Not all space debris is junk: a comprehensive management strategy for culturally significant spacecraft

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Space heritage relates to the human exploration of space in the 20th and 21st centuries. It consists of objects and places on the surface of the Earth, in Earth orbit, on other planetary bodies and throughout the solar system. It represents a distinct social and technological phase in human evolution. By far the largest off-earth component of this heritage resides in Earth orbit. Since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, Earth orbit has become filled with debris – over 23 000 pieces 10 cm and larger, and millions of fragments below this size. The proliferation of space junk has the potential to affect satellite services that the people of Earth rely on to deliver telecommunications, Earth observation, navigation, timing and more. It is widely recognised that some form of active debris removal is needed to secure access to space for the future. However, some of this debris has historic and heritage value. Numerous defunct satellites in Earth orbit have cultural significance for populations of Earth for their historic, aesthetic, scientific and social values as defined by the internationally recognised guidelines of the Burra Charter (2013). Such satellites include Vanguard 1, the oldest human object in space, Telstar 1, the first active telecommunications satellite, and Syncom 3, the first geostationary satellite. For these satellites, protection in situ is an appropriate management strategy if the collision risk is low. A process to protect culturally significant space objects could include an assessment of the nature of the resource, formal and informal heritage lists, an International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) technical committee, and an environmental impact framework. This paper elaborates on mechanisms and concepts necessary for ensuring that some culturally significant spacecraft survive into the future. While heritage is often perceived as a constraint to development, I argues that it can be regarded as an opportunity in Earth orbit with which to test the principles needed in space environmental management and to promote inclusiveness as recommended by the Vienna Declaration (1999). It’s no longer enough to treat space junk as isolated individual units. Viewed as part of an archaeological ‘assemblage’ or cultural ‘spacescape’ which spans variable gravity contexts, culturally significant space artefacts enable end-users on Earth to feel connected to space as the common heritage of humanity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages10
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017
    Event68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC): Unlocking Imagination, Fostering Innovation and Strengthening Security - Adelaide, Australia
    Duration: 25 Sept 201729 Sept 2017
    Conference number: 68


    Conference68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC)
    Abbreviated titleIAC-17


    • Burra Charter
    • Cultural landscape
    • Orbital debris
    • Space archaeology
    • Space heritage
    • Vanguard 1


    Dive into the research topics of 'Not all space debris is junk: a comprehensive management strategy for culturally significant spacecraft'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this