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What are Space Debris?


Since, United Nations agreed on a treaty to conserve and sustainably use the high seas beyond national boundaries, scientists are calling for a legally-binding agreement to protect the Earth’s orbit from space debris.


GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Space Debris?
  2. Effective Strategies to Address the Challenge of Space Debris

What are Space Debris?

  • There is no universally acknowledged legal definition of the term “space debris.” It’s a term that refers to a collection of undesired objects in Earth’s orbit, whether man-made or natural.
  • Natural Debris is made up of natural bodies that orbit the sun, such as meteors and asteroids.
  • Artificial Debris is made up of man-made (generally non-functional) objects that orbit the Earth. (As a result, it is usually referred to as Orbital Debris.)
  • Dead satellites, spent rocket motors, nuts and bolts, and other space debris are described in the Report of the Second United Nations Conference on Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, published in 1982.

Effective Strategies to Address the Challenge of Space Debris

Space debris has become a growing concern for space agencies and governments worldwide. Here are some strategies to tackle the problem:

Space Treaty with Extended Producer Responsibility:

  • A legally binding agreement is necessary to protect the Earth’s orbit from space debris.
  • The treaty should ensure that producers and users take responsibility for their satellites and debris and enforce collective international legislation with fines and other incentives to make countries and companies accountable for their actions.


  • Countries using the Earth’s orbit should commit to global cooperation, and companies should be incentivized to clean up orbits and include de-orbiting functions in satellites.
  • This can be achieved by offering tax breaks, grants, and other benefits to companies that demonstrate a proactive approach towards managing space debris.

Reusable Launch Vehicles:

  • Using reusable launch vehicles instead of single-use rockets can help reduce the number of new debris generated from launches.
  • Reusable launch vehicles can significantly reduce the cost and frequency of launches, thereby reducing the amount of space debris generated.

Active Debris Removal:

  • Active debris removal (ADR) refers to the use of specialized spacecraft to capture, retrieve, and dispose of space debris. The ADR technique can help remove large and dangerous debris from the Earth’s orbit.

Improved Satellite Design:

  • Improved satellite design can also help reduce the generation of space debris.
  • Satellites should be designed with de-orbiting functions, which can help remove satellites from orbit at the end of their operational life.
  • Satellites should also be designed with robust shielding to protect against collisions with debris.

-Source: Indian Express


December 2023