FAA Proposes Rule To Limit Orbital Debris
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has unveiled a proposed rule that would require U.S.-based commercial space operators to remove any debris larger than 5 mm from highly-used regions of space within 25 years of their launch or reentry.
The rule, announced on Sept. 20, 2023, is intended to address the growing problem of orbital debris that poses a threat to spacecraft and astronauts.
The proposed rule would apply to any space debris pieces generated by commercial space activities conducted at an altitude above 150 km, including upper stages of launch vehicles. Operators would have to choose one of five options to dispose of their debris:
- conduct a controlled reentry;
- move the upper stage to a less congested storage or graveyard orbit;
- send the upper stage on an Earth-escape orbit;
- retrieve the upper stage (called active debris removal) within five years; or
- perform an uncontrolled atmospheric disposal.
The FAA is also proposing that operators submit an Orbital Debris Assessment Plan (ODAP) to the agency before each launch or reentry, which would provide physical evidence, test results, and debris removal analyses to demonstrate compliance with the rule.
The proposed rule is consistent with existing orbital debris mitigation guidelines adopted by the U.S. Government for its own space activities, as well as international best practices and standards. The FAA said that many commercial launches are already in accordance with the proposed rule, and that the rule would not impose significant costs or burdens on operators.
The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed rule after it is published in the Federal Register.
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