Space Junk Norms: US Advantages in Creating a Debris Reducing Outer Space Norm
Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States
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This study explores the influence of norms governing state behavior in outer space. While the US currently enjoys a preponderance of presence in outer space, and is thus the most influential state within the space medium, this lead has been eroding as more states actively participate in space. At a time of soaring national debt and shrinking military budgets, this thesis looks at ways the US can maintain its lead and protect its investment in space. While kinetic weaponization of space offers one option for protecting US space assets, state fears of space debris associated with such weapons precludes extensive testing as well as application above low Earth orbit. This paper concludes that the US should use its influence in space to foster a debris reduction vice mitigation norm in space by developing and deploying a satellite recycling system. This thesis traces norm development and evolution both within the Law of the Sea, as well as within the Space Race, to demonstrate how state interaction influences the creation and evolution of norms, and to highlight how competition within cooperatively forged norms is necessary and beneficial to states overall. This thesis also explores both the notional design and the weaponization potential of a satellite recycling system and argues for the systems political acceptability within a space debris-reduction norm. Ultimately, this thesis argues that creating such a norm would provide an avenue for stable non-kinetic weaponization that can spurn innovation, which favors the US garner the US increased prestige, and would thus further solidify the US lead in space while creating a safer and more stable environment for its substantial space investment.