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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mir Dumping Shows Need For New Space Laws

SINGAPORE - The planned dumping of Russia's Mir space station in the South Pacific next week shows the urgent need for new laws governing outer space, participants in an international conference on space law said Monday.

"We do not have an effective legal regime to protect the terrestrial and outer space environments from pollution by space objects," Singapore Attorney General Chan Sek Keong said at the opening of the meeting in Singapore.

Chan said the scheduled Mar. 20 dumping of the 150-ton Mir space station "in the designated space junk graveyard of the South Pacific" was a glaring example of the growing problem of man-made objects cluttering space - and the lack of laws to regulate it.

Ninety-five percent of all man-made objects currently orbiting Earth are "space debris" - objects ranging from nonfunctioning satellites to gloves discarded by astronauts - said Nandasiri Jasentuliyana, president of the Paris-based International Institute of Space Law.

The institute was a sponsor of the two-day Space Law Conference 2001, which opened Monday in Singapore.

Space junk falling to Earth presents a potential legal and political nightmare, depending on what it falls on. Orbiting debris is another problem because of the damage it can cause to satellites or spacecraft, said Jasentuliyana, who delivered the keynote speech at the conference.

"You spend millions of dollars putting up a satellite. You don't want it to be hit by something," he said.

There are currently more than 2,000 satellites orbiting Earth, about 500 of them functional, he said, adding that most of the other debris is "burned up pieces of old satellites."

Use of outer space is regulated to some degree by United Nations treaties passed mostly between 1965 and 1976 and declarations passed before 1988, Jasentuliyana said, adding that vast technological changes since then made new laws necessary.

With the telecommunications boom of the late 1990s, "we are facing now a trend toward the deployment of whole satellite constellations," he said.

Jasentuliyana suggested that a global panel of experts, similar to the International Civil Aviation Organization, should be assembled to come up with standards and guidelines for the commercial use of space.

"All nations have a common stake in the resources found within the province of space," Attorney General Chan said. "However, only a small number are in a position to exploit them. Outer space, like the high seas and the continent of Antarctica, is a common heritage of mankind."

China, Japan and India are among Asian countries that may begin catching up with the United States and Russia in the space race over the next few decades, Chan said.