Chicago Journal of International Law

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The uptick in outer space exploration activity by spacefaring nations has resulted in the increased proliferation of space debris orbiting Earth and reentering its atmosphere. The current liability regime, which was enacted as a result of the U.S.–Soviet Union space race in the 1960s and ’70s, is ill-equipped to mitigate and deter such proliferation. Without proactive measures, the space debris buildup could escalate into the Kessler Syndrome, a proposed scenario in which space exploration, and its corresponding benefits, may be rendered infeasible due to the extreme risk of high-impact space object collisions. This Comment first analyzes existing proposals for amending the outer space treaty liability regime. Next, to argue that spacefaring states have an affirmative responsibility to remove space debris that originates from their satellites and space objects, this Comment applies three landmark principles of customary international law: the polluter pays principle, the precautionary principle, and the prohibition against transboundary harm. Finally, this Comment proposes a novel solution to establish a security deposit program that participating spacefaring nations must pay into in order to launch objects and satellites into outer space, modeled after existing international environmental law efforts to solve the issue of marine debris. Focusing on preventative measures to reduce the amount of space debris produced in outer space is the most effective solution to ensure the continued use of space as a shared resource for spacefaring nations.

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