Taking Out the Trash

Contacts: Michael Thompson (Projects Director, SEDS-USA); Robert Bell (Executive Director, SSPI)

Space debris is an issue of growing concern, with the potential to block access to space, as dramatically illustrated in the film Gravity.  The Kessler Syndrome shown in the film was proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978: a scenario in which the density of objects in low earth orbit is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade, where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions.  The distribution of the resulting debris could render space activities and the use of satellites unfeasible for many generations.

The challenges to cleaning up low earth orbit are part regulatory, part technical but very much about business model.  What are the sources of space debris: yesterday, today and tomorrow – including the larger number of proposed mega-constellations orbiting the earth with no onboard propulsion?  Who pays to protect the “orbital commons?”  How can the costs and responsibilities be equitably shared and that cost-and-responsibility sharing best enforced?  What bright ideas exist for clearing it out?  What combination of space law and policy, new technology and economic motivators will be required to reduce the existing cloud of space debris and to prevent additional space debris from being created?

Sign up today!


Official Competition Document

Signup Link

Note: The original deadline for signups was May 10th, but this has been extended through the summer!


Key Dates

April 20th, 2019: Conference call with Michael Thompson to discuss project expectations (must be signed up to attend).
May 10th, 2019: Final deadline to sign up.
July 1st, 2019: Conference call with SEDS-USA to answer questions and provide guidance.
August 15th, 2019: Second conference call with SEDS-USA.
October 1st, 2019: Final reports due to SEDS-USA.




An ESA visualization of active space debris removal.