Rules on Space Junk

Recently, the Australian Space Agency confirmed that identified debris was from an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket. This incident has highlighted the ongoing issue of space debris falling back to Earth, raising concerns about the potential threats it poses to life and property.

This topic of “Rules on Space Junk” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Nature of Space Debris

  • Space debris falling back to Earth is a common occurrence, mostly consisting of small fragments from rockets.
  • These debris fragments are capable of surviving atmospheric friction and can fall into oceans or occasionally wash up on shores.
  • While smaller fragments are more prevalent, there have been rare instances of large debris re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, such as the Chinese rocket debris in the Indian Ocean in May 2021 and Skylab space station debris in western Australia in 1979.

Significance and Potential Threats

  • Space junk, although seemingly insignificant, poses a significant threat to life and property.
  • It can potentially endanger marine life and become a source of pollution in oceans.
  • Larger debris may cause damage to property and infrastructure on Earth.

Legal Framework: Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects

  • The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects complements the Outer Space Treaty and addresses issues related to damage caused by space objects.
  • The convention applies specifically to cases where falling space objects cause damage on Earth.
  • According to the convention, the country that launches the space object is “absolutely liable” for any damage it causes.
  • If the ISRO debris caused damage in Australia, India could be held liable, and Australia could potentially claim compensation.

Compensation Claims

  • Compensation amounts resulting from damage caused by space objects are determined based on principles of international law and justice.
  • In the past, there has been a single instance where the convention was enforced to claim compensation. Canada claimed 3 million Canadian dollars from the Soviet Union in 1978 after a Soviet satellite with radioactive substance fell in Canada.


The issue of space junk falling back to Earth poses a real threat to life, property, and the environment. It necessitates strict adherence to international conventions and cooperation among space agencies to minimize the potential risks and ensure that compensation is provided for damages caused by space objects.

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