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Senate Passes Orbits Act to Reduce Space Debris

By Rachel Jewett | November 3, 2023

      Image of orbital debris generated from a distant oblique angle. Photo: NASA

      The Senate passed a bill this week to reduce space debris called the Orbits Act. The bill would establish a program to demonstrate debris removal and require orbital debris standard practices. 

      A bipartisan group of Senators — Democrats Maria Cantwell and John Hickenlooper, Republicans Cynthia Lummis and Roger Wicker and Independent Kyrsten Sinema, introduced the bill in February and it passed the Committee in July. It now heads to the House.

      The Orbits Act would direct the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce (OSC) to publish a list of debris that poses the greatest risk to spacecraft. It would also establish a NASA program to demonstrate debris removal. 

      It would also encourage consistent orbital debris regulations by initiating a multi-agency update, and require OSC, with the National Space Council and Federal Communications Commission, to encourage space traffic management practices. 

      “Nearly one million pieces of space junk pass over our heads every day,” Sen. Cantwell said. “The Orbits Act will jumpstart the technology development needed to remove the most dangerous space junk before it knocks out a scientific satellite, threatens a NASA mission, or falls to the ground and hurts someone.”

      The Senate passed a similar bill in 2022 but the House did not pass it.