We’re all aware of the negative effects of human activity on the environment on Earth. But what about in space? Increasing and largely unregulated activity from various states and corporations is filling up the space around our planet with orbiting trash and threatening the future of space exploration.

The Outer Space Treaty, formulated in 1967, states among other things that bodies such as the moon and asteroids cannot be used for private development and that nations must monitor the space activity of private companies.However, the problems of this current era were not foreseen or covered by the treaty. There are now over 17,000 satellites orbiting Earth, and it is increasingly cheap and easy to get in on the game. As the space industry develops, there may well be other kinds of clutter jostling for space as well. Collisions between these objects could create a barrier of debris preventing further travel. There is as yet no way to deal with these issues, and no overarching authority to regulate activity.

However several space scientists, lawyers, and policy experts are collaborating on the first Institute for the Sustainable Development of Space. The Institute sees space as common property and therefore a common responsibility. They aim to implement long-term strategies and to find solutions to the growing problems so that people around the world can continue to explore space and to use it fruitfully but sustainably. A comparable example would be the oceans, where the cumulative actions of corporations and nations can have enormous implications for the environment and for humans around the globe.

Students interested in space travel and technology, law, international politics, or environmental issues may wish to think about what problems we may face in the future and how we can tackle them, with reference to analogous environmental or legal situations on Earth.

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