Following collision of satellites, UN space office calls for preventive steps

13 February 2009
A navigation satellite

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) today called all Member States and international organizations to fully implement measures to curb space debris following the collision of an inactive Russian satellite with an operational one from the United States.

“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,” said the Director of UNOOSA, Mazlan Othman.

UN space debris mitigation guidelines call, among other things, for limiting the long-term presence of spacecraft and launch vehicles in low-Earth orbit (LEO), up to some 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) above Earth’s surface, after the end of their mission. Such craft should be removed from orbit in a controlled fashion. If this is not possible, they should be disposed of in orbits that avoid their long-term presence in the LEO region.

The inactive Russian communications satellite Cosmos 2251 and the operational US satellite Iridium 33 collided at an altitude of some 790 kilometres (500 miles) above the Earth on 10 February, creating a cloud of nearly 700 pieces of space debris. Space debris remains in orbit for a considerable length of time and poses a risk to spacecraft orbiting Earth.

The guidelines outline space debris mitigation measures for mission planning, design, manufacture and operational (launch, mission and disposal) phases of spacecraft and launch vehicles. Many Member States have incorporated the voluntary guidelines through national mechanisms.

They call for limiting the long-term interference of spacecraft and launch vehicles with the geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) region, where the satellite rotates in lockstep with Earth, after the end of their mission. Such craft should be left in orbits that avoid long-term interference with the GEO region.


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