Rules in space: UN takes first step since 1967 in move to prevent conflicts

Space Science

In this image taken from video provided by Roman Puzhlyakov, debris from a SpaceX rocket lights up the sky behind clouds over Vancouver, Wash. Thursday evening, March 25, 2021. The remnants of the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket left comet-like trails as they burned up upon re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere according to a tweet from the National Weather Service. (Roman Puzhlyakov via AP)

MYSTERY WIRE — When Mars missions by the United States, China and United Arab Emirates stacked up in February, it seemed like an interstellar traffic jam. And competition in space is only beginning with more countries and private companies getting into the business.

With all this activity, the risk of conflict keeps growing.

On Monday, the first significant progress in developing space rules since 1967 took a step forward.

It’s part of an effort to prevent conflicts that could lead to war.

Wired reports on the United Nations effort to take on some of the issues under a proposal to create a working group that will meet twice a year in 2022 and 2023 to form a new set of rules.

The creation of the working group was approved, 163-8 with 9 nations abstaining. Russia and China opposed the working group.

The priorities: putting controls on activities that create space debris. The working group will also look at activities that tend to escalate tensions.

Low-earth orbit is already full of derelict spacecraft and debris, Wired reports. Reports on the damage caused by loose screws, metal scraps and even paint chips have caught the attention of leaders.

More satellites are being launched every year, and there have even been tests by China to attack satellites. At some point, space junk is going to hit something important, and that could lead to serious international tension.

“There’s an understanding that, if we don’t get this right, we wreck the space environment,” said David Edmondson, who leads the UK’s effort as the country’s policy head of space security and advanced threats.

“If we don’t get this right, we risk getting into conflict, because people don’t have rules of the road at the moment. So that’s what we want to create, but it takes time.”

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