Barriers and Gateways to Cleaning Up Earth Orbit: The Legal, Economic, and Political dimensions of Debris Remediation

Christopher Newman*, Thomas Cheney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
83 Downloads (Pure)


The preponderance of human-made debris in Earth orbit has long been recognized as a significant threat to continued safe operations in space. National space agencies and private space companies are paying considerable attention to the technical questions surrounding the active removal of debris (ADR). Nonetheless there are still significant legal, economic, and geopolitical questions that need to be addressed before any meaningful and sustained industry around the removal of debris can be established. This discussion will focus on identifying the legal issues of responsibility, jurisdiction and liability and proposing possible solutions within the current nexus of international agreements. Yet these must be considered alongside the economic roadblocks to funding ADR; the challenges for states looking to collaborate in current geopolitical circumstances; and the often overlooked ‘data deficit’ in respect of the space surveillance and tracking (SST) capabilities needed to enable the safe removal of debris. It is contended that any system for managing ADR, Debris Mitigation and general protection of the space environment should not emerge in isolation. A coherent system of managing and coordinating the orbital environment needs to be developed. This article will argue that it is for individual nations to show political leadership and an economic commitment to properly manage the delicate extraterrestrial environment. Failure to do so will represent a missed opportunity and leave a troubling legacy for future generations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-136
Number of pages24
JournalAir and Space Law
Issue numberSpecial Issue
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


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