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  Ownership of fallen spacecraft debris

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Author Topic:   Ownership of fallen spacecraft debris
denali414
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Posts: 148
From: Raleigh, NC USA
Registered: Aug 2017

posted 01-20-2018 10:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I apologize if the topic has been discussed, but looked and couldn't find it. What are the parameters for selling fallen space objects (if any)? There doesn't seem to be any consensus I could find and seems to be very different ways it has been handled by scientists and governments. So was just curious to what exactly are the rules? Here are a few examples found.
  • Skylab in Australia: Many lucites made of the tank and sold. Also coins made and sold.

  • Columbia STS-107: Debris field found and government wanted all back (understandable).

  • Sputnik 4: Debris found in downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin: given back to Russian government after first denying it was theirs. A sputnikfest held annually there now.

  • 1997 Delta II: 500+ pound fuel tank fell in east Texas, not sure where now.

  • 2001 Saudia Arabia: a PAM-D from Navistar 32 ended up in desert, not sure where now.

  • Saluyt 7 debris fell in Argentina town, not sure where now.

  • Four "spaceballs" found and NASA not wanting.
Just curious on ownership rights or rules that govern all the space debris in sky now. Thanks!

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38684
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-20-2018 10:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Title to recovered space debris is ruled by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, specifically Article VIII:
A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.

Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return.

As such, any fallen space debris remains the legal property of the originating nation (or organization within the nation) until it explicitly releases ownership.

This is why Challenger and Columbia debris remains federal property, as NASA never relinquished ownership, but Skylab debris can be privately owned, as NASA formally stated it did not want it back.

It is also why when Bezos Expeditions raised the Saturn V F-1 engines off the ocean floor, the parts remained NASA property. Or why the Cosmosphere and Discovery Channel negotiated with NASA and the Smithsonian for ownership of Gus Grissom's "Liberty Bell 7" before going out to recover it in 1999.

So when a SpaceX or ULA (or Arianespace, for another example) fairing washes up on a beach, it is neither "finders keepers" nor subject to international maritime law if found floating out in the ocean.

The reason for Article VIII stems back to Article VII:

Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies.

denali414
Member

Posts: 148
From: Raleigh, NC USA
Registered: Aug 2017

posted 01-20-2018 11:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for denali414   Click Here to Email denali414     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the explanation Robert!

So for those "spaceballs" found, as NASA doesn't claim and if no other nation claims, then he could resell? Correct? Is there a time limit on when a claim needs to be made?

Also when the Tiangong-1 comes down in Spring is China part of the treaty nations?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38684
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-20-2018 11:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is no statute of limitations; the artifacts remain the property of the originating organization until it states otherwise.

China is a party to the Outer Space Treaty by accession.

All times are CT (US)

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