Industry looks to simplify policy challenges of orbital debris removal

WASHINGTON — Policy issues regarding active debris removal are not as difficult to overcome as many believe, industry officials say, but acknowledge that those challenges may hinder efforts to remove the most dangerous pieces of debris in orbit.

While much of the focus on active debris removal (ADR) involves the technologies needed to capture objects and remove them from orbit, policy challenges may be more significant. For example, removing a derelict satellite or upper stage requires permission of the owner, which can be difficult if the owner is another country.

“When someone looked at the policy and legal feasibility of active debris removal, often the conclusion was that this is too hard, there are so many insurmountable roadblocks. The only conclusion is that we need to have an international institution or an international treaty that is handling active debris removal,” said Josef Koller, co-lead of the Space Safety Institute at The Aerospace Corporation, during a Nov. 9 panel at the ASCEND conference by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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