From confrontation to cooperation, or how space debris has influenced space law

Steven R. Freeland, Lucy Stewardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Over the past decades, space exploration and technology have revolutionised the world we live in. Along with the initial focus on military and scientific developments, the uses of outer space have multiplied as space has become increasingly accessible to a wide range of actors, to the point where it now plays an essential role in everyday human activities, from agriculture to finance to communication. Developments in outer space have also contributed to shaping – and in turn have been shaped by – political conceptions and relations at the international level. Particularly striking is the context in which the first significant breakthroughs in space technology occurred: a climate of fierce competition and near confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. This perception of outer space as a State-dominated competitive arena was at the heart of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, considered as the ‘constitution’ of international space law. However, the landscape in outer space is evolving more and more rapidly, presenting States with new challenges. Most notably, space debris has emerged as a pressing global threat, warranting a coordinated response at the international level. Consequently, States have gradually been shifting towards a more cooperative approach to outer space, as reflected in the Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines adopted by the UNCOPUOS in June 2019. This article aims to examine how the international community has responded to the issue of space debris over time, highlighting the evolution of geopolitical conceptions under the growing pressure of issues related to space debris.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-414
JournalAnnals of Air and Space Law
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


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