Chicago Journal of International Law

Start Page



Spacefaring nations face a growing problem of space debris, from tiny flecks of paint to nonfunctional satellites, littering Earth’s orbit. Without action, this debris could lead to a cascade called the Kessler Syndrome, which would destroy existing objects in orbit and make space inaccessible. At present, no nation or company has begun cleaning the debris, and whether the law requires, or even allows, such a cleanup, is not settled in the literature. This Comment argues that the solution to this problem requires calling upon spacefaring nations to comply with the existing requirements of the space treaty regime, particularly the first principles of the Outer Space Treaty, to preserve the free use of space for all. In order to solve this tragedy of the commons, this Comment recommends regulating the use of this common resource. This Comment argues that space debris is abandoned property by combining the current definition of space debris and the doctrine of abandonment. Finally, the Comment proposes creating a market-share liability regulatory regime requiring abandoners to fund debris cleanup.