Mitigating Space Debris

In his commentary , “Debris Is No Reason for Hysteria ” [April 16, page 19], James Hackett suggests that the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) is the forum mitigating space debris. The IADC was created to exchange information on space debris research activities, to facilitate cooperation and to identify debris mitigation options. Only national space agencies are members.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), through Technical Committee 20 (Aircraft and Space Vehicles), Subcommittee 14 (Space Systems and Operations), develops the standards required to implement IADC guidelines. ISO is a non governmental network of nationally sanctioned and independent national standards institutes, known as ANSI in the United States . It is supported by subscriptions from member organizations in proportion to each country’s gross national income and trade, and by the sale of standards documents. Its standards are vetted through a world wide review process that includes the general public.

ISO standards must enhance commerce and collaboration, no other justification is necessary or allowed. The standards are invoked by customers and voluntarily applied by providers who wish to be competitive. For example, if satellite developers mandate debris mitigation from their launch providers, the providers relinquish market share if they do not comply.

Subcommittee 14 spans all aspects of space operations from management to materials to space environments with an underlying thread of debris management and mitigation. The Subcommittee 14 work plan includes standards for end of life disposal, re-entry safety, orbit lifetime prediction, and many other factors essential to transform IADC guidelines into practice.

Virtually all space faring nations (not governments) participate, including most European Union countries, the United Kingdom , the United States, Japan, China, Russia and Ukraine. This is the forum in which collaboration and understanding can grow, driven by commerce and without the diplomatic and political constraints of governmental organizations.

David Finkleman,

Senior Scientist,

Center for Space Standards and Innovation

Analytical Graphics Inc.


A Serious Problem

Space debris is a serious problem. Unfortunately, James Hackett in “Debris Is No Reason for Hysteria” [Commentary, April 16, page 19] takes cherry picking the data into brand new territory to avoid this inconvenient truth.

Consider, according to the executive summary of the “Final Report of the International Space Station Independent Safety Task Force”: “… the risk of MMOD [micrometeoroid and orbital debris] penetrating the ISS (international space station) in its Assembly Complete configuration is 55 percent with a 9 percent risk of a catastrophic result over a 10-year period. This risk can be reduced to 29 percent and 5 percent respectively by implementation of changes that are available or being considered for development.”

Yet Hackett tells us there is “… one chance in 10,000 years of a piece of debris 10 centimeters or larger hitting” the ISS or shuttle. True perhaps, but since the ISS has a 9 percent chance of catastrophic failure due to debris, and money must be spent to get that down to 5 percent, this is perhaps not the most relevant data point.

If we want the space age to continue, we need to deal seriously with orbital debris. That means, among other things, binding treaties and an end to tests [of kinetic anti-satellite weapons]. Get used to it or plan to stay Earth-bound.

Al Globus

Capitola, Calif.