Liability in the context of existing space debris already is a significant issue, and debris removal now must be addressed before remediation efforts will come to fruition.
Liability in the context of space debris can be broken down into two categories: liability for existing space debris and liability for remediation of space debris.
Liability for existing space objects is governed by Article VII of the Outer Space Treaty and Article VII’s extension through the Liability Convention. However, while the current interpretation of both treaties vest responsibility to a launching state for damage caused by space objects in outer space, in practice space debris seems to be exempt.
The other liability involving space debris revolves around future efforts to perform remediation in orbit. Future remediation activities will involve several methodologies, including risky rendezvous maneuvers, which could create further space debris or even damage or destroy functional space objects. The result is that remediation activity will create substantial potential liability for states performing these activities, whether it is through the actions of a government actor or a third-party nongovernmental organization acting under the jurisdiction of its government.
Read Michael Listner’s full discussion on space debris liability.
Image courtesy of The Space Review/EPFL.