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N° 17–1993: First European Space Debris Conference ends today

7 April 1993

At the initiative of the European Space Agency (ESA), the First European Space Debris Conference was held in Darmstadt, Germany, from 5 to 7 April 1993 gathering together 251 world experts from 17 countries including China, India, Japan, Russia and the USA.

The main conclusions of the conference are:

  • - Ground based observations with radar and optical facilities reveal the existence of about 7000 objects in space, which do not represent an immediate danger.
    However, adequate actions have to be taken in order to keep the debris hazard for manned and unmanned missions within safe limits. Of most concern are the long-term prospects of the debris hazard, particularly in those regions in space which are most heavily used, e.g. low Earth (900- 1500 km) and the geostationary orbits (about 36.000 km).
  • - Clean up of debris is neither technically practical nor economically feasible. The thrust of the action must be towards preventing the creation of debris. Several preventive measures have been identified and implemented in space activities, such as releasing residual propellant in rocket upper stages to preclude a subsequent explosion generating many fragments, and the reorbiting at higher altitudes of geostationary satellites at the end of their mission in order to avoid collision with operational satellites. Further possibilities include destructive re-entry into the atmosphere to burn up the spacecraft or selection of orbital parameters to limit the lifetime.
  • - The space debris problem can only effectively be solved by international cooperation. Bilateral discussions between space agencies on the debris issue have taken place since 1987. Furthermore, on the occasion of this First European Space Debris Conference, the first multilateral discussions among representatives of NASA, the Russian Space Agency, Japan and ESA took place in Darmstadt (on 2-3 April) to present results of their research activities, to identify possibilities for cooperation and to discuss methods for debris reduction.
    In view of the high interest this ESA initiative has stimulated, it is envisaged to hold a second conference on the debris issue in about 2-3 years from now.