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Three articles in the Outer Space Treaty contain language pertinent to orbital debris issues. Article VI declares, ''States party to this treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space." Article VII makes states party to the treaty internationally liable for damage caused by objects (and the component parts of those objects) that they launch or have launched into space. Finally, Article IX allows states that have reason to believe that a planned activity or experiment would cause potentially harmful interference with other space activities to "request consultation" concerning the activity or experiment.
The Liability and Registration Conventions further explore the liability of states for damage caused by their space objects. The Liability Convention makes states liable for damage "caused elsewhere than on the surface of the Earth to a space object of one launching state or to persons or property on board such a space object of another launching state … only if the damage is due to its fault or the fault of persons for whom it is responsible." The Registration Convention seeks to provide information for use in determining liability by mandating that all launching states notify the UN of any objects they launch and provide the UN with the objects' orbital parameters. Article VI of the Registration Convention directs nations with monitoring or tracking facilities to aid in the identification of space objects that caused damage.
Although these three UN treaties deal with some of the issues raised by the presence of orbital debris, many other debris-related issues are not addressed. For example, the treaties do not address the potential need for measures to reduce the creation of new debris. (The only reference that may be applicable is Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty, which calls for "consultations" if member states believe activities or experiments would cause potentially harmful interference with other space activities.) In addition, some of the issues that are raised in the treaties are difficult to apply to debris. For example, the liability convention assigns liability based on ownership of the objects involved, but the origin of the vast majority of debris objects that are not cataloged cannot be determined. Even where the treaties may be applicable to debris issues, interpretation is often difficult because the legal definitions of "space debris" and "space objects" are not entirely clear.
Expectations still exist that the UN may eventually create formal rules regarding the creation of orbital debris. The issue of orbital debris has not yet been treated in the COPUOS Legal Subcommittee, but in February 1994, the UN General Assembly made orbital debris a formal agenda item for the COPUOS Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. During that session, the subject of orbital debris was addressed by many national delegations and a number of technical papers were presented. At the session, some delegations advocated that space debris should also be