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US Senate passes bill for space junk removal program

The US Senate has passed a bill that would direct NASA to create a special program to reduce the amount of space junk in orbit.

A statement by the Senate committee on commerce, whose chair, Senator Maria Cantwell, put the bill forward, even cited the Indian rocket that crashed in Western Australia as a reason for its proposal.

Should it one day become law, it would direct NASA to fly a demonstrator mission to remove debris and create “competitive awards” to encourage more research.

It’s the second time the Senate has passed the ORBITS Act, but it can only come into effect if taken up by the House of Representatives.


“Nearly 1 million pieces of space junk pass over our heads every day,” Senator Cantwell said. “The ORBITS Act will jumpstart the technology development needed to remove the most dangerous space junk before it knocks out a scientific satellite, threatens a NASA mission, or falls to the ground and hurts someone.”

The Senate committee on commerce cited statistics that claim there are 8,000 metric tonnes of space junk currently in orbit, including at least 900,000 individual pieces of debris that are potentially lethal to satellites.

“Because of the magnitude of the current debris, simply preventing more debris in the future is not enough,” it said in a statement.

“Every year, there are cases of space junk falling to Earth. A car-sized object landed in Australia over the summer. In Washington state, a large piece of space junk crashed into a farmer’s property in March 2021. Washington state companies, including Seattle-based satellite servicer Starfish Space, have advocated for the acceleration of space debris removal efforts.


“Other companies in Washington state, like SpaceX, Amazon’s Kuiper Systems and Stoke Space Technologies, are also looking for new ways to reduce debris from accumulating in space in the first place or have been threatened by debris.”

The bill would also direct the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) to publish a list of debris that poses the greatest risk to orbiting spacecraft.

It follows the ASA confirming in July that the mysterious object that washed up on a Western Australia beach was “most likely” part of an Indian rocket.

The space agency said it was an expended third stage of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), as many had speculated.

It comes after the bizarre structure was found at Green Head, 250 kilometres north of Perth, on 16 July.

Subsequent reports then suggested the cylinder could be a fuel tank of a PSLV that India uses to launch satellites.

The ASA’s conclusions vindicate the views of the head of India’s space agency, S Somanath, who quickly took responsibility for the cylinder.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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