February 12, 2020


Objective of regulations

The objective of the regulations is to give principles and methods for design and operations, also known as “rules of good conduct”, in order to prevent the generation of space debris and promote the use of operational techniques able to minimise the creation of debris during the operations phase, while preserving the compatibility of space programs and projects with the mission requirements, safeguard requirements and reduced cost targets.

Are there any regulations?

 At Agency level

In the absence of any international regulations, a number of agencies have drawn up “rules of good conduct” which have become standards.

  1. NASA Standard drafted in 1995: Safety Standard NSS-1740.14 - Guidelines and Assessment Procedures for Limiting Orbital Debris.
  2. NASDA Standard drafted in 1996: Space Debris Mitigation Standard NASDA-STD-18.
  3. CNES Standard drafted in 1999: CNES Standards Collection, Method and Procedure Space Debris – Safety Requirements (RNC-CNES-Q40-512).
  4. European Code of Conduct drafted 28/06/2004: European code of conduct for space debris mitigation issue (the CNES standard acted as the basis for the drafting of this standard).

One of the main limitations of these standards is the non-binding nature of the measures or rules they contain. The documents mentioned above are simply recommendations. In addition, these measures or rules carry a significant extra cost in terms of mass, performance, development and operations.

Consequently, there is as yet no legally binding international document on space debris. However, the United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space (ST/SPACE/61/REV.1) and the 1972 convention define the liability of the launch state and indicate that these states must adopt a legal system to control the activities of their nationals. In the event of damage on the ground or in orbit, the states which are recognised as being the launch states could be declared at fault and would therefore be required to compensate the victims.

The first  state to have adopted a legal system to control the space activities of its nationals is France. The Space Operations Act was enacted by the President of the Republic on 3rd June 2008 and published in the Official Gazette on 4th June 2008. The authorisation process entered into force on 10th December 2010.

Other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have adopted a licensing system to control the space activities of their nationals.

At International level

Owing to the need for an international consensus, and so that all the operators apply the same rules in a context of economic competition, an international committee of space agencies, IADC (Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee) was set up in 1993.

IADC comprises 13 Agencies: ASI (Italy), CNES (France), CNSA (China), CSA (Canada), DLR (Germany), ESA (Europe), ISRO (India), JAXA (Japan), KARI (South Korea), NASA (United States), ROSCOSMOS (Russia), SSAU (Ukraine) and UK Space Agency (United Kingdom)

The objectives of IADC are:

  • To exchange data on space debris research between the members of the Committee and to cooperate in this field of research.
  • To conduct technical studies on the topic of space debris.
  • To identify and evaluate preventive measures, eventually leading to recommendations.

 This Committee has drawn up a code of principles giving basic rules accepted for application by the agencies:

  • Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines (IADC-02-01, Rev. 2007)

This document was approved by the United Nations in 2007, following review and approval by the UN-COPUOS (Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) and therefore, beyond the space agencies, by the 69 member states of this Committee.

On the basis of the “IADC Mitigation Guidelines”, the scientific and technical subcommittee of UN-COPUOS also published its own code of principles in 2008, laying down the basic rules:

 Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Outer Space (A/AC.105/890, 2009)