FIGURE 11.1 Interfaces external to NASA for addressing MMOD issues.

U.S. entities—it must go through the well-established formal rule-making process required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA),6 a process that applies to both federal executive departments and independent agencies. Absent this process, there is no legally binding rule.

It can be expected that the 2010 National Space Policy will likely increase demands placed on NASA’s meteoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) programs. It can also be expected that clear rules will facilitate the interagency process needed to meet this demand (see Figure 11.1 for a diagram of the current interagency structure for addressing MMOD issues). Under the heading of “Preserving the Space Environment and the Responsible Use of Space,” the policy states that the “United States shall … [r]equire the head of the sponsoring department or agency to approve exceptions to the United States Government Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices and notify the Secretary of State.”7 This language implies a nascent process relevant to the U.S. standard practices including the 25-year rule. However, it still only states policy. As a national policy, it is a substantial statement of guiding authority. Nonetheless, it still does not rise to the level of the APA rule-making process.

Finding: NASA’s Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices, including the “25-year rule,” and NASA’s Procedural Requirements for Limiting Orbital Debris do not uniformly apply to non-NASA missions, launches, and payloads.

Recommendation: NASA should continue to engage relevant federal agencies as to the desirability and appropriateness of formalizing NASA’s Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices, including the “25-year rule,” and NASA Procedural Requirements for Limiting Orbital Debris as legal rules that could be applicable to U.S. non-NASA missions and private activities.


There are multiple sets of existing guidelines concerning orbital debris, none of which are legally binding. They include those issued by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination


could leave debris near ISS orbit, would be reviewed per the requirements in this document as a part of the approval process to approach the ISS.” See NASA, NASA Procedural Requirements for Limiting Orbital Debris, NPR 8715.6A (with Change 1), Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., May 14, 2009, p. 5, available at

6 U.S. Code §§ 500–596, P.L. 79-404.

7National Space Policy of the United States of America, June 28, 2010, pp. 7-8, available at, accessed July 6, 2011.

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