International Institute of Space Law

Article

Space Debris: Between Unity and Fragmentation – Risk as a Static Principle with Dynamic Outcomes

Keywords risk, space object, space debris removal, material environment, social milieu, collision prevention, harmful interference
Authors Ward Munters
Author's information

Ward Munters
Institute for International Law and Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, KU Leuven, Tiensestraat 41, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
  • Abstract

      This paper analyses the interrelationship between science, risk, international law and the prevention of collisions between space objects, so as to contribute to progressive development of international law and of an epistemic community invested with a common conceptual and terminological apparatus, as well as to examine interrelated juridical and technical obstacles and opportunities regarding the creation of an informed, uniform and therefore, it is posited, more effective regulatory regime.
      To contribute to establishing a common frame of reference, the article presents and explores an analytical and theoretical mapping exercise of some structural contours delineating mutual space object relations, positing the common construction of risk and its collective management as central to the asymptotic realization of uniformity in standards concerning space objects, space debris and its removal, and preventing physical interference or collisions. The paper proceeds from scientific insights into collision risk to uncover the extent of the technical notion of risk in this area before briefly examining how risk management mechanisms operate in international law to produce restrictions or permissions regarding future conduct, activities or incidents. Risk emerges as a ‘static’, i.e. common, principle with ‘dynamic’, i.e. variable, outcomes that may form the normative foundation of a uniform yet highly adaptive regulatory framework – a principle thus particularly suited to protean conditions in orbital space. Finally, some sketches follow of a heuristic device for envisaging the normative and jurisprudential construction of a static risk principle that can correlatively produce the substantively variable permissive rights and restrictive obligations as may attach to space objects, i.e. output, on the basis of evolving material conditions in orbit, i.e. input.

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