2024