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The Sky is Falling: An Evaluation of Policy Responses to the Orbital Debris Problem

Kate Wilson


In the last 60 years, humankind has littered the space around our planet with debris. The accumulation of that debris presents dangers to both current and future activities in space. In response to this problem, policymakers at the national and international levels have enforced policies to mitigate the creation of new debris.This paper examines the relationship between the growth of the orbital debris problem and those policies, evaluating potential political science explanations to explain the relationship. The results show that Kingdon’s “three streams” theory, where the convergence of a problem, a policy solution, and a political opportunity propels an issue onto the political agenda, best accounts for the positive relationship observed between orbital debris and policy responses. Finally, this paper evaluates how the entry of new private, players into the launch game will worsen the orbital debris problem long-term. It examines the relationship between the debris problem and policy into the future, concluding that the continuance of current mitigation efforts is a more likely policy future than a shift to the type of active removal policies necessary to solve the orbital debris problem.

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