Ever since the start of the space age there has been more space debris in orbit than operational satellites. As space debris poses a problem for the near Earth environment on a global scale, only a globally supported solution can be the answer. This creates the need for a subset of internationally accepted space debris mitigation measures. A major step in this direction was taken in 2002, when the Inter-Agency Debris Committee (IADC) published its Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines. This document has since served as a baseline for non-binding policy documents, national legislation, and as a starting point for the derivation of technical standards. The standardisation of mitigation measures is important in order to achieve a common understanding of the required tasks leading to transparent and comparable processes. Even if having a consistent set of measures is paramount to tackle the global problem of space debris, it is still up to the individual nations, operators, and manufacturers to implement them.
In order to have on overview of the on-going global debris mitigation efforts and to raise awareness of space activities in general, the European Space Agency, ESA, has been publishing a Space Environment Report since 2017. The document is updated yearly, it is publicly available, and it supports the awareness raising guideline laid out in United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space’s (UNCOPUOS) Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities published in 2019. The purpose of this report is to:
- Provide a transparent overview of global space activities;
- Estimate the impact of these activities on the space environment;
- Quantify the effect of internationally endorsed mitigation measures aimed at improving the sustainability of space flight.
In this report, the status of the space environment is presented in various facets, focusing on the time evolution of catalogued and asserted objects in terms of number, mass, and area, as well as addressing the global adherence to space debris mitigation measures.
Source: ESA Space Environment Report 2020