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DOT/FAA RIN: 2120-AK81 Publication ID: Fall 2017 
Title: Orbital Debris Mitigation Methods for Launch Vehicle Upper Stages (Orbital Debris) 

This rulemaking would update current orbital debris mitigation regulations to more closely align with the U.S. Government Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices, and would update current launch collision avoidance regulations to match U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) practice.

Agency: Department of Transportation(DOT)  Priority: Other Significant 
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Proposed Rule Stage 
Major: No  Unfunded Mandates: No 
EO 13771 Designation: Regulatory 
CFR Citation: 14 CFR 401    14 CFR 415    14 CFR 417    14 CFR 431    14 CFR 437   
Legal Authority: 51 U.S.C. 50903    51 U.S.C. 50904    51 U.S.C. 50905   
Legal Deadline:  None

Statement of Need:

This rulemaking is necessary because collisions between and with orbital debris (any artificial object left in orbit about the earth which no longer serves a useful purpose) are a growing concern. Historically-accepted practices have allowed these objects to accumulate in Earth orbit, and because more space faring nations are launching assets into space. If left unchecked, this accumulation can clutter useful orbits and present a hazard to operations on-orbit.

Summary of the Legal Basis:

The legal basis for this rulemaking is the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 (as codified and amended at 51 U.S.C. - Commercial Space Transportation, chapter 509, Commercial Space Launch Activities, 51 U.S.C. 50901-50923 (the Act)) which authorizes the Department of Transportation and thus the FAA, through delegations, to oversee, license, and regulate commercial launch and reentry activities, and the operation of launch and reentry sites as carried out by U.S. citizens or within the United States (51 U.S.C. 50904). The Act directs the FAA to exercise this responsibility consistent with public health and safety, safety of property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States (51 U.S.C. 50905). The FAA is also responsible for encouraging, facilitating, and promoting commercial space launches by the private sector (51 U.S.C. 50903).


One alternative to the proposed action is to leave orbital debris as is, without any attempt to de-clutter the Earth orbit. This is not acceptable because debris in space travels at hypervelocities, and collision with a typical operational spacecraft of debris of five milimeters or larger will likely cause damage that ends the mission of the spacecraft. As of 2011, trackable objects (greater/equal to 10 cm) are estimated to be over 22,000. Recent projections of debris include 500,000 objects between one and 10 cm, and more than tens of millions of objects smaller than one cm. The estimated rate of debris accumulation will grow significantly over the next 100 years if left unchecked, and the risk of future collisions between spacecraft and orbital debris will also increase.

Anticipated Costs and Benefits:

The proposed action has present value benefits greater than costs, when calculated over a 50-year period. The total costs are estimated to be present-value $30 million. The total benefits are estimated to be present value $31 million.


The risks to the proposed action are the potential technical difficulties to implement the proposed methods for dealing with debris by(1) natural decay, (2) controlled reentry, or (3) moving debris to a storage orbit.

Action Date FR Cite
NPRM  02/00/2018 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: No  Government Levels Affected: None 
Small Entities Affected: Businesses  Federalism: No 
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes 
RIN Information URL:   Public Comment URL:  
RIN Data Printed in the FR: No 
Agency Contact:
Jennifer Bailey
Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW,
Washington, DC 20591
Phone:202 267-9784