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Trash in the Skies III: Prospects for Active Removal of Space Debris

SWF Podcast

Release Date: 11/07/2017

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Recorded in Washington, DC, on November 2, 2017.

This luncheon panel discussion examined the technical, legal, and policy prospects for active debris removal (ADR), and the steps Congress can take to help incentivize the development of ADR technologies and capabilities. 

Space debris continues to pose a significant threat to future space activities. Although progress has been made over the last decade on implementing voluntary guidelines to minimize the creation of new debris, some 22,000 pieces of space debris larger than 10 cm still exists in orbit around the Earth. Scientific studies done by multiple space agencies have shown that collisions between these debris objects will generate thousands of additional space debris, even if there were no new launches, and that removing some of the largest space debris objects from orbit can mitigate this growth and future risk. 

In 2010, the Obama Administration issued a new US national space policy that included a directive to Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Secretary of Defense to jointly research and develop technologies and techniques to do ADR. Seven years later, little progress has been made, and neither NASA nor the Department of Defense has shown a willingness to invest in ADR development, despite the threat space debris poses to their continued use of space. NASA has awarded a few small grants to private sector entities for early concept studies of some promising ADR techniques, but that support has not included on-orbit demonstrations. 

This event is the third in a series organized by Secure World Foundation (SWF) on Capitol Hill. In 2012, "Trash in the Skies: The Challenge of Space Debris" discussed the impact the growing amount of space debris has had on space activities, and the importance of improving space situational awareness (SSA) for managing the risk posed by space debris, and national and international efforts to mitigate space debris. In July 2017, "Trash in the Skies II: Industry Perspectives on Dealing with Space Debris" provided an update that looked at the progress made, and not made, over the last five years, and included perspectives from satellite operators and insurers on the risk to satellites from collisions with space debris. 

Speakers

Opening Remarks: Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Member, Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness

Panelists:

  • Dr. Marshall Kaplan, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Launchspace Technology Corporation
  • Mr. Jerome Pearson, President, Star Technology and Research, Inc.
  • Dr. Siegfried Janson, Senior Scientists, The Aerospace Corporation
  • Mr. James Dunstan, Founder, Mobius Legal Group
  • Dr. Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning, Secure World Foundation

Moderator: Ms. Victoria Samson, Washington Office Director, Secure World Foundation

More details, including transcripts, can be found at the event page on the SWF website.