In 1957, the Space Age officially began with the launch of humanity’s first artificial satellite – known as Sputnik 1. Today, roughly sixty years later, some 8,950 satellites have been launched by more than 40 UN Member States into orbit. Based on the most recent estimates by NASA and ESA, about 5,000 of these satellites remain in orbit, though most have reached the end of their lifespan.
Only around 1,950 of these satellites remain operational while the rest have become space debris.
Space debris (also referred to as „space junk“) is a general term that refers to every bit of non-functioning hardware and bits of debris that are currently floating around in Earth’s orbit. It includes inoperative satellites, but also the spent first and second stages of rockets, fragments of all possible spacecraft, satellites, and other missions.
Furthermore, this creates a significant problem for space exploration. Any operational mission in orbit – ranging from working satellites and space stations to space telescopes and spacecraft – is at risk of colliding with this debris.
With many missions to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond, planned for the coming years, there are concerns that the problem of space debris will only get worse and become a serious hazard to any mission we send to space.
On top of all that, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimated that more than 500 break-ups, explosions, or collisions haven taken place in the past sixty years. Thus, with an evergrowing number of launches, countries stand in front of a direct threat of Kessler Effect (on base of collisional cascading), putting lives of several people present in any spacecraft and lives of people on Earth, directly dependent on some form of satellite service (f. e. pilots) in a great danger.
That being said, is the current legislation concerning this topic a sufficient way of how to deal with this matter? What can be done by the UN GA to strengthen a solution to the issue already existing and eliminating its future growth? To what degree should be the Member States held accountable for possible future incidents?