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UN asks nations to implement space debris guidelines

Debris objects in low-Earth orbit (LEO). ESA image

PARIS (BNS): The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) director Mazlan Othman has asked all member states and international organisations to voluntarily take measures to ensure that Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines are fully implemented.

Addressing the assembly in Vienna on Thursday last, Othman stressed that the prompt implementation of appropriate space debris mitigation measures is in humanity's common interest, particularly if we are to preserve the outer space environment for future generations.

On Tuesday last, the defunct Russian Federation communications satellite, Cosmos 2251, and the operational United States satellite, Iridium 33, collided at an altitude of 790 km above the Earth. The collision created a cloud of nearly 700 pieces of space debris. The debris remains in orbit for a considerable length of time and poses a risk to spacecraft orbiting the Earth.

The Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 62/217, aims to curtail the generation of such potentially harmful space debris. The voluntary guidelines outline space debris mitigation measures for the mission planning, design, manufacture and operational (launch, mission and disposal) phases of spacecraft and launch vehicle orbital stages. In adopting the guidelines, the committee agreed that it would increase mutual understanding on acceptable activities in space and thus enhance stability in space-related matters and decrease the likelihood of friction and conflict. Many member states have incorporated the voluntary guidelines through national mechanisms.

Developments in space debris mitigation will be discussed during the current 46th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Member States and international organisations some time this week will consider the agenda item of space debris.

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