Welcome

Statement on Space Debris at the 58th session of the UN Space Legal Subcommittee, Vienna, 1-12 April 2019

Speech


UNCOPUOS

Legal Subcommittee

58th Session, Vienna, 1 – 12 April 2019

Agenda Item 10

General exchange of information and views on legal mechanisms relating

to space debris mitigation and remediation measures, taking into account

the work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee

Statement by the German Delegation

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,

The growing number of space debris unquestionably poses one of the biggest threats to the safe conduct of outer space activities.

Research on the long-term evolution of space debris conducted by DLR and ESA enables us to get a better understanding of the consequences of today’s space activities for the future space environment. The increasing numbers of small satellites in orbit as already observable today, as well as the announcements of large satellite constellations in Low Earth Orbit give reason for great concern. The observed trends make it imperative to strictly adhere to the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) and COPUOS Space debris Mitigation Guidelines with an aim to limit the generation of new orbital debris by mitigating the risk of break-ups, and to conducting proper passivation and post-mission disposal procedures.

However, research reveals worrying low compliance rates with the space debris mitigation guidelines. It is crucial to raise awareness about proper debris mitigation standards and procedures as well as to find ways to improve compliance by both, governmental as well as private space actors. Therefore, we can only commend the ESA and ECSL for conducting a Workshop on Space Debris focusing on Regulations, Standards and Tools last month in Darmstadt, Germany. The event attracted more than 100 participants from 27 countries including a number of space agencies.

It is appropriate to recall that any intentional destruction of an on-orbit spacecraft generating additional space debris poses a major safety threat to space activities conducted for the benefit and in the interest of all humankind and must therefore be avoided. Due to the energy converted during the impact of anti-satellite weapons even in low earth orbits any resulting space debris is uncontrollable and increases collision risks including in higher orbits.

Therefore, generally accepted international standards such as the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of COPUOS and the IADC as well as the Recommendations of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures in Outer Space activities urge responsible space actors to refrain from the intentional destruction of space objects. Like already done in other forums, Germany has calls for a legally binding prohibition of the intentional destruction of space objects resulting in the generation of long-lasting debris, including in situations of armed conflict .

In Germany, the Product Assurance and Safety Requirements for DLR Space Projects implement the IADC Debris Mitigation Guidelines. Under these requirements, for example, operators must provide Space Debris Mitigation Assessment Reports in respect to potential explosions and on‐orbit collisions as well as post‐mission disposal plans and procedures. They furthermore prescribe certain design measures for preventing fragmentation, malfunctioning and on‐orbit collisions. In preparation of this session, we have provided an updated version of these requirements to the compendium on space debris mitigation standards.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,

In order to keep outer space  operationally safe for use not only today but also for future generations, we need not only internationally accepted guidelines prohibiting the intentional destruction of space objects resulting in the generation of long lasting debris, keeping in mind that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries, but  sooner or later we will need to conduct active debris removal missions. These will inevitably raise several legal issues such as responsibility and liability. Such remediation measures may also require further internationally accepted guidelines as to the transparent and safe conduct of such operations. It is Germany’s understanding that the COPUOS legal subcommittee is the pertinent forum to address these issues.

Thank you.

 

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