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Article

Out into the Dark: Removing Space Debris from the Geostationary Orbit

Journal International Institute of Space Law, Issue 6 2019
Keywords Space law, IADC, remediation, active space debris removal, Geostationary Orbit, GEO region, space debris mitigation guidelines, re-orbit guideline, Outer Space Treaty, Liability Convention
Authors Martha Mejía-Kaiser
AbstractAuthor's information

    During the first decades of placing space objects in the Geostationary Orbit, satellite owners and operators abandoned space objects at their end-of-life, or just freed the slot by removing their satellites with the last kilograms of fuel. Also rocket stages that propelled geostationary satellites were abandoned therein. Due to orbital perturbations at about 36,000 km, objects that do not have station-keeping systems can drift into the slots of neighboring satellites and disturb their operation. Space debris objects at this altitude take at least one million years to naturally de-orbit and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The accumulation of space debris objects that permanently cross the Geostationary Orbit is a growing hazard to operational satellites. Researchers at the IADC who published a set of Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines in 2002, identified the Geostationary Orbit as a ‘protected region’. One Mitigation Guideline recommends to re-orbit space objects that are reaching their end-of-life outside of this protected area. A growing number of States and international organizations reflect the IADC Mitigation Guidelines in national legislation, recommendations and standards. However, there is still an increase of large space debris objects in this area. Since it is not realistic to wait (up to one million years) for the natural deorbiting of these space objects, remediation measures need to be initiated, such as debris removal with external systems. This article describes the State practice of re-orbiting and proposes a strategy for debris removal to maintain a sustainable access and use of the Geostationary Orbit.


Martha Mejía-Kaiser
PhD in Political and Social Sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Member of IISL Board of Directors. Independent Researcher.

    The proliferation of space debris and the imminent deployment of large constellations of satellites in LEO could negatively impact the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. A potential solution to clean up space and maintain a sustainable space environment is Active Debris Removal (ADR). The ADR is a potential revenue earning activity, but such activity needs a legal framework that will dissolve the existing concerns. Space law is fundamental for supporting a potential business case for commercial ADR missions. This paper will bring into discussion an international mechanism addressing the financial means for commercial ADR activity with a focus on LEO. By doing so, this paper will address the advent of ADR as lucrative activity and will analyze the proposal to finance an international fund by the launching states and ADR operators in a “Pay or play” fashion.
    In particular, this paper will analyze the need of an international funding mechanism for space debris removal and analyze the liability issues affecting the launching state and indirectly the private company with ADR capabilities. This paper aims to answer why private companies should contribute to an international fund for space debris removal depending on the Post-Mission Disposal capabilities of the satellites deployed in orbit and/or ADR solutions identified in case the satellites fail to answer the control commands. Further, this paper will analyze the prospects to manage the activity for ADR by accessing this fund.


Claudiu Mihai Tăiatu
LLM (Adv.) in Air and Space Law, International Institute of Air and Space Law, Leiden University.

Alvaro Fabricio dos Santos
Alvaro Fabricio dos Santos, Advocacy General of the Union (AGU), Brazilian Association for Aeronautics and Space Law (SBDA), São José dos Campos, SP, Brazil, alvaro.santos@agu.gov.br.

José Monserrat Filho
José Monserrat Filho, Brazilian Association for Aeronautics and Space Law (SBDA), Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil, jose.monserrat.filho@gmail.com.

Maureen Williams
University of Buenos Aires / Conicet, Chair, ILA Space Law Committee
Article

Access_open The 2015 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition

Case Concerning Planetary Defense

Journal International Institute of Space Law, Issue 13 2015
Authors Frans G. von der Dunk and Leslie I. Tennen
Author's information

Frans G. von der Dunk
The Netherlands

Leslie I. Tennen
United States
Article

Access_open Akera v Mheni

Journal International Institute of Space Law, Issue 11 2014
Authors Martha Mejía-Kaiser

Martha Mejía-Kaiser

Yuri Takaya-Umehara
Lecturer, Kobe University, Japan

Martha Mejía-Kaiser
Co-Chair Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Committee IISL

Souichirou Kozuka
Gakushuin University, Japan, souichirou.kozuka@gakushuin.ac.jp.

Motoko Uchitomi
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan, uchitomi.motoko@jaxa.jp.

Hiroyuki Kishindo
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan, kishindo.hiroyuki@jaxa.jp.

Dr. Martha Mejía-Kaiser

Martha Mejía-Kaiser
(Mexico/Germany), marthamejiak@aol.com. PhD in Political and Social Sciences (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). IISL Member. Co-Chair Manfred Lachs Moot Court Committee, IISL. Independent Researcher. This paper represents the personal opinion of the author and shall not be attributed to any organization with which she is affiliated.

Setsuko Aoki
Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University, Japan aosets@sfc.keio.ac.jp.

Dr. Martha Mejía-Kaiser
Co-Chair, Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Committee, IISL

Professor Dr Maureen Williams
University of Buenos Aires / CONICET (Argentina), Chair ILA Space Law Committee (HQ, London), maureenw777@yahoo.co.uk

Carol Ronan-Heath
International Institute of Air and Space Law, Leiden University, United Kingdom, c.a.ronan-heath@umail.leidenuniv.nl
Article

Report of the 53rd Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space in Prague, Czech Republic, October 2010

Colloquium Report

Journal International Institute of Space Law, Issue 6 2010
Authors M. Sánchez-Aranzamendi, I. Marboe, M. Mineiro e.a.

M. Sánchez-Aranzamendi

I. Marboe

M. Mineiro

K. Reinhardt

M. Sundahl
Article

Space Situational Awareness: Key to a New Space Security Architecture

Peace in Space: Transparency and Confidence Building Measures

Journal International Institute of Space Law, Issue 2 2009
Authors S.A. Kaiser

S.A. Kaiser
Article

Collision Course: 2009 Iridium-Cosmos Crash

Third Party Liability Issues in Commercial Space Activities

Journal International Institute of Space Law, Issue 3 2009
Authors M. Mejía-Kaiser

M. Mejía-Kaiser

J. Hong

J. Bonin

M. Mejia-Kaiser

M. Sundahl

C. Doldirina

C. Jorgenson
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